Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Exploring Norway: Winter Photo Workshop in the Lofoten Islands

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White on white landscape in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

I’m currently in the middle of a week long photo workshop in Norway’s Lofoten Islands. I visited this spot back in October and truly loved it. It’s a winter wonderland in late February. I wanted to share this cloud lapse video I made so you could get a sense of the beauty of this special Scandinavian spot.

Arctic Cloud Lapse 

I booked this week long photo workshop through Iceland Photo Tours, a company I had a great experience with in 2015. This tour is being led by Stian Klo, a Norwegian native who has major photo game. Photographer Shane Wheel is also helping with this workshop.

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This landscape was the inspiration for the movie Frozen

I am definitely outside my comfort zone with extra gear, parkas, and toting multiple tripods. We’ll see if my photos come out great.

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Snowy marina in Reine

I’ll cover the tour in depth in future posts.

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Happy little clouds in Norway

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Exploring the Baltics: Weekend in Vilnius, Lithuania

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager for this blog, recently returned from a weekend getaway to Vilnius, Lithuania. Her photographs made me curious to know more about this Baltic capital. I asked her to write this guest post about this gorgeous European city.- Jen 

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The Cathedral Square in Vilnius

Normally when people hear the words “winter getaway” they imagine some place warm, sunny, with white sand under your feet and calm ocean breeze touching your cheek in the morning. But for some of us travelers, winter is the best time to go North. You see, most of the countries here in Europe show their true character only in winter. This time I went to Vilnius, to see, to eat and to freeze 🙂

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Pilies Street

Lithuania is a young country with an old history. It regained independence in 1990, but the history of Lithuanian kings go back to the 13th century, and once was one of the largest countries in Europe. It included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. The best way to see and touch that history is to explore the Old Town of Vilnius, one of the largest medieval sites in Europe. Let’s start the walk!

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A view from the steps of Town Hall

Cathedral square is the heart of the city, and also a good point to start a walk through the Old City. It looked completely white on a cold winter day, and I loved minimalistic neoclassical architecture of  Cathedral. Don’t miss checking it out inside – the place looks  like a museum with more than forty frescoes and paintings from the 16th through 19th centuries on it’s walls. Here’s an interesting factoid-  it is believed the pagan temple was located at the same place long before the white walls and liturgies.

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Statue of St. Mark on Vilnius Cathedral

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Facade of the Vilnius Cathedral

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Inside the cathedral

Gediminas’ Hill and the Tower located right near the cathedral. The way on top looks harder that it is (tip, you can use a funicular!), and the tower itself despite looking very old was actually rebuilt in 1930. The origin legend of the tower (and the city) is rather fascinating.

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Gediminas’ Tower

The story goes that Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas was hunting in the woods, and spent the night on the hill. He dreamt about a large iron wolf howling loudly. He went to magician for explanation of his dream, and was told that this was an omen telling the Duke to build a city in this place, which would become the capital of Lithuania. So Gediminas built the city named Vilnius after the nearby river Vilnia, and a castle in the center of it.

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A walk through the Old City

The second you get to an old city you also notice another thing – Vilnius is a city of churches. There are 28 churches in Vilnius Old Town (21 are Roman Catholic and 4 are Russian Orthodox) with their spikes and crosses popping up all around.

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Facades of the St Ann and the St Francis of Assisi churches

Aside from Cathedral, one of the most exquisite and elegant catholic churches is a red-brick St Anne’s Church (paired with the larger St Bernardine’s Church) to the east of Pilies gatvė.

To get up close with Orthodox Christianity, you can visit St. Nicolas church (one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox churches in Vilnius) built in Neo-Byzantine style.

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Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church

South of the Pilies street is the quirky Užupis neighbourhood, also called Republic. The name Užupis means “the other side of the river”, it is separated from the Old Town by the Vilnia River, and on the second side there are steep hills. The place was a home to an artistic crowd for quite a long time (as the rent was much cheaper) and on April Fool’s Day in 1997, the city’s bohemian quarter declared itself an independent Republic. Užupis holds feasts, fireworks shows and open-air art exhibitions.

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Funky inhabitant of The Republic of Užupis

It even has it’s own constitution, which includes such rights as:

Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.

Everyone has the right to cry.

A dog has the right to be a dog.

The constitution is written in 23 languages and can be found on a wall on Paupio street in the area.

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Street bookshelf in Uzupis

Vilnius is small, so the best way to explore it is on your foot. Unfortunately, winter wasn’t the best time for walking,  so I didn’t get to see it all. But I promise to go back in summer, everybody says the city is completely green and the weather is very lovely.

Sightseeing is a good thing, but may require some additional calories, so here is the list of some useful places to stop by and fuel up:

To kick-start the long day of walking, go for a coffee and quick bite to Taste Map Coffee Roasters or Kavos Era. The coffee is simply great!

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Very straightforward sugar sachet at Taste Map Coffee Roasters

For a nice modern European lunch stop by Comfort Hotel LT, and check out the best hotel restaurant in Lithuania – Time Restaurant. It was started by Egidijus Lapinskas, rated as one of the best chefs in Lithuania, and sommelier Arminas Darasevcicius. They serve new seasonal lunch and dinner menus every day and the food is delicious. Make sure to score reservation ahead, the place is always busy.

Seafood and Salmon Salad at Time restaurant

To check out the local specialty visit Forto Dvaras, located in the heart of an Old City(zeppelins are weird and interesting, but don’t try to order more than one per person, too fulfilling!), and for late night dinner Bukowski Baras is the place to be. Hip interior, mixed crowd of locals and tourist plus tastiest hot-dogs in town and craft beer!

How to get there:

The most convenient way to get to Vilnius is by plane. Vilnius International Airport is only 4 miles away from the city center, and has flights from New York, London, and major European cities including Paris, Rome, Moscow, Vienna, Istanbul, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Oslo, Stockholm, Barcelona, Riga, Tallinn, Minsk, and Brussels.

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Exploring Venice, Italy: Lunch on the Island of Burano at Trattoria da Romano

 

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Charming interior of Trattoria da Romano

If you’re looking for things to do in Venice, Italy taking a day trip to one of the nearby islands is a must. The colorful island of Burano, known for it’s brightly painted houses and fine lace is an excellent choice.

Burano has a few well regarded restaurants, making it a great destination for lunch time excursion.

The only way to reach Burano is by boat. I traveled with friends on a private water taxi arranged by the concierge at Bauer il Palazzo which got us to Burano in about 35 minutes. Water taxi is very fun way to travel!

Time lapse of water taxi ride from Venice to Burano

We had a fabulous lunch at Trattoria da Romano, which came highly recommended to us by an American who is an Italian scholar and part-time resident. Booking reservations ahead of time is a must.

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Canals and colorful buildings of Burano

Trattoria da Romano makes a world famous risotto which won raves from Anthony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant on an episode of No Reservations.

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Smiling water at Trattoria da Romano

Burano has only 2,800 full time residents, most of whom work in the fishing industry. When you come here, you’re coming for seafood! We ate our meal family style, with sardines and branzino for the table.

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My friends contemplating the menu at Trattoria da Romano

The highlight of the meal was the seafood risotto, which will please any foodie. I am not normally a fan of dishes that include squid ink, but the seafood risotto won me over. I’ve been dreaming about it since tasting it for myself.

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Seafood Risotto at Trattoria da Ramano

We ordered both the Bourdain-approved seafood risotto, as well as the traditional risotto. While not much to look at, both were seriously next level. The seafood risotto was black but not overly so. It was so good, we contemplated ordering another round for the table.

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Sardines for lunch at Trattoria da Romano

The spaghetti with clams was also quite flavorful and perfectly al dente.

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Spaghetti with clams

We also heard great things about Gatto Nero Restaurant, but we did not dine there ourselves.

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Picture of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on the wall at Trattoria da Romano

Be sure to check out the photographs on the wall near the bathrooms at Trattoria da Romano. They are a fascinating look at the history of this family owned restaurant and it’s guests.

Via San Martino Destra 221, Burano – Venezia
Phone 041 730030
Via Giudecca, 88 – 30142 Burano (Venice Italy)
Tel. +39.041.730120

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Exploring Italy: Venice in the Winter

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A gondolier on the Grande Canal in Venice, Italy

I rang in 2017 in Venice, Italy. I’m a huge fan of Italy and usually game to visit. To me, Venice has always seemed like a gorgeous dreamy fantasyland, so beautiful it is almost surreal.

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Gondoliers on one of the canals in Venice 

Italy is always a popular tourist destination and Venice was once described to me as “the original Vegas.” The city’s unique charms have always been a huge draw for tourists. For this reason, I’ve only visited Venice in the winter. It’s still a popular spot, but you don’t have dodge quite so many selfie stick toting tourists.

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Tourists taking selfies on the Rialto Bridge

This trip I stayed at the fantastic Bauer Il Palazzo, which has a great location about five minutes walk from San Marco Square. The suite was old school stunning and very spacious by Venetian standards, with an exceptionally huge bathroom.

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Stunning interiors of the Aman Venice

While the focus of this trip was simply wandering around the city and dining with friends, I did make a trip to the Aman Venice for lunch. It’s a gorgeous property which boasted the only green space I saw in the city.

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Seeing red in a suite at the Bauer il Palazzo

The Aman has a lovely restaurant and bar, and served a great Aperol spritz. Like all Aman properties, it was zen to the point of feeling like you had the whole place to yourself.

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Museum-like interiors of the Aman Venice

It’s a lovely respite from the throngs of tourists, but a bit more off the beaten path and not the right place if you want a “happening” vibe. But I’ll admit… I was dying to see the rooms!

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Spritz o’clock at the Aman Venice

I had a positive experience at the Bauer il Palazzo and would definitely stay there again. I hope I get the chance since Venice is one of those cities I start planning my next trip to before I’ve even left.

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Sunrise on the Grande Canal

If you’re planning a trip to Venice, check with your hotel about arranging a water taxi to meet you at the airport. Uber is not an option in a a city where gondolas and water taxis are the only way to navigate the canals and water ways.

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Dusk at Basilica de la Salute

 

Bauer Il Palazzo Venice

Address: S. Marco, 1459, 30124 Venezia, Italy
Address: Calle Tiepolo Baiamonte, 1364, Palazzo Papadopoli, 30125 Sestiere San Polo, Venezia VE, Italy

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Christmas Market Destination: Wroclaw, Poland

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager of this blog, recently visited the Christmas Market in Wroclaw, Poland. I asked her to write a guest post about it. Enjoy! – Jen 

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Festive Lights at Wrocław Christmas Market

It’s that time of year again! The Christmas Markets have started to pop up all over the Europe (a few of them can be found in US and Canada, and- believe it or not- in Asia!). What started as a good German holiday tradition is now a well-known global phenomenon, and widely celebrated event across the globe.

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Christmas ornaments and bells for sale

According to European lore, the Christmas Markets started long before Germany became a nation. You are likely to find a Christmas Market located everywhere where German is spoken, including Austria, Switzerland, and some areas of France and Poland. German immigrants brought the tradition across the ocean. The festive atmosphere, wooden huts lit up with fairy lights, tasty foods, warming mulled wine, and lovely communal vibe made it a favorite holiday attraction.

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Reindeer at Rynok Square

The biggest markets draw millions of visitors every year, and those in the largest Polish cities became also popular with tourist coming to country in December from all over the world. Wroclaw (Breslau in German) is the fourth largest city in Poland, and the historical capital of Silesia Region in Western Poland. So it’s easy to see why German ancestry found its way to the hearts of locals. In 2016, the city is a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital.

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Salesman sporting moose-like expression

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Hand made goods make great heart-warming gifts! 

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Fairy Wood comes with real fairies!

The major entertainment area is called “Bajkowy Lasek”(Fairy Wood), a place where you can see some Christmas plays for kids, adults can grab a cup of mulled wine, and just embrace the good mood!

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Cup of mulled wine to warm up

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Christmas Lights in Wroclaw

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Classic guests at Christmas Market: Snowmen and Reindeer

It is also a fun and unique way to enjoy your Christmas shopping, and a great alternative to the overcrowded shopping malls!

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Hand crafted ceramics and Christmas Bells

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Mugs and decoupage

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Sweet Gingerbread gifts
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Grilled ‘oscypek’ sheep cheese from the Polish mountains and Lithuanian smoked meats

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Christmas Tree and Bokeh

The Christmas market in Wroclaw is open from November 18 to December 22 in the heart of Wroclaw. Daily hours 10am-9pm

The easiest way to get to Wroclaw is by plane. You can easily fly to Wroclaw’s Copernicus Airport from UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Ukraine.

You can also take a train from Dresden (3.5 hours), Kraków (about 5.5 hours), or Warsaw (6-8 hours) to Wrocław.

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