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Vilnius Lights Up For Sixth Time — City Marks Entrance to Its New Century 

The highly anticipated sixth Vilnius Light Festival has begun, and has already transformed Vilnius’s streets into illuminated art. Artists from the Netherlands, Poland, France, Lithuania, and the UK began showcasing their installations yesterday, bringing thousands of people eager to see newly interpreted urban areas within the city. 

January 26, 2024. The tradition to brighten up the post-holiday slump in January is going strong in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The sixth annual Vilnius Light Festival returned to the streets, courtyards, and alleys of the Old Town on January 25. It is expected that around 200K visitors will visit the festival, as every year.

Vilnius is celebrating its 701st anniversary on the 25th of January with the Vilnius Light Festival while entering a new century after the jubilee year, a grand celebration that brought together more than 150 partners and hosted hundreds of festive events. During this time, the capital of Lithuania was celebrated as one of the 100 best cities to live worldwide by Euromonitor, while the country is among the top 20 happiest nations according to the World Happiness report. Additionally, Vilnius was awarded as the 2025 European Green Capital.

In 2024, the Vilnius Light Festival program consists of two parts: the main one with curator-selected installations and the second with initiatives by culture, arts, science, education, and business organizations, concluding to 20 light art installations.

This weekend, the Old Town draws visitors with unique venues like the Arts Printing House. Housed in a 16th-century printing house, this contemporary arts center showcases two light installations. One, called Flux by Polish artist Ksawery Komputery, explores virtual communication through 4,800 meters of LED strings and 144,000 pixels, unveiling hidden algorithms of virtual meetings. Another installation is Continuum presented in the yard of Lithuania’s presidential palace, by the UK artist duo Illumaphonium. The piece transforms the urban landscape with geometric mirrors, mesmerizing light, and sound monoliths while asking how we identify the city’s space where we live. Additionally, the capital invites visitors to dive into the alternate space-themed Vilnius through a mockumentary by artist Rimas Sakalauskas, offering a speculative vision of the city’s creation, history, and life beyond Earth. 

The Vilnius Light Festival is open January 25–28 from 6 PM to 11 PM. It is important to check the description of each installation for the exact visiting times. Visitors can find all the festival routes in the map provided by the organizers and easily plan their commuting in the city area. Additionally, the festival’s app with routes and installation information is available on Google Play and App Store.

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In Pursuit of the Northern Lights: The Ultimate Guide to a Breathtaking Experience

The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon that has captivated travelers worldwide. In this guide, we unveil top travel destinations and experiences for those seeking the ultimate Northern Lights spectacle.

Top Destinations for Viewing the Northern Lights

  • Tromsø, Norway: Situated ideally for Northern Lights viewing, Tromsø offers spectacular sightings, especially during autumn and winter months. The city hosts numerous guided tours and activities aimed at providing an unforgettable experience of this celestial wonder. Additionally, Tromsø’s surrounding areas offer numerous secluded spots for light-pollution-free observation.
  • Abisko, Sweden: Known for its clear skies and minimal light pollution, Abisko National Park is a prime location to admire the ethereal display. At the heart of the park lies the Aurora Sky Station, one of the world’s premier observation points. The elevated station offers mesmerizing panoramic views of the Northern Lights.

  • Rovaniemi, Finland: Recognized as the home of Santa Claus and a top destination for Northern Lights viewing, Rovaniemi in Lapland provides excellent sightings, particularly during November and February. The city boasts several spas and glass igloos, offering a unique and comfortable setting to marvel at the sky’s spectacle. Guided tours are also available, where experts share the best observation spots and photography tips.
  • Reykjavik, Iceland: While the Icelandic capital offers Northern Lights views, it’s recommended to venture slightly outside the city to reduce light pollution and enhance visibility. Thingvellir National Park, an hour’s drive from Reykjavik and a UNESCO World Heritage site, provides a scenic and tranquil setting for light-watching.

Unique Northern Lights Experiences

Observing the Northern Lights can be more than just sky-gazing. Here are some exceptional experiences to make your trip unforgettable:

  • Glass Igloo Stay: Several hotels offer glass igloo accommodations, allowing you to watch the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed. This privileged view of the sky lets you revel in the spectacle without braving the cold outdoors.
  • Guided Tours: Led by a professional guide, you can discover the best viewing spots and learn about the captivating phenomenon. Additionally, guides can offer photography tips to help capture your unique experience.
  • Husky Sled Rides: Imagine being on a sled pulled by huskies while the Northern Lights dance above – a romantic, adventurous, and breathtaking combination that enhances your Northern Lights experience.

Travel Tips for Northern Lights Chasers

To optimize your chances of witnessing the Northern Lights, consider the next travelling tips:

  • Weather Forecast: Check the weather, especially cloud cover and any reported Aurora Borealis sightings. Clear skies enhance viewing opportunities. Several websites and apps offer specific Northern Lights predictions to help plan your observation times.
  • Darkness Matters: Light pollution can hinder visibility, so seek out dark, isolated spots like national parks. A short distance from urban areas can greatly improve your viewing experience.
  • Night Vigil: The Northern Lights are often most vivid late at night or early in the morning when darkness heightens visibility and color intensity. Stay awake and keep an eye on the sky for a potentially unforgettable sight.
  • Be Patient: Remember that the Northern Lights are unpredictable. Their appearance can’t be guaranteed.

Entertainment for Aurora Enthusiasts

While waiting for nature’s light show, consider these entertainment options: read a book, listen to music, play card games with fellow enthusiasts, or practice night photography. If you enjoy online entertainment, consider the GetLucky online casino for some excitement during the wait. Play your favorite games for an exciting and rewarding wait. However, don’t forget to immerse yourself in the surrounding nature and remain vigilant for the Northern Lights.

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7 Things To Know About Vilnius, Host of NATO Summit 2023


ImageVilnius panorama. Photo by Joana Suslavičiūtė

Vilnius will be hosting NATO Summit 2023 on July 11-12. From 700th anniversary events to the booming tech scene, the Lithuanian capital has more non-political aspects to take into account.

July 17, 2023. On July 11-12, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, will be hosting global officials for the NATO Summit 2023. Although the world will have eyes on the Summit, Vilnius has some unique qualities that extend beyond politics.

Here are seven main takeaways that offer a glance at the host of the NATO Summit.

  1. 700 years young

Vilnius is celebrating its 700th anniversary throughout the entire 2023. Its multicultural heritage is highlighted in the anniversary program that focuses on connecting the city’s communities and showcasing Vilnius’ rich historical past.

One of the biggest festivities of the year, a free urban festival As Young As Vilnius will be held on July 21-25. Celebrating the day of St. Christopher, the patron saint of Vilnius, and the half-year of the anniversary, the festival will bring together beloved Lithuanian artists and British stars Bastille and Clean Bandit. Another major artistic event will be the city’s first-ever Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art on July 23-August 6. The Biennial will convert the city into one big stage with world-renowned artists from Lithuania and other countries. 

  1. Relentless support to Ukraine since the invasion  

Since Russia’s unlawful attack against Ukraine, Vilnius has been a relentless supporter of a war-struck country. The capital has welcomed the influx of people fleeing the war and over 20K of them are now safely established in Vilnius. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky bestowed the Rescuer City title upon Vilnius for all of its continued multidirectional support to Ukraine and its people.

Vilnius has also taken a firm public stand to condemn Russia’s aggression. The locals have mobilized for protests, the city officials have named the street, where the Embassy of Russia is based, Ukrainian Heroes Street, and “imprisoned” Putin’s cardboard cutout in the century-old Lukiškės Prison 2.0. Various forms of protests continue to date—runners of a marathon will carry a Ukrainian flag for over 1,500 kilometers, all the way from Kyiv to Vilnius, to raise it in Lukiškės Square specifically for NATO Summit on July 11.

  1. Future-forward plans for the largest tech campus in Europe

Lithuanian capital boasts a rapid technological advance. It is already home to three unicorns, among them—Vinted, an online marketplace for buying and selling second-hand items, and Nord Security, a digital security provider. Vilnius’ TechFusion encompasses biotechnologies, fintech, IT, and laser sectors where tens of thousands of professionals create the city’s future. TechZity has just announced plans for a €100M tech campus which is slated to be the largest in Europe and will house 5K employees.

Simultaneously, Vilnius has swiftly become the hub for Europe’s fintechs thanks to the favorable business environment, a future-focused central bank, and a developed technology ecosystem. As another step into a tech future, Vilnius has just become the first city in Europe to launch driverless vehicles into real-life traffic and the bustle of the city streets for last-mile deliveries.

  1. Perpetual cultural buzz

Vilnius’ UNESCO-listed Old Town is the largest Baroque old town in Eastern and Central Europe. The cobblestoned streets, narrow alleyways, as well as the blend of Gothic, Renaissance, Classic, and Baroque styles and must-see objects like Gediminas Tower, Vilnius Cathedral, the 16th century Vilnius University, or the Gothic gem St. Anne’s Church emanate the aura of a medieval town.

The artistic side of Vilnius is manifested in the bohemian district Užupis that has cheekily proclaimed itself a separate republic on April 1st—April Fools’ Day—in 1997. The district, which is the smallest and one of the oldest in the city, even has its own currency, anthem, government, and Constitution which has been translated into more than 50 languages and has 41 articles such as “Everyone has the right to be unique” and “Everyone has the right to idle.”

  1. Creator of Pink Soup Fest and bagels 

This June Vilnius celebrated Pink Soup Fest—an entire festival dedicated to the iconic summertime dish, cold beetroot soup šaltibarščiai.  The dish has become an instant hit with any traveler coming to Lithuania, therefore the festivalgoers celebrated that by dressing up like the soup’s ingredients and sliding down the hill into an artificial bowl. Another hidden secret of Vilnius’ gastro scene—New York might have put bagels in the spotlight, but they actually originated in this region. 

The city’s multicultural cuisine stems from Jewish, Polish, and Lithuanian nobles’ roots and combines traditionally prepared ingredients like pickled vegetables and fresh seasonal produce. Fine dining is thriving as well—two of Vilnius’ restaurants, Džiaugsmas and Nineteen18, have been recognized by the prestigious La Liste ranking.

  1. Cinematic background for Stranger Things and Chernobyl

In recent years Vilnius has become a tempting destination for filmmakers because of multiple cinema-worthy locations. When Netflix filmed parts of Season 4 of the cult-favorite Stranger Things in the century-old former prison Lukiškės Prison 2.0, Vilnius rapidly became a destination for set-jetters. The Prison invites to day and night tours, parties, concerts, and other events and gives a glimpse of parts of the facility featured in the show. Multiple other foreign projects have been filmed in Vilnius: Netflix’s Young Wallander, HBO’s Chernobyl, the historical TV series Sisi, and more.

  1. Capital of hot-air balloons

As the only capital in Europe to officially allow regular hot-air balloon rides over the city, Vilnius’ sky is full of them every summer. Airborne travelers can get a good view of the city’s colorful panorama and the lush greenery surrounding it. Those yearning for more adventures high up in the air can take a stroll on the TV Tower, one of the 30 tallest TV towers in the world, attached only by cable.

Vilnius is also designed for explorations on foot—walkable distances allow discovering locals’ favorite hangout spots, as well as artistic, architectural, and cultural objects without the added hassle of the traffic.

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Ho Chi Minh – Travel tips and hidden gems of Saigon

Sadly, during the last 3 years living in Singapore and Bangkok, I could not fulfill the dream of most expats in South East Asia: to travel around the region. Luckily, now that restrictions have eased up and traveling has reignited (although flight prices are in general more outrageously higher than what they used to be in the pre Covid era), it was time for my first visit to Vietnam. Destination: Ho Chi Minh, a pearl to discover the essence of Saigon.

It is advisable that depending on your nationality, you check if there is the need to apply for a visa before your flight. Vietnam allows visa free entry to some nationalities and some others not. In my particular case, being Spaniard, we are allowed a stay of no longer than 15 days for tourism with no need of applying and paying for any special visa.

Preparations for the trip

For flights, I tend to use Skycanner search engine and for hotels, Hotels in Saigon go in a wide array of price ranges, but you can get a nice one with a good location relatively cheap if you pay attention. I always like reading the reviews of previous users, especially filtering by the recent ones, to have a clear idea of the place I am getting into.

My choice of stay was Singita Saigon Boutique Hotel, located in district 1. Nothing luxurious but clean and tidy, with friendly hotel staff and in a very easy location that allowed me to go walking to many of the sightseeing main spots quite easily. Besides, on my last day, as my flight back to Bangkok was late in the evening, paying a small extra fee, they allowed me to stay until the evening in the hotel room. Even if you do not want to do that, they still offer the chance to take a shower when you want to refresh before going to the airport, so extra kudos for the kindness to them!

Arriving in the city

The international airport of Tan Son Nhat is not far from the city center. Expect some traffic, but in any case, if your place of stay is located in any of the central districts, you should arrive at your destination in 30 minutes or less.

I pre booked a taxi so they would pick me up more comfortably as my arrival time was a bit late in the evening, but if you are tight on budget, you can also order a Grab Taxi from the airport and it will be a cheaper option. In general, I advise you to install Grab app. as you can easily use it in many cities in South East Asia (although it is true that in Bangkok the prices have been raising in the last year). Still, in Ho Chi Minh, most of my rides, when a destination was far away to walk to, were costing 5 euro or less. Quite a bargain, especially if you share the cost with travel partners.

I also recommend doing a bit of investigation when you arrive in the new city and have some spots listed that you want to visit during the next few days. I stayed a total of 4 days in Ho Chi Min, and had more than enough time to see the main highlighted spots that I wanted to see.

Things to see:

  • Cafes

If you are a coffee lover, you are really gonna love Saigon. There are so many cafes and restaurants around, and the Vietnamese there really seem to love the coffee culture, always accompanied by delicious cakes and snacks. When I arrive in a new city, I love walking around and then resting and having a good coffee when I feel a bit tired after a long stroll. The city center is perfect for this. Some nice places I visited during my stay that I recommend:

La Viet Coffee Saigon

Charming cafe with free wifi and nice sandwiches. I visited there on my way to Xa Loi Temple and enjoyed sitting on its terrace. Nice variety of cold and hot coffees, and you could see a big crowd of IT nomads around there.

Paris Baguette

Big cafe with a nice cozy terrace on the upper floor. Big selection of bakery to enjoy while having your caffeine dose.

  • Churches

Cha Tam Church

Beautiful yellow church. When I visited it was very quiet so pretty much entering inside, I had all the church for myself. Worthy to see

Tao Dinh Church

Absolutely beautiful pink colored church. The bad side is that it was closed when I tried to visit, so my only chance was to snap a few pictures from outside.

Notre-Dame de Saigon Cathedral

Nice to walk around, but currently it was undergoing renovations so it did not look so spectacular from outside. In any case, nice to visit as then you can also see nearby the bookshops street and the old Post Office

  • Temples

Ten thousand Buddha Pagoda

One of the hidden gems in the city and I absolutely loved visiting it here. When you face the building, it looks almost like a normal housing building, but when you enter, the more you climb the stairs, the nicer the temple looks, with a gorgeous last floor that could serve as a background for a videogame scene. Do not miss this one!

Giac Lam Buddhist temple

Apart from the beautiful main pagoda, the complex allows you to visit different temples with a lot of charm and nice statues. Another must see if you visit Saigon!

  • Museums

War Remnants Museum

It displays outside its main building a nice collection of war machines from the Vietnam War era: planes, tanks, motorboats. Inside the exhibitions are really interesting, but beware that they are not for sensitive stomachs, many of the photos displaying death, torture and the cruelty of the war can cause a deep impression in your mind. And obviously, the whole tone of the museum is clearly very Anti American. Very interesting to see, but think if you are ready mentally for the content displayed inside, cause it can sour your day.

Ho Chih Minh City Museum

Very interesting displays about the city history inside, and you also have a small collection of war machines in the gardens outside. It seems to be a favorite place for the young local ladies to snap millions of photos and selfies of themselves, which can be slightly annoying when you want to see the exhibitions in peace, but still recommended and easy to access in the city center.

Reunification Palace

I put this one in the Museum category as it is pretty much the function that remains nowadays of the old Government Palace. Very picturesque garden outside, with some old war tanks displayed in the gardens, and interesting halls inside.

Shopping souvenirs

You can buy a lot of small souvenirs around for a decent price, bargaining a bit is recommended as they will try to give you the tourist price. I especially liked buying some presents at the Saigon Kitch shop. It had many interesting items mixing the Vietnamese flavor with Western popular culture characters.

Nightlife and Dating

I really did not go out so much during the night, as my goal was more to visit the city during the daytime. However I discovered a very cool cocktail bar with a very friendly waiter and delicious cocktails that I consider another hidden gem in the city:

Nightcap Saigon – Cocktail Bar

If you are a single male looking for some dating and female company, be aware of your surroundings. Many girls look gorgeous, but a big majority will be freelancers trying to get your money. The same applies if you use dating apps like Tinder, a lot of freelancers or girls who have some “professional” intentions like serving you as tourist guide. So pay attention and filter very well before meeting anybody.

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Pink Soup Fest in Vilnius Invites to Celebrate Lithuania’s National Gastro Pride 

The national pride of Lithuania’s gastro scene, cold beetroot soup,  is getting its own celebration. Pink Soup Fest will sweep over Vilnius on June 10th, inviting festivalgoers to try the most delicious variations of the dish and participate in themed entertainments.

May 4, 2023. Cold beetroot soup, a beloved staple in every Lithuanian household throughout the summer months and famous for its bright pink color, is getting a grand celebration in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Pink Soup Fest will be sweeping over the city center all day long on June 10th. 

The soup, similar to the Spanish gazpacho because it is also served chilled, is the cult-favorite dish of Lithuanian cuisine. Bright in color and refreshing in taste, the dish combines unexpected ingredients like beetroot, cucumber, fresh dill, eggs, and buttermilk with a side of hot potatoes to create an unmatched flavor burst. Since it is cold, the soup is featured heavily on Lithuanian menus during the heat waves and has been seeping into pop culture as well, turning up on clothing items or in various snacks.

Vilnius’s gastro scene has skyrocketed in the past few years—the entire ecosystem was awarded real stars in the sky that symbolize a Michelin-like award, while renowned chefs offer delicacies from fresh seasonal produce and local farms. Residents and visitors of Vilnius are keen on unearthing new tastes in highly popular food courts or exploring the multicultural fusion cuisine that features Jewish, Polish, and Lithuanian nobles’ dishes and flavors from Lebanon, Japan, India, Nepal, France, and other countries. Since the cold beetroot soup is inseparable from warm season treats in Lithuania and is one of the draws for visiting travelers, the festival will, therefore, start the tradition of celebrating the beginning of the summer.

The occasion will unite the members of Vilnius community—restaurants, cafes, pubs, nightclubs, guides, businesses, performers, automotive communities, and many others. Restaurants and cafes will offer special deals on the soup, inviting festivalgoers to try unique variations of the dish. More than that, festival visitors will have the chance to bring the pink soup home scents back with them and feast their eyes on the soup-themed graffiti. One of the artistic highlights will be a mural of the pink soup by the artist Eglė Žvirblytė near Bernardine Garden in the heart of Vilnius. 

Pink craze all over town

The craziness of the fuchsia-colored dish will also reflect on the event—everyone in attendance will be asked to put on a fancy dress costume that relates to the soup, be it a beetroot, an egg, or a carton of buttermilk, and slide down the Barbakanas Bastion hill—which offers panoramic views of the Užupis, the bohemian district, and the self-proclaimed separate Republic—straight into a specially made artificial soup bowl.   

After the hill slide, the Pink Soup King or Queen will be elected, visitors will be invited to roam around food trucks offering a refreshing bowl of the dish, relax in the local park, and enjoy musical performances, while children will get the chance to try out trampolines. Since the fest aligns with Vilnius’ 700th anniversary year, visitors will have the chance to soak up the festive atmosphere and visit other cultural events.

More information:  

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Lithuania’s Instagram Hotspots: From Maximalist Cafés to Otherworldly Dunes

Lithuania is a country dense with picture-perfect landscapes and unique travel experience one would want to share with their followers. Whether it’s a restaurant in a teal greenhouse or an alien-like desert of dunes, travelers can rediscover the country by going picture-hunting.

April 18, 2023. Lithuania is a small country, but searching its name on Instagram leads to a plethora of delightful visuals popping up on the feed: from vast, white dunes reminiscent of a desert to bright pink soups against a backdrop of cobbled-street Old Town. The plethora of experiences in this Baltic gem — some natural, some man-made, some otherworldly —  guarantee that every photo will turn out fantastic.

Experiential travel is one of the key trends influencing the tourism industry in 2023, as an increasing number of tourists seek to discover a destination’s history, culture, and cuisine instead of pure leisure or material purchases. Experiences are also becoming more popular due to the increasing role of social media, which encourages people to capture and share the unique and off-the-beaten-path locations they encounter. Below are a few examples of why Lithuania is so Instagram-worthy. 

Lavish interiors for #decorinspo

Instagram is brimming with examples of luxurious restaurants and innovative architecture, but none match the authentic character of Lithuania’s cozy, eclectic, and colorful interiors. The aura of love that pervades the coffee at Augustas ir Barbora café in Vilnius — the capital city —  is reminiscent of the famous love story of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund Augustus, and Barbora Radvilaitė, while symbolized by the cascades of pastel flowers exploding out of the forest-green ceiling. Not to mention their fresh-brewed coffee, champagne breakfasts, and stunning desserts.

Lithuanians have never been ones to shy away from quirkiness, and no spot better personifies this taste for the curious than the Klaipėda-based ToLi nuo klasikos, aptly named for its all-out rejection of restaurant norms and expectations. No visit is ever the same, as the unique menu and interior are constantly reimagined through different regions and cultural themes from around the world as part of the one-of-a-kind gastronomic theaters that take place here. Visitors can take in the sun while sitting in a jewel-like blue greenhouse, peppered with eccentric paintings, bright bouquets of flowers, and a collection of ornate chairs any vintage lover would fawn over.

Picturesque panoramas from above

There is no better way to take in the lush nature of Lithuania than from a bird’s-eye-view, where crystalline rivers, majestic hills, and green forests carve a unique mosaic into the landscape. One spot where this image can be taken looms over the Anykščiai regional park. The Treetop Walking Path rises up to 34 meters above ground, offering sweeping views of the romantic Anykščiai Pinewood, the Šventoji River, and the imposing tower tops of the St. Matthew’s Church.

Out on the Zarasai Lake Observation Bridge, visitors may take in the picturesque beauty of small islands floating on the gentle surface of lake Zarasaitis and the almost-futuristic circular walking path constructed along the coast. Walking this path lets visitors hover above the shimmering waters, providing an excellent backdrop for a springtime Instagram update.

The Sudargas Hillforts near Šakiai amazes sightseers from the heights of 5 castle mounds with a wide-open, azure view of the river Nemunas belt. J. D. Salinger’s — the author of the groundbreaking 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye — grandfather hails from Sudargas, and a small monument to him was unveiled on the hillfort complex in 2020. The enchanting sculpture – a hollow silhouette of a man – stands at the beginning of the mounds as if on the edge of a precipice. It directly references a sentence in the book: “I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff.”

Views from a different planet

Although compact, Lithuania presents ample opportunities to sneak away in a myriad of spots that differ greatly from the rest of the region, even feeling extra-terrestrial at times. Built by the wind and sea, the Lithuanian Baltic seaside offers swathes of sandy, migrating dunes that, at first look, seem like a snapshot taken in Venus. Uninhibited views crown the vast solitary beaches in the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO-listed peninsula where nature is strictly protected. One of its most enchanting spots is Parnidis Dune in Nida. Towering at 52 meters, it is one of the highest dunes in Europe, unveiling an awe-inspiring panorama of boundless sandy beaches which blend into fragrant pine forests.

The Čepkeliai Marsh is unique and mostly unaffected by human activities, and its mystical, fog-filled atmosphere harkens back to the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings. The elevated bog is bordered by thick pine trees that cover most of the region, creating the impression of wetlands completely disconnected from the rest of the world. The elevated bog in the south progressively transforms into a fen with sedges, reeds, and osiers — a mysterious sight that would make anyone perusing social media do a double-take.

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Five must-see locations in Lithuania for flower-loving tourists 

As Europe slowly approaches the warmer part of the year, those looking to stumble upon yet-undiscovered places or see it all from a new perspective are invited to experience flower tourism in Lithuania. Lithuania Travel, the national tourism development agency, invites visitors to explore the flowering regions in an unforgettable blossoming trip.

April 29, 2022. Lithuania Travel, the national tourism development agency, together with the country’s tourist information centers invites visitors from all over the world to tour the country in full bloom and stumble upon yet-undiscovered places such as a primrose valley in Šeteniai, the birthplace of Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz, or a daisy feast in an authentic Ilzenbergas Manor, located on the Lithuanian-Latvian border.

According to Neringa Sutkaitytė, local tourism expert at Lithuania Travel, spring is a perfect time to explore the true beauty of Lithuania. “In the coming months, the country will be in full bloom and the visitors will be able to admire the blossoming nature throughout the country,” she said.

Here are five ideas for an unforgettable spring trip to admire the vibrant plethora of flowers — matricarias, daffodils, forget-me-nots, even sakuras — in Lithuanian countryside.

1. Daffodil feast in Lithuania’s resort town

Although the first mentions of the daffodil, also known as narcissus, can be traced as far as ancient Greece, the flower found its popularity in Europe only a few centuries ago. Druskininkai, Lithuania’s resort town best known for the abundance of therapeutic and wellness SPAs, is quite fond of the flower. 

Each year, Vijūnėlė Park lights up with the yellow blooming daffodils — the spring blossoms cover almost the entire area of the park, with more than half a million flowers blooming, making it a sight not to be missed.

2. Primroses straight from the pages of Nobel Prize winner’s book

When visiting Šeteniai, the birthplace of Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz, it is impossible to miss the area’s wildflower frenzy. In the valley of Nevėžis, also known as Miłosz’s Meadow, primroses blossom. The flower was extensively mentioned in the poet’s autobiographical novel “The Issa Valley.” 

Since primrose is considered to be a mood-lifting flower, it is suited best for those who are under a lot of stress or are often in a bad mood. The flower, which is affectionately called the “golden key,” marks the transition to summer and will be a delight in May when visiting the Kėdainiai district.

3. Experiencing sakura by sight, smell, and taste

Sakura, the Japanese cherry tree that everyone loves, has spread all over Lithuania. Among the must-see sites for the fans of the tree is Sakura park in Vilnius. The park is adored by the locals and tourists who come here to have lunch, take a selfie, or enjoy spontaneous music or art performances. The park was founded in 2001 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara — a collection of 200 trees was a gift from Japan’s people to Lithuania to strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries.

In Marijampolė, sakura lovers gather in Cat’s Yard. Surrounded by sakuras, visitors can admire multiple murals and are invited to try to count the statues of cats owned by the town’s founder, countess Pranciška Butlerienė.

Visitors can not only smell and admire sakuras, but also taste them in the largest Japanese garden in Europe. Located in Mažučiai, Kretinga district, the garden hosts sakura tea tasting ceremonies all throughout the blossom season. The tea is made from sakura blossoms pickled in Japanese plum vinegar and sprinkled with sea salt — this kind of tea is only drunk on special occasions in Japan.

4. Lithuania’s freedom flower among 200 thousand crosses

Myosotis, also known as forget-me-not, is used throughout Lithuania to commemorate the Soviet aggression in Vilnius in the early 1990s. In May, thousands of forget-me-nots bloom on the Hill of Crosses — a world-famous, must-visit location near Šiauliai. The tradition of bringing a cross to leave on the hill began almost 200 years ago and by the early 20th century it was already known as a sacred place for masses, devotions, and pilgrimages. 

Even though it is a remarkable sight at any time of the year, the hill turns blue with thousands of forget-me-nots in the spring, making the view even more phenomenal, especially during the so-called “golden hour.” The full effect of the lush rolling fields and blue flowers unfurl before visitors who come to the hill shortly after sunrise or before sunset. 

5. Little daisies in an authentic manor

Daisies are the pride of Ilzenbergas Manor, located on the Lithuanian-Latvian border. The 17.5-hectare park is a great place to stroll around and immerse oneself into the life of nobility. There are a myriad of sculptures around the park, as well as an authentically restored barn, smokehouse, sauna, artillery battery, and even a 3D replica of the Stelmužė tree, one of the oldest oaks in Europe. 

After a tour, visitors can grab some tasty goodies from Ilzenbergas farm —  the only manor in the Baltics that continues the traditions of natural farming —  and have a picnic among the daisies for an unforgettable spring experience.

Tourists eager to explore other blossoming destinations, can find more information on the Lithuania Travel website.

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The Formula for Happy Traveling

Backpacking has become one of young Finns’ favorite hobby. Born under the Aurora Borealis, nature’s own spectacular light show, people are later willing to travel a great distance to chase other wonders of the world. Perhaps you, too, have always wanted to hike the Inca Trail to see the first rays of sun falling on the ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru? Or maybe it is walking along the Great Wall of China or imagining gladiators fighting for their lives at the Roman Colosseum that truly thrills you?

To a number of people being on the road is a life choice. For some, it symbolizes the ultimate freedom and detachment from material things, while others focus on broadening their horizon, having an experience that can later be told to friends with great excitement and nostalgia. And who would not want to have their picture taken next to a breath-taking scenery, an exotic animal or a new friend with whom to communicate only by using sign language?

While it is true that places the essence of which even the best cameras cannot quite capture exist in this world, witnessing these locations requires initiative and effort. Maybe you have always wanted to travel more, but other commitments and duties, perhaps financial, have put the long-needed decisions on ice?

Luckily, there are solutions. To secure the success of your trip of a lifetime you just need to navigate to the best online deals to save money on your travel arrangements


Today flying is an ever-cheaper option to reach distant continents. Affordable flight tickets are compared for you by different websites, which does not only save up your time, but helps you to spot the best prices at a glance. And it does not end there. In order to really help you manage the budget of your unforgettable journey-to-be, Internet also offers you coupon codes to save on your flight reservation. Look out for the codes prior to reservation and be surprised at the checkout.

While some independent travelers are adventurous enough to choose camping or couchsurfing as a form of accommodation, the rest of us appreciate a fun yet clean hostel or a good-quality hotel. After all, a good night’s sleep is essential to enjoy new sites. Perhaps you have already browsed through a few websites and picked a couple of accommodation alternatives for your trip based on prices and reviews? What if you got told that the cost of your future stay might not be as final as your decision to book it? To lower the price of hostels and hotels all over the world you only need to look for vouchers. Suddenly the minimum effort of simply noting down a short voucher code to get 10% discount starts to seem a small price to pay.

Experienced traveler or not, the most important thing is that you are hungry for a new experience and always keep an open mind. Leaving the cozy comfort zone is never easy, but there are things that help. Whether you wish to encounter the new world by yourself or with a friend, a good gear is an essential companion to any thrill-seeker. You might notice that the nearer your trip, the more you flick through web shops offering adventure-proof clothing, trekking gear or sports equipment. In order to live up to the title of a true budget-traveler, it is worthwhile to keep an eye for discount codes. They give the finishing touch to organizing and financing your journey budget-friendly and hassle-free.

Before you know it, you will be making your dreams come true.

Articles Misc Outside Finland Travel

Kuressaare, An Island Full of Miracles

Written by Elena Paraschiv

Estonia is the country that lies on the eastern shores of Baltic Sea. So over the years, the Estonian culture was influenced by the adjacent areas, such as Finnic, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic peoples, but also from Sweden and Russia who have brought major contributions to cultural development of Estonia. Looking through the geographical location, and the influences received for decades, many Estonians consider themselves a Nordic people rather than Baltic, and they also have arguments to support that choice, such as Estonian language is similar to Finnish language and the Estonians as a ethnic group are a Finnic one. Even Swedish Ambassador Mr. Dag Hartelius who gave a speech on Estonian Independence day, on February 24, 2009 considered Estonia “A Nordic Country”. In terms of music, Saxo Grammaticus, the famous Danish historian,(the author of first full history of Denmark, known also as Saxo cognomine Longus), talks in his book “Gesta Danorum”, about the Estonian warriors who were spending the nights singing while they were waiting for the battle. Same warriors who were also known under the name of Eastern Vikings (Estonian pirates).


Saaremaa, the largest island of Estonia, it was the home of notorious Estonian pirates. “The Livonian Chronicle of Henry”(a document describing historic events in Livonia, today`s inland Estonia, north of Latvia and surrounding areas from 1180 to 1227) talks about a fleet of 16 ships and 500 Osilians ravaging the area that now is southern Sweden, then belonging to Denmark. The island name`s means “isle`s land”. In old Scandinavian sagas, Saaremaa is called “Eysysla” and in Icelandic sagas “Eysýsla”. Saaremaa forms the main barrier between the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea. To the south of it is the main passage out of the gulf, the Irbe Strait, next to Sõrve Peninsula, the southernmost portion of the island. In Medieval times islanders were crossing the strait to form fishing villages on Livonian coast, in particular Pitrags village. The capital of Saaremaa is Kuressaare.

Kuressaare is situated on the coast of of Gulf of Riga and its first name was Arensburg. The names was changed in 1918(after Estonia has declared its independence from Bolshevist Russia) in Kuressaare. It first appeared on maps around 1154. The town breathes history in every way possible. In Kuressaare was born the famous romantic painter Eugen Dücker (1841–1916) who was the teacher of a great Norwegian landscape painter Adelsteen Normann, (who studied with Dücker from 1869 to 1872). In Saaremma, the visitors can also find Kaali, a small group of meteorite craters, from which they started many legends, all collected by Lennart Meri in his book “Hõbevalge”. The largest of the craters measures 110 metres in diameter and contains a small lake known as “Kaali järv” (Lake Kaali). Kuressaare is also the host of Saaremaa Opera Days, that takes place in the medieval Episcopal Castle of Kuressaare, this year during 16th and 22nd of July. The first documentation about the castle has been found in Latin texts written in 1381 and 1422. Today, the castle houses the Saaremaa Regional Museum, besides the festival. Some sources say that the castle was built in wood between 1338 and 1380, although others claim a fortress was built in Kuressaare in early 1260.

Saaremaa Opera Festival is the first opera festival in Estonia and it was held for the first time in 1999. During the years, the festival became one of the major opera festivals from Europe, having more than 1,000 people coming from near and far to enjoy the extraordinary music. Festival owes its existence to Ludmilla Toon, a music teacher and choir conductor. This year`s edition will be a true spectacle of beautiful voices and world-class singers. The schedule includes Monica Groop (a Finnish operatic mezzo-soprano who made her operatic debut in 1987 at the Finnish National Opera; she has sung leading roles as a guest artist with important theatres such as: the Los Angeles Opera, the Palais Garnier, the Royal Opera London and many others), Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky’s “Borris Godunov” performed by one of the most famous and interesting theatres in the world, Moscow Helikon-Opera (the artistic diresctor and founder of the theatre Dimitri Bertman has already staged more than 90 performances in Russia, and abroad, including Spain, Austria, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zeeland and Denamark), Koit Soasepp (Estonia/Finland), “The Barber of Seville” and “Rasputin”(Moscow Helikon-Opera), Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti’s “Maria Sturda” performes by Vanemuine Theatre and many other surprises.


During the festival, Kuressaare is no longer a simple town, it becomes a dream.This is exactly is the feeling you will experience. Each spectacle is unique in style, performance, emotion and energy, and everything takes place in a wonderful setting that we find it only in fairy tales. In a corner of paradise left in a world that has forgotten to dream. During the festival the world stops, the nature takes a break from development, all the windmills on the island are participating in the festival and capturing people’s emotions and feelings, all under a divine sign, turn the island into a fairy festival. While listening to the music, you can see the leaves crying beauty and the sun going dawn kissing the sea spreading an explosion of orange light that make you feel like the sky is burning.

There is something even more beautiful on this island if God: the old and unwavering lighthouse. The majestic lighthouse that guards the island and that`s waiting for you at the end of a sandy path that separates the sea in two. While you`re heading to the lighthouse you`ll hear the waves breaking at your feet slightly shy. The small beach and the sea breeze fill the landscape with the bluest sky you`ve ever saw. And when you finally get there, you`ll see it. The eternal unlit candle designed to ensure the island forever.

You will be surprised by the emotion and the beautiful peace caused by the inside and the outside together. Everything is a dream waiting for a miracle.

Outside Finland Travel

Outside Finland: Visiting Vegas

For many people, having the chance to visit the city of Las Vegas in Nevada can be a once in a lifetime opportunity. With this in mind, here are a few tips on how you can make the most of your stay.

As with any holiday, it can be a good idea to plan your trip before you go. Research the area, and find out which attractions are nearby that might be of particular interest to you. This can help you to plan your time, as well as your budget, during you stay. You will also be able to better prioritise the activities which are available to you.

Many people who visit Las Vegas are keen to experience the casino scene for which the area is renowned. The Las Vegas strip, in particular, has become one of the most famous casino locations in the world, so it’s unsurprising that many visitors are keen to experience what this area has to offer. However, if you’re keen to get involved with the action, then it can be a good idea to brush up on your game skills before you do. If you don’t happen to live close to a casino, then you can always try playing online at sites like partypoker in order to perfect your playing techniques. You may also want to look into what each of Las Vegas top casinos has to offer, so that you can be sure to visit those which best cater for your personal preferences.

In addition, it can be a good idea not to simply get caught up in the casino culture of this area, unless that is the only reason for your visit. Why not book yourself into one of the great restaurants, or buy tickets for a show? Las Vegas is brands itself as ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’, so make sure you don’t miss out on everything else this area has to offer.

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Visiting Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania

Taking advantage of the long Easter weekend (yes, miracle, Friday was a national holiday in Estonia. Not that you have many chances through the year of enjoying long week ends in Estonia…) I decided to visit Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and the only country in the Baltic-Scandinavian region where I had not been yet.

The trip was long, 4 hours by bus to Riga and another 4 from Riga to Vilnius, but worthy. My Finnish friend Ilkka flew from Helsinki to join me, and there we met at Old Town Hostel. I must say that the double room we had was excellent. Actually, one could feel like having a hotel room, because it was separated from the rest of the hostel, and we had our own key to go in and out whenever we wanted withouth disturbing anybody. The price was fair, so I reccommend it.


We wandered during the weekend mostly around the old town, so I cannot say much of the rest of the city. But I liked a lot what I saw there. The city is clean, the buildings are in good shape, and the atmosphere is charming. The nightlife was sadly quite dead, due to many people having escaped from the city for the holidays, but even though, we found a couple of bars where to have fun. We settled our operational base for the night especially at the University Pub. But during those days there, most probably there were more people going to church than to bars. And it is amazing the amount of churches you can find in a few square metres! In every corner there is a church in old Vilnius! Even if you are not a religious person, you cannot less than admire the special atmosphere that this gives to the city.

About Lithuanian people, I must say that in general they were pretty friendly, even better than expected. Girls actually smile you easily at the bars, and are very eager to have a conversation (I would say that maybe more friendly than Estonian girls, who usually give you the look of “do not disturb me foreigner, I prefer to talk with the local guy who looks like a retired boxer” when going out at night. But also Lithuanian guys (ok, those who are not 2 metres high and look like serial killers) were quite friendly, and we had the chance to chat with quite many of them while sharing some beers.


As a final remark, do not make the mistake to confuse Lithuanian language with Russian language (It happened to me once, sorry!!!). In Vilnius, only around 9% of the population is Russian speaker, and the local Lithuanians do not take very well the comparisons. In that sense, they are probably less welcoming than in the other Baltic capitals, where Russian speakers are more widely spread among the local population.

If you still have not visited Vilnius and are thinking about a possible weekend destination, do not think it twice. Prices are affordable, the city looks good and pretty safe, the people are friendly… and the women pretty ;)

Outside Finland Travel

River cruising: Egypt’s a Nile ahead

Cruising along the world’s longest river combines sun, culture, ancient moments and all on a comfortable floating hotel.

If the Nile didn’t exist then Egypt wouldn’t, not at least with its present population: currently 76 million and adding another 2 million mouths annually. Looking at the country’s current geography, it’s difficult to believe that seven millennia ago it was lush savannah roamed by lavish wildlife such as elephants, gazelles and lions before a climate change altered things drastically. Apart from the long ribbon of water and its adjacent green bands that snakes its way from sources in Ethiopia and Uganda, desert ochre is the primary colour nearly everywhere.

Nile Egypt

For all but the hardiest Egyptologist, a cruise from Luxor to Aswan is an intensive history lesson where knowledgeable guides deliver a bewildering series of facts, figures and background in a veritable flood. For example, Egypt is now an Arab republic, but most of what is on display was created and built by ancient Egyptians – a completely different people. Arabs immigrated just a few centuries after year zero, but the countries (there were two: upper and lower kingdoms) had already been overrun and ruled by Libyans, Nubians, Persians and Greco-Roman kings and pharaohs. Similarly, after the Arabs, came the Ottoman Turks, French and the British – all of whom absorbed to some degree local influences while leaving their own marks, sometimes literally in the form of carved graffiti defacing aged stone monuments.

The 360-odd riverboats that now sedately ply between the two cities of Luxor (Thebes in ancient times) and the beautiful metropolis of Aswan (where the British smartly based themselves for their 19th Century Sudan campaigns) are similar in design: up to five decks above the waterline with cabins and a restaurant, bar and reception to the sun deck with its pool and canopy-providing shade. Most are given 4- or 5-star status but that may not always match a traveller’s definition.

One thing is certain; the infamous health problems are as much a thing of the past as the itinerary. Food is washed and cooked in mineral water sparing the toilets the occupancy rates of yesteryear. And in addition to the inclusive excursions to see temples, tombs and towns, options cover hot air balloon sunrise rides, day-trips to Cairo plus sound and light shows. The latter two are not recommended: the Egyptian capital cannot be seen in hours and the shows lack any movement as the title implies.

Nearly all cruises start from Luxor, but before casting off, visits to the nearby Luxor and Karnak Temples are hors d’oeuvres as a taste of things to come. Both are fine examples of ‘Egyptian’ sites (as against those showing the Greek or Roman influences of the rulers of the day) of worship to their gods – the main trio being the great sun god Amun-Re, his wife Mut (Mistress of Heaven) and their son Khonsu (Moon God). Then it’s off to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens on the arid west bank of the river where royalty and nobility have their final resting places hacked out of rock and decorated with finely worked and coloured hieroglyphs, all by hand, and stocked with treasure for the afterlife. Taking in this plethora of superlatives taxes the perception, brain and memory. Fabulous sights such as the two 20-metre high Colossi of Memnon statues (remains of Amenhotep III’s temple), the Nobles Tombs and the Ramesseum appear as side shows compared with Queen Hatshepsut’s stunning temple at Deir al-Bahari. If possible, a visit the nearby artisans’ village, where the people who created these places lived and died reveals the lives of the craftsmen who created this exquisite ornateness. 

Messing about on the river

After setting sail, the sun deck is the place to watch local life pass by: for ornithologists alone, there is the eye-boggling spectacle of hoopoes, egrets, cormorants, herons and ibis flying, fishing, wading or just floating by on branches. Their colours and sounds are matched by local fishermen and riverbank villages complete with compulsory mosques. Mud-brick dwellings are not usually painted or decorated, but now some do so – for the foreign visitors a guide informs.

As the water and day drift by, it’s worth recalling that 95% of Egypt’s population now live by or on the river and its floodplain, which waters just 5% of its land. Until the High Dam was built, the annual autumn flood used to decide its economic fate: a good wash of Ethiopian mud and nutrients would feed the floodplain and ensure a bounteous harvest. ‘Nilometres’ measured its high point and thus formed the basis of that year’s taxes.

Nile River

Pulling in to Edfa, horse-drawn caléches line up quayside in expectation. (Although the French were in Egypt a mere five years, before Nelson evicted them, it’s considered a Francophone country). Here, the Ptolemaic temple to the falcon god Horus (237-57BC) and many succeeding sites are constructions of Greco-Roman rulers who used local culture for their own purposes, but were bewitched too. The entrance and hypostyle hall architecture shows their influences in this well-preserved structure.

Next port of call down, Kom Ombo’s impressive approach at sunset would persuade anyone to get out a camera and burn an unforgettable memory. This temple is unusually dedicated to two idols: Haroeris (the good doctor) and Sobek (the crocodile god). The crushed stone used to colour the walls and columns remains vivid.  As the sun sets, the flora and fauna cast gentle curved outlines on the water as feluccas and fishermen draw dark shapes against the red glow on the horizon. The silence is serene. Dinner awaits. Could it be better? 

Aswan – dams, desert and delights

Early signs of nearing this city are the feluccas with their distinctive angular lateen sail. This southernmost city is a centre of the Nubian people. In pharaonic times, there existed Lower Egypt around the river mouth called the White Kingdom and Upper Egypt spreading out from Thebes named the Red Kingdom after the nearby stone. Nubia, with its dark-skinned people occupied an area that reaches far into north Sudan.

Smooth rock formations and outcrops, the First Cataract, dot the river and banks. The city’s business and residential buildings, hotels, mosques and shops perch on the east side. Two islands, Elephantine and Kitchener’s, serve different purposes as residential and recreational areas between the two banks. At night the west lights up to show the nobles’ cave graves of Qubbet al-Hawa.

Time here is precious as the list of places to visit would demand longer than is given, from the quarry where stone was hewn for temples and tombs down river to Abu Simbel. Not to mention the souk, dams, museums, Coptic cathedral and monastery, Old Cataract Hotel, Corniche, the Aga Khan’s tomb and local Nubian culture. Their straw coffee filter is just the tip of differentiation.

Nile River

To keep it simple, there’s the relocated Philae Temple, near the British-built Old Dam completed in 1902 after 13 years. This was dwarfed when the contentious High Dam was completed in 1970 reducing the threat of flood, storing precious water for dry years, supplying 65% of Egypt’s then power supply then and creating the world’s largest reservoir: Lake Nasser.

Conversely, the annual wash with its precious silt was halted causing farmers to use fertilisers for the first time, the extinction of several bird species and disrupting the environment along the river to its mouth. Locals claim the Nubian culture will never recover. While under construction, a massive international effort in the 1960s rescued the most precious pharaonic archaeological treasures.

Abu Simbel was one, located less than 100 metres from its original site, it was built by Ramesses II to glorify himself, his favourite wife Nefertari and celebrate his so-called victory at Kush and intimidate the local Nubians too as it was a public place, not reserved just for nobles or priests. This is born out by the immense statues outside the two temples, now located inside a man-made hillock.

Built in the 13th Century BC it was re-discovered in 1813 by a Swiss explorer, J L Burkardt, when sailing passed who unfortunately informed Givanni Belzoni. The Italian promptly went and looted it as soon as he could. Carvings with dates bear testimony to his avarice. But the grandeur could not be stolen. A cruise along the Nile forms indelible memories that will remain lifelong, as it is eternal.   

Egyptian idiosyncrasies

The British poet Shelley was inspired by the Ramesseum to pen his classic Ozymandias. Similarly, Agatha Christie appropriately wrote ‘Death on the Nile’ at Aswan’s Old Cataract Hotel. Alexandria was home and setting for Lawrence Durrell’s ‘The Alexandra Quartet’.

Due to its Francophone status, continental twin-pin plugs are standard.

Alcoholic beverages are not cheap in Egypt and on board are very expensive e.g. €5.50 for a half-litre can of local Sakkara lager.

Though the crew and guides are bought off by a tip paid in advance (GB£15), other Egyptians expect baksheesh off tourists. And bargaining is ubiquitous – with a third of the original asking price as normal.Government shops though are both cheap and hassle-free. Ask for their address.

Nile River

Quietly inquire if alcohol is for sale – just because it’s not on the menu doesn’t mean there’s none available. As alcoholic drinks are scarce and expensive, stock up at the airport on arrival where a good range of products are both available and illogically cheap. The local lager and aniseed brew are good; whiskey of doubtful quality and the wine may not be to your palate. ‘Egyptian champagne’ – karkadeh is a refreshing non-alcoholic concoction made from dried hibiscus flowers.

Smoking is an Egyptian way of life. Tobacco is consumed voraciously in cigarette form or via a water pipe (sashwa) and getting close to a local man (women are never seen smoking in public except in big cities) can form the impression there is national halitosis. Food is not spicy unless added. Tea and coffee are sweetened to the point of nausea – 5 teaspoons per small cup. And the coffee has a thick foundation at the bottom so don’t throw your head back and pour it down. Curiously, fish is rarely on the menu.

In Aswan, most tours call in at a perfume house where the essence oils for famous scents are produced. If it is a reputable approved establishment, it’s a bargain. You will be proudly informed that western products (that have different names here) are 90% alcohol and water which disappear quickly, whereas essence never evaporates. This is true and a small inexpensive bottle makes a great gift or souvenir. And it is impossible not to have at least one small stone carving or papyrus in your suitcase at the end.

Jewellery is another memento, but caveat vendor – choose your shop carefully. Herbs too and natural indigo are cheap and widely sold. Egyptian cotton is world famous, but expensive except from a state store. Buying and wearing the regional costume, a one-piece shoulder-to-toe    gallabaya is another must-have.

Lastly there are two schools on the origins of the words Egypt and Nubia. For the former, it either derives from the ancient word kemet meaning black soil – or if you prefer, black people as some claim.

Similarly, Nubia comes from the word nub meaning ‘land of gold’ for which it was renowned or the tribe Nuba that inhabited some of the kingdom then. Nubians were Christians for about a thousand years until the 15th Century too.

Outside Finland Travel

Seattle, Washington USA … an insider’s guide.

Text by Eric Remec

Seattle. The name conjures up some very specific images: Starbucks. Rain. Grunge. All these clichés certainly ring true but I want to try something a bit different and delve a little deeper into what makes Seattle such a cool city to visit. I find the best way to get a feel for a place is through its food. Whenever I’m traveling I steer clear of any tourist type places and try, as much as possible, to become a local.

In Rome, that means a breakfast of an espresso and pastry (while standing) in an Italian bar. In Spain, it’s ir de tapas (a form of bar-hopping) at night, sampling tapas and wine; In Kansas, USA, barbeque ribs in the town of Melvern (population 429). In this increasingly homogenized world, I think it is essential to celebrate what makes a place unique. A good rule to follow (in non-English speaking locales) is to listen to the languages being spoken by the patrons and avoid any place where the main language you hear is English. Well this rule obviously doesn’t work in Seattle so let me offer you, dear reader, an extremely biased list of some of my favorite places in the city.


In a city that has on average only 71 truly sunny days a year, it’s no surprise that coffee is such a big deal here. Well forget Starbucks. Go to Le Panier. Whenever I’m in Seattle, this is the place where I like to start my day. A French style café and bakery located in the heart of Pike Place Market, Le Panier has the feel of a Parisian bakery. Grab a newspaper, a cup of café maison, and a chocolate croissant and ease into your day. Spend an hour or so in a seat by the window and watch the world go by outside. Speaking of which, a great place to start and get a feel for the city is Pike Place Market, Seattle’s famous outdoor market. Reminiscent of Helsinki’s Kauppatori with its stalls of vendors, Pike Place Market is located on Seattle’s waterfront in Puget Sound. You can find everything from farm fresh produce, to seafood, to local crafts from the Pacific Northwest. As you can probably guess, seafood is big here: salmon (smoked and fresh), Dungeness crab, clams, and mussels. You can actually buy the seafood to take home and the merchants will pack your purchase in special ice packs which will keep it fresh for 24 to 48 hours.

Almost next door to the bakery Le Panier is Piroshky Piroshky, a Russian bakery specializing in (you guessed it) piroshki. Somewhat similar to the Finnish karjalanpiirakat, these handheld pies are stuffed with a variety of different fillings.You can find almost 30 different varieties in all at Piroshky Piroshky, including beefand onion, Bavarian sausage, and sweet dessert rolls. Be sure to visit Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop, Seattle’s Artisan Cheesemaker also located in Pike Place Market. They actually make their own cheese on the premises and the large viewing window inside the shop offers a glimpse into the cheese making process. Grab a cup of their “World’s Best Mac and Cheese” made from penne pasta and their Flagship cheese for a soul warming lunch on a damp and cold Seattle day. If you find yourself with limited funds (and in this current economic climate, who doesn’t?), I suggest you take full advantage of the concept of Happy Hour in Seattle. Typically between the hours of 16:00 – 19:00, many bars and restaurants offer half-price specials on drinks and food. It offers an excellent chance to sample some of the fine things that Seattle has to offer on a limited budget. The Belltown section of the city has a host of bars and restaurants which offer Happy Hour Specials and is a good place to start the evening.

Bar Txori Pintxo

Spanish-style tapas bars are becoming fairly common in large cities across the U.S. but for a real authentic experience later in the evening, head over to Txori.  OK, technically this a pintxos bar modeled on the pintxos bars of San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain, but it’s the real deal. Chorizo sausage with shaved chocolate, anchovies with olives and Spanish peppers, jamón serrano on top of toasted bread with fresh tomato and garlic, … each of these bite sized appetizers (which average $3.00 to $4.00 a piece) will have you dreaming of summer nights on the Spanish coast. Along with pintxos, Txori also offers some excellent Basque-inspired cocktails. Try the azafrán; a blend of citron vodka, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a touch of saffron. Outstanding.

For a complete change of pace, check out the The Whisky Bar. Now, I do love a good dive bar and The Whisky Bar is a great dive bar. Located directly across the street from the historic Moore Theatre, The Whisky Bar has all the essential requisites of a good dive bar: cheap drinks, loud music, intimidating looking bartenders and an eccentric clientele. The noir-inspired paintings featuring scantily clad women with guns only add to the charm of the place. Where else can you sing along to Slayer, Elvis, Iron Maiden, and Johnny Cash blaring at top volume on the jukebox while slamming back $2.00 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon? Jacket and tie definitely not required and leave your credit card at home. Happy Hour runs from 12:00 (!!!) to 21:00 daily.

The Whisky Bar

Seattle is a city that tends to close up a bit early so if it’s late and you’re hungry you can always stop by the The Palace Kitchen which serves its full menu until 1:00 (am). One of  Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas’ many establishments, The Palace Kitchen is as much a bar as a restaurant and offers excellent food along with some interesting brews and cider on tap. For a late night bite, the Palace Burger Royale and the Dahlia Triple Coconut Cream Pie for dessert are a good bet.  Bars close at 2:00 here but if there is time, you might want to head back to the Belltown section of Seattle for a last bit of bar-hopping before calling it quits for the night and staggering back to your hotel room.

As we come to the end of this article, a special note to any Seattle residents and tourists that might have some issues with my imperfect listing of the “best” places in Seattle. I agree with you. It’s certainly not the last word on Seattle and in fact, it’s only a start. So to all the many deserving places I didn’t mention and to all the places I didn’t get a chance to visit: Salumi Artisan Cured Meats run by Armandino Batali (Italian American chef Mario Batali’s father), the Experience Music Project Museum, the entire Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square areas of Seattle, … my apologies.

They’re just more reasons to go back.

Outside Finland Travel

Lithuania overcomes historical hurdles

Being a small country boxed in by bigger more aggressive ones is the fate of the Baltic three. Especially problematic is being on a highway between two of the biggest powers on the continent: Russia and Germany, who of course have been in control of their smaller brethren for large chapters in their history book.

To make geo-political matters worse, even middleweight neighbours Poland and Ukraine have had not been shy about sticking their noses and armies into inferior-sized next-door nations when the opportunity arose. But perhaps some of this was history’s revenge for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's episode as a regional power stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea in the 13th-15th centuries. Nowadays safe in the EU's bosom and NATO, the country can relax if not let down its guard.


Time has left its scars as well as beauty spots in present-day Lithuania. The capital Vilnius gleams with (heavily EU-funded) restored churches, buildings and sites. Subjectively the most attractive of the Baltic capitals, its predominantly Baroque Old Town is the biggest in the Baltics with a reconstructed Jewish Quarter that bore the brunt of the Nazi and Soviet takeovers. The efficiency of the former saw 80% of the Jewish population exterminated within months and 95% exterminated by defeat in 1945 out of a total of 265,000 in various gruesome ways. What was left of the area was bulldozed by Soviet liberators – including the badly damaged centuries-old Grand Synagogue and its library containing irreplaceable Zionist tomes and documents.

After 1945, a few thousand resistance fighters fought an unequal and ultimately hopeless contest that still lasted for 10 years against Soviet forces, before being ruthlessly extinguished. This is also catalogued there and can be seen at the rather exaggeratedly named Genocide Museum. Otherwise, and more accurately, called the KGB Museum, it is the only former headquarters of the feared Soviet secret police in the EU with a starkly frightening exhibition of the methods employed and lifestyle of an inmate complete with a spine-tingling execution cellar.

Much needed relief is provided by a fair walk up the main drag Gedimino Avenue which bears the name of a 14th-Century Lithuanian Grand Duke. At the end is the Cathedral Basilica and Bell Tower that was a cinema not too many years ago. Lithuanians are overwhelmingly Catholic and somehow the country's Soviet leadership did its utmost to ensure they remained a majority in their own land. So a remarkable 80% of the population is of Lithuanian stock. Some achievement considering it has been a market place for traders at this crossroads where peoples have for centuries come from all over to settle and prosper plus the deportations and Russian immigration that occurred elsewhere. By comparison only two-thirds of Estonia's and a half of Latvia's populations are made up of locals.

One such example of successful transplantation is the Kairemes (or Karaites) who were brought to Lithuania in 1397-8 when the great hero Grand Duke Vytautas returned from a campaign in Crimea, bringing 340 families with him. They are a Turkic people whose faith is based around the Old Testament and other scriptures but who deny no religion. Once numbering in the thousands, there are now just a few hundred mainly in Vilnius and Trakai, where the two remaining 'kanesa' or places of worship are.

Just 30km from Vilnius, Trakai and its old castle are a must-see. The town contains, like most of the country, churches of different religions: catholic of course, but also orthodox, a synagogue and the kanesa. A walk up the main street (not a Herculean task) takes you past the points of interest such as St John Nepomuk perched on top of a pole, who has a myth behind his omnipotence. Sculptures and statues accompanied by a legend are a Lithuanian feature with fact blurred by time.

The castle is almost entirely re-built after invading Cossacks in 1655 succeeded in doing what was intended to be nigh impossible. But it manages to resonate with history and the objects on display are fascinating – such as the, literally, pots of money dug up by archaeologists containing thousands of coins. But peak season crowds may be a stumbling block to see it all at your own pace. Set in an islet on Lake Galvės, the bridge back has a splendid view of the Kaireme  street, known as 'Small Town' with its wood houses fronted by three windows: one for God, one for Vytautas and one for the owner. Many now are restaurants (Kaireme are said to be a Jewish sect and so businesslike, but maybe it is a recipe for their survival) serving their cuisine and home-made brews which are just as popular with local as foreign visitors.


At the lakeside restaurant Kybynlar, meals start with a sort of pickled salad, followed by unleavened pastry pies containing lamb or chicken with herbs and vegetable similar to a pasty. These dishes are traditionally accompanied by krupnik, a herbal spirit drink with each restaurateur having his own formula. Now numbering around 250, possibly the EU's smallest minority has managed to retain their own language, just, religion (the kanesa is 50 metres away) and culture throughout tumultuous times, which is a testimony to their resilience and adaptability. For example, the guide of the Trakai kanesa, Michal Zajaczkowski, is a decorated Soviet war hero, former insurance man and publisher of the kanesa''s book and still sprightly at 86. Karaites/Kairemes are also known for attaining positions of high office way above their number. It now appears the EU and Lithuanian state may rescue them from the brink again.

Down the former Soviet Union's longest, straightest and flattest motorway is Kaunas, truncated Lithuania’s capital between world wars. This pleasant city, the most ethnic Lithuanian at 93%, on the confluence where the rivers Neris and Nemunas meet, had celebrity thrust on it as Vilnius had been purloined Poland at the time. Naturally there are churches and sculptures aplenty with tales and 'lucky tricks' to improve your life, especially in marriage matters. For a country with a long Roman Catholic tradition, there seems a lot of ways to get hitched by talking, thinking or whispering to a piece of moulded metal or carved stone – usually of an animal. Seems suspiciously superstitious and/or pagan to the outside observer…

Lithuanians appear to like to call it a day about 11pm. Thus the nightlife can seem subdued to a serious party animal. Holidays like Mothers' Day appear to be followed by 24 hours of penance for whatever joy was had – or sins committed. But Kaunas seems to have escaped the worst of the war and Soviet takeover by comparison, though its original castle, like the one in Vilnius is just a symbolic wall section and tower.

The nearby Franciscan monastery (which somehow remained active in Soviet times) church of St George encapsulates what nearly 40 years of Soviet occupation and atheism is capable of. It looks alike a rave party was held there (coincidentally it was a Soviet dance studio), but instead of leaving it as a memorial warning to future generations, millions are to be spent renovating it although only 12 monks remain, one of whom sits there every day as a silent sentinel.

The Curonian Spit over the channel from the country's only port, Klaipeda, is for the get-away-from-it-all set. A long finger of land emanating from nowadays Kaliningrad (formerly Danzig), it has an amazing variety of wildlife (but bereft of the social kind) and geography that goes from desert dunes to dense boggy forest. Plus it has a border with Russia halfway along which can be viewed from the nearby dune peak,  the Spit's highest point at 63m.  

It's always attracted holidaymakers, especially the German intelligentsia between the wars who set up their headquarters at the Hotel Hermann Blode. German Nobel Laureate, the writer Thomas Mann, after spending a summer there as a hotel guest, built a holiday home in typical style and spent three summers there 1930-1932. Now a museum, it has the local characteristic: all the window frames are painted blue in the belief that this keeps insects away in summer. The local cuisine includes crow meat, if ordered in advance for those with adventurous palates.


Apart from this ‘delicacy’, the Lithuanian recipe book contains a few surprises for those who have faced the daunting dishes of Slavic cooking. Cepilinai (Zeppelins) are the dumplings that many countries in the region so revere from the good old farmhouse days. Tastier than those produced in neighbouring countries, it still looks many mouthfuls too much and finishing one (never mind two which may stare up at you) should be seen as an achievement of heroic gourmand, if not gourmet, proportions.

The cold beetroot cream soup and hot potato is a type of north European gazpacho. Fish dishes too are on the lighter side, but meat, and Lithuanians are as carnivorous as anyone, may remain cloaked in heavyweight sauces surrounded by fried potatoes. But the joy of Lithuania is its beer. For the connoisseur the offering ranges from light to heavy in appearance, volume, calories and effect. But all seem to have the common characteristic of freshness, liveliness and taste. There’s even a ‘Beer Road’ tour for aficionados to go from one brewery to the next.

An international accolade came when Vilnius was designated European Capital of Culture 2009, one which the city fathers and state alike will spare no effort to make a huge spectacle to put their city and country on display. The people themselves will be as welcoming as they have historically been, who are remarkably accommodating to those who have rudely been in charge, but nowadays can breathe a little more freely.

Outside Finland Travel

Athens seductive off-season anarchy

Since the idea of the Olympics going home for the modern games centenary in 1996 was mooted, the Greek government started spending to update its infrastructure. However, the plan flopped as the games only took place in their historical home in 2004 – just as well, as Athens was no where near ready to host them eight years before.

The extra time was needed, as the Greek psyche (just one of many Greek words English purloined*) is not about unnecessary rush, which excludes the traffic of course. But the capital city appears to work sometimes in spite of its citizens. This is an attraction and one of many undersold by the hydra-headed promotional bodies.


The introduction however is one of serene efficiency. The new, hugely expensive airport is gleaming, AC-cool, spacious and quiet. Sleek trains, easily the quickest and cheapest mode, smoothly whisk passengers into the centre with each station announced in Greek and English aided by route maps above each door for the deaf. Paradise* compared to London.

However, once out of this delivery tube, reality hits. At Omonia Square, one of the city’s compass points, there is a flashback to the old days. Run down, crumbling, littered with rubbish and people lounging around smoking or snoozing. The cacophony* of traffic noise is constant, with little notice paid to rules and regulations. Cars are parked anywhere and everywhere – including pedestrian crossings. Motorbikes do not feel the need to stop for red lights or pedestrians, so it's miraculous vehicles do. Helmets are obviously not compulsory, or if they are the law’s as fickle as its enforcement.

Attractively a city of few skyscrapers, but that’s probably more down to earthquakes than any vision of the authorities as architectural harmony appears not a priority. Styles from preceding decades rub shoulders with those from other centuries or even eras. A 1000-year-old Byzantine church, Kapnikarea, had swishy Ermou shopping street built around while modern hotels housed in classic buildings are surrounded by 1960s mass residential projects (Art Hotel Athens on Marni street).

But although this may grate the eye, the overall impression of Athens is still positive. By all means do the must-see sights: the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, the 1896 Olympics Panathinaiko Stadium, the re-built Roman Agora and Likavitos and Philapappou hills. The variety of religious places of worship reflects Athens history covering ancient to modern gods. Unfortunately a spiky network of scaffolding covers many as preservation projects seem destined to go for as long athey have existed.

And be warned: sightseeing in Athens is not for weak or faint-lunged. Despite the excellent cheap public transport (subway, suburban or light rail takes precedent over the trolley, bus and taxi for speed and reliability), the only way to the Acropolis, Philipappou and Likivitos hilltops is on foot. The funicular railway to the latter is often closed.

The rewards for hoofing it up these slopes are good to spectacular. The panorama from Likavitos fits the latter description not only to look down from Athens highest point, but also for the Ayios Georgios church atop and terrace cafés there after walking the wood-lined meandering way plus the open-air eponymous* (another Greek word) theatre.

At the top of Philipappou hill, after wandering on a circuitous cobbled road specially laid in the 1950s that passes the Pnyx, Ayios Demetrios church and Doras Startou theatre, there’s the disappointing 2nd century BC monument to Gaius Julius Antiochus known as Philippapos or ‘beloved grandchild’. But in late afternoon it is the spot to see the gentle sunset alight on the Acropolis and Piraeus port in the opposite direction.

Conveniently a return route goes through the suburbs of Makrigiani on Dionissou Areopagitou to the Plaka, the old city quarter, which is a magnet for tourists and all the cheap tat that goes with it. Saunter along Adrianou for a trip down kitsch lane. Around Monistaraki metro station, unfortunately a building site for the foreseeable future, Athenians gather en masse for Sunday’s antique market or to sit in the sun at the many cafés, bistros and restaurants doing what they love most: eating, drinking, talking and smoking – preferably all at once. Meals at tavernas around here are cheap as beer, ouzo and wine cost about €2.50 with meals at €2-9 for a plate of souvlaki or Greek salad.


Athens is not for the politically correct brigade, especially those who find the legal weed a threat to personal and public health or the global environment in general. As democracy* (Greek for 'rule of the people') was born here, it’s fitting that smoking is everywhere and the ubiquitous clouds around and stubs underfoot are evidence of widespread enthusiastic participation.

But in summer when cloaked in an industrial smog, it seems a spurious point anyway, which is why visiting there off-peak i.e. outside summer, is best. For the visitor who goes there in the 'winter' months, there's the magnetic combination of low tourists numbers, hotel rates, insects, balmy temperatures (about 20°C) covered by a gentle blue sky.

So it's only just that near the city are other attractions for the mildly adventurous. The small port of Rafina on the east coast has nothing to recommend it except outstanding seafood restaurants arranged in a small curve near its ‘dock’. It’s a good idea though if you write down your own ‘bill’ as the waiters can sometimes be so rushed and confused, they can ‘overcharge’ – accidentally of course!

In similar fashion, the destinations from Piraeus are like a panoply* (yep, another Greek one) of island jewels awaiting your choice. The nearest are in the Saronic Gulf, although you can voyage as far as Crete and farther if desired. Salamina, Aegina, Angistri, Hydra, Poros and Spetses can be reached by fast craft or ferry in just a few hours. In addition there is the 'Athens One Day Cruise' on classic cruise ships e.g. MV Giorgos, that stop at three islands in 12 hours.

Aegina and Poros offer different delights off-season. The former has the traditional busy semi-circle of cafes and shops overlooking the small harbour plus some splendid churches to visit. Poros, within 300m of the mainland town of Galatas, has a calm waterfront where vessels call in before continuing on in the narrow channel to other islands. Busy in summer, it’s charmingly deserted the rest of the year with its quaint whitewashed alleys, houses and clock tower. A hired bike ride to the 18th Century Zoodochos Pigi Holy Monastery and Love Bay in the opposite direction suffice to see most of what there is.

Rooms and flats are available for €30 a night, but nightlife is for those who like it on the quiet side. As in all of Greece, the obligatory market, square, cafés, small restaurants, bakeries and confectioneries are in place. Speed is not the essence of life and contrasts with the, albeit lovable, chaos* (a Greek word) of Athens. The early morning or evening voyage offers fabulous photo opportunities to and from Piraeus for romantics and enthusiasts alike.

It is strange but perhaps in keeping with the Greek persona* (Latin unfortunately) that the best attractions are oversold (such as the ancient sites), thus attracting the hordes, while others are under-promoted or ignored, such as Monastariki and outside Athens beauty spots. Oh well, a glass of ouzo, a plate of seafood and toasted bread sprinkled with olive oil will sort that out. Eventually. 

*English has absorbed many Greek words. However, it is not particularly well known that some have migrated to the modern vocabulary via Latin. Academy is a fine example. It was a suburb of Athens named after the hero Academos (or Ecademos) and was the location of one of the three celebrated gymnasiums (a Greek word often thought top be of Latin origin). Plato established his school of philosophy here, after being taught by Socrates, with Aristotle one of its graduates. In addition his platonic love was meant to be deep, though non-physical. It appears to be far more popular in theory than practice.