Let's Talk Culture + Respect

Monday, January 30, 2017

Laisve means freedom in Lithuanian --> Perhaps the US should reconsider this word as well
 

Checking in

 

Hello! This was meant to be my January 2017 catch-up post, but "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more." I had a more positive note previously written here but honestly, I'm incredibly disgusted by the news coming out of the US at the moment, so I deleted what I wrote. I'd like to note that while I vote, I really don't like to talk about politics (even writing this post makes me sweaty), but I do not tolerate disrespect and racism. I'd like to take a moment to direct you to my new About Page and mission to encourage everyone to seek understanding and respect of ALL cultures, religions, and beliefs.

On In Search Of, I will increase the number of cultural posts that I write because I want to highlight that differences are what provides color and wonder to the world. Hopefully, whether you are currently at home or traveling, you too will look deeper into the cultures around you and find it in your heart to show them all respect.



A few cultural posts you can find on In Search Of



If you'd like to read something a bit culture-y right now, feel free to check out one of my culture focused posts. These are the sorts of posts you'll be seeing on In Search Of more often. If there is anything specific you feel curious about, please feel free to share in the comments.

A Brief Look At Samogita

Plant and Lithuanian Names

Visiting Rumsiskes

Polish Donut Guide

Shrove Tuesday

A Look into Cultural Tourism 



Planning for a trip to Puglia, Italy

Wednesday, January 25, 2017



Next month, J, Baby ISO, and I are headed on our first international trip of 2017 to the Puglia coast, Italy (the heel of the boot). We scored an impossibly cheap Wizz Air flight direct from Vilnius to Bari, so we jumped on the opportunity to have a bit of winter sun. We have plans to spend a week in a beautiful Airbnb in Bari, Italy with friends, and I know we are all excited for delicious food and relaxation.

BC (before child), J and I visited Milan, Venice, and Cinque Terra, and while two months pregnant and sick with horrible morning sickness, I visited Rome with my parents. I LOVE Italy and can't wait to be back wandering a completely different part of the country.

In preparation for every trip we take, I spend a few hours scouring the web so we'll have a loose idea of what to do upon arrival. On the blog, I like to share these resources that I've found helpful with trip planning in the hopes that they'll be helpful to you, too!

Our first few days will likely be spent wandering Bari, checking out the churches, and visiting the university. The seafront promenade and Basilica both look charming! Bari's old town looks like it is full of winding streets and hole-in-the-wall eateries -- just what we always look for!

Relying on Italy's great train system, we'll probably take a day trip to Monopoli to see the defensive city walls and bell tower.

A day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberobello is also definitely a must-do because the white houses with little domed roofs are impressive. The 1,500 trulli (the name for the white, stone homes) are so fascinating and I hope we can enter one. I also have a feeling that Alberobello won't be super crowded because we are visiting in the off-season -- gotta love off-season travel!

Perhaps what I'm most looking forward to from a trip to Puglia is some budget-friendly, amazing Italian food and wine. The Budget Traveler blog has posted a really nice guide to the food of Bari.

Want to read more about our previous visits to Italy? Check out the Italy section of my Destinations Page.


If you have any suggestions for what to do in and around Bari, let me know! I'd love to have some more tips!

A Brief Look at Samogitia: a Cultural Region in LT

Monday, January 23, 2017




Though a small country, Lithuania has a an incredibly long history and probably surprising for most, different cultural groups. Samogitians, or lowlanders, are one such cultural group who have a strong presence in modern-day Lithuania and played an important role in Lithuania's history.

To put it simply, Samogitia is an ethnic region of Lithuania with a long and interesting cultural heritage. Samogitia is considered the low land, and this name has been in use since the 13th century.

Historically, Samogitia, or Zemaitija in Lithuanian, was independently ruled by Samogitian princes before the unification of Lithuania. Samogitia played an important role in the wars against Teutonic Knights in the 1200s and remained at least partially independent until the late 1700s when all of Lithuania was taken over by Tsarist Russia. Remaining steeped in national pride and cultural heritage, Samogitians were responsible for rejuvinating folklore, language, and history in the 19th century

Samogitia currently consists of the cities of Siaulai, Palanga, and Telsiai in northwestern Lithuania. Telsiai is considered the capital of Samogitia. Samogitia is notable as it was the last part of Lithuania that converted to Christianity -- it only converted in the early 1400s and most people continued to practice their pagan religion. Additionally, the people of this region have actively conserved the Samogitian language, which is slightly different from Lithuanian, cultural traditions, and cuisine.

Samogitians speak one of the two Lithuanian dialects and until fairly recently, women dressed in long skirts with brightly colored stripes and intricately detailed head scarfs. Examples of the outfits from different regions on Lithuania can be seen on the second floor of the National Museum in Vilnius.

In Samogitia, traditional botanical knowledge has also been maintained, and 113 plant species are considered medicinal. Use of traditional medicines are combined with modern medicine to create a holistic approach to healing in this region of modern-day Lithuania.




How to experience Samogitia while visiting Lithuania


Samogitian pancakes

If you happen to visit Lithuania and want to experience a bit of Samogitian but don't have a ton of time in country, try Samogitian pancakes. Samogitian pancakes are potato pancakes stuffed with meat and formed in a flattened football shape.

Rumsiskes

Houses were also traditionally very different than elsewhere in Lithuania and several example homes can be seen at Rumsiskes. Rumsiskes is a massive open-air museum located only a couple hour drive from Vilnius (near Kaunas) and is worth a visit if you have time.

Visiting Samogitia

If time isn't an issue, the wonderful blog True Lithuania has a massive post with maps that provides details for Samogitian sites that are worth visiting. A few examples on the "Samogitian trail" include the Panemune Castle (and road that has a couple of other related castles), a pagan shrine in Sventoji, and the Uzgavenes Museum (a pagan/Lithuanian festival to scare away winter) near the Zemaitija National Park.

Sources:

- Petekvicicute et al. 2010. Urban ethnobotany study in Samogitian region, Lithuania. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 4 (1): 64-71. 
- Samogita Blog
- True Lithuania Blog



Do you like to learn about culture where you live or travel? What is one surprising/cool thing about where you're based?

Date Night: Vilnius, Lithuania

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Probably not unsurprisingly, J and I don't get out for dates much since having a baby. So, when we do go out now, we look for special locations where we can have a wonderful and slightly fancier meal. Maybe you are in the same boat as us, or maybe you are looking to simply enjoy one of Vilnius' top restaurants. Either way, I've got you covered with nine different options.

Here are my top picks:


Gaspar's: 


Gaspar's is a great restaurant for a weekend brunch, afternoon business lunch, or tasty evening meal. I've enjoyed an amazing weekend brunch at Gaspar's and was surprised by how reasonable the prices were.

I also recently went on a date night to Gaspar's for dinner and the food was SO good and the value for money was excellent. For around 50 Euros, including tip, J and I each ordered three courses (an appetizer, main, and dessert), a glass of wine each, and a coffee (just for J). If you've not been to Gaspar's, you have to go because the food is amazing. This meal totally catapulted Gaspar's to the top of my restaurant list and is easily my favorite restaurant in Vilnius.

Gaspar's is pretty small and very popular, so don't forget to call ahead to make a reservation. You can find their phone number and lunch menus on their website.

Really good banana pancakes



Trust me, order the turmeric ice cream dessert

The duck was really good, too




The Town:

 In my opinion, The Town has one of the best steak menus in Vilnius. We've gone to The Town a few times now and I'm always impressed with the wonderful service; the staff are just so helpful and nice, which tends to be a bit rare in Lithuania! Be sure to order sides with your steak (or chicken) as they are really tasty and creative. Side dishes change depending on the season, and each one I've tried (mashed wasabi potatoes, potatoes au gratin) are SO tasty. Order some wine and a dessert to complete your meal!

Apparently I forgot to take a photo of the meal!




Dublis:


I've visited Dublis for lunch twice now.  I was really impressed during my first visit (but not as impressed my second visit), because the food was tasty and unique. I especially liked the dessert options at Dublis and remember the options all being really tasty. Because the menu rotates and can include some ingredients that are a bit unusual for some (e.g., chicken hearts), it is best to check their menu ahead of time.







Bistro 18: 


Bistro 18 is one of my favorite restaurants in Vilnius for a consistently good meal. On Bistro 18's menu, you'll find seasonal soups, delicious salads, steaks and other hearty mains, risotto, and really amazing desserts.

One of my favorite times to go to Bistro 18 is in the spring (approximately early May) when they feature locally grown asparagus in several dishes on the menu. Every asparagus dish I've tried has been absolutely amazing, so if you are in Vilnius in May, it is worth it to check their menu!

Bistro 18 is a really popular restaurant, so I suggest booking a table in advance.






Lauro Lapas


Lauro Lapas serves food with a creative twist on traditional ingredients. It is a great restaurant for a date night and the serve who had the funniest sense of humor was the cherry on top of a great meal.

You can find out more about Lauro Lapas on their website. Don't forget to call and make a reservation beforehand.






Uzupio Klasika

 Uzupio Klasika is a small restaurant located on Uzupio g. 28. While I enjoy their main dishes, their chocolate fondant cake, which takes 15-20 minutes to bake, is what really steals the show. I'm not ashamed to admit that J and I have just gone to Uzupio Klasika to order wine and a chocolate fondant cake!

That being said, I do also like their chicken dishes, and have enjoyed every meal I've had at Uzupio Klasika. While the other six restaurants on this list have some unique or unusual dishes, Uzupio Klasika serves classic Eastern European food, such as stuffed chicken or roasted pork, but the classic dishes are done really well. The interior is also very classically designed with long table cloths and tons of candlesticks providing light.





Sweet Root 


I've only eaten a small dish at Sweet Root during the Vilnius Gastro Walk, but Sweet Root is a really raved about restaurant due to its unique use of ingredients. Perhaps not for picky eaters, Sweet Root creates meals with locally sourced ingredients that are often grown on their own farm.

Find out more about their unique tasting menu and make a reservation on their website.




Sugamour


If you fancy a sweet dessert, I'd suggest stopping off for a date at Sugamour on Vokiecu gatve. Sugamour is a very cute, reasonably large restaurant that has beautiful, if a bit expensive, desserts. When we are short on time, J and I pick up desserts to go from Sugamour to enjoy after Baby ISO's bedtime.



Alaus Biblioteka 


Perhaps you are craving an after dinner drink? Head to my favorite bar in Vilnius, Alaus Biblioteka (Beer Library), which has nearly any beer you could ever want to drink. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and even people who don't like beer can find an option that they'll enjoy. Just ask the staff for suggestions! They also have an amazing cheese and meat plate that you must try as an appetizer to your meal out.







What do you do for date night? What are your favorite restaurants in Vilnius?

Travel Guide to New London, Connecticut

Monday, January 16, 2017



Over the past approximately 10-15 years, New London has become a hotspot for locals and those visiting southeastern Connecticut to eat out, bar hop, and enjoy both street art and art galleries. As a southeastern Connecticut native myself, I'd like to share my favorite spots and some cool hidden gems.

You might find yourself passing through New London if you are making your way from New York to Boston, or hopping on an Amtrak train at the New London Station, or grabbing a ferry to Fishers Island, NY or Block Island, RI.

If you want to start planning your trip now, head over to the new ISO Facebook community for budget travel tips and destination guides. 




What to do


The City of New London has commissioned pieces of street art that keep popping up all over the downtown. The pieces are representative of the diverse cultures, history, and love of the arts that the New London community contains. In addition to viewing the street art in New London, you can also enjoy a locally run art gallery, see a ballet or play at the local theater, or create your own masterpiece.

The Garde Arts Center: The Garde Arts Center is a historic institution of performance art. See a play, ballet, or film in this gorgeous theater, which was built in 1926.




Connecticut College: Connecticut College is a small liberal arts college that has excellent performing arts events all year round. You can search their events on their arts page.


Hygienic Art: The Hygienic Art Gallery was created in 1979 as an art festival held in a restaurant, which has since become an art gallery that shows fine art. Associated with the Hygienic Gallery is their art park, which is free to visit and open during the day and during gallery hours. The Hygienic Park also frequently has outdoor music events. Additionally, the Hygienic Art Gallery has been working with the City of New London to create murals to beautify the downtown -- check out their art walks!




The Drunken Palette: The Drunken Palette is an art class studio that offers both children and adult art parties. The knowledgeable and friendly teachers choose a piece that a Drunken Palette artists has previously created and they provide step by step instructions on how to recreate this painting. During the adult sessions they allow BYOB, which helps to bring out those creative juices. Just don' mix your paint brush cup with your wine! Learn about their painting nights and events on their webpage.


Street Art: Grab one of the street art maps at the Hygienic or at Muddy Waters Cafe and take yourself on a walking tour of the ever-changing artworks in downtown New London. Each time I'm back in the US (about every 6 mo) there are new pieces of artwork that really liven up the historic city.








Connecticut College Arboretum: The Connecticut College Arboretum is a 770 acre park that is open to the community. The arboretum has gorgeous collections of native plants and is a popular spot for engagement and wedding photos.





Old Town Mill: The Old Town Mill was built by John Winthrop, Jr. in 1650 to grind grain for the local community. The mill was destroyed by the Connecticut's number 1 historical villain Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War. The Old Town Mill was rebuilt shortly after the war and it was then used until the 20th century. The Old Town Mill is truly a hidden gem in New London as it is full of rich history, yet is located under 95 and near a low income housing development. Read more here.

 


New London Boardwalk: The New London Boardwalk is a popular fishing and walking area in downtown New London. Reach the piers and boardwalk by walking over the train tracks (check for trains first!!) near the station and go towards the water. There you'll find a walking path and several piers to stroll along. This provides great views of Groton.



 


Fort Trumbull: Fort Trumbull is another Revolutionary War site that was attacked by Benedict Arnold and much of New London was subsequently burned down. The current fort was built in 1839-1852 and the interior now features educational displays. Fishing is also allowed during the season (with the correct permits) and the grounds are nice for flying kites, eating lunch, or walking.
 

 
 

Ocean Beach: Ocean Beach is the nicest beach in the area and features lots of activities including beach volley ball nets, a playground, occasional concerts, and movie nights. It also has slides, some food stands, and an outdoor Olympic size pool that local swim teams (like my high school team) used in the summers.





Nathan Hale Schoolhouse: Most CT natives will be familiar with the state's local hero: Nathan Hale. This young, brave man earned his teaching degree from Yale at a very young age and taught for around a year and a half at two different schoolhouses in Connecticut. Then, he volunteered in the revolutionary war and was killed because he was working as a spy for the Continental Army. The former schoolhouse that he taught in is still located in New London and can be visited. The schoolhouse stands out among more modern architectural styles and oddly enough, a large parking garage (ramp for my Midwestern readers) stands nearly touching the schoolhouse. You can learn about visiting on their webpage.



Eating Out

New London's cultural diversity has created the prime locations of numerous, celebrated ethnic restaurants. Look no further than New London for excellent Northern Indian food and Greek food in southeastern Connecticut. Frozen sweet treats can be found at both the historical Michael's Dairy and the fairly new, but incredible, Berry's Ice Cream. You won't go hungry in New London.

Caffe NV: Caffe NV is a fantastic restaurant that serves authentic Greek cuisine. Their food and service can please even the pickiest diner. Because of this, Caffe NV is often very busy, so be sure to arrive early for seating. Also, don't skip dessert -- the Greek pastries are to die for. The owners also recently opened a take-out spot that has different food options and is also very popular.

Muddy Waters Cafe: Muddy Waters Cafe has become a community meeting place in downtown New London. At Muddy Waters you can enjoy freshly brewed coffee, egg sandwiches, and delicious pastries. I'm a huge fan of the grilled muffins. Muddy Waters Cafe has an array of mix-matched couches to linger with friends or catch up on work. Additionally, Muddy Waters boasts a huge outdoor patio that overlooks the train station, ferry dock, and boardwalk.





2 Wives Brick Oven Pizza: 2 Wives serves specialty pizza, paninis, salads, pasta, and desserts. To get more bang for your buck, 2 Wives has daily specials of buy one get one half off pizzas, buy one get one free salads, and family days -- be sure to check their website for the current offerings. They also serve gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian friendly dishes. I've been to 2 Wives countless times and always enjoy the casual atmosphere and great pizzas. I especially like their Panzanella Salad and Roasted Beet Salad.

Berry's Ice Cream & Candy Bar: Berry's Ice Cream and Candy Bar is a new find that isn't to be missed. I stopped into the shop on a Monday and was welcomed with their Milkshake Monday special -- buy one get one free milkshakes. I ordered the Thin Mint milkshake, made with chocolate milk -- at the recommendation of the woman working in the shop. It was absolutely delicious.

Northern Indian: Northern Indian makes delicious Indian food including curries, naan, tandoori, and other homestyle favorites. To get more bang for your buck, visit Northern Indian for lunch as they offer a buffet. Additionally, they are a vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurant -- just ask the knowledgeable staff if you have questions.

Fred's Shanty: Fred's Shanty is a casual outdoor restaurant where you line up to place your order for fresh seafood or other fried American fare. I'm a huge fan of the onion rings and pink lemonade, and everyone loves the fried seafood.

Michael's Dairy: Michael's Dairy is a local favorite standby in New London. Open since 1938 as a milk processing dairy, Michael's has stayed true to its roots and now makes and serves incredible ice cream. My favorite is the Caramel Chocolate Pretzel -- certainly as decadent as it sounds. Go find your favorite!


Other tips


New London, CT is a small city with a wide range of activities and is a great stop during a Connecticut or New England road trip. While downtown New London is best explored on foot (street parking is available throughout downtown), you'll need a car to access other parts of New London including Ocean Beach, the Old Town Mill, and Fort Trumbull. Keep in mind that several of the streets in New London are one-way only, so pay attention to signs and the direction that cars are parked on streets (cars parked on one way streets should be facing the direction of travel).

New London is a great stop as a break from a drive from Boston to New York (or vise versa) as well as a nice stop on a New England road trip. New London isn't huge, so you needn't spend more than one day.



Do you like visiting small cities? Have you noticed historical sites in unusual or unexpected places?