Travel Month: March 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

March really flew by in a whirlwind of work, some local in search ofs, and a quick visit to Tallinn, Estonia. Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable month! Some highlights included an amazing wander around the Tallinn Old Town, the Kaziukas festival in Vilnius (my favorite!), and a visit to George and the Dragon. J and I were also introduced to a decent Chinese restaurant in Vilnius, which is great news after our terrible experience in late 2013. Other than that, it is still pretty chilly here in March, but spring weather keeps making an appearance (crossing my fingers that it stays put soon!).









How was your March? What are your plans for April?

An Introduction to Tallinn, Estonia

Friday, March 27, 2015



The few days I spent in Tallinn last week was a perfect introduction to Estonia, and left me wanting to see more of the country. While in Tallinn, I found it interesting to learn about major events in Estonian history- especially as some of the more recent events are shared with Lithuania. Estonia gained its freedom from the Soviet Union in 1991 and in the same year joined the UN. Soon after, Estonia joined the Eu and adopted the Euro. Estonia was the first of the Baltic countries to adopt the Euro (Lithuanian only just switched to the Euro). The official language of Estonia is Estonian, which is closer to Finnish than to Russian, Latvian, or Lithuanian languages.

As the home of up-and-coming technology and Skype, I didn't exactly expect that the Tallinn Old Town would be so well preserved. I know, I know a silly comment. But really, walking into Tallinn Old Town was like walking back in time (minus the occasional car and normal clothes). Tallinn has an incredibly well preserved medieval old town and wow is it stunning - it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after all. Just take a look for yourself...












Next week I'll be writing a few posts about the what to do and where to eat in and around the Tallinn Old Town.


Have you been to Tallinn before? Are you be interested in visiting Estonia?

Restaurants in Vilnius: George and the Dragon

Wednesday, March 25, 2015



George and the Dragon (Jurgis ir Drakonas) sells the best pizza in all of Vilnius. I know, I know - a bold statement (but honestly not that hard to beat). They cook their pizza in a wood fire and have opened several storefronts around the city. Their pizza sold at festivals is just as good as their pizza in the shop - but do try to visit a shop!

The owner of George and the Dragon is a British expat who is married to a very famous Lithuanian cook (Beata Nicholson- like a Lithuanian Martha Stewart). You can see Beata's touches all over the menu, with special notes by her favorite options. The restaurant also serves salads, pasta, and desserts. Mmm...now I want some pizza!






Do you like pizza? Where is your favorite place to get pizza?

My Lithuanian Bucket List

Monday, March 23, 2015



With just one academic year left for us living in Vilnius, Lithuania (probably) I decided that it was about time I create a bucket list for our remaining time. Many of these activities have been on my mind for quite some time, so I decided it is time to write them down and begin seeing as much as I can of this beautiful country.

*Lithuanian Bucket List 2015 - 2016

Visit the Hill of Crosses in ┼áiauliai
Stay the night in Nida on the Curonian Spit
Visit the Hill of Witches on the Curonian Spit
Go swimming in the Baltic Sea (brrrr!)
Take a hot air balloon ride over Vilnius
Visit Europe Park to see the permanent outdoor art exhibit
Take a guided tour of the Presidential Palace in Vilnius
Go into the Gates of Dawn in Vilnius
Visit the Artillery Bastion Museum in Vilnius
Take a Jewish History Tour
Get a passport stamp from the Republic of Uzupis
Visit the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Vilnius
Learn to make cold beet soup
Visit the Bee-Keeping Museum in Aukstaitija National Park

*You'll notice that many of the things I'd like to do and see take place outside of Vilnius. This is because we've already taken advantage of visiting as much as possible in the capital city.

Note: We don't have a car in Lithuania, so we will attempt to do as much of this list as possible using public transportation. For a few of the sites; however, we will have to rent a car to visit.




Going along with this list of things I'd like to do in Lithuania is my second giveaway! Just like the first, this giveaway contains a combination of some of my favorite Lithuanian products (2 containers of honey tea, 1 bag of candy, 1 pair of hand-knit woolen socks, 2 hand-painted wooden Easter eggs). This giveaway is open internationally, but shipping is slow so be patient! The winner will be picked randomly and will be notified via email.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Do you have any other suggestions for places we must visit during our remaining time in Vilnius?

Where my Visitors at?

Friday, March 20, 2015



It has been quite some time since I wrote a truly expat focused post, but this one has been long in the making. I've been living outside of the US for (what I feel like) has been a while now. First in Kunming, China on and off from 2010-2012 and now from August 2013 - until current in Vilnius, Lithuania. I love living abroad. Its given me the freedom to pursue my interests in a not so ordinary way and has provided the wonderful bonus of travel and amazing friendships across the globe. What would make the whole experience even better would be for family to come visit me.


Where my visitors at?!


I would love it for someone to come visit. I would love to play tour guide, show my family or friends where we live, introduce our fat cat, and take people out for amazing Lithuanian food. I feel like as an expat, each time we live somewhere new we fall in love with our new home, and change because of it. I want to show it off! I want my family and friends to understand what I'm talking about when I complain about the grumpy lady at the grocery store that throws the food at me. I want my people to know the me I am now, not the small town me that I was over 8 years ago.

I'm tired of people saying they will come visit and continuously putting it off. I don't want to hear that you are planning to come visit, unless you are actually coming. Hearing this over and over again has turned me cynical. When someone tells me they are going to come visit I just tune out the conversation. Dear family/friends: please don't tell me you will visit until you are sitting in front of the computer ready to purchase tickets and want to confirm the dates.


So, where my visitors at? Expats out there - do you feel the same way? 

Preparing for a Trip to Tallinn, Estonia

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Information for visiting Tallinn Estonia


Oh, I have been wanting to visit Tallinn, Estonia SO bad. My reason for wanting to visit -  the Old Town looks pretty - and that is a good enough reason for me! It was lucky for me when J was asked to chaperone a sporting even that would be happening in Tallinn this March! Of course I decided to tag along - so I'm off to Tallinn on Thursday. Just like Prague, this will be another trip where I get to wander the streets by myself while J is hard at work. Sorry J!

1) The first thing I'm going to do in Tallinn is take the free walking tour. I took a Vilnius free walking tour from the same company and was incredibly impressed, so I think this will be the perfect way for me to get my bearings of the city.

2) Casey from We Took the Road Less Traveled wrote a really wonderful post about Tallinn that I immediately bookmarked for future reference. Looks like I now get to use her recommendations (I'm especially looking forward to the chocolate shops!).

3) Another gem I found while searching for cool things to do in Tallinn is Tallinn Traveler. The website is hilariously sarcastic and I'm dying to try every restaurant on "The Hipster's Guide to Eating in Tallinn."

4) Like A Local Guide also has a wealth of information from locals on what to do in Tallinn. I'm thinking shopping and eating in Telliskivi would be right up my alley!


Do you have any pointers for my trip to Tallinn?

Caffeine-Fix: Vilnius

Monday, March 16, 2015

In last Friday's #CreativeLithuania post I mentioned that Vilnius has some great cafes. So, I thought I'd take on the challenge of visiting the abundance of cafes and sharing my favorites. So, without further ado, here are my favorite places to get my caffeine-fix, people watch, and work in Vilnius.

Best Chain:

Coffee Inn. With its ubiquitous orange signs you won't miss this cafe- it is everywhere. As far as chains go, Coffee Inn goes out of its way to make its shops feel special- I like the Dalek in the cafe on Piles gatve. Tip: Try the mocha.

Most Unique:

Chaika. I love the kitschy interior- I'm talking fake grass on the wall and tables made from old street signs. They also serve amazing carrot cake (I don't normally even like carrot cake) and pretty tasty toasted sandwiches (in a country where most sandwiches are dripping with mayo).




 



Skalvijos. Part cafe and part cinema, this cafe serves its hot beverages in antique mis-matched china. Love it. They also display and sell art and photography from local artists. Pop in, see an art film and enjoy some coffee with your popcorn.



 



Best Work Environment/Best Cappuccino:

Mint Vinetu. Mint Vinetu is my favorite cafe for when I need to hunker down to do work. They also serve their cappuccinos in a bowl, which is perfect for those busy work days. They also sell a huge selection of used books.






Best Roastery:

Taste Map. This roasters recently opened a cafe storefront in a part of the city that desperately needed a cafe. They serve delicious cappuccinos and a small selection of cakes.

Best Coffee to Purchase:

Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories. Who doesn't like to bring home a souvenir from their travels? Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories roasts and blends coffee beans from all over the world and sells it a variety of shops around town. There coffee is my favorite coffee to brew at home. (Sold at Mint Vinetu and Chaika)




What is your favorite cafe in your area? What do you look for in a cafe?

Creative Lithuania: Coffee Enthusiasm

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sometimes, living in Lithuania can be a challenge, so I wanted to focus on forgetting about the challenges and enjoying the positives. I've decided to start a monthly post (the second Friday of each month) on the more creative side of Lithuania. In previous posts I've written about Uzupis, which is truly a creative mecca. For this series I wanted to focus on creative events, unique aspects of the culture or language, and cool places that I find around Lithuania. If you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them!

If you would like to participate in sharing creative things about where you live, tag your photos on Instagram or tweets on Twitter with #CreativeLithuania or #CreativeLocale. I'd love to see the creative side of every country! I'll share my favorites via retweets and on the blog each month.






Growing up, there were only Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks Coffee near where I lived. There weren't any local cafes where you could just sit, enjoy an amazing cup of coffee, and do a bit of work or people watch. Something that you might not know about me is that I love to drink coffee, especially in a nice cafe where I can read or do a bit of work. The cafes in Vilnius are the idea place for this. Vilnius even takes their coffee-obsession to the next level by offering coffee tastings, coffee conferences, and even barista contests!

Before moving to Vilnius I never even know that coffee tastings, conferences, and barista contests were a thing. Thank you Lithuania for expanding my coffee horizons and fueling my caffeine addiction! So, for this month's Creative Lithuania post I'm going to write about the coffee conference and the barista contest (I've already posted about coffee tastings - as awesome as it sounds).

The Coffee Conference is an annual event in Vilnius that draws presenters from all over the world to discuss coffee roasting, coffee culture worldwide, coffee packaging, and everything else coffee. You could also enjoy unlimited free coffee(!) and watch different methods of coffee preparation. J and I attended this (ticketed) event and enjoyed learning about all things coffee - when the talks were in English. Not all talks were given in English, and I wish that the schedule specified which talks were in English and which were not so we could have planned accordingly. There was a very nice coffee enthusiast who translated a few of the talks for us though!







The Barista Competition was a free even that took place at Panorama Mall two weekends ago. The winner of this barista competition would be flown to Seattle, Washington for a chance to compete against other top baristas. How cool! J and I visited the barista competition during the cappuccino art section and I found it really interesting to watch the contestants show their ability to consistently create specific designs with milk. This event was also not in English, but you don't need English to watch the contest, although I would have liked to be able to read the schedule and the learn more about the contestants.







For more #CreativeLithuania check out these previous posts:

October: Open Kitchen
November: Beer Marathon
December: Cat Cafe
January: Lithuanian Design Block
February: Pottery Class

I'm linking up with #SundayTraveler!

What creative things are going on in your area? Do you like coffee? Would you go to any of these events?

St. Casimir Festival Take II

Wednesday, March 11, 2015




Happy Lithuanian Independence Day!!!

Oh, the St. Casimir Festival (Kaziukas in Lithuanian)! My favorite festival in Vilnius! I love the Kaziukas festival because it makes me feel like spring is on its way (after a very long and dark winter) and it attracts many vendors that sell incredible goods. The fair also attracts 100,000 visitors, so you kind of need to plan your strolls through the market wisely, otherwise you just end up getting smushed by the huge crowds. For more information about the St. Casimir festival check out this post.

Luckily, this wasn't my first time around the St. Casimir festival (I went last year), so let me share a few tips that have made navigating the festival much more enjoyable.

1) Go Early! Friday, the first day of the festival, is the best day to visit the festival because all of the vendors are set up but there are fewer people around. If you can't visit on Friday, head out early in the morning.

2) Look for local handicrafts! At this time of year the hand-painted eggs are out in full force. This year I was also impressed with the uniqueness of the jewelry and the abundance of street food.

3) I'm a lover of colorful traditional outfits from all countries, and those from Lithuania do not disappoint. Keep an eye out for the the long skirts, head scarves, and woven belts.

4) Along with the wonderful traditional dress comes a rich selection of songs and accompanying dances. I'm working on putting together a video of some dancing this past weekend. I'll share it via social media when I'm done!








Do you like festivals?

How Do You Plan Trips?

Monday, March 9, 2015



Are you the sort of traveler who likes to work with a travel agent, or are you the type of traveler who likes to DIY your bookings? I've always been a DIY-er, but I have occasionally strayed when planning a particularly difficult trip. Unfortunately; however, I have not had great experiences when attempting to work with travel agents.

First Try: J and I were contemplating taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Russia to China last summer (instead we decided to spend our time solely in China). I knew this trip would take serious planning when it came to train tickets and visa regulations, so I decided to head to my local AAA. Thanks to my AAA membership, meeting with a travel agent was free. The travel agent I worked with had never heard of the Trans-Siberian Railway AND didn't know what continent Russia was on. What? Doesn't this job entail some kind of knowledge of geography? Clearly, no bookings were made.

Second Try: I am dead set on going to Greece (anywhere in Greece - I don't care) for April vacation. But, upon initial investigation into flights (all of the search engines!) most flights from Vilnius to Athens that were in our budget range had a travel time of approximately 24 hours (not sure why I can fly to the US or China faster?!). Because I'm desperate to go to Greece, I decided to contact a local  travel agent regarding flights. I said that if possible we would like flights to either Athens or to an island, we didn't really care where as long as it is Greece. The travel agent in question responded that islands would be 'a bore and the weather in April isn't hot' and proceeded to suggest other locations (not in Greece). My jaw just dropped as I read this email. No bookings were made.

I've decided yet again to go the DIY route, because IamgoingtoGreeceinApril. Luckily, after searching for several hours on Saturday we were able to book flights - they were just more expensive than we would have liked to spend. But, YES to Greece!!!!!

I'm still willing to give working with travel agents a try - particularly for difficult to plan trips - I just need to find the right one!

Do you use a travel agent? Any suggestions for working with a travel agent? Have you had any bad experiences working with a travel agent?

What We Did With Three-Days in Paris

Friday, March 6, 2015



I've gone on and on about how much I enjoyed Paris, but haven't yet talked much about what we actually did. Despite our quick trip there I was very pleased with what we saw, so I'm going to give a quick day-by-day rundown of where our wanders took us.

On Tuesday morning we woke up in our amazing AirBnB flat (we arrived late-ish Monday night after busing in from Beauvais) and strolled to a little corner shop to pick up croissants for breakfast. After a bit more lounging in our flat we decided to start our day off with a visit to the Notre Dame. On our walk to the Notre Dame we found this incredible bookstore called I Love My Blender, where we each made a sneaky book purchase. When we arrived at the Notre Dame we hadn't planned on the incredibly long line to visit the Notre Dame, so we decided to instead walk along the Seine River (magic!). Of course, I HAD to stop into the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore (becausebooksaremyweakness). We finished off the day by wandering around the Marais, the fabulous neighborhood where we were staying.





On Wednesday, we had a similar lazy morning (it was vacation!). We decided that this was the day to visit the Louvre, but an unfortunately long security line ended up with us changing our plans yet again. We did get to see the pyramids and the incredible exterior of the Louvre, which was just, Wow. Not letting the long lines discourage us from seeing more, we decided to hop on the metro to see the Eiffel Tower. Well, that is a site not to be missed! I will never forget eating a nutella-filled crepe in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Opting to skip going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe, where we watched the unbelievable traffic. We then wandered down the Champs Elysees in search of the best macarons.



Finally, a good selfie!



Thursday was our last day (we had to bus back to Beauvais in the evening), so we left our flat early and stopped at Le Pain Quotidien (I had been eyeing-it up) for some serious fueling before a busy day site-seeing. Le Pain Quotidien was SO GOOD. After a delicious breakfast we went straight to the Tuileries Garden and the Orangerie Museum. If you have time on your next visit to Paris and want to see an incredible selection of art I would strongly suggest that you visit the Orangerie Museum. It had two gigantic circular rooms with four Monet paintings each that were specifically commissioned to fit that room. Yes, the paintings took up the whole room and they were curved to fit the shape of the walls. Walking into the room was like walking into a Monet painting. There was also a selection of works from other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters. We finished our trip in Paris on a tasty note with Thai Food from Mme Shawn.





A Few Addresses:

I Love My Blender, 36 rue du Temple

Shakespeare and Company, 37 rue de la Bucherie

Le Pain Quotidien, 18 rue des Archives

Mme Shawn, 3 rue des Recollets