Unexpected Georgetown, Guyana

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/43423301@N07/

We arrived to Georgetown, Guyana near midnight on a Saturday.  We had been traveling for nearly twenty four hours, and had been subjected to horrors only known by those who have flown red-eye, cross country connecting flights on Frontier Air.  We were lucky enough to be met by a close friend in Miami, who showed us some of what his city had to offer (more on that later…), before boarding our Surinam Airways flight to Georgetown – the first stop on our inaugural South American adventure.

By the time we made it to Guyana, we felt haggard and raw.  We were enveloped by humidity as soon as we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, and proceeded with our normal course of action – sprinting ahead of folks like madmen to get to the front of the immigration line.  Unfortunately, David is never one to pass immigration or customs without a quick frisk-eroo from the local agents, so we were delayed leaving the airport on what was already an exhausting day and change of travel. Read more

Reflections on Returning to Riga, Latvia

After visiting on our honeymoon, Riga became one of David and my favorite cities.  Compared to the other Baltic capitals, Riga seemed more lived-in than Tallinn, and more lively than Vilnius.  Despite visiting in the pouring rain, we made the most of our two days and three nights in the city, exploring Old Town, the Central Market, and the opposite Art Nouveau and Agenskalns districts.  We left Riga, headed west towards Kuldiga and the Kurzeme coast, excited to return at some undecided point in the future.

In the nearly two years we spent away from Riga, we made some grand pipe dreams.  Riga remained etched in our memories alongside other favorite cities like Tbilisi, Georgia and Sarajevo, Bosnia.  The plan was to find a cute wooden house across the Daugava from Old Town, either in Agenskalns or Kipsala, renovate it (too much HGTV, clearly), and open a guesthouse where our friends’ children could come and work in the summers.*  

While our future plans may have become more realistic recently (dog shelters around the world are obviously more practical than guesthouses, right?), the allure of the city remained.  So when scouting flights for our May trip in Ukraine, it was a no-brainer to fly into Riga for a couple days at the beginning before getting into uncharted Ukrainian territory.

 

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two years of concrete and kitsch

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).  

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Let’s start with some stats, shall we? Read more

Kitsch Mecca: The Monthly Kyiv Antique Market

 

This past trip to Latvia, Ukraine, and Georgia was a real winner winner chicken dinner in terms of our kitsch haul.  I make no apologies for my borderline hoarder tendencies, and will admit to bringing back an entire duffel full of treasures from our various shopping expeditions across the CIS.  Some markets, like Latgales Tirgus in Riga and the Dry Bridge Market in Tbilisi, were as great as we remembered.  In other places, like Chernivtsi and Kharkiv, individual vendors would appear sporadically with items haphazardly strewn across a blanket.  

It was in Kyiv, however, that I met my ultimate match: the monthly Kyiv Antique Market. Read more

The Modernist Architecture Nerd’s Guide to Suriname and Guyana

Architecture is always top of mind when planning our travels.  We will often make detours to out of the way locations if we find out a building or monument of particular interest is located there (looking at you, Pleven, Bulgaria).  For die hard modernism and brutalism fans, planning an itinerary based on hopping from modernist relic to relic is easy in places like the Balkans, Baltics, or Central Asia.  When venturing off the beaten path in the Americas, to places like Guyana and Suriname, for instance, the game becomes a little more difficult.  

David and I hadn’t done any pre-planning in terms of architecture tourism for our recent trip to Guyana and Suriname – in that way, it resembled our trip to Southeast Asia last year, where we happened upon beauties of the New Khmer style designed by Vann Molyvann.  But Guyana and Suriname lacked the direct colonial influence of the French that allowed for an easier transfer of modernist styles and forms from Le Corbusier to architects in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.  Suriname and Guyana, on the other hand, are better known for wooden colonial architecture from the British and the Dutch – the likes of which in Paramaribo are listed under UNESCO World Heritage.  That said, while walking among British and Dutch colonial structures in various states of (dis)repair crowding the streets in Georgetown and Paramaribo, we found a great number of modernist examples worth going out of the way for (if you happen to be a concrete fetishist, that is).
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Big Skies in the High Kyrgyz Pamir

For whatever reason, it’s often the places where I have the most transformative experiences that get the least amount of screen time on this blog.  I think it’s because I can never really find the right words to do a place or experience I really love justice.  It’s happened in the past – there’s a reason why you don’t see any posts about things to do and see in Tbilisi or Seoul here.  But, having just written an account about nature that terrified me, I thought it would be best to get my thoughts down about our time in the high Kyrgyz Pamir, where we were fortunate enough to take a three-day trek last September while we were in Kyrgyzstan.

The Pamirs, or, more specifically, the Trans Alay range, in Kyrgyzstan don’t have much in common with the dense jungle rainforest of Suriname on paper, but to me the two represent similar types of experiences.  The uniting thread is that of dominance of the natural over the man-made.  Our time in the Pamirs of Kyrgyzstan, between Turpal Kol, Peak Lenin Base Camp, and Tuyuk Valley, wasn’t as daunting as in the dense jungle, I think due to the vast expanses of land visible from every vantage point.  This isn’t to say that obstacles didn’t exist – just in this case the antagonist was altitude over 12,000 feet, whereas in Suriname it was the hypothetical threat of creepy crawlies in every nook and cranny. Read more

The Massive Green: A Primer on Travel to the Suriname Interior

Far and away the number one source of tourism in Suriname is that of the eco-variety.  With over 90% of its land mass blanketed in primeval rainforest, it’s one of the best and most convenient places to get in touch with your inner Tarzan.  There are numerous eco-resorts dotting the Suriname interior, but those that get the most traffic are a convenient (relative term, I realize) three to four hour bus and an additional hour in a motorized canoe up the Suriname river.  Many are in quite close proximity to one another.  Despite this, the scale and density of the jungle makes you feel miles apart.untitled-2433jpg_32719525563_o

We had decided to stay at Knini Paati, one of the eco-resorts most conveniently located to Paramaribo.  Convenience, again, is relative.  I must also admit that selecting Knini Paati was in no small part due to Seth Kugel’s writeup on it in the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler column, way back in 2014. Read more

A Love Letter to Paramaribo, Suriname

95% of the time, David and I travel fast.  Because we’re constrained in time off from our jobs, we try to see as much as possible in a very condensed amount of time.  This typically results in us spending a couple nights here, and a couple nights there; never spending much time in a single place before jetting off to our next destination.  However, Paramaribo, Suriname was a game changer for us.  The city grabbed hold of us hard as soon as our tiny prop plane sputtered into Zorg en Hoop, Paramaribo’s domestic terminal.  On our short cab ride from the airstrip (it is an international airport by technicality – it has two flights a day to and from Georgetown, Guyana – most of its traffic is to and from Suriname’s dense jungle interior) we saw places of worship from no fewer than four world religions, dense jungle flora the likes of which we hadn’t seen previously, and wonderfully intact examples of Dutch colonial architecture.

There’s a long list of cities David and I have grown to love over the course of our travels: Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sofia, Bulgaria, Riga, Latvia, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan come to mind.  But we didn’t linger in any of these as long as we did in Paramaribo.  Reflecting on our time in Parbo, as it is known affectionately, there wasn’t one single thing that made us fall in love with the city.  But rather, we fell for the sum of its parts. Read more

A Day Trip to Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Though Suriname came to be the real star of our recent trip to South America, we actually started our trip in the country of Guyana, just to the west of Suriname.  We were there as flights were more convenient to Georgetown than to Paramaribo from Miami – and as an excuse to check another country off our list.  There isn’t much information on traveling in Guyana in the blogosphere, but the one place we knew we needed to visit in the country was Kaieteur Falls – the highest single drop waterfall in the world.

The falls were first discovered by non indigenous peoples in 1970, when a British surveyor and geologist assigned to the territory stumbled across it on a routine interior scouting mission. Since then, the falls have been featured in several mainstream media, from the Werner Herzog film, “The White Diamond,” to the less intellectually stimulating Animal Planet program, “River Monsters.”  To be completely fair, I was more familiar with the latter prior to our visit. Read more

A Walking Tour through Soviet Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

One of the things that most excited us for our trip to Central Asia was the number of well preserved buildings from the Soviet Era. Bishkek, in particular, had a great concentration of the buildings, ranging from Stalinist to Socialist Modernist, all within easy walking distance from one another.  As you know by the title of my blog, I am a big fan of concrete architecture, and this post is for all of those wishing to see the greatest examples of the medium in the shortest amount of walking time.  I did a great amount of research before our trip to ensure our two days in the Kyrgyz capital wouldn’t be spent idling about.  We had an itinerary, and we stuck to it.

To start, here’s the route we’ll cover:

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