Category Archives: Travel

Latvia & Estonia

This has been a long time coming — we took this trip back in September 2016! But, as they say, it’s here now — for posterity, if nothing else.

Parnu

This small beach town, located on Estonia’s southern coast, is windswept even in the summer. if you’re looking for crystal clear, warm waters to swim in, go to the Caribbean. Like most European beaches, the water here is freezing in August. Bonus: we arrived on a cool, rainy day unworthy of inspiring beach confidence, but odds are slim of a relaxing dip even on a sweltering Estonian day. The good thing going for our particular hotel (Rannus Hotel) was the long stretch of waist-deep water almost half a kilometre in from shore. Much fun for kids without parents’ fear of losing them to the cavernous ocean.

The town itself has a laid-back feel to it, and we were lucky to arrive on the day of the town festival, a carnival like atmosphere brimming with festivities. We seemed to be a peculiar sight in this small town, though. Many a backward glances, curious stares, maybe even suspicious sideeyes thrown our way. Maybe the locals aren’t used to tourists and are wary of any strangers? It did seem to not have any racial diversity from what we could make out — made for some definitel discomfort on our part, unfortunately. Our trying to decipher whether a burger offered by a street vendor was vegetarian by looking up its toppings on Google Translate probably didn’t help matters.

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Burger puzzle (top left), hanging shoes, desolate sea, biking alternative

On to Tallin.

The capital of Estonia, about 2 hours’ drive north of Parnu, Tallinn’s old town is a beautiful medieval area quite authentically preserved, Wrapped around a vibrant square, populated by quaint little souvenir shops bored into ancient walls, the old town is a tourist’s delight. Amble about leisurely amidst period clapboard neighbourhoods, stop to admire the knit market, have the kids run around in plenty of dotted green spaces; Tallinn is a pleasant 2-day stay with a free, bohemian feel to it.

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Sigulda

Contrary to my earlier perception, Estonia is still largely rural. And flat. The 4-hour drive from Tallinn to Sigulda is a study n stretches of redwood forests, flatlands and isolated homesteads. No stark vistas like Iceland or stunning scenery like Norway, but it has its quiet charm. Also, even roadside/gas station coffee is good!

Nothing much to do in Sigulda itself, but the Tarzan Adventure Park is great if travelling with kiddos. It’s mostly empty off-season and has amazing ziplines, challenging obstacle courses, archery etc, easily a half- to full-day fun. We, again, arrived on a rainy morning but at least it was staffed and our two had the run of the place.

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Riga

What a bustling city Riga is. It feels like a young Milan or a bubbly Paris, without the baggage. Hip metrosexuals haunt its pubs and cafes; smart, young parents take their snazzily-dressed kids out to play in the day and then haunt those pubs themselves come evening. The best decision we made was the rent bike for the day and just cycle the city, taking in its sights and stopping wherever the mood struck. Even my usually moody and travel-jaded kids loved it and still talk about our “bike-trip Riga” trip.

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Dining-wise, even though we couldn’t sample much of the meat-heavy local cuisine, pizzerias and cafes that serve delicious bread and coffee abound, so being vegetarian in this region is really no problem. Big cities like Tallinn and Riga have quite a lot of ethnic options as well such as Indian, Thai etc.

Croatia 2016

We’d excitedly planned an adventure weekend in Croatia in the spring way back in November. We were going to white water raft! Zipline in the lush Croatian highlands! Hike the trails in Plitvice National Park, a Unesco heritage natural site!

None of which actually happened. Over 4 days over the May long weekend, we were completely rained out of any such adventurous activities. Instead of rafting, we hung out at deserted squares in Split.

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Instead of zip lining, we huddled under cafes with awnings to escape the rain (with a hot coffee for a perk — incidentally, it is almost impossible to find bad coffee in Croatia, it seems. We didn’t have a single coffee-machine-bland-water sip in all 4 days. So, all was good on that count.)

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Instead of hiking trails in Plitvice, we hiked 50m from our car to the nearest viewpoint to take a picture, just so we would remember that we did drive 200 miles to get to it.

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(If you concentrate all your mental/visual attention on the view through the left railing, you will see a blurry waterfall which, on a sunny day, is only a harbinger for what lies ahead. For us, this was the entirety of our Unesco experience.)

We did catch a break about 20% of the time though. The skies cleared for enough time in Split for us to stroll its gorgeous harbour and its famed Green Market for a couple of hours.

From fresh fruits and veggies to delicious nuts for snacking to souvenir tees, the Green Market houses many fun treasures along centuries-old buildings. There’s nothing quite like visiting a local haunt to gather the soul of a city. This is why we travel.

The rain also held off for our tour of the Krka National park, the second of Croatia’s 8. Lifted right out of an enchanted wood, the trails meander through fish ponds abundant with stationary silvers waiting for their next meal, through waterfalls large and little eroding their rocks to a shiny gloss, through towering trees atwitter with chirps and flaps.

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Unlike Split, Zagreb is built around business and industry rather than tourism. Its central square is by no means ugly, but it hasn’t the charm of Split. Although, the candy shop sold the most delicious truffles and, like always, the coffee was refreshing. The main attraction is the Lotrscak Tower atop the hill (Upper town) that is accessed off the main square via a 30 second funicular train ride up, the shortest of its kind on the world. The tower strikes noon every day with a cannon shot cheered by many. It’s a nice spot to spend a couple hours: see Zagreb’s most photographed church and a couple of interesting museums.

I’ll end with a montage of the kids in their various “travel moods”. Notice the very long faces, especially from the one who shall remain unnamed (:)). Sometimes I wonder what trouble they are having to endure, hopping around the globe, learning through witnessing sights rather than cramming them when all they’d rather be doing is tapping away on an electronic device. Alas. (For them.)

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For the love of clues.

So, what have I been up to lately? Besides enjoying an unseasonably warm winter at home, trips to the mainland, fulfilling chauffeur duties for the kids (oh, what a term it’s been!), I’ve been catching up on some TV and cookie-ing.

Between February being the month of luuurve *eyeroll* and birthdays, cookie making has acquired a life of its own.

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I called this one “Be(ak) Mine” and was quite proud of it. The design idea and colour palette came off a card and I used some new techniques (for me) while icing. So that was fun.

The collection had a “bunch” of other designs as well.

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(Sorry, I went overboard with the colour edit here.)

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It was quite a cute little collection in the end — one I thoroughly enjoyed creating.

Then there was V’s 10th birthday. He requested Minecraft themed cookies (one eyeroll isn’t enough for this one). On the surface it was a reasonable request, one that I even eagerly approached. Don’t they say something about fools and optimism? It was one of my hardest collections to create.

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All that pixelated goodness? Yeah, not simple to execute on a cookie. Not at all. Here’s my version.

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It was fine for a bunch of boys whose parents didn’t pay any money to buy these but as a professional outcome, not so much.

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This was the whole collection. If you know anything about Minecraft, specifically Minecraft Youtubers, you’ll know what all this is. If you don’t, quick, plug your ears and sing la la la. If your kid’s not into this wretched game, count yourself very very lucky.

In other news…

I’ve recently acquired an obsession with the show Sherlock on BBC. The cast is perfect and the show itself is so well-made, I’m not ashamed of it. If you haven’t watched it, I’d sincerely urge you to. You won’t regret it. Since I’m unbelievably living in a place that I have access to the show’s filming locations, original context, etc., I’ve been doing some exploring of my own.

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This monument to the great sleuth is outside the Baker Street tube station. Sorry for the picture quality since even an iPhone can’t compare to an expensive DSLR.

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This is the outside of the actual street (North Gower) that substitutes for Baker Street in the show. The black door on the left (187 N. Gower) is the famous 221B of BBC Sherlock. I ate lunch in Speedy’s, a formerly unassuming cafe that is apparently now a worldwide sensation and thronged with tourist fans during the summer (I’m hardly one to talk though!).

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I love going into London and just exploring all it has to offer. I’m loving every minute of this can you tell? 🙂