Black Sand Beach in Northern California & More

We visited an overlooked Black Sands Beach in Northern California. Black Sands Beach is in the south end of a long walkable coastline that is over 20 miles long in Shelter Cove along the Lost Coast Trail. Check out our Youtube Page and watch our Videos in Northern California.

 

Why is the sand so dark here? You’ll find black sand beaches in three types of regions: in areas with high wave energy, those next to volcanoes, and places where the source rock is primarily dark-colored and lacking in silica. In this part of California, the black get the color from dark colored sandstone and shale produced by tectonic activity of one continental and two oceanic plates meeting just offshore.

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We unearthed and found a video from our long European trek of Lisbon, Portugal. Watch us discuss the trams, graffiti, and culture of Lisbon —- the rawest capital of Western Europe.

We have updated our post San Francisco’s 8 Best Running Trails  Check it out!

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The Rich Beauty, Food, and History of Corsica, France

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This mountainous isle is a land of many contrasts. Corsica is full of natural beauty and incredible food, but it comes with quite a turbulent history. It’s home to Napoleon Bonaparte and (arguably) Christopher Columbus, two dominant figures whose widespread influence is still being felt around the world today. Despite this, present-day Corsica is a fairly sleepy island packed with fascinating historical attractions and driven by an independent spirit. Here, I’ll be featuring some of the beauty of this island in pictures, and best yet watch The Big and Small Travel Corsica Video below:

In the video above, we showcase the Citadel, beaches, historic sites, food, L’Île-Rousse, and even yoga from Handstand Steph. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the intimacy and splendor of the isle of fierce beauty.

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J-Crew overlooking the Ligurian Sea in Calvi.

The first thing we noticed on our trip to Corsica was the ubiquitous presence of the Corsican flag. The flag is bold and striking, and revealing in its black-and-white simplicity. Against a white backdrop, it depicts a Moor’s head in black with a white bandana above his eyes—a symbol of liberation, even though Corsica has mostly been under Italian or French rule.

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The Wild Boar of Corsica & the striking Corsican Flag.

This flag was everywhere, reminding us constantly of Corsica‘s strong independent spirit, which can be traced back through an interesting and significant history that includes connections to both Napoleon and Columbus. When in Calvi, I recommend exploring the citadel, which is open to the public and free to roam. It is filled with lots of small passageways, breathtaking lookouts, and interesting architecture. You’ll also notice a monument to Columbus, as well as churches and historical points that refer to the island’s existence under Genoese rule.

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Calvi Citadel – Palace of the Genovese, and reputed birthplace of Columbus. Hmm …

We present many visuals to document the citadel in Calvi, as well as the beauty and attractions at L’Île-Rousse (Red Island), named because of the color of the rocky islet that serves as a natural harbor.

You can get to L’Île-Rousse by train (which offers incredible views of the coast along the way). We recommend hiking up to the top of this part of L’Île-Rousse (just behind the train station) for great views of the Genoese tower and the vivid hills of Balagne in the background. This hike is short but intense and full of nooks and crannies that allow for great photo opps of the sea and beyond.

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Handstand Steph caught on camera at the red rocks of L’Ile-Rouse.

Overall, the food (especially the cheese and wild boar), wine, and striking landscapes are enough to make anyone swoon. But what most struck me most about Corsica was the relaxed sense of efficiency and an overall dedication to self-sufficiency. Corsica seemed to be running on its own watch, despite being part of France.  This made it feel like its own special little paradise.

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La Pietra Lighthouse in L’Ile Rouse, Corsica.
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Plage La Pinede (Calvi Beach) in Corsica.

 

Exploring North Beach and San Francisco’s Top Trails

Happy 2016 from Big and Small Travel!

J-Crew and Handstand Steph are back from a big European vacation with an update from their home base of San Francisco. First, we take you on a tour through the coastal city’s many scenic and hilly trails that offer both incredible views and butt-kicking workouts. Check out our picks for San Francisco’s Top 8 Running Trails here!

Then, we head over to North Beach with a brand new video showcasing one of our favorite corners of this historic San Francisco hood, where we like to go for good coffee and macarons:

Handstand Steph talks about a legendary place for sandwiches in North Beach:

Stay tuned for more from Big and Small Travel and be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.

 

Top 6 Iceland Attractions

Jökulsárlón, Big and Small Travel at the edge of the glacial lagoon off the Ring Road.
Jökulsárlón, Big and Small Travel at the edge of the glacial lagoon off the Ring Road.

Whether or not you’re facing the woozy effects of jetlag, landing in Iceland still feels like landing in another world—the raw beauty is simply stunning. This is an island of active volcanoes, glacial lagoons, intense rainbows, resplendent fog, towering mountains, and… perhaps even a troll or two. This was the first stop for my wife and I during our two-month honeymoon and it remains a highlight—every place else seems second-rate in comparison; its unblemished beauty is unmatched.

Iceland is an underpopulated island in an overpopulated world. Here, nature is truly king. And as of late 2015, almost every natural attraction in the country is free of charge. There is rumor, however, that the government may start implementing entrance fees, so I recommend making the trip there soon. When you do, here are six must-see sites to hit. Most of these attractions are along the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route from Reykjavik, except for my #1 recommended spot, Jökulsárlón, a place well-worth the extra mileage.

1. Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon is actually one of the younger sites on the island; it’s only about 80 years old. The glacial lagoon (or Jökulsárlón in Icelandic) started to form in the early 20th century due to warming temperatures. A lake developed after the glacier started receding from the Atlantic Ocean. The lake continues to grow as the glaciers melt, creating quite a breathtaking phenomenon. The icebergs glimmer and exude a powder-blue color, unmistakable even from the warmth of your car. It almost feels fake, like a movie set made of fantastical ice. In fact, Jökulsárlón has been the backdrop for a few films, including Batman Begins and Die Another Day. I recommend avoiding the lagoon boat tours and just wandering along the shore. It is possible to escape the crowds and find a spot to gaze at the beauty of the lagoon. You’ll want to stare at this thing for a while, trust me. I was lucky enough to get up and touch the ice and even partially stand on some of it, before it eventually floats away and melts into the sea.

2. Vik’s Black Sand Beach

The black sand beach of Vik is possibly one of the 10 most beautiful, non-tropical beaches on Earth. Both sides of the beach are accessible by car, either from downtown Vik or near Reynisdrangar. The long stretch of volcanic beach is enhanced by a cliff side that resembles a giant church organ. Meanwhile, the large rock formations protruding out of the sea at Reynisdrangar are shrouded in troll legends and Icelandic myths. In the summer months, you may even be able to spot some puffins here. Unfortunately, we just missed them, as they migrated back to life on the sea two weeks before our arrival. The area of Vik in general has an eerie sort of mystique to it, as it lies in the shadows of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Katla, an active volcano that could erupt at any moment.

3. Gullfoss

This is a waterfall that makes Niagara seem like a fake Disney attraction. Gulfoss, meaning “Golden Falls,” is spectacular and massive. Here, you will be dazzled by a vivid rainbow (or two) on sunny days, as the mist creates a wall of drizzle. The waterfall has been a national attraction since 1875 and was almost lost to foreign investors, who wanted to use it for electricity. But because of lack of funds, it remains an unblemished spectacle.

4. Geysir

Geysir is the gusher (as it literally means in Icelandic) in which all other geysers are named. Just east of Reykjavik and very close to Gulfoss, this is another one of the hot spots along the Golden Circle. On average, you will only have to wait about 5-10 minutes for the Strokkur geysir to shoot water up to about 98 feet in the air. We hung around the area and watched it spurt at least 5-7 times—it doesn’t get old. This is a cool area to wander around and see all the geothermal activity bubbling at your toes.

Blue Lagoon, located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland.
Blue Lagoon, located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland.

5. Blue Lagoon

Located relatively close to Keflavik Airport, the main Reykjavik hub, the Blue Lagoon is considered one of the 25 wonders of the world. The lava field around the Blue Lagoon (which reminded us a bit of Craters of the Moon in Idaho) is created from the geothermic craters of Eldvorp, which provides water for the lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a mostly natural attraction, built up to accommodate large groups, with a swim-up bar and other modern conveniences.

The average water temperature is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and suitable even on a blustery day. Some of the simpler pleasures came from roaming around the vast lagoon and finding various hot spots. There’s also an area to scoop out some silica-based mud to rub on your face for a quick spa treatment. The small waterfall, tucked in the corner of the lagoon, is a real sweet surprise—duck underneath it to get a powerful water-driven shoulder and back massage. I recommend getting there right when the Lagoon opens. The crowds start to stream in around 10-11am.

Reykjadalur Hike, located roughly 35 miles from Reykjavik, the area of Reykjadalur (meaning "hot river") .
Reykjadalur Hike, located roughly 35 miles from Reykjavik, the area of Reykjadalur (meaning “hot river”) .

6. Reykjadalur Hike

Located roughly 35 miles from Reykjavik, the area of Reykjadalur (meaning “hot river”) is perfect for a moderate-level hike, which ends at a natural hot spring (which is free!). This hike feels like classic Iceland, you’ll come across beautiful vistas, walk through patches of fog, and even see the earth bubbling at your feet. It takes about an hour to get to the spot set aside for soaking in the hot spring, but it is definitely worth it. Hopefully, you’ll have better weather than we did—we got stuck in a storm in the middle of the hike and came back completely drenched! Be prepared to get wet and muddy—bring good shoes, a swimsuit, and a towel.

As of Fall/Winter 2015, all of these natural attractions (except for the Blue Lagoon) were free of charge. There is rumor, however, that the government may start implementing entrance fees, so I recommend making the trip there soon. Bon voyage and happy travels!

Check out the wonderful Ever in Transit travel blog for more pictures from these Top 6 Iceland attractions listed above too.

PhotoPhiles: Cinque Terre, Italy – The Italian Riviera

 

Monterosso in Cinque Terre
Monterosso in Cinque Terre

It’s hard to pick the most breathtaking spot in a country full of them, but this is one part of Italy that will truly wow you into submission. On the coast of the Italian Riviera, in the Liguria region, Cinque Terre or “The Five Lands” comprises a quintet of quaint villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The stunning and jaw-dropping architectural beauty of Cinque Terre was created over a millennium by farmers and residents. Houses and buildings rise sharply from the sea, as do intricate rows of grapevines.

Our home base while visiting Cinque Terre was in La Spezia, a mid-sized town just south of Riomaggiore. It’s a convenient and more affordable spot to stay when visiting the area, and has easy access to the train line that runs between the villages. It’s also a great base for a day trip to Pisa (just a 1-hour train ride) or even Florence (a little over 2 hours on the train). Each town has its unique flair: Be sure to purchase a hiking and train pass to make a stop at each. We recommend grabbing an espresso in Monterosso, sharing a pizza in Vernazza, slurping up a basil-olive oil gelato in Corniglia, digging into stuffed mussels in Manarola, and topping it all off with a glass of red in Riomaggiore. (Don’t worry, the steep, sometimes treacherous, hiking will burn it all off!)

Enjoy our photos and videos showcasing one of the world’s most charming corners.

Manarola: Taking in the sunset after enjoying stuffed mussels and incredible Italian red wine.
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Corniglia from the hiking trail: Primary industries here are fishing and winemaking.
Manarola: The stunning harbor and vista in the town center.
Cinque Terre Vista
Vista point from the hiking trail, near Corniglia.
Manorial: The terraces in Cinque Terre are supported by over 7000 KM of dry stone walls.
Monterosso: JCrew enjoys coffee time along the Liguria Sea.
Monterosso: The biggest town in Cinque Terre brings in the biggest crowds with its expansive sand beach.
Handstand Steph at Monterosso.
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Corniglia: The Oratory of Rocco dates from 1480.
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Riomaggiore: Hiking along the free trail, just outside the town.
Beach in Monterosso.
Monterosso: Beautiful blues line the Cinque Terre’s most northern town.
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Near Corniglia: Cinque Terre resident selling freshly squeezed orange juice along the paid trail.

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.

PHOTOPHILES: ICELAND EDITION

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.
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Handstand Steph on the Ring Road in South Iceland.
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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.

Fight For Your Right: Get AirHelp

Let’s start this off with a little gratitude: Flying is a thrill. It’s a helluva privilege. And it’s a truly unbelievable thing—something we have to remind ourselves of constantly as we sit in that (hopefully) sanitized fabric seat, our knees screaming for an inch of movement, and our eyes shifting continually over to that hot coffee placed precariously on that flimsy tray.

Really, the ultimate goal when flying is to try not to think of that industrially made bird as a strange, stale, claustrophobic purgatory between departure and destination. No, this plane is doing something downright miraculous. (Louie C.K. expresses this in a far funnier way.)

But this doesn’t mean airlines should have free reign to take advantage of said miracle. If you’ve had a delay or cancellation, keep reading to see how you can be compensated.

*And here’s another easy trick to saving lots of money on a long flight:

Continue reading “Fight For Your Right: Get AirHelp”