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Here’s something new

Since arriving and settling in Dar es Salaam, my wife and I have joined the yacht club. That feels pretentious writing that, but it’s a great thing to be able to hang out and do things on the water here.

I started DJing there every month, and so here’s a mix of songs inspired by our nights sitting next to the ocean. (Hint: increase picture quality at bottom right to 720p to get better sound quality too.)

 

 

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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in Life Abroad

 

One off the Bucket List: Bavaria at Christmas

Many years ago, a German friend of mine told me how Christmas was her favourite time of year, and how Christmas was a very big deal in Germany. As she described it for me, I had images of villages lit up like the ones I’d seen on the mantel at home when I was young. She told me of Christmas markets, glühwein and gingerbread. It sounded like everything there was to love about Christmas, and so I filed it away as a “bucket list” thing to do.

For the six years my wife and I lived in Asia, we celebrated Christmas quietly, but it’s not as culturally celebrated or festive as it is in the west. We had to request Christmas day off as a personal day each year we worked there. There are many practicing Christians in Asia. For them I suppose it’s about the religious meaning, but in general Christmas isn’t shared as much as a cultural tradition or a marketing and consumerist bonanza as it is in the west. Or at least on the same scale as it is in the west.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, or are religious or not, you would know that Christmas is a tradition that invokes feelings of warmth and good cheer (if you can get past the shopping and ironic mean-spiritedness induced by seasonal stress.) It can typically be a time of great memories, just as any culture I know of has special traditions that bring them times of joy.

After being away from our traditional sense of the holiday for that long, we thought it might be a good time to go for gold and visit Bavaria at Christmas.

We looked at a map and chose our locations.

Munich

Where we wandered through the Christkindlmarkt and wafted from stall to stall.

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I had been to Munich before, but had never visited Dachau Concentration Camp. It felt like it was time to go. It was so completely wet and cold that day, and it was impossible to imagine what kind of horror life would have been there.


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Grainau

We chose Grainau because it was tucked way down in Bavarian Germany at the foot of the Alps. It seemed like it could be a cozy place to spend Christmas.

We left Munich in a rental. Christmas surprise! They gave us a BMW.

We were going to drive through the Alps in this:

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We stopped for a few photos in Starnberg, on Lake Starnberg, where Ludvig II mysteriously drowned. We would be crossing his path again soon.

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We got off the road again in Schlehdorf, because I thought the lake might give a nice view. It did. It was also the first time we’d seen the sun in days.

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When we got to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I knew we were in for something special. It was a real-life Christmas village, covered in snow. By the time I took photos a couple of days later, most of the snow had melted away.

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We stayed in Grainau, a smaller town next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which was really just up the road. We also drove a little further down to Lake Eibsee. The mountain seen here is Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitz.

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Drove around, visited Wallgau. Bavaria!

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In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we visited the Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge).

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dsc_5582At the top of the gorge. We took the cable car down.

We took a day trip to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. What would a trip to Bavaria be without a castle visit? This was built by Ludwig II (referenced earlier at Lake Starnberg). He had spent a great deal of his family’s wealth on his Wagnerian obsession, and mysteriously died before the castle was finished. Many reviews I read of this castle said that because it was unfinished, it’s not worth touring the inside. Untrue! The tour was totally worth it and really fills out Ludwig’s vision and obsession. Book your tickets in advance and avoid a huge line.

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It was a cloudy day. I waited two hours for this little sliver of light. Then it covered over and the light never came back. When you come this far and think about a photo for so long, two hours wait is okay. Special thanks to my ever-patient wife who actually sat there for 90 minutes with me. (Please, no mention of ‘vemödalen‘.)

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The trip to this part of Germany was one of the greatest trips my wife and I have ever taken. We would have loved to see more snow (being from Canada and currently living in Africa), but in every way the trip was absolutely amazing. Our visit to Grainau / Garmisch-Partenkirchen was our favourite part of the whole trip.

Austria

Austria was as great as Germany, and was like going a whole degree deeper into the culture of this part of the world. We stopped in Innsbruck for lunch, which was incredibly busy after Christmas / before New Year (a time called ‘Jul’, or ‘Interscotia’, as I recently found out.) The alpine range rose behind the city like a giant salt rock wall, and the architecture of the city indicated that we were in a place set apart from its neighbour to the north.

Now I had this brilliant idea (sarcasm should be noted) that we were going to drive through the Alps. Take the scenic route.

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So the last third of the trip was in darkness since we didn’t get there until the night time – which began around 5pm. However, the first part through the Alps was incredible. I felt like I was in a car ad. I did take a few photos as we drove through valleys, ski villages and around crazy bends that revealed massive panoramas, but I don’t feel any of them did the scenery any justice.

This was one of the only photos I took in Salzburg, in the Salzburg Cathedral. There was a lot to photograph, but there are times on vacation that I don’t want to carry the gear.

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Salzburg was a beautiful city, and although we didn’t visit a lot of the cultural landmarks, I would like to go back during a less touristy time and visit again. It was very congested at Christmas, and I can only imagine summer must be intense.

We had returned the rental car and booked a trip to Vienna by train. I was glad to have reserved seats as well, because the train was packed with people cramming the aisles. Everyone was traveling for New Year’s Eve.

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Vienna! The architecture and vastness of this city are dizzying. We walked for days and saw so much, yet visited so little of the city. This is a place worthy of the hype in its history and grandeur. It’s one of those European cities that you wish you could live in some dream.

dsc_5846The famous Café Central.

dsc_5880The Wiener Riesenrad

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The winter markets in Vienna were similar to the ones we’d seen in Munich, but with an Austrian distinction. We had also seen the winter markets in Salzburg and partly in Innsbruck. They sold a great assortment of hot drinks to walk you through the cold nights, which was a great way to spend New Year’s Eve.

We wandered through the wide, busy streets of the old city, drinking, eating, and dodging massive crowds. Before midnight, in one of the spots we had stopped for some glühwein, a waltz began to play over the loud speakers. Everyone around us suddenly started to dance. It was the perfect New Years in Vienna.

And so Austria, from its alpine spine to its historical city wonderlands (winter wonderlands, for us) was a great way to conclude the trip. If you love Christmas, you will love Germany and Austria!

 

(A final note – I was surprised at the amount of people who smoke in Germany and Austria. It’s a huge part of the culture there, perhaps even bigger than when we were in Asia. It was especially noticeable in Austria where people were smoking in most cafes, restaurants and bars. I read that the law is changing but that it’s been so slow because no one wants to enforce it. Really, Austria?)

 

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Life Abroad

 

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We Moved to Africa

Tanzania, to be specific.

We’ve just finished our first month of residency in Dar es Salaam. In the past month we’ve gone on safari, had a car accident, and found out what it was like to do banking in the 1950s. Yesterday I found myself stranded on a desert island.

I once thought I would probably never visit Africa, let alone live here. I’m not going to lie – I like comfort. As I get older, I find myself more willing to pay for the comforts that the first half of my life didn’t afford me. The thought of staying in a hostel now gives me shivers. I did all of that in my twenties, into my thirties. Those days are long over. And since I am increasingly fond of comfort, I would have never expected to agree to living in a place where the city roads are no better than the safari roads, nor where you should keep your car doors locked just to drive to work.

On the other hand, I have learned never to say never (I just really really hope I never have to stay in a hostel again.) We’ve lived in Mongolia, and before that, Korea. What? Korea is uncomfortable? It is for a guy with an intolerance to garlic. So I kept my mind open about Africa. Then we moved there.

Shortly after arriving, we visited Mikumi National Park. It’s said to be “about 4 hours from Dar” which really means it’s 9 hours. During our two-day visit, we were fortunate enough to see giraffes, monkeys, zebras, impalas, hippos, crocodiles, wildebeests, warthogs, and immeasurable counts of exotic birds.

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Then we saw the lions. You’re never guaranteed to see lions, but there were four. Three lying about 30 meters from the road, and one young male who was too lazy to leave the roadside – sleeping on his back in the grass with his belly to the sky. Perhaps he’d been rejected by the two females further away, or the male that accompanied them had bullied him out of the trio.

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Just after sunset on both nights, a pack of elephants came down to the hippo pool for a drink. The large crowd of tourists that had chattered fell silent as the elephants lined the water, stepping down into it, and used their trunks to fill their mouths. One hippo wasn’t having it. He slowly made his way toward the elephants in protest of sharing the water space, but by the time he got close enough, the elephants had drank their fill and were ready to move on.

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*

Life in Tanzania is not always safari. All of the game parks are far from the big city, and the biggest ones are the furthest. The Serengeti is a trip for a later time. Zanzibar is in October. Beyond that, we haven’t planned anything. Currently we’re still trying to adapt to life in Dar es Salaam. The traffic is bad as they say, because people drive as they wish, dodging potholes and speed bumps everywhere. There are no standards on vehicle emissions, so large black plumes of exhaust fill the streets. Masai men lurk around car parks, hoping to make a thousand shillings here and there (roughly 45 cents USD) by providing protection for cars from thieves, or to help people back out onto hazardous roads. You lock your doors when you drive. You never leave bags in sight. You quickly get used to these things. If you get too used to it, you get careless. Mongolia has prepared me to always be aware of my surroundings. I thought it had prepared me for bad roads but Tanzania is definitely worse. Who are worse drivers– the jury is still out on that one. Tanzanians are definitely a lot more relaxed though. The car accident mentioned earlier was probably an overstatement. My wife turned too sharply into a tree, pulling the bumper off. A few of us managed to pop it back on, and while the rental company noticed the scratches, they didn’t even mention it nor charge us for the damage. That definitely is unlike any rental experience I had in Canada!

There’s not much to say about the banking here. Imagine life before ATMs. All of that hassle is real.

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Life in Dar definitely has its sweet moments. As a matter of fact, I think once we have a car and have settled in more, the sweet moments will be a lot more frequent. We work with some great people. There is a much larger expat community here than in Mongolia, so that should make for a broader social scene. There are two beautiful islands within an hour of the city by boat. There is Zanzibar, Mafia and Pemba islands for longer breaks. There are the Seychelles and Mauritius for pure luxury, though they’re much further away.

Last weekend we visited Mbudya island, 30 minutes by car, 15 minutes by boat. Despite the attempted shakedown by the ramshackle restaurant there (I would recommend you bring your own food and drinks) it was a great time. All of that white sand / blue water you’d expect. I stupidly attached my Joby tripod to a banda there (grass hut) and didn’t listen to the little voice in my head that said “don’t do that…” Then I forgot it there.

The next day I was on the next island over, Bongoyo, on a school trip. One of the water taxi guys agreed to take me to Mbudya to check for my tripod, but I needed to get right back to Bongoyo. He brought me over and I had told him I’d be five minutes – but when I returned from the banda the boat was nowhere to be seen! A guy standing up on the beach saw my exasperation and said “he’ll be back later!” What did that even mean? When was ‘later’?

So I paced around the beach for forty minutes, waiting for a glimpse of a boat headed my way. I laughed at the irony of being impatient and pissed off about being on a tropical white beach with clear blue water lapping bits of coral up onto it. I stared off at the island that I was supposed to be on, thinking about how I told my coworkers I’d “be right back”. I hadn’t brought my phone or even water.

Around 40 minutes later I saw a wake somewhere in the distance. The boat was returning. By the time it reached me I was pissed off yet elated, and said nothing except to ask if this was the boat that would take me back to Bongoyo. It was. When I returned to the island, lunch was just being served.

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*

I won’t fool myself into thinking everything is marvelous here. Beach weekends, great people, mind blowing vacation prospects – those parts are all great. But this is not the reality of the majority of people here. We work with, for, and amongst great wealth in this developing country. And so with this in mind I still can’t shake the feeling that we are colonialists here. We are part of the long, living history of this place. And so it’s very much on the forefront of my mind to mind myself and our existences here. To give what we take.

I hope we stay for a while.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2016 in Life Abroad

 

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Cuba!

My wife Maria loves living in Mongolia, but she craves the heat of the tropics. This might be a deciding factor in where we live next year.

This summer we decided to make a dash to Cuba. Cuba in the summertime – tropical indeed. The humidity was so high that you couldn’t find me during the hours of 12pm – 3pm – I was hiding out in the air conditioned hotel room. Studying math. But that’ s a whole other story.

We visited Havana, Viñales and Jibacoa – and here are some photos that came out of it. As in my previous post, I’ve saved my favourite shots for my photography site.

Havana


Viñales (find out more about it here.)

Jibacoa

Where finally, all we did was lay on the beach (study math) and watch lizards eat ants.


To see the best photos from Cuba, CLICK HERE!

I hope you had a great summer as well. 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Life Abroad

 

Still in Mongolia… and a few other places.

Hello!

I haven’t posted in a while since I’ve been living a relatively low profile here in Mongolia. I did do some traveling this summer – throughout Canada, Cuba and Mongolia. To be honest, I didn’t take a lot of photos in Canada this time.

I also upgraded my gear this past summer. I managed to acquire a set of my dream lenses – for those who care here’s the list:

50mm f/1.4D
16-35mm f/4G ED VR
105mm f/2D
70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
And to ensure that the switch from DX to FX wasn’t too jarring:
Teleconverter TC-17E II

And the new FX body:
The D610

A little extreme, maybe?

Admittedly it’s been a little overwhelming and I usually only carry two of the lenses at any given time. Whilst I only really used the 50mm and the 105mm for the Cuba shots (the Mongolia photos were with my old D7000 body and 18-55mm + 55-200mm lenses), I am looking forward to some more studio time with the new lenses to really get acquainted with them.

Anyway, enough shop talk. Here are some photos from this past summer:

These were taken in Mongolia in the spring. Special thanks to a superb model, Enkhjin.

In June we took an 8-day trek around the Mongolian countryside, namely Arkhangai Province.

It was really quite a fulfilling trip despite long days of high speed offroad driving, sleeping on grass, and going without a shower (hey, I’m a city boy). Sometimes it felt as if we were driving to the edges of the earth, charted only by the nomadic people whom we encountered. Although every aspect of Mongolia that we had experienced until then was certainly the “real Mongolia”, nothing felt more genuine than the trip we took far beyond the reaches of electricity, running water, or any kind of supplies that needed to be brought with us.

For the next part of the trip we stayed with family members of our host, all of whom were traditional nomads. First was his cousin, a horseman.

Even though we would be leaving the country before Naadam began in July, we’d heard that there would be a “pre-Naadam” happening within proximity in 2 days. (“within proximity” in this region was 3 hours of driving.) We left early that morning and arrived JUST as the horse race was beginning. The race is held between boy jockeys since they are less of a burden on the horses.

This gallery is nearly empty but you can find many more images on my website here.

Finally, for the last leg of the trip we stayed with our host’s cousin and her family. It was quite an ordeal to locate them – we had a general region and once we reached that region, we asked the nomads we came across where we might find them. “Further over that hill” and “past the next hill but before the river.” We were low on gas and the stretches of land were vast. We had overshot their site by quite a few kilometers, and only realized it when we came to the edge of a cliff. Doubling back, we were able to find them, and spent an enjoyable evening hanging out by the river and listening to the dogs barking as they literally kept the wolves at bay.


These are just a few sample photos of our journey – if you’d like to see more you can do so by visiting here.

We will be in Mongolia for another year, and I doubt we’ll get a chance to travel like this again. If you’re the kind of person who can handle roughing it nomadic style, you will find a trek through the Mongolian countryside to be incredibly fulfilling. In the travels we have undertaken in the past 5 years, this definitely ranks highly on what I would consider the “real experience.” Mongolia in many ways still remains the vast, untamed northern frontier.

Next up: Cuba

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Life Abroad

 

Summer of 2014 – Greece (Part 2 of 2)

I had been to Greece 11 years ago, and had many fond memories of azure waters, idyllic beaches, and late night parties.

When I had previously visited Santorini, it was a busy place, mostly with honeymooners and jet setters who were the kind of people whose stories would be interesting to know. There was a magic. When I had to leave, I’d felt that I had left a piece of my heart there, and vowed that I’d be back for it one day with someone I loved.

This trip to Greece was a great chance to see more of the islands, to revisit Santorini, and to take my wife Maria with me on the journey.

Crete

Since I had never visited Crete and had heard many great things, we decided to go there first – the furthest point south that we would go, with the plan to take ferries to various islands north and end our trip in Athens.

We started in Chania on the northeast side of the island.

The Venetian harbor in Chania

The Venetian harbor in Chania

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Boat Builders in the old port

Boat Builders in the old port

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Hiking from Sfakia to Loutro.

Hiking from Sfakia to Loutro.

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A church in Rethymno

A church in Rethymno

Canonballs in the Rethymno fortezza.

Canonballs in the Rethymno fortezza.

From the museum in Heraklion

From the museum in Heraklion

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in Heraklion

in Heraklion

Santorini

We moved on to Santorini, which I was really, really anticipating. In the past 11 years, I had seen it endlessly featured on TV shows, in magazines, and on Pinterest, and all I wanted was to take Maria there.

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This was our cave room on the caldera. Kitchenette and bathroom on the left, bedroom in the back.

view from the room

view from the room

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Beautiful island, right? So beautiful that everyone wants to go there, and supply and demand have taken its toll. The prices have increased, but more significantly, the foot traffic has gotten way out of control. At any given time there are 3 large cruise ships in the harbor, dumping package tourists who want their fridge magnets into Santorini’s tiny little alleys by the thousands. It just doesn’t work. It wasn’t charming and idyllic, it was overstuffed and obnoxious. I regret having this experience after my first time there, but that’s what happens when a place is as beautiful and as featured as Santorini. Everyone wants their part of it.

I would still recommend anyone go there, but do not go during peak tourist season. I’ve been told that May or September are the best times, and if I ever go back, it will be during one of these months. Or avoid the island altogether. The Cyclades have many beautiful islands, many of which are not overpacked because they haven’t been featured on a travel show.

Ios

Ios has long been considered the party island, since a bunch of hippies hijacked one of the large beaches back when hippies hijacked things. Now it’s largely visited by the young crowd who can get cheap flights from European destinations and come party like it’s spring break. We really didn’t see much of that though, since we stayed in a place on the other side of town, and didn’t really stay out late. Ios is the kind of island where there can be a giant party happening over there, while you enjoy your infinity pool and cocktail over here.

The island has endless gorgeous beaches – many of which have only a few (or no) people on them. You’d need to rent a boat, which is easy enough to do if you’re brave enough to skirt the island’s rocks and bumpy waves. It wasn’t that hard, but if you freak out easily, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It was well worth it for us. We had a full day of exploring beaches, and it made for my favorite day of the whole trip.

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Magganari Beach, on the south point of the island. No parties, and the best beach I saw on this trip.

Magganari Beach, on the south point of the island. No parties, and the best beach I saw on this trip.

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Naxos

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Naxos was a beautiful island, and certainly less “aggressively touristed” than Santorini or Ios. We had originally planned to visit Mykonos next, but after what I had seen in Santorini, we decided to skip it altogether.

We went in the complete opposite direction of what foreign tourists would do, and went to Syros instead.

Syros

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It was in Syros (and perhaps Hora Sfakia in Crete) that had made us feel like we had gotten “the real Greek”. The trip had started out a little hectic with trying to beat tourist mobs, but it certainly mellowed out toward the end of our trip. Until Athens!

Athens

Naturally Athens is a giant tourist hub, but we just had a few things do there before we returned home to Mongolia.

Like you know, see the Acropolis.

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It’s not easy to get a picture of the parthanon without someone standing in front of it…

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The Temple of Athena


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Odeon
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When I had first visited Greece years ago, I had visited this little ouzo bar that had seemed tucked away off the beaten path. But it had never been off the beaten path, it had been in the middle of Plaka, one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods of Athens for thousands of years.

As I walked by and saw it, I gasped that I had found it again. It was what had made me first fall in love with Greece, and made me fall in love with ouzo. The little bar is called Brettos, and though the owners weren’t terribly friendly, they were still gracious enough to let me snap a few photos.

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And that was our trip.

Hope you enjoyed!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Life Abroad

 

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Summer of 2014 – Latvia (Part 1 of 2)

Hello everyone!

It’s been a very busy summer. We were away from Mongolia for 6 and a half weeks, in Latvia and Greece.

I’ll make a separate entry for both countries, though I took far more photos in Greece. Latvia was incredibly beautiful, but it rained most of the time we were there.

We arrived shortly before Līgo, Latvia’s midsummer holiday. It was very fortunate for us, because I love beer, and my wife loves good food, as you could expect any European holiday to have.

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Myself and my father-in-law, Eugene. We’ve got this covered.

Līgo was a great time, and by great, I mean we sat around a cottage house eating, drinking, and walking or driving around the countryside to eat and drink some more.

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Latvians know how to do smoked fish. Delicious.

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Poppies

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Stuck selling Līgo wreaths in the rain…

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Of course one of the great things about Europe are the old-world markets, and Latvia didn’t disappoint.

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You can imagine how good this cheese bread was when it came out of the oven.

You can imagine how good this cheese bread was when it came out of the oven.

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You can drink local beer right in the market. Canada... you have a long way to go.

You can drink local beer right in the market. Or take it away.

Riga is a very modern city, with the usual international brand stores. Here is some of the old city, which was incorporated in the year 1201 (although many of the buildings date at around 1900.)

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And of course, since Riga is a post-communist port city… what would any children’s playground be without a little fun on the back of a dying soldier?

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We had a great time in Riga despite the constant rain. It took a little getting used to for the sky to be “day lit” up until or past midnight, and made it hard to sleep since it came back up just a few hours later.

I have no idea where we’ll live next on our international agenda… but the food and beer alone has put Riga on the list.

Next:
Summer of 2014 (Part 2 of 2) – Greece: from Crete to Athens

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Life Abroad

 

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