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

Obsessed with Buzludzha, the Remains of Bulgaria’s Communist Past

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but have put it off because I’m not quite sure how to unpack my feelings about Buzludzha.  Have you ever seen pictures of a place, and become so captivated by it that you are compelled to see it in person?  Even if, when you are first exposed to that single image, you have no idea where that place is?  And, when you follow clues and finally discover where it is, its remoteness doesn’t deter you, or even compels you further into obsession?  The first time I can remember this happening to me was with Erdene Zuu Khiid in Kharkhorin, Mongolia when I was maybe 13 years old – when I visited at 28 it was somewhat of a watershed travel moment.  It’s happened a limited number of times since – Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, Japan, the Rossiya Cinema Complex in Yerevan, Armenia, and Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia come to mind.

Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia

And then I became so obsessively captivated by Buzludzha – several years ago, while I was taking a relative travel hiatus. And it was more severe than I had ever experienced before. 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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Training while Traveling: Running in Sofia, Bulgaria

I don’t talk about it much here, but in the list of hobbies that form the foundation of my adult identity, fitness ranks pretty highly.  In fact, after puppies and travel, I’d say fitness, and running in particular, is a close third.

David and I run several distance events every year, ranging from half marathon to ultramarathon distance, so staying fit when we travel is important to us.  That isn’t to say that we actually do train when we travel, but rather we usually think aloud about how we aren’t doing it, then proceed to stuff additional cheesey carbs into our face holes.  After all, the base of the traveler’s food pyramid is cheesey breads, am I right?

Wait, is this post about running? Cheesy carbs? The latter, please.
Wait, is this post about running? Cheesy carbs? The latter, please.

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Road Trip! Bulgarian Roadside Commie Kitsch

The title to this post makes me grin from ear to ear.  It is a microcosm of everything travel-related that I’m living for these days – road trips, Balkan destinations, and the stuff for which this site is named.  I think if a single post were to encapsulate the way I love to travel, it would be this one.  So with that, let’s dive headfirst into the wacky world of Bulgarian monuments.

The major draw to Bulgaria (and the whole Balkan region, to be honest) was the ability to visit Buzludzha (more to come on Buzludzha!), the showcase, now-abandoned, former meeting hall of the Bulgarian Communist Party.  As it is inaccessible without private transportation, we rented a car for the Bulgaria portion of our trip.  A rather unexpected side benefit to this was being able to pull over whenever and wherever (within reason, of course) that we wanted.

As it turns out, there are roadside relics of the Communist era all over Bulgaria.  Quelle fortune!

It seemed as though everywhere we went there was a random, totally wacky structure, monument, or sculpture – and our job was to spot them as we went on the most fun game of “Where’s Waldo” ever played.  jpegs-288_21846306344_o Read more

Visiting the Dancing Bears Sanctuary in Belitsa, Bulgaria

Of all of the things that define me as a person, not even just a traveler, but a person in general, animal lover is right near the top.  In fact, in my day to day life, animal lover would probably outrank travel luster on most days.  I am a dog dad to two loveable jerk-ass senior rescue Dachshunds, and a step dog dad to the world’s sweetest Golden Retriever.  For our wedding, instead of having a registry, David and I directed people to donate money to Old Dog Haven, our favorite local nonprofit dedicated to rehoming senior shelter dogs, instead of bringing us gifts.  So, without too much hand wringing, it’s safe to say that we’re certifiable animal whack-jobs.Dog Halloween 2014-53

So, how is this relevant to our time in Bulgaria, you may ask?  I’m getting there – on the day we left Sofia on leg one of our self-drive road trip we had originally planned to drive south to visit Rila Monastery, then through Plovdiv to Kalofer, where we would spend the night before hitting up Buzludzha the next morning.  This was a great plan, and we were both content with it.  But, knowing my past with and David’s PTSD surrounding monastery visits, we were less than enthused about visiting Rila Monastery, despite its status as Bulgaria’s number one tourist attraction.Jpegs-265 Jpegs-266 Read more

Desperately Seeking Trinkets at Sofia’s Bitaka Flea Market

I am a shopper.  When David and I go on vacation, one of our best practices is to arrive in our destination with only carry on luggage, and then check luggage (full of trinkets, naturally) on the way home.  I have some hoarder-type tendencies (it ranges from tchotchke to canines) that are very real, and perhaps they most strongly manifest in my accumulation of things when I travel.IMG_20151017_090328510 IMG_20151017_094034835

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We’re Going to the Balkans…Day after Tomorrow!

Where to start?  My life has been a crazy whirlwind the past two weeks and I want to tell you all about it.  Where to start…

David and I got back from our honeymoon on September 12.  On September 11, a random on Linkedin added me to his network, and I confirmed about midway through the week on September 16.  Turns out, it was a recruiter, and I ran through about six rounds of interviews with a major company in Seattle, let’s call them…Ahab’s Tea…and last week (September 30) received a ridiculously generous offer from them.

October 1, I put in notice with my current job, with my last day being Friday, October 9.  Also October 1, I confirmed with Ahab’s Tea that I would start on October 22.

So…I know what you’re thinking – there’s a 12 day gap between those two dates.  We’re taking a trip – looked around for cheap(ish) airfares, and landed on a trip overland, starting in Pristina, Kosovo, through Macedonia, and into Bulgaria.

Here’s what I’m most excited about, and what I’m reading to get me excited:Christ the Saviour Cathedral in PristinaPrizren o6.01.2010- Read more

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Top 5 Urbex Destinations of the Moment

I am a relative noob to the world of Urbex, but where I lack in experience, I make up for in time spent in internet K-holes.  I’ve already built quite a list of places I’m keen on tresspassing – here are the five that are currently top of mind.  Or, rather, the five that are currently living in my pipe dreams – I don’t have immediate plans to visit any of the places on this list, though I’m thinking that may have to change in the near future (especially looking at the Eastern Balkans…)

1) Gunkanjima/Hashima, Nagasaki, Japan

Approach to Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan
Approach to Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan

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Changing Plans, or the Baltic/Balkan Conundrum

So last I explained, my partner David and I had cancelled our plans to road trip around Tunisia due to some the terrorist attacks targeting tourists in Tunis and Sousse.  While I was upset to cancel my plans to see the North African nation, I was also secretly excited to plan an entirely new trip to a new destination.  For me, much of the joy of travel comes in the pre-work.  I am a meticulous researcher and am prone to map comas – and the need for a location change provided me with an opportunity for both.

Tunisia was the plan - where to now?
Tunisia was the plan – where to now?

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