Travel Month: February 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Recent Travel

Wow, it has been several months since I've written a monthly catch-up post and I'm looking forward to chatting! So, hello! February has been a good month to us here in Vilnius. Things have been steadily busy with freelancing work and we went on a lovely, relaxing trip to Bari, Italy (more about that soon).

The weather in Vilnius tends to be on the dreary side in February, so it was wonderful to get out and have some sun, warmth, and incredible street food. We traveled to Bari with some friends and had a great time exploring, sharing cooking duties, and wandered the beautiful old town. Though I tend to be hesitant traveling in groups, this was a perfect trip, and it was great to have extra people to play with our very active Baby ISO. If you are looking for a trip, you should really consider Bari!

Beautiful Bari

Coming Next Month

This month I'm excited to be chatting all things Bari. I'm also looking forward to my favorite Vilnius festival--Kaziukas--which takes place next weekend! I'm thinking loads of Lithuanian street food, great handicrafts, and singing and dancing.

This Time Last Year

Can you believe that there are almost 500 articles live on In Search Of? Because my archives are so extensive, I'm sharing my favorite posts from each February over the last few years.


How has your month been? What do you have coming next month?

10 Ways To Experience Culture Even During A Short Trip

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Experiencing different cultures is one of the main reasons I travel. I love feeling immersed in something different or familiar and trying new-to-me things. I also believe this is a great way to open my mind to different ways of life and to allow Baby ISO to experience the world, even as a toddler.

1) BookALokal, BonAppetour, street food, and tastings

Some of my favorite memories from traveling come from eating a meal cooked by a local. BookaLokal and BonAppetour are companies that help you to connect with locals who open their homes to visitors looking to learn about culture through food and conversations. J and I have experienced wonderful BookALokal experiences in Athens and Madrid. Thus, this has to be my top suggestion for meeting with locals to learn about culture, particularly while sharing a delicious meal.

If a BookALokal or BonAppetour experience isn't on offer (or is too pricey), street food and tastings options might abound. In China, I loved experiencing tea tastings, while in Lithuania, coffee tastings are prevalent. A quick Google search will let you know what to expect in every different destination.

Tea tasting in Kunming, Yunnan, China

2) Rental apartment

I'm a bit nosy when it comes to how people live around the world, so booking a rental apartment through Airbnb or allows me to have more than a peak inside an apartment. We've learned the hard way that you need to be picky when it comes to selecting an apartment (watch out for ones hosted by companies!), but sometimes you can luck out with a wonderful accommodation and excellent hosts.

3) People-watch

Who doesn't like a bit of people-watching, am I right? Since I've started contributing to Travel Fashion Girl, I've been finding myself paying much more attention to the different fashion trends in each destination I visit. For example, here in Bari, Italy, where I'm currently writing from, I've been noticing chic women wearing very flattering palazzo jeans with fitted shirts and masculine shoes. Paying attention to these little trends is simple and easy to do when traveling and puts you at least a touch in-tune with a piece of local culture.

4) Free walking tours

I love free walking tours--they are reasonably easy with a child and they give you the opportunity to learn more about a destination. I always look for free walking tours while traveling, and often they can be pretty easy to find. So, I'd absolutely suggest looking for a walking tour where ever you go.

--> The free walking tours in Vilnius and Tallinn are really well done. I play on trying the tour in Riga this spring, so I'll let you know how it is! 

5) Talk to people

Though sometimes a language barrier prevents in depth conversations, talking to people is obviously one of the best ways to learn about culture. It is simple to exchange a few words with someone at a cafe, a hotel concierge, or a serve at a restaurant.

6) Museums

Okay, museums aren't for everyone, but some museums do provide excellent insight into the local culture. For any visitor to Lithuania, I have to suggest spending a few hours at the KGB Museum in Vilnius and/or the 9th Fort in Kaunas. These museums provide visitors with an understanding of the recent tragedies that recently faced Lithuania.

7) Read

Though I love to read, picking up a book about a certain destination that I'm visiting (or dream of visiting) is a bit of a new one for me. I'm currently reading a book set in Malaysia--The Garden of Evening Mists, which has instantly transported me to stunning gardens and tea plantations set in Malaysia's mountains. Even if you aren't traveling, you can pick up a book to learn more about the culture in your home or in a destination you'd like to visit soon.

8) Visit a market 

Visiting a market is a totally simple option that only takes an hour out of your trip, but will allow you to experience a bit of local culture through observing people and the type of produce available. From the famous La Boqueria in Barcelona to the more local Kalvariu Market in Vilnius, there will certainly be options anywhere you go.

9) Street art

I love, love street art. It allows a little peek into the counter-culture of a destination. For example, the painting of Putin and Trump making out in Vilnius (the was painted during the election), was rather newsworthy! What bits of street art can you find while visiting a city?

Street art by one of my favorite artists (Athens)

10) Visit a place of worship

From Buddhist temples to Greek Orthodox Churches, I like to visit them all! Even during a weekend getaway or a stopover, visitors can seek the chance to visit a place of worship to learn a bit about the people who live in that region.

Temple in Kunming

How do you learn about local culture when you travel? What else can be added to this list?

Riga Islande Hotel Review, Riga, Latvia

Monday, February 20, 2017

During our multi-family road trip through the Baltics last year, we had an emergency stop in Riga because Baby ISO was ill. Our friends booked us into the Riga Islande Hotel*, which is across the Daugava River from Riga's old town. Though not necessarily the area I would have chosen, the hotel was in a cool location and was only a short distance from old town. It also offered free parking, which was great since we had a massive car for our road trip.

The Riga Islande Hotel is a really great budget option (rooms are around $50 per night) with surprisingly good amenities. The rooms were clean and comfortable, and ours had a great view of the Vansu Bridge. I thought the large bed was very comfortable and the room was large enough for us to fit our travel crib. There was also a large space to store luggage and a desk with a chair.

Had we spent more time in the hotel, I would have liked to take advantage of the amenities including bowling alley, large tvs, spa, sauna, and pool. Reviews of the bowling alley, sauna, and pool are really good, so its a bummer we didn't get to enjoy!

I'm not usually a fan of hotel breakfasts, but the breakfast at Riga Islande Hotel was pretty decent and there were loads of choices.

The breakfast buffet was actually pretty good!

The view from our hotel room

The Riga Island Hotel* is located on Ķīpsalas iela 2, Kurzemes rajons, Rīga, Latvia. It is about a 15 minute walk from Riga's old town.

Where have you stayed in Riga? We are planning a spring trip to spend more time in the city, so I'm looking for some accommodation and restaurant suggestions!

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