Exploring Florida: Shingle Creek Regional Park

Last week while staying at my brother’s house in Kissimmee, we visited Shingle Creek Regional Trail and Park for the first time. It’s funny that in the four years that he lived there, we never knew this place existed.  We were amazed that this trail filled with nature and history was right in his backyard this whole time. 

View of shingle creek with trees and palmettos on each side, reflecting in the water.

We parked and started at the historic Steffee Homestead, which was rebuilt in 1911 after the family’s original home was burned down.  In this area, there is also the caretaker’s cabin, Steffee Landing, and other historical structures.  Kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and bike rentals are available at the paddling center, but it is currently closed due to Covid19. 

From here the trail goes in two directions. One way leads under Vine Street and to the Welcome Center and History Museum, where parking is also available.  The other direction is a bike trail that takes you toward the airport. The hiking trail is approximately 1 mile, but the bike trail branches out in different directions and is expected to be around 32 miles total once completed.  For those interested in paddling, there are two launch location at Babb Landing and Steffee Landing. We went ahead and followed the hiking trail, which eventually lead us to the Pioneer Village.

4 historic buildings on open field, surrounded by wooden fence
Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek

The Pioneer village has parking as well and can be visited for an admission fee of $8 adults/$4 children. Tours are also offered every Wednesday and live history events with re-enactors are hosted every Saturday.  Though we were happy to see the village from the trail. 

For anyone looking to avoid crowds, the trail is lightly trafficked during the week making it easy to socially distance.  With the weather starting to cool down in Central Florida, it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy this place for yourself.

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam

Houseboat parked across tall buildings on canal

I usually have a good reason why I want to visit a new country or city, but the sole purpose of my trip to Amsterdam was to see the Jonas Brothers on their most recent tour.  I stayed in Amsterdam for 3 days after spending a week in Belgium. I figured if I was going to fly all the way to Europe to see my favorite boy band, I might as well make the most of my trip.  However, I quickly realized that one could easily spend a week in Amsterdam.  It’s just as hip as I’d imagined, with people that are diverse and laid back, and an endless amount of things to do.  

These are just some of my recommendations for anyone who has a few days in the city. Feel free to skip to the end if you’re just looking for some basic information.

1). Take a Free Walking Tour

Free tours are the best ways to get advice and learn about the place you’re visiting.  Amsterdam has a few options, including a free food tour, free red-light district tour, and a few general city tours.  I went with Sandeman’s free tour that started in Dam Square, went through the canals, the Jewish quarter, and ended after seeing Anne Frank’s House.  The tour guide gave us a history on how the city of Amsterdam was built, important historical figures, civil rights issues and more. 

To see which tour works best for you, check the sites below.

https://www.neweuropetours.eu/amsterdam-walking-tours/

https://freewalkingtoursamsterdam.com/

Remember, that even though these are free tours, tips are appreciated so bring some cash with you.  You will also need it for the €1.55 tax required by the city.

2). Anne Frank House

I couldn’t actually get tickets to this due to poor planning and maybe a lack of effort.  Tickets can only be purchased online for a specific date and time slot.  It’s recommended to buy tickets as far in advance as possible as they sell out quickly.  A small number of tickets go on sale the day of at 9 a.m., but the queue can take a long time to process from what I’ve heard, so best of luck!  Due to Covid-19, the museum isn’t as busy as usual and have tickets available 3 days in advance.  They are currently open and are taking the necessary precautions to protect visitors, it is expected that all guests will respect the measures put in place.

To buy tickets and get more information, click here.

3). Van Gogh Museum

This is a can’t miss on your itinerary!  It’s a very impressive collection of Van Gogh’s work, and is the largest in the world.  With three levels, you can see the progression of his style from early on in his career to his last days.  Most people know Van Gogh as leading a life of despair, but this exhibit highlights his achievements, growth, and genius as an artist.  Not only is his work on display, but an intimate view into his life. Get tickets directly from the museum’s website here.

4). Vondelpark

I came here to relax and take in some nature after my visit to the Van Gogh Museum.  Because it’s located in the Museum Quarter, it’s the perfect place to take a break and enjoy the views or one of the cafes.  There are also many activities hosted here throughout the year, including concerts and shows at the park’s open-air theatre during the summer months.

5). Bloemenmarkt

Bouquets of unbloomed tulips

Also known as the Flower Market, it showcases one of the beautiful things that The Netherlands is known for, tulips.  This floating market is lined with stalls selling produce, tulip bulbs, and various souvenirs.  The prettiest shop in the row is Stin’s, located at the end. Keep in mind that this isn’t a big market, but it is worth it to look around and take some photos.  Just on the other side of the walkway, cheese shops line the street, where you can get samples or bring something home.  I fully recommend stepping into every shop and tasting every single cheese available, you’ll find some unique flavors like lavender goat cheese.

6). Explore Jordaan

This is the most popular neighborhood in Amsterdam, and with good reason.  Boasting a rich history of its own, it’s filled with charm, culture, and plenty of art.  One can freely walk around the narrow streets and canals, or take a tour of the area.  I found myself wandering the area and taking a look through some of the galleries. Eventually I stopped into a nearby café for pancakes and a latte.  It’s also here where I stumbled upon The Houseboat Museum, a cute place to stop in for €4.50.

7). Foodhallen

This is for the foodies.  I came here hungry and tired on my first night in Amsterdam and was revived by the atmosphere, this is where I realized how great the people in this city really were.  The crowd was super chill, and there were so many great food stalls, including ones with vegan and vegetarian options.  There’s dim sum, Mediterranean, tapas and more to choose from.  You can order a few dishes, pick up a drink from one of the bars, and find a seat.

Some other good sites and information to keep in mind:

Other Attractions: There are still a few sites that I didn’t have the chance to visit, but heard great things about from locals and other travelers.  The Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House Museum, and the Albert Cuyp Market are all well recommended and might be worth including in your itinerary.

Vegan/Vegetarian Eats:  I was amazed at the options available for plant-based diets.  Vegan Junk Food has four locations throughout the city and the food is fire, their colored burger buns are an instagrammable bonus.  There’s also Vegan Sushi, Meatless District, and McDonald’s has a decent veggie burger if you’re in a rush. 

Transportation: A GVB pass includes transportation on tram, bus, and metro. It can be purchased for 1-7 days, I bought a 3-day pass for €19 at the metro station when I first arrived by flixbus.  You’ll want to use the rail to get around, it’s efficient and the most sustainable mode.  The I Amsterdam city card is another option that includes transportation as well as free or discounted entry to many museums and attractions, though it is pricey, so do the math on what attractions you want to visit to see if it is worth it.  Follow this link to their website to find the most accurate information.

Red light district courtesy: If you’re exploring the area on your own, please refrain from crowding around the brothels to marvel at the sex workers. This can often times deter customers from entering these establishments and cause the women to lose out on profits. Not to mention that this behavior is kind of rude, just take a tour or read up if you’re curious.

Drinking water: Fountains are easily accessible throughout the city, and the tap water here is the safest to drink in all of Europe.  For those flying in and out of Amsterdam, this includes all of the tap water throughout the airport according to the AMS website and airport employees.

Where I stayed: Meininger Hostel. They have dorm and private rooms available, and felt more like a hotel to be honest.  There are great amenities, a nice restaurant and bar, and it is conveniently located next to a small Brazilian café and Amstel Station.

Combating Flight Emissions with Carbon Offsets

Until recently, my knowledge of carbon offsets and carbon neutrality was limited, but I knew they were important factors in adapting to climate change. This brought me to do some research, and what I found was interesting and helped me gain perspective. It’s no secret that carbon emissions have been on the rise, but there are more and more ways to bring them back down. Major companies now have the power and resources to work towards a solution, even the airline industry.

What are Carbon Offsets?

In simple terms, carbon offsets are investments into various projects that reduce greenhouse gases, like forestry or capturing emissions. These projects collect carbon and then convert it to energy, in the case of replanting trees it’s done by photosynthesis. Renewable energy certificates (RECs) are often categorized with carbon offsets, but are a different concept as they don’t remove carbon, but prevent it’s production by powering solar, wind, and other clean energy sources.

Corporate Responsibility

When a company is carbon neutral, it either means that they have invested into carbon offsets or RECs to bring their net emissions to zero or that they have found a way not to produce emissions at all. If they are investing into carbon offsets it doesn’t mean they don’t produce any greenhouse gases, they’re simply calculating their carbon output and paying to have that amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere.

How Carbon Offsets Apply to Air Travel

In 2019 the aviation industry contributed 915 million tons of CO2 emissions worldwide, a significant increase from previous years. It’s even expected that Airline emissions will nearly triple by 2050. I often feel guilty for traveling as much as I do and working in the aviation industry, when we are facing a big climate crisis. I’m sure I’m not alone in the sentiment that we desperately need a solution.

Just recently, a major U.S. airline has become the first in the country to claim carbon neutrality, which is a major step in the right direction. According to their website, they are investing in and fueling all flights leaving out of San Francisco with sustainable airline fuel (SAF) made by Neste, a Finland based company that produces renewable diesel and SAF from waste materials.

The airline is also investing into solar and wind energy farms, forestry conservation projects, and landfill gas capture. As this company continues to work with environmental groups, I hope it encourages other airlines to make this change of buying carbon offsets to balance flight emissions. While it’s important for us to do our best to reduce our carbon footprints individually, it’s time for major corporations to take accountability.