by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
Copenhagen is a fabulous walking city.
Do NOT walk in the bike lanes.
Unlike the United States, where cyclists are often forced to share roads with motor vehicles and pedestrians, bicycling in Denmark is a serious mode of transportation with designated lanes and traffic lights in urban areas. In Copenhagen, where more than half of all employees bike to work, wandering tourists walking into bike lanes can lead to injury, so pay attention to the bike lanes and stay clear. The train and bus systems make it very easy to get around Copenhagen without a car.
Whatever your mode of transportation, here are 7 things to do in Copenhagen:
Leading the Way for Sustainability
Denmark is a world leader in bringing sustainability to life, affirming the importance of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, 30 percent of all Denmark’s energy comes from renewable sources, including bioenergy, followed by wind, solar and geothermal energy, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark. The country’s public and private sectors are both committed to achieving an energy system without fossil fuels by 2050. The enthusiastic Danish Society of Engineers, IDA, and is ahead of schedule on the project, and has a roadmap to implement the goal of a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2035.
Playing On a Heap of Trash
One of the steps towards Copenhagen’s goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral capital includes the opening of Amager Bakke, or CopenHill, planned as the new epicenter for urban mountain sport, offering year-round skiing and snowboarding on artificial snow. It includes the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall, running and hiking trails, and a café – all surrounded by a sprawling recreation area with water sports, soccer fields, and even a go-kart track.
The clincher? CopenHill is built on top of the city’s new waste management and energy plant. Amager Bakke is considered the most efficient waste-burning and energy-generating plant in the world, and is expected to power and heat 160,000 households across Copenhagen.
Getting Away From the City
As beautiful as Copenhagen is with its waterways and happy vibe, seeing the outlying countryside is part of the Danish experience. Whether you travel by bicycle, car, train or bus, here are 5 day-trips that take you outside Copenhagen’s city center:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, and an IATA-accredited travel advisor at FriendlyGroupTravel.com. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, Instagram @friendgrouptravel or email@example.com
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
You’ve got to love New York. Where else do they decide to build a new neighborhood and in couple of years come up with Hudson Yards, aptly named because it’s on the Hudson River overlooking the West Side Yard where Long Island Rail Road trains are stored between shuttles back and forth between “The Island” and Penn Station.
The new neighborhood is billed as “a triumph of culture, commerce and cuisine – a place to live, work, and play.” Skyscrapers housing apartments, high-end retail shops, restaurants and a new luxury hotel are all in the works. Oh, they added a subway stop at Hudson Yards to accommodate the traffic. And if people aren’t flooding in yet to shop, visitors are surely interested in The Vessel.
Contemporary urban designer Thomas Heatherwick created the bronzed steel and concrete Vessel just so people can climb the 2,500 steps of this 16-story recreational sculpture. It’s free to explore with a ticket you can get online or at one of the kiosks at Hudson Yards, although you may have to wait an hour or two for an available time since the number of people at one time is limited. There’s an elevator that makes the Vessel accessible for everyone.
The Vessel is located at the north end of New York’s popular High Line, a public park built on a historic rail line above the city’s west side streets. It runs from 34th Street near the Javits Center to Gansevoort Street, three blocks south of 14th Street. Along the way you can have a seat on one of several benches, or stop for coffee, a smoothie, ice cream or other snacks. Kids seem to like The High Line as much as adults.
For anyone who hasn’t walked the High Line recently, new “spurs” are being added as viewing areas and urban woodlands with a mix of grasses, perennial flowers and shrubs, all of which are native flora.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a travel advisor, public relations practitioner and principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
We all feel, at times, the need to get away and shake up a monotonous routine.
Planning that perfect escape can be daunting as the potential price tag adds up in your head, but recharging your inner batteries doesn’t have to take you geographically far away. It doesn’t need to take more than a day or two, and doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Just one night away at a B&B gives you enough of a break to clear the garbles from your brain. Historic old homes lovingly turned into guest houses are scattered throughout New England, as an example, and getaways are surely within an easy three- or four-hour drive from your home, wherever you live.
I recently visited The Fan House in Barnard, Vermont. It’s a little off the beaten path, far enough from the Interstate, and close enough for lots of day trip destinations, like Quechee, Vermont, known for its annual hot air balloon festival and Simon Pearce glass blowers, and Hanover, New Hampshire with a great college vibe and plenty of neat restaurants because of Dartmouth. Suicide Six ski area is only six miles away, while larger Killington and Okemo ski areas are about 45 minutes away and offer trail biking, hiking, golf and summer activities as well as some of the best winter skiing in the Northeast.
On the way to the Fan House, I stopped at the Barnard General Store and indulged on a maple-cream-filled whoopie pie. After this I knew I was on a micro-vacation in Vermont. When I pulled into the Fan House driveway, Sara, the innkeeper, came out to greet me with her big friendly, shaggy dog Chappy, who neither jumped nor slobbered on me, but nuzzled up to my leg, wagged his tail and let me know I was welcome in his home. We walked around the yard and Sara showed me her country garden, filled with huge colorful poppies, foxglove, lupines, forget-me-nots and numerous other perennials that had not yet blossomed. The unmistakable fragrance of lilacs filled the air. I looked up to see a banner season for lilacs blooming along the property line by the main road.
It was still a little shy of cocktail hour, but Sara joined me for a glass of wine in the living room area anyway. It was comfortable, relaxing and a pleasure talking candidly with someone who obviously had the gift for gab, was well traveled and has met her fair share of interesting characters along life’s enchanting journey.
Just a couple of miles down the road, at the Barnard Inn restaurant, Max’s Tavern, a casual bistro, served up a cold crisp glass of pinot grigio to accompany a simple green salad tossed with maple Dijon vinaigrette and lightly topped with gorgonzola and candied walnuts. I must have needed my blue cheese fix, because my chosen entrée was house-made gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, which was delicious with mild roasted cloves of garlic, caramelized onions and baby spinach.
The first thought when I got ready for bed at the Fan House and realized there was no TV in my room was disappointment, but after about 10 seconds, I changed my mind. Being a news junkie and creature of habit who turns on the news before bedtime and upon wake-up, taking a break from the craziness was a blessing. In fact, it was a much-needed disconnect.
The bed had eight pillows – two as bolsters, four for indulgent sleep and two more for decoration, which made a perfect spot to prop my laptop as I checked email before going to bed. The Wi-Fi worked well. I drifted into a deep sleep, woke up without an alarm, and went for a short walk to Barnard’s Silver Lake, sat on a bench and felt the early morning sun on my face, then continued walking – past lots of kayaks on racks and watched people come and go from the general store carrying cups of coffee to jumpstart their rural morning commutes. I read the bulletin board and learned about upcoming concerts, theater productions and youth summer programs at Barnard’s BarnArts.org.
Having worked up an appetite for breakfast, which was included at my stay at the Fan House, I poured myself a cup of coffee and chatted it up with two guests visiting from Tennessee while Sara whipped up some blueberry pancakes and served them with warm maple syrup, along with fresh strawberries, granola and juice. At that moment, the pressures of the previous day’s workload were far from my mind. On the mid-morning car ride home I mentally prepared my “to do” list and the priorities seemed clear. I reminded myself to stay focused on those priorities and to let the other “urgencies” slide by if they weren’t aligned with my primary goals. I felt eager to tackle the workload, and not overwhelmed.
One night away. To get unstuck. It’s well worth it.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is accredited as a travel advisor and public relations professional, and is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Visit www.friendlygrouptravel.com, www.facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, friendgrouptravel on Instagram and FriendsGoTravel on Twitter, or email email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
Heading overseas for your next vacation or business trip?
If you plan to use your phone – at all – for any reason – these tips and helpful apps will assure that your phone remains a valued and reliable companion when traveling internationally:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA is a travel advisor and principal at friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. She writes about health, wellness and travel.
Connect: firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel,
@friendsgotravel on Twitter and friendgrouptravel on Instagram.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
Think about the ‘60s era of peace and love in America, and images of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood come to mind with tie-died shirts and girls wearing colorful flowers in their hair. On the other side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, in Berkeley, another cultural phenomenon was stirring at that same time.
The Free Speech Movement of the 60s rapidly grew across college campuses nationwide. At first, outspoken college students focused on the struggle for civil rights; then when opposition to the Vietnam War developed, students at UC Berkeley ignited the spark that led to large scale protests and the nationwide Anti-War Movement.
UC Berkeley was a university campus that challenged the status quo back then, as it does now. The school serves as the flagship institution of 10 public research universities affiliated with the University of California system. It’s the anchor that allows the City of Berkeley to remain the free-spirited sanctuary where inclusion is second nature to a generation of open minded hipster intellectuals, and leftist baby boomers find contentment being surrounded by people who share their nonjudgmental approach to life.
The constant energy that seeps from academia is evident; serious discussions between professors and students can be overheard at local coffee shops; public events are scheduled frequently on a regular basis.
With more than 30,000 undergraduate students, about 70 percent of whom are from California, and more than 11,000 graduate students from around the world, UC Berkeley is a hub for thinking outside the lines in search of new and better ways to solve world problems. Its graduate engineering school is ranked #3 in the country (behind MIT and Stanford) by US News & World Report for 2020, luring some of the world’s brightest minds hoping to score a Silicon Valley dream job in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
Both technology and hippieism bubble beneath the surface of Berkeley’s social climate. The old and new seem to exist very well together. It’s a gentle yet edgy vibe amid the undertow of a bustling college community. The Greek Theater, an amphitheater located on the outskirts of campus, brings top name acts.
Telegraph Avenue, beginning at the south entrance to campus is lined with cafes, shops and music stores, and extends through the city and into Oakland. Shattuck Avenue is another of Berkeley’s main streets filled with shops and restaurants. For movies, you can enjoy current popular flicks on one of the big screens at the Regal Cinemas, or walk one more block to the Shattuck Cinemas for a thought-provoking indie film.
Fun for Foodies
Keep walking down Shattuck Avenue and you’ll smell your way right into the affectionately named Gourmet Ghetto with plenty of choices for any type of appetite. This is home to the legendary Chez Panisse, opened in 1971 by Alice Waters, whose organic, locally grown, seasonal ingredients sparked the term “California cuisine” way before the nation’s farm-to-table consciousness. Chez Panisse has maintained its status as one of the best restaurants in America, if not the world. Reservations are necessary – both for the main dining room and the lighter café. Reservations may be made up to one month before your preferred date.
Right across the street is The Cheese Board Collective, which is a bakery, a cheese shop, and a creative pizza restaurant where you can sit inside or out and get a dose of Berkeley’s local live music.
If you want to be seated and served at a restaurant, stick with Shattuck Avenue and places away from campus or one of the nearby hotel restaurants. Close to the school you’ll find an amazing variety of very affordable food choices, where you order at the counter and hope to find a place to sit before your meal arrives. From Chinese, Japanese and Thai to Korean barbecue, noodle bowls, pizza by the slice, hot dogs, burgers, salads, smoothies, two aromas permeate the air – Asian food and marijuana.
But Berkeley has its problems, too. The homeless rate is high. Maybe it’s because the weather’s decent, or there are plenty of places to eat for a low price, or that people are generally kind enough to occasionally spare some change. There seems to be a community among the down and out, and a feeling of compassion for people who have landed in this situation – war veterans, spaced out aging hippies, those who are estranged from families because of lifestyle or gender or those who have slipped between the cracks of the nation’s mental health system.
Getting to Berkeley
Crossing the Bay Bridge that leads from San Francisco to Oakland and neighboring Berkeley can take up to an hour by car if you’re stuck in daily rush hour traffic, or you can zip from San Fran to Berkeley in under 30 minutes when traffic is light. Locals don’t drive it at all. Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as the BART, is the San Francisco area’s underground metro system that takes you under the Bay into Oakland and Berkeley. It’s easy, clean, fast and the most affordable way to travel to Berkeley from both San Francisco and Oakland International airports.
If you happen to visit the Oakland and Berkeley area, consider a visit to the 34-acre UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. It’s recommended to allow at least two hours to take it all in.
The landmark at UC Berkeley, which can be seen from across the bridge, is Sather Tower. Standing 300’ above sea level, the tower, or Campanile as it’s known, is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell and clock towers. For four dollars you get an adult ticket that takes you via elevator almost to the top, where you then 38 steps to the outdoor patio for a bird’s-eye view of the campus and San Francisco Bay. If you time it right or get lucky, you can hear a carillon performance at scheduled times each day. The carillon has 61 bells, weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds each.
And one more note… The Bay Bridge stretches across San Francisco Bay connecting San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley. The Golden Gate Bridge goes from San Francisco to Sausalito in Marin county. Both bridges lead to wine country.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is accredited as a travel advisor and public relations professional. She is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
If you’ve never been to Key West, you’ve got to go at least once. If you were there several years ago, telling yourself you want to return, be aware – it has changed.
Like many over-touristed areas, the Florida Keys have lost some of their laid back, off the grid groove. Many of the hotels and resorts that sustained major damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017 have rebuilt with a more durable, more modern, more expensive style. During peak season that lasts until Easter, the traffic from Key Largo to Key West is nonstop. There’s one way in and one way out.
And yet with the changes that come with time and a growing population, the rhythm of island life is still intoxicating – especially when you take time to chat with the locals, rediscovering the state of mind that brings Northerners down here for four or five months at a time as they begin to explore their retirement options. While Jimmy Buffet’s Parrothead following packs the upscale Margaritaville resort in Old Town Key West, some laid back snowbirds use their own network to secure off-the-radar seasonal rentals that come with burnt orange sunsets over the water while pelicans dive for fresh fish and thick doormats help to shake off the last grains of beach sand from between your toes.
Getting to Key West by plane is easier now with more airlines adding flights. The ride from Key West airport into Old Town is short, Uber and Lyft are both active, and the large hotel chains on North and South Roosevelt Avenues provide free shuttle service. There are paid shuttles from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports to Key West, with stops at some of the most popular keys along the way – Largo, Islamorada, Marathon among them.
Choosing to drive the Overseas Highway across the 113-mile string of coral and limestone islands (and crossing 42 bridges along the way), we spent two nights at Islamorada’s Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina. This area is known for deep sea and sport fishing (grouper, mahi mahi, snapper and more) or just a dose of chill time before tackling the crazy Key West scene. Still renovating after 2017‘s Hurricane Irma, one building of guest rooms is under reconstruction (as of February 2019), and the oceanfront bar/restaurant that was literally blown away in the storm is being rebuilt. Meanwhile the Tiki Bar is hopping with decent casual food and creative island drinks, including Ke Ke coladas and key lime pie martinis using Ke Ke Key Lime Pie Cream Liqueur. Yum. Within walking distance is Theater of the Sea, an all-ages day trip, where you can learn about marine life and swim with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays.
People who choose to live in Islamorada prefer their small community to the busy streets of Key Largo and Key West on either end of this island chain. You need a car to get around to the shops and restaurants. For beachfront lunch or dinner, try Lazy Days, known for fresh fried fish and seafood and their well-loved key lime butter sauce. The happy hour is a local favorite with half price drinks, 50 cent buffalo wings and conch fritters, and three-for-a-dollar peel-and-eat shrimp. Reservations are recommended for dinner.
Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar is another popular dinner spot, known more for its fantastic sunset views than the quality of food. It’s fun – and very crowded so arrive early to find a parking space.
Between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key is the famous Seven Mile Bridge, connecting the middle and lower keys. It’s a bucket list drive that humbles any soul. Marathon on Grassy Key is home to the Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit educational and rescue center open to the public and providing in-water interaction with the marine mammals.
Key West hot spots
Having been to Key West about 20 years ago, the first thing we did after parking the car and getting settled into our hotel was take a walk down Duval Street, lined with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Music starts up around noon and keeps going all day and night. Sloppy Joe’s still seems to be the hot spot for the beer-and-loud music-crowd. Apparently lots of people like that, or maybe it’s the craft beers and bar food. Nearby, Irish Kevin’s Bar offers much of the same, as does Hog’s Breath Saloon.
After a traditional margarita to welcome myself back to Key West at a quieter outdoor spot with a street-facing bar for excellent people watching, it was time to head over to Mallory Square for the daily sunset ritual and street performers. Take off your Fitbit. This is a great place to unwind with a digital detox. If you walk around to take in everything Old Town has to offer, you’ll get all your steps in – and more.
The next morning started early with a walk to one of Key West’s most photographed locations –the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States. Tourists line up for selfies and photos. Especially early in the day, people were considerate of allowing others to get the classic shot that everyone wants, and took turns taking photos for each other.
Key West cuisine
Great food choices are plentiful in Key West; to assure a spot at your favorite restaurant, reservations are advised. Lots of places serve fish tacos, fish and chips, shrimp, wings, burgers and predictable selections of every kind. Key island specialties include conch fritters and chowder, grouper, smoked fish dip (often grouper, but can be wahoo, mahi mahi or any other smoked fish) that looks like a scoop of tuna salad surrounded by chips or crackers.
For something special, take the short ferry ride over to Latitudes on Sunset Key for breakfast, lunch or dinner – with a sunset to remember. Blue Heaven is a casual and funky outdoor spot known for breakfast, brunch and desserts as well as attentive lunch and dinner specials. For the ultimate dessert experience – try Better Than Sex, an adult-themed dessert-only restaurant, that serves wine in glasses dipped in soft chocolate and decadent desserts such as The Morning After (a grilled sandwich with Danish brie, dark Belgian chocolate dusted with cinnamon sugar. A strawberry champagne “soup” sits on the plate for dipping) or Man Flowers (a chocolate stout cake with tart dark chocolate frosting, chocolate stout ganache, Irish cream ice cream and salted caramel). You can also get shots and beer – all with soft chocolate or caramel clinging to the glass.
Key West is one of those towns that enjoys a good female-impersonator show. There are two on Duval Street. The less expensive show at Aqua is somewhat loud and raunchy, while the more upscale cabaret show sells out nightly at LaTeDa hotel and restaurant on the quiet end of Duval. LaTeDa also has a lovely piano bar for a mellow end to a full day in the sun.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
This is a must-see for cat ladies. The Hemingway house is home to more than 50 cats, most believed to be descendants of Snow White, Hemingway’s first polydactyl (six-toed) cat. All the felines are meticulously cared for around the clock – and not a hint of cat smell anywhere! If you hear someone calling out for Humphrey Bogart or Audrey Hepburn while touring the grounds, it’s because Hemingway’s cats have always been named for famous people. In fact, The Hemingway House is now licensed as a zoo as well as a National Historic Literary Landmark, paying homage to Hemingway’s 10 years of writing from Key West and being influenced by its attitude and characters.
Ernest Hemingway’s earliest writing career was as a wartime journalist before penning novels, a few of which were turned into movies. Among these are The Old Man and the Sea, for which Hemingway was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature, and Farewell to Arms. Depression plagued the Hemingway family, claiming the life of Ernest as well as his famous granddaughter, supermodel Margaux. Today, Margaux’s sister Mariel Hemingway dedicates her life to raising awareness about mental health, depression and suicide that has taken several members of the Hemingway family.
Eco-friendly sun protection for every activity
Key West officials voted in early 2019 to ban the sale of sunscreens containing ingredients that are believed to be harmful to coral reefs and the ecosystems they support. The law banning oxybenzone and octinoxate, goes into effect January 1, 2021. Environmental researchers say these two ingredients accumulate in the water from swimmers and wastewater discharge, and can damage or kill coral reefs through bleaching and harming the corals’ DNA.
The Florida Keys make up the world’s third-largest barrier reef ecosystem, and is home to thousands of species of marine life, attracting divers and snorkelers from around the world.
The Florida Keys sun is strong even in morning; the trade winds can be strong at night. Whether you’re into bicycling, walking, kayaking, sailing, deep sea fishing, music, food or brew pubs, the Florida Keys are ready to feed your passion with year-round warm weather. There are so many places to stay in the Keys – from small B&Bs to historic inns, owner-operated boutique hotels and large chains. It’s best to book early to get what you want. It’s still a small area and bargain rates sell out quickly. To plan your Florida Keys vacation, call 860-399-0191 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is an IATA-accredited travel advisor, a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner and principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
From barefoot beach festivals in Barbados to road tripping along the California coast, a Northern Lights polar expedition, and camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the message was clear that opportunities await for every budget.
The New York Times Travel Show, held every January, packs adventure seekers and armchair travelers into the Javits Center for two days designed to lure them into the world of wanderlust. The preceding day is reserved for travel advisors (formerly called agents) anxious to up their games by connecting with thought leaders about the state of the travel industry – what happened in 2018 and what’s new for 2019.
Above photo: Avalon Waterways’ Siem Reap river cruise takes you along the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia, offering an unforgettable blend of fascinating cultures, ancient architectural wonders and beautiful landscapes.
Photo credit: Avalon Waterways
Although people increasingly search online for Bora Bora and exotic islands, they are more apt to go to Hawaii and Key West, which remain two top American vacation destinations. New Orleans is also popular because of its authenticity in regional cuisine and music – both big factors for fun seekers.
Internationally, travelers are discovering Vietnam, Cambodia and Portugal, with river cruises on Portugal’s Douro River “selling like hotcakes,” according to Kristin Karst, executive vice president/co-owner of AmaWaterways. The Danube River cruise through Romania includes an intriguing visit to Dracula’s Castle.
London, Barcelona, Ireland, Iceland and Italy are still popular, but expect competition from big cruise ships sailing from New York to Cuba in 2019, and more cruises leaving from the west coast.
Travel Trends To Watch for 2019:
Where are we going?
According to Cohen, the typical traveler spends 3.2 hours each day on the Internet for personal use. 44 percent of this time is spent on social media. About 20 percent of people pick a destination based on social media content (31 percent for millennials.)
Knowing this, brands are using digital platforms and apps to allow people to personalize their trips – 90 percent of travelers use a mobile device at their destination for maps and navigation, 87 percent to find places to eat. Consumers expect free Wi-Fi and usually get it. In return, suppliers get your data so they can learn your preferences and aim their marketing efforts directly at you.
As climate change and overtouristing may potentially “ruin” some travel experiences people have dreamed of, there’s a consumer-driven sense of urgency to “do it now” before it’s too late. Coral reefs are dying; rising waters erode beaches; droughts affect water levels in rivers. The industry believes it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Without a doubt, it’s still a beautiful world. Travel gives people a chance to escape the craziness of life. Travel has the power to put you in a healthy place. About 36 percent of surveyed travelers said they would want to take a trip alone to get away and explore something new. For the majority though, the industry consensus is that the #1 reason most people travel is to spend time with people they love.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, an IATA-accredited travel advisor and PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Connect through Facebook @friendlygrouptravel, Twitter @friendsgotravel, Instagram @friendgrouptravel or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
The most popular time to visit Stockholm, Sweden’s capital and most populous city, is summer, with warm days, bustling outdoor cafes and extended hours of daylight to explore the city’s archipelago and canals by foot or by sea. After all, Stockholm is built on 14 beautiful islands connected by 57 bridges.
But, as fate would have it, I had family business that called me over in mid-January. I didn’t mind, airfares and hotel rates are lower in winter, and having been to Stockholm about 30 times in my life, I was happy to approach this trip as a journey into winter life in the city.
This time I opted not to stay in the tourist area of Gamla Stan (“Old Town” with cobblestone walking streets and preserved medieval architecture), near Djurgården (the island in the southern part of Östermalm that’s home to the famous Vasa Viking ship museum, Skansen outdoor living museum of traditional life, Gröna Lund amusement park and the Abba Museum), hip Södermalm with its artsy vibe and eclectic eateries, or near the ferry terminals that take passengers to the archipelago and numerous water tours of the city.
Instead, we stayed in Norrmalm, a 20-minute walk north of the city’s Central Train station, passing by Sorgel Torg, the heart of this busy shopping and working district. Norrmalm is also a cultural hub, with ballet and opera at the Royal Swedish Opera, as well as art exhibits and modern dance at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern. Drottninggatan is a vehicle-prohibited shopping street filled with outdoor cafes and fun places to get a sense of current Swedish design and fashion. It begins close to the Royal Palace where you’ll see shops selling all the expected souvenirs, from t-shirts and Viking horn hats to Swedish crystal and H&M department store bargains. The farther north you walk, the more this becomes part of the local community. We also walked around Vasastan, a neighborhood near Stockholm’s prestigious KTH (Royal Institute of Technology), which was part of my reason for visiting over the winter.
In winter, in Norrmalm, you feel less like a tourist and more immersed in daily culture of Swedish life. Here are my observations, some pertinent year-round and some most noticeable in winter:
If it had been summer, and the days were long and warm we’d be more apt to see families and lots of children out on the streets. With school in session and the setting sun closing in on daylight by mid-afternoon, it was a different vibe to see commuters – well-dressed men with their stylish hair and manbags, women bicycling in leggings and skirts, and shiny white lights in every direction. Most people would enjoy Stockholm more in spring, summer or fall. However, stretching a necessary family trip with a quick immersion dump into Stockholm’s winter culture gave us a fun new insight into the winter scene in one of Scandinavia’s most beloved cities.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA is principal of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. She’s also a writer with special interest in travel, health and wellness. Connect at email@example.com, facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel @marciasimon on Twitter or friendlygrouptravel on Instagram.
The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, is a beautiful archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean located about 900 miles (1450 kilometers) from Lisbon. You can fly nonstop from Boston via Azores Airlines. Below is a summary of a trip by a FriendlyGroupTravel.com client who takes advantage of our "last minute pop-up offers." Thank you Frank, for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed the trip!!
This was one of my best vacations for so many reasons. I received a message from Marcia at Friendly Group Travel about an offer for a trip to Terceira Island of the Azores. It offered a package deal of airfare, hotel, and car rental. Marcia offered advice and information that was prompt and helpful. We paid a little extra for ocean view and for early check in, both were excellent choices!
The room had everything we needed, was clean and nice, with an extraordinary view! We set our own schedule for daily activities. There was so much to do, and we fit it all in! The ocean swimming next to the hotel was fantastic. Our first day, we toured Angra do Heroismo, which is the main town on the island. It was clean, safe, and beautiful! People were very friendly, and most spoke English. The choices of restaurants was overwhelming, most offering local seafood, meat, and vegetarian diet choices. The streets and most of the sidewalks are cobblestone. There is a great deal of history here, and many places to learn about it!
There were many choices for excursions. Our first choice (and we went back to them two more times) was OceanEmotion. We first went for a whale watch, and we encountered a sperm whale and many dolphins. They also gave a short tour of the area by boat. We went on a tour of Cabras Islets, which are remnants of a volcanic land that split in two, and is now a nature preserve. Our third tour with them was a swim with the dolphins tour, unfortunately, we did not encounter any, but had a really nice time out on the water!
We drove around the entire island, which is about 19 miles by 12 miles in dimension. It is volcanic hills, farmland, pastures, and small towns. We went up to Biscoitos on the North coast, and went snorkeling. It was a wonderful experience. On our way there, we stopped in many of the small towns, and checked out their life and ways! On another day, we drove up to Lagoa do Negro where we hiked about 3 miles around a volcano (Gruta de Natal) and after the hike, we went on a tour inside of the volcano.
We visited Praia da Vitoria, on the East Coast on another day, and this is the main seaport for shipping. We stopped for lunch and had great sandwiches, in a small restaurant along the way there. The scenery throughout the island was breathtaking! Volcanic mountains and beautiful vistas by the sea!
Something that was consistent in this place was that everyone took such pride in their homes, cars, boats and all of their possessions. Another thing is that there was no use of plastic! Water, soda, and other drinks came in glass bottles, all returnable. There was no use of plastic bags, and it was evident that they care about their environment.
This was a visit to a real gem! Relaxing, friendly, and economical. I highly recommend this trip!
Thank you Marcia!! -FC, East Haven, CT
by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
Traveling internationally? Whether it’s your first trip abroad or you’re a seasoned frequent traveler who needs a reminder checklist so you don’t forget anything, here are 10 pre-trip things to do to assure a smooth journey:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA is principal of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. She’s also a writer with special interest in travel, health, wellness and technology. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or @marciasimon on Twitter.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, has been exploring new places since she was 17 years old and traveled around Europe on a Eurailpass with her best friend. Decades later, she still considers travel the best investment of time and money she's ever made for herself and her family.