Travel Month: April 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Recent Travel


Over the weekend we returned home from a fun road trip in Latvia and Estonia, hitting up a few places we wanted to visit/revisit before we move to Italy in just two months. Hands down, the highlight of the trip was the Estonia Resort Hotel and Spa*, which was a dream for two worn down parents. I'm going to have a whole post coming up about this hotel, but seriously it was the best part of the trip.

On the moving front, I'm in full clearing out mode. Though we have been pretty good about not accumulating stuff, we do have some misc. baby things, books, and clothes that won't be coming with us to Florence. We are also in the midst of getting a passport for our cat! Have you had to downsize when you've moved?

Just look at that room at Estonia Resort!


Coming Next Month


In May I've got some posts planned about our recent trip in Latvia and Estonia as well as a family travel post, and coverage of the cool Lithuanian Design Week (taking place next week).



 

This Time Last Year


This time last year I was writing about our trips in Luxembourg, Madrid, and Warsaw -- we certainly did a ton of traveling last spring!


A post shared by Elizabeth (@insearchofs) on


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

I Knew I Liked Riga: What To Do And See In The Edgy Riga, Latvia

Monday, April 24, 2017



Just a few hours ago, we schlepped our luggage through the door -- welcomed home by our fluffy cat -- and I'm finally sitting down with a cup of honey ginger tea to work on my blog posts for the week. We spend Monday until today, Saturday, wandering the edgy streets of Riga and then indulging in some much needed pampering in Parnu, Estonia. It was a fun trip, even with some trying moments with a slightly early case of terrible twos. Never mind that though.

Riga is a very awesome, edgy city, perhaps my favorite in the Baltics, but to experience the best of the city, you really need to get out of the old town. Okay, stop by the old town briefly for a view over the city in St. Peter's Church and spot the most famous buildings, but after that, ditch the old town. And whatever you do, don't eat in the old town.

I mentioned the edginess of Riga, and I have to say, the style in Riga is so cool and the city just feels a bit harder than Vilnius and much less fairy tale than Tallinn. There are awesome cafes (outside of the old town), amazing churches, bagel places, and vegan eateries. If you are traveling on a budget, one thing to note is that food and drink prices seemed a bit higher than Lithuania and Estonia, but hotel prices were a bit lower -- maybe the cumulative price would even out?

I'll talk more about where to eat and drink in a coming post (as usual), but for now, let's take a look at some awesome things to do in Riga.








Art Nouveau District:


The Art Nouveau District is simply amazing. Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world, so if you like architecture, Riga is the city to visit. Many famous Art Nouveau buildings can be found on Alberta Street and Elizabetes Street, but also elsewhere throughout the city. Keep your eyes open for intricate details on buildings including natural motifs, because you'll spot them throughout the new town.

You might be wondering why Riga of all places is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture, because that is something that kind of surprised me. Well, Riga is famous for Art Nouveau because at the time when Art Nouveau was the popular building style, Riga was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe.








Stockmans:


Stockmans is a massive, awesome department store with floors of books, clothing, makeup, and even a grocery store selling a wide selection of imported and local goods. A visit to Stockmans is absolutely worth it for a bit of a browse or to stock up on groceries.

Breweries and Cafes:


Like both Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia is home to some fabulous microbreweries. For starters, try out Labietis and Valmiermuizas, which are both located in the cool Skanste district, which is easily reached on foot or via tram.

We also found excellent cafes (I'll write more soon, I promise!) in the Skanste district and the Centrs district (past the Esplande). I've added a couple of photos below of some of the awesome buildings that we strolled past in these areas, so you can get a feel for it.






St. Peter's Church Overlook:


 Honestly, it is shockingly expensive to take the elevator up the bell tower at St. Peter's Church (9 EUR!), but if you are interested in photography, it is worth it. J opted to wait outside and entertain Baby ISO while I made my way to the top to enjoy breathtaking views of the city. It was cool to be able to pick out the places we visited, but be sure you wait for a clear day to visit!


The amazing Latvia National Library





Riga Nativity Cathedral:


The Riga Nativity Cathedral is located in the Esplande (a park with a playground), and both are absolutely worth a visit. Riga Nativity Cathedral is a beautiful Russian Orthodox church with pinkish stripes on the exterior and shining golden onion domes. Riga Natvity Cathedral is absolutely stunning outside, and to get the best views of it, you should walk all the way around it. There is also a great playground near the backside of the church.




Bastejkalna Park:


Right on the edge of the old town, following a portion of the Pilsetas River, Bastejkalna Park is a great park for a walk. Two highlights in Bastejkalna Park are the Laima Clock (a great meeting point from the famous Latvia chocolate company) and the towering Freedom Monument, which is truly impressive. In the photo below, you can see the park, the Freedom Monument and the Riga Nativity Cathedral.



Awesome bookstores:


We are deprived of books in English in Vilnius, particularly new releases. Riga, however, is not lacking at all in the book department. If you are looking for both new releases and classics in Riga, hit up the bookstore on the top floor of the Galleria Riga in the center of the old town, Robert's Books, and Kafka Kafija.





 Have you visited the Baltics? Which main city is your favorite? Mine is Riga due to its edginess, great food and coffee, and excellent options for English books.

Photo Diary From Monopoli, Italy

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our recent trip to Puglia was wonderfully sunshiny and relaxing. But the reality is that sometimes I've got to opt out for day trips so I can meet a deadline. So, J, Baby ISO, and our friends headed off for a day trip to Monopoli, another popular stop along the Puglian coast. Check out J's lovely photos of Monopoli to see if you should add this stop to your Puglian road trip (or train trip)!

J's tip: enter the church in Monopoli, because the interior is stunning!










Such a beautiful church!


Monopoli is pretty! Would you add Monopoli to your road trip of Puglia?

Preparing For A Trip To Riga And Parnu

Monday, April 17, 2017



I hope you had a wonderful Easter, Passover, or weekend, depending on your beliefs! This week, we are off on one of our last in search ofs around the Baltics.  Can you believe it? We'll be spending the week in Riga, Latvia and Parnu, Estonia, two cities we've visited briefly but still have much to explore.


Riga, Latvia

 

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is full of cool art nouveau architecture, a beautiful old town, churches providing views of the city, and interesting museums. Riga is much larger than Vilnius, so I'm pretty excited that we have several days to slowly explore the city. For this trip, we've been lucky enough to get tips from friends -- and what good tips they are!

Rocket Bean Roastery: I do love a good cafe! While we were with sick Baby ISO in the hospital during our most recent visit to Riga, our friends stopped into this cafe for food and a cup of Magic Pussy Ethiopian coffee. With a name like that, Rocket Bean Roastery should obviously be our first stop!

National Library of Latvia: There are more cool things in Riga than just the old town -- and the National Library of Latvia is certainly a top option.

Labietis Brewery: Obviously we have to make a stop at J's favorite brewery of all time. Labietis has an impressive 40 beers with some having a 10% ABV. I haven't yet had the chance to visit, so I'm super excited!

Art Nouveau Museum: Another recommendation from a friend, the Art Nouveau Museum is meant to have beautiful interiors and be small enough to not have Baby ISO screaming with boredom. That sounds like a perfect combination to me!

Riga Castle: Who doesn't love a castle? Since we missed out during our other visits, Riga Castle is on our list for this trip.

Churches: Riga has some beautiful churches and I'm interested in visiting Riga Nativity Cathedral and St. Peter's Church to walk up to the platform for views over Riga.

Old Town: Heather from Ferreting Out The Fun has created a wonderful 1 day walking tour of all the essential sites in Riga, so assuming we have good weather, we'll attempt this walk, especially with several stops at cafes.

Ars Tela Textile Studio: A recent post on Travelettes turned me on to Ars Tela Textile Studio, which appears to have beautiful, hand-loomed scarfs in wonderful shades of grey. I think I'm going to have to stop and make a purchase. The same post from Travelettes also convinced me to stop at Riga Central Market and Craft Brewery Valmiermuiza, where all dishes are made from local produce -- yum!


Parnu, Estonia


Located just a two hour drive from Riga, our trip to Parnu is all about relaxation. We've booked into a nice hotel and have scheduled a few spa treatments. Parnu is Estonia's favorite resort town after all! Other than relaxing and swimming in the hotel's pools, we plan for walks on the beach (please let the weather be good!) and delicious meals out.

Parnu Museum: I like museums, so in between relaxation, we'll stop for a little visit at the Parnu Museum. They seem to have a really interesting collection of historic artifacts as well as a collection on the history of Parnu.

Kohvik Supelsaksad: Despite being difficult for me to spell, Kohvik is supposed to be one of the top cafes and restaurants in Estonia. Its beautiful interiors just add another level to my excitement for visiting!

Churches: Parnu has the beautiful St. Catherine's Church and St. Elizabeth's Church, so I'm looking forward to stopping in.

Mahedik: Another amazing restaurant in Parnu is Mahedik. It serves brunch, lunch, and dinner, and I'm tempted to try them all -- though quinoa and zucchini spaghetti sounds like it is calling my name.





Have you been to Riga or Parnu? Do you like relaxing trips?

Surreal Soviet Playground: Grutas Park, Druskininkai, Lithuania

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Located near the beautiful resort town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania, Grutas Park is a private park that displays the old Soviet statues that were once located throughout Lithuania. Grutas Park opened in 2001 to exhibit Lithuania's history as a member of the former Soviet Union and to celebrate Lithuania's newly resorted independence. 





Scattered throughout the park are larger than life statues of notorious Soviet leaders such as Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin. These statues were once located in town squares and prominent locations across Lithuania including in Vilnius. After Lithuania regained its independence, these statues were removed and those that weren't destroyed were collected by the original owner of the park and preserved. One statue turned into many, and now Grutas Park displays 86 giant Soviet statues that were created by 46 different sculptors. 






As you walk along the boardwalk and paths, eerie propaganda music drifts through the air, coming out of speakers mounted on the observation towers. This adds to the unusual atmosphere at Grutas Park. Also along the paths, you'll run into a very unexpected mini zoo, with animals that are clearly not treated well, a playground, and a few musty indoor exhibits.

I found Grutas Park to be an interesting place to visit, despite the poorly kept animals and the high admission prices. The statues were interesting to see and I found the pictures of the statues in their former locations to be surprisingly cool. I liked trying to match my knowledge of the square with what it looked like during Soviet times.






Grutas Park is rather expensive as far as parks go in Lithuania; a ticket costs between 6 and 7.50 EUR depending on the time of year you visit. You can learn more on their website.


Have you visited Grutas Park? Would you?

We Are Moving To ...

Monday, April 10, 2017

I can't believe we'll be living so close to iconic cities like Venice!


...Florence, Italy! It still feels a bit surreal to think that in just a few months we'll be packing up and moving to the historic capital of the Tuscany region. I'll be able to marvel at the David, Brunelleschi's Duomo, and The Birth of Venus any time I want. 

We've had a wonderful run of four years in Vilnius, and though I'm a bit sad to leave, it is time for our next adventure. Though we've just started our planning, there are certainly things that I'm looking forward to about our move. Wish me luck as I prepare, pack, and get a passport for our fluffy cat (got any tips for flying with a cat?)!


I'm looking forward to: 


  •  warmer weather
  • great food
  • visits from family and friends (my sister comes in July!)
  • a two bedroom apartment!
  • new language learning opportunities
  • more availability of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • making our new apartment a home (a big mistake we made when we first moved to Vilnius)


What does this move mean for In Search Of? 


Beginning in July, you can expect some international moving posts, a lot more Italy content, destination guides for some exciting cities, and cultural posts as I dive into Italian culture. I also have a surprising amount of travel coming over the next several months, so stay tuned for that (check my About Page for more details).

During the move, I'll be featuring a few posts from travel bloggers while I'm without internet and in the packing/unpacking phase.



What would you like to learn about international moves, living abroad, or Italy that you'd like to see on the blog?

Are we staying? Are we going?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017



Behind the scenes here at In Search Of, we've been toiling away with the really difficult decision of choosing to stay in Lithuania for another year, or moving elsewhere. Since about October, J and I have been going back and forth about where we most want to live and what our personal and professional goals are for the upcoming years. We've been trying (and failing) to make future plans, decide whether to stay expats or re-pat, all while attempting to consider what's best for Baby ISO and for our parents. And let me tell you, with that many factors in play, it has been a very stressful several months.

Our big decision was made in November/December when J chose not to re-sign his contract to stay in Vilnius. Really, saying it like that sounds like I had no vote in the matter, but it was a unanimous decision. Though we love living in Vilnius, there are some things that we need right now that it doesn't readily offer. I'm rather torn about leaving because I do love it here and have made such wonderful friends, but it is time; I don't want to overstay.

So that means we are moving at the end of the school year! For months after choosing to leave our expat home in Vilnius, we both have been filling out job applications like mad people and worrying that neither of us will get a job and we'll have to move back in with our parents (with a kid and a cat at the age of ~30). Talk about stress and worry. Talk about a lot of late nights and working weekends. That limbo period is really not a fun time.

But about a month ago, we got good news. J was offered a fabulous job in a location where I'll be able to pursue ample freelance opportunities. But I'm totally going to be that blogger and share the good news with you next time (please don't hate me!).

In the meantime, do you have any guesses where we are moving to? Are we staying abroad or moving back to the US? I'd love to know what you think.

How To Find Pop Up Events + Local Designers In Vilnius

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sometimes living in Lithuania can be a challenge (oh those dark winter days!), so I wanted to focus on forgetting about the challenges and enjoying the positives. I started this series a few years ago to make myself get out and experience the more creative side of Lithuania. 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. Previously I've written about Open Kitchen, the Beer Marathon, the Lithuanian Design BlockPottery ClassCoffee Enthusiasm, and Vilnius Gastro. If you have any suggestions of things to check out I'd love to hear them!


Vilnius is pretty awesome when it comes to pop up events featuring local designers and small business owners doing there thing. I find new designers on Instagram and Facebook nearly each week. Every couple of months a new designer event makes its way onto my schedule.

Maybe you love supporting small designers and local businesses as much as I do, or maybe you are looking for a very authentic souvenir to remember your cool trip to Vilnius. Whatever it is, today I wanted to share how to find pop up shopping events and local designers in Vilnius.

 

Pop Up Events


 Kauno Kulturos Kablys

I'm starting off with my favorite pop up design event in Vilnius -- seasonal pop up shops held at the Kauno Kulturo Kalbys (otherwise known as the Hook Building). Held quarterly, these pop ups feature everything from clothing and accessories, to cake, coffee, and books. I've been eyeing some jewelry by several of the local Lithuanian brands (I love DD Workshop), so I think I'll be treating myself soon!

The pop ups held at Kablys are my favorite because the venue is smaller and feels a bit more manageable, even in crowds. It is easy to get to and the guys from Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories are always selling their awesome coffee and cool brewing devices. The Hook is also just a super cool building, making it fun to stop by and shop!

The Kablys will be hosting the Spring Pop Up on April 8 and 9 from 11 am until 7 pm.

Find out more on their website and Instagram, which announces all of the designers.







Loftas

Loftas is a cool (way too cool for me) music venue that occasionally hosts design festivals, called Uptown Markets. These markets are held roughly once per quarter and feature similar local designers as PopUp.LT. Loftas is a much large venue, with outdoor space and potentially two large indoor spaces open for designers.

The only problem really with Uptown Markets held at Loftas is that they can be sometimes really confusing to enter. Though Loftas has a clearly marked entrance on Svitrigailos g. 8 (behind the bus stop), sometimes this entrance is closed and you must go around the side of the building.

The benefit of holding a design pop up at Loftas is the ample outdoor space allowing for food trucks, street art, tables, and sometimes, live music. They also tend to have far more designers due to the larger space.

To find the side entrance, walk past the Iki grocery store and store selling home items -- towards the building with street art (the written art, you'll see what I mean). Enter through the sort of dilapidated gates and wind your way through kind of creepy industrial buildings. As the street art becomes more concentrated, you'll start seeing signs and spotting food trucks and designer wear. Don't get discouraged! You'll find it! **If you'd like me to draw a map or have specific questions, feel free to email me!

The next Up Town Market is on April 22 and 23 from 12 pm to 6:30 pm.




Local Designers


If your trip to Vilnius doesn't happen to coincide with one of the pop up design events, don't worry! You can still shop great Lithuanian designers at brick and mortar stores in Vilnius. I've written quite a long post about second hand, vintage, and local designer shops before, so I'll link that here. Stores do tend to come and go pretty quickly in Vilnius and a couple of the stores I featured in that article are no longer around (I've noted it in the original article).

Locals.LT

Conveniently located in the mall Gedimino 9, Locals.LT stocks the most popular items from several Lithuanian designers. In store they sell clothing, jewelry, accessories, and home items -- a perfect place to stop for a locally made goodie to take home! The store is also really nicely organized, making it easy to find what you are looking for.

Aukso Avis

Aukso Avis is a jewelry store selling only handmade items from local designers. They carry both affordable and more luxury brands (prices tend to be about 10 EUR to 150 EUR), and everything is color coordinated!

Sarka

Sarka is one of my favorite places to shop in Vilnius as it has such a wide array of options to choose from. This small store is packed with high quality vintage finds, beautiful re-worked pieces, and clothes from their in-house designer. They also carry shoes, accessories, and decorations for the home.



Linen Tales

Lithuania is well known for its linen products, so it seems only natural to purchase a linen item. Linen Tales has two stores in Vilnius as well as a really great online shop. Be warned -- those who are nesting or love decorating are going to want to watch their wallet here!

Eva Design

I love the gorgeous dresses by Eva Design! Selling very carefully tailored women's shirts, skirts, and dresses, the option is very selective, but really creative and beautiful.



Pop ups can also be found in Kaunas -- the 2022 European Cultural Capital! Check PopUp.Lt, although they same to be held less frequently. Local designers also sometimes share a text (the one that looks like a bubble) during large weekend festivals that happen pretty regularly in the summer months in Vilnius (also at Kaziukas and the pre-Easter festival).


What would you add to the list? Any other pop up events I don't know about yet?