Europe 2010 – part 3 – Latvia

Got into Riga pretty late at night, only to find that I couldn’t get money out of the ATM because I was over limit (inexplicably), and once at the hotel I couldn’t open my luggage because my combination lock suddenly had a new combination. Commence extreme frustration and aggravation, trying to call Samsonite (on hold for $3.00/min no thank you), texting Cassie to try to call them, and google searches – finally I found a page which had email instructions from Samsonite on how to figure out the combination. So I now know how to get by Samsonite combination locks.

Our hotel was in a good location in Riga’s Old Town, which was not quite as nice and quaint as Tallinn, in my opinion. They allow car traffic on all the streets, which is not as nice haha. Again it was alot of walking around to see the area, once I was able to get out money from an ATM we visited St Peter’s church and went up the bell tower for a nice view of the city. Near by was the “House of Blackheads”, which I didn’t realize was a museum, so we only saw outside. Next to that was the Latvian Occupation Museum, which was free but took donations. It was much bigger and well done than I was expecting for free. It was pretty moving, as I didn’t realize how badly the Baltic states were treated by the Soviets, and Nazis, and then Soviets again. And it’s hard to imagine it all, being an American and in no danger of being invaded and occupied by another country (although if Canada decided to get greedy, I’d probably be in trouble here in WNY haha).

Grabbed a cab and went to the Riga Motor Museum, which has a pretty decent collection of Soviet made cars, or Soviet used cars (like cars given to Soviets from foreign diplomats like Nixon), including Stalin’s limo, and Breshnev’s crashed Rolls Royce. I don’t know alot about cars, but it was interesting to see. There were wax statues of Stalin and Breshnev in their cars, and I think Khruschev.

That night we got some dinner, hung around a bit, and then headed out for some drinks. Riga has gotten a bad reputation as being full of bars that will scam tourists. There was a list on wikitravel, and on the US Embassy’s website, and again in the “what to do” books we picked up so we had a list to check against to be safe. I had wanted to go to Leningrad, which was Soviet themed, and looked cool from reviews and their website – but was not what was expected so we didn’t even go in. Instead we went to the Transilvania Horror Rock Cafe, which we had found earlier in the day, and is apparently owned by Marilyn Manson’s drummer, Umberto Ferri (but I don’t know who he is). It was a goth-y bar, as expected, with open coffins with skeletons inside for tables, church-y looking furniture, and scary decorations. We tried the national drink, Riga Black Balsam, which is an herbal liquor, very strong and interesting, but I didn’t think it was that bad. We moved on from there, trying to find a few other bars, and bars with people in them, but again, we were out on a Tuesday…no one else was. So the final stop was at Mad House, with only a few others, and then we turned in.

Our 2nd day we pretty much only saw the Zoo. It was small as expected, but it’s always interesting to see animals other than cats and dogs. Grabbed lunch at a place next to the zoo, which turned out to be a pizzeria, then back to hang out before dinner. Spent the night in, since I had to get up at 4am to go to the airport and go home. I had thought about going to a KHL game, the Riga Dinamo were playing, but I couldn’t find out how to get tickets, or the costs (I didn’t want to scalp, surefire way to get screwed), and the timing didn’t work out in the end. Ah well. Next time haha.

All that was left was the long route home, Riga to Berlin (where again, I had passport issues – my passport was stamped in Riga, arriving from Kiev, but not when arriving or leaving Tallinn, and not when arriving in Riga from Tallinn, or leaving Riga to Berlin, and again not stamped when arriving in Berlin. So when in line to check in for my flight to Newark, the lady is looking for the Berlin stamp, and I came out and told her, I came from Riga and no one asked to see it or stamp it…she had a weird reaction to that and I’m just like, this is YOUR airport, you should know what is going on, but she didn’t make a big deal of it after that. Then I had luggage issues, as in Riga they routed my bag right to Newark, and Berlin didn’t like that and rerouted it to Buffalo, but had to go find my bag and retag it, so I was fully expecting it not to show up), Berlin to Newark and Newark to Buffalo. I had a bottle of fanta in my bag from Riga, which I had to get rid of in a bomb proof container, and then get explosive residue tested (where I suddenly got nervous that they could tell I was radioactive haha), but I was clean, duh. 9 hour flight to Newark, cleared customs, but was delayed going home so the layover was about 4 hours.

Home again, unpacking to find my shampoo exploded, and my souvenir for Aunt Carol broke (souvenir bummer #3). It was a great and smooth trip, with no real problems. I have probably 7gb of photos to go through, yikes!!! That’s gonna take a while 🙂 I think I covered everything, had fun but glad to be home with kitty in my comfy bed again.

Riga Photos

Europe 2010 – part 2 – Estonia

We flew to Tallinn, through Riga, and after getting a taxi with a friendly and funny driver, checked into the hotel in Old Town, and headed out to the DM baar. Yes a bar dedicated to Depeche Mode. It is unfortunate that we were always going out on weeknights, it being Sunday we were the only people there. No matter, the bar was super cool, playing only DM videos, with photos and information on the walls, and of course, drinks named after DM songs. I had a “dream on” and of course, “personal jesus”. They had souvenirs for sale including mugs and shirts, but we decided not to buy them at the time, because we didn’t want to carry them around. Left to try to find another place for drinks, but…Sunday…nothing was really open. We got some dinner at a place open late in the main square, and turned in for the night.

Old Town is the medieval center of town, a cute cobblestone area, which was walled in, and full of shops, cafes and touristy stuff. We walked around Old Town, saw the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Tallinn Photography Museum, bought souvenirs, and caught a cab out to the Holy Birgitta Monastery, a monastery of Scandinavian female saints and a convent. It’s all in ruins, with a cemetery in front. Very cool, but it was cold and rainy, so it would have been better in nice weather. Caught lunch at a “sports bar” near by, which was the least sports bar-y sports bar ever. Aside from the KHL game on tvs, and photos of sports on the walls, it was a super classy looking place with a big diverse menu. Not your usual chicken wings and fried food things. Wandered around Old Town more before catching dinner at the garlic restaurant, and then went to the DM bar again to get souvenirs…only to find them closed. They were supposed to be open noon to 4am, but no luck. So no DM mugs for Adr2 and Bliss (souvenier bummer #2).

Then it was off to the airport and back to Riga to finish the trip.

Tallinn was nice despite cold and rainy weather. The main city was quite modern and building up and nice looking, and the Old Town was inviting and charming. It had a good mix of new and old, everyone seemed friendly (and spoke english). I enjoyed it.

Tallinn Photos

Europe 2010 – part 1 – Ukraine

Here goes….

My flights took me to Ohare, and then Frankfurt before finally Kiev. Uneventful but long, with long layovers in Chicago and Frankfurt. Borispol airport in Kiev is not at all what I expected. I just assumed it was a big modern airport, so when I saw that it had only 2 jetways I was sort of shocked. But an airport is an airport and it works and it does it’s job. Found Dan and Jamie, with our driver from Solo East, Igor, and we were off to our apartment at 22b Mikhailivska St. The apartment was in a pretty good location, up the street from Independence square, the main street of Kiev Kreschatik Street, and St Michael’s church. It was in walking distance of St Andrew’s and St Andrew’s Descent, and St Sophia’s.

Upon arriving and unpacking I discovered my lens was no longer attached to my camera body. 2 pieces of plastic from the lens mount had broken off en route. shiiiiit. So the first night was spent trying to find camera shops or repair shops that would fix it. We weren’t really successful, one place had a lens but it would have cost more than if I got it here. So in the end, we found some super glue and Dan glued the pieces back on. Had to do it twice, but in the end it was a pretty solid repair job, the lens stayed on and worked.

First impressions of Kiev, it’s a massive sprawling city, with a combination of old architecture and depressing Soviet architecture. Like other European cities, instead of crossing major intersections, you go under them, but all of their under intersection walkways contain stores…you can pretty much get anything. Some intersections were “small” and would have just sort of convenience stores, food, drinks, cigarettes, gum, etc. Other ones had practical malls, with furniture stores and souvenirs and anything you would need. Imagine how much nicer American cities would look if our convenience stores and strip malls were underground. The entire underground of Independence Square is a normal mall, with your usual clothes stores and mall stuff. Kinda cool.

2nd day we went off to the Pecherska Lavra, an Orthodox Church monastery. It’s a huuuge place, and we spent most of the afternoon there and didn’t see it all. There are caves which hold old monks, tons of buildings (which we didn’t go in any), and a miniature display that we missed. Very cool place, very pretty. On the way there we walked past and stopped at the Famine memorial, and then after the Lavra continued down the street to the Motherland Statue and War Memorial. By then it was getting dark, so we caught some dinner (I got a drink/shot called a Hiroshima – sambuca, baileys and absinthe…strooooong) and headed back to the apartment. We went out for drinks later, though it was a Wednesday so there weren’t alot of people “out”. The first bar had shots of high end vodka for $9 hryvnia = $1.12!! Score. Stopped at 2 other places, and Jamie had terrible luck at drinks – he ordered a mojito at the first place which had no alcohol in it, and at the 3rd he tried to order a Tornado, which was similar to the Hiroshima, and then never got the drink…I had ordered some food, so when bringing the food we assumed they’d bring his drink, only they brought him a big silver platter…containing food. Beef tournado’s LOL. The perils of language difficulties.

The next 3 days were spent in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The town of Chernobyl has about 250 residents, mostly military I think, and you need permission to be there. Visitors are only allowed to go around with a military guide, so when we were in town and not on the “tour” we were pretty much confined to the hotel, or walking to the military building for our meals. The drive to town was about 2 hours, and we began with lunch before heading out to see the actual power plant. We had our military guide, Vladimir, who didn’t speak english, and our tour guide, Sergei from Solo East who did, so it went well. The plant looks really cool and you get pretty close – way closer than you’d get to any plant in the US. You can only point your camera and take pictures of the sarcophagus though, despite the fact the rest of the plant is now decommissioned. Then it was off to the town of Pripyat, which was the closest major town to the plant, and completely evacuated after the accident. Other towns in the area were evacuated and then buried after the accident, but it was decided that burying didn’t really help the spread of radioactivity so they gave it up, and it would probably have been impossible to bury Pripyat with all it’s high rise buildings (some 16 stories).

What can really be said about this? It’s an explorers dream, and when I tried to count all the buildings I could see from the top of the hotel in the main square, I gave up at 40. There is just sooo much, and the tour takes you to the highlights, you don’t even begin to see most of the residential highrises (we climbed to the top of one of them the 2nd day, but it was just to the top and back, no time to see the floors). So the first day I believe we saw…hotel rooftop, bookstore, and hospital. The hospital was huge and sweet, but there is a 4:30 curfew which I didn’t realize, and our guides had gone in to find me haha. In the end, I barely saw any of the main hospital (I guess I had gone into some off wing or even other building haha). We had been told to make a list of what we wanted to revisit for the 3rd day, so that was on the list for sure. I added the bookstore to the list as well, because after we had been there someone mentioned the stack of wrapped postcards still there, which Sergei said I could take. Cassie had asked for a postcard, so I freaked out that I was actually going to have a real postcard to send her from Pripyat!

Second day we started earlier of course, no drive there, and had asked to skip lunch so we had all day (until 4 haha). The first stop was on the water, but I had lagged behind so I don’t know the significance. Then was the music school, which was cool, but again I was rushed out of – I only needed 5 more minutes! We went to the oldest school in town, but we couldn’t go in because one section had collapsed. Bummer too because looking in the windows one classroom had the most amazing, totally sterotypical Soviet propaganda mural. Then a music store, with a bunch of left over pianos, and a 2nd school. Then a very cool athletic center with gym and pool, and climbed the 16 story apartment building to see the view. Next, the amusement park with left over bumper cars, swing type ride, and ferris wheel. After that was another school, which they called a “kindergarten” but was maybe more like American preschool, or perhaps even an orphanage. There were 2 floors, lots of left over toys so it was definitely for young kids (compared to the other school which was clearly a normal school), but there were also rooms of cribs…the cribs make me think orphanage, but I’m not sure a town like that would need such a big orphanage haha. Will have to look up some more history on the town. Sergei had to leave, so he instructed Vladimir to take us to a few other places – the police station and jail, and department store in the main square – before heading back.

By the end of the 2nd day, one plastic piece had broken off the lens. It was still staying on the camera, but it was no longer sitting close enough to the sensors to work super good – lost autofocus to infinity, and sometimes it wouldn’t recognize that the lens was there. Holding it and jiggling it made it usable, so I was able to continue the day and the 3rd day. But after returning to Kiev the camera went away, and I ended up buying a nikon coolpix point and shoot to use for the 2nd week. Lighter and easier to carry for sure haha.

The 3rd day we only had our military guide, a different guy named Evengi maybe? He spoke ok english, good enough! The problem was that he was coming into town from outside, and the bus was late for some reason, so we didn’t get “on the road” until 11 instead of 9. After breakfast Vladmir took us around town to kill time, to the town sign, a park, and to see the harbor with rusted dead boats. When our guide made it, we started by stopping at what he called a “fish factory” near the cooling towers and cooling pool, then a real factory in Pripyat. He was funny, because he said officially the factory made small plastic parts for cassette tape recorders, but unofficially he didn’t know what they did. And it did seem like a rather huge and strange place for just making plastic parts. There were posters about radiation, that didn’t seem like it was just because they were near a plant. Ahh the secretive soviets! We left town and stopped at the bus station, and then train station which was REUSED!!! An abandoned and radioactive town has a train station that was reused into a work shop. Crazy! The last stop was his “secret location” that most tourists don’t see, which was a sort of small vehicle grave yard, and included a derailed train. We then headed back to Chernobyl and home, an hour early 🙁 We didn’t get to go back to the hospital and bookstore and I’M SO BUMMED I COULDN’T GET THE POSTCARD FOR CASSIE!!! GAAAH (souvenir bummer #1).

So my overall impression of the Exclusion zone – clearly awesome from the explorer/photographer perspective. It was great to see, but the work that still needs to be done is overwhelming. The environment and nature is flourishing, they said there are wolves again, wild boars, and a wild horse population (and cats haha), but it all needs to be cleaned up still. I don’t know if/how that will ever happen. It’s beyond me. Pripyat is a dream of course, but I was sort of surprised that it had been scrapped. Sergie explained that under communism you waited in a line for 4 hours to get a toilet – it was so difficult to get what you needed – that despite the contamination and the danger, people went in and took everything (it was not always as secure as it is now). If you expected apartments and buildings to be just as they were left in 1986, they really aren’t. In one sense it is a freeze frame of 1986 but it is not the perfect untouched place you might expect.

Back in Kiev, hung around the apartment, and I took a walk up to St Michael’s and St Sophia’s real quick (it was cold), before Dan and I went out for some food and drinks. We were leaving Kiev for Tallinn in the afternoon, so we went to St Andrew’s (which you can’t go in because it’s being restored) and did some souvenir shopping at the booths along the Descent (cobblestone hill down the side of the church).

So what I saw of Kiev was cool, it was very inexpensive, Chernobyl was clearly awesome, but I did lose my sunglasses somewhere in Pripyiat haha (good thing it was gloomy and rainy most of the trip).

Kiev Photos

Chernobyl Photos

foo fest recap

Foo Fotos

back at home….boooooo. tho i am looking forward to my bed haha. but i miss the foos already, and even the foo dog. 🙂

so some observations on la
– it was not as gross as i thought it would be. i never really had any desire to ever go there, i just figured it was all pollution and crime and bums and it’s not.
– hollywood blvd/sunset blvd were not as seedy and fabulous as i was expecting
– there were alot of nice buildings, including a whole ton of old theatres. most of them were completely closed, or closed to the public but available for rentals. there was also alot of art deco which totally surprised me.
– taco trucks were not as easy to find as i thought, and i didn’t get to eat out of one. but we did have yummy mexican twice.
– we did not see any celebrities
– seemed to be alot of things i’d like to see if i ever went again, neighborhoods that looked neat, and all that

some observations on san diego
– i don’t feel like we saw all that much, cuz the weather was shitty, and it prevented us from walking around town
– old town looked neat, wish we had more time to check out the shops
– what we did see seemed nice and well taken care of

some general observations
– the drive up to neverland, and that general “Santa Barbara county” area is really really pretty.
– mj lived on a ridiculous mountain road LOL
– the traffic wasn’t pleasant but it also wasn’t the complete horrifying standstill all the time that i was expecting. i actually think chicago is worse.

that’s all i can remember right now haha

the last of la

last night we headed back to hollywood blvd to madame tussauds. took obligatory pics w the wax stars and all that. they had a pretty good mj statue in a different pose than others i’ve seen.

wed brought the last things on our must do list – neverland and forest lawn. forest lawn was up first. thanks to we knew he was in the grand mauseleum, holly terrace, and that it is all locked and private. and indeed it was. jackie brought flowers and gave them to security to take in. then using pics taken my security and on findagrave we figured out just where he was…not going to lie it was incredably sad to realize it. that’s the closest we’ll ever be to him and it was outside of his grave. 🙁

after that depressingness we hit up the grammy museum which had a small special exhibit of some of his famous outfits and all his grammy moments were available to watch. the musuem is ok…same vein as the rock and roll hall of fame but waaaay smaller. they had another exhibit called elvis at 21, which was a display of photographs from a photog who had all access to elvis at the time. so cool even tho i dont care about elvis, just cool old photos.

after that we drove the 3 hours up to los olivos to find neverland, which was quite the trip ad apparently none of us were paying attention when we passed it the first time and the gps took us another 7 miles up a ridiculous mostly one lane mountain road…where we had to let a fire truck and ambulance pass, passed bikers in an accident (why there was a fire truck and ambluance), eventually passing a forest ranger station and arriving at our location of absolutely nothing lol.

back down the mountain we went and eventually found the gates. the neverland sign has been gone for awhile (and the ranch itself has been renamed sycamore ranch on google maps). what was odd was that a truck left while we were there, then a car arrived, then 5 more cars left…something is going on there and that surprised me. i sorta just assumed it was still empty awaiting a reuse.

anyway, fans had written messages on the rock walls and trees around the driveway, and jac contributed for us as well. took some pics and headed on back to la.

we all leave tomorrow, so off to bed…

price is right

the price is right was way fun. had to get up and go to the studio which happened to be down the street at 6 am to get a number, then go back at 8:30 to get in line and start the processing. you get your name tag and some forms, where they ask for interesting stuff about you, or why you want to be on tpir. then you get your pic taken in front of a green screen that can be things like plinko or the wheel. then more waiting in line until you get let in to the studio for the show.

the studio is waaaaaay smaller than you think watching on tv. it was only 11 rows of seats in 3 sections, maybe 200 ft across. i was surprised. the announcer guy went through some rules and pumped everyone up.

so i was not the next contestant on the price is right, but 2 ppl in front of us were so we’ll be on tv most likely. in between segments drew carey talks to ppl and cracks jokes. entertaining. it was fun. loooots and looots of clapping lol. but def a good time

zoo etc

sunday we went off to the san diego zoo in shit ass weather. what the hell cali! it rained most of the day and was chilly, but it meant that it wasnt at all crowded which was nice.

it’s a very nice zoo from what i know about zoos. it’s decently big but you can see it all in one day if you plan right. we took the guided bus tour aside from walking around to the various sections. they have pandas including a baby which was cool to see.

monday we caught lunch in old town before taking tony to the airport and heading back to la and the museum of death. soooo fabulous. hit up hollywood forever cemetery where 2 ramones and various others are buried.

today, the price the right

san diego

drove up to san diego, got lunch at a divey local place called The Menu, before going to sea world for the day. first up was the shamu show. it bothers me that they call all the whales shamu. i don’t care if it’s a stage name, they all can’t be named shamu. em said the show was alot different since she was there in the summer. guess they’re still trying to figure out what to do after the trainer getting killed in florida. but it was still entertaining.

watched the sea lion and otter show after that which was cute. they try to make it all funny with an SNL theme, different skits w the sea lions.

walked around to all the major animal areas, watched the people who paid 45$ each for the sorta lame dolphin encounter thing, got bitten by a bat ray when trying to feed it lol, and caught the trained household pets show. seriously didn’t know you could train cats like that.

at that point it started to rain so we hit up penguins and the arctic section before heading out to find the hotel. found a thai restaurant on google, so went there and what’s playing on the tv when we walk in? michael jackson history tour from somewhere lol how perfect. my first time eating thai was pretty good. and since these asians didn’t know me they had no reason to spit in my food 🙂

early night in, played uno and watched this is it. today…the zoo.


friday was Disneyland. ty got us all free tickets from work, score! we walked over from the hotel which was only a few blocks. disney was impressive at times and lacking at times. their attention to details was pretty amazing, in some of the areas, but some like tomorrowland i expected more. more ultra fabulous future retro stuff, but there wasn’t that much.

we hit up captain eo first since that’s why we were really there. it was great, of course 🙂 i still don’t think me and 3d mix well but it was cool. hit up the souvenirs after only to find disney not prepared and out of everything except xxl shirts booooooo. luckily much later we found a shop on main street with more.

i think we did most of the major rides that were open. the indiana jones one was prob my fav. space mountain was cool but extremely disorienting, prob couldn’t go on it again. i find it kinda weird that disney hasn’t really competed w major amusement parks when it comes to rides. most are still the slow rides through animatronic scenes. no giant 300 foot drop coasters and all that. i guess they rely on that whole magical fantasy aspect and not thrill rides to attract ppl.

we also didn’t see characters walking around the park at all. we saw one when we got in but after that, nothing. never saw mickey at all. weird.

so it was fun. saw captain eo again ha ha. got a slice of pizza that cost 6 freaking 50! soooooo much walking.

i can’t think of anything else lol


foo fest has begun in LA! flight left way early, small plane to dc with no seat next to me. then the big plane to la wasn’t full and no one was next to me. score! so i got to lay down and sleep a bit. arrived early, went to find ty and then tony befor getting picked up by em and jac.

we attempted to track down a taco truck, which was more difficult than anticipated and we were getting too hungry to keep looking. so we found a little food court that had a mexican place that had taco trucks painted on the window lol verrrry yummy.

off to hollywood blvd and the walk of fame. totally forgot about the oscars, so parts of the street were closed as they built the red carpet area in front of the kodak theatre. alot of walking around to see the stars and pinkberry (holy cow soooo yum).

headed to anaheim in rush hour traffic to find our hotel next to disneyland. got dinner at benihanna then back to the room. tomorrow: captain eo!!