Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rrrriga

A couple of weekends ago, I traveled with two friends to Latvia's capital city, Riga (pronounced 'Reega'). As you may recall from history or geography classes, Latvia is one of the 3 Baltic states (the others being Lithuania and Estonia). It's safe to say, many people (including myself) do not know much about these northern countries. I was aware of their history of occupation by the Soviets and Germans, but not much more. This little knowledge, combined with the cheap flights offered by RyanAir, is one of the reasons I picked Riga for a visit.

-Top Left Image:Christmas market in front of Dome cathedral

Riga is a small, charming city; and, visiting close to the Christmas holiday made it even more so. We frequented the two Christmas markets, visited the Occupation Museum, and simply went from cafe, to bar, to restaurant, because it was SO cold (mind you, this is a place where people wear furs not only for fashion) and the food was excellent!

This city boasts a number of awesome bars and restaurants, including an authentic medieval place, almost entirely lit by candlelight. This place was a great find on one of the freezing nights. The candlelight, intimacy and warm medieval honey drink warmed me to the bone. It wasn't too cheesy either - highly recommend it if you're in the city.

One of the funniest and most notable things about the city is the tendency for bar and restaurant staff to dress in costume according to the theme of the place. You could expect this in, say, a medieval restaurant as I just mentioned; however, we observed this in 3 out of 4 places. For instance, at a trendy student bar called Cuba, employees were wearing sun dresses and flip-flops; in another trendy bar decorated completely in hospital/medical theme, staff dressed in medical outfits (with the women in short nurse attire, uh-hem); and, in a homey place serving up hearty Latvian food, staff wore what must have been traditional Latvian clothing.

Keep in mind, this is not a super touristy location, especially in mid-December, so this trend cannot be attributed simply to tourism. Regardless of the reason, it's pretty hilarious and entertaining.

Given that we were only visiting for a weekend, we didn't get the chance to travel outside of Riga. However, there is apparently a nice coastal resort town quite close to Riga, which you could visit in better weather - Jurmala, a place formally favored by high-level Communist party officials.

Anyhow, it was a pleasant weekend. I only took a couple of photos - mostly of the Christmas market area. For more photos, click here!









Saturday, December 19, 2009

Prettige Feestdagen!











We had some snow in Amsterdam recently...not as much as is hitting VA now, but we can be happy for the little we received, since it doesn't come very often.

Here's the Christmas card I created for this year. Eco-friendly! :)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Our Amsterdam buurt (neighborhood)

So, the Riga trip this weekend fell through because apparently the reservation was never confirmed. However, we re-booked and got even cheaper flights in December...60 euros per person to be exact - gotta love those bargains! Instead, this weekend, I am visiting the same friend I will be traveling with, in Brussels, which should also be nice, of course. Brussels is a beautiful city and I love the mix of 'Dutchness' and 'Frenchness' you find there.

Anyhow, the point of this post is to actually show you a bit of our neighborhood, the 'Indische Buurt', in Amsterdam. We live nearby a large, beautiful park, called Flevopark, which is where most of the photos are taken. We often go for walks or runs here. Considering I always post photos of other places, I thought I'd show you a bit of our immediate surroundings - including some typical Dutch sights, such as random abstract art, a large canal still used for shipping freight, a standard bike path, road signs, and bicycle madness. Enjoy!




Our building (we are just left of the tree) and bike parking madness on our street

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Question....

...why do some of my friends come to Europe, sometimes for the first time, then not tell me until it's too late?? Really, what's the deal? Hmmm...I feel like I am missing something....it's a tad annoying and disappointing, to say the least...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Riga, Latvia in 2 weeks!

Well, in the last month of free time, before I start a new job on November 16th, I decided it would be prudent to take a small European trip. Since Arno can't go with me, it had to be somewhere that he wouldn't be envious of ;) Actually, a few days prior to me booking a trip to Riga with my friend, Arno and I had made a loose list of priority countries we want to visit in the coming years. The Baltic States weren't one of the priorities. Luckily, there are very affordable flights with RyanAir from Brussels (where my friend lives) to numerous locations, so alas, I settled on Riga!

I don't know really what to expect, except that it's still apparently very 'Russian-esque' from so many years spent under rule of (among others) the former Soviet Union. The two largest ethnicities are indeed Latvian, followed very closely by Russian.

Check back in sometime after 1 November for some photos!

Atā! (apparently that is Latvian for 'bye'!)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

NatGeo Place of the Week

To spice up my fading blog, I thought I'd add a widget...what better than something from National Geographic?! Every week, you can read up on and travel in spirit to some foreign place - maybe somewhere you've been...or maybe not. I am pretty certain that every locale featured will be somewhere I'd like to travel, so I will definitely start checking my own blog each week now....lol.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Something to Ponder...or not...

...I don't know why this question came to mind and it's not directly related to travel, but...

When is an acquaintance no longer an acquaintance, but a friend?


I feel whatever criteria I subconsciously used before to make such distinctions have only become blurred as I've grown older, or maybe it's a part of living the expat lifestyle where everything is transient....?

Would be interested to hear people's thoughts on this....

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sailing and exploring the island of Elba, Italy - June 2009

Sailing. It's simply awesome. There's nothing more peaceful than being on the water, the rumbling motor off, with a good wind and full sails, just gliding along with no set agenda. This is the second time we've had the fortunate and unique opportunity to sail with my good friend, Jaap. Because he is a certified sailor, or captain, he's able to charter sailboats himself; meaning we don't have to hire a crew to sail us around, which also means very low costs for what is usually an expensive activity, and complete freedom on the boat. In Europe, there are several companies which rent out sailboats from various ports and this year's trip started in the port of Follonica, Italy. Destination: the island of Elba. For you history buffs, you will know it as the island to which Napolean was exiled for a couple of years. En route to Elba, we also passed by the island of Monte Cristo. (Note: the boat pictured above is the boat we sailed on; Aulona, was her name. Sleeps 8 people.)

The added special bonus of sailing is that you can reach uninhabited islands and secluded, less populated locations that you often cannot reach without a boat. We often anchored offshore and swam to the beach (sometimes to find that wearing bathing suits was not the norm)! What a nice workout! I am so thankful to have had this opportunity again and am thinking of taking formal classes to learn how to sail myself. Thanks, Jaap!

Elba. It's a gorgeous, rugged island with the most friendly locals that I've encountered anywhere. At bars and restaurants, the locals spoiled us with freebies. Now, in many places around Europe and elsewhere, staff will offer you a digestif or something supposedly on the house, but it then shows up on the bill. Not here. The bar and restaurant staff/owners at 4 different places showered us with melon wrapped in prosciutto, battered shrimp, meat platters, fruit bowls, a bottle of muscat, and more! Unbelievable. Typically, in such smaller, traditional towns, the villagers are a little "anti-outsider", but we didn't get this feeling whatsoever. It was fab. These handouts may also be, in part, due to the abundance of these yummy foods on the island, but perhaps also due to the fact that there seem to be few tourists in Elba.

The island is full of rustic, delapidated buildings that I just LOVE, as you will notice from my numerous photos of the subjects. There is something about the old, colorful doors, red-tiled houses, steps, and bougainvillea-adorned buildings and fences, that I am intrinsically drawn to. There is a sweet charm to these scenes. This island is not special in that, given that these characteristics describe many old villages and cities throughout southern Europe.
In truth, many of these rustic buildings are actually falling apart due to lacking funds and priority to maintain them. You will rarely come across such delapidated places in northern Europe (also due to a difference in architecture and climate). Regardless, these old, lovely places make for great photos :) I can honestly say that, if I ever live in a climate which supports bougainvillea, they will also adorn my home :) I simply love them and think they are one of the things in the world, which epitomizes simple 'beauty'.




















So, here are the rest of my photos from the week-long trip
. We didn't get as much sailing time in as on our Spanish sailing tour in 2007, primarily due to uncooperative weather/winds, but the trip was great nevertheless. Also, FYI, there are a few photos in the beginning from Pisa and a few in the end from Florence. I was in Florence in 2002, so I hardly took any this time.

See also the short video below for a bit of the smoother sailing! Arno was steering the boat in this video.

video

For anyone visiting Italy, I highly recommend Elba and, in particular, Portoferraio (also where Napolean's domicile is). You can take a ferry to Elba from the port of Piombino, just south of Pisa (there are regular trains from Pisa to Piombino).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vevey, Switzerland - a stunning place for a wedding...

The first weekend in May, we traveled to Vevey, Switzerland for a friend's wedding...it's just over an hour by train from Geneva on the large lake, Leman, not far from Lausanne. It also happens to be the home of Nestle!

Vevey is simply stunning. The view of the snow-crested Alps on the lake is magnificent. With such a landscape, the town must at least try to match its beauty - which it did quite well with its voluptuous gardens and lovely buildings.

Some of my favorite photos are below. But for more photos of this beautiful place, as well as the wedding, click here.



Thursday, April 23, 2009

For Ever Let This Place Be a Cry of Despair...


and a Warning to Humanity...some words from the memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp (which is comprised of 3 massive complexes spanning 2 neighboring villages in Poland).

The sheer cruelty with which we humans can treat our own kind is appalling and disgusting and so many other things. Physically being at Auschwitz-Birkenau on a paradoxically nice Spring day left me speechless. I did not feel the need or want to talk, but only to try to absorb, to feel, to reflect on, what actually happened there.

This blog post is dedicated to the millions who were persecuted, tortured, and murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of its kind under Nazi Germany, as well as in the many other camps (and elsewhere under the Hitler regime).

This post is dedicated to the millions worldwide - past, present and future - who are persecuted, tortured and murdered because of their race, culture, creed, ethnic origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or other propagated reason....may their human lives be remembered...

Will we as a human race ever learn from such events, prevent future grave catastrophes??? I am not so optimistic on this point...

For photos from my visit, click here (I have put in titles to explain some things).

Yeah, so the post, or topic, may be considered "depressing", but this happened and similar atrocities continue to happen around the world, so instead of brushing it off as depressing for being a downer topic, face up to reality and reflect on our humanity for a bit...I am 100% glad I went, even on an Easter weekend - it was moving and memorable. I highly recommend that if you are ever in Poland, or in a country where such atrocities occurred, to visit the site and to remember those people who lived and who were persecuted, tortured or murdered because of something so immaterial...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

There are a quarter of a million registered nudists around the world

In the first of my inter-travel posts, see below an article on the plans for Germany's first nudist hotel....

How far would you go to be
'one with nature'??

____________

The house rules of the planned hotel

Access to the hotel is reserved exclusively to followers of the nudist movement
By entering the hotel grounds, guests agree to comply with the binding house rules

Guests are obliged to be naked inside the hotel precinct

Sexual harassment will not be tolerated

Sexual acts are strictly prohibited in the common areas

Photography and filming are only allowed with permission of those photographed


For the full article, go to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7978656.stm

Friday, March 27, 2009

A new post, for the sake of it

It has been over three months since I last wrote, namely because I haven't been anywhere to really write about. Well...I did travel to Brussels two weekends in a row (3.5 hour train ride), but since I have one or two posts on Brussels already, I chose not to write on the city. Although, what I can say about this lovely Belgian city is that I only recently discovered what a nightmare it is to navigate the bloody place. Every time I've been, I walked the streets with someone who was living there and knew her way, but left to my own devices on the most recent visit, the city was truly a maniacal maze...and I've been in my share of labyrinthine European cities!

Anyhow, I was thinking today (prompted by a friend's blog post that, of late, the bloggers he follows are not writing much new stuff) that I'd add something new to my blog. Since it's a blog on travel, I thought I'd stay within the parameters and add an article or news piece related to general travel, on a more regular basis. Thus, in between my own travels, there will still be something interesting or fun to read. Let's see if I can keep this up!

I will start with posting something in the next couple of days since this post in effect satisfies the condition of updating my blog :-)

Despite the relatively quiet past 3 months in terms of travel, we do have some very exciting travels coming in the Spring/early Summer!

If all goes accordingly, we will be traveling to Poland (Warsaw and Krakow) over Easter weekend to visit friends. A little less than a month later, we will be traveling to Geneva for a friend's wedding (I haven't been to Switzerland since 2002!)...then, I will be headed to the U.S. in mid-May to take care of some wedding planning and to have my bachelorette. A month thereafter in June, we'll be heading out on a week-long sailing trip with friends along the southwestern Italian coast and the island of Elba!!!

This sailing trip is a repeat of the one from Mallorca to Ibiza and back in 2007 (refer to earlier post on this). I am simply so lucky to have a dear friend who is a certified captain, meaning we can charter sailboats without having to hire a crew! It's ridiculously affordable and nothing short of fabulous.

What great things to look forward to! I need these things to keep me going in this dingy, cold and windy Dutch weather.

That's all for now, but stay tuned for another post soon!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Guatemala 29 December 2008 - 09 January 2009

Several months ago, we planned a trip to Central America. With a connection flight between Guatemala City and San Jose, Costa Rica canceled, we decided to instead just focus on exploring Guatemala.

After quite the adventure and illness following the Congo trip, I wasn't very keen to go to Guatemala. Thankfully, it is just developed enough that it wasn't so much of a hassle. Not to mention, I could apply my deteriorated Spanish skills that I had studied so long to acquire... :)

Guatemala is not a destination if you desire any kind of luxury or a nice beach holiday. Go to Costa Rica if you want that. I had actually never backpacked for an extended period of time, but that's just what we did throughout Guatemala. It was mostly relaxing and easy-going with only a small amount of stress related to coordinating travel times between various cities.

Our 11-day journey took us from Antigua, a former Spanish colonial stronghold, to the Lago de Atitlan and Panajachel which are surrounded by 3 inactive volcanoes, to the Tikal Mayan ruins, along the beautiful Rio Dulce and then to Livingston, a Caribbean Garifuna town only accessible by boat.

The weather was generally perfect and warm, with the anticipated humidity in the jungle around the Tikal Mayan ruins in the North. The highlands were a bit cooler, but nice as well.

Along our travels, we encountered many indigenous Mayan people - the women all wear beautiful colorful clothing and the Mayan people today still speak a form of the ancient Mayan language! Very cool. I always think it would be so neat to learn one of these ancient, hardly spoken, languages...(however, I still need to improve my Dutch, so I don't think I will start that anytime soon).

Last and certainly not least, the trip will forever be a memorable one because my dear Arno PROPOSED TO ME in front of one of the Tikal Mayan temples!!!!!!! It was so romantic. There was nobody else around, we were sweaty from walking in the jungle, but Arno could not have picked a better time and place to ask. A wonderful event :)

Enough of the talk, though, click here and enjoy my photos!!!!!



















<<
this little girl was so incredibly cute in her little handcarved wooden canoe that I had to photograph her. How many 5-7 year olds, or so, do you know canoe as a means of livelihood????

Photos from the Congo



















Well, this post - like others - is a bit belated and will be short because there is no way I can include all of my insights and reflections in this one posting. Besides, many of you who read this have actually heard some of my thoughts from the trip.

Anyhow, it was an amazingly insightful trip and I am glad to have gone, despite getting malaria and a stomach parasite (both of which are gone now). It's an experience that may not be surpassed in my lifetime...

So, enjoy the photos. I don't have a lot of MSF's clinics and patients in the photos, but may add more in the coming month or so from a colleague's camera which I used from time to time.