Top Markets in Eastern Europe (Flea and Otherwise)

As the title of my blog implies (the kitsch part), I am a collector.  I have mild hoarding aspirations that I attempt to disguise by portraying myself as a discerning collector of random, yet CLASSY things from around the world.  Most of the time, this turns out to be postcards, maps, pins and badges, and antique clothing pieces – among many others (including snow globes).  I’ve written a post or two about this, but thought it would be useful to provide a run down of my favorite markets in Eastern Europe for anyone with an eye for kitschy communist goodies from the former Eastern Bloc.

We’ll start from Tallinn, Estonia, before making our way south to the Balkans, and east to the Caucasus. Read more

Balkans, Baltics, and Caucasus, Oh My! 2015 in Review

So I know that the time for year in review posts has come and long gone, but, like your hoarder neighbors who leave the Christmas wreath up until Spring, I too have put off this seminal blogging event.  Blah blah, working 50-60 hours a week, I won’t give you excuses so you don’t have to read them.  Instead, let me jump right into a recap of what became my most eventful year in travel ever.

Tbilisians are not afraid of a little color.
Tbilisi, Georgia
Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.
Tbilisi, Georgia

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Soviet Architecture in Vilnius, Lithuania

While Vilnius, Lithuania is a destination known for its sprawling old town, abundance of churches, and quirky Užupis Republic, its well preserved examples of Soviet architecture is what enticed me most prior to our trip (and the shopping, but I’ve already written about that).  I make no attempt at hiding my affinity for the style (if one can even call it a style…), and whenever I travel in the Eastern Bloc (which is almost every time I travel these days), I do some heavy scouting on what Soviet or Communist-era relics remain in my chosen destinations.

So, as a preface, let me say Vilnius is mostly known for things like this:Gediminas Hill, pretty. Read more

Pärnu, Estonia Stole our Hearts

My boss at my last job spent two years in the Peace Corps in Estonia in the 1990s, and when I told her my now husband and I were planning  a trip to the Baltic States for our honeymoon, she couldn’t stop singing praises for Pärnu.  I thought, better listen to the expert, and include it in our Baltic itinerary, even if for a short stopover on our way into Latvia.  Honeymoon Jpegs-277

And thus, Pärnu was a brief stop on our whirlwind Baltic Road Trip Honeymoon™ this past summer.  We stopped there for an extended lunch and wander period in between Saaremaa and the Gauja National Park.  We were a bit down in the dumps about not having enough time in Saaremaa to properly explore, and had planned to only stop for a quick lunch.  But, as it happens when one visits a place truly unburdened by unrealistic expectations, we ended up loving Pärnu!Honeymoon Jpegs-271 Read more

Karosta, Latvia – The Baltic States’ Urbex Mecca

I am a fledgling urban explorer.  Urban exploration, or urbex in shorthand, is the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment. Photography and historical interest/documentation are heavily featured in the hobby and it may sometimes involve trespassing onto private property (thanks, Wikipedia!).   Urbex is becoming more and more popular as a mainstream travel interest, evident by this year’s induction of cultural industrial complexes to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.Honeymoon Jpegs-384 Honeymoon Jpegs-397

My interest in urbex started with our visit to Chiatura in Georgia last year, and is largely intertwined with my interest in Soviet/Communist era brutal (and largely abandoned) architecture. The former Soviet states are an urban explorers dreams, with many former Soviet military and government buildings empty for the exploring.  So when we (let’s be real, when I), started planning our Baltic Road Trip Honeymoon™, I knew urbex would figure prominently into our plans.  You can read posts I’ve written on urbex in Estonia in Tallinn and in the nearby Lahemaa National Park. Read more

Roadside Attractions in Rural Lithuania

When you’re on a road trip (through the Baltics, or anywhere, really), one of the challenges in keeping things interesting is finding places to stop in between your destinations.  I can say from experience that this can be difficult when you’re driving, for example, the vast stretch of land in Southern Idaho – just flat enough to be totally boring, and conservative enough to be pretty scary.  However, when driving from Klaipeda to Vilnius in Lithuania, as we did on the last day of our Baltic Road Trip Honeymoon ™, we found no lack of interesting/kitschy/somber roadside attractions to keep us entertained.honeymoon-jpegs-15_21464890172_o

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses is located just north of the city of Šiauliai in North Central Lithuania.  I know that every time I talk about a church or other religious site, I preface with the fact that I am not a religious person.  Let me repeat that, I am most certainly not a religious person.  That said, I very much enjoyed visiting the Hill of Crosses.  Gift shop aside, the site was very impressive.  Hundreds of thousands of crosses piled on top of one another as a monument to the nation’s Catholicism.  It is uncertain when folks started placing crosses there – Wikipedia says sometime in the mid 19th century.  The real action at the Hill of Crosses, though, took place when Lithuania was under the Soviets.  The story goes that the Soviets tried many times to destroy the monument – burning the crosses, bulldozing the hill, etc.  But the Lithuanians continued to put crosses there in silent religious protest to the atheist Soviet regime.   Read more

Abandoned Beauties of Lahemaa National Park, Estonia

On the first day of our road trip honeymoon through the Baltics (after leaving Tallinn, that is), David and I had quite a day planned –  heading first to Lahemaa National Park, then on to Haapsalu before ending up A frame camping on Saaremaa.

Getting on the road: Off to Lahemaa National Park!
Getting on the road: Off to Lahemaa National Park!

Lahemaa National Park, about 90 minutes east of Tallinn, is known for its natural beauty, which was actually of secondary interest to David and myself.  We were there primarily to see some abandoned structures – Kolga Manor and the Hara Submarine Pen. Read more

How to Shop for Kitsch in Vilnius, Lithuania

While the typical tourist kitsch of shot glasses and refrigerator magnets can be found on every street corner in Vilnius Old Town, shopping for the more discerning tourist proved to be a bit difficult.  I should actually say that shopping in Vilnius and Lithuania is great for those not afraid of a little challenge.  Because the types of things I shop for (Soviet kitsch, really random religious knick knacks, etc.) took some sleuthing to unearth in Lithuania’s vibrant capital (and surroundings) .  

I should start with the Hill of Crosses, which surely deserves its own post, for all its quirkiness.  The Hill of Crosses had the best gift shop in all of the Baltics.  Hands down, bar none.honeymoon-jpegs-14_21287846290_o honeymoon-jpegs-13_21449676406_o Read more

The Quintessential Latvian Towns of Cēsis and Kuldīga

When travelers think of the Baltic States (if at all!), it’s usually of Tallinn and Riga, the relatively well-touristed capitals of Estonia and Latvia.  We loved Tallinn and Riga, but in our time in the Baltic States, we also wanted to get off the beaten path a little bit and discover parts of the region that weren’t as frequented by our ilk.  honeymoon-jpegs-292_21287541390_o

The issue was that we were on a fairly compressed time frame in the Baltics – we had to be in Vilnius, Lithuania by a certain day in order to catch our flight to Malta (ugh), so most of the rural, provincial parts of the Baltics we could see would be in passing.  Luckily enough, many of the small towns scattered throughout the Baltic States, and especially Latvia as we would find out, are small enough to be walked in a couple of hours, after which you can be on your merry way to your next capital or abandoned Soviet military installation.  Did I mention I loved the Baltics? Read more

Getting out of Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia

There is no question that Old Town has a lot to offer any tourist – from backpacker to cruiser just in port for the day.  We arrived in Tallinn at the end of Summer, still in the height of the tourist season.   And while all of Tallinn travel can be rewarding, we found the true gems to be outside the UNESCO-listed Old Town.

View of St. Nicholas Church from Toompea Hill.
View of St. Nicholas Church from Toompea Hill.

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