It’s hard to believe I’ve been at this blogging gig for two years now. Having just re-upped concrete and kitsch’s Bluehost account for another year of blogging indentured servitude, I was filtering through old emails from my blog infancy. Turns out, that June 25 was my two year blog-iversary! It’s a fun coincidence that I have just published my hundredth post – making my post frequency about one per week (that is an average, of course, as the last few months I’ve been pretty good at posting once per month…). I thought it apropos to do a little roundup of our travels since I started blogging (especially taking into account that I never got around to a recap of our 2016 travels).
Let’s start with some stats, shall we?
Total number of posts: 100 (101, including this one)
Continents visited: 4 (North America, Europe, Asia, South America)
Countries visited: 18 (in chronological order: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana, Suriname, Latvia (again), Ukraine, and Georgia…I mean, I guess Canada, too?)
Eternal Cover Model: David
Winners of Country Team All Arounds: Ukraine, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan
Winners of City Individual Medals: Paramaribo, Tbilisi, Kampot
Best Airports: Taipei Taoyuan, Taipei; Luang Prabang, Laos; Chernivtsi, Ukraine
Worst Airports: Zanderij International, Paramaribo, Suriname; Kyiv Borispol, Ukraine; Sarajevo International, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Airports I don’t really remember because we left so early in the morning: Sofia International, Bulgaria; Nikola Tesla Airport, Belgrade, Serbia; Malta International; Almaty International, Kazakhstan
Abandoned buildings explored: around 20
Flea markets visited: 14
Layovers in Frankfurt: 7
Duffels purchased to bring home kitsch: 8
Puppies played with: countless
Churches David declined to enter: countless
Now on to a review of our adventures:
The Hippie Homo Honeymoon took us to the Baltic states, followed by Malta. We rented a car in Tallinn, Estonia, and drove it all the way to Vilnius, stopping at roadside attractions and abandoned military complexes galore. Riga was our favorite city of the three Baltic capitals, but we’re dying to return to both Parnu and Saaremaa in Estonia.
While we enjoyed our time in Malta, it wasn’t as relaxing as we’d hoped, and we were plagued by parking tickets, periodic torrential rain, and a plague of sandflies in our Gozitan farmhouse. That said, our airbnb in Gozo was super opulent – easily three times the size of our house in Seattle, and with an outdoor private pool – and we really enjoyed walking through the streets of Valletta, the Maltese capital.
Trip Highlight: Sleeping in an A-Frame cabin on Saaremaa
Best Kitsch Acquired: Soviet submarine clock (Balti Jaama Turg, Tallinn)
A change of jobs in October (just a month after returning from our honeymoon) allowed us to jet off for a week and change to the South Balkans. It was our first time in the region, and we started off big in Pristina, Kosovo. We hopped around from Pristina to Prizren before heading to Skopje, Macedonia to look at the disappearing brutalist architecture built by Kenzo Tange after the devastating earthquake of 1963. From there we headed to Ohrid for a spell, and the area remains one of the places to which we most want to return. From there, we skipped over to Bulgaria, where we ran around Sofia, spelunked in Buzludzha, and bought honey from roadside babushkas.
Best Kitsch Acquired: Macedonian glass rakija container (Old Baazar, Skopje)
I had planned our New Years trip to Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina long before we took our trip to Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria, so it felt like a sort of Balkan Bonus. My blogger compatriots all raved about Belgrade, so we were excited to visit. That said, we hit some speed bumps while there, from David having food poisoning (courtesy of the Lufthansa vegetarian option) to homophobic graffiti scrawled across the otherwise enchanting concrete in Novi Beograd. The highlight of Serbia was our day trip to Subotica. We had the town to ourselves and a tremendous guide from the Subotica Greeters Program. I’m not sure how far along the renovation of the synagogue has come since we visited, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s still worth the trip.
In Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH henceforth), we started in Sarajevo, and proceeded to Mostar. In short, we loved our time in BiH, despite typical Balkan pain points of ubiquitous indoor smoking and bus breakdowns. Sarajevo is the most alive city we’ve ever visited (especially considering their very recent and very devastating war), and New Years was the perfect time to visit Mostar – without a single other tourist in sight. A snowstorm caused us to miss our flight from Sarajevo to Belgrade, so we slogged it out in a nine hour bus ride from capital to capital. We ended our second trip to the Balkans by wandering the snowy streets of Belgrade, determined to come back in better spirits and better weather.
Trip Highlights: Wandering around inside the remains of the Subotica Synagogue
Best Kitsch Acquired: Serbian raw honey (Kalenic Market, Belgrade)
I returned to Southeast Asia, what was David’s first time to the region, in May 2016. We ended up there because flights were unbelievably cheap, and boy am I glad we did. I had been in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap previously, so was excited to explore some new territory. Koh Rong Samloem, Sihanoukville, Kampot, and Kep were all wonderful places, and a great respite from the throngs of tourists visiting Angkor in Siem Reap. The country was also a surprising host to some great examples of modernist architecture.
We spent three days in Luang Prabang, Laos, and then two in Hanoi, Vietnam before returning to the states. Luang Prabang was a great place to relax on the Mekong, punctuated by visits to the night market and the Bear Sanctuary at Kuang Si Falls. Hanoi was as we expected it, hectic, but was host to the best shopping and biggest monsoon of our entire trip. David’s keen to go back ASAP (we found a tattoo artist we LOVED in Siem Reap) – right now it’s all about finding the right time to do so.
Trip Highlights: Happy pizza in our Kampot accommodations
Best Kitsch Acquired: Hmong power necklace (Antique shop, Luang Prabang)
Central Asia was one of the places I’d dreamt of going for about forever. Again, my obsessive monitoring of flight prices yielded bountiful RT tickets to Almaty under $1,000, so we were off in September 2016. We spent a couple of days in Almaty (and had a couple of amazing walks with Dennis Keen of Walking Almaty), before trundling over the border to Kyrgyzstan. We loved Bishkek for its architecture and incredibly friendly people, and Osh for its laid back feel and Central Bazaar.
The definite highlight of the trip, however, was our three day trek in the Kyrgyz Pamir mountains, around the base camp for Peak Lenin. It was as remote as I’d even been (at that point in time, anyway), and walking amongst Kyrgyz nomads packing up their summer yurts for winter provided that pastoral realness we had been seeking from the region. The trip home, however, from Osh to Bishkek to Almaty to Frankfurt to Seattle (I think probably 40 or so hours in total), is one I’m not keen on repeating any time soon.
Trip Highlights: Playing gin rummy with our guide, Dilbar, in the Pamirs under infinite skies
Best Kitsch Acquired: All the kalpak hats (Osh Bazaar, Osh)
When I think about trips we’ve taken over the past few years, I inevitably think about Guyana and Suriname. The destinations were about as culturally different from our typical Eastern Europe/Asian jaunts as you can get, and it was our first time visiting South America. All the more fitting for us to visit the two least visited South American nations! Our time in Guyana was brief, but long enough to visit Kaieteur Falls and witness some very sketchy money changes in Georgetown.
The real star of the trip was Suriname. Paramaribo has quickly become one of my favorite cities in the world, largely due to the friendliness of the people, interesting cultural and demographic mixes, delicious food, and impressive Dutch Colonial and modernist architecture. We also ventured to the country’s interior for some jungle time – David loved every minute of our time off the map, whereas I have decided that dual respect and fear of such huge nature is appropriate.
I can’t wait to go back to Suriname – the only issue is getting there, as at the moment, the only convenient flight is from Miami. And even that’s a reach for convenient, as we had to get to Miami from Seattle in the first place.
Trip Highlights: Lunching in the Commewijne district of Paramaribo with local friends we’d made in the interior
Best Kitsch Acquired: Stuffed Piranha (ReadyTex Art Gallery, Paramaribo)
I don’t want to give to many spoilers about our recent trip to Latvia, Ukraine, and Georgia, as I haven’t written much about it yet. Suffice it to say that Ukraine absolutely lived up to the hype, and returning to Tbilisi was amazing (despite all it’s changing, I still find the city incredibly authentic – if you know the places to go).
And as far as concrete and kitsch go, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a trip that’s been so purely on-brand.
Trip Highlights: Riding the sleeper train from Chernivtsi to Lviv
Best Kitsch Acquired: Ukrainian SSR Wall Emblem (Kyiv Monthly Flea Market)
If you’re still reading, thank you! Or if you skipped to the end, thank you! I’ve had such a fun time writing for the past two years, and have some exciting things in the works for upcoming trips (right now I’m paging Eritrea, Sri Lanka, and Paraguay). I hope you’ll keep reading my humble page – please feel free to drop me an email if you have any tips or suggestions for upcoming destinations, or if you just want to talk travel. My email is nick(at)concreteandkitsch(dot)com. xoxo