Colorful Comuna 13 and the Escaleras Electricas

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Not too long ago, Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous cites in the world primarily due to the violence of drug cartels, gangs, and guerrilla warfare. But today, it’s frequently named as one of the most innovative cities in the world thanks to progressive urban planning initiatives and the resilience of its people.

Go back fifteen or twenty years, though, and the city was a far cry from what it is today. Comuna 13, a neighborhood high above Medellin on the valley’s western mountainous slope, is where the majority of the violence and homicides occurred. It was known as the most dangerous neighborhood in the city in its day (albeit most neighborhoods were pretty dangerous back then, I think). But like the city of Medellin as a whole, Comuna 13 has made some tremendous strides and is now home to a plethora of beautiful street art, talented street performers and the famous Escaleras Electricas (escalators) that have allowed residents to more easily ascend and descend the steep streets leading to and from the community.

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You can see the orange-rimmed escaleras to the right

A few days ago, Johnston (a friend from California who’s riding his motobike all the way down to the tip of Argentina and just so happened to be in Medellin the same time I was – small world, right?) and I set out to explore the neighborhood of Comuna 13. We took the metro to San Javier station then boarded a bus that took us to the top of the escalators. Once at the top, we explored the colorful streets filled with exquisite murals, watched street performers take their turns at showing the crowd their breakdancing moves, and sampled snacks from the street food vendors lined up along the sidewalk.

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From there, we descended the 6 escalators that, together, zigzag down the steepest part of the neighborhood. It was quite remarkable, actually, to have such modern conveniences right alongside some of the poorest homes in the city. Like the metro system in Medellin, though, I could tell that the residents are quite proud of these escalators. They’re clean, they’re well maintained, and they have no doubt improved the quality of life for the residents of Comuna 13. If you ever find yourself in Medellin, I highly recommend checking out this incredible neighborhood!

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Skyrock Petroglyphs Photo Gallery

Like the Crowley Lake Columns, I had visited the Skyrock petroglyphs last time I was at my brother’s place in Mammoth Lakes. And because they’re so cool (like the columns) I wanted to return for more pictures and to explore the area further. I tried to find out more information about the petroglyphs, but there is very little detail out there about them other than that they’re really old and they were left by some Native American tribe. The Bishop Paiute Tribe don’t lay claim to them as their own, so the mystery of their origin is unsolved (at least far as I can tell).

The Skyrock and the 13 Moons (photos below) are probably the best known petroglyph sites in the Bishop area, but there are hundreds of other petroglyphs scattered around the volcanic tablelands and beyond. Enjoy the photos!

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2011 In Review

Looking back on 2011, it seems like I was a pretty busy chica, in terms of traveling at least. 13 countries, 7 states (not including the ones I drove through), and too many airports to count. And now I’m back where I started! 2011 began with a four week contract aboard the NG Sea Lion in Costa Rica and Panama and it ended in the midst of another (albeit longer) contract in the same place. I wanted to do a re-cap blog about all the places I visited and wrote about this year, and share some of my favorite moments.

So to begin, after spending two months in Southeast Asia at the end of 2010, I flew straight to Panama to begin working on the Sea Lion for four weeks. Karen, a good family friend, joined me on board for the last week and then we both flew to Mazatlan, Mexico for a relaxing week at the Emerald Bay Resort, thanks to my grandparent’s timeshare.


I then took a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz where I embarked the NG Sea Bird for three weeks. Baja will always be one of my favorite places because I have so many fond memories there – swimming with whale sharks, petting baby gray whales, snorkeling with sea lions, and evening BBQ’s on the beach while the sun sets over the desert. After my three week contract, I spent a week in La Paz at Casa Tuscany and explored the small town and surrounding area. I even got to see La Paz from above!

And then I found myself, once again, on a plane to Costa Rica to do another four week contract on the Sea Lion. I have to say that I was getting a bit tired of the Panama Canal and I hadn’t been home for six months, so I was a little antsy to get of the ships for awhile. After that contract, I returned home (Vermont) for a few weeks before setting off to Seattle to begin our Alaska season up north. The cruise from Seattle to Juneau is one of my favorite voyages and it was a nice change of scenery after being in the the tropical rainforest and desert for the past six months. In Petersburg, I got to go flight seeing over the LeConte Glacier, which was incredible.


I returned to Alaska once more for another contract this past summer, and then I flew straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to visit my brother while he was doing one of his medical school rotations. Jackson is a pretty cool town and I enjoyed getting outside to do some hiking – Amphitheater is awesome! – and I did some yoga at Inversion Yoga. While in Jackson I found out that I had the opportunity to to a 15 day cruise in the Baltic Sea aboard Lindblad’s NG Explorer. Of course I said yes, but had to scramble to get everything together in time.

After leaving Jackson Hole and taking a bus to Salt Lake City (and enduring a twelve hour layover) I then had to suffer through a 12 hour drive from Detroit to Vermont due to Hurricane Irene’s destructive path. Then I had a week at home, before boarding another plane, this one headed to St. Petersburg, Russia, via New York (where I visited some friends) and Paris. The cruise was amazing. We stopped in nine different countries along the Baltic Sea and got to listen to Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa give speeches to Lindblad guests.

After disembarking in Copenhagen, I had a long flight to Indiana where I spent a week with C and his family. Then it was back to VT for two months (!) before jetting down to Florida to spend several days with C and to swim with some manatees. C returned home with me for a visit (he’d never been to Vermont), and we took a few days to explore the woods and take a road trip across the border to Montreal and see Cirque du Soleil, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

After Christmas and almost four months away from the ships (working, at least), it was time to begin another contract. I flew to Newark where I met C and sat in the airport for 6 hours before finally getting on a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica. And now, just as the New Year arrived, we crossed over from Costa Rica into Panama and will begin transiting the canal tonight. What a year! It feels like such whirlwind when I write it down, but I guess I’m used to being on the road so much because it felt like a normal year. I can’t wait to see what new places I’ll find myself in 2012!

Hope everyone had a good New Years. Feliz ano nuevo!

What are your best travel memories from 2011?

New England Wrap Up

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Despite a tight flight connection in Detroit, C and I made it to Vermont without a hitch. After we landed in Burlington, we picked up our rental car and headed out toward my parents house in Underhill, the day’s last sunlight illuminating the snow on Mt. Mansfield before us. We didn’t have much in the way of an agenda for the next 10 days, except for a trip up to Montreal and relaxing in front of the wood stove at home with Butters, my parents’ cat, to provide us with entertainment.

We lucked out with some nice (albeit chilly) weather, and C and I went for a few long walks in the snowy woods. I also showed him around Burlington, took him to Healthy Living and a cozy tea house on Church Street, and helped him buy sturdy hiking/work boots in Johnson. I had planned a two night stay for us in Montreal through Airbnb because C had never been to the French Canadian city, so we set off across the border in our rental Jeep. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and it was cold and rainy the first day we arrived. We also discovered that Cirque Du Soleil was opening their new show “Dralion” the day after we were supposed to leave. So, after a delicious Ethiopian dinner at Le Nil Bleu (if you have never tried Ethiopian, I highly recommend it), we decided that we would spend only one night in the city, return home to VT, and then cross the border again a day later to watch the acrobatic performance. It was a lot of driving, but highly worth it. Cirque De Soleil is amazing! The show opened with a woman performing one-handed handstands atop a 6 foot tall pole. From there, the show didn’t disappoint with acts ranging from trampoline gymnastics, trapeze artists, clowns, tumblers, and the most impressive jump-ropper’s I’ve ever seen. You can watch the preview for the show here. I’ll definitely be going to more Cirque du Soleil shows in the future. Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour anyone?

Just as my visit in Indiana flew by, so did C’s stay in Vermont. Wanting to be with his family for the holidays, he returned to Bloomington for a few days before heading down to Costa Rica and Panama for two months on the Sea Lion (with me). Which is where we are at the moment, stuck in Newark, New Jersey because a pilot called in sick and they can’t find a replacement. Yet. The officials keep saying that they’re working on the situation, but we haven’t heard any progress updates. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we’ll be in San Jose at some point tonight. At least it’s not Detroit.

UPDATE

We’re in San Jose, at last. After spending six hours at gate 102 in Terminal C at the Newark airport, Continental finally found a crew to fly our plane to Costa Rica. I thought for sure that the flight was going to be cancelled and I was on the phone trying to figure out how we were going to get from New Jersey to Central America in time to meet the ship before it set sail toward Panama. Luckily I didn’t have to worry for long because they finally announced that they had cancelled another flight (going who knows where and stranding who knows how many other people) and brought that crew to our plane so we could get to Costa Rica. There were a lot of relieved vacationers and a lot of stressed out parents with impatient kids running in every direction.

Tomorrow we board an early shuttle that will take us to Herradura and the Sea Lion. Two months of sun, surf, and beach!

Back to the Boat and Back to Blogging

Ok, I know, it’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry – about three months, actually – and I’m very sorry about that. In the meantime, though, I have been doing some traveling, but mostly enjoying being home in Vermont before my next big voyage. Which starts in approximately 8 hours. I’ll try to catch up on my whereabouts and achievements a bit, at least as much as I can remember!

After I returned from my 15 day Baltic Sea extravaganza way back in September, I flew straight to Indiana to visit my boyfriend, C, and his parents who live in Bloomington. As you know, I love exploring new places, and Indiana was new territory so I was very excited to see what it has to offer. We went to the annual Lotus Festival, a world music and arts celebration that draws artists from all over the world. We saw several great bands including gypsy singers from Dikanda, Nordic fiddle-driven performers from Frigg, the Chinese-inspired Orchid Ensemble, and my favorite, witty singer and songwriter Abigail Washburn. We also witnessed an ethereal performance by an Australian performing arts group aptly called Strange Fruit. Three women dressed in brassy Victorian dresses stood a top tall poles and “danced” together by using their weight to bend the poles back and forth in wide, sweeping arcs. While the poles were swaying, they would twist their bodies and spin in dizzying circles high above our heads. It was dark out and the women were illuminated by bright lights, making them look like they were suspended in the air. It was beautiful and rather eerie at the same time.

C and I also took an afternoon to go horseback riding at a nearby stable. We lucked out with a beautiful day and even though there were two other riders who weren’t as experienced (the poor girl started screaming when her horse broke into a trot), our guide let us canter on the flat straightaways. I miss having horses around, so it was great to get back on one again. The next day was beautiful as well, so C and I loaded up the canoe in the back of his dad’s truck and drove to a small lake (I’m forgetting the name) and paddled around for several hours. The wildlife didn’t compare to Alaska, but we did see some ducks and turtles sunbathing on fallen logs. My visit with C and his family seemed to fly by and before I knew it, it was time to get back on a plane (my 11th in the span of two months!). Indiana is a nice state, if somewhat flatter than Vermont, but I have to say the weather is more my style!

Back in VT, I had three months before I needed to be back on the boat in Costa Rica. I had previously worked at a amazing local health food store – Healthy Living – and they were kind enough to hire me for a short period of time (probably because that time incorporated Thanksgiving and Christmas, two of their busiest holidays). Anyway, I met some great people, ate some good food, and probably spent as much as I had earned. Part of that “pocket money” went to a short three-day trip to Florida to meet C and swim with some ugly-but-adorable manatees. When I was flying home from Indiana, I volunteered to get bumped in Detroit (aka the worst airport ever). As a reward, I got a $400 dollar flight voucher, which paid for my round-trip flight to Florida as well as C’s flight back to Vermont with me.

When I landed at the Fort Meyer’s airport, C was there with a rental car and we sped north toward Crystal River, home of several hundred manatees. Manatees are endangered species and there are only 3,000 4,000 left in the United States, almost all of them in Florida.  We rented a Jon boat, wetsuits, and snorkeling gear from a local tour operator and slowly motored out in search of the slow-moving water mammals. The whole manatee protective area in Crystal River is rather strange because there are houses lining the shore and private boats clogging the narrow waterways. If we want to save the manatees I think we can afford to offer them a bit more in terms of protection. In any case, C and I dropped the anchor at the entrance of a protected spring and jumped in the chilly water in search of some manatees. Underwater, the small lagoon was beautiful. The underground spring, full of minerals, made the water turquoise blue and the sun’s rays penetrated the surface, making the water sparkle. In the middle of the lagoon was a baby manatee, suspended in the water as he dozed. After spending some time watching him float to the surface for a breath and then sink back down to the sandy floor, we swam back out to our small boat and went in search of more animals. There were so many concentrated in such a small area that we could see them swim past as we motored by. We found a few more spots to swim with the manatees before I got too cold to jump in anymore. We returned the boat, loaded up the car and continued north to Juniper Springs.

Juniper Springs is another beautiful natural spring, protected in Florida’s Ocala National Forest. We found a place to stay (in The Village, no less, an enormous retirement home community where there are doctor’s offices on every block) and the next day we set out to explore the Ocala National Forest. C had researched out a 4-hour canoe paddle at Juniper Springs, so we parked the car and rented a canoe from a very sweet German park ranger. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised at how narrow and shallow the canoe trail was. It was beautiful: clear water, low hanging vines, dense forest. A perfect place for alligators. Not far in, we saw some baby racoons and their mother and then we heard a huge crashing straight ahead. We both caught a fleeting glimpse of a black bear madly scrambling down a tree and then disappearing into the underbrush. It may not be Alaska, but there are still black bears! We also saw two alligators basking in the sun and a ton of turtles soaking up the warmth. A small green tree frog also caught a ride with us for a few hundred feet. He jumped onto the side of our canoe and stayed there, stuck, until it was his stop.

The Juniper Springs run is 7-miles in length, and typically takes between 4 and 6 hours to finish. We took our time paddling around fallen trees, under low branches, and poking into nooks and crannies. There are no signs, but it’s pretty hard to get lost. At the end we were met by another park ranger who drove us back to the Juniper Springs visitor center. We walked around the campground a bit, C went swimming in the fresh water spring, and then it started to rain, so we returned to our car and headed back to The Village.

For our final full day in Florida, we went for a nice hike (Florida hikes don’t involve much elevation gain) in Colt Creek State Park. To get there we drove our little black shiny Jetta through some pretty rough terrain. We also passed far too many hunting camps than I would have liked to see. I wouldn’t say that we were lost (thanks to my handy iPhone), but we definitely took some back roads. Colt Creek is a nice park with walking trails and a small lake. We also found out that it’s home to wild boars. At least that’s what we think they were. We heard loud snorting and stamping off to the side of the trail in some thick underbrush and we didn’t stop to check it out. I’ve heard that wild boars can be pretty nasty and I didn’t want to stop see if that’s true.

So that was our Florida trip and then we boarded a plane bound for Vermont. C had never been to New England, so I was excited to show him around! I’ll continue my catch up in another post tomorrow. Merry x-mas everyone!

Final Days on the Baltic Sea

So it’s been nagging on the back of my mind to finish writing about my Baltic trip and I finally have the time (and motivation) to sit down and do it. I also spent a week in Indiana after flying back from Copenhagen, so I’ll write a few words on that as well. Be prepared, it might be a long post!

I left off with our brief sojourns into Latvia and Lithuania, both beautiful countries on the Baltic Sea. Our next stop after Lithuania was Gdansk, Poland, also called Danzig in German. First established in the early 1200’s, Gdansk was, for most of history, an independent free state. Today, Poland is the newest member of the European Union (2004) and the port city of Gdansk is one of the greatest examples of reconstruction in Europe, as it was restored from the piles of rubble that remained after WWII. After meeting with Lech Walesa in Stockholm, it was interesting to step foot into Poland and see how he, among many others, helped to create a democratic state after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We spent the morning on a walking tour through the Old Town of Gdansk, stopping by St. Mary’s Church and Neptune’s Fountain, both located along Dluga Street where many merchant houses were reconstructed like jigsaw puzzles from the destruction. Today the street is lined with aesthetically charming apartments that are finely decorated and colorfully painted. Gdansk is a very pretty town, but after joining numerous walking tours and countless churches in 6 or so countries already, I was ready to see the city on my own terms. I broke off from the group and meandered down a narrow street along a canal, browsing the shop windows (I have never seen so much amber jewelry in my life) and looking at the boats tied up to the canal walls. Near the end of the street I found a nice cafe with outdoor seating (with blankets to cover your legs) and ordered a latte. I sat, content, for an hour or so watching people pass by and enjoying the sunshine.

When my latte was gone (one of the best coffees I’ve ever had – perhaps it was just the setting?) I continued to explore the old city. I came across a young woman sitting on a bench with her guitar, singing in Polish in a voice that was utterly captivating. If she had had a CD I would have bought it in a second. I took a seat on the bench opposite from her and listened to her sing and strum her guitar. There was another man sitting next to her with a fistful of goldenrod he was halfheartedly trying to sell to passerby’s and a can of beer in his pocket that he discretely sipped. I loved watching the interaction between the two – she politely trying to ignore him and he offering her a yellow flower in between songs. It got even better when another older gentleman sat down between them and started eating his lunch. These kinds of experiences are what traveling is all about. Rather than checking places off on a list or buying souvenirs that say you’ve been to a city or town, it’s better to create memories that you’ll remember ten years from now.

I hadn’t returned to the ship for lunch, so I was getting kind of hungry and slightly worried that I wouldn’t find anything vegetarian in a country known for kielbasa, pierogies (often stuffed with meat), and kaszanka (blood sausages). To my amazement, though, I came across a (tiny) restaurant with big letters spelling VEGETARIAN across the awning. Yay! I ordered a layered crepe pie with spinach and fresh carrot juice. It was delish.

At the appointed time, we met back at the historic Green Gate that once served as the formal residence for Polish monarchs, but now marks the entryway onto Dluga Street and Long Market. We had the choice to return to the ship by bus or to take a Zodiac cruise back through the Gdansk shipyard. As always, I chose the Zodiac ride. Along the way, we passed enormous cargo ships and tugboats – some lifted out of the water for maintenance and others waiting their turn for service. The Gdansk shipyard was once a bustling place that provided jobs to over 20,000 people, but due to hard times and it has been severely diminished and now employes only 2,200 workers.

Back on board we said goodbye to Poland as the National Geographic Explorer sailed away from Gdansk heading east toward tomorrow’s destination – Lubeck, Germany.

Our last full day on the ship! Or off the ship, more precisely. We had the entire day to explore the beautiful town of Lubeck, Germany. Just as the sun was rising over the horizon we reached the port of Travemunde at the mouth of the River Trave. There we picked up a local pilot who navigated the Explorer through the last 20 miles of the winding river. Lubeck was once the capital and former Queen City of the Hanseatic League – “an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (ca 13th–17th centuries).” Lubeck was founded in the 12th century and prospered until the 16th century as the major trading city for northern Europe. It has remained a center of maritime commerce to this day, particularly with the Nordic countries. Despite damage suffered during WWII, the basic structure of the old city, consisting mainly of 15th and 16th century patrician residences, public monuments, churches, and salt storehouses, remains unaltered. The inner city of Lubeck is one of the finest examples of medieval Gothic architecture in Northern Europe, and as such, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

We began our tour of the city with a canal boat cruise through the waterways surrounding the town. From the water we could see the tall spires of multiple churches throughout the city and a green parkway that rings the perimeter. It’s a very picturesque town. Then we had time to explore the city by foot. I opted out of the walking tour and instead set off to find what interested me. That turned out to be chocolate and tea shop and a marzipan cafe with ungodly amounts of incredible looking desserts. I don’t think I had ever tried marzipan, but since this one cafe sold the worldwide famous Niederegger marzipan and sweets, I had to try it. And now I have a new found appreciation for everything marzipan. For the remainder of the afternoon, I wandered along the cobblestone streets and found a nice park bench to sit on that looked out over a clear pond. Then all too soon it was time to return to the ship for our final leg to Copenhagen, Denmark.

That evening we had a Captain’s farewell dinner and a slideshow that featured everyone’s best photos throughout the voyage. It was a great way to end the trip and remember what we had seen way back in St. Petersburg, which seemed ages ago!

We docked in Copenhagen early the next morning and disembarked around 8:30 for a canal boat tour of the city. Our fist stop was at the famous opera house, situated right on the shores of the harbor. Costing well over $500 million US dollars (all provided by one gentleman who was the co-founder of the container ship and supply vessel operator company, Maersk), it is quite the piece of architecture. Too bad we couldn’t stay to see a performance!

After the canal tour, which took us right through the heart of Copenhagen, we continued by foot through the beautiful city to the Museum of Natural History where we wandered through the exhibits and had lunch. Then it was time to part ways! I was flying out early the next morning and wasn’t sure where I was going to spend the night, so Louisa, another single traveler, offered to share her room at the Hilton next to the airport! I took her offer and after collecting our bags, we set off in a taxi to the hotel.

From there it was a long, but uneventful, journey back to the US of A. I flew from Copenhagen to Paris to JFK (a fiasco of an airport) to Atlanta to Indiana. Needless to say, by the time I arrived in Indianapolis (at 12:15 am), I was ready to be done traveling! I’ll save my adventures in Indiana for another post – hopefully soon. But as a conclusion I’ll just say that my trip to the Baltic was a great insight into a part of the world that I have not yet had a chance to explore. I would love to return to explore some other areas of the nine countries that I stepped foot in and learn a bit more about the history of each place. All in all in was an amazing trip and it was great to get to see life on the NG Explorer!

Latvia & Lithuania

Although there are many countries that border the Baltic Sea, the three countries that are referred to as the Baltic States include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We had already visited Estonia, so yesterday and today were dedicated to the other two Baltic States. We arrived in Riga, Latvia yesterday afternoon after sailing the entire morning (and previous night) almost due east from Gotland, Sweden. After lunch we disembarked the NG Explorer and took several buses to the Old Town of Latvia’s capital city. And, as you can probably guess, it’s a beautiful one! Again, cobblestone streets, cafes, small shops, and open markets. But what sets Riga aside from the other towns and cities we have visited is its distinct and distinguished architecture. Latvia has a long history of foreign occupation, from Russia to Germany to Poland, then Sweden. It gained independence in 1918 and remained free until 1940 when the Soviet Union regained control. Finally, in 1991 Latvia became its own independent nation. So you can probably imagine how all of those occupations influenced the country’s architectural styles as well as its culture and traditions. The most famous architectural style of Riga, however, is the Art Nouveau technique of the 19th and 20th centuries. Characterized by detailed carvings, especially of animals and faces, decorative moldings, towers, spires, columns, etc… Art Nouveau is quite impressive. We took a walking tour through the narrow alleyways of the city, stopping to photograph the more impressive buildings (many of which are being used as Embassy offices. Comically, though the US Embassy is housed in what our guide referred to as a drab Soviet non-architecture building) and listening to our guide recount the history of Latvia. We had two special performances arranged for us later in the afternoon. The first was a dance performance by a group of young children and older teenagers dressed in traditional custom. The music was also from Latvia as were the dance routines. They wheeled and reeled and stomped to the music just several feet in front of where were were seated. It was definitely a highlight to my trip so far! They were great and seemed genuinely happy to be dancing for us.

The second performance was just down the street in a old church. The Dome Cathedral, as it is called, is home to the worlds largest organ, built in 1883. With 6768 pipes, some as high as 10 meters (almost 33 feet!), it is a massive contraption. Besides being the worlds largest, the organ is also famous because it can produce different sounds such as waves, bells, piano, and a number of other melodies. We were treated to a half hour concert that consisted of four different musical pieces. Each one showed the extent of the organs (and organists!) capabilities. Once again, it was a great performance.

After the concert we didn’t have much time left in town, but I wandered around with a few other guests, peering into shop windows and comparing pieces of amber jewelry, of which this region is highly famous for. Then it was back to the ship for dinner and a rocky ride to Lithuania!

Lithuania

We had another leisurely morning at sea today and I spent most of it in bed (did I mention how comfy these mattresses are?), catching up on sleep.

Lithuania is the only Baltic country that doesn’t have its capital on the Baltic shores, so in the afternoon we docked in its third largest city, Klaipeda. We only had a brief few hours in the country, so we made the most of our time. We started with a walking tour of the city center, which had more of an old-world feel to me. Possibly because the buildings haven’t undergone as progressive of a restoration as Estonia and Latvia.

After the walking tour we took a bus outside of the city and north to the small town of Palanga. Along the way we could see the rural, green landscape of Lithuania’s countryside. Palanga is famous to vacationers and resort-goers for its botanical gardens, amber museum, and long sandy beaches. We visited all three. The gardens were beautiful and well manicured and the museum was interesting (especially the pieces of amber with several million-year-old insects trapped inside), but I was eager to walk along the sandy coastline. The wind was quite strong and it was chilly, but I did see one person braving the cold and waves. What I loved best, though, standing on the beach, were the clouds overhead. They were magnificent! And the lowering sun made the light great for pictures.

Too soon it was time to start walking back through the gardens to the buses that would return us to our ship. Our guide gave us a small gift of amber pieces that she said we could dissolve in a bottle of vodka (or tea) and drink as a medicinal tonic. Who knew amber had healing properties?

We had another surprise waiting for us back on the ship. The head chef had gone out and gotten local Lithuanian cheese and three types of beer while we were onshore. We enjoyed them as we headed out of the harbor west toward Poland, our destination for tomorrow!

For dinner the Phillipine crew prepared us a traditional Philippine feast. It was delicious, but I could have done without seeing the whole roasted pig.

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