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

Balkan Kismet: Bosnia Transport (Mis)Adventures

Our day had started much like a typical one on the road for us.  We had woken early (it happened to be New Year’s Day) in Mostar, done a bit of perfunctory sightseeing, and were anxious to get back to Sarajevo.  We had only stayed overnight in Sarajevo previously, and were eager to explore the city more thoroughly.  We were thrilled to get dropped off at the bus station just as a bus for Sarajevo was departing.  We threw crumpled bills at the ticket kiosk and boarded the bus to see a group of passengers none-to-thrilled by our shenanigans, costing them time that could be spent going home.

Our transportation in the Balkans previous to this had been smooth, easy, and relatively on-time.  Save the fact that the Sarajevo Airport had been closed for the three previous weeks due to heavy fog in the city.  Apparently this happens every year – a fact that clearly eluded our outdated travel guide.  Luckily for us, however, the skies parted in Sarajevo the day before we arrived.  Until this point, our transportation luck felt like kismet. Read more

Off the Beaten Path in My Google History: July 2016

As a full time employee of Corporate America, I spend a lot more time daydreaming about travel than actually traveling.  I toyed around with the idea last year of posting about the places that take me down wikipedia and travel blog rabbit holes, but with little follow through.  And as I’m kind of spent talking about Southeast Asia for the moment, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit my various wanderlustings.  So without further ado, find below the five spots keeping me up at night, planning adventures well into the 2020s.

Mozambique

I have never been to Africa.  And while there are a million places I would love to visit there, Mozambique is at the top of the list.  I know a few people who have had the privilege of traveling there and I have only heard amazing things.  From the unspoiled Indian Ocean beaches (the country stretches from South Africa in the south all the way to Tanzania in the north – that’s an impressive coastline), to a fascinating and tragic history of Portuguese colonialism, to the diversity of people found there (like many places on the Indian ocean, trade routes catalyzed cross fertilization of cultures belonging to the nations surrounding the body of water), everything about Mozambique is attractive to me.  There’s even a healthy dose of modernist architecture to be found in the larger cities of Maputo and Beira.

Well, maybe everything but the million hours and several thousand dollars it takes to get there from Seattle.5984289274_0b89e1edfd_z 23533936000_f4703e77f9_z Read more

A Three Hour Tour of Herzegovina’s Finest

I have to be honest with this one.  I did no work to plan what we’d see and not see while in Herzegovina.  The Bosnian portion of our Serbia/Bosnia trip in this past December was a fairly standard itinerary: into Sarajevo, then Mostar, and back to Sarajevo again.  In Mostar we hung around the Old Bridge, and did our best to fend off rather forceful drinking invitations from the sole two patrons of our hotel bar.  Peer pressure doesn’t always work (except when it does).december-balkans-1235jpg_24221982231_odecember-balkans-1141jpg_24304434975_o

It was New Years Eve, and we’d had an absolutely magical day in Mostar – we went to bed before midnight (as we had done in Tbilisi, Georgia a year prior), as we were to wake up early (in Bosnian standards, anyway) to see some key sights around Herzegovina the next day. Read more

Anatomy of a Perfect Travel Day: New Years in Mostar, Herzegovina

I have let my feelings known regarding off season travel (I love it), and nowhere has reinforced my opinion of this more than Mostar, Herzegovina.  Walking through Mostar’s Stari Grad, it’s clear why the place is known to become such a hot tourist mess in the Summer.  The combination of the medieval atmosphere with cheap prices and great food has doomed many places once off the beaten path (looking at you, all of Croatia), and Herzegovina’s largest city is no different.  Day tour buses come in droves from Dubrovnik or Split from Spring to Fall – allowing tourists to spend a couple of hours in Mostar before returning to greater relative comfort  and development on the Adriatic.december-balkans-944jpg_24215588351_o december-balkans-954jpg_24002522610_o december-balkans-973jpg_24215619781_o Read more

The Best Time I Broke My Foot in Sarajevo, Bosnia

David and I are avid runners. Not at the moment, but I’ll get to that soon enough.  Before our trip to Serbia and Bosnia over New Years, we were running around 40 miles a week in preparation for a 50k in one of Washington State’s most beautiful parks.  After successfully completing the race (despite high wind advisories), it was a very quick two weeks recovery before we were on our way back to the Balkans – this time spending most of our time in Belgrade, Serbia and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Not bad views at the start of the Deception Pass 50k. My first ultramarathon!

A post shared by Nick M. ✌🏽❤✈️ (@concreteandkitsch) on

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My Favorite Ugly Building: The National Library of Kosovo

I’ll be honest, we ended up in Kosovo on a technicality.  When I spontaneously switched jobs last fall and decided to take an impromptu trip through the south Balkans, we were thinking primarily of Buzludzha.  We tacked on Macedonia to Bulgaria for Skopje’s space age Brutalist masterpieces and the relatively undiscovered Lake Ohrid.  We only ended up in Kosovo because it was cheaper to fly into Pristina than it was to fly into Skopje.pristina-29

But boy were we glad we did.  We spent three days there, between Pristina, Pec, and Prizren, and while we loved the latter two towns, Pristina (bad weather and all) was the Kosovar city to really win us over. Read more

We Need to Talk about Yerevan, Armenia

I’ve put off writing this piece for quite a while now.  It’s been over a year (15 months, in fact) since we were in Yerevan, and part of me hoped the distance from the place would make my heart grow fonder of it.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been quite the case.  And while I don’t actively dislike Yerevan – we actually had quite a good time there, all things considered – I have become sort of ambivalent about visiting again.  pak-shuka-covered-market-yerevan-armenia_16234624526_o marshrutka-yerevan_16397184971_o lada-yerevan_16398938915_o Read more