Saturday, October 29, 2016

How to Be Mindful While Celebrating Diwali?

Diwali is a centuries-old, largest festival in India and is also known as Festival of Lights! Diwali symbolizes victory of light (goodness) over dark (evil)! But as it happens with almost all religions and traditions, intention behind the festival and rituals start taking back seat and consumerism, using festivity for marketing takes center stage.

So sadly now people mainly know Diwali for buying new things, gifts and fire crackers in India and outside! But frankly Diwali is not about shopping and consuming, it's victory of goodness you remember? So do you think consuming more things (most times unnecessary) and increasing waste is good in any way?

Firecrackers are not part of Diwali!

If you talk about firecrackers, firstly this is very recent addition to festival of Diwali! Firecrackers are invented in China and they reached India just 2-3 centuries back and systematically marketed and associated to Diwali in 1923 by a match factory owner, read this article to know more!

Secondly air pollution is already at it's peak and more and more people specially children are suffering through respiratory diseases, so adding more concentrated pollution to air during Diwali sounds good to you? Frankly since years my brother who had child asthama, used to avoid going out on day of Diwali as the polluted air was very harmful for him! I haven't taken my son to India in Diwali since last 4 years during Diwali, in fear of not exposing him to that concentrated fire crackers smoke and almost unstoppable sound pollution.

Unfortunately that fact is, people in India since few years are cracking bigger and louder firecrackers to show how wealthy they are. I am not kidding, but it's a mark to show your success, where they are actually showing that they are fooled by that marketing tact started in 1923! Plus it's sad to see the waste from firecrackers scattered all over streets next morning! So firecrackers of Diwali are not only non-Eco-friendly and harmful for us but also are not really part of Diwali at all!

Diwali Rituals

Laxmi, Ganesh and Saraswati

I will not go deeper into significance of 5 days of Diwali or mythological stories but would love to discuss some age-old Diwali rituals which are even necessary for healthy living!

Before Diwali, Indians clean their houses, for me it's time to do yearly deep-cleaning of my home to make it non-toxic!

Some typical Diwali sweets and delicacies are made before of during Diwali days! As during this festival, Indians meet their family and friends to share joys and these Diwali sweets!

Abhyanga snan is performed during Diwali mornings, mainly on Narakchaturdashi! Traditionally early morning women massage kids, husband with essential oils and then perform ceremony "ovalaney" with ghee lamp & then ubtan made of natural ingredients is used during the bath. Abhyang snan keeps skin healthy and moisturized.  Over years ubtan was replaced by soaps, but we can always choose Eco-freindly soap made of natural materials which comes in Eco-friendly or no packaging!

On the Diwali day or Laxmi poojan, wealth is worshiped specially by business community. But I like our Laxmi Poojan the most because in my family we worship Laxmi  (Goddess of wealth) as well as Saraswati (goddess of knowledge); believing 'knowledge is wealth'!

Throughout Diwali, we lit up of our homes and outdoor spaces and entrances with lamps. Traditional Rangoli is created near the entrance of home. But since few years wax lamps are replacing traditional Diwali lamps, which are not just harmful for environment but also add to waste. 

But then here are few ways to make your Diwali celebration Eco-friendly and mindful

Eco Friendly Diwali Essentials

Eco-friendly Diwali Essentials

1. Using oil lamps instead of wax lamps. Remember Palm wax candles are even more unethical, as every years palm cultivators in Indonesia (largest palm producer) burn forests to cultivate palm. Among candles, soy candles can be a more sustainable solution. But comparatively most sustainable way to light up Diyas is to use or recycle cooking (fried) oil after making those Diwali sweets for lamps with handmade cotton wick.

2. Using natural soaps and oils for Abhyang. As we are living in Dubai I preferred a soap made from local natural ingredient, camel milk. You can even find a range of baby soaps at Camel Milk Factory

3. I love to make Rangoli designs since years, but since few years my running toddler hardly keeps the Rangoli at my door for an hour without spoiling it. I have switched to these wooden Rangoli pieces which you can arrange in diffrent formations. Frankly I am liking this Rangoli more as it's waste free Rangoli helping my #zerowasteUAE attempt as well.

4. Solar lanterns and solar light garlands are one more sustainable and Eco-friendly option to decorate your home or outdoors.

5. Instead of buying new traditional clothes and jewelry every Diwali, you can always wear vintage fashion, may be passed on by older ladies in your family or your won old fashion pieces.

This years shopping wise we are celebrating almost 'no spend Diwali', we saved ourselves from hassle of going to Meena Bazzar in horrible traffic and then adding some more clutter to home which we will probably use directly in next Diwali. At least I can see my husband is really happier by ditching Diwali shopping all together! Diwali is about spreading happiness too!

Here is our family wearing our previously bought traditional clothes!
Happy Diwali!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Clean Energy Spotlight: Iceland's Geothermal Energy and Thermal Pools

Once a poorest country in Europe now has one of the top living standards and all thanks to geothermal energy, this can be a short description of Iceland's geothermal energy story! Having located on both Iceland Hotspot and North Atlantic Ridge this is comparatively a newly formed land and has has highest geological activity in the form of volcanoes and geysers. Iceland is mainly developed and inhabited along the coast line as the central uninhibited part of Iceland is consist of highlands, volcanoes, geysers and lava field.
Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal station
It's capital Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world also got it's name from this geothermal phenomenon. The first explorer wrongly thought the steam coming from land as smoke and so he gave name 'Smokey Bay' i.e Reykjavik!

Previously considered a gift from devil, people were scared of geothermal energy till 18th century but slowly they started using hot water from natural geothermal springs for daily use and then Iceland pioneered use of geothermal power in space heating! 25% of country's energy demand is served by geothermal energy plants.

Iceland is almost 100% powered by clean energy out of which 75 % is hydroelectric power and 25 % is geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is mainly used for space heating (for homes, offices, parking, roads), hot water, hot water for farming in green houses, thermal pools etc. There are currently 9 geothermal power plants in Iceland, most of them can be run by only 2 people! These power plants provide in excess of 5000 GWh of electricity per year. Iceland has one of the largest geothermal power plant Hellisheidi Power Station, which gives maximum output of 303MW of electricity and owned by the capital city of Reykjavik.
Blue Lagoons
The famous Blue lagoons is actually a reservoir of run off water from a geothermal power plant situated in 800-year-old lava field in the heart of the Reykjanes Peninsula – a UNESCO Geopark and holds nine million liters of geothermal seawater and it's recirculated every 40 hours. Unfortunately I could not visit Blue lagoons this time because I didn't get booking as per my convenience but if you are planning to visit it book it few weeks early and don't forget to check out a short walk around to see the lava field.

But then you can't really skip thermal pools when you are in Iceland and I got opportunity to visit Fotana Spa during golden circle trip and a public pool in Reykjavik!

Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths

Laugarvatn Fontana
Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal baths is located just next to Lake Laugarvatn on golden circle route. There are three hot springs at the shore of the lake Laugarvatn and Fontana spa is built on of these geothermal springs. There are all open air pools of different temperature in the Fontana facility surrounded by beautiful stone artwork. I visited Fontana on a stormy day, already being start of winter it was cold (may be a lot cold for me) and on the top of it it was windy and raining. But I would say it was a perfect day to visit thermal pool! It was tricky to reach pools from changing and shower area wearing just swimming suite in that weather but worth the relaxing time I spent in geothermal pool.

It was so soothing to just relax in mineral rich natural hot spring and was even more memorable I
Steam rooms at Fontana
think because of sharing experiences and having a great talk in that pool with travelers from around the world right from Europe, south America, Canada, and even Australia and so on! No doubt spending time in thermal pools must be Icelander's favorite past-time!

After my body was totally relaxed in bath, it was much harder this time to get out of the pool and walk upto shower room in very cold and windy evening! But all thanks to geothermal steam rooms on the way, where I took refuge on that hardest short walk in my life! Hot, healing steam simmer directly from the ground through grids in the wooden cabin floors of these steam rooms, an experience not to be missed!

Laugardalslaug, Reykjavik

Geothermal baths at Laugardalslaug
Another thermal pool experience I got was at Laugardalslaug, it's a great place for families with kids as there are indoor and outdoor swimming pool, largest in city, water slides, hot baths and tubs, baby pool, sauna, beach volleyball court with sand and mini golf course. It's fun to swim or relax with locals here! But what I loved the most about it was a insider tour I got with technical head of the facility!
Hot Baths
Being a sustainability engineer by profession, it was on top of my list to get to see a technical part of this geothermal energy utilization. Isleifur Fridriksson was so kind to spare some time and took me to the basement to show their plant rooms and on the tour of the facility! Started his career as blacksmith, worked at oldest thermal pool in Iceland, passionate about outdoor lifestyle, a part time tourist guide Isleifur is member of Icelandic Glacier Research Society and is very busy at 60 and still loves to climb mountains!
Isleifur Fridriksson, Laugardalslaug Technical head
The hot water coming from geothermal station is at 90 degrees so the Heat Exchanger reduces the water temperature to 28 degrees for swimming pools. 100 tonnes of water is recycled everyday. The thin layer of water from swimming pool consist of impurities is discarded and only 10 fresh water is added on daily basis.
Water Filters in Plant Room
These huge water filters are used to filter the water during water recycling process. The sustainability features of these thermal pools don't end here. Isleifur informed me they were previously using industrial chlorine but industrial chlorine lead to corrosion so since few years they now making their chlorine out of food-grade salt by using electrolysis process! Which is milder and so safer and healthier for people in swimming pool and don't corrode anything in back of the house. I was thoroughly impressed by the system here and the geothermal energy application in this country! One can even visit Geothermal Energy Exhibition Hellisheiði Power Plant outside Reykjavik!

Geothermal Energy in Reykjavik

The Perlan (The pearl) structure on Öskjuhlið hill, south of downtown Reykjavík popular for great views of city from their is actually another spot for geothermal power! These 6 large cylinders are actually storage tanks of hot water to meet periodic changes in demand. Unlike other tourists I visited the site just to see if I can find out more about geothermal energy here. I found some interesting photos hanging in the lower ground floor. There is an artificial geyser in the middle of the building which spouts into air frequently. I saw some children getting excited and entertained by it. When I walked around the building I could find some interesting structure or possible exhaust vents and may be plant room's viewing windows. There is also a hot sprig outside the Perlan.

When you are in Iceland you can't fail to notice abundant geothermal energy be it steam coming from geothermal power plants on your road trips or frequent sighting of boreholes in Reykjavik! Though the geothermal (hot) water distribution system is underground in cities like Reykjavik, I could spot numerous bore holes during my walks in city. In general these are stainless steel structures and you can see steam rising from exhaust vents!
Bore Holes in Reykjavik
I even used a geothermal steam vent pipes in Ingólfstorg square (in front of tourist information center) as hand warmers! Not just buildings but even sidewalks in cities are heated by geothermal energy so no need to shovel snow in winter!  Every time you take shower in Iceland and you don't like the smell, that is because of the sulphur in water as all hot water supplied to building is heated by using geothermal energy!
Vent pipes in Ingólfstorg square

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Katla GeoPark in South Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice

Iceland is known as land of fire and ice! This land has highest volcanic activity in the world and at the moment there are 3 volcanoes overdue, ready to erupt almost anytime. But it's the safest country in the world (apart from volcanic eruption)! The crime rate is so low here that Iceland has more number of volcanoes than their police force! Seriously, it's not a joke! They have 300 police but total 800 volcanoes out which 200 are active! There are around 13 glaciers in Iceland, but it's not really ice everywhere as it name might suggest! It becomes winter wonderland and covered in snow in winter of course, but truth is Iceland is more green than it's neighboring Greenland!

So it's almost mandatory to see at least one glacier and one volcano when you go to Iceland! And for that you should take tour of south coast route in Katla Geopark! Katla Geopark is one of the UNESCO global geo-parks. On my second day in Iceland I went on south coast tour with Iceland Horizon and fall in love with this country!

Hekla and E15 Volcano

E15 Volcano under Eyjafjallajokull Glacier
As we left Reykjavik first volcano we could see from the road was Mount Hekla. It is known as gateway to heaven. Because of widespread fear about this volcano in local culture nobody dared to climb it till 18th century! Hekla is one of the overdue, ready to erupt volcano in Iceland. The next volcano we could spot was infamous E15, do you remember how the ash flying from this volcano closed down so many airports in Europe and delayed so many flights world wide in 2010? This volcano's real name is Eyjafjallajökull but like all other Icelandic names it is so difficult for reporters to pronounce and remember so they made the name short E15. Icelandic people are still using viking's original language, but if you find the names very difficult you can always ask your tour guide his or her American name! Very funnily when E15's ash was creating chaos in Europe but Iceland's Reykjavik airport, which is just few hours from this volcano was open and fully functional, just because the wind was taking volcanic ash in opposite direction to the east! E15 is under the icecap of Eyjafjallajökull glacier and the black part on the glacier is layer of ash from eruption.

The Porvaldseyri farm situated at the foot of E15 is there since a century in the same family. Can you imagine how it must be living there with a huge volcano looming over their shoulders. In addition of being a traditional sheep and milk producers, the farm is working towards self-sufficiency, with their own hydro-electric generator, on-site hot and cold water sources and growing barley, wheat and rapeseed (canola). Interesting!

Icelandic Turf Houses

Icelandic Turf Houese
Immediately after E15 view point, you can take a look at old houses of Drangshlid, which are basically traditional Icelandic homes and no they are not igloos! These turf houses were built by using natural materials just near the base of mountains. The turf provides cozy warmness for cold winters, it's definitely one of those early green roofs and great example of sustainable building design! I think there is great potential for these kind of Icelandic turf house accommodation in Iceland which can be great addition to sustainable tourism here! While seeing these houses I remembered our stay in Turkey's Cappadocia cave house! I would love to stay in such turf house in Iceland! And if you find it a bit spooky then you are not completely wrong, there are many stories of Elves living in this area of Drangshlid. And don't be surprised to know that Icelanders believe in elves and trolls even in present day society.


With lot of interesting stories our guide took us to Skogafoss, that famous fall in Iceland with two rainbows! It was a great sunny day and not just sun but even luck was shinning at us, the moment we reached we saw those double rainbows, it felt like I am looking at heaven! This fall is on Skoga river and the cliffs are ancient coastal cliffs, which were formed by marine erosion at the end of the last ice age when the sea level was much higher than it is now.
A full rainbow of 180 degree at Skogafoss

As there are many glaciers around Iceland, you get to see many waterfalls but I think this is one of the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. Iceland water is so pure, straight from glaciers and thanks to lesser pollution and less population of course the water remains clean.

Heart of Volcano on the Black Beach

Basalt Rock Formation
While planning the trip, I was fascinated by black beach! So when our guide parked the vehicle, I started walking straight to the beach. It's first black beach I have ever seen in my life. Our tour guide told us there is heart of an ancient volcano on the beach. Because of continuous erosion for many many years one of the ancient volcanic crater is now exposed. So I decided to believe in our guide's story and explore the igneous rock formation.

Black Sand Beach

Cave or possibly ancient magma chamber on the beach
The Reynisfjara beach is actually a volcanic basalt sand and pebble beach and is one the most beautiful beaches in the world. There are basalt coastal cliffs battered by sea makes the views of the beach even more beautiful. The arch formation on other side of the beach is spectacular! From May to August these coastal cliffs are inhabited by puffin colonies. Puffins are one of the few birds who can fly and even swim under the water. There is folklore that these two cliffs are trolls who caught rising sun light and transformed into light. The sea current here is usually rough, but as there is no landmass between Iceland and Antarctica, Atlantic rollers can attack here with full force. It was very windy and cold here so it was very comforting to have Icelandic soup in the only restaurant near beach.

Magma Intrusions on the beach

Glacier Walk

Walk on Solheimajokull Glacier

Our next stop was Solheimajokull Glacier which is part of the Myrdalsjokull Ice-cap and home to Katla volcano, which is overdue and ready to erupt and situated under this icecap!

Tongue of Solheimajokull Glacier
But first thing you notice when you reach the glacier is, impact of climate change! When we reached tongue of glacier, we could see a large glacier lake, which is basically the water accumulated after melting of ice in glacier. Our guide showed us how much the glacier has retreated in just last 30 years. Of course there is volcano under this glacier so it has impact on it, but you can't deny the effect of climate change, when you see it first hand!

Ice formation in Glacier
The thick black layers you can see on ice is accumulated ash from Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010, which is on the west of Solheimajokull Glacier! Here we took a short walk on glacier. It is always very slippery on the edge of the glacier, where ice is melting but it was one of a kind experience. We got to see some glacier terrain features like dirt cones, ice ridge, crevasses. Our tour guide told us, when the crevasses are formed and ice fall open the colour of ice surface appears blue. The reason behind it, when ice is formed in glacier the air bubbles squeeze out because of the pressure of ice and as a result ice in glacier reflects blue colour. While seeing that fresh blue color of the ice you can't think of volcano and hot lava with fire at the same moment. But Nature is so amazing, under the same icecap there is active volcano, Katla!

Around the glacier we could spot many igneous rock formation. I am sure Katla geo-park must be heaven for geologist around the world.
Igneous Rocks


A walk behind Seljalandfoss

This water fall is on Seljalands river which originates in Eyjafjallajökull glacier. It is one of the very popular spot among tourists but I would say it's worth visiting. How many times you get to walk behind a tall natural waterfall and marvel it's beauty from all possible angles? You need to make sure you are wearing a raincoat if you don't want to get drenched feel even colder. Don't forget to look at the different plant and moss species when you are behind the falls. It's really very beautiful there!

This tour to south coast in Katla Gor park with Iceland Horizon was very memorable for me. Golden circle route is very popular, but I would say if you want to have glimpse of Fire (actually volcano) and Ice, you need to go on South shore trip! Don't forget to take your water bottle and coffee mug with you to reduce waste. You can refill your water bottle on any tap, as tap water is drinkable in Iceland. I even carried my snacks and nuts in my cloth snack bag to keep my tour waste free!

Be curious in Nature but don't harm it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Patrick Blanc's Vertical Garden is Coming to Dubai at Al Futaim Robinsons

It's been few days I got opportunity to talk to world renowned botanist Patrick Blanc, but when you meet a legend you don't forget that meeting!

Al Futtaim is bringing Singapore's International Departmental Store, Robinsons to Dubai Festival City, which is scheduled to open towards end of March in 2017. Robinsons is popular for novelty and style. While we are all waiting to see amazing products in the store, I am sure biggest attraction is going to be the Vertical Gardens inside and outside the store! Not just because first time in UAE a store will flaunt a green living wall but these vertical gardens are designed by master who created them, Patrick Blanc! To Know more go to his website.

Robinsons Plant Bags

Aiming to Inspire Dubai’s future generations of Eco enthusiasts, Patrick Blanc engaged young minds from the Deira International School and the German International School of Dubai in an interactive session to discuss the benefits of an eco-friendly lifestyle. The latter school was selected based on the recent establishment of the institution’s sustainability committee, with a focus on educating students about environmental protection and green living.
Patrick Talking to Students
The young guests were instructed on proper planting techniques and encouraged to cultivate their green-thumb by being temporary care givers to each of their plants until the store’s opening in March 2017. Upon launch, Robinsons will welcome these plants and these mini botanists again to add their nurtured greens to live as part of the store’s Eco environment.

This passionate botanist can talk for hours about plants and getting to know the details of his creation from the man himself is definitely a great experience for any Eco-conscious plant lover! This award winner botanist has worked with many renowned architects and created more 250 vertical gardens across the globe!

Patrick's Candid Photo
You could imagine how rejoicing it was when this green man told me he reuses the felt for vertical gardens and he has kept samples of felts since 2-3 decades to see effect of time on them! Thanks to great minds like him, we can enjoy urban gardens in developed cities! It was fascinating to hear him talk about why there has to be little overflow of water on vertical gardens to aid even growth of plants and how he selects diffident species not just based on aesthetics but depending on all other parameters. When I inquired if his outdoor vertical gardens can withstand sand storms in region, he thought for a second and said, the sand storm won't harm but rather help green walls!

It was interesting to know that vertical gardens are difficult to maintain in colder climate than other extreme like our region. Freezing of plants make it more difficult to main ten the system in cold climate like New York.

These water efficient vertical walls reuse the overflow water. During the discussion this plant guru hurriedly confirmed with project architect if the run off water from vertical garden will be used for irrigation of other landscape! Like a very enthusiastic school girl, I couldn't stop asking question to this living encyclopedia and he was more than happy to answer all my queries! I have read somewhere that great people are humble, but this time I was experiencing that!
Patrick Blanc on KAFD Conference Hall, Riyadh
When I asked would you like to use local species (species from desert and mangroves) in your vertical garden his answer was very enlightening! He mentioned world wide it is difficult to find local species, people don't have proper nurseries of local species where you can go and pick up sample and study it! Everywhere you go, they are keeping species from somewhere else in nurseries but not the local species. To my surprise he has great knowledge about desert species and he said he would love to make a vertical garden with those species. Rather he has already designed a vertical garden in Saudi Arabia with local species! Through this project he has proved how we can incorporate local species in urban landscaping without compromising aesthetics, which will help us save water and enhance local habitat. These are very important elements in sustainable development! If you ask me, Patrick's KAFD conference hall project in Riyadh is great example for this region to follow his footsteps for more sustainable landscaping and vertical gardens!

Patrick Blanc, brain of a scientist and heart of an artist is great inspiration for generations to come! I can not thank Robinsons team more who invited me to spend great evening with this legend! I consider myself lucky not just because I could talk to him about his passion but I could know this lovely human being behind the great legend, who can even sing classic Indian movie songs!
Me with Patrick Blanc
We have a good long wait till Robinsons open their doors, but having just glimpse of what awaits inside their doors; I am all excited for March 2017!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Farm to Table Culinary Experience in Iceland

Icelandic local delicacies are very limited and to our surprise Icelanders joke that hots dogs are their national dish! But when you are in Reykjavik standing in queue of their famous hot dog stall you kind of start believing it!

You keep seeing those dried fish snacks in shops, they call it viking's snacks. And of course there are some famous seafood restaurants in Reykjavik. I had the best lobster soup in one of those near harbor. 

But when I visited a nearby grocery shop, I was surprised to see fresh smelling tomatoes, cucumbers and bananas! I mean bananas in such northerly place where summer is also cooler. But I decided to keep my curiosity on hold till the day I went on culinary tour. If you want to see the real food and farming movement in Iceland, you need to leave Reykjavik and explore nearby places. Thanks to Icelandic Mountain Guides, I had opportunity to visit two such farms which introduced me to sustainable food culture in Iceland.

Blue berries
Traditional farming is very difficult on this volcanic island considering the geological, geographical challenges. This island is mainly made of volcanic lava rocks and has thin layer of soil so you can't even see naturally grown tall trees here. Even the blueberry plants growing in wild are so small and growing near the ground like creepers. Since Vikings settled here some 1,100 years back they brought livestock with them. And since then farms in Iceland are mainly animal farms where they keep sheep, cows, chickens, horses etc. During summer, farmers leave their animals on highlands where they graze on long spread, mostly an uninhabitable part of Iceland. So then you understand how this hot dog became their so called national dish.

But thanks to abundant geothermal energy in this country since 1930s they started farming in geothermal greenhouses. These green houses are heated by using geothermal energy, and they can grow those vegetables and fruits which require warmer climate. So when you see those fresh tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, strawberries and even bananas, they all are grown in Iceland in these green houses. You pass through this green house farming area while you tour Golden Circle route. This nation has reduced their carbon footprint in food drastically by growing their own food instead of exporting from somewhere else and using geothermal energy for growing food. 

Fridheimar- Tomato Farm

Hydroponic Tomato Farm
Our first culinary stop was Fridheimar, a farm to fork concept restaurant based inside hydroponic tomato farm green house, where you get to taste everything made out of tomatoes. Started in 1986, these green houses are heated with geothermal energy upto 20-25 degrees. As they are using lights for growing vegetables, the farms are now producing year round, even during winter when there sun is out only around 4 hours. Humidity, temperature, lights, window operation etc is controlled by computer programs. Theis climate control computer system help them to operate farm energy efficiently. For example, when sun is out and given required lighting to the farm, this system switches off lights. Photosynthesis of plants is enhanced by using carbon dioxide produced from natural geothermal steam. 

Apart from all these Eco friendly features of Fridheimar farm, their natural pest control technique is notable. They use mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus imported from Holland, which eats all insect pests in Icelandic farmhouse. They also use bumble bee from Holland, these bees pollinate tomato plants.

The different types of tomatoes grown in the farm is delivered to the supermarket within same day of picking them from plants. So Icelanders can eat fresh tomatoes year round! They use chemical fertilizers so unfortunately these farms apart from so many Eco friendly practices is not an organic farm, but the need of nutrients for the plants grown in hydroponics to be fulfilled with fertilizers, hope they can find a natural nutrient addition soon. 

World's best Tomato Soup
It was an unique experience sit in restaurant next to hydroponic farm in geothermal green house. It's so warm and pleasant inside. After some site seeing on cold, rainy and stormy day, it was amazing to finally take coats off and sit down to have world best tomato soup, made out of tomatoes picked few hours back. They have kept a basil plant on every table, you can cut basil leaves and add to your soup along with sour cream; the taste is heavenly! I never had such fresh food experience in my life! I fall in love with the concept so much, that just 2 days back, I made similar table setting at home with basil plant on table and tried to recreate the same tomato soup experience for my husband! Next time I would love to visit Fridheimar with him and would love to have bloody merry made out of just picked tomatoes! It's no surprise that this farm to table restaurant is favorite spot of all celebrities visiting Iceland from Bill Clinton to Kim Kardashian!

Efstidalur- Cattle Farm

Rustic Farm to Table at Efstidalur
Our next stop on this culinary trail was Efstidalur farm. This is a 3 generation family run cattle farm. You can stay in the guest house of this family farm, have meals in their restaurant or just drop in to see the farm and taste their farm to table skyr and ice creams! It's a great place to take kids as you can cuddle calves and can have ice-cream while watching the cows from glass windows of the restaurant! I loved the rustic charm of the ground floor sitting area. 

Whey and Skyr
The ice cream is freshly made from cow milk from the farm. Same goes with skyr, it is Icelandic delicacy made out of milk which is cross of yogurt and cheese. But in this farm some interesting information unfolded in front of us. During skyr tasting, the farmer served us some clear water like drink and told us it's whey. While making skyr whey is separated and Icelandic people are drinking this whey since generations! Skyr is great addition to breakfast and whey tasted good too! If you mix skyr and whey, you get skimmed milk! 

The ice-cream was delicious, they add fresh fruits whenever possible and watching cows and cuddling calves is always fun!
Watching Calves from Restaurant 
It was great to visit farms in Iceland and experience farm to table culinary concepts. If you are visiting Iceland don't forget to go on culinary trail and Icelandic mountain guides are great choice. Read my lave caving experience with them, to know why they are my favorite tour operators in Iceland! 

This Culinary trail is outside of Reykjavik but you can visit these farms during a day trip while covering site seeing on Golden Tour. I wish this farm to table concept gets popular everywhere in the world, having fresh food at the place where it is grown or produced takes your culinary experience at different level and it's great educational experience for our kids to know how food grows and where it comes from!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Guide to Sustainable Shopping in Reykjavik, Iceland

While on travels, we generally don't do much of shopping. It's sustainable not to increase the luggage and great way of avoiding clutter at home, less is more! We focus more on experiences than stuff. I keep shopping for souvenirs limited to few for home and few for family members.

But this time, as I was traveling solo, first time away from my son since his birth, I had to buy gifts for him! I had promised him that I'll bring him puffin toys, so it was on top of my list of things to buy.
I was very clear about how this puffin toy must be, made of sustainable material, preferably wood (no plastic toys for my son anymore). It has to be educational, creative, fun learning which he will play again and again and won't become a piece of clutter soon.
Puffin puzzle from Mal Og Menning
There are so many souvenir or gifts shops on Reykjavik's main shopping street, Laugavegur street; locals call them puffin shops. But quiet contrary you can find their only stuffed puffins and few puffin magnets and key-chain, nothing more than that. I must have walked up and down the street before Mal Og Menning caught my attention. It's great shop to buy English books and really nice souvenirs. Downstairs they have a complete section for toys and there I found this beautiful wooden puffin puzzle and a wooden activity toy! I couldn't resist buying this reusable stainless steel water bottle by Eco kids too. I was sure my car lover son will love it because of so many vehicles painted on it! He was so happy, his school teacher even told me later that he told her what I got for him and what I saw in Iceland! Mal Og Menning is a hidden gem and you shouldn't miss it if you want to buy useful, good quality souvenirs.

Handmade Woolen Bag from Red Cross Shop
Reykjavik is very pricey place, but if you want to save some Kronas and on the top of it want to raise funds for charity you have options. There are at least 3 Red Cross shops and few second hand cum vintage shops. I would give my thumbs up to these shops, as it's ultimate sustainable shopping option, someone's junk can become your treasure. So you won't be surprised to know that this time I even shopped for myself on this trip! I bought this pre-loved woolen handmade bag from one of the red cross shop along with this natural shell bowl. You can see the hem on inside of the bag so I was glad to acquire this not only my first recycled fashion piece but handmade by someone with love.

You can also shop in their famous flea market Kolaportid Flea Market for pre-used items. It is held only on weekends (Sunday and Saturday) and better you carry cash here.

Aftur, Fashion Brand in Iceland
I found some great sustainable products in Reykjavik, one of them would be Aftur, this brand creates beautiful fashion out of recycled clothing. I loved one of their range made out of used cashmere, but frankly found it way too pricey! May be Icelanders may not find it very pricey, but generally I have feeling that sustainable fashion should be affordable and then only this movement can pick up and progress to next level.

Sisters Redesign- Icelandic designs are one more upcoming sustainable fashion startup.
I would also like to give heads up for handmade vegan soaps like Islenska Luxussapan and Sapusmidjan soaps made from organic Icelandic herbs.

Another interesting business I found out was Mistur, their handmade notebooks and gifts made out of recycled pallets, papers and fish skin can be great gift to buy from Iceland!

Mistur, recycled stationary

Iceland's most popular gifts are woolen products made from Icelandic sheep-wool. But I didn't buy any of it, it will be ridiculous to wear them in Dubai and would just add to clutter at my home. Not very sustainable shopping option for me. But they are great if you live in cold places, but just a reminder they can be itchy.

Eco Products at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm
Not exactly in Iceland, but when you fly to Iceland from Dubai you always need to take stop over in airports like Stockholm or Copenhagen. These airports are great places to stock up some good Eco-friendly products. For example I found a shop in Stockholm's Arlanda airport, Designtorget. There were many useful Eco-products like snack bags, wooden handle and natural bristle brushes for cleaning etc.