Travel Month: February 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Recent Travel

Wow, it has been several months since I've written a monthly catch-up post and I'm looking forward to chatting! So, hello! February has been a good month to us here in Vilnius. Things have been steadily busy with freelancing work and we went on a lovely, relaxing trip to Bari, Italy (more about that soon).

The weather in Vilnius tends to be on the dreary side in February, so it was wonderful to get out and have some sun, warmth, and incredible street food. We traveled to Bari with some friends and had a great time exploring, sharing cooking duties, and wandered the beautiful old town. Though I tend to be hesitant traveling in groups, this was a perfect trip, and it was great to have extra people to play with our very active Baby ISO. If you are looking for a trip, you should really consider Bari!

Beautiful Bari

Coming Next Month

This month I'm excited to be chatting all things Bari. I'm also looking forward to my favorite Vilnius festival--Kaziukas--which takes place next weekend! I'm thinking loads of Lithuanian street food, great handicrafts, and singing and dancing.

This Time Last Year

Can you believe that there are almost 500 articles live on In Search Of? Because my archives are so extensive, I'm sharing my favorite posts from each February over the last few years.


How has your month been? What do you have coming next month?

10 Ways To Experience Culture Even During A Short Trip

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Experiencing different cultures is one of the main reasons I travel. I love feeling immersed in something different or familiar and trying new-to-me things. I also believe this is a great way to open my mind to different ways of life and to allow Baby ISO to experience the world, even as a toddler.

1) BookALokal, BonAppetour, street food, and tastings

Some of my favorite memories from traveling come from eating a meal cooked by a local. BookaLokal and BonAppetour are companies that help you to connect with locals who open their homes to visitors looking to learn about culture through food and conversations. J and I have experienced wonderful BookALokal experiences in Athens and Madrid. Thus, this has to be my top suggestion for meeting with locals to learn about culture, particularly while sharing a delicious meal.

If a BookALokal or BonAppetour experience isn't on offer (or is too pricey), street food and tastings options might abound. In China, I loved experiencing tea tastings, while in Lithuania, coffee tastings are prevalent. A quick Google search will let you know what to expect in every different destination.

Tea tasting in Kunming, Yunnan, China

2) Rental apartment

I'm a bit nosy when it comes to how people live around the world, so booking a rental apartment through Airbnb or allows me to have more than a peak inside an apartment. We've learned the hard way that you need to be picky when it comes to selecting an apartment (watch out for ones hosted by companies!), but sometimes you can luck out with a wonderful accommodation and excellent hosts.

3) People-watch

Who doesn't like a bit of people-watching, am I right? Since I've started contributing to Travel Fashion Girl, I've been finding myself paying much more attention to the different fashion trends in each destination I visit. For example, here in Bari, Italy, where I'm currently writing from, I've been noticing chic women wearing very flattering palazzo jeans with fitted shirts and masculine shoes. Paying attention to these little trends is simple and easy to do when traveling and puts you at least a touch in-tune with a piece of local culture.

4) Free walking tours

I love free walking tours--they are reasonably easy with a child and they give you the opportunity to learn more about a destination. I always look for free walking tours while traveling, and often they can be pretty easy to find. So, I'd absolutely suggest looking for a walking tour where ever you go.

--> The free walking tours in Vilnius and Tallinn are really well done. I play on trying the tour in Riga this spring, so I'll let you know how it is! 

5) Talk to people

Though sometimes a language barrier prevents in depth conversations, talking to people is obviously one of the best ways to learn about culture. It is simple to exchange a few words with someone at a cafe, a hotel concierge, or a serve at a restaurant.

6) Museums

Okay, museums aren't for everyone, but some museums do provide excellent insight into the local culture. For any visitor to Lithuania, I have to suggest spending a few hours at the KGB Museum in Vilnius and/or the 9th Fort in Kaunas. These museums provide visitors with an understanding of the recent tragedies that recently faced Lithuania.

7) Read

Though I love to read, picking up a book about a certain destination that I'm visiting (or dream of visiting) is a bit of a new one for me. I'm currently reading a book set in Malaysia--The Garden of Evening Mists, which has instantly transported me to stunning gardens and tea plantations set in Malaysia's mountains. Even if you aren't traveling, you can pick up a book to learn more about the culture in your home or in a destination you'd like to visit soon.

8) Visit a market 

Visiting a market is a totally simple option that only takes an hour out of your trip, but will allow you to experience a bit of local culture through observing people and the type of produce available. From the famous La Boqueria in Barcelona to the more local Kalvariu Market in Vilnius, there will certainly be options anywhere you go.

9) Street art

I love, love street art. It allows a little peek into the counter-culture of a destination. For example, the painting of Putin and Trump making out in Vilnius (the was painted during the election), was rather newsworthy! What bits of street art can you find while visiting a city?

Street art by one of my favorite artists (Athens)

10) Visit a place of worship

From Buddhist temples to Greek Orthodox Churches, I like to visit them all! Even during a weekend getaway or a stopover, visitors can seek the chance to visit a place of worship to learn a bit about the people who live in that region.

Temple in Kunming

How do you learn about local culture when you travel? What else can be added to this list?

Riga Islande Hotel Review, Riga, Latvia

Monday, February 20, 2017

During our multi-family road trip through the Baltics last year, we had an emergency stop in Riga because Baby ISO was ill. Our friends booked us into the Riga Islande Hotel*, which is across the Daugava River from Riga's old town. Though not necessarily the area I would have chosen, the hotel was in a cool location and was only a short distance from old town. It also offered free parking, which was great since we had a massive car for our road trip.

The Riga Islande Hotel is a really great budget option (rooms are around $50 per night) with surprisingly good amenities. The rooms were clean and comfortable, and ours had a great view of the Vansu Bridge. I thought the large bed was very comfortable and the room was large enough for us to fit our travel crib. There was also a large space to store luggage and a desk with a chair.

Had we spent more time in the hotel, I would have liked to take advantage of the amenities including bowling alley, large tvs, spa, sauna, and pool. Reviews of the bowling alley, sauna, and pool are really good, so its a bummer we didn't get to enjoy!

I'm not usually a fan of hotel breakfasts, but the breakfast at Riga Islande Hotel was pretty decent and there were loads of choices.

The breakfast buffet was actually pretty good!

The view from our hotel room

The Riga Island Hotel* is located on Ķīpsalas iela 2, Kurzemes rajons, Rīga, Latvia. It is about a 15 minute walk from Riga's old town.

Where have you stayed in Riga? We are planning a spring trip to spend more time in the city, so I'm looking for some accommodation and restaurant suggestions!

Note that links marked with a * are affiliate links. You can find more information about In Search Of's use of affiliate links at the bottom of this blog.

Where to eat in Tallinn, Estonia

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

One of my favorite ways to travel and learn about culture is through food. No matter how long or short your trip, you can always find somewhere to taste the local cuisine or sample an imported delight. If you are hungry in Tallinn, here are six wonderful and surprisingly affordable places to eat in Tallinn.

Ribe Restaurant

Ribe is an amazing restaurant in Tallinn's old town, just off of the main square. Ribe serves high quality European food in a really beautiful atmosphere. I dined alone at Ribe because J was in Tallinn for work, and the staff were super nice and attentive. I enjoyed a delicious pumpkin salad and really amazing lamb. I highly recommend a meal at Ribe when you visit Tallinn.

Vene 7, 10123 Tallinn, Estonia

Lendav Taldrik

We ate at the Indian restaurant Lendav Taldrik during our multifamily road trip through the Baltics. I thought that the food was delicious and was really happy to be eating something a bit spicy! The food is really for sharing, so if you do visit Lendav Taldrik, don't order too much! Lendav Taldrik is located in Building E of the Telliskivi Creative City.

Telliskivi 60A, 10412 Tallinn, Estonia

Rataskaevu 16

Rataskaevu 16 is J's favorite restaurant, perhaps of all time. On our most recently visit to Tallinn, we had made reservations to eat here as our special Thanksgiving meal, but I unfortunately was sick and couldn't go. I forced J to go without me (he had eaten there before) and he made me drool over the food descriptions.

According to J, Rataskaevu 16 also has a children's play area, which makes it convenient for families!

Rataskaevu 16, Tallinn, Estonia

Olde Hansa

We also ate at Olde Hansa, which is right in Tallinn's old town square. Now, I wouldn't think that a restaurant on the square would be good, but it really was! The environment was interesting, with staff dressed in medieval clothing and everything lit by candles. It was pretty cool! I ordered fig with lamb and the portion was massive.

Town Hall Square

Pannkoogipubi Kompressor

Pannkoogipubi is a quick cafeteria to order specialty pancakes. The free walking tour guide suggested Pannkoogipubi as a cheap lunch place and she was right. The meat and cheese pancake I had was really filling and delicious.

Rataskaevu 3, 10123 Tallinn, Estonia

Pierre Chocolaterie 

Pierre Chocolaterie is a delicious cafe and chocolate house with a beautiful courtyard that I bet would be great in the summertime. The chocolate cake I had was pretty tasty and I've heard that they serve amazing hot chocolate.

Vene 6, 10123 Tallinn, Estonia

There are a bunch of other places that I'd like to try in Telliskivi Creative City, so I'll have to plan a return trip to Tallinn soon! Where else would you suggest to eat in Tallinn?

Multicultural Signs In Vilnius Meant To Celebrate Nationalities

Monday, February 13, 2017

Vilnius is home to some 120 nationalities, and many have played a significant role in Lithuania's history. Recently, Vilnius has been celebrating this diversity of nationalities with the installation of multicultural street signs. These multicultural signs are written in the language of the ethnicity that is referred to in the sign. For example, Vokeiciu gatve (German Street) is written in German as Deutsche Strake with a decorative symbol next to the name.

The first sign was installed on Iceland Street (Islandija gatve) because Iceland was the first country to recognize Lithuania as independent in 1991. Another sign was installed on Totoriu g. (Tartar Street) at the intersection with Gedimino pr. in the old town to celebrate 600 years of Tartars in Lithuania. The sign installations are celebrated with a visit from Vilnius' mayor, and in some cases, a small celebration of folk songs.

Now, not all have accepted these multicultural signs, and within the first few days, the street sign on Rusu g. (Russia Street) was vandalized, but was quickly cleaned up by the city government. There is also currently a lawsuit pending regarding the (ridiculous, in my opinion) belief that these signs may cause racism. However, the municipal government insists that the signs are decorative and meant to celebrate Lithuania's heritage.

Hopefully the Vilnius municipal government will be able to continue this interesting celebration of Lithuania's long history.

 Where to find these signs:

Feel free to read more on these press releases: Warsaw Street; Totoriu g.

What do you think about multicultural signs? Do you think they instigate racism and hatred or rather, celebrate a diverse city?

5 Ways Travel Bloggers Contribute To A Positive World

Monday, February 6, 2017

Beautiful cafe in Dali, Yunnan Province, China
One of my favorite small businesses - a cafe where East meets West -- in Dali, Yunnan, China

Last week my Bloglovin' feed featured a blog post that moaned over how pointless and frivolous travel blogs feel with a world full of bad around them. Rather than offering their readers a way to take action (like this awesome post from Amanda or this post from Cassie -- there were many others, too!) or even simply providing an escape for readers (like these guys) feeling down about what's on the news, they just moaned. And you know what, that pisses me off!

I don't think travel blogs are frivolous at all; in fact, I think travel blogs have the possibility to contribute to making the world a better place.

  1. Travel bloggers act as ambassadors for their country, providing clear information about their nation and break down stereotypes
  2. Travel bloggers can share cultures with the world, acting to diminish fear and misunderstanding.
  3. Travel bloggers can promote conservation through showing habitat destruction, companies that treat animals poorly, or share lifestyle tips for slow travel.
  4. Travel bloggers can boost the local economy by shopping local and supporting local artisans. The travel industry ultimately provides millions of jobs to people around the world. 
  5. Travel bloggers provide an escape from daily lives for readers.

Even though these actions may seem insubstantial, if we as travels can guide even one person to beat a misconception; to understand the world; to accept other cultures and religions, we've done our job. And if that person can pay it forward, then imagine just how many people our actions can affect.

So here I am, a frivolous travel blogger doing something to leave the world a more positive place.

15 Ways to Experience Lithuanian Culture

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Traveling and living abroad provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn about cultures and histories that may be completely different from your own. It is your chance to open your mind to foods, experiences, religions, festivals, and more.

Lithuania, a country that only recently regained its freedom from the Soviet Union, has a rich history of food, culture, and bravery. Because it was part of the Soviet Union and only joined the EU recently, many people don't have a clue about Lithuania or what to expect when visiting. Actually, when I first moved to Lithuania, I also had no idea what Lithuania would be like and my parents were pretty nervous about the move. What I've found, however, is a wonderful home full of unique food culture where potato is king, a rich tradition of harvesting wild plants and fungi, and strong national pride.

If you happen to be visiting Lithuania or have recently moved here, I've created a list of 15 different ways that you can experience Lithuanian culture.

1) Mushroom Picking

Mushroom picking was one of my favorite experiences of all time in Lithuania. Shortly after the birth of Baby ISO, J's colleague took us mushroom picking in the suburbs of Vilnius. If visiting Lithuania, I have to suggest asking a knowledgeable local to take you mushrooming.

2) Uzgavenes

Uzgavenes is a traditional Lithuanian festival occurring 46 days before Easter and involved dressing up in wooden masks, singing, and going door to door to collect candy. The celebration culminates with the burning of a more to scare away winter. Enjoy the merriment on the streets on Vilnius or at the Rumsiskes Open Air Museum.

3) Kaziuko Festival

The Kaziuko Festival is the best festival in Lithuania and occurs at the beginning of March. At this festival, you can expect thousands of folk crafters selling their goods such as carved masks, wooden bowls and platters, painted eggs, jewelry and more! Plan your visit to Vilnius to coincide with the awesome Kaziuko Festival.

4) Coffee Tasting

Coffee culture is single-handedly changing the face of Lithuania and creating a counterculture. Cafes are providing upbeat meeting places, jobs, and workspaces for freelancers. With the increase of cafes comes pop-up festivals and markets, and improvement in parts of the city that were once kind of yucky (e.g., the Stotis area). One of my first and favorite coffee experiences in Vilnius was a coffee tasting at Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories. The owner is awesome and hosts frequent coffee tastings (see "kavos degustacija" on their FB page) at their airy cafe. Tastings can also be given in English, so no worries if your Lithuanian is as bad as mine!

5) Open Kitchen

I've shared my love for Open Kitchen probably too many times on In Search Of, but it is a highlight of the summer season in Vilnius and will provide a lively snapshot into hipster life in Vilnius. If you are visiting Vilnius in the summer or early fall, pop over to Tymo Turgis where they hold Open Kitchen.

6) Beekeeping Museum

The Beekeeping Museum has remained on my Lithuanian Bucket List since we moved to Vilnius, and I still have yet to visit <-- blame that on the bad weather most of the year. Both beekeeping and honey are culturally very important in Lithuania and there are even Lithuanian gods of beekeeping. Honey is used a sweetener in numerous desserts including gyrabai cookies, which are my personal favorite.

7) Maker Popups

Along with the cool cafes, there have been quarterly maker popups with great artisans. These events are always packed and I think they are a great way to support small businesses.

8) Jewish Museum in Vilnius

Another location that I haven't yet had the chance to visit is the Jewish Museum in Vilnius. My Mother-In-Law, who is Jewish with Lithuanian ancestry, did visit all of the Jewish sites in Vilnius + surroundings, and she said they were incredibly moving.

9) All Saints Day

All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1 all over Lithuania with families visiting cemeteries to light candles and pay respects to the dead.

10) 9th Fort

 Located just outside of Kaunas, the 9th Fort is a museum, memorial, and historic site in remembrance of the 50,000 people murdered there during WWII.

11) Street art walk

Vilnius has recently started street art festivals and projects meant to rejuvenate parts of the city as well as celebrate its history. Taking a self-guided tour of Vilnius' street art paints a picture of Lithuania's creativity and politics.

Putin and Trump street art in Vilnius

12) Mead tasting

Lithuania is widely known for its mead, which was previously used in pagan religious ceremonies. Mead tastings are available in Vilnius at Lietuviskas Midus in old town.

13) Independence Days

Lithuanian has two independence days, and both are widely celebrated with people wearing yellow, green, and red. If you happen to be in Lithuania on either February 16 or March 11, be sure to look out for parades, flags, and patriotism.

14) Grutas Parkas

 Located near Druskininkai, Grutas Park contains old Soviet statues that were once located throughout Lithuania. The park is pretty spooky with Soviet music playing in the background and larger than life statues of evil personalities such as Lenin and Stalin.

15) KGB Museum 

 The Museum of Genocide Victims (also called the KGB Museum) is a bone chilling museum in Vilnius that describes the recent horrors that Lithuanians faced under Soviet rule. The basement of the KGB Museum was a former KGB office, prison, and torture chamber.


What are ways that you can learn about the culture (or cultures) of your current home?