Happy New Year and 2015 Travel Goals

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Years Eve! I hope you all have a safe and fun night tonight and a wonderful start to your New Year. I'd like to take a moment to reflect back on 2014 and think about my goals for 2015.

Travel Goals for 2015

1) Visit Greece. This feels like a pretty simple goal, but I've been wanting to visit Greece for pretty much forever. My family is Greek and I just need to go and soak up more of the culture and language. Also, I want to eat all of the Greek food.

2) Get Organized. After a very busy end of the year my desk area is a disaster. I want to start 2015 with a clean, organized, and creative desk space. I know this one isn't really a travel goal, but it will make organizing travel, blogging, and other work so much easier.

3) Get More People Involved with #CreativeLocale. My series has come at the perfect time for me. It gets me out trying new things around Lithuania, talking to new people, and allows me to appreciate a more creative side to a country that can be a bit dreary. If you would like to become involved shoot me an email at luyoutravel@gmail.com.

Reflections on 2014

Looking back on my 2014 Travel Goals I'm pretty pleased that I accomplished them (no they weren't difficult ones- but they certainly were fun!). Over 2014 I blogged regularly at least three times per week and have really felt like I've been finding my blogging niche and unique voice. I also had some design work on my blog done by Amanda from Living in Another Language. She did such a wonderful job and I have a few other ideas to run by her at some point in January.

In 2014 I've also met a lot of cool bloggers and non-bloggers. And I love it! It has been great both virtually and in real life meeting new people. I also have been loving helping travelers and expats in Vilnius and elsewhere.

I also wanted to reflect on my most popular posts according to Google Analytics. I love looking at Google Analytics and have been having a poke around the data to see my most popular blog posts of 2014. If you missed any of them you can find the links below. What were your favorite posts of the year and what would you like to read more of?

  1. The Pros and Cons of Madison, Wisconsin
  2. The Un-Rules for Traveling
  3. Lithuania at a Glance
  4. Uzupis - A Republic in Vilnius
  5. My Favorite Things about China

What are your goals for 2015? Where do you hope to travel in 2015?

My Favorite Destinations for 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

a view of Lugu Lake, China from a grassy field

My Favorite Destinations of 2014

1) China. Of course China is number one on my favorite destinations list! I absolutely love visiting China and miss it every time I leave. Now, China is a huge country and I've only visited a few locations; however, my favorite is (and always will be) Yunnan Province, where I used to live. During my summer trip in China I visited a new location in Yunnan Province - Lugu Lake and it was absolutely stunning. For more about Lugu Lake check out this post.

2) Helsingor, Denmark. Visiting Copenhagen and Helsingor this past October/November was such a pleasant treat. I had known pretty much nothing about Helsingor prior to setting out on a day trip to Helsingor, but I'm so glad I went. Helsingor was a very cute seaside town with a creative edge and huge library. For more about Helsingor check out this post.

3) Asheville, North Carolina, USA. I had asked around about Asheville prior to visiting and heard it was cool.  But, when I visited Asheville this past May I was blown away by the creativity and incredible food. For more about Asheville check out this post.

Where did you visit in 2014? Where should I plan to visit in 2015?

Celebrating Christmas Away from Home

Friday, December 26, 2014

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

This was my first year celebrating Christmas away from home. I have a huge family and no matter where we are in the world, we always spend the holidays together. Unfortunately, this year I was unable to fly back to Connecticut for two reasons: work schedules, and the flights are just SO expensive.

So, for our first Christmas away, J and I decided that we'd celebrate Christmas with a little trip to Budapest. The beautiful buildings and Christmas markets that we saw online certainly drew us in.

We wanted to make our first Christmas away special, so to do this we made some of our favorite foods in our rented AirBnB apartment. We brought a special block of cheddar cheese (hard to find in Vilnius and a gift from friends) and some of our Christmas gifts and enjoyed our favorite Christmas movies. We had a relaxing yet fun day here in  Budapest.

Here's hoping that we'll spend next Christmas with family, but we certainly made the most of being away this year!

christmas tree decorated with handmade ornaments

How was your Christmas? How did you celebrate?

Preparing for a Trip to Budapest

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An image of my messy desk and computer

Merry Christmas Eve! I'm excited for Christmas - my favorite holiday of all time! I hope you have a wonderfully festive day.

As you are reading this I am enjoying my first day in Budapest, where I'll spend Christmas. I've never visited Budapest before and this is my first Christmas away from home, so certainly this will be an interesting trip. Similarly to my trip planning for Prague, I'm sharing five resources that I've found helpful for preparing for Christmas in Budapest.

1) Adelina from Pack Me To lived in Budapest for a few years so she has Tips Galore. Here are my favorite posts from her site: 10 Things to do in Budapest, Food!, Tips for visiting the Thermal Baths.

2) There are some great tips for visiting the Budapest Christmas Market on the Souvenir Finder website.

3) Budapest Spotted by Locals also has a huge wealth of information about where to eat, drink, shop, and visit. I'm really interested in visiting Litea (a book store), Cafe Alibi (it looks so cozy!), Hummus Bar (it is hard to find hummus and falafels in Vilnius), and Insitu - a cool design shop.

4) Of course I turned to one of my favorite travel blogs, Travelettes, to check out there posts on Budapest. From Travelettes I learned about the cool labyrinth under Buda Castle- which unfortunately has been permanently closed (still cool to see the photos though).

5) Last but certainly not least I checked out Afar.com to see what they suggested. Here, I read about the Ethnographic Museum, which I've added to my list of things I'd love to see.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas. Merry Christmas!!

Do you have any other tips for visiting Budapest?

Trakai, Lithuania is much more than just the Castle

Monday, December 22, 2014

A colorful boat in Trakai Island Castle

I mentioned in Friday's post about visiting Kaunas as part of my 2014 New Year travel resolutions to take more day trips. I visited Trakai shortly after we first moved to Vilnius in 2013, but we decided to make a return trip early this fall with some new work colleagues. Since we visited last year we didn't visit the Trakai Castle again - visit this post to see why exhibits inside the castle weren't that thrilling. However, the town of Trakai is beautiful and culturally interesting. 

We lucked out and visited Trakai on a gorgeously sunny day and strolled the path along the water from the train station to the castle. Of course, all of that walking made us hungry so we stopped at our favorite spot - Bona Restaurant, which is overlooking the water surrounding the castle. 

To walk off our lunch, we then strolled our way through the town of Karaites-style houses. Karaites are of Turkish origin that settled in Trakai in the 14th century. There is a Karaites temple as well as a small (two room) museum that describes the history and culture of the Karaites people. Food-wise, Karaites are well-known in Lithuania because of their culinary contribution of kibinai. Kibinai, probably my favorite Lithuanian dish, are pastries filled with meat, vegetables, cheeses, or fruit jams. I really enjoyed learning more about this culture during this trip to Trakai.

The wonderful brick Trakai Island Castle

The colorful Karaites homes in Trakai, Lithuania

a gift shop in Trakai

A Karaites Temple in Trakia, Lithuania

the streets of Trakai town

the Karaites museum in Trakai

A brown and white decorative plate by Karaites in Trakai

fall colors in Trakai, Lithuania

Bona restaurant in Trakai

borscht and kibinai in Lithuania

beet salad from Bona in Trakai

the crowds of people in Trakai near the castle

Below is a map that highlights a great restaurant (with amazing kibinai), the museum, and a walking route you can take from the train station to the castle.

Do you like learning about cultures? Do you visit cultural museums?

A Day Trip to Kaunas

Friday, December 19, 2014

As part of my 2014 New Year's travel goals I wanted to take more day and weekend trips around Lithuania. J and I accomplished this goal throughout the late summer and early fall with trips to Kaunas and Trakai. I'm still really hoping to visit Siauliai (for the Hill of Crosses), Druskininkai (for a spa weekend), and Nida (for the gorgeous sea-side town) prior to our leaving Lithuania.

I want to focus today's post on Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania. Kaunas became the interim capital of Lithuania from about 1919 to 1939 at a time when Vilnius was occupied. Kaunas is located at the intersection of the Neris River (which also flows through Vilnius) and the Nemunas River.

What I first noticed about Kaunas was that its dirtier, darker, and tougher than Vilnius. That certainly doesn't mean that I didn't like the city though. Kaunas has a serious edge to it that makes it feel very rough and real. Even the architecture was very different from that seen in Vilnius.

It is best to begin your visit in Kaunas with a stroll down the tree lined Laisves Aleja (Freedome Avenue) that leads directly into the Kaunas Old Town. On Laisves Aleja you will see numerous shops and restaurants. I really enjoyed the little cafe called Mio (Laisves al. 31), which served delicious cupcakes - a rare treat to find in Lithuania!

The statue in the photo below is to commemorate a Lithuanian student who died after self-immolation as he protested against Soviet rule.

looking down the tree lined streets in Laisves Avenue in Kaunas, Lithuania

A statue to commemorate Roma Kalanta who died from self-immolation during a protest in Kaunas

While walking around Kaunas keep your eyes peeled for cool street art and unexpectedly beautiful ruined buildings. I particularly loved the exterior of the partially ruined church in the photographs below.

street art of a little girl holding a blue balloon

strange but cool street art on a dilapidated building in Kaunas, Lithuania

The face of Jesus Christ on a church in Old Town Kaunas
A church in disrepair in Kaunas Old Town

The Old Town is marked by its beautiful low-storyed buildings and intricate roofs. You couldn't possibly miss the Old Town Hall because you'll see flocks of people taking wedding photos in the square. The Old Town Hall currently serves as the marriage registry office, but previously held offices for the mayor and magistrates and had an underground prison (I wonder if we can tour that!). One thing that you'll notice when visiting Lithuania in general are the large numbers of weddings and elaborate wedding photos happening every weekend pretty much throughout the year.

The cobblestone streets of the Kaunas Old Town

a blue bicycle with flowers in the basket in Kaunas Old TownA shop window selling wooden ornaments in the Kaunas Old Town
Intricate blue and white roofs in the Kaunas old town

bright blue skies and red buildings in the Kaunas old town

a detailed brick roof with red shingles in the Kaunas Old Town

The Kaunas Old Town Hall is a tall white building surrounded by a popular square
The Old Town Hall - what you can't see in this photo are the 3 different wedding parties taking photographs

Just like everywhere else in Lithuania, you can find a church on pretty much every street. Probably the most famous church in Kaunas is the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. Inside the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul is an icon from the 17th century that supposedly grants miracles.

Another famous church that you will see while walking down Laisves Avenue is the Church of St. Michael, which is clearly identified by its blueish grey onion-shaped domes. This church was originally Russian Orthodox, but was later used for the Lithuanian army (in Lithuania you see a lot of churches that are converted for other use). 

the large brick exterior of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Kaunas Old Town
The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul

The detailed interior and bright ceilings in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul
the gilded organ in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul
The Russian Orthodox church of St. Michael in Kaunas
The Church of St. Michael

The Kaunas Castle (Pilies g. 17 - Pilies gatve translates to Castle Street) is the oldest stone castle in all of Lithuania. On a spooky note, the castle is thought to be haunted by the spirits of prisoners. I'm unsure whether or not you are allowed to go into the remaining part of the castle. I didn't notice an entrance but also didn't walk around the whole structure. From the Kaunas Castle you can stroll along the point where the Neris River and the Nemunas River meet. This park is very beautiful!

The remains of the oldest stone castle in Lithuania

looking at the old town of Kaunas from the park

If you end up visiting Kaunas I'd really suggest that you visit the Devil's Museum (V. Putvinskio g. 54). I know it sounds completely like a strange choice, but is actually really interesting. I really enjoyed visiting the Devil's Museum because the displays were described well in English and there was a lot of information about Lithuanian culture and superstitions (most of which I didn't previously know).

The Devil's Museum has over 3,000 images/statues of the Devil in his many forms. The first two floors of the exhibit are collected from Lithuania and other Baltic States, while the collections on the third floor are from elsewhere in the world.

A wooden devil from the Devil's Museum in Kaunas

the outside of the Devil's Museum in Kaunas

The Details: Taking the train from Vilnius to Kaunas is easy and inexpensive. You can pick up a free map when you arrive at the Kaunas train station and easily use it to navigate to Laisves Ave. Remember above when I said that Kaunas is a bit rougher and toucher than Vilnius? Be a bit careful when walking through certain areas of the city and just be aware of your surroundings.

What do you think of this second city of Lithuania? Would you visit the Devil's Museum?

Restaurant and Shopping Suggestions for Copenhagen

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Oh my. The food and shopping in Copenhagen was so good. There are so many fabulous restaurants to chose from and of course, a variety of price ranges. Denmark is also known for its Scandinavian design, which was clear by wares in the incredible shops. For the post below I've separated delicious restaurants into categories. Check it out below!

a blog post about food and shopping in Copenhagen

Cafes and Bakeries

Strangas Dessert Boutique (Aboulevard 7) was right around the corner from our AirBnB apartment. We ate at Strangas for breakfast on our first morning in Copenhagen and we were so pleased with the food and the friendliness of the owner (Stranga himself). Strangas Dessert Boutique sells breakfast pastries, cakes, coffee, and beautiful looking sweets. The restaurant is also very beautiful and super Instagramable!

traditional danish pastries from Strangas Dessert Boutique in Copenhagen

Strangas Dessert Boutique in Copenhagen was delicious

Ricco's Cafe (Studiestraede 24) is a small chain with a very relaxed atmosphere and free wifi. The coffee was good!

red chairs outside of Ricco's Cafe in Copenhagen

While wandering and doing a bit of shopping around Copenhagen J and I stumbled upon Serenity Cupcakes. Seriously, some of our unexpected finds are truly the best. Serenity Cupcakes is a beautiful shop and the flavors are really creative! We had autumn flavored cupcakes and loved them!

two cupcakes on a black table at Serenity Cupcakes in Copenhagen

We stopped in Andersen Bakery (Bernstoffsgade 5) after our fabulous trip to Helsingor, as this bakery is right across the street from Copenhagen Central Station. We had this wonderful chocolate concoction below. So yummy! 

An incredible chocolate Danish pastry

Food Halls

I have always loved food markets and Torvehallerne is one of the best (PS Thanks Emma for catching my spelling :)).  Torvehallerne is made up of two halls and is composed of numerous individual vendors. My favorites were Summerbird Organic (licorice sweets), the Coffee Collective (amazing coffee), Brioche Doree (sweets), and several others. Which shops are your favorite?

a view from across the street of Tivolihallern

food markets in Copenhagen

inside of Tivolihallern in Copenhagen

a roast beef open faced sandwich in Tivolihallern in Copenhagen

the white cups in the Coffee Collective in Copenhagenlicorice teas in Copenhagen
a licorice ghost from Summerbird in Copenhagen

licorice sweets in Copenhagen

Papiroen is a collective of different food trucks in an old warehouse. The trucks and stands are all creatively decorated and the numerous picnic benches are light by candles. I had an incredible pumpkin stew from Copper and Wheat. Just be aware that the prices are a bit higher than elsewhere. 

Papiroen street food  market in Copenhagen

inside the food market of paprioen

casual dining in Paprioen

dogs are allowed in Paprioen, Copenhagen

pumpkin stew in Paprioen food hall

burgers at Paprioen


J and I didn't go into Tivoli Gardens, but we did make it a point to stroll by the gates. On our stroll we stopped at the restaurant Tivoli Hallen. Tivoli Hallen seemed very popular for business people and had a very plush interior. As usual, I ordered a roast beef open-faced sandwich and a shot of some type of homemade liquor. It was great!

Tivoli Hallen restaurant in Copenhagen

a roast beef open faced sandwich

beer and hard liquor in Copenhagen

I aimed to visit Foderbraettet because of a recommendation an EssieButton vlog. Foderbrattet is a gourmet hotdog restaurant with creative choices and amazing side orders. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Copenhagen.

Special hotdogs in Copehagenthe danish love hotdogs

corn on the cob in Copenhagen

Auto (Griffenfeldsgade 22) was the last restaurant we visited during our trip to Copenhagen. It was a casual restaurant with a fun atmosphere relatively close to our AirBnb.

Design Stores

Notre Dame (Norregade 7) is an incredible home accessories store that kind of made my head spin in wonder.

the outside of the store of Notre Dame

Across the street from Notre Dame is Le-Bix (Norregade 4). Le-Bix is another design store that appears to specialize in drawer pulls, door knobs, and coat hooks. Everything in the store is color coordinated and incredibly creative. When I have a house someday I will be looking up their website!

The oust die of Le Bix design store in Copenhagen

a wall of knobs in Le Bix

Where do you suggest to eat or shop in Copenhagen?