Travel Month: March 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Recent Travel


This month was not so much a travel month, but more of a planning and travel booking month. I've got a few exciting trips on the horizon, so stay tuned to read more.

In Vilnius, the weather has been a bit dreary, so I've been inside a lot, save for a few visits to favorite cafes. However, the sun graced us for the Vilnius Gastro 2017, which was a wonderfully tasty event. I also enjoyed my favorite yearly festival -- Kaziukas and purchased a couple of cool handmade items for the home.

A post shared by Elizabeth (@insearchofs) on

 

Coming Next Month

 

For April break, we've got a road trip planned to Riga, Latvia and Parnu, Estonia. I'm really excited to revisit Riga to sightsee, check out some churches, visit the castle, and try out J's favorite brewery. In Parnu, I've found some great restaurants to try and I'm looking into spa treatments! On the blog, I have articles planned about pop-up shops, counter culture, and other odd places to see.


 

This Time Last Year

 

I've been blogging for somewhere around five years, so my archives are pretty extensive. Each month, I'm going to share a couple of my favorite posts from previous years.

In March 2016, I shared some posts about Madrid, one of my favorite cities I've visited, and the year before, I wrote about the magical Tallinn, Estonia.



What did you get up to this month? What are your plans for next month?

What To Do In Alberobello, Italy: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Monday, March 27, 2017

Photo by J

About Alberobello


Located in the heel of the boot, in Italy's Apulia (Puglia) region, Alberobello is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique trulli architecture. A trulli is a special type of building or home made mostly of limestone stacked in an incredibly intricate manner. This style of home was created in the 1700s when Alberobello needed to pay town taxes based upon the number of homes. Trulli could be easily dismantled, so when tax collectors would come, citizens could knock down their homes and pay lower taxes! Very clever if you ask me -- stickin' it to the man since the 1700s!

Though trulli can be seen elsewhere in the Apulia region (keep your eyes out while on the train!), the highest concentration can be found in Alberobello, with some peeking out from behind more modern buildings and more than 1,000 can be found on a hill in one specific area -- Rione Monti.

While marveling at the trulli, do keep your eyes open for the unique, stacked limestone rooftops that ore often topped by white decorations. These decorations have different religious and pagan meanings. 



Photo by J

Getting There


I'm one for choosing public transportation when possible, so instead of renting a car, we opted to visit Alberobello via train from Bari. It was approximately a two hour train ride and the trains came frequent enough to make it comfortable. Grab a map at the train station and you are good to go.

Photo by J


Where to Eat and What to See


Black & White Cafe

We were pretty hungry by the time we arrived in Alberobello, so we stopped for a coffee and quick pastry at the Black & White Cafe, which was just across from the train station. The cake I had was really tasty and they had a pretty decent selection of gluten free goodies.

Basilica dei S.S. Medici

Located about a 10 minute walk or so from the train station, the Basilica dei S.S. Medici is pretty eye catching.  It stands in the middle of a wide street and behind it is a section with a high concentration of trulli.


Chiesa S. Antonio

Chiesa S. Antonio is a beautiful trulli church that is relatively new, built in the 20th century. You can enter the church for free, and I recommend you do, as the stone interior, with its drastic arches is really pretty cool.

 

Playground 

Located right across from the Chiesa S. Antonio, with tons of trulli surrounding it, there was a wonderful playground. Now, if you don't have kids, playgrounds probably don't feature on your top places to visit list, but there were some really great views from here!


Trullo Sovrano

We missed visiting Trullo Sovrano, but I'm a bit bummed about it since I really wanted to see the interior of a trulli. Apparently, visitors can enter Trullo Sovrano, which a grand trulli decorated in appropriate furniture. You can read more about it here.


Unpopular Opinion


Now, I was really impressed by the amazing architecture of the trulli and though that the crafts person in charge of originally building them must have been highly skilled and meticulous. The initial street in the Rione Monti section that we stumbled upon to walk into the trulli-concentrated area was mostly deserted, as we were there in mid-February -- I have read that it gets over-crowded in the high season.

Though I marveled at the architecture and would have liked to see the interior of a home, I perhaps hold an unpopular opinion -- is Alberobello too touristy?

The next main street we walked on was full of shops selling the same souvenirs with shop keepers yelling after you in English to purchase their goods. Now, in my opinion, this is the exact opposite way to attract me to visit a shop (or restaurant for that matter). However, I have read that the sections near Basilica dei S.S. Medici and Rione Monti are the most touristy, whereas the section called Rione Aia Piccola is less visited by tourists. So, perhaps that is where we should have visited.

But to get to the root of the matter -- does naming something a UNESCO World Heritage Site sometimes have the negative effect of making a place that was once unique turn into something too touristy, too much like Disney Land? But at least this way the beautiful historic architecture is protected, so maybe it has both positives and negatives?

Love this photo by J!




Photo by J

Photo by J

Photo by J


Final tips

To get the best of Alberobello, I'd suggest visiting in the off-season. In February, the weather was reasonably warm and we were virtually the only people walking through the trulli areas. I think it would be too much to visit during the spring and summer. If you want to avoid the heavily visited areas, perhaps Rione Aia Piccola is the best option for you.




What is your opinion of UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Have you been to Alberobello?

Lithuania's Liquid Gold: Honey

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



Sweet, flavorful, and ubiquitous, meet Lithuania's liquid gold. From tea to a cure for sore throats, Lithuanians use honey constantly. So much so that I'd have to call Lithuanian honey liquid gold.


Is Honey Really That Important In Lithuania?

The short answer: yes. More than black rye bread, wild-collected mushrooms, and potatoes, honey might just be Lithuania's number one culturally important food. So much so that it has been incorporated into Lithuania's pagan belief system, proverbs, tourism, and basic healthcare.

A Lithuanian proverb says, "A lone bee cannot create honey." (Viena bite avilin medaus neprines.)

 

How is Lithuania's honey consumed + utilized?


Honey tea

One of my favorite ways to consume Lithuanian honey is in the form of honey tea, something that I had never heard of prior to moving to Lithuania. Honey tea is made from thick, spun honey with herbs incorporated into the mixture to provide ultimate health benefits. Though there are several brands that sell honey tea, my personal favorite is from Apiflorus.

They sell honey teas in a variety of sizes and include teas infused with herbs that have added health benefits. For example, lemon balm is thought to aid digestion, reduce period cramps, and be calming. The honey tea with lemon balm is excellent for relaxation, in my opinion.

To use honey tea, simply mix a small spoonful with hot water and stir. This can be enjoyed immediately -- I really enjoyed it while I was pregnant with Baby ISO. You can buy honey tea at several gift stores and at the Vilnius Airport, but my favorite place is at Senamiescio Kratuve on Literatu g. in the Vilnius old town.

Cakes

Honey is used as a traditional sweetener for numerous Lithuanian desserts, although honey is now sometimes replaced by white cane sugar. My favorite Lithuanian cookbook, Taste Lithuania* by Beata Nicholson, even has a wonderful chapter entitled "Rivers of Honey." This entire chapter is dedicated to desserts, most of which use honey as the sweetener and main flavoring. Included in the recipes are gyrabukai -- my favorite Lithuanian dessert -- glazed mushroom cookies. The most famous Lithuanian dessert, honey cake, is also described, and of course, features honey as one of the main ingredients.

Honey cake (medaus tortas) is a labor intensive layer cake sweetened and flavored with quite a bit of honey. Found in numerous bakeries in Lithuania, visitors can easily sink their teeth into a slice of honey cake. Made with a different number of thin, wafer-like layers of cake depending on who makes it, the layers are then soaked in tea before assembly.

I think the best honey cake in Vilnius can be found at Senamiescio Kratuve on Literatu gatve and Pilies Kepyklele on Pilies gatve. Senamiescio Kratuve also has excellent gyrabukai, although they aren't always shaped as mushrooms. If you'd like to try out this recipe at home, the blog Ugne Bakes has a really nice recipe. The blog's writer, Ugne, is the Lithuanian woman who was on Great British Bake Off in 2015!!



Mead

The delicious hard alcohol made from honey -- mead -- has likely been produced in Lithuania for thousands of years. At one point, noble Lithuanian families even had their own special recipes and consumed up to 30 barrels per week. If you want to read more about the history of Lithuanian mead, I've written about it here for Culture Trip.

If you want to taste mead while in Lithuania (I know I do!), Lithuania's most famous mead company, Lietuviskas Midus, just started holding mead tastings in Vilnius. Prices are really reasonable, 8 Euros for four beverages, education, plus snacks. Tastings are held on Stikliu g., which is really the perfect location in old town. I'm dying to get a babysitter for the afternoon to do a tasting!

Cure for ailments

"A spoon full of [honey] makes the medicine go down[?]" ... that is how the song in Mary Poppins goes, right? Well, I bet the version translated into Lithuanian would be more culturally appropriate if honey replaced sugar in the timeless song. In Lithuania, honey is thought to be a cure for ailments. Spoonfuls of honey are added to tea, hot water, or simply consumed to prevent or help colds and sore throats.

This belief is actually backed by science, as honey is known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Its antibacterial properties are actually what makes honey unable to spoil. Using honey (and other bee products) as a medicine is considered apitherapy, and other than ingesting honey, it can be used in facials and spa treatments.

The wonderful resort town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania has an abundance of spas with honey-based treatments. Though I wasn't in love with the treatments at the spa I stayed at, Spa Vilnius Druskininkai was highly recommended by my friends, and I'm rather envious of their stay! Spa Vilnius Druskininkai offers body massages with honey meant to stimulate the immune system and relieve inflammation.


Where can you learn more about Lithuanian honey?


Beekeeping Museum

I hate to say that after four years in Lithuania, I still haven't had the chance to visit the Beekeeping Museum even though it has been on my Lithuanian Bucket List since the beginning. Though way off-the-beaten-path for most visitors, the Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Beekeeping is an open air museum located in Aukstaitija National Park. The museum features carvings of pagan beekeeping gods and goddesses, examples of tree-trunk beekeeping hives, and other beekeeping paraphernalia. It is slightly unclear when the museum is open, so you might want to check with the tourism board and call ahead before visiting. I'm hoping to visit before leaving Vilnius, although some sources say it doesn't open for the season until May, so hopefully we have time for a quick weekend escape!

Rumsiskes: The Lithuanian Open Air Museum

Rumsiskes was also on my Lithuanian Bucket List, but we managed to visit this year for my birthday. This awesome open air museum holds historic houses from all of Lithuania's cultural regions and also has a small area about beekeeping.



Honey + Lithuanian beliefs


Honey gods and goddesses 

Honey features in Lithuanian food, culture, and is even wrapped into Lithuania's former pagan beliefs. Lithuanian folklore remembers two pagan bee deities. The first is the female queen bee, Austeja, the goddess of fertility and protector of women, especially pregnant women. The second deity is the male worker bee, Babilas. Further excellent details are given in this blog post.



Who knew honey could be so important. Tell me, is honey used where you live?

Vilnius Gastro 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017



Running for its second year, Vilnius Gastro is a wonderful food walk hosted by the friendly folks at Sustainable Vilnius. With the aim to introduce participants and restaurants to sustainability, chefs are encouraged to create dishes using fresh, local ingredients and reduce waste in any way possible. Participants are also required to walk from establishment to establishment to reduce emissions from transportation.

This year, Vilnius Gastro had three routes, yellow, green, and red, with seven stops for each route. About 20 restaurants participated, and I was pleased to see both established and brand new restaurants included on the list. I also was excited to find numerous non-Lithuanian cuisines including Korean, Georgian, and Italian.

My favorite part about Vilnius Gastro is getting to try restaurants that I haven't tried before as well as dishes I wouldn't normally order. Vilnius Gastro 2017 certainly outdid themselves by providing some excellent restaurants options and flavorful dishes.

If you want a refresher, you can read about Vilnius Gastro 2016.

Salvete City

 

Salvete City was our first stop that we made following the green route. And boy what a great way to start out this tasty culinary night. Before this evening, I hadn't heard of Salvete City before, but I was really impressed by the welcoming staff, owners, and chef, as well as the great food.

We were served a risotto cake filled with shrimp. The sauce you see was made from shrimp heads cooked with fresh vegetables. Now, I really don't like seafood, but I'm willing to try anything. This dish surprised me in a good way. It didn't have that "fishy" taste and was very rich. The texture was also nice because the outside of the risotto cake was slightly crispy. I definitely want to try Salvete City again.

You can find Salvete City at Gedimino pr. 37.




Alive

 

This brand new fine dining restaurant serves only plant-based cuisine (aka vegan). I was very curious to try Alive, which is the whole reason I opted for the green route. The decor in Alive was beautiful and we were treated to some live piano music while dining.

The dish served at Alive was a thick slice of "bacon" (shall we call it facon?) with pureed parsnips (I think), roasted potatoes, mustard, and cubed beetroots. I really enjoyed the dish, but what stole the show was the fresh bread with beetroot vegan butter. J and I would have loved to buy a jar of the beetroot butter -- it was that good.

You can dine at Alive at Gedimino pr. 31.





Gaspar's Gastro Lounge


Gaspar's Restaurant (on Pylimo g.) is probably my favorite restaurant in Vilnius because the flavors are always spot on. A couple of months ago I was excited to hear about the opening of Gaspar's Gastro Lounge and tried it shortly after it opened. Though we had a slightly underwhelming visit after it opened, I was really wanting to try Gaspar's Gastro Lounge again.

This time, Gaspar's Gastro Lounge didn't disappoint. This was yet another shrimp dish that I didn't mind eating. The buttery naan that Gaspar (the chef) is known for was topped here with mushroom puree, shrimp, and a tiny squirt of chili sauce. The squeeze of lime was what really put this dish over the top. Another delicious dish from the Vilnius Gastro 2017.

Gaspar's Gastro Lounge can be found on Liejyklos 1.



Trinity Bar


At Trinity Bar the green route was treated to a specialty cocktail. Let me just say that I haven't had a cocktail in years; I'm talking probably eight years. We were served the pretty pink Clover Club cocktail, made from frothed egg whites, gin, lemon juice, and raspberry syrup. It was really tasty! The staff were also super friendly at Trinity Bar, allowing us to stash our stroller and helping us get it through the narrow door.

Stop by Trinity Bar at Vilniaus g. 30.



Saula


Our last stop for the night was the newly opened Saula. Though not recommended to carry down a bulky stroller to their basement restaurant, we managed and the staff were really helpful with finding us an accommodating table. Before I even get to the amazing food, I want to rave about the decor. The typical white stucco basement had been transformed with beautiful turquoise tiles, contrasting the white. Gorgeous.

The food we were served at Saula was equally as gorgeous. The dish was melt in your mouth beef cheek with mashed potatoes, and charred vegetables. We ended our dining journey on a great note!

You can find Saula next to Rimi on Didzioji 26.





We didn't make it to Grey or Burbulio Vynine for lack of time (Baby ISO's bedtime was fast approaching). We've also been to both before, so we didn't feel too bad about having to miss them. Tell me, did you get to taste the dishes at Grey or Burbulio Vynine?

 

Overall Notes

I really enjoyed the 2016 Vilnius Gastro, but I have to say that this year was even better. All of the restaurants we tried were fantastic and I'm not sure I could even choose a favorite out of these dishes. All staff that I encountered were friendly and the food was served very quickly (a plus with an easily bored toddler).

This year, the price for Vilnius Gastro was 32 Euros. While J and I were gifted our tickets from Sustainable Vilnius, this is an event that I would have happily paid the full ticket price to attend. Considering the quality and amount of food and drink, I think the price is very reasonable. I'm also happy to see that 1 Euro from each ticket was donated to charity!

Sustainable Vilnius runs similar gastronomic walks in Kaunas and Klaipeda, so be sure to check those out as well! For newsletter subscribers and those who follow ISO's Facebook page, I'll share these events when the come up, so you too can participate.



Do you like food walks? I wish this could be in every city!

Where To Eat + Shop In Bari, Italy

Monday, March 13, 2017



Our trip to Bari was a bright ray of sunshine that we really needed during the long Lithuanian winter. The warm weather, beautiful buildings, great food, and lively atmosphere put a smile on my face and gave me the endurance to survive the rest of the winter. One of the best things to do in Bari is wander the city and enjoy the affordable local food including the fabulous street food.

Keep in mind that in Bari, as in many other places in Italy, restaurants open around 12 for lunch and close in the afternoon, then reopen again around 6 or 7 pm. This can be difficult when traveling with a perpetually hungry toddler, so we opted to snack a lot when out and cook dinner at home. In general, food prices were inexpensive -- we even ordered a pizza to go for 3.50 EUR!

Where to eat:


Pasticceria Boccia: Located near our comfortable Airbnb apartment rental, Pasticceria Boccia seemed to be a local hang out. Coffee lovers would belly-up to the bar to order an espresso and a fluffy, sweet brioche. The meringues were also amazing and had a surprising number of flavors. The staff were super helpful, kind, and friendly and the prices were great. Find Pasticceria Boccia on C.so Sonnio, Bari.

Pasticceria Portoghese: Located in the old town, Pasticceria Portoghese is a delicious bakery selling cookies and other Portuguese sweets. The cookie sandwiches were delicious and melted in the mouth. Pasticceria Portoghese is located on Via Giovanni Modugno 29D.



Pasticceria and Bistro Salvatore Petriella: Located in one of the several stunning opera buildings in Bari, this pasticceria was seriously to die for. Though a bit pricier than elsewhere, the dainty cakes were beautiful and incredibly tasty. I have to suggest the pistachio desserts and pistachio filled croissant -- so good. The interior of the cafe was beautiful, making it a perfect place for a date, and the outdoor seating was ample enough for relaxing while people-watching. They also have sandwiches and light lunch options. Stop by for amazing treats at Via Fanelli, 207, 70125 Bari, Italy.






Panificio Fiore: Panificio Fiore is a little stand-up shop for homemade Apulian specialties. From focaccia to fried cornbread and spinach frittatas, Panificio Fiore was a perfect stop for a quick lunch. The woman running the shop reminded me of a stereotypical Italian grandmother and she even said "mamma mia" when she touched something hot. It was wonderful! Find them on Str. Palazzo di Città, 38, 70122 Bari, Italy.


 

Gadi: Gadi is a delicious gelato popsicle shop with numerous dairy-free options. The best thing though, is that the pops can be dipped into a fountain of melted dark chocolate and subsequently rolled in nuts or desiccated coconut. They also have swirl your own soft serve gelato and other mix-ins. Via Niccolò Piccinni, 14, 70122 Bari, Italy.


 

Gelateria Gentile: What would a trip to Italy be if you skipped traditional gelato? Located right across from the beautiful Castello Normanno Svevo, Gelateria Gentile served very rich, boldly flavored gelatos. The pistachio was really good, as was the regular chocolate (the dark chocolate was a bit too strong for me). They also featured numerous lactose-free gelato options. Find it at Piazza Federico II di Svevia, 34, 70122 Bari, Italy.

Where to shop:


As I mentioned in my last post about Bari, the city was surprisingly large and featured a huge amount of shopping. Think major brand names like H&M, the Disney Store, Zara, United Colors of Benetton, Sephora, and high-end shops way, way out of my budget. But those stores aren't my focus when shopping at home or while traveling; I'm all about the local stores. While I don't generally shop a lot, I did find two wonderful stores.

Fuecu: Fuecu is a gorgeous shoe store selling handmade Italian shoes and when I visited, had amazing sales. Stop by their shop on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 72.

Citta del Sole Bari: When traveling with kids, it becomes a must to stop into at least one toy store when traveling. It is even fun for us adults to check out the cool toys available in different countries, and perhaps make a sneaky purchase to reveal during the flight (what kid doesn't love a new toy). Citta del Sole featured a section with children's books in Italian, games, plush toys for babies, manipulatives for toddlers, and activity books and games for older children. It also had a great selection of plastic animals. Find Citta del Sole on Via Nicolò Putignani, 14/A, 70121 Bari, Italy.


Where else do you suggest eating in Bari? What is your favorite Italian street food? 

Scored A Cheap Flight To Bari, Italy? Here's What To Do And See

Wednesday, March 8, 2017



When planning our February break vacation we knew we wanted something cheap and warm. Those were our only two requirements. So, my search began for a cheap flight and a destination with affordable accommodations. My search on Ryan Air and Wizz Air led to a few options, but the best for our travel dates and awesome for affordability was Bari, Italy. Located in southern Italy in the heel of the boot, Bari was definitely warmer and way sunnier than Vilnius. Perfect.

Are you looking for a sunny European destination in the wintertime? Consider Bari for its delicious food, warm weather, friendly people, and perfect location. We loved it!

What To Do In Bari, Italy


Old Town


 The first thing to do once you arrive in Bari is to walk around the old town. The stunning white architecture makes it appear as though the stone buildings have been whitewashed by the sun. Each little winding street opens into a beautiful square, religious icons on homes, or cathedrals. It is beautiful. Smells from little shops selling delicious food provide navigation hints for those in search of snacks -- look out for the Portuguese bakery and the nearby tiny shop selling hot out of the oven focaccia.





Cathedrals and Churches


Staying true to its Catholic roots, old town Bari alone had four impressive churches. Practically every winding street you take in the old town opens to a beautiful, white stone church. The Archdiocese of Bari and the Basilica San Nicola are particularly stunning.






Beach Promenade


 Running along the harbor is a beautiful promenade taking you from the beach all the way to the castle (though that would be a longer walk than cutting through the city). Along the promenade you could watch fishermen preparing their squid and octopus for meals. Fishing boats were coming and going and numerous runners were making their way along the path. The waters were also surprisingly clear, although trash was common in the shallows.



Castello Normanno-Svevo


Bari even has a beautiful castle -- Castello Normanno-Svevo. Castello Normanno-Svevo was built in the 1100s by King Roger II. It was destroyed shortly after it was originally built, and then rebuilt several times throughout history. The interior of the castle is now a museum and can be visited for a small fee. We opted to spend the fee on gelato rather than visit, but reviews on TripAdvisor are decent.



Beach


If the weather is really warm during your visit, Bari even has a small sandy beach that would be nice for a swim or great for toddlers to play in the sand. It is always good to have a beach option!

Day Trips


With Italy's great train connections, Bari is a wonderful base for day trips around Apulia. Day trip options include Monopoli, Lecce, and Alerobello. The trains were really affordable and made for easy connections, making it unnecessary to rent a car. Alerobello (pictured below) is a beautiful town that has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its trulli homes. We didn't make it to Lecce, but I did read that it is a scenic destination!



Shopping and Eating


There were delicious restaurants, cafes, gelaterias, and street food stops everywhere in Bari. It is truly a tasty heaven for foodies -- and better yet, the prices were really great! The local specialties are focaccia, orecchiette, and fried corn bread. All so good! I'll share an entire post soon about the restaurants and food stalls we loved.

After our first day exploring Bari, J and I both shared our surprise at the size of Bari. We both had anticipated it would be a small, sleepy town, but boy we were wrong. As the capital of the Apulia region, Bari is a center for food, shopping, and tourism (it also has the airport). There are several pedestrian shopping streets located in Bari, making it a perfect relaxing escape for a family or girls' trip.





Have you been to Bari, Italy? Have you ever chosen a destination because of the cheap flights and warmer weather?