Travel Month: March 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Recent Travel


This month was not so much a travel month, but more of a planning and travel booking month. I've got a few exciting trips on the horizon, so stay tuned to read more.

In Vilnius, the weather has been a bit dreary, so I've been inside a lot, save for a few visits to favorite cafes. However, the sun graced us for the Vilnius Gastro 2017, which was a wonderfully tasty event. I also enjoyed my favorite yearly festival -- Kaziukas and purchased a couple of cool handmade items for the home.

A post shared by Elizabeth (@insearchofs) on

 

Coming Next Month

 

For April break, we've got a road trip planned to Riga, Latvia and Parnu, Estonia. I'm really excited to revisit Riga to sightsee, check out some churches, visit the castle, and try out J's favorite brewery. In Parnu, I've found some great restaurants to try and I'm looking into spa treatments! On the blog, I have articles planned about pop-up shops, counter culture, and other odd places to see.


 

This Time Last Year

 

I've been blogging for somewhere around five years, so my archives are pretty extensive. Each month, I'm going to share a couple of my favorite posts from previous years.

In March 2016, I shared some posts about Madrid, one of my favorite cities I've visited, and the year before, I wrote about the magical Tallinn, Estonia.



What did you get up to this month? What are your plans for next month?

What To Do In Alberobello, Italy: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Monday, March 27, 2017

Photo by J

About Alberobello


Located in the heel of the boot, in Italy's Apulia (Puglia) region, Alberobello is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique trulli architecture. A trulli is a special type of building or home made mostly of limestone stacked in an incredibly intricate manner. This style of home was created in the 1700s when Alberobello needed to pay town taxes based upon the number of homes. Trulli could be easily dismantled, so when tax collectors would come, citizens could knock down their homes and pay lower taxes! Very clever if you ask me -- stickin' it to the man since the 1700s!

Though trulli can be seen elsewhere in the Apulia region (keep your eyes out while on the train!), the highest concentration can be found in Alberobello, with some peeking out from behind more modern buildings and more than 1,000 can be found on a hill in one specific area -- Rione Monti.

While marveling at the trulli, do keep your eyes open for the unique, stacked limestone rooftops that ore often topped by white decorations. These decorations have different religious and pagan meanings. 



Photo by J

Getting There


I'm one for choosing public transportation when possible, so instead of renting a car, we opted to visit Alberobello via train from Bari. It was approximately a two hour train ride and the trains came frequent enough to make it comfortable. Grab a map at the train station and you are good to go.

Photo by J


Where to Eat and What to See


Black & White Cafe

We were pretty hungry by the time we arrived in Alberobello, so we stopped for a coffee and quick pastry at the Black & White Cafe, which was just across from the train station. The cake I had was really tasty and they had a pretty decent selection of gluten free goodies.

Basilica dei S.S. Medici

Located about a 10 minute walk or so from the train station, the Basilica dei S.S. Medici is pretty eye catching.  It stands in the middle of a wide street and behind it is a section with a high concentration of trulli.


Chiesa S. Antonio

Chiesa S. Antonio is a beautiful trulli church that is relatively new, built in the 20th century. You can enter the church for free, and I recommend you do, as the stone interior, with its drastic arches is really pretty cool.

 

Playground 

Located right across from the Chiesa S. Antonio, with tons of trulli surrounding it, there was a wonderful playground. Now, if you don't have kids, playgrounds probably don't feature on your top places to visit list, but there were some really great views from here!


Trullo Sovrano

We missed visiting Trullo Sovrano, but I'm a bit bummed about it since I really wanted to see the interior of a trulli. Apparently, visitors can enter Trullo Sovrano, which a grand trulli decorated in appropriate furniture. You can read more about it here.


Unpopular Opinion


Now, I was really impressed by the amazing architecture of the trulli and though that the crafts person in charge of originally building them must have been highly skilled and meticulous. The initial street in the Rione Monti section that we stumbled upon to walk into the trulli-concentrated area was mostly deserted, as we were there in mid-February -- I have read that it gets over-crowded in the high season.

Though I marveled at the architecture and would have liked to see the interior of a home, I perhaps hold an unpopular opinion -- is Alberobello too touristy?

The next main street we walked on was full of shops selling the same souvenirs with shop keepers yelling after you in English to purchase their goods. Now, in my opinion, this is the exact opposite way to attract me to visit a shop (or restaurant for that matter). However, I have read that the sections near Basilica dei S.S. Medici and Rione Monti are the most touristy, whereas the section called Rione Aia Piccola is less visited by tourists. So, perhaps that is where we should have visited.

But to get to the root of the matter -- does naming something a UNESCO World Heritage Site sometimes have the negative effect of making a place that was once unique turn into something too touristy, too much like Disney Land? But at least this way the beautiful historic architecture is protected, so maybe it has both positives and negatives?

Love this photo by J!




Photo by J

Photo by J

Photo by J


Final tips

To get the best of Alberobello, I'd suggest visiting in the off-season. In February, the weather was reasonably warm and we were virtually the only people walking through the trulli areas. I think it would be too much to visit during the spring and summer. If you want to avoid the heavily visited areas, perhaps Rione Aia Piccola is the best option for you.




What is your opinion of UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Have you been to Alberobello?

Lithuania's Liquid Gold: Honey

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



Sweet, flavorful, and ubiquitous, meet Lithuania's liquid gold. From tea to a cure for sore throats, Lithuanians use honey constantly. So much so that I'd have to call Lithuanian honey liquid gold.


Is Honey Really That Important In Lithuania?

The short answer: yes. More than black rye bread, wild-collected mushrooms, and potatoes, honey might just be Lithuania's number one culturally important food. So much so that it has been incorporated into Lithuania's pagan belief system, proverbs, tourism, and basic healthcare.

A Lithuanian proverb says, "A lone bee cannot create honey." (Viena bite avilin medaus neprines.)

 

How is Lithuania's honey consumed + utilized?


Honey tea

One of my favorite ways to consume Lithuanian honey is in the form of honey tea, something that I had never heard of prior to moving to Lithuania. Honey tea is made from thick, spun honey with herbs incorporated into the mixture to provide ultimate health benefits. Though there are several brands that sell honey tea, my personal favorite is from Apiflorus.

They sell honey teas in a variety of sizes and include teas infused with herbs that have added health benefits. For example, lemon balm is thought to aid digestion, reduce period cramps, and be calming. The honey tea with lemon balm is excellent for relaxation, in my opinion.

To use honey tea, simply mix a small spoonful with hot water and stir. This can be enjoyed immediately -- I really enjoyed it while I was pregnant with Baby ISO. You can buy honey tea at several gift stores and at the Vilnius Airport, but my favorite place is at Senamiescio Kratuve on Literatu g. in the Vilnius old town.

Cakes

Honey is used as a traditional sweetener for numerous Lithuanian desserts, although honey is now sometimes replaced by white cane sugar. My favorite Lithuanian cookbook, Taste Lithuania* by Beata Nicholson, even has a wonderful chapter entitled "Rivers of Honey." This entire chapter is dedicated to desserts, most of which use honey as the sweetener and main flavoring. Included in the recipes are gyrabukai -- my favorite Lithuanian dessert -- glazed mushroom cookies. The most famous Lithuanian dessert, honey cake, is also described, and of course, features honey as one of the main ingredients.

Honey cake (medaus tortas) is a labor intensive layer cake sweetened and flavored with quite a bit of honey. Found in numerous bakeries in Lithuania, visitors can easily sink their teeth into a slice of honey cake. Made with a different number of thin, wafer-like layers of cake depending on who makes it, the layers are then soaked in tea before assembly.

I think the best honey cake in Vilnius can be found at Senamiescio Kratuve on Literatu gatve and Pilies Kepyklele on Pilies gatve. Senamiescio Kratuve also has excellent gyrabukai, although they aren't always shaped as mushrooms. If you'd like to try out this recipe at home, the blog Ugne Bakes has a really nice recipe. The blog's writer, Ugne, is the Lithuanian woman who was on Great British Bake Off in 2015!!



Mead

The delicious hard alcohol made from honey -- mead -- has likely been produced in Lithuania for thousands of years. At one point, noble Lithuanian families even had their own special recipes and consumed up to 30 barrels per week. If you want to read more about the history of Lithuanian mead, I've written about it here for Culture Trip.

If you want to taste mead while in Lithuania (I know I do!), Lithuania's most famous mead company, Lietuviskas Midus, just started holding mead tastings in Vilnius. Prices are really reasonable, 8 Euros for four beverages, education, plus snacks. Tastings are held on Stikliu g., which is really the perfect location in old town. I'm dying to get a babysitter for the afternoon to do a tasting!

Cure for ailments

"A spoon full of [honey] makes the medicine go down[?]" ... that is how the song in Mary Poppins goes, right? Well, I bet the version translated into Lithuanian would be more culturally appropriate if honey replaced sugar in the timeless song. In Lithuania, honey is thought to be a cure for ailments. Spoonfuls of honey are added to tea, hot water, or simply consumed to prevent or help colds and sore throats.

This belief is actually backed by science, as honey is known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Its antibacterial properties are actually what makes honey unable to spoil. Using honey (and other bee products) as a medicine is considered apitherapy, and other than ingesting honey, it can be used in facials and spa treatments.

The wonderful resort town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania has an abundance of spas with honey-based treatments. Though I wasn't in love with the treatments at the spa I stayed at, Spa Vilnius Druskininkai was highly recommended by my friends, and I'm rather envious of their stay! Spa Vilnius Druskininkai offers body massages with honey meant to stimulate the immune system and relieve inflammation.


Where can you learn more about Lithuanian honey?


Beekeeping Museum

I hate to say that after four years in Lithuania, I still haven't had the chance to visit the Beekeeping Museum even though it has been on my Lithuanian Bucket List since the beginning. Though way off-the-beaten-path for most visitors, the Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Beekeeping is an open air museum located in Aukstaitija National Park. The museum features carvings of pagan beekeeping gods and goddesses, examples of tree-trunk beekeeping hives, and other beekeeping paraphernalia. It is slightly unclear when the museum is open, so you might want to check with the tourism board and call ahead before visiting. I'm hoping to visit before leaving Vilnius, although some sources say it doesn't open for the season until May, so hopefully we have time for a quick weekend escape!

Rumsiskes: The Lithuanian Open Air Museum

Rumsiskes was also on my Lithuanian Bucket List, but we managed to visit this year for my birthday. This awesome open air museum holds historic houses from all of Lithuania's cultural regions and also has a small area about beekeeping.



Honey + Lithuanian beliefs


Honey gods and goddesses 

Honey features in Lithuanian food, culture, and is even wrapped into Lithuania's former pagan beliefs. Lithuanian folklore remembers two pagan bee deities. The first is the female queen bee, Austeja, the goddess of fertility and protector of women, especially pregnant women. The second deity is the male worker bee, Babilas. Further excellent details are given in this blog post.



Who knew honey could be so important. Tell me, is honey used where you live?