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

Confession: I am NOT a Backpacker

There is a lot of talk in the travel blogger community that glorifies frugal travel.  And I get it – the more cheaply one is able to travel, the more time one is able to spend on the road.  Short term travel is more mainstream and often times more expensive.  Cheaper travel also allows for slower travel – often times with accommodation getting cheaper the longer one stays in a single place.  These strategies are great for the long term traveler.   For many travel bloggers, whose bread and butter relies on traveling and writing about new places prolifically and in real time, frugality and finding ways to cut corners on costs is a great strategy for maintaining that lifestyle.  I totally get it.

I wouldn't mind taking things slowly here, on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
I wouldn’t mind taking things slowly here, on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.

But that’s not for me.  And, I would argue, the majority of people traveling in the world – especially those holding down 9-5’s.  For my family and almost all of my peers, life only allows for short term travel – a fact that doesn’t have to be as reviled as it is in the travel blogging community today.

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An Istanbul to Tbilisi to Kazbegi Odyssey – Christmas 2014, Part 2

And now, the continuation (and conclusion) of the story of the longest travel day of my life… (for Part 1, click here)

Scene 5: Didube Marshrutka Depot, 9am, Christmas Day.  We stumble into Didube metro stop and light is just breaking.  With our bags, we trudge across the dirt lot that is Tbilisi’s largest marshrutka stop.  In Georgia and Armenia, marshrutkas quickly became my favorite method of transportation – egalitarian shared buses or minivans that depart for their destination only when enough passengers board to turn the driver a profit.


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An Istanbul to Tbilisi to Kazbegi Odyssey – Christmas 2014, Part 1

There’s always time for postcard hunting.

I like to make travel difficult as possible.  While I wouldn’t typically openly admit to this, the behavioral patterns I engage in leading up to and while on trips says otherwise.  I like really involved, complicated travel plans that often leave me tired, hungry, whiny, or some combination of the three.  I wasn’t thinking about my propensity for tantrums when I made my plans to travel from Istanbul to Tbilisi during Christmas Eve night, followed by another trip leg to Kazbegi on the following Christmas day.

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Sober Travel – How to Avoid Booze in a Boozy Culture

A huge part of my travel philosophy in my 20s was to meet people with the assistance of alcohol, the universal social lubricant – a strategy enjoyed by many travelers, I believe.  The thing is, when one is on vacation, one lets loose.  It’s like a (somewhat) grown up version of college spring break.  On spring break, we (the royal we, of course) would go to an exotic destination, with the direct intent of getting plastered on the beach with likeminded horny post-adolescents.  When we age out of that and into more (and I use this term loosely) “sophisticated” adventures, we maybe stroll around the ancient Forum if we’re in Rome, or visit Wat Pho if we’re in Bangkok, and then get plastered with the booze that’s next up from bottom shelf with our mates in the hostel from Europe and Australia.

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UNESCO Industrial Landscapes – The Mainstreaming of UrbEx

While I was browsing my favored geography/travel news related outlets this morning, I happened upon a slideshow of the new UNESCO world heritage sites for this year.  I used to pay a lot more attention to the UNESCO lists than I do today – when I was younger, UNESCO’s curated lists seemed to apply more to my travel style than they do now.  That said, looking through the list of 2015 inscriptions was a bit surprising to me – included were several places I would have never thought of as being UNESCO World Heritage material.

Hashima/Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan - by
Hashima/Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan – by

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The Accommodation Paradox – Apartment or Hotel?

I am not a graphic designer, clearly.
I am not a graphic designer, clearly.

I’ve been traveling in fairly offbeat/exotic places for a solid chunk of time now, and one thing I find myself talking to folks about over and over is how I choose a place to stay.  Now keep in mind that, despite having closed the hostel chapter of my life (temporarily, at least), I don’t crinkle my nose at staying at places that wouldn’t be considered luxurious.  Quite the opposite – as a story collector, I often find that a night or two at a grotty “hotel” in a random corner of the planet (I’m looking at you, Casa Iguana on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua) can yield some incredible memories that dazzle at cocktail parties.  And while I admire the long term travelers who stay at such places without qualms (as being thrifty with accommodation is one prong of a strategy that allows those folks to stay on the road for so long), putting in my time at my 9-5 for 11 months a year financially allows me to spend a moderate amount of coin to ensure relative creature comforts while on the road.

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Old Tiflis and Modern Tbilisi – A Controversial Metamorphosis

Georgia (the country, not the state) had been on my bucket list of travel destinations for many, many years before I developed the chutzpah to buy a ticket there.  When David and I were looking into places to travel this past December and January, we knew we wanted a more “difficult” vacation – that is, one that wasn’t relaxation focused.  We had recharged on the idyllic beaches of Little Corn Island the past March, and were ready for a real adventure.  So, as I do for every trip, I started obsessively watching plane fares, and when I found a cheap ticket to Istanbul, an easy hop away from the South Caucasus, I knew it was time to check Georgia off my list.

Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.
Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.

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Chiatura, Georgia: Rusty Cable Cars and the Stylite

My travel adventure to Chiatura began like most of my travel obsessions – with an internet-acquired obsession that set upon me like a flash flood.

I fall down rabbit holes easily, especially when I’m bored at work, thinking about where I’m traveling next.  It may or may not be related to my OCD, but when I am fascinated by something, I will stop at nothing to learn everything I can about it.  This extends to searching for hashtags on social media on a topic, looking at pictures tagged on flickr or google maps, to asking ridiculous amounts of questions on tripadvisor – I will go to any length to obtain every last bit of public information on an obscure place.  This obsession became all consuming one day while I was planning David and my trip to the South Caucasus last year.

Chiatura, Imereti.  A small town in Georgia, near the breakaway region of South Ossetia.  Former Manganese mining capital of the world.  I don’t know where I found the page, but it was likely through some serendipitous hub and spoke chain of hyperlinks.  This town:

Chiatura's greets you with rusty cable cars dangling over the highway you use to enter the city.
Chiatura’s greets you with rusty cable cars dangling over the highway you use to enter the city.

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