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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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

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 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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A Shvitz in the Steppe: Almaty, Kazakhstan’s Arasan Baths

In a past life (circa 2009), David managed the local Russian bath here in Seattle.  It was there that he met our friend Helmut, who happened to be traveling with us in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan this past September.  So it made perfect sense that we spend an afternoon in Almaty’s Arasan Baths, famous for being the largest and most opulent of all public baths in Central Asia.

The combination of David’s history with the banya and my living experiences in bath-intensive places like Japan and Korea make us avid bath and hot springs travelers.  We seek them out nearly every place we go, from traditional Turkish hammams in Istanbul, to traditional Northern European spas in the Baltics.  Public baths are a great place to get to know a culture, as they are frequently social hubs, where people gather to not only soak away the aches of the day, but also to gossip about the neighborhood’s goings on. Read more

The ABC’s of African Modernism: A is for Asmara

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In this edition of concrete and kitsch, I am bringing you the latest in architecture-related wanderlust about a place to which I have never traveled: Africa!  A few months ago, a random google rabbit hole led me to the overlapping portion of the “Africa” and “Modernist Architecture” Venn diagram, and I haven’t turned back since.  I strongly believe in a sort of modern, traveler-angst type of manifest destiny, and believe that the longer the staying power of a travel-related obsession, the more likely I’ll be to travel there in the near future.

So with that let’s take a little trip to the little known and little visited Asmara, Eritrea – the former jewel of Italy’s Imperial Crown!

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Osh, Kyrgyzstan: Not So Large, but Contains Multitudes

Boo yeah, that is a Walt Whitman reference in the title!  Literary self-congratulations aside, the description fits our impressions of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city.  Often referred to as Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, Osh feels completely different from Bishkek – less modern, more steeped in tradition, and more Islamic.  As we ventured even further south, to Sary Mogul and deeper into Kyrgyzstan’s Islamic heartland, stores even stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes.  Despite how Islam is portrayed by American media and, sadly, the incoming presidential cabinet, we found that as places became more majority Islamic, so too did their people become more friendly.stans-2016-292_29912580065_o

Though, to be fair, the comparison is mostly Islamic versus Russified.  And in comparisons of friendliness, I’m afraid Russians will typically not make the podium. Read more

Almaty, Kazakhstan, Dressed in Resplendent Concrete

The first stop on our whirlwind tour of Central Asia was Kazakhstan’s former capital, Almaty.  It remains the largest city in the country, as well as its cultural epicenter.  My knowledge of the city was somewhat lacking (aside, that is, from my standard furious pre-trip googling and wiki-ing), and the city threw me through a loop.  Not because of culture shock – actually, it was quite the opposite.  Almaty was strange to me because of how cosmopolitan, ostentatious, and developed it was, thanks in large part to the Central Asian (primarily Kazakh) oil boom.stans-2016-13_29877361666_o stans-2016-127_29877426286_o Read more

A Hanoi Shopping Guide: Coffee and Propaganda!

Prior to starting our 2016 Southeast Asia trip, I had thought to myself, “Surely we won’t be bringing a lot of kitsch home from this trip – what will there be to entice us?”  I had spent time Southeast Asia in the past (though, fairly, primarily in Thailand), and thought I wouldn’t be bringing home Beer Chang tank tops and flowy backpacker pants…so what else was there?  Dried Durian certainly didn’t make the list.DSC_0848 DSC_0834 (2)

But as travel often does, it takes your assumptions and proceeds to whip you in the ass with them.  Not only did we fill a bag with gifts before even entering Vietnam, the third nation of our trip, but we ended up having to buy another bag to porter our things from the mere 48 hours we spent in the nation’s capital of Hanoi. #consumerism 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