A Day Trip to Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Though Suriname came to be the real star of our recent trip to South America, we actually started our trip in the country of Guyana, just to the west of Suriname.  We were there as flights were more convenient to Georgetown than to Paramaribo from Miami – and as an excuse to check another country off our list.  There isn’t much information on traveling in Guyana in the blogosphere, but the one place we knew we needed to visit in the country was Kaieteur Falls – the highest single drop waterfall in the world.

The falls were first discovered by non indigenous peoples in 1970, when a British surveyor and geologist assigned to the territory stumbled across it on a routine interior scouting mission. Since then, the falls have been featured in several mainstream media, from the Werner Herzog film, “The White Diamond,” to the less intellectually stimulating Animal Planet program, “River Monsters.”  To be completely fair, I was more familiar with the latter prior to our visit. 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

A Three Hour Tour of Herzegovina’s Finest

I have to be honest with this one.  I did no work to plan what we’d see and not see while in Herzegovina.  The Bosnian portion of our Serbia/Bosnia trip in this past December was a fairly standard itinerary: into Sarajevo, then Mostar, and back to Sarajevo again.  In Mostar we hung around the Old Bridge, and did our best to fend off rather forceful drinking invitations from the sole two patrons of our hotel bar.  Peer pressure doesn’t always work (except when it does).december-balkans-1235jpg_24221982231_odecember-balkans-1141jpg_24304434975_o

It was New Years Eve, and we’d had an absolutely magical day in Mostar – we went to bed before midnight (as we had done in Tbilisi, Georgia a year prior), as we were to wake up early (in Bosnian standards, anyway) to see some key sights around Herzegovina the next day. Read more

A Tale of Two Cambodian Train Stations: Kampot and Sihanoukville

Coming into our trip to Southeast Asia, architecture peeping wasn’t in my plans.  Despite evidence to the contrary from our tour of New Khmer architecture in Phnom Penh, I didn’t actually plan any of our adventures in modernist architecture – they just happened to occur.  Sure, I may have screamed and waved my hands for tuk tuk drivers to pull over at random places on the streetside for me to take pictures, but that was about the extent of my planning.DSC_0963 (2) DSC_0978 DSC_0993 (2)

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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

Solitude for Now in Ohrid, Macedonia

In the flurry of spontaneous excitement that comprised planning our first Bitchin’ Balkans adventure in October of last year, we added a night in Ohrid, thinking that three nights in Skopje might be a little excessive.  We’re fans of nature, and thought that a night on one of Europe’s oldest lakes would be a good counterbalance to the concrete architecture peeping we’d be doing in Pristina, Kosovo, Skopje, Macedonia and Sofia, Bulgaria.jpegs-160_22455562212_o

It was one of those rare moments in our travels when we arrived in a place with very few expectations.  David had spent much of our previous bus rides on the trip crippled by motion sickness, and I had yet to get completely acclimated to Balkan time.  The few images of Ohrid that I had seen had been very captivating, but I hadn’t developed a solid feel about what to expect from the place.  For those of us able to look outside on the bus ride, the main line between the two cities afforded some impressive views, and a rest stop about halfway between the cities provided some much needed cheese filled burek – a Balkan staple. Read more

Abandoned in Herzegovina: Urbex in Mostar’s Sniper Den

The Eastern Bloc is great for folks interested in urban exploration (see also here and here).  As luck would have it (luck may be a bad word for it), the combination of poor economic conditions, relatively recent political turmoil, and communist history make for a wealth of abandoned, decaying structures that hold part of the key to understanding the rich, troubled history of the region.  december-balkans-1016jpg_24215660831_odecember-balkans-1111jpg_24008820190_o

Nowhere is the region’s troubled history more visible than in Mostar, the crown jewel of Herzegovina.  And, as it happens, there’s great urban exploration opportunities in the city as well. Read more

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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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