Archive for the ‘Latvia’ Category


Week 70: Back in Germany

   Posted by: Rhona

And I’m in Germany again. Brett, on the other hand, is bobbing around like a cork in the Barents Sea, eating Russian food and dealing with things like the affect of the curvature of the earth on 2D maps and lack of satellite coverage near the North Pole. Me, I’ve moved into a place in central Munich for a month and am settling in to the closest thing I’ve had to a home since Beijing about this time last year. A whole month in one place! I’ve enrolled in a German course which starts next week, bought groceries and checked out the nearest pool to swim some laps. To be honest I’m looking forward to a bit of a routine. It’s strange having to feed myself again though, and it’s amazing how much mental effort is going into my daily meals. “What do I have left over?” “What needs to be eaten ASAP?” “What else do I need to buy so that I can combine categories a and b into a nutritious meal”. The things normal people do all the time but I just haven’t had to think about lately.

Just in case you thought I was actually growing roots and erecting a white picket fence: I’ve booked my flight to The States for the end of August, and am reading about Central America. My itchy feet haven’t disappeared that quickly. And although it feels like I’ve been here forever it’s only been three nights. Wait, really? Wow. Here I am worrying I haven’t finished my to-do list! I’ve been studying at home for three days and I’m still not fluent in German?? I might as well just give up now. I’m really looking forward to the classes and am curious to see how my level compares to other students. I assume in the listening section I’ll be pretty advanced but speaking I have an accent and reading/writing I’ll be behind.

But before I came back to Munich, Brett and I spent a few days in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. It was a cool city with a nice old town, though I have to say I prefer Riga’s old town. Even though Vilnius had some really nice churches and buildings, somehow it didn’t have the same atmosphere. Maybe we just didn’t give it enough of a chance – we were only there two days. I didn’t know this but back in the 15th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was actually quite big. Its territory stretched to the Black sea, including areas that now belong to The Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Russia and Transnistria (Moldova). In the 18th century things declined, and for the next little while Lithuania seemed to swing between occupations by Russia, Poland, Germany and brief windows of independence. Unfortunately for the large Jewish population in Vilnius, one of Germany’s occupations was during the Second World War. About 95% of them were massacred.

Things weren’t great under Soviet occupation either, as we learned at the Museum of Genocide Victims. It focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviet rule and the repression of that resistance and the local population. The building itself has an interesting history: it was first built as a court in 1890 but was used by the Germans in their WW1 occupation, then a Soviet prison, then the headquarters of the Gestapo in WW2, then KGB offices, prison and interrogation centre. Downstairs in the basement, away from most of the cells, is the execution chamber. On the explanation it noted that the people about to be executed stood in front of a wooden panelled wall so that the bullets wouldn’t ricochet and accidentally kill someone else. That would be an appalling loss of life I guess.  All of the people held, interrogated and killed there were there for political reasons. There was also a poignant exhibition dedicated to those who were deported to remote areas of Russia, whole families at a time, and a section dedicated to their struggles to readjust if they were allowed back “home”.

On a lighter note, we spent a few hours wandering around the Republic of Uzupis, a bohemian area of town that has cheekily declared independence from Vilnius/Lithuania. It has its own president, prime minister, constitution, anthem, army (12 people) and holidays. April Fools Day is it’s national day, the day on which it declared independence back in 1997. Articles on the constitution include: “Everyone has the right to be unique” (article 5), “A dog has the right to be a dog” (article 12) and “Everyone shall remember their name” (article 27). It was a nice little area and we enjoyed a lazy few hours sitting in the sun, looking back over the rest of Vilnius as we had a drawn out dinner.

Of course we also saw plenty of churches in Vilnius, and a few other sights like the Gate of Dawn. It is the only surviving gate from Vilnius’ 16th century city walls and houses an icon of the Virgin Mary. The icon is highly revered by Roman Catholic and Orthodox believers, so when the Russians ordered the demolition of the city walls in the late 18th century the gate and its icon were allowed to stay.

Back in Riga we had time to squeeze in another Tex-Mex fix (though sadly they were out of brownies that night) before we headed our separate ways. We’ll meet up again in Montana at the end of August to spend some time with Brett’s family and show my sister Erica around a little. Then Erica and I will explore Central America for a few months, hopefully joined by Brett once he’s taken care of some admin back home. Then it’s back to Australia in November and December. At the moment we’re hoping to head to Iran before we move to Germany early next year.


Week 69: End of the Silk Rd

   Posted by: Rhona

Photos to come

Well we headed back down to Shakhrisabz but decided to hang out there instead of heading further south. It’s a cool little town, full of sprawling markets, winding backstreets and friendly locals. Though, as it turned out, our stone carving was finished earlier than expected – we are now the proud owners of our portrait carved in granite! Once we’d picked it up we headed back to Tashkent to explore for a few days before our flight to Riga. Even though we’d been there twice we hadn’t really done any sightseeing and to be honest I wasn’t overly optimistic about the attractions in the ex-Soviet capital, but it had a few surprises up its sleeve.

Chorsu Bazaar was near our hotel and provided hours worth of wandering and people watching. I dream of living in a place that has a market like that, the fruit and vegetables were all so fresh and beautifully presented. There was a massive section devoted purely to melons, with huge army trucks coming in to restock the cages of watermelons. We can attest to their tastiness. Actually it was a bit hard to tell where the market ended. There was the official section under the dome, with it’s numbered stands and signage but outside that the stalls, stands and people presenting their wares on blankets stretched on. They sold not only food but also everything else imaginable – clothes, kitchenware, hardware etc.

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Weeks 63 & 64: Bumbling

   Posted by: Rhona

Well I’ve obviously been relaxing a little too much to update my blog. And for someone not really in travel mode I’ve still covered a fair bit of ground. Prague was great, I caught my family again briefly then flew to London to hang out with friends and sort out the Uzbek visa. While I was there I popped up to Edinburgh to catch up with someone else. And now I’m in Riga with Brett and we fly to Uzbekistan tomorrow morning.
But let’s start at the start: Prague. A beautiful city full of historic buildings but I wasn’t the only one to think so – it was swarming with other tourists. I wandered the old town during the day and hung out with my friend in the evenings when she was taking a break from school and paid work. We checked out some performances of the Prague Fringe festival and watched a couchsurfer play a gig at a little bar around the corner.

On a day trip out of the city I went to Kutna Hora, a small town an hour outside Prague. The first settlement was a monastery in 1142 and by 1260 people began to mine silver in the area. The city grew quickly in the ensuing centuries and even rivalled Prague as the most important city in Bohemia. These days it’s a pretty sleepy little town but people come to see the Sedlec Ossuary, which contains the artistically arranged bones of around 40,000 people. Back in 1278 the abbot of Sedlec monastery went to Jerusalem, brought back some holy earth and sprinkled it over the cemetery. News of this meant that Sedlec was THE place to be buried, and people from all over Central Europe were interred. Plague in the 14th century and wars in the early 15th century meant the cemetery had to be enlarged several times and in 1400 a new church was built with an area to house remains that had been dug up to make space for new burials. In 1870 a private family took ownership of the church grounds and employed someone to tidy up the bones. The results speak for themselves – chains of skulls, a family crest fashioned from bones and a chandelier that contains every single in the human body. It was interesting, but a little creepy.

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Weeks 60 & 61: Pecha Kucha

   Posted by: Rhona Tags:

Seeing as I put the effort into selecting 20 photos to present at Pecha Kucha in Muenster I might as well share them with anyone reading my blog – I’m looking at you Nan! It wasn’t easy to select only 20 photos from the past 61 weeks of travel. A quick count says I’ve taken just over 11,000 since the start of 2010 alone, and I don’t want to admit how many I’ve taken in total over this trip. Let’s just assume it was many more than 20. So below are what I think are some of the best photos I’ve taken this trip, though some of them were chosen more for the story than the artistic side of things.

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Week 52: Highlights

   Posted by: Rhona Tags: , ,

Seeing as we’ve been on the road for a year, I feel it’s time to write about some of the highlights. Some of these were written about when they happened, but some are little things that didn’t necessarily register as worthy of a mention at the time. In no particular order:

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