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

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

How We Didn’t do Saaremaa Justice

We went to Saaremaa with the best intentions.  We had a list of things to see and a finite amount of time to see them.  We were also coming from a long day of driving, and sightseeing, on the Estonian mainland.  The day we left Saaremaa, we had a similiarly long day of driving ahead of us, and a similarly long day of sightseeing.  And somehow, amidst the general craziness of the two stacked days of traveling, Saaremaa got lost in the fold.honeymoon-jpegs-256_21287806198_o honeymoon-jpegs-266_20854531713_o honeymoon-jpegs-259_20854538053_o

I am not a slow traveler, and yet I am an advocate of slow travel.  My travel style is necessitated by the amount of time I am able to travel yearly (15-20 days, generally) while still keeping my corporate job.  And because I am generally an ambitious traveler, I try to pack as much into my vacation days as possible.  It’s an unfortunate circumstance that will be remedied whenever I get out of the corporate rat race.  I think I have about ten years left in me before I make that change. 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

High Heels and Crucifixes: Attending a Gozo Festa

When we first were thinking about our honeymoon, we tacked Malta on to the end of our week in Tunisia to provide some rest after a week of what was to be some intense exploration.  And when we cancelled Tunisia after the tourist-targeted terrorist events there earlier in the year, and decided to spend that week in the Baltic States, Malta remained the more laid back portion of the trip in our mind.  For whatever reason, neither of us did much planning for this week of the trip – opting to plan for some pure R&R sitting by the pool of our Gozitan farmhouse.

I'll be here all week. Literally, right here, not moving. Gharb, Gozo, Malta.

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

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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