Monday, August 24, 2009

Canadian Wedding

A memorable, picturesque wedding reception is the goal of many an engaged couple. My cousin got married in Acton, Ontario to a wonderful man named Kyle, and their reception was stunning. It was located at the Terra Cotta Inn in Terra Cotta, Ontario- not far from Acton. The food was scrumptious and the gardens and stream were gorgeous, but my absolute favorite aspect was the deck. The deck, or terrace, was quite large and airy. Various smaller umbrellas and a larger canvas shaded the numerous wrought iron chairs and tables from the sun. The stone foundation of the terrace allowed the deck to blend serenly into the gardens surrounding it. I would highly recommend the Terra Cotta Inn for wedding receptions; they were very accomodating and personable, and the atmosphere was perfect. Check it out at: http://www.terracottainncanada.com/gardens.html

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Grocery Stores Offer Glimpse of Culture

Grocery stores could be the secret to saving big bucks while traveling. I discovered this while in Latvia and Sweden, but this realization should be nothing new! In Latvia, where G is a native, we knew exactly what we wanted and were able to save a lot of money when comparing our meals to restaurant prices. The grocery store is a great place to interact with locals as well. Just observing the layout of the store, what people have in their carts, and how they shop can be entertaining and informative. For instance, in Latvia, the aisles were winding and permitted basically only one route throughout the store. The store also provided a glimpse into "real" Latvian food, and showed what most of the people ate.
Sweden was a tad different. The grocery store we went to in Stockholm was located underneath, that's right-underneath, a department store downtown. I felt like I was entering a secret lair, the store was concealed so well from the street. In Stockholm, the grocery store was much larger and fashioned after the grocery stores in the U.S. Here we did a grab-n-go; we grabbed food we weren't sure about and we went. We did ask a local her opinion on lingonberry jam, and she did not hesitate to point us to the most popular brand. Here also we bought Paskmust, a children's drink that in my opinion was disgusting. But hey, you've got to try everything once...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Must See in Amsterdam


Besides the fact that Amsterdam is clean, aesthetically pleasing, and eco-friendly, it offers some oustanding museums. B and I went to the Anne Frank House, and it was overwhelming-a definite must-see if you have even one night in Amsterdam. The secret annex is completely void of furniture and objects, as Otto Frank wanted visitors to ponder their plight instead of focusing on physical objects. Pictures on the wall depict the rooms as they were while the Frank family and others were hiding out. No pictures were allowed inside and words cannot describe the silence and emotional tidal wave that flooded the hearts of every tourist there.

Amsterdam, my Amsterdam



Amsterdam. B and I had not planned on spending the night in Amsterdam, but a mix up in our flight schedule forced us to stay. Hallelujah. Amsterdam was absolutely amazing, but then again, I didn't need to tell you that. Take, for instance, the bicycle. I adore that fact that so many people ride bicycles in Amsterdam, and that the bike lanes are nearly larger then the automobile lanes.



I feel as though I am starting a love affair with canals and floating flower markets. Amsterdam is teeming with both, which add to its charm and allure.



B and I ate at a wonderful restaurant called Cafe Kale de Grote. Check it out at http://www.18twintig.nl/ I recommend eating at an outdoor table; it offers the perfect vantage point for people watching.



Another pleasant surprise was staying at the Qbic hotel. Very minimalistic, this modern hotel was run almost entirely by electronics, and was stationed in the World Trade Center. Though it was south of the city, it was cheap, clean, and very close to the airport. I would definitely recommend staying there, if only to experience the colored lights in your room.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Soaking Up Riga



My fascination with Riga is endless. I went to a Russian Orthodox church and observed the elderly women wrapped in scarves, lighting candles and kissing icons. The scrumptious pastries are a definite plus. I especially liked touring St. Peter's Church; it's history is fascinating. What really drew my attention was the elevator trip up the steeple. From the top, you can see nearly the entire city of Riga. Kudos to the elderly woman manning the elevator. She was able to give a thorough recitation of St. Peter's history in the 3 minute elevator ride!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The City That Never Sleeps



Who said NYC held dibs on that title? Riga definitely fits the bill. B, G, and I spent a night on the town, and I was definitly NOT sleeping. We had an eclectic experience; I felt as though I was globetrotting my way through the night instead of bar-hopping in Riga. First stop-the Rose Room. Small bar, great atmosphere, romantic place for a date. Mesmorizing jazz music flowed from the fingers of the bassist and pianist on their small stage, while the three of us sipped some Piebalga-a lite Latvian beer.
Next stop-Leningrad, the total opposite of the Rose Room. Leningrad is a bar modeled off of a Soviet house. All of the furniture and decor is from the Soviet occupation; bookshelves lined the walls, filled with Soviet literature. The atmosphere can only be described as bustling-with people and ideas. Conversations were just as important as the drinking in this bar. A live DJ kept the tracks fresh, though not overpowering.
After Leningrad, we ducked into what the locals call the "French Bar." According to G, it is because a Frenchman runs the place. Unmarked from the outside, you walk down a dark staircase to an underground room, only about 10 feet by 14 feet. This bar is extremely popular with visitors to Riga, as the attendance shows. The French Bar is packed, with its own United Nations of sorts. I heard perhaps 7 languages in the course of our 45 minutes there.

Our last stop of the night was the Cuban Bar. The decor and atmosphere (red lights) is decidedly Cuban and the drinks decidedly strong. A live DJ mixed music. Great company and great variety made our night a success!

Sigulda!



Quiet. Quaint. Prosperous. After the bustling excitement of Stockholm, G, B, and I were ready to return to our Latvia. We decided to explore Sigulda, a calm town in eastern Latvia. The Pilsdrupas (castle ruins) were our objective. We explored two castles, both dating back to the 1200's. I felt as though I were walking back into a fairy tale. It is mind boggling to think of how many people walked where I had been walking, and what their lives entailed.

The actual town of Sigulda held houses with character. One house even had its own moat! Apparently, Sigulda is known for their canes, as one park was clearly decorated with yellow and red walking canes. Sadly, that is one souvenir that I chose not to purchase.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Finding My Inner Sverge

Stockholm is one of the most beautiful and intriguing cities I have ever visited. Its composition is attractive; the city is spread across various islands, connected by bridges. Cross one bridge and you are at the royal palace. Stroll across another bridge and you can view the Vasa, a ship from the 1600's. Narrow alleys, quaint boutiques, high fashion...Stockholm is a mecca for travelers. Culture, adventure, shopping, and scrumptious restaurants are only a few offerings to tempt your wanderlust temperament.


Old Town in Stockholm holds the cobblestone walkways and narrow alleys. G could span one alley with his shoulders! We visited the Palace (wonderfully ornate) and the Vasa Museum. Knight's Island is a great place to snap a pic of the city's skyline. The weather was schizophrenic, which added to the sporadic charm of Sweden.

The details in the city were what really struck me. Every doorknob, every streetlamp, had an unique, artistic twist to it.

The Swedish were very friendly; "hej hej" is the normal greeting used. It always brought a smile to my face. It was wonderful that nearly everyone spoke English; even moreso because they speak with a British accent. I adored staying in the city and discovering the Swedish within me. Once I assimilate into Swedish fashion- black tights, black or brown boots, short skirt, a fitted jacket, and a scarf) - then I will be completely Sverge.



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