Travels with Carlie – 5 Places to Visit in Latvia

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It was 2015 and I had never been to Europe. My international travel experiences to that point included a cruise to the Caribbean, Jamaica, a cruise of the Panama Canal, Canada and a cruise to Bermuda. You may be thinking – “That’s a lot of cruises!”. To which I respond- “Get Out”. I don’t need that kind of negative thinking in my life. But in all honesty, yes, I was ready to take a break from cruises, despite how fantastic I think they are, and venture to somewhere a little more east and not on a continent that ends in America. Europe here I come!

Europe. I know what you’re thinking. London! Paris! Venice! There are endless options of cities and countries to visit in Europe, and I cannot wait to visit them all, but I would not begin my travels at any of these popular tourist destinations. Allow me to enlighten you on the great country of Latvia. Latvi-what? Latvia. This is the country you never knew you have to visit and I will share just five places and things you can do while you are there.

  1. Riga- Riga is the capital of the country and a very beautiful city. There is the old city you can walk around with it’s historic buildings and beautiful architecture. You can venture over to the market and experience all the culture, foods, and….smells (the fish building). I highly recommend taking a free walking tour to learn about the history and culture from a local university student.You will see Freedom Monument, St. Peter’s Church, the National Opera, the list goes on and on. All of this information can be found on Trip Advisor. And before you leave the city, stop by the Radisson Blu Hotel, take the elevator up the the Skyline Bar and enjoy a delicious hot chocolate while you enjoy the gorgeous views unparalleled to anywhere else in the city. 
  2. Liepaja- On the western part of the country is a beach city named Liepaja. Since I was there in the winter, I didn’t get to swim, however it was still beautiful. You can find tons of amber and there is swimming in the warmer months.
  3. Bauskas- Did someone say castles? Get away from the cities and drive south of Riga to Bauska. Here you will find the gorgeous castle Bauskas Castle. And just a short drive away is Rundale Palace. Prepare yourself to wear some nifty plastic booties over your shoes and take a bajillion photos.
  4. Jekabpils- Now let’s venture over to the eastern part of the country to Jekabpils. If you didn’t know, Europeans love spas. Jekabpils has a wonderful little spa with multiple pools, saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs. Prepare to relax and enjoy being in a completely new country that few take the time to travel and experience.
  5. Cesis & Sigulda- These two towns are near each other and you really shouldn’t miss either one. Cesis castle is absolutely amazing. Sigulda also has a beautiful castle, and you can see Turaida castle from the back of Sigulda Castle, so double win! While in Sigulda I also recommend taking the cable car transport over the Gaya river. Even if you just ride it over and then back. The views are breathtaking.

Latvia has been the most memorable trip I have taken. I would argue it was better than any of the cruises I’ve been on, and I looove my cruises. Do yourself a favor and venture over to eastern Europe. You will not be disappointed. And eat at a Lido for me, because if there’s anything better than castles, it’s food.

Carlie writes about travel, weightloss, and military life on her own blog http://www.listfiveblog.com/ Please go read more about her travels and ramblings there!

Iceland: 19 Tips & Tricks

Iceland is so diverse in terms of weather, temperature, and activities that you can’t just pack a basic bag and leave. There is so much thought that goes into planning the perfect Icelandic trip that I wanted to make sure I was spreading the knowledge as best I can. Our trip was amazing and I want to share my tips and tricks with you in hopes I can make your trip just a little bit better!

  1. Stay in a hostel or AirBnb that will allow you access to a full kitchen. Eating in Iceland is incredibly expensive so if you are trying to save money, eating in is one of the best ways you can do it. Shop at Bonus (Icelandic grocery store with the creepy pig) for the best deals. The food is still great quality but you are shopping at a discount. We ended up staying in an AirBnB which was so clean, welcoming, and convenient.
  2. Rent a car. Do not rely on day trips or others to drive you all over the country. Renting a car is easy and you are in charge of everything. Gas is expensive so be mindful of the car you are renting. It cost us about $120 USD to fill our 14 gallon tank. We had a Mazda 6 which was great on gas so in our 5.5 days we were in Iceland, we didn’t spend too much money filling up.IMG_2237 2.jpg
  3. Get out of Reykjavik. Spend a day there but the countryside has so much to offer. You have glaciers, geysers, and mountains everywhere. You have national parks with waterfalls and tectonic plates that you can see.
  4. Plan to wear layers everyday. We would start our days early and end them relatively late. It is chilly in the morning and evenings but would often find ourselves getting a little warmer as the day went on. We did go in May so we had 24 hours of sunlight which was helpful when attempting to get all our activities in but would throw us for a loop with the change of temperatures. The top articles of clothing I brought were my North Face hiking boots, my fleece-lined Columbia leggings, my Columbia fleece jacket, my North Face Tomales Bay rain jacket, and my Columbia waterproof pants. Don’t forget wool socks and thermals, especially if you plan on snorkeling in Silfra.13161875_10153364707452574_9063047029956274330_o.jpg
  5. Bring lotion! The air is incredibly dry in Iceland so make sure you pack a bottle of lotion, you WILL need it. I am not one to use lotion on a regular basis and I used it multiple times a day while traveling.
  6. Bring your own reusable water bottle. The tap water is clean & pure. To buy bottled water is relatively expensive. Just fill up before you leave and fill up at different stops along the way. You will save money and drink some of the purest water ever.
  7. Book your excursions in advance. There were a few times when we were so thankful we planned our days out to ensure we could do everything we wanted. Even Blue Lagoon needs to be booked in advance.
  8. Pack your own snacks. We brought about 50 granola bars with us and had maybe 10 left and the end of the trip. They come in handy often. They do add weight to your bag but the more you eat, the more you have room for souvenirs on your return home!
  9. Take a walking tour of Reykjavik. Yes, the city is small but you learn so much by going on a tour. You learn of places to eat, shop, and go. If residing in Reykjavik for more than a day, knowing your way around the quaint city is going to be helpful.
  10. Bring credit and debit cards only. No cash is needed unless you want to tip (which is not required or requested but appreciated). Make sure you know the PIN for your credit cards as some of places (especially gas stations) require a PIN.
  11. With the amount of international transactions you will be making, I highly encourage you to have a credit card that voids international fees.
  12. Gas stations and stores close relatively early so make sure you get your grocery shopping done and the car filled up with gas.
  13. Fill up on gas whenever you can when venturing out of Reykjavik. You never know when you will see another gas station.
  14. Do your research in regards to the season in which you are traveling to Iceland. It could change your mind in the type of car you rent, the clothes you bring, and even your accommodations. You also don’t want to go to Iceland during midnight sun if you want to see the Northern Lights (cause you won’t see them).
  15. Everyone speaks English but it is nice for you to say thank you in the native language. A simple ‘takk’ will do.
  16. Keep in mind you are on an island where cows are not common and you see sheep and water everywhere. Common Icelandic foods include lamb, fish, and seafood. If you are picky, bring your own food or make sure you have a kitchen to cook what you like to eat. You will be able to find burgers but they aren’t common so they don’t taste as good.13161759_10153361500342574_8371216029416906389_o
  17. Go to Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport. It ends your trip in a relaxing manner and allows you to leave Iceland feeling refreshed even after a long active trip. I recommend upgrading to the next package they offer as it  will give you a robe, a towel, and flip flops. There are showers with frosted doors for those a little concerned with being naked in front of other women. It is extremely common and there are other Icelandic people there who will be walking around naked. img_9251
  18. Put conditioner in your hair when showering before you enter the lagoon. Do not rinse it out until you shower off after you have spent your time in the Lagoon. Put it up in a bun or ponytail. This will avoid any part of your hair getting super dry and hay-like because the minerals in the water destroy your hair.
  19. Always travel with an extra SD card. I unfortunately learned this while on my trip but my sister happened to have an extra card! I would have missed about 2.5 days worth of pictures!
  20. You don’t have to try Brennivin. It’s pretty awful and makes you feel like your throat might have a hole in it.
  21. Look up from your camera. Take the time to take a picture or two but no matter what you do, the picture will never look like the real deal. Just enjoy it. Take a deep breath and be thankful that you get to experience so beautiful.img_5766

I am sure with each trip to Iceland one would learn something new. How to do something better, what to avoid for future trips. The thing is, all we have is now. Enjoy your trip to Iceland!

All the Feels of Traveling

I often find myself dreaming of my next adventure and most times even the adventure after that. I come up with a million different places I want to visit and in an instant can back up my idea with a million reasons why I want to go. 

The culture. The people. The food. The natural beauty. The landmarks. The language. The unknown. The smell. The shops. The atmosphere. 

Traveling is so much more than that though. It’s the planning of each adventure. From the flights, to the accommodations, to the excursions. Even where you are going to eat and mapping your day-to-day down to the hour. It’s so exciting and you learn so much about your passion for travel through the simple act of just planning. 

After all of that is done, it’s the anticipation. Knowing you just spent so much time carefully choosing your flights and making sure you can do everything you want within your budget. It’s knowing you just planned the trip of a lifetime and having to wait months before it actually happens. 

Then you have the stress of packing. Making sure you have everything you need but also making sure you are not over packing. You end up over packing anyway and ripping through your suitcase and having a life or death conversation with each article of clothing or accessory. Making sure your bag is not overweight is really that breaking moment, especially when packing the night before. 

Then, it’s the day of departure and you’re an anxious mess. Worrying you forgot something and checking for your passport and camera a million times before leaving the house. If you’re like me, coming up with a million scenarios why you might miss your flight and causing yourself to pretty much have an anxiety attack. 

Getting on the plane and realizing you are finally embarking on the adventure you had spent hours, even days planning is actually happening. Excitement and happiness flood your body.

And the best part of it all, actually exploring your destination. Experiencing all those feelings that makes you want to travel forever. Feeling like you found your place in the world when you’re in a place that is brand new. All the stress from your everyday life is lifted and replaced with a sense of peace. A sense of wanderlust.

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

I flew for the first time in over a month today and I realized something; there is no better high than knowing you are getting on this gigantic thing with wings to go somewhere different. 

You are escaping your normal, everyday routine to go someplace else. 

I get this anxious, excited, nervous feeling every time I step foot on an airplane. It’s just the thought of this thing bringing me thousands of feet in the air, above the clouds, above the world.

There is no other excitement that trumps this feeling, at least not yet. Maybe as my life goes on I will discover that this feeling cannot be replicated or replaced. 

Do you ever feel this way? 

P.S. Here is a photo I took while waiting for my plane to take off and head to Washington DC. I just felt a sense of peace and understanding.

  

 

Friends in All Places

I am a planner. I love to experience new things and meet new people (if that is not obvious with the fact that I have a travel blog). If someone asks for a little help, I like to that ask and turn it into something so much bigger. 

I’m part of an all-women travel group on Facebook and it’s incredible. There is such a wide range of travel-related topics and it really has so much to offer. 

Whether it’s advice from locals, general travel advice, or city meet-ups.

I had the privledge of meeting up with two girls (I have never met before) from the group and it was so much fun. In a way, we all stepped out of our comfort zones and just jumped right in to meet each other.

It started with one of girls (who is from San Francisco and in Boston with her husband who is on business) posting on the group wall looking for ideas and even a mini get-together during her visit. I had free time and thought…why not? 

We met at Drink in the Seaport District in Boston and talked for 2 hours over tasty drinks. It was really nice to be able to not only talk about life but to talk about the common love and passion for travel. 

So, thank you ladies! I had a blast! 

  
The point of this post is not to talk about the friends I am meeting through thisFacebook  group but just to remind all of you that by stepping out of your comfort zone, so much greatness can happen. You can meet a new friend, you can learn about a new city, you can give and take advice. 

Don’t be afraid to create a little more sunshine in your life by surrounding yourself with people who love something just as much as you do. 

Also, just a Boston tip:

A great place to go with ANYONE is Drink. It’s a small bar located on Congress St where you can’t order typical cocktails but they give you drinks based on a liquor or taste you are looking for. The atmosphere is fantastic and the staff is witty and pretty incredible. Just be warned, the wait can be tough, especially on a Friday. Also, the drinks range from $12-$15 so just be prepared! 

Xoxo,

Amy

Never Stop Traveling…Ever

I woke up Tuesday morning to a text from a co-worker telling me about the attacks on Brussels. At that point in time it was still unraveling and the death and injury count was continuing to climb. I first felt saddened and then I felt angry.

It’s not just Belgium that is being threatened and attacked, it’s all over the globe. You have Paris, the Ivory Coast, Turkey, Beirut, Baghdad, California…the list could go on forever. The entire world is living in a constant state of fear thinking, “Who is next? Will I be a victim of one of these attacks?”

With these questions comes the question that I want to touch on: “Should I be traveling with everything that is going on?” 

Let me answer that question for you…YES!

These attacks can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. Every time they occur, we feel a sense of concern and sadness for the victims of these events. We question how do the families deal with this type of situation? What did these people do to deserve this? How could people be so cruel in a world that is naturally beautiful and so full of hope and wonder? When all of that concern goes away, another feeling or two kicks in; fear and anger.

We fear that we may potentially be in harm’s way due to recent events and have an instinct to just stay in our house. We fear that if we do anything out of the ordinary, we can be killed because we just happened to be enjoying the one life we have to live. We worry about our safety to the point where stepping out of the house is a risk.

For people like myself, I feel the fear but I also feel the anger. What motivates people to think its okay to take the lives of innocent and vulnerable people? What makes your life so awful that you attack cities for attention?

Traveling is one of the brightest lights in my life. It exposes me to everything new. I feel if people traveled more, there would not be so much hate. Each culture and country has their differences but we are all human. If we took a moment to really experience and absorb the differences in the world, there would be a bigger sense of understanding and equality.

Being so involved in the travel industry (I work for a tour operator based in Boston), I see the thought processes of all types of travelers. The adventurous ones, the scared ones, the cranky ones, the thankful ones. You name it, I have talked to them. What surprises me most is when people cancel the trip of a lifetime due to terrorism. By not traveling, you are letting the terrorists win. They want you to be afraid. They want you to stay home. They are looking for the power that you give them. I am not saying you are wrong for being fearful but do not let that stop you from living the life that you dream of. Keep your head up and your eyes open. The media will do everything in their power to make a bad story even worse. You need to follow your instincts. Do not ignore travel warning, we aware of them. Most importantly, do not just hop on a plane because you feel like it. Do your research. Read the news but take it lightly. Use locals as a resource and talk to them!

While there is so much hate and violence in this world, just think of all the greatness and love that is also present. Think of feelings you get when you step off the plane in a city you have never been or a place you love. It is one of the greatest feelings of all time. A feeling of wanderlust. There are people in every inch of this world who want to do, be, and see great things. Just think about the people who have helped you through your journeys whether it’s giving you a place to stay or directions to a great cafe. Think about the friends you have made in the places you have visited. At the local pubs, on the streets, even on the subway. These people allow us to really experience what it is we live for.

Those people and those experiences is why we cannot stop traveling. Do not let them win. Live out your dreams as we are only given one life. You do not know what tomorrow will bring so live your life the way you WANT to, not the way you are expected to. We need to continue to meet new people and experience their cultures and lifestyles.

My goal is to continue to understand other cultures as much as possible. In a way, it is kind of like a responsibility more than a hobby to know the world we are apart of. It is evident in everyday life there are so many different cultures throughout the world and the only way to understand them is to be curious and adventurous. To get on that plane and just go. To have the patience to interact with the locals, to be open-minded, and to be there for those that are there for us.

Traveling is the only way for us to really understand the world we live in. We cannot live in fear or the world will never change. Be cautious but if you have a dream, just live it. Do not cancel your flights, your train, your rental car. You would rather live a life full of excitement, fear, and learning experiences than not live at all. In a world full of hatred, find love, compassion, and kindness. Those things go a long way when reflecting on your travels. They are the things you remember most. Traveling right now, in this moment in time, may be one of the most important life decisions you will ever make.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -Anonymous

xoxo,

Amy