Friday, 29 June 2018

A new whirl 2018.06 edition

Greetings! Way back in March, I saw this art work that inspired me to try new things and keep track of them. So here are a few of my whirls:
Today I'm joining my blogger friend, Leslie, to share two new activities that I did in June. Leslie wrote that they don't have to be monumental achievements but can be quiet successes. Well said, my friend!

In June, I had my first guest blogger on my blog. I invited my blogger friend, Donna, from Retirement Reflections blog to be my first guest. Since I haven't met Donna IRL, it felt like I was stepping out of my comfort zone. Donna just finished the gruelling A to Z Challenge in April, and was writing several guest posts for other blogs, in addition to maintaining her own popular blog. She promptly accepted my invite, and sent me her guest post before I left for Estonia. So I'm truly grateful for her generosity and friendship. I'd encourage you to visit and subscribe to her blog so you won't miss her post when she returns from her technology break in August.

In June, I was in Poland, exploring Warsaw Old Town with its cobbled streets and historic buildings that were lovingly restored after their destruction during World War II. I used zloty, Polish currency, that I've never used before. I saw street signs in Polish language, ate Polish food in local restaurants, and visited Wilanow Palace built in the late 17th century as a summer residence for King Jan Sobieski III. So many new and splendid experiences on one trip. I'm grateful for having my good health, free time, and financial means to travel. I'm also grateful for having an adventurous spirit that urges me to seize the day and explore the world around me.

Your turn...What new things did you try in June? Have you ever asked another blogger to write a guest post for your blog? What did it feel like for you? I'd love to hear your story.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Vilnius and Trakai sightseeing fun

Greetings! Last month I made a trip to visit Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, and Warsaw in Poland. I shared a map of my itinerary here, my Tallinn sightseeing photos here, and my Riga sightseeing photos here.

From Riga, I headed south by bus towards Vilnius, Lithuania's capital. The distance is about 280 km (175 miles). Similar to the ride from Tallinn to Riga, the road condition to Vilnius is very good. Again there is no passport control at the border since Lithuania is also in the European Union. The weather continued to be superb, sunny and warm, with clear blue skies. Lithuania has about sixty sunny days in a year and I certainly got a few of those sixty days! The countryside was picturesque with lush green forests and occasional bright yellow canola or rapeseed fields. I also saw a number of big storks' nests along the way.

Since Lithuania is not a well-known travel destination yet, I wrote a few quick facts before sharing some of my snaps of Vilnius and Trakai Castle in this post.

  • Lithuania is located in Northeastern Europe, on the Baltic sea, bordered by Latvia to the north, Poland to the south, Belarus to the east and south, and Kaliningrad (a Russian federal subject) to the southwest
  • Lithuania's official language is Lithuanian
  • Lithuania's official currency is the Euro
  • The population of Vilnius is about 550,000
  • Vilnius' Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site


Vilnius Old Town - Dated back to the 13th century, Vilnius Old Town has an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and classical buildings, as well as its medieval layout and natural settings. It is an easy walk from the Gate of Dawn at one end to Cathedral Square at the other end of the Old Town. I enjoyed the historic architecture, and the many shops at the main square and in the charming lanes. High quality linen and amber are abundant and at reasonable prices in Vilnius.

Old Town Vilnius, Lithuania

Old Town Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius Historic Buildings - Vilnius is a city of churches. Every block has a few huge churches, each with a distinct appearance, and elements of internal and external finishes. The majority of Lithuanians are Roman Catholics. Pope John Paul II visited Lithuania in September 1993. Pope Francis will make a state visit to Lithuania on September 22-23 this year.

Vilnius Gate of Dawn Chapel, built between 1503 and 1522, is one of the most visited shrines. The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, was painted in the 17th century.

Gate of Dawn, Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius Madonna, Mother of Mercy

Vilnius Cathedral original temple dates back between the 13th or 15th century. In 1922, the Cathedral was granted the title of 'Basilica' by Pope Pius XI. The astonishingly beautiful Chapel of St. Casimir is at the end, in the right corner of the Cathedral Basilica.

Vilnius Cathedral Basilica

St. Casimir Chapel in Vilnius Cathedral Basilica

View from Vilnius Cathedral Basilica

Gediminas Tower is the remaining part of the Upper Castle in Vilnius. It's an important historic symbol of Vilnius and Lithuania.

Gediminas Tower, Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius University, one of the oldest universities in Central Europe, was founded in the 16th century. Its main Library was built in 1570.

Vilnius University

Vilnius Church of St. Peter and St. Paul interior has about 2,000 stucco figures in Baroque design. This is one church not to miss in Vilnius. Click to enlarge the photos to see the amazing details.

Church of St Peter & St Paul, Vilnius

Stucco figures in Church of St Peter & St Paul

Looking up inside Church of St Peter & St Paul

Pipe organ in Church of St Peter & St Paul

Stucco figures in Church of St Peter & St Paul

Vilnius Church of St. Anne is a masterpiece of the late Gothic period. Next to the church, the bell tower was built in the 19th century.

Church of St Anne, Vilnius, Lithuania

Side view of Church of St Anne, Vilnius


Trakai is about 28 km (18 miles) from Vilnius. Its main attraction is the red brick Trakai Castle on Galve Lake, regally standing on an island by itself completely surrounded by water. This historic palace was built by Lithuanian Dukes and once served as their residence. I took a guided tour to visit Trakai Castle and its lovely grounds.

Trakai Castle, Lithuania

LITHUANIAN CUISINE - During my stay in Lithuania, I tried a few local traditional dishes and remembered to take some photos before devouring them.
  • Zeppelins or large boiled potato dumplings with meat filling: The dumplings were big, with two of them in each order so I shared with a fellow traveler. It was something I'm glad I tried but it seemed a bit heavy for me.

  • Cold beetroot soup: The Lithuanian cold pink beetroot soup was similar to Latvian beetroot soup, refreshing on warm summer days. Its bright colour is definitely a conversation starter at any party.

  • Kibinai: I also had freshly made kibinai in Trakai. They're traditional pastries and are great snacks. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo before devouring my kibinai so you may want to see them here.

In conclusion, my visits to Vilnius and Trakai Castle were wonderful. I now have seen the three Baltic countries and their capitals. By traveling from north to south from Estonia, to Latvia, to Lithuania, I understood the historic events and cultural connections among the three countries more. I'd recommend the same approach to other travelers to the region.

Coming from Toronto, a city of about 2.5 million people, I found the three Baltic capitals easy to navigate at a relaxing pace. Walking is the best way to explore the historic centres of these cities. Be prepared to become a spontaneous wanderer because the Old Town layouts and what awaits at each corner are not to be missed.

MY NEXT STOP: Warsaw, Poland.

How familiar are you with Vilnius or Trakai or Lithuania? Would any of the sights that I mentioned be of interest to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Summer fun list

Greetings! I'm excited to make a list of summer fun activities. There are so many events going on in the city, I actually have started attending some of them since the beginning of June even though summer is officially not arriving here until June 21.

With warm summer days, the living is easy. It feels wonderful to just be outside, enjoy the sunshine, and the summer breeze. I know on some days, when the humidity is high, it feels nicer to be in an air-conditioned place but for the most part, I love this season and the fresh produce that comes with it. I'll be traveling a bit in July and August to meet with friends and family, too. Below is my plan for the summer. Bring it on!

My Summer Fun List (June 21 to September 20, 2018):
  1. Visit farmers' markets, local parks, or beaches.
  2. Attend summer festivals.
  3. Go to outdoor concerts.
  4. Watch new-to-me movies.
  5. View art exhibitions.
  6. Enjoy BBQ gatherings with my extended family.
  7. Meet up with friends in Quebec City in July.
  8. Celebrate my cousin's wedding in Paris, France in August.
For items 1 to 5, I think I can fit in five times each. Most of them are outdoors and some are indoors for humid days.

For item 6, my extended family is planning monthly BBQ gathering in June, July, and August so I'm anticipating three big feasts!

For items 7 and 8, we've been to Quebec City and Paris before. Both cities are wonderful destinations. Paris is dear to my heart as I have family there. Every time I go to France, I add at least one more place to explore outside of Paris. We'll see how it goes this summer.

How about you? What's your plan for fun this season? Please share below.

P.S. I managed to complete my Spring fun list since my spring update #2:
  • I watched The Greatest Showman and Black Panther (Total 10 movies watched in the spring).
  • I continued to learn French and Spanish.
  • I went to the first farmer's market of the year in May.
  • I visited the Baltics and Poland in May-June.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Riga sightseeing fun

Greetings! Last month I made a trip to visit Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, and Warsaw in Poland. I shared a map of my itinerary here, and my Tallinn sightseeing photos here.

From Tallinn, I headed south by bus to reach Riga, Latvia's capital. The distance is about 280 km (175 miles). The road condition is very good with no passport control at the border since both Estonia and Latvia are in the European Union. The weather continued to be sunny and warm with piercing blue sky. Spring flowers were blooming and the countryside was lush green. On each day of my trip I had about seventeen hours of daylight, which made a day felt like two days, just perfect for exploring.

Since Latvia is a small country and is not a well-known travel destination yet, I wrote a few quick facts before sharing some of my snaps of Riga in this post.

  • Latvia is located in Northern Europe, on the East shore of the Baltic sea
  • Latvia's official language is Latvian
  • Latvia's official currency is the Euro
  • The population of Riga, Latvia's capital, is about 650,000
  • Riga's Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site


Art Nouveau architecture - According to Wikipedia, "Art Nouveau architecture in Riga makes up roughly one third of all buildings in the centre of Riga, making the Latvian capital the city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in anywhere in the world."

The Art Nouveau buildings on Alberta Street (Alberta iela) and Elizabetes Street (Elizabetes iela) in Central Riga are simply gorgeous. Each building is like a huge painting with intriguing details. The longer I look at them, the more beauty I discover. The master architect responsible for most of these is Mikhail Eisenstein. Click to enlarge the pictures to see what I mean.

Old Town - Riga's Old Town is delightful, clean, uncrowded, and with plenty of unique shops, coffee places, and restaurants. I enjoyed exploring the narrow medieval streets, viewing Gothic and Baroque churches, 19th-century buildings, and finding treasures here. Baltic amber souvenirs and amber with silver jewelry are common. Did you know that Baltic amber is fossil resin produced by pine trees in Northern Europe about 45 million years ago?

Riga's Town Hall Square

Buildings of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, Riga

St. Peter's Church, Riga

Riga Cathedral

Latvia's Radio Building

Latvian National Opera

Riga's Old Town

Central Market - Riga's Central Market is housed in five enormous German-built Zeppelin hangars, and spilling outdoors as well. It is a lively place for people watching, browsing from smoked fish, and fresh produce to handmade souvenirs, and buying Latvian local snacks such as a variety of rye bread, or Laima vanilla zephyr.

Vegetables at Riga's Central Market

Latvian linen at Riga's Central Market

Smoked fish at Riga's Central Market

Rye bread at Riga's Central Market

Freedom Monument - Riga's Freedom Monument honours soldiers killed during the War of Independence, bearing a symbolic female holding aloft three stars representing the three regions of Latvia during the first republic. November 18, 2018 is Latvia's 100th anniversary. On this day every year, locals lay flowers at the monument. The main boulevard leading to the monument has beautiful rows of green trees. There is also Esplanade Park, on the west side with lots of mature trees, fountains, public art, and benches.

Freedom Monument in Riga

Riga's Canal and Daugava River - A leisurely one-hour boat tour either by the canal boats or river boats offers a nice view of Old Town Riga and the left bank.

Boats by Riga's canal


I took a picture of the menu at a Latvian restaurant in the Old Town to remember the various Latvian dishes. Smoked herring, smoked cheese, rye bread, shashlik (shishkebab or grilled meat or vegetable on a skewer), potatoes, and cold beet root soup are also common.

The Lido restaurant chain offers inexpensive local food, cafeteria style. The Art Nouveau area has a good mix of residential buildings, restaurants, and shops. I had the pleasure to savour a tasty mango chicken meal at The Flying Frog, while gazing at beautiful Art Nouveau facades.

I truly enjoyed my stay and exploration in Riga. It is a sophisticated and beautiful historic city. In general, I found Riga very affordable for an European destination. Unlike Tallinn which has hills, Riga and all of Latvia are flat. This gave me the idea that cycling would be another wonderful way to explore Latvia.

MY NEXT STOP: Vilnius, Lithuania.

Now that you've seen some photos of Riga, would you consider visiting the city? What would draw you to Riga? I'd love to read your comments. Please share below.