Trakai: Castles, Lakes, and Kibinai

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Our first outing in Lithuania was to Trakai, a popular destination just outside of Vilnius. There you can tour the 14th century Trakai Island Castle, rent a canoe and row around one of the many lakes, and sample some of the region’s own kibinai, a flaky pastry filled with anything from mutton and onions (traditional) to custard and fruit. Obviously the latter was my favorite part of our trip, since I’m happiest when eating. Sooner or later this heavy Lithuanian food is going to catch up with me, but for now its nothing but cepelinai with bacon and onions, salted cucumbers, hot borsch, black bread, potato pancakes with dill and sour cream, and crepes with jam.

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We got caught in a rainstorm that luckily ended pretty quickly and a double rainbow formed over the lake, which only added to the fairytale-like charm of this little town.

 

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A Quickie in Stockholm

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A lot has happened since my last post, but sadly all the photos are on a memory card at Mark’s parents’ house in Michigan. D’oh! We still have photos from Carlsbad Caverns (a must-see!), Austin (OMG LOVE), New Orleans (I’d move there RIGHT NOW), some from Detroit (hello every single cocktail ever), and a tiny bit from NYC (the Highline and sour beers are winners!). But rather than wait another three months, I’ll just skip ahead to the present-ish.

National Kurlyandchik’s European Vacation begins!

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We had an eight-hour layover in Stockholm on our way to Vilnius and we were not about to spend it sitting in the airport! (However, the 7-11 at the airport has a salad bar, so…Nope! Nevermind!) Eschewing the unsolicited advice from the guy at passport control to take a taxi, we bought round trip tickets on the Arlanda Express for around $35 per person. The guy claimed that the train was slow and unreliable, but we found it to be quite the opposite. From the airport to Stockholm Central took 20 minutes, and they even have a traveltime guarantee that if your train arrives more than two minutes late they’ll give you a new ticket free of charge. I’ve never heard of a taxi company doing anything remotely as thoughtful.

Anyway, enough about transportation. Stockholm! What a crazy beautiful city. We only had enough time to wander a few streets of Gamla Stan (or Old Town, Stockholm’s historic city center), grab a very Scandanavian lunch, take a glorious nap in a park next to a fountain, and sip some delicious coffees. But hey, beats watching Pitch Perfect 2 on a super uncomfortable airport chair, right? We thought so too.

 

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Discover Another World at White Sands National Monument

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Deep in the heart of New Mexico, about an hour and a half from the Mexican border, lives the largest chain of gypsum dunes in the world. The white sands stretch as far as your eyes can see and are the perfect contrast to the endless blue sky above. Mark stayed behind to snap some photos as I ran up my first dune with the dogs. When I reached the peak and saw the seemingly infinite landscape glaring back at me I felt my brain buzz. Perhaps it was because it was nearly 100 degrees and I was dehydrated, but maybe it was because I was looking at such a vast and open space and actually sort of comprehending it. Either way, it was an incredible feeling.

We spent a few hours chasing each other up and down the dunes, sliding down the sides of the mounds (without sleds, which you can actually purchase at the information center for $17, and return for a $5 refund), and burying ourselves in the sand. As the sun began to set, we chose the best spot to watch as the blue sky turned cotton candy colored and everything around us took on a heavenly glow. White Sands National Monument is out of this world and has been one of the highlights of this entire trip. I really encourage you to check it out for yourselves.

 

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A Tipi in Yosemite

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After leaving Berkeley, Mark and I made a beeline for Yosemite National Park, which was last on our ‘must-see before leaving California’ list. We stayed in a tipi on 60 acres just 40 minutes south of the park, where we spent two peaceful nights cooking sausage, onion and peppers over an open fire, talking and making plans for the coming months under the stars, and just decompressing from the last two years of work and grad school. It was exactly the thing we needed to shed the life we left behind and begin anew as whatever the hell we are now — wanderers, vagabonds, gypsies, digital nomads. The label is meaningless. We had no cell service, no wifi, no electricity — just us and 60 acres  to explore full of rock formations, forest, streams, swimming holes, hammocks, and a swinging bridge. Also, surprisingly, a drum set (we didn’t ask). There were also probably bears, snakes, scorpions, and maybe even bobcats and mountain lions. Who knows, but I was doing my best not to remember things like that exist.

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We drove to Yosemite the next morning and spent the entire day wandering the park. We scrambled up and down rocks, turned our faces up to the mist of the waterfalls, and waded into the ice-cold water.

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This week we’re chilling with my parents in the tiny town of Mesquite, Nevada. And by chilling, I mean baking. The temperature climbs into the high 90’s most days and I’ve had to remind myself that yes, that is a giant ball of fire in the sky and you are cooking your skin countless times. Anyway, here our life is nothing but $10 free play at the local casino, bowling with my oldest brother (I won one game! A first for me!), sunning ourselves at the pool, and late-night trips to the local shave ice establishment for a cold treat. Next we’re off to Phoenix to visit with Mark’s cousin Marta, her BF, and their puppy. Let us know if you have any recommendations!

Goodbye, California…Hello World!

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Today we leave our little apartment in Berkeley.

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This week I said goodbye to my work peeps, we said goodbye to Mark’s school buds, and today we say goodbye to California. Man, two years flew by so much faster than I thought it would. Yesterday I felt like someone would have to drag me from this place, but today I’m ready to go. We’ve got a lot of travel ahead us – something we’ve been preparing for over the last few years but always wondered when or if we’d make it happen. Well, guys, it happens today. We’re hitting the road, and on our horizon is a tipi in Yosemite; some pool time in my parents’ town of Mesquite, Nevada; more pool time with cousins in Phoenix; White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; Austin; New Orleans; Nashville; a grandma visit in small-town Kentucky; and back home to the Detroit area for a cousin’s wedding and to meet some little babies who’ve popped up since we visited last. From there we cross the big pond. After a brief layover in Stockholm we continue on to Mark’s birthplace of Vilnius, Lithuania, where we’ll spend just under two months. We’re planning on some weekend trips to Estonia, Latvia, and maybe even Poland. After that we’ll head west and spend some time bouncing around France, Germany, and Italy. Once our visas run out, we may skip over to either Croatia or Turkey, but we’ll make that decision when the time is right. The plan is fluid, so things could change at a moment’s notice. Who knows where serendipity might lead us!

Until then, a brief ode to the cute 700-square-foot apartment that has been our little love nest the last two years. It’s empty now. All our belongings were either gifted to friends or left as donations to the side-of-the-road gods of the Bay Area. We leave today unburdened by stuff, light in our hearts, but heavy with the memories we’ve made in the two years we spent in this beautiful place.

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Peace out, Berkeley.