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.

 

Read more

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

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

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

The Hippie Homo Baltic Honeymoon (+Malta)

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonibm/

Hey friends – there’s about to be a couple of weeks of radio silence here, as I do not plan on doing any heavy blogging while I’m on my honeymoon (maybe some quick pictures here and there).  So I thought I’d write up some of the details of our trip.  I’ve got a list of potential posts a mile long that I’m planning from the trip, but if you have any insider tips on the destinations listed below, I would love to hear from you – either in the comments or via email at nick@concreteandkitsch.com!

I’m excited as this will be my first big trip I’ve taken with intent to blog.  I’ve got all my kit ready like a kid on his first day of school, and I’m really excited to share the details (good, bad, weird, funny, and clumsy alike) with you when I return!

Read more

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?

Read more