Worrall Travel R's - Kicking the Bucket List

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Following our Dreams and Kicking the Bucket List.  Started on a yacht, now it's planes, trains, Trailblazer 5th wheel, camels, rickshaws.  Exploring our wonderful world.

Our Mantra:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Days 48-50, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland

Day 48, July 29, 2014 (Vilnius, Lithuania)

Serendipity Strikes!

We made arrangements yesterday, for an early 9:00 am  tour of the Universities library.  Once a religious monastery, later turned secular, it is home to an old ceiling fresco and early 16th century books and manuscripts.  When we arrived, there was some confusion as there were no tours that day, certainly none in English. Russ expressed our disappointment to the lady at the desk who was finally able to round up an English speaking woman who offered to open up the doors of the main library for us to take a look.  Once Russ told here he was a retired professor from University of California, Berkeley, she decided to take us on a personal tour. So the three of us walked through the empty halls and galleries. It was lovely, without an over abundance of scripted history and overwhelming information.

Our guide took us to the top floors where the first observatory in Lithuania was built.  It was a leather incased telescope that had been built by the same optics company that made Sir Issac Newton's telescope.

We walked backed to our little attic apartment which had been a wonderfully located AirBnB complete with fresh vegetables from the backyard garden, expressed our appreciation and thanks to our kind host, Nina, and were on the road to Latvia by 11:00 a.m. and across thae border into Latvia.

On our way we stopped at another lovely castle Rundale built by a Russian duke married to a Latvian duchess.   It was designed by the same architect Dark clouds were forming and by the time we had our little walk about, raindrops were falling.  It continued to rain throughout the afternoon.  We took the scenic route along the Baltic beaches of Jurmala to Riga, but because of the thunder, lightning, poring rain, we didn,t see much and had no desire to walk in the rain with the lightening strikes and flooding streets.

We are staying in a flat above the trolly line that runs directly to old town Riga.  Our host Laura welcomes us at 7:30 pm.  We have a nice chat with Laura and her boyfriend over our dinner before they retire for the evening.  When we inquired, Laura showed us where we could go for haircuts in Riga.  After two months, we are looking shaggy.  As both of them  work, this turns out to be our only contact with them during our stay.

Day 49, July 30, 2014

After breakfast, Russ and I take the trolley into Riga where once again we suck up the old town atmosphere.  I think one of things I love about all these old cities is how they build the outside walls of their homes right up to the sidewalks or streets and along the perimeters of their property, with only heavy gates on the street.  When the gates are left open,, one can peer inside to lovely open courtyards that are private and once very protected from medieval invaders.

As other cities, there are an abundance of churches, cobbled streets, remnants of city walls, and open squares where outdoor entertainment is predominant. We enjoy lunch in a street cafe, Pelligrino with lemon later in the day, along with some Latvian ice cream, and take a canal ride on an old Art Deco boat that ABBA had once ridden in.  Their music played as we wound our way through the canal and surrounding river.  Between our late afternoon cruise and haircuts, we layed on the shady slope of the river bank and took a delightful little nap.  

We went to a nearby MacDonalds for a wrap and ice tea for dinner.  As I was ascending the stairs to the water closet, a MacDonalds employee climbing the steps behind me brushed against my back.  I felt the brush, but didn't pay much attention, until it happened a second time and I turned around and looked at her questioningly.  She smiled and showed me the remnants of my park nap (grass on my back) that she couldn't resist brushing off for me. Haha!

We had made appointments at 7:00 pm for haircuts, and after a relaxing clip, we head back to our flat.

Day 50, July 31, 2014 Thursday


Our plane for Warsaw does not leave until 2:50, so we spend a leisurely morning repacking liquids for flight, eating breakfast, blogging, etc.  We will leave here shortly for the airport.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 47 - Vilnius, Lithuania

Enjoyed the many churches in Vilnius.  This one, Church of Saint Theresa was built in baroque style in 1250.  Vilnius is capital city of Lithuania.  There is the modern business part of the city and the old town which we spent our time.  In the old section of course there is an old castle, university, many churches, presidential palace, embassies, winding streets, outdoor cafes, and lots of flowers.  

Met some traveling Aussies, about our vintage.  They are in last three weeks of a six month odyssey.  Lots of kindred spirits wandering around the world.  Tomorrow before we head to Riga, we will be touring the University Library and hope to find a geocache or two.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's in Lithuania.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 46 - July 27, Castle in Trakai, Lithuania

We enjoyed a relaxed morning on the back deck overlooking the lake and a delicious breakfast at Tomas's Lakeside home. Tomas prepared omelettes with a fresh tomato and cucumber salad, finished off with yogurt and fresh berries. We got a kick out of his stories about elderly folks taking balloon rides and how difficult it is to get them in and out of the basket. The folks that can't climb a ladder or hop in, crawl inside the basket before the balloon is inflated. Once the balloon is filled with hot air, the basket rights itself and the old folks are inside. I wonder how they position themselves so they don't wind up in a heap on the basket floor and standup! I think we better take a balloon ride sooner than later so that we can climb in.

Once we said our thank you and goodbye to Tomas and his wonderful hospitality, we headed to the Castle Trakai. Destroyed many times by invaders, crusaders, and wars this Castle has been restored, and while it may closely resemble the floor plan of the original, the new red brick (not distressed) modernizes it's appearance. Located on an island in Lake Trakai, the setting is fairy tale beautiful. There were lots of locals enjoying sailing, boating, and swimming here today. We toured the castle and had a nice lunch along the lake trying the local meat pies, beer and wine.

The drive to Vilinius from Trakai, with a quick stop at a market, took us under an hour before we reached Nina's quaint home with lovely garden. Not quite sure and checking the address, we pulled up across from a cute little house we thought might be the correct one. Before we could check the address a woman came out of the house and waved at us and opened the driveway gate.

Our host, Nina had been watching for us. We will be spending two nights here in her upstairs attic apartment. The rooms remind me of the little apartment we rented out in our first home on Lawton Avenue in Oakland. We have a kitchen, bath living room, and dining area with sofa beds in the living and dining areas. Nina had a large' fresh tomato and cucumbers from her garden on the dining table to add to our supper.

Tomorrow we will explore old town Vilnius.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's inVilnius, Lithuania

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 45, July 26 - into Lithuania

Saturday, July 26 - Paddling in Latvia - Borscht in Lithuania

After a very relaxing afternoon and evening canoeing and enjoying some wine at the "ranch" in Latvia, we continue to skip through the countryside to a small lake TrakaiVilnius, Lithuania.. We will circle back to Latvia at the end of our Baltic exploration when we return the rental car to Riga, Latvia and our flight to Warsaw. Soon we will be crossing another border into Lithuania. We have found a radio station this morning that seems to have choral folk songs. Our road trip across Latvia is enhanced by the music, even though we have no idea what the words are or the language it is. I guess that is the beauty of music, melody, and harmony. It has it's own global language.

The border into Lithuania is so nondescript, we don't even realize that we have crossed over until we check our gps location on our offline map. Thank goodness for our geocache mapping program. The maps are not as specific as Internet maps, but good enough. We do not have internet while we travel and are dependent on Cafe or accommodation wifi.

The first little town, Varasai, is situated on a bluff above a pretty blue lake. A circular lakeview walk way spirals down to lake level. It's a good time to stretch our legs. Our trip today is slow and dusty because of summer roadwork.

We find our AirBnB on Lake Vievis north of Lake Trakai and meet our host Tomas at his lakefront home. We are his first-ever guests. It is warm today and he is making us a cold borscht soup for dinner before leaving for a hot air balloon excursion that he and his club are leading for tourists. We are loving meeting all of these interesting people.

The borscht is delicious (pickled beets, smalled diced cucumber, onion, hardboiled egg, dill, milk, and keifer).  When Tomas leaves, we clean up and take an evening swim in the lake.  It is cooler and clearer than last night's lake.

All is well with the Worrall Travel Rs on Lake Vievis in Lithuania

Days 44, A night at "Canyon Ranch" in Latvia

Log Housekeeping Cabins - Canyon Ranch in Latvia

Friday Morning, July 25

Signe prepared crepes with cream cheese, fruits and jellies for breakfast before we took our leave around 10:00 am. We headed south from Tartu towards Latvia,, leaving the predominantly blond headed people and flat lands behind. The countryside south of Tartu developed some rolling hills and by the time we crossed the border into Latvia, the road undulated through small hills and valleys. While many people ae fair haired, we see many more people with darker heads of hair and many red heads. Not sure if the reds are natural or not as most of them are women. The building structures look much as they did in Estonia. Newer buildings are bricked. Older buildings are often plaster or unpainted wooden buildings. Churches vary more from the single tall steeple to two symmetrical steeples on eithe side of the enty door. Latvians have their own language, but unlike the Estonians who have reclaimed their native language as primary, the Latvians seem to speak primarily Russian.

Crossing the border was a non-event. We took a photo of what was once a stately border crossing building. Now it sits empty, with no sign of human life around as we whizzed across the border. It is quite nice not having to go through immigrations and customs in each country that has signed onto the Schengen agreement. It is disappointing though not to collect stamps for these countries into our passports. At one point just prior to crossing the border into Latvia, we could have turned left and crossed into Russia, but make sure we turn right!

Our Airbnb stop tonight is going to be a lakeside resort with log housekeeping cabins, so we stop in a town with a market to buy some dinner and breakfast provisions. The only other stops were to take photos of things we thought were quaint and to find a geocache in the old White Castle in a rural countryside that is in a terrible state of disrepair.

After seeing the end products of reconstruction on several Russian palaces nearly demolished in WWII, we know it can be done, but it sure looks hopeless. Thank goodness there are people who can envision it back to grandeur and are willing and capable of doing so. This castle however, perhaps due to its location in the middle of nowhere or perhaps the lesser nobility of the aristocrats, it dosen't look like reconstruction is fully funded or eminent. If it hadn't been for the geocache, we would not have even found the place.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at Latvia's "Canyon Ranch" in Berzgale. We got a little choked up as memories of Mom and Dad and their place in Sierraville bubbled to the surface. There are four new red roofed log cabins situated in a meadow by a large pond with a fishing deck. On the opposite side of the road from the pond, the owners have a farmhouse and professional kennel built on a knoll overlooking a beautiful lake. Storks are plentiful here, and there is a nest in fron of the farm house with five large birds, the parents who fly off, and three large juveniles who flap their wings, but do not fly from the nest. Irena tells us they migrate to Africa in the winter.

The owners Irena and Anatole raise Malmutes for dog sledding. They have nine for their own team and breed them to sell puppies. There are no puppies here today, but the Malmutes sing to us in howl harmony when we walk close to the farmhouse. The kennels are clean and the dogs well kept. The cabins are winterized and we can just imagine this area in the snow, frozen lakes, and guests with visiting dog sled teams (kennels by each cabin) dashing through the meadows and forested roads in the winter.

Once we are settled in our cozy little cabin, we changed into our swim suits and walk across the road to the lake. After a brief swim to cool off (temp in high 80's) we use the little red guest canoe to paddle around the lake, take a small walk with our neighbors from Saint Petersburg who speak very little English, but enough to invite us to see an old peasant house. We enjoy their company, but cut our hike short when the biting flies and mosquitoes begin to attack us at the peasant house. We scurry back to our cabins. After showering and applying cortisone to our bug bites and some repellant, we sit by our cabin with a glass of shiraz and watch the sunset, before we eat dinner and snuggle up in our beds.

All is Well with Worrall Travel Rs

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Days 42-43, Estonia - Tartu, KGB, Peipsi

No Horizon line on Lake Peipsi - Marina looks suspended in space.
I am writing this blog as we sail on the Peipsi Barge at sunset up river and downriver from Tartu on the Emajogi (Mother) River. Summer swimmers are still in the water as the sun sinks behind the lat horizon at 10 pm. It is our last night in Tartu and in Estonia. Tomorrow, we head into Latvia.

Day 42 - July 23, From Tallin to Tartu

We spend most of the day traveling through gently undulating farm lands of greens and gold, oats and wheat, and deep green forests along the fringes. Estonia is quite flat with beautiful fields but a fairly short growing season. One of our along-the-way leg stretches is a short walk to Jargala water falls. It is Estonia's biggest and best in the winter when frozen. Today it it's width is greatly reduced with the summer water flow, and it's height is about 2 stories high, very little drop in elevation as it lazily meanders to the sea.

About 3:30 we arrive in Tartu and make our way to our AirBNB which is in tattered 1930's era building that belies the inside loveliness of a spacious apartment with beautiful pine wood flooring. Our host is Signe who is home while her husband and 4 daughters are off camping at their rustic summer cottage.

Signe takes us for a walk to old town Tartu, only five minutes away, and orients us in the city and helps us to pick out a cafe for dinner. We settle in an outdoor. eating area in the plaza in front of town hall at Pierres and order a salad and main dish. We are ovrewhelmed with huge portions. We could have shared and still had plenty. The food was excellent. We both ordered pasta bakes. Russ had smoked chicken and broccoli. I had shrimp, salmon, and spinach. Both were in a creamy white sauce-penne pasta base with broiler browned melted cheddar. Yumyum. Good thing we are doing a lot of walking.

Day 43 - July 24 Tartu, KGB Museum, Lake Peipsi, and Historic barge sail.

Signe prepared a wonderful breakfast for us of , rich brown breads with buter and cream cheese, water melon, scrambled eggs, fruit smoothies and coffee. After our hardy breakfast we went for a long walk in and around Tartu which is home of a large and prestigious University. The school is quiet during the summer and we are delighted with the wide open, lightly used parks, streets, and walkways....definitely not touristy like Tallin. Love it.

Our first stop is the KGB Cells, dungeon. The dark grey building we walk to used to be the home of KGB in Estonia. The museum is downstairs in the dungeon where anti-soviet thinkers were tortured and sent to Siberia. Estonia, under threat of war and hostile invasion by Russia, naively signed an agreement of non-aggression with the Russians in 1938, that presumably gave Russia permission to build military basis in Estonia in exchange for not being invaded by the Russians. Well, once the bases were being built, the Russians rolled in and took over anyway. Estonia, thought their best alternative to expel the Russians was to align with Germany during WWII. Much of Estonia suffered severe damage during the war, and afterwards, was given back to Russia in 1944, to suffer even more.


Of course, the country was reeling from the war and devastating loss of independence. Anti-soviet dissent was on the rise and the dissenters were interrogated, tortured, and sent to gulags in Siberia. The museum is a grim but necessary reminder of Soviet oppression and KGB ruthless assault on humanity. Keep in mind that Vladimir Putin was a KGB Lieutenant Colonel for 16 years before going into politics 1991 when the USSR collapsed. Are we seeing history repeat itself as Putin longs for the "good old days" ? The people of Estonia go about their daily business, but there is concern and tension. Signe reported one sighting of Russian fighter plans over Tartu a while back.

We spent the remainder of the early afternoon wandering old town Tartu. One of the old buildings leans more than the tower of Pisa and is supported by a neighboring building with 2 iron cross beams. There are beautiful green parkways along the river where pre-WWI buildings stood before being bombed.

In the late afternoon we drive forty minutes out of town to visit Lake Peipsi. Similar to Lake Tahoe, there is a border running somewhere through the Lake separating Estonia from Russia. Russian patrol boats chase out those who stray in to perceived Russian territory. Getting a view of the lake by driving along the frontage road is difficult as there are tall marsh reeds growing around the perimeter. We drive through a winding string of homes for mikes until we reach a marina where we finally get a view of the lake. There is a haze that obliterates the horizon and the sky. The marina looks as if it were floating in mid air. We wade in to the warm shallow water before returning to Tartu.

Once we return and eat dinner at MacDonalds, our hamburger fix, we board the Peipsi Historic Barge at 8:00 pm for a sunset cruise.. It's been another lovely day.

All is Well with the Worrall Travel Rs