Paris Sans Cars: Less Polluted, Still Hectic

Braving the traffic-heavy Champs-Elysees, in front of the majestic Arc de Triomphe.
Braving the traffic-heavy Champs-Elysees, in front of the majestic Arc de Triomphe.

Paris’ streets are a beautiful mess—a perfect storm of cars, buses, scooters, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, walkers, strollers, and runners. During our time walking (and biking) the city streets, we witnessed near-accidents nearly every half hour: buses nearly side-swiping cyclists, pedestrians running out in front of speeding autos (including one incident of tourists running across the chaotic roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe), scooters zooming past red lights.

So, a day without cars sounded like a very cool moment to be in Paris (especially as non-car-owners ourselves). The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, announced the sans-car campaign in March, as a way to bring attention to worsening smog levels. On the day of, September 27, 2015, we weren’t sure how it would all go down, but we did know this was the perfect time to use the Velib city bike service.

Check out J-Crew on the scene at the Champs-Elysées!

Unfortunately, the ban was limited to only four of Paris’ twenty arrondissements, along with the usually-hectic, but picturesque Champs-Elysées. Public buses, emergency vehicles, and taxies were allowed into these “no-car” zones, creating a greater amount of confusion and probably greater chance for a pedestrian-vehicle collision. Meanwhile, outside of these blocked areas, cars were asked to cut down their speed to 20km/hour (about 12 mph)—didn’t see this at all; in fact, I think the drivers and scooterists were going even faster, probably out of frustration.

Paris by bike, sans (sort of) cars
Paris by bike, sans (sort of) cars

At first we mostly stuck to the already-designated bike lanes (of which, fortunately, there are many). But one of the more thrilling moments of our bike ride came when we got to zip through the tunnel along the Seine as we headed to the Champs-Elysées. From there, the renowned avenue was completely clogged with pedestrians and cyclists. It was a true game of Frogger, weaving in and out of tourists on foot and kids hanging out as if they were picnicking in the park—not to mention large tour buses and taxis. Relieved to get to the end, I will admit that riding around the Arc de Triomphe was a pretty unforgettable moment.


European Yoga Adventures: Yoga Shala Reykjavik, Iceland

Handstand at Jokulsarlon, South Iceland
Handstand at Jokulsarlon, South Iceland

Travel is the best way to get out of your comfort zone, and yoga is the best way to get out of your head. So, why not combine the two? Follow my journeys as I attempt to do yoga across Europe. I’ll be getting lost in non-English classes, discovering new forms and philosophies, and hopefully offering some useful tips and valuable insights along the way. First stop: Iceland!


With my “nomad mat” in tow, I set off for my first yoga class in which I would understood absolutely nothing. Driving up to Yoga Shala Reykjavik means coming across a rather faceless windowed office building, something straight out of any American suburb. I saw no signs for the shala, and so simply followed a few mat-toting girls up the stairs. Inside, the place was much more inviting, with a rainbow of beanbags and a shrine of various yoga books and knick-knacks.

Photo Credit: Yoga Shala Reykjavik
Photo Credit: Yoga Shala Reykjavik

Still fighting jet lag and a lack of greens in the diet (fresh produce is a rare commodity in Iceland), I was feeling a little rundown, hesitant, and a bit nervous to enter the class, but I felt at ease upon meeting the sweet girl at the front desk (who I would in minutes learn was also the teacher), who greeted me in crystal-clear English and told me my first class was free (yay!). I still wasn’t sure what language I would be hearing for the next 90 minutes, but this was also an Ashtanga class, a form of yoga I was pretty familiar with, so I went in with head held high.

Post-Class Glow

I quickly realized this class was filled with all Reykjavik residents. The teacher then entered, and the Icelandic soon began. It seemed everyone knew what the hell she was talking about…

Eventually, though, the choppy consonant-driven language seemed to meld gracefully with Sanskrit. My ears started to excitedly perk up when hearing “asana,” and I slowly started to recognize the 3-2-1 countdowns. This was exhilarating in itself, even though I still felt like a beginner, lifting my head and peeking around, getting scared when we turned to the back (which meant I was now in the front!).

Love for Yoga Journal on the bathroom floor...
Love for Yoga Journal on the bathroom floor…

I certainly wasn’t letting my mind go, though; in fact, I kept thinking about thinking too much. But once I started getting more comfortable—and remembering that everyone is really just focused on their own practice, not on dumb old me—the more I took in the calming energy of the class. I noticed a great focus on deep and detoxifying breathing, something I don’t get enough of in my classes at home in San Francisco, which tend to be way more rigorous. The breathing among this small group overtook and warmed the room. It felt like a natural force much bigger than the sum of its parts; it felt very Icelandic in a way—this small room, like the island it rested upon, could create some real fire and noise.

Speaking of noise, I only realized the lack of music about an hour into the class—a stark difference from the techno-blasting class of home. I thought no music would drive me mad, but I didn’t even notice it. It was refreshing, actually, to hear nothing but syllables, inhales, exhales, and the occasional squeak of a mat. Yoga is not about comprehending the external anyway—realizing this can be pretty liberating.

Next up: Paris, France!

Iceland Spotlight: Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Center

Stunning yet fake Aurora Borealis (Northern LIghts) pic taken with some help from the Aurora Reykjavik Center.
Stunning (yet fake!) pic taken with some help from the Aurora Reykjavik Center.

Iceland may be best known for its glaciers, volcanoes, and, lagoons (and possibly even elves and trolls, too!), but it’s also a prime spot to witness one truly spectacular phenomenon: the Northern Lights, aka Aurora Borealis. The jaw-dropping display is not always visible to the naked eye, though, so Aurora Reykjavik: The Northern Lights Center, a museum located in the city’s old harbor area, is your next best bet. Here, the simple but fascinating exhibits help explain this otherworldly effect—plus you get free organic tea and coffee!

The Center is divided into sections, which include legends around the Northern Lights, interactive and educational displays, visibility forecasting, and a how-to photography lesson.

Handstand Steph outside of Aurora Reykjavik.
Handstand Steph outside of Aurora Reykjavik.

The first part of the Center introduces you to the various myths surrounding the Northern Lights, from Norway to Russia. It makes you realize how humans so often try to explain the unknown in a way that reflects on their own insecurities and emotional frustrations (hint: a lot of the myths revolve around unfaithful lovers and women being seduced).

After the exhibits, you’re invited to sit back and take in a continuously running panoramic film of marvelous auroral displays. Be prepared to fall into an enchanting trance. 

Aurora Center displays describing how solar storms and the sun play into creating the spectacular northern lights.
Aurora Center displays describing how solar storms and the sun play into creating the spectacular northern lights.

Outside of the free coffee and tea (of course!), one of the best features at Aurora Reykjavik is saved for the end. Here, you can learn how to adjust your camera’s settings to successfully photograph the Northern Lights. We especially enjoyed the specially equipped “photo booth,” where you can attempt to try your hand at capturing the auroras. Frankly, we learned some new techniques on how to use our new digital camera with Aurora Reykjavik’s tips. Thanks, guys!

This is a must-do in Reykjavik. Go visit for some truly fascinating science and mind-blowing visuals.


Big and Small Travel have arrived in Iceland. We have picked the best pictures for our Iceland PhotoPhiles edition. An Iceland favorites post of specific attractions is forthcoming as well.

Enjoy the pics of this volcanic wonder known as Iceland. Also, check out the new  Big and Small Travel YouTube, say hello and leave your comments/feedback. Takk!

One of the 25 wonders of the world is the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
One of the “25 Wonders of the World” is the geothermal hot springs of the Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon
Skijor Falls, Iceland
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline.
Jökulsárlón - Glacial Lagoon
Jökulsárlón: The glacier lagoon is close to highway number one, 230 miles east from Reykjavík. This lagoon is a fairly recent one, about 80 years old, the result of a warming climate. The surface is at sea level and sea water flows into the lagoon at high tide.
 Jokulsarlon, Iceland.
Jokulsarlon, Iceland.
Handstand Steph on the Ring Road in South Iceland.
Black Sand Beach in Vik, Iceland.
Þingvellir is the national shrine of Iceland. It is, for one, a key location in Icelandic history as the oldest existing parliament in the world, and the joining of European/Asian and North American tectonic plate.
Þingvellir is the national shrine of Iceland. Wow! A key location in Icelandic history as the oldest existing parliament in the world, and the joining of European/Asian and North American tectonic plates. Double wow!
South Iceland near Vik.
Cool fog off the Ring Road in South Iceland between Vik and Jökulsárlón.
Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Gulfoss Waterfall, a key attraction in the Golden Circle route of Iceland.