Living like a local in Vilnius, Lithuania

The Lux Express bus ride equipped with wifi and restroom from Riga, Latvia to Vilnius takes four hours.  Upon arrival in Vilnius, we walked 15 minutes to our spacious and bright Airbnb, with three bedrooms, and two bathrooms.

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We followed our established routine, going out to a local Supermarket to stock up for the three night stay, and then hit the pavement!

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Our four mile walk included a stroll through beautiful Bernardine Park.

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I love capturing emotion…a mother’s love for her infant…and color!

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We also briefly explored the area called Uzupis, similar to Christiana in Denmark…The self-proclaimed “Republic” of Užupis is Vilnius’ Bohemian and artistic district. It has its own anthem, constitution, president, bishop, two churches, and the Bernadine Cemetery.

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Riga, Latvia’s Architecture

Riga, Latvia’s architecture is lovely!  Much of it is the Art Nouveau style.  I love the variety of shapes, colors, and styles…

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The view of the Daugava River and Old Town is spectacular from the top of St. Peter’s Church!

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I could see the street where our over 100-year-old Airbnb was located…on the left side!

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Three Days in Riga, Latvia

On Midsummer Day, June 24th, we boarded a Lux Express bus at 8:30am from Tallinn, Estonia and arrived 4 1/2 hrs. later in Riga, Latvia.  The bus was equipped with wifi and a restroom, and was quite comfy.  Upon arrival, we walked 15 minutes to our Airbnb, which was located right in the heart of Old Town.  Actually, a little too close for comfort.  Music from a nearby restaurant/bar disturbed my sleep at night.  When you’re searching for an Airbnb that has everything you’re looking for: location, space, amenities — sometimes it’s difficult to have a clear picture of what you’re getting. 

After settling in, off to the Supermarket we went.  With only 2 1/2 days to explore Riga, there was much ground to cover.

Riga’s Old Town was filled with restaurants and cafes!

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The Pilsetas Kanal is quite lovely…

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Wandering through the Central Market we discovered fragrant flowers…

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and heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables…

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Tallinn’s Architecture

We arrived to Tallinn, Estonia’s harbor after a 2 hour ferry ride from Helsinki on June 21st and took a taxi to our Airbnb.  The taxi ride was quite odd because initially the taxi driver said he knew where the address was (which was only about 1.5 miles from the harbor), but then drove past it and when we spoke up and said we think he passed it, he assured us he was on the right path.  A few minutes later, he realized his mistake and took us back to the Airbnb.  I told him I wasn’t paying any extra for his mistake and he didn’t try to cheat me.

There was also a mix-up with the Airbnb host, but she eventually arrived and gave us a partial ride to a grocery store located 15 minutes walk from the lodging.  The Airbnb was in a great location, within walking distance of Old Town.  We were spending three nights here, so after returning from the grocery, we explored Old Town Tallinn and its amazing architecture!

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According to Wikipedia: Estonia was founded in 1248 but the earliest human settlements date back to 3000 years BC, making it one of the oldest capital cities of northern Europe.  Often dubbed as the Silicon Valley of Europe, it has the highest number of startups per person in Europe and is a birthplace of many international companies including Skype.  In 2011, the city was a European Capital of Culture.

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Some of these photos were taken the following morning when I went out exploring on my own…

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Exploring Helsinki by Bicycle

On June 14th, my birthday, Jing and I left our Airbnb in Sibiu, Romania at 4:45am to walk 1/3 of a mile to the train station to catch our 5:25am train bound for Bucharest.  It was a six hour train ride and we met a nice Romanian man that upon learning it was my birthday, gave me a sealed bag of coffee and helped me with my luggage when we arrived in Bucharest.  He also negotiated with the taxi drivers to find the best rate to take us to the airport for our flight to Helsinki.  We encountered many rude people in service oriented jobs while in Romania,  but like anywhere, there are people like him that make up for it!

Our flight left at 3:00pm (15:00) and arrived at 7:40pm (19:40) in Helsinki.  We then took a 40 minute bus into central Helsinki, and walked 15 minutes to our beautiful Airbnb, arriving after 9:00pm (21:00).  The apartment is owned by a very special lady named Pirkko, who was there to welcome us.  Here is the living room…

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The dining room…

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and the kitchen where Jing was making us something to eat for dinner later the next day…

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This Airbnb was by far the best-stocked place I’ve stayed at and Pirkko is such a sweet and generous person!  She knew ahead of time it was my birthday and had prepared a delicious cake for me and had a bottle of champagne.  She also let us use her bicycles while we were there and took us to the harbor three days later when we left by overnight ship for St. Petersburg, Russia.  Hugs to Pirkko!

Anyway, the following day, Jing and I set off on the bicycles to explore Helsinki…

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This statue is hilarious!

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Beautiful Brasov, Romania

Arriving to Brasov, Romania via train in the afternoon after exploring the breathtaking Peles Castle, we checked into our Airbnb located conveniently in the Old Town, and walked to the Supermarket.  With only 1 1/2 days to explore, we were anxious to get started. 

The main square called Piata Sfatului, is full of life and beauty!    The large dark brown building in the background is called the Black Church and is over 500 years old. 

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Children and birds are wonderful subjects to photograph!

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The fountain at the square seems somewhat modern, but contrasts nicely with the historical architecture surrounding it.

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I felt like I was dropped in a photographer’s paradise!

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Travel Diary: Washington, D.C. – Day 7

I had originally planned to go to the US National Arboretum, our last day in Washington, D.C., but after a relative told us not to miss the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I changed our plans.  After a leisurely morning at our Airbnb, we hopped on a Capital Bikeshare bicycle to explore the Museum.

But first I have to share a photograph from the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art.  This tree is entitled, “Graft”.  My husband waited on a park bench while I wandered through the Garden.  At 45 feet high by 45 feet wide and weighing 16,000 pounds, this piece by American sculptor Roxy Paine is marvelous!

According to Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art–“Graft presents two fictive but distinct species of trees—one gnarled, twisting, and irregular, the other smooth, elegant, and rhythmic—joined to the same trunk. Among its rich associations, this sculpture evokes the persistent human desire to alter and recombine elements of nature, as well as the ever-present tension between order and chaos.”

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A friendly squirrel, looking for food, stood still long enough for me to snap his portrait…

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Bergen and Bryggen

The City of Bergen transports you back in time, to a time when life was simpler.  A life that revolved around good fresh food, healthy outdoor activity, family and friends!  As a tourist, you only have a glimpse into the lives of the people who live and work there.  Three days wasn’t enough time to explore the surrounding area, but I was able to relax at my comfortable Airbnb apartment, when I wasn’t browsing the streets of Bergen and the area known as Bryggen, which means “Wharf” in Norwegian, and consists of 61 wooden buildings, along the waterfront.  What’s remarkable is that the City of Bergen is almost 1,000 years old and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Incredibly, it stays light in Norway until 10 or 11pm and daylight begins around 3am in the late Spring.  During our three days in Bergen, it sprinkled rain perhaps a third of the time, but Norwegians say, “It’s not bad weather, just bad clothing choice”!  Having arrived in town the evening before, tired from our spectacular day traveling from Oslo to Bergen through the Fjords of Norway, we decided to wait until the next morning to go grocery shopping.  I awoke earlier than my three Tour participants, as usual, so I went off in search of the closest grocery, which was thankfully only a 5 to 10 minute walk from our Airbnb.  I purchased eggs for omelets, bacon (because one of the others wanted it) bread, cheese, lunchmeat, and a few other staples, to help with the high cost of eating out in Norway.  The only coffee maker in the apartment was a French press, which I’ve never used, but with a bit of instruction, I caught on quickly, and made a nice pot full.  I then proceeded to make a nice breakfast for everyone.  The main tourist attraction I had planned for us was to go to the top of Mount Floyen, but I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post!

Here are some photos of the captivating town of Bergen…

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Turn right at the Witchy Bitchy Salon

If you’ve been following my month-long European sojourn, you’ll recall from yesterday’s post that we had spent the day on trains, a boat and a bus, from Oslo, Norway to Bergen, Norway, via Norway in a Nutshell, through the beautiful Norwegian Fjords!  Upon arrival to the train station in Bergen, although I had printed Google map directions to our Airbnb accommodations, I asked for assistance from a lady with a baby on her back, who definitely looked to be a local.  She said to follow her…she was going in our direction.  She brought us all the way to the “Witchy Bitchy Salon”, located about 15 minutes walk from the train station, which is where our host said to turn and go up a street to her place.  I have to say that Bergen is filled with hills.  Small hill…big hills…and more hills.  Unfortunately, two of the wheels on my 50 lb. rolling suitcase broke on this leg of the trip, so I was pulling dead weight up these hills!  We went up one hill and it was quite confusing with the street names being so similar and conflicting at the same time, so I began ringing door bells to ask assistance.  One guy stuck his head out of his top window and tried to help.

There’s the Witchy Bitchy Salon on the left…

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Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter and Vondelpark

The area in Amsterdam known as the Museum Quarter or District is beautiful!  I just happened upon it while racing from Vondelpark to meet my friends at The Heineken Experience.  If you want culture, then this is the place!  The Rijkmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, and Concertgebouw (Concert Hall) are located in this area.  Straight ahead in this photograph you’ll notice the iAmsterdam in red and white.  People were sitting on the letters and some even climbing!

One quick story…while running to get on a Metro going somewhere (can’t remember where because I went through ten Cities in 27 days…that’s a lotta trains/and I guess it really doesn’t matter where for the story), just as I made it in before the doors shut and was jockeying for space, a lady with a large grocery bag and her two children with scooters were right behind me, unbeknownst to me.  The doors shut on her, the kids fall over onto their scooters like dominoes, they start screaming and crying and luckily the doors open and the lady squeezes in.  I was trying to help the children up, but was so tightly crammed in, I couldn’t bend over.  That wasn’t fun.

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I love how they’ve formed the trees…

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In the late morning, the chill long gone, I traipsed through Amsterdam’s revered urban park…Vondelpark, observing the palette of greens generated by the shafts of sunlight.  Vondelpark reminds me of Central Park in New York City.  There were lots of people out jogging, walking, and bicycling…enjoying the weekend!

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Going Solo in Amsterdam

My friend and I arrived to Amsterdam‘s Central Train Station just before 9am on May 30th, following a not so comfortable overnight train ride from Munich.  I’ve taken overnight trains in Egypt and Portugal and I have to say this was the least comfortable.  I’m sure my friend, Richard, can’t get comfortable in many beds because he’s 6’7″ tall, but it was also quite noisy throughout the night and when I would wake, I was being tossed to and fro.  Enough complaining!

We bought our 72 hour transport card and followed the Google Map directions I had printed off leading us to the Metro line that would deposit us less than a half mile from the Airbnb I had rented for our 3 night stay in Amsterdam.  Upon arrival to the Apartment, we were shown around by the owner, and once she left we settled in.  It is situated on a canal and had everything we needed.  We were especially thankful for the washer and dryer, which we put to immediate use!

Richard’s twenty something year old Cousin, Tobias, from Germany was arriving by train a couple of hours later, so I went exploring by myself, while he went to meet him at the station.  This little car was parked on the Street in front of our Apartment.  I call it the half car…

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Having traveled in Southeast Asia, six countries in Africa, and other developing Countries, and experienced the organized chaos associated with a multitude of bicycles, I was surprised by this in Amsterdam, along with absent helmets on most children and adults, and the legality of motorcycles on bicycle lanes.  There’s nothing like biking along and suddenly feeling the air whoosh by from a large motorcycle within inches of your handlebars!

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Magical Munich

Arriving in Munich with my friend Richard was exciting for me because it was the first time I’d returned to Germany since living there in the late 70’s while in the Military.  Our train ride was six hours from Budapest and I was looking forward to some solo exploration, after having been responsible for guiding 11 other travelers through four European countries for 11 days!  I had reserved an Airbnb in Munich, located within walking distance of Marienplatz and other areas of Munich on my list of things to see.

Richard’s friend that lives in Munich, met us for dinner that evening at an Indian Restaurant called Sangeet.  It was excellent!  I left them to catch up and returned to the Apartment.  The following two days we explored some of Munich.  This gaggle of geese in the English Garden reminded me of the Serengeti migration…

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Although the sky was overcast, it seemed nature’s colors were so vibrant!  These ducks were swiveling their heads this way and that…

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Approaching one of the squares, either Marienplatz or Oedeonplatz, the fountain’s spray was dramatic!

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Europe for a Month

You haven’t heard from me for a while because I’ve been busy planning the European trip I mentioned in a past post.  In the other post, I gave you information about the first adventure taking trains from Prague–Vienna–BratislavaBudapest and it occurred to me that I could stay in Europe longer and offer a second trip to another group.  I have purchased train tickets to travel from Budapest to Munich for a few days, then an overnight train to Amsterdam for a few days.  I’ll be staying in an Airbnb in both locations.  Next, I fly from Amsterdam to Copenhagen where I’ll meet the other group for an unforgettable Scandinavian adventure!

We’ll head to Stockholm, Sweden for a few days, then to Oslo, Norway, and finally take the scenic train and boat cruise of the fjords in Norway to Bergen, where we’ll fly home.  There will only be four of us for the second portion.  I’m so excited!!

My three passions in life are photography, travel, and organizing/minimizing and all of my dreams are coming true!  I just helped an elderly couple yesterday with organizing their retirement village home and will be spending a lot more time with them.  And…my photography assignments have been coming along.  I’m still working with iSPYCINCY and have an upcoming assignment Sunday.  I answered a Craigslist ad for a Merchandise photo shoot.  My husband went with me because I was going to the man’s apartment in a new area of Cincinnati called “The Banks”.  He’s starting a business selling picture frames and wanted some lifestyle photographs of them.  Here are a few of them:

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