The prodigal daughter returns home- briefly

Monday, December 30, 2013

So, I'm back in the US for a few weeks and I am of course very excited to spend time with family and friends. I'm also excited about other certain things. I've lived outside of the US before (see my China entries) and there are certain aspects of living abroad that I love. I love learning about new cultures, trying new foods, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. All of this helps me learn more about myself, but there are certainly things that I miss.

1) My mom's brownies (made from a box, with love)


2) Target - I love the convenience of Target and I love the clothes. Often when living abroad I need to visit several different stores to pick up food, toiletries, and clothes. Not in the US - gotta love one stop shopping.

3) The variety of foods at the grocery store and out. I cannot wait to eat Chinese take-out, Thai food, Indian, Greek, and I am also going to eat all of the pizza. All of it.

All of the pizza!

What do you miss about home, other than seeing family and friends?

Shopping in Riga, Latvia

Thursday, December 26, 2013

When traveling, I always look for locally made products that will serve as a special reminder of the trip. On my recent wintertime visit to Riga, I stumbled upon several cool shops and souvenirs, which I'll share below.

Pienene was my favorite shop (and cafe!) of the trip. Located conveniently across the street from St. Peter's Church, Pienene (which means dandelion in Latvian) sells locally made soaps, woolen goods, Riga Black Balsam, natural skincare, and felt bags. Pienene is located near the House of Blackheads on Svaru iela 7/9. Learn more on their website.

Natural face wash made from dairy and aloe vera from Pien- (I don't love the scent, but I love the product)

Riga Black Balsam is a Latvian liquor made from vodka and herbs

Goodies from the grocery store

Leather earrings!

Where else do you suggest shopping in Riga?

Christmas Market in Riga, Latvia

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Decorated Christmas tree

I was so excited to hop a bus and head to Riga on a snowy weekend in December - just in time for the first weekend of the Christmas Market! Supposedly, Riga is the birthplace of the decorated Christmas tree, so where better to experience my first European Christmas Market. The Christmas season in Riga was truly special and all around town there were Christmas Markets, decorations, and dancing in squares.

Sheep at the Christmas market

Mulled wine heating on the fire

Decorations on the tree

Christmas market near the Cat House

Hot beer? not so sure about that

Dancing in the Dome Square

Delicious street food- a thin waffle with a mild carmel filling

Christmas market near the Cat House


Packing - Winter Edition

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It is time for holiday travel and I'll be on a plane back to the US when this entry is posted. Holiday travel can be stressful no matter if you travel by plane, train, car, or bus. Don't let packing and stressful travel take away from your holiday spirit.

Layout your clothes in preparation for the day of travel

Before packing be sure to coordinate you clothes to make choosing outfits easy

Put out your accessories

Pack it all up! I love my LeSportsac luggage because it makes it easy to spot on the luggage carousel 

Don't forget to bring some calming lavender oil for those marathon trips

Music to block out the crying baby that I will inevitably sit next to

A weekend trip to Riga, Latvia

Monday, December 16, 2013

Glittering Trees in Riga, Latvia

Riga is known as the home of the first decorated Christmas tree. I traveled to Riga during the second weekend in December to experience the Christmas Market and what the city has to offer. I haven't seen many reviews about the Riga Christmas Market (all of the hype is over the German Markets) I'm excited to get off the beaten path with this stay.

Friday: I head to the bus station in Vilnius (my current home base) and get my seat on the 4:30 pm bus. It is snowing pretty furiously along the way from Vilnius to Riga, which makes everything look that much more Christmasy. Upon arrival in Riga the trees were covered in snow and were glittering. The bus station was about a 5 minute walk from the edge of the Riga Old Town and the Wellton Centrum Hotel and Spa (Kaleju ilea 33). Entering the Wellton Centrum Hotel felt luxurious. The room and bathroom were perfect, the hallways had exposed stones, and in the morning the complementary breakfast buffet had free champagne. Awesome. Normally, I stay at pretty low key places like hostels or cheap hotels, but the Wellton Centrum was both inexpensive (relatively) and stunning. Ok, enough of my love affair with the Wellton. On to Riga Old Town.

The room at the Wellton Centrum Hotel and Spa

Exposed brick in the Wellton Centrum Hotel

Saturday: The Riga Old Town is significantly larger than the Vilnius Old Town so we decided to start early to see as much as possible. To see more of the Old Town it would have been better to have at least two full days, but c'est la vie. As for the Old Town, it was gorgeous with cobblestone streets dusted with snow, dainty shops, and cafes. The architecture was amazing and to make the experience even more special a woman was sitting under an archway playing a kankles (a type of Baltic string instrument), which filled the air with the most stunning music.

A woman playing the kankles

We spent part of the day visiting the Latvian Museum of Photography and the Museum of Pharmacy. The photography museum was well done. It featured Latvian photographers and the history of photography in Latvia. The museum also had a great video (in English and several other languages) that reviewed the life of Walter Zapp, the creator of the Minox Camera, and showed the progression of Minox camera. In the past Minox had it's headquarters and factory in Riga, however this is now in Germany. Also, a one of the museum works was the cute, little, old lady who spoke a bit of English and made sure that we saw all of the really cool bits of the museum. The photography museum is on Marstalu ilea 8 and it is a bit confusing when you enter. Go through the two doors then walk up a flight of stairs and then you are at the photography museum.

The Museum of Pharmacy was equally well done, but unfortunately the museum worker did not speak English. The museum did have an English tour pamphlet, which allowed for easy understanding of the exhibits. The entry fee is inexpensive (1 Lat for students and 1.50 Lat for adults) and features the use of plants for medicine and the history of pharmacies in Riga. The Museum of Pharmacy is located on R. Vagners St. 13. I really loved visiting this museum!

Inside the Pharmacy Museum

We also visited the House of Blackheads, the Church of St. Peter, the Dome Cathedral, the Three Brothers, the Swedish Gate, the Powder Tower, the Bastion Hill, the Cat House, and the Monument of Freedom. The architecture on the House of Blackheads, the Church of St. Peter, and the Dome Cathedral. The Swedish Gate, Powder Tower, and the Bastion Hill were beautiful, old, brick structures that were perfect for photography. The street along the Swedish Gate had numerous shops selling amber and other Latvian goods. The Bastion Hill is located in a beautiful park with a tree lined river. The walk up the hill is lovely and provides a great view of the park.

Food: I was unable to find anywhere really great to eat in Riga. If anyone has any suggestions I'd love to hear them for my next trip.

The House of Blackheads

The Powder Tower

A cannon around the Swedish Gate

The Swedish Gate

Frosted flowers

Trams running around town

spires up to the sky

A pretty exterior

The Dome Cathedal

View of the park from the Bastion Hill

The Monument of Freedom

The Cat House

I will be posting another blog entry soon about shopping for locally made goods in Riga and on the Riga Christmas Market.

Upcoming Travel Plans

Friday, December 13, 2013

This winter I have several trips planned. I'm excited to be visiting Connecticut, Boston, MA, and New York, NY during December and January. In February I'll be visiting Barcelona, Spain and perhaps some nearby towns. If anyone has any pointers for things to do or see, and places to eat in and around Barcelona please comment!

Residency Permit Process for Lithuania

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Here is the residency permit information as I promised in my post on December 4th about Living in Vilnius. I'm sorry that this post is not terribly exciting, but I would have loved to read something like this before deciding to move to Lithuania. I hope this provides helpful information for someone out there.

As you know, I recently moved to Lithuania for my husband's job. I like living in Vilnius, but the residency permit process was so difficult (especially with the anti-help that his job provided- they lost some of our essential documents!) that I'm not sure I'm willing to go through this process again next year. Below I've outlined the process (for an American citizen) and provided addresses, as well as helpful tips.

Step 1) Bring the following paperwork to the migration office at Naugarduko g. 100.

  • Passport
  • Copy of Passport
  • Proof of health insurance - no this is not actual health insurance it is some useless certificate that you purchase from a vending machine, bring a copy and the original
  • Lease
  • Document from landlord stating that you are living in that apartment
  • Marriage certificate and/or employment information - I would not have been able to apply for a residency permit without my husband's employment letter and our marriage certificate
  • Passport sized photograph
-Tip: Step 1 could be done by someone you hired as you do not need to be there in person.
-Tip: Try to make an appointment online, otherwise you will be waiting for hours (I waited for 5 hours one day).

Step 2) About 1.5 to 2 months later return to the migration office after receiving a confirmation email.
  • Passport
  • Copy of Passport
  • Proof of health insurance (a copy and the original)
  • Passport sized photograph
  • After they accept your paperwork they will take your photograph, your finger prints (pointer finger), and they will record your signature
-Tip: Try to make an appointment online, otherwise you will be waiting for hours (I waited for 5 hours for this step as well).

Step 3) About 7 days later, return to the migration office to pick up the residency card (looks like a drivers license). It took me about 5 minutes to pick up the residency card.

Step 4) Within 7 days of picking up your residency card you must go to the office next to Europa Mall on Konstitucijos prospektas. At the little kiosk (which is all in Lithuanian) push the number 1, take your ticket, and likely your number will pop right up. Bring with you your residency card and the document that your landlord provided (not your lease). This process takes only about 5 minutes.

Overall the residency permit takes approximately 3 months (I was days away from the 90 day limit- see below).


About the Offices:

100 Naugarduka g. is a pretty big office that has several rooms and is reminiscent of the US DMV. If walking in from the front door, enter the first room on your left and visit the kiosk to choose a number (this kiosk has an English option). For step 1 and step 2 you should get a number in the 100s. Take this number to the second office on the right hand side and wait for what feels like forever. Bring lunch, water, a book, and music. Trust me. When picking up your residency permit you will get a 500 number  and your wait should be 30 minutes or less (go to the same room). Alternatively, you could make an appointment and you would be called close (not exactly at the time you select though, so get there early) to the time you selected.

The residency confirmation office is next to the Europa Mall on Konstitucijos prospektas. If you are facing the Europa mall, the entrance is straight ahead and the entrance to the office is on the right (the doors next to the bank doors).


Miscellaneous Information:

In contrast, I could have gotten a Visa D. The Visa D process is much easier and only takes about 1 week.

See here for visa information and here for residency permit information.

Tip: Americans can stay in the Schengen Zone for no more than 90 days for a total of 180 days without applying for a visa or residency permit.

Disclaimer: Because residency and visa requirements change frequently I cannot attest that this will be valid in a few years, however everything is correct for 2013/2014.

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Coffee Shops in Vilnius

Monday, December 9, 2013


Mint Vinetu
 Coffee shops are on almost every street corner in Vilnius and they are a great place to catch up on work and emails. My favorite coffee shops are Mint Vinetu, Mama Mia, and Green Doors (there is no name).

 Mint Vinetu on Sv. Ignoto g. is a hybrid bookstore and coffee shop. Cozy-up in a window seat, with a hot coffee, blanket, and a book. Mint Vinetu is my favorite coffee shop in Vilnius and I highly recommend it. It typically draws an international crowd with many college students.

Mint Vinetu

Black coffee in a larger cup- Mint Vinetu

Sugar cubes at Mint Vinetu

Green Doors (No name that I know of) is on the corner of Zydu g. and Stikliu g. Green Doors is a popular local spot for lunch, pastries, and coffee. Get there early to beat the weekend crowds.

Green Doors

Mamma Mia, on Stikliu g, has delicious pastries and coffee. Additionally, it sells imported Italian goods such as cheese, cured meats, pasta, sauces, and wine.
Mama Mia

Mama Mia