Suitcase and World: 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Memories of the Batlics and Helsinki.

At the Hill of Witches, Curonian Spit, Lithuania.

This is the diary of my trip to the Baltics in 2013 and as with a few trips now, my brother was my travel partner.  We're now in a pattern of doing a big trip together every year and I'm thrilled to pieces about that.  There's no other way that I would rather spend a few weeks than to be traveling with him.  Besides, no one else knows how to put up with me better than him! :-)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Last Moments.

His face says it all for me, sad.

We woke up in Room 105 this morning, the same room that we were in when we first arrived three weeks ago. The receptionist had us moved from the not-so-nice ground floor room back to this one yesterday. I was happy when I got the news; it was nice to come full circle - we started and ended our wonderful Baltics trip here!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hill of Crosses.

At the Hill of Crosses.   Photo taken by a very familiar face. :-)

Today, we got to go to a very special place, the Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania, Lithuania. The Hill of Crosses was not on the itinerary that Ieva had worked out for us.  I had originally thought that perhaps we could do a visit as a sided trip from Vilnius.  Then, I looked on the map and realized that Šiauliai is actually closer to Riga than it was to any of the other places we had been to in Lithuania so I set it aside for a side trip from Riga.

Riga. Familiar and New.

Inside one of the pavilions at Riga Central Market.  Just about the prettiest display I've ever seen in a central market!

Today, we had a short road trip back to Lithuania - you'll have to read the next blog posting to find out what it was. But before and after the road trip, we spent time in Riga - we went back to visit some place familiar and we explored some place new.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Road Trip Back to Riga. Pape & Liepāja.

Afternoon stroll in Liepāja.

Our last long road trip today. Part of me is relieved and part of me is very sad as it means our trip is nearing its end.  It was about a 350 km drive from Klaipeda to Riga and somewhere along the way, we crossed over from Lithuania to Latvia.  You don't need to see the border sign to tell you you're in Latvia; the road conditions will do it for you.  I swear the entire country is under road construction!  Lithuania, smooth road.  Lativa, what road?

Road Trip Back to Riga. Palanga.

On the grounds of the Palanga Amber Museum.

I can't believe that our Baltic trip is almost over. We leave for home in two days. Time really flew by.  We've had so much fun on this trip. I'm sad to be going back to the reality of our lives back in the US.  Bro will go back to work and I will have to figure out how to gracefully transition into retirement.  For now though, we had another long drive ahead of us.  Today, we leave Lithuania and return back to Latvia.  By day's end, we had arrived back where we started our journey - in Riga.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Weather vanes, icons of the Curonian Spit.  Here, they're displayed on the lawn outside the Neringa History Museum located in the seaside town of Nida.

Nida. The last Lithuanian town on the Curonian Spit. A few miles further south and you'd be in Russia.  The homes wooden homes in Nida are just so darn cute.  Dark brown slats with bright blue accents was the typical style.

The Gray Dunes.

High atop the Gray Dunes with a view of the Curonian Lagoon.

The Curonian Spit, kinown is Lithuanian as *Kuršių nerija*  is essentially a massive sandy barrier separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea.  The northern 50 kilometers of the Spit belongs to Lithuania while the southern 47 kilometers is Russian territory.  The entire Spit is designate as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Whimsy on The Curonian Spit. HIll of Witches.

King of the Hill!

Today was a fun day. Lots of nature and a bit of sightseeing; a welcomed change of pace from time in the big cities!

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Day's end in Klaipėda.

For us, Klaipėda has been the place where we've just slept and eaten while we spent our time exploring the Curonian Spit.

On The Road to Klaipėda.

At Panemunė Castle with its distinctive gray and white striped tower.

Our road trip today took us from Kaunas to the the port city of Klaipėda, which will be base from which we will be exploring the Curonian Spit.


Buying bread at the central market in Kaunas.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania. We arrived yesterday around 2pm, after about two hours of driving, from Trakai.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lithuania Road Trip Begins! Trakai Island Castle.

At Trakai Castle.

I woke up feeling kind of sad this morning. Not because it was cloudy and overcast outside but because we were leaving Vilnius. Our time here was much, much too short and I felt we had short changed ourselves. But at the same time, I look forward to seeing what the rest of Lithuania holds for us.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vilnius. Charm and Churches.

Old Town Vilnius is filled with Old World Charm. Plenty of narrow streets and nooks and crannies to explore!

After exploring Gediminas Hill and Cathedral Square, we made our way to the outskirts of Old Town.  Here, the streets are broader with a lot more traffic and traffic lights.  There are more commercial establishments and people.   Even so, it's got it's charm.

Vilnius. The Castle Complex and Vilnius Cathedral.

A walk through the park, heading for Gediminas Hill.

Oh boy, these Lithuanian meals are going to be the death of me. All I had for lunch was one cepelinai but it was so heavy that I just felt like there was an entire russet potato sitting at the bottom of my stomach. If not for the annoying smell of cigarette smoking wafting over from a few tables over, I probably would have stayed glue to our lunch table for bit longer but just as well that we left.  Our restaurant was located right across the street from a park and according to our map, if we walked part way in, we would see Gediminas Hill.

Vilnius. An Art Wall and Churches.

Entering St. Anne's Church.

It's late morning on our only full day in Vilnius and I'm already enjoying being in Old Town. After spending a couple of hours visiting Vilnius University, we continued our wandering about. I know it would have been better had we had an itinerary to follow but Vilnius Old Town is the kind of place that you just throw out the guidebook and explore. At every turn and in every nook and cranny of its cobblestone streets and charming buildings, there’s something to be discovered.

Vilnius. Off to School.

Viewing Old Town from the top of the campanile of St. John's Church.

We kick started our long day today with a gut busting, taste bud satisfying, yummy breakfast! It was a buffet that offered up a good selection of breakfast items and included two eggs cooked any which way you want. We happily stuffed ourselves.

Monday, September 9, 2013

From Latvia to Lithuania.

By day's end, we would be back in the big city. Say hello to Vilnius!

There is truly nothing better than a good night's sleep and I think I had the best one in I don't know how long, last night!  I don't know what it was about this place but if I could package it and take it home with me, I would!  The first time I opened my eyes, the sun was not yet above the horizon. By the time I was ready to get out of bed, the sun was up. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Into the Heart of Latvia. Aglona.

This is the view that greeted us at the end of the day.  So worth the drive it took to get there!

Our drive today would take us 340km from Tartu, Estonia to Aglona, Latvia. According to our itinerary, we would pass through the Latvian towns of Alūksne, Rēzekne, and Preili along the way. 


Town Square.  Very charming area.  I can imagine what a lively place it must be
on a sunny day or at night when all  the restaurants and bars come to life.

Despite my complaints about the location of our hotel room (on the ground floor, right next to the reception desk, feet away from the road, I slept okay. Not great, but not bad. I must have been tired from yesterday. We headed to the restaurant for breakfast and it was not good. Not totally bad but definitely not good. I'll have to make it up somewhere else.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Continuing the Road Trip to Tartu.

Inside the Orangery at Palmse Manor.

By the time we left Käsmu, we had agreed that we would cherry pick the places to see rather than following Ieva's suggestions to a tee.  We had learned our lessons with Jägala-Juga waterfall, Kolga Manor and especially, the Jaani-Tooma kivi stone - all sounded good on paper but didn't come close to living up to our, perhaps overblown, expectations.

From Tallinn to Tartu. Part 1.

Posing in front of the kivi stone. He's gritting his teeth and clutching is fists,
pretending to not laugh :-)  Story follows.

Today as a long day.  Our drive would take us from Tallinn to the town of Tartu, known for its university.

Jurgen had kindly agreed to meet us in his apartment at 7:30a.  I thought it was too early but for him not.  He had to take his daughter to school and was up and ready to meet with us.  He's been such an accommodating host.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Helsinki. Last Hours.

Enjoying lunch at Kauppatori.
After spending the morning exploring more of Helsinki, we were back at the Hotel Finn to finish up packing and check out of the hotel.  Since we weren't actually leaving Helskini until later on in the afternoon, we stashed our bags safely inside a storage locker at the hotel.  A side note about the staff at the hotel.  We've only been here three days and two nights and I don't think we've seen the same face behind the reception desk the entire time we've been here but every single person has been so warm and friendly.  Who says Finns are reserved have not met these folks!

Going to Church.

Inside Temppeliaukio Church.

The highlight of our day today was going to church. We started with breakfast back at Killan's, the same place we munched at yesterday morning.  I guess we could have gone to try another place but Killans's so convenient and reasonably priced.  Of course, we are on vacation so no desire to really rush....we took our time at breakfast.  Not to mention that it was still really early in the morning and whatever we wanted to go see was most likely not open yet.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Discovering Helsinki.

Uspenski Cathedral.

Grand Uspenski Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary, sits high up on a hill; we could easily see it as we were walking about Kauppatori market.  After our snack of fried vendace, we made our way towards the cathedral.  It wasn't quite clear on our map on exactly how to get up to cathedral from where we were standing in the market so we just followed our instincts.  Soon enough we met up with people heading in the same direction so we just joined the crowd.

Exploring Suomenlinna Island.

At the fortress on Suomelinna Island.

S-t-r-e-t-c-h!  It was a slow rise for me.  Despite the fact that our hotel is located on a street filled with restaurants, cafes and bars which were hopping with activity well into late night and that I slept right next to an opened window, I slept like a lamb last night.  I woke up rested and ready to rock and roll!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Greetings Helsinki!

Posing in front of Helsinki Cathedral.
Ready to go?

 Those were the words I had for Bro. It had been barely half hour since we had checked into our room when I was already to hit the streets of Helsinki. We only have two days here and as always, I want to make sure we don't waste a minute of our valuable time. Bro is as much of an eager beaver as I am so it rarely takes any convincing to get him going - he is definitely one to sit still.....just like his Sis :-)

We unloaded our backpacks, left behind our jackets, grabbed our map and closed the door behind us.

We stepped out into a gorgeous day.  Our hotel is on a pedestrian only stretch of street that is linked with plenty of restaurants and cafes.  It was around lunch time and there were a lot of folks eating al fresco.  The summer season is short here so they have to make the most of it!

With Bro navigating, we walked towards Mannerheimintie, the main avenue that runs through the city. Our hotel is just about a half block away.

See You Later Tallinn. Hello Helsinki!

Water and boats....we're heading in the right direction.

Wake up! I had to rustle Bro up today. It was an early wake up call as we left Tallinn for Helsinki today. We had packed our bags last night. Lucky for us, Jurgen had kindly agreed to allow us to leave our suitcases in the apartment even though we were not spending the next two nights here. It was nice to be able to just lock up and go.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tallinn. Day 2. Relaxing the Afternoon Away.

Pikk Jalg.  Our apartment is in the gray building just before the tower.

We heralded our last afternoon in Tallinn with contented sighs. Nothing like a delicious meal to put me in a good mood!  We left the restaurant and headed down a very familiar street, Piik Jalg.  Our wandering continued - we had to burn off the several hundred calories we had just ingested.

Tallinn. Day 2. Puppets, Museums, & a Tunnel.

Back at Toompea Hill on a picture perfect fall day.

One of the best things about traveling on your own is being able to get up at whatever time pleases you. For me, that's still relatively early. I was up and about a while before Bro even showed signs of waking up.

I left the breakfast making duties to him. Eggs, scrambled with sausage and cheese were the main course. While Bro cooked, I did the *important* tasks of checking on our laundry and my chanterelle mushrooms that were drying on the window sill.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tallinn. Day 1. Part 2.

Old Tallinn's main square.  All quiet by day's end.

Mid afternoon, we headed out in search of the supermarket that I found mention of on several of the online Tallinn travel forums. The place is called Rimi and Old Town being such a small place, I figured we could easily find it. Of course, I should have looked up a street address but getting stupid these days. In any event, it was pretty much the only supermarket in town except for the small convenience store located about two blocks from the apartment. Even if we needed directions, someone should be able to help us out.

Tallinn. Day 1. Part 1.

Bro posing with iconic view of Old Tallinn as seen from Toompea Hill.

Today was a very long day, filled with exploring Old Tallin.  In fact, it was such a long day and I took so many photos that I'm going to split this posting into two parts - what we did in the morning and then what we did for the remainder of the day.  What a great day it was!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tallinn! Settling Into Our Apartment.

Bro sitting at the dining table.  Perfect little apartment for the two of us!

As we were lunching in Haapsalu, I emailed our Airbnb host, Jurgen, in Tallinn to tell him that we were still in Haapsalu and that it was unlikely we would be in Tallinn by 2p. He was such a nice guy - said he only lived a 15 minute drive from the apartment so we could just take our time and enjoy our visit. I replied back to tell him that I would email or call him when we neared Tallinn so he would have an idea of when to expect us. It was nice to know that we could take our time. Not that we would as I did want to get to Tallinn but with our driving and our maps, who knows if we would get lost along the way. Not to mention that we had to make our way to the Old Town and actually find the apartment - most likely easier said than done.

Roadtrip to Tallinn. Pärnu and Haapsalu.

Walking along the beachside boardwalk in Pärnu.

Our morning began with breakfast at the Klaara Mani. Last night, we had agreed on a breakfast time so we made sure we got up and made it to the dining room at the agreed upon time.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Downtime in Estonia. Smoked Chicken and Apples.

So happy he gets to pick apples....for free!

From the Visitors Center at Soomaa National Park, we had the challenge of getting ourselves back to the Klaara Mnani. A few u-turns here and there and one of us recognizing a landmark here and there and we eventually managed to arrive back rather painlessly....far less painless than the reverse trip.

Hello Estonia! Bogshoeing.

Exploring a bog in Soomaa National Park. Love the footwear!

It was an early wake up call this morning. Our first destination of the day was Soomaa National Park in Estonia. We had to be there (not sure exactly where in the Park) to meet up with Aivar Ruukel, a well known local guide who has made Soomaa his area of specialty. I had seen quite a lot of information about Aivar on the web including this highlight and was looking forward to spending time with him.  Though Ieva had listed all the driving distances on our itinerary, this would be our first driving foray in to Estonia and so I had no idea what the road conditions would be like, what the road signage would be like and therefore, how long it would actually take us to get from Valmiera to Soomaa. Better to arrive early than miss our time with Aivar.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Baltic Roadtrip Day 1. Sigulda and Turaida Castle.

Bird's eye view of Turaida Castle.

After our visit to the Latvia Ethnographic Museum, we followed Ieva's itinerary and drove our way to the town of Sigulda. The main road signs in Latvia are pretty good and we arrived into the outskirts of Sigulda in no time. Our goal was to make it to Turaida Castle but we first had to find town center which turned out to be a different challenge. Ieva had instructions which we did our best to follow - back to navigating using landmarks! 

Baltic Roadtrip Day 1. Latvia Ethnographic Open Air Museum.

At the Latvia Ethnographic Open Air Museum.

Our grand Baltic driving adventure truly gets underway today! We had our final buffet breakfast at the Elizabete this morning. I'm going to miss them. All I can hope for is that the other places we'll be staying at can match the quality of what we've been enjoying here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Enjoying Down Time in Jūrmala.

Jomas iela, the main pedestrian only street in Jūrmala.

After our lunch in Bausaka, we got back on the road. Our destination for the afternoon was Jūrmala ("Yer-mah-lah").  Located about 20 kilometers from Riga, it's a popular seaside resort. Bro was in charge of navigating us from Bauska to Jūrmala. We're quickly getting accustomed to reading the road signs and maps here - bodes well for the rest of our Baltic road trip.

Roadtrip to Rundāle Palace.

Strolling through the Rose Garden at  Rundāle Palace.

I love roadtrips which explains why I've been so enthusiastic about doing this self drive tour. Today, we're heading out of the city to see  Rundāle Palace, supposedly Latvia's nod to Versailles and to explore Jurmala, a popular seaside resort for locals.  I must admit, I'm curious what a Baltic seaside resort looks and feels like. I don't imagine there will be any palm trees :-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mushroom Hunters.

Our basket as we began to fill it up with beautiful mushrooms, Latvian woodland gems!

As planned, we spent the day foraging for mushrooms. According to our itinerary from Ieva, we would be meeting our guide outside the Elizabete Hotel at 9:30a. The plan would be to drive to/from the mushroom spots in our car.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Exploring Riga. More Art Nouveau.

Standing in the entryway of the Art Nouveau Museum and looking up at the spiral staircase.

From Old Town Riga, we  arrived back at the hotel and parked out front. Back to that damn ticket kiosk. I swear that thing hated me. I put in my pin and chip Visa. Punched in the end time which covered past breakfast the next day and then prayed. First try, no luck. Maybe I wasn't following the instructions correctly or maybe I was too impatient. Try again and this time.....waited to be sure every bit of a transaction was completed before initiating the next step. Ta da!! That worked. I now know what to do! Ticket in the dashboard, stuff out of the car and we're back in our room.

Exploring Riga. Old Town.

In the heart of Old Riga.  St. Peter's Church on the left; House of Blackheads on the right.

From where we had parked our car, outside Riga's Central Market, we could see the spires of Old Town. For a few minutes, we debated whether to leave the car where it was and walk over or try and find a closer parking spot. We settled on doing the latter - I didn't want to have to worry about walking all the way back to the market to essentially just pump the meter. So, we hopped in the car and drove towards Old Town. There were plenty of available park spots but we ended up pulling into a parking lot instead. It seemed a bit sketchy at first - the "ticket booth" was actually a camper. When we first walked up to it, there didn't seem to be anyone inside but then a young guy popped up from the bed he was resting on. We would pay by the hour so we could stay as long as we wanted. Perfect for us! We got our ticket and then double checked the car to make sure we hadn't left anything out in visible sight, locked all the doors and went on our way.

Exploring Riga. The Central Market.

At the Central Market, Riga.

Today is our first full day in Riga. We woke up bright and early and headed down to breakfast room located down in the hotel's basement. It was a small buffet but with a decent offering of food - what we would eventually come to think of as Baltic style breakfast.....bread, cheese, eggs, smoked and pickled meats and fish, some sort of salad, yogurt and fresh fruit. Juice, tea/coffee to wash it all down with. I'm a savory breakfast girl so eggs and smoked meat it was for me (I love the ham here) and of course, a cup of tea. Bro, on the other hand, can really pack in the food. I think he had a serving of every item and in some cases, two servings!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Riga, Here We Come!

Art Nouveau building at 13 Alberta iela, Riga.

It seemed like ages ago that had arranged the flights for both my brother (aka Bro) and I. He would be leaving SF about an hour before me and would arrive into Frankfurt airport about an hour and half after I landed.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Packing List & Getting Ready. The Baltics.

I've not spent as much time planning this trip as I have all the others mainly because I've been distracted with a lot of other things - especially with my photo submissions to CNN iReport which have gotten a lot of recognition including my Tarn Taran iReport being featured on CNN International!  Every month, CNN has a half hour feature (that plays several times each month) covering what the producers feel are the highlights from the month.  My submission was covered under "Best Images of the Month".  Woohoo!!  My 20 seconds of fame :-)

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Many years ago when my parents were traveling through Europe, my mom brought back an amber brooch for me. It's not a fancy piece of jewelry but it's one of my favorites. On my recent trip to Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit a small amber museum located in the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas, located in the state of Chiapas. It was a small museum but they had some wonderful art pieces there as well as on piece that had a very ancient scorpion encased inside. In 2009, on my trip to Mongolia, I learned about the healing properties of amber when I encountered a young girl wearing a large amber necklace. On this trip, I will be traveling to the part of the world that holds the reputation for having the largest and richest amber deposits - the Baltic Coast.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Curonian Spit.

Kuršių nerija, known in English as the Curonian Spit, is a narrow strip of sand stretching 97 kilometres (58 miles) along the Baltic Sea in western Lithuania.   The northern part of the Curonian Spit lies in Lithuania; the southern part in Kalingrad, Russia.   The Spit averages just over a mile wide with a single main road running between dunes all the way to the Russian border.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Knit, Purl Estonian Style.

An Estonian knitted lace shawl with the classic Lily of the Valley pattern. (Image from

I've been knitting since I was a very, very young child; my mother was my first and only teacher. My love for knitting has been a life long one and once I caught the bug from my mom, I advanced by teaching myself to read ever more complex knitting patterns and producing one sweater after another.