Category

OUR TRAVELS

Coco Cabs in Havana

7 Local Things to See and Do on the Streets of Havana

By | Caribbeans, Cuba, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments
Meandering down the streets near El Capitale.

1 | Look for the balconies. It’s easy to walk through Havana and be completely transfixed on what’s in front of you: intriguing alleyways and vintage cars cranking pass kids playing soccer. It’s there so much to take in. But look up and you’ll peeks of life above ground-level: women hang-drying laundry, old men sticking their heads out for huffs of cigars, and grandmothers cooking up what I imagine to be amazing pots of arroz con pollo.

Look up. Balconies with people above us.

Looking at me, looking at her.

Paintings line the streets of Habana Vieja.

2 | Find art, art and more art. From paintings on the streets of Habana Vieja, to political graffiti stenciled on old buildings, to modern galleries, Havana has an amazing art scene.

Anthony getting fan drawings.

“The Hulk,” Anthony was by far the local favorite among old ladies and enthusiatic girls. This was a fan portrait he got from an artist on our first day.

Cuban hero revolutionary leaders Julio Antonio Mella, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara painted on a wall in Havana, Cuba

A wall tagged with the faces of Cuban revolutionary leaders: Julio Antonio Mella, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara. Politics are a huge part of everyday Cuban life and conversation.

One of my favorite places to people-watch in Havana, the Paseo del Prado ( or just Prado) during sunset.

3 | Take a stroll though Paseo del Prado. Back in the day, the Prado was one of the wealthiest streets in Havana. The Capitolio and Parque Central are on one end of it, and during sunset, these buildings are picture-perfect.

Paseo del Prado leads to old-school luxury hotels and the Parque Central.

Pose provided by “Mama Sita” Maria.

Havana-Cuba-lunch

4| Try a meal at a very local restaurant. Places like these are government-owned, cheap, and meant for workers. The menu is a fantastic “eff-you” to foreigners (aka they do not cater to tourists, which I love.) There were only 2 things on the menu: chicken or pork. #keepingitreal

Architecture in Havana

5 | Check out the architecture. Since the days of Christopher Columbus, Cuba has been the center of invading cultures, and political and social movements. Havana’s facades are an assortment of all these influences. This building in particular is a one of my favorite examples of Moorish/ Arab influence. #artnerd.

"La Artista" Nina, catching birds on the corner of Cuba Street... in Cuba.

6 | Find “Cuba” in Cuba. Everytime I walk pass Cuba Street, the foreigner in me can’t help but take a picture of it.  Pictured: “La Artista” Nina.

Coco Cabs in Havana

7 | Pose with a coco cab. They’re meant for tourists, but seriously, can you resist? They’re probably one of the cutest forms of transportation I’ve ever seen.

 

Who went to Cuba, May 2016

By | Cuba, OUR TRAVELS, Trip | No Comments

Yesterday we came back from our second Map&Move trip to Cuba.

12 strangers trekking through one of the most socially and politically interesting places of our time. We made it through jelly fish stings, language barriers, no wifi, and at the end… no cash. Always up for a challenge #‎whenincuba. Here’s a look at our travel fam!

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Brooke

Brooke P.

Photography Nut, Italian at Heart, Tequila Lover. Dream Job as a Kid: News Anchor Woman. Fav Quote: “Who, if not us. When, if not now.” Nickname: Coco Mo

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Nariman

Nariman C.

Engineer, Citizen of the world (I don’t understand the usefullness of borders), and Sports lover. Dream Job as a Kid: Engineer. Fav Quote: “Deep in the sea are riches beyond compare. But if you seek safety, it is on the shore.”- Sa’adi, Persian Poet Nickname: NaughtyMan

 

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Danny

Danny K.

Experience-Seeker, Whiskey and Bourbon Lover, Dance Machine (but only have 1 move… the shooting guns). Dream Job as a Kid:  Garbage Man (I know, huge aspirations!). But then around the age of 12 I realized I wanted to be a entrepreneur like my dad.Fav Quote: “Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” – Viktor E. Frankl Nickname: Brie-Easy

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Peter

Peter Y.

Temperance-maker, Vain-glory Seeker, Engineer. Dream Job as a Kid: Artist or engineer. Fav Quote: “Home is where the heart, so wherever I go, I’m home.” Nickname: Jarvis

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Julia

Julia G.

Adventure-Seeker, Counselor, Rock Climber Dream Job as a Kid: Private Investigator Fav Quote: When you travel you find yourself.” Nickname: Goldie

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Kevin

Kevin D.

Napper, Current MBA Student, Former Army Captain. Dream Job as a Kid: Gas Station Owner. Fav Quote: “I checked the actuarial tables, and the lowest death rate is among six-year-olds. So I decided to eat like a six-year-old.” – Warren Buffett. Nickname: El Capitan

Maria S.

Travel Addict, Whisky Devotee, Jack-of-all-Trades. Dream Job as a Kid: Architect (like Frank Gehry). Fav Quote: “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho Nickname: Mama Sita

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Nina

Nina K.

Art Buff, Wine Aficionado, Sail Boat Enthusiast. Dream Job as a Kid: Pediatrician, Veterinarian or Ballerina. Fav Quote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust Nickname: La Artista

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Anthony

Anthony K.

Weightlifter, Scotch Lover, Detroit Techno Listener. Dream Job as a Kid: Commissioned Naval Officer (in the footsteps of my family). Fav Quote: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Nickname: The Hulk

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Jean

Jean L.

Dream Job as a Kid: Cartoonist. Fav Quote: “You live but once; you might as well be amusing.” – Coco Chanel Nickname: Filter Free

Map&Move Cuba Crew- Alicia

Alicia M.

Artist, Hiker, Pierogi Lover. Dream Job as a Kid: Artist Nickname: Sleepy

Jenn

Jenn L.

Dessert Junkie, Story-Teller, Sun Worshiper. Dream Job as a Kid: Teacher, Fashion Designer, or pizza shop owner (so I’d never be hungry). Fav Quote: “The best protection any woman can have… is courage.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton Nickname: Bubbles

Things to expect in Trinidad, Cuba

By | OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

In Trinidad, Cuba, You’ll Find Salsa, Cowboys, and Colors

Cuba_Trinidad_Travel_Taxi

In Cuba, it’s not uncommon to do car shares. Michel from our crew sat in the front of the taxi, while we picked up two more passengers who were also headed in the direction we were going.

Cuba_Trinidad_taxi

I’d just dozed off into a hazy dream when I realized the car had stopped. “What happened?” I asked? One of the passenger’s luggage had fallen on the roof of the car. Hello Cuba. 

Cuba_Trinidad_Travel_Taxi2

5 hours later, we arrived in colorful, spectacular Trinidad with all our luggage in tact.

Cuba_Trinidad_Horse_Culture

Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage city. It reeks of color and other pieces of charm things like horse-drawn carriages. 

Trinidad-cuba-casa-accomodation-life

A lot of waiting around. Patience is a virtue.

Trinidad-cuba-casa-accomodation

We finally got to our casa particular.

Cuba_Trinidad_Travel_Cathedral

… and got to see views like this. 

Trinidad-cuba-casa-accomodation2

Our casa was situated above a little banana plantation. Amy was our Cover Girl.

Cuba_Trinidad_Grafitti_Art

Dorks.

Cuba_Trinidad_City

Trinidad is small and intimate. But it’s full of music and flavor.

Cuba_Trinidad_City2Stroll aroun

Cuba_Trinidad_Travel_food

Snacking on fresh stuff like this.

Trinidad-cuba-horse-riding

Cuba_Trinidad_Best_Food

Pork Roast

Cuba_Trinidad_Salsa_Music

Right in the middle of town is Casa de la Música one of two main bars with live music from dusk until late.

Puerto Rico rainforest El Yunque hiking trail

Visiting El Yunque- the US’ only rainforest

By | Caribbeans, North America, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Whenever I escape the concrete jungle of NYC, I try to find patches of nature and breathe in as much as humanly possible.

On our second and final day in Puerto Rico, we drove 1.5 hours outside of cosmopolitan San Juan to El Yunque Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the US national park system.

Coca Falls, Puerto Rico rainforest El Yunque hiking trail waterfall

Coca Falls can be seen from the road on the drive up.

Puerto Rico rainforest El Yunque hiking trail

El Yunque has nicely paved trails and tame walkways for the most part. I was hoping to get my fitness on via some steep inclines, but these trails were great for a nice morning walk regardless.

Puerto Rico rainforest El Yunque hiking trail

I like trees.

Puerto Rico rainforest El Yunque hiking trail waterfall swimming

There are 6 different trails you can take up El Yunque. We picked La Mina so that we could follow the winding river up to La Mina waterfall for a quick (freezing) dip.

Puerto_Rico_Yunque_Luquillo_beach_trip

Puerto Rico has about 270 miles of beach to frolick along. After leaving El Yunque, we took a 45 minute ride to Luquillo, a local beach.

Puerto_Rico_Luquillo_Beach_Kiosks

On a Sunday, Luquillo was brimming with families on jetskis and awkward teens on dates. (Don’t lie. You can relate.)

Puerto_Rico_Yunque_Luquillo_Local_Beach_water

Hanging off the piers and catching the breeze with our feet.

Puerto_Rico_food_Luquillo-Kiosks

We spent our last 2 hours at the Luquillo Kiosks, a stretch of 60-or-so outdoor food stalls next to the beach.

Puerto_Rico_rainforest_food_Luquillo-Kiosks

The kiosks serve everything from traditional monfongos (mashed plantains) and morcilla (blood sausages), to ceviche and fried everything, like this tasty but salty little friend. After we got our fill of local snacks and rum-y drinks, we made our way back to the airport. Good-bye for now, Caribbean Sun. See you again in May :D

 

Castillo San Cristóbal

Last Weekend In Puerto Rico

By | North America, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Every few months, the travel bug creeps on me like clockwork.

So last weekend, I rallied my partner-in-crime and together, Kevin and I ravaged Hitlist for a last-minute weekend getaway. As usual, the criteria was simple: flights had to cost no more than 2 weeks worth of eating out ($400 or less), the plane ride no more than 5 hours, and the destination flip-flop-friendly. Our answer was Puerto Rico.

Castillo San Cristóbal

We landed Friday night and spent Saturday morning exploring Old San Juan. Our first destination: Castillo San Cristóbal, the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.

Castillo San Cristóbal

Partner-in-crime, Cap’t Kevin D.

the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.

Peeking out through the second level of the fort. Kevin was in the military and I’m a not-so-closet closet nerd. So if you’re into military trivia ( Kevin) + random bits of history (me), here’s a pretty good breakdown of Cristobal and its little secrets (like its underground tunnel system).

Castillo San Cristóbal

Inside Cristóbal.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_Cristobol2

From atop of the fort is this amazing sprawl of city. On our way out, we stopped at the Museo de San Juan. Its location is epic: its entrance faces the Atlantic Ocean and the museum sits nonchalantly between two centuries-old forts. No big deal.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_food_market

It was too glorious of a day to spend inside so we didn’t actually venture into the museum. Instead we got distracted by the Saturday farmer market’s in the courtyard.

DSC_5Puerto-Rico-tamale

Homemade goodness like fresh tamales lined the market tables.

World's cutest pineapple P

We found the world’s cutest pineapples at another table.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_drink_sugarcane

A stand cranking out fresh sugarcane juice.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_ElMorro

We took our hot tamales for an impromptu picnic outside Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the second of the two 400-year-old fortifications surrounding Old San Juan.

Castillo San Cristóbal

Inside, we strolled around its 6 levels until we found a secluded wall for some optimal ocean-viewing.

Puerto_Rico_San Juan_Musuem

A 5-minute walk from El Morro, is Ballajá Barracks built by the Spanish militia for its troops and families. We pit stopped for views + coffee. For $6, you walk upstairs to check out the Museo Las Americas.

Puerto-Rico-IslaVerde

And of course, the beach. Puerto Rico has 270 miles of sandy coast to frolick on. So we took a 20 minute drive to the popular, but still pristine Isla Verde for a splash.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_food_Ceviche-Taco

Saturday night ceviche. We popped into Bagua, a local (but highly Yelp-ed) seafood place near our AirBnB in Ocean Park. Fresh grouper in plantain tacos.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_food_squid

Rum + grilled octopus. This was my favorite dish for its saucy, tender goodness.

Puerto_Rico_SanJuan_food_steak-Plantain

Skirt steak in fried plantain. This was another win.

El Morro castle

Ending the night on top of a fort on a Saturday night…

 

How We Made it to Havana, Cuba

By | Caribbeans, Cuba, North America, OUR TRAVELS, Trip | No Comments

With the recent political talks with Cuba, it seemed appropriate to kick 2016 off with a Map&Move trip that tested a few boundaries.

Current headlines like “CheapAir.com Now Selling Direct Flights to Cuba”, make it sound like Americans can just jet off to the island and daintily sip Cuba Libres on the beach. While it’s nice to imagine that you can just erase 50 years of political weirdness in a few months, ya can’t. In reality the official rules posted by OFAC haven’t changed much. You still need 1 of 12 reasons to visit (legally from the US anyway) and the most common one (obviously) points to a pricy tour.

Old Montreal Tour

So naturally, a Map&Move trip had to test out a few things. First would be the prep work. After mind-numbing hours of calls with the embassy, airlines and complicated websites, everything (mostly) worked out in the last hour. 

Amy found a toy in the window. Excited. Enroute to Havana, Cuba, we had a 4 hour layover in Montreal.

As with any worthwhile trip, a good crew is a must, and the group that signed up for this trip promised to be a fun and eclectic one. Being the only US citizens, Amy and I left from NYC, Jorge and Michel from Mexico City, and Karmin and Philo later from Montreal.

Enroute to Havana, Cuba, we had a 4 hour layover in Montreal.

Amy and I headed out from NYC at midnight. After a 10 hour bus ride, we arrived at Montreal at 5am. We had 4 hours to explore the city before our flight to Havana. Unluckily for us, we arrived right at the start of a blizzard. Our toes frozen into little baby carrot stumps by the time we boarded our flight.

Cuba_Havana_NIghtlife1

Four hours later… touchdown. We landed at Jose Marti International Airport and found ourselves in a parallel universe.

Cuba_Havana_Nightlife2

After dropping our bags off at our accommodations for the night, we took off to explore Vedado, the business and urban district of Havana and found ourselves at the entrance of an old warehouse-turned art space.

Cuba_Havana_Nightlife

Any misconceptions of Havana being one giant homogenous city “stuck in the 50’s” were abruptly and deliciously squished (just as I hoped) by the contemporary art scene. Giant projections framed the entrance of an outdoor patio.

Cuba_Havana_Nightlife3

One of the bars in the warehouse.

Cuba_Havana_Nightlife_art3

One of my favorite pieces from the contemporary art, modern jewelry and furniture smattered around the space.

Cuba_Havana_Nightlife_art

Wood etching.

Cuba_Havana_NIghtlife10

Cuba_Havana_Nightlife1

Alcoves and room connected outdoor spaces for dranks and la música under the stars. Ahh, we made it.

 

Map&Move travel tour in Havana, Cuba

See Who’s Coming to Cuba, Jan 2016

By | OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Meet the crew coming on our Cuba trip this New Year’s Eve!

Amy H. | Dallas, Texas

“I like adventures where you wander until you are tired. And then you eat.”

Jenn L. | NYC, New York

“I design stuff and lead Map&Move trips. Oh, and I love cheesecake and getting lost in new cities.”

KarMan P. | Brussels, Belgium

Favorite quote: “I didn’t strive for success, I strive to do something artistically important.”- D. Bowie

Michel L. | Mexico City, Mexico

Favorite quote: “Smile my friend, you’re way too ugly, too old, and too boring to look like that… ” – Logan Rainer

Jorge O. | Mexico City, Mexico

Music nerd and tech guy.

Philo D. | Brussels, Belgium

Fun Fact: I speak 5 languages.

Iceland Video by Cam Thompkins

Video: Capturing Life & Iceland in Motion

By | Europe, Iceland | No Comments

“You can’t change the cards you’re dealt, just how you play the hand.”

The quote above is by Randy Pausch, a professor and author of one of the best books on life that I’ve ever read. In The Last Lecture, Pausch writes about how to achieve your childhood dreams. He’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer and this was the last lecture he gave to this students at Carnegie Mellon.

After my cousin Victoria was diagnosed with cancer 4 years ago, she had this quote tattooed on her arm. She used it to remind herself to seize life, no matter what the circumstances. 3 weeks ago she passed away. She was my life-long best friend.

In the midst of her passing, the Map&Move trip to Iceland was in two days. Amie, Cam, Matt, Joe and Nate were 5 strangers whose only common bond was the fact that they’d signed up for the same trip. I needed to be in New York to be with family, but but I was determined for them to go- life was dealing a shitty hand but there was no time to sulk.

So in the midst of planning  the funeral, I re-booked logistics for the trip, checked my maps and hashed out the new itinerary with the crew; they would be set to go to Iceland without me.  But I was nervous- this would be the first time I’d planned a trip and not be there to see it through.

PC: Amie Jean

PC: Amie Jean

The crew came back from Iceland 5 days later. Not only did they come back with amazing stories, but Cam created this breathtaking video of the trip. He wrote, “We had around 5.5 hours of daylight, with the sun constantly on the horizon. It was immensely beautiful. It also forced us to be very deliberate about where we went, given the small amount of time we’d be able to see these natural wonders. This video was shot over the course of 4 days. I want to thank those adventurous friends I made on the trip, and Map&Move for presenting me with this opportunity to venture to a place I never thought I’d go to.

Thanks to these magnificent Map&Mover’s for their support and taking the itinerary and making it their own. I’m grateful to Amie for taking the lead, to Cam for capturing the essence of the trip through his lens, to Joe, Matt and Nate for playing everything by ear, and to everyone for taking the cards they were dealt and playing a great hand.

Iceland nature Map&Move

Iceland Day 4: Driving the Golden Circle

By | Iceland, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Let’s see. Today, I walked the fault line between two tectonic plates, saw some geysers, checked out a waterfall, and saw a volcanic crater. Oh and I got a sweet new hat! -Matt

Photos and captions by Matt Levin & Cam Thompkins

PC: Cam Thompkins

PC: Cam Thompkins

Tectonic plates

The tectonic plate dividing the Eurasia and North America. PC: Cam Thompkins

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss, one of the largest waterfalls in the world. PC: Cam Thompkins

Kerid Crater

Kerid Crater, frozen over. PC: Cam Thompkins

The extended sunset is incredible. PC: Cam Thompkins

The extended sunset is incredible. PC: Cam Thompkins

Roadtrip Iceland

PC: Matt Levin

A contemplative Joe Hsu.

A contemplative Joe Hsu. PC: Cam Thompkins

Iceland Day 3: Hike Glaciers And Black Sand Beaches

By | Europe, Iceland, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Today was ermayzing. Hiked a glacier and saw ice pieces on a black sand beach.

Photos and text by Amie Jean & Cam Thompkins

Vatnajökull National Park. PC: Cam Thompkins

Taken just past Skaftafell, on the eastern side of the island. PC: Cam Thompkins

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Our glacier hike guide, Donna. She explained what glaciers are and how they form. Snow fall from the mountain top piles, flows down the mountain, melts. Then the next snow fall piles, flows down the mountain, melts. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Where I’m standing in this photo, the ice is only about 5 to 10 meters thick, and about 150 years old. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Over time, each layer compacts into a thick sheet of ice. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Donna chipped off a piece of the glacial floor we were standing on and I put a piece of the 150 year old ice in my mouth. Probably the cleanest piece of ice i’ve ever ingested. PC: Amie Jean

Inside a glacier crevacInside a glacier crevice

Inside a glacier crevice. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

The thickest point of the Vatnajokull glacier is up to 1000 meters thick. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

PC: Joe Hsu

Leaving Vatnajökull Iceland

Leaving Vatnajökull. PC: Amie Jean

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake, Iceland

Arriving at Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake. PC: Cam Thompkins

Ancient ice on the black sand beach of Jökulsárlón. PC: Amie Jean

Ancient ice on the black sand beach of Jökulsárlón. PC: Amie Jean

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake

PC: Cam Thompkins

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake

Reflection. PC: Cam Thompkins

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake

PC: Cam Thompkins

Iceland Days 1+2: Waterfalls, Volcanoes & Icelandic Horses

By | Europe, Iceland, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Ahhh, Iceland. I wasn’t able to make our most recent trip, but the newest Map&Move crew did. Amie, Nate, Cam, Matt and Joe flew in on Thanksgiving. After a proper home-cooked Icelandic holiday feast,  they took off driving through the land of fire and ice.

Photos and captions by Amie Jean & Cam Thompkins

We hiked behind the waterfall (got soaking wet and frozen, but so worth it). PC: Amie Jean

SO MUCH happened today!! Departed Reykjavik, stopped at Seljandsfoss and hiked behind the waterfall. (Got soaking wet and frozen, but so worth it). PC: Amie Jean

11986447_10153779504568832_145174032887204951_n

PC: Amie Jean

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

PC: Amie Jean

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

PC: Amie Jean

12278982_10153779503948832_1329085671221651404_n

PC: Amie Jean

Stopped at Skogafoss and climbed a bajillion stairs to the top of the waterfall. PC: Cam Thompkins

Stopped at Skogafoss and climbed a bajillion stairs to the top of the waterfall. PC: Cam Thompkins

Everywhere the clouds seemed to rise from the ground. It felt like another planet. PC: Cam Thompkins

Then we went off route and discovered an epic archway. Everywhere the clouds seemed to rise from the ground. It felt like another planet. PC: Cam Thompkins

The black sand beaches of Vik took my breath away. Viewed from off route, from Dyrhólaeyjarviti. PC: Cam Thompkins

These are the black sand beaches viewed from Dyrhólaeyjarviti, which sits about 1000 feet up. The white on the right side is snow. PC: Cam Thompkins

Dyrhólaeyjarviti

Dyrhólaeyjarviti, PC: Cam Thompkins

Icelandic horses (ponies?) PC: Cam Thompkins

Icelandic horses (ponies?) PC: Cam Thompkins

PC: Amie Jean

PC: Amie Jean

Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Unlike Estonia, we were shooting in open air.

What’s It Like To Shoot A Gun In Lithuania?

By | Baltic States, Europe, OUR TRAVELS, Perspectives, Trip | No Comments

“On May 11th, more than 37,000 men, aged 19-26, woke up and found their surnames on Lithuania’s compulsory military service list…”

 

That’s how a recent article from earlier this year started. Just a few months ago, Lithuania responded to the tensions in Russia and Ukraine by reinstating the required service that they had abolished in 2008. We didn’t realize this when we recently went to a gun range in Lithuania. This is how the next three hours unfolded.

Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Unlike Estonia, we were shooting in open air.

For €75, we had arranged to have access to 13 different guns, ranging from pistols to assault rifles. Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the picturesque capital of Lithuania. We’d spent the morning wandering through old churches and romantic cobblestone streets, and the dusty, open field of the shooting range was a huge (but exhilarating) departure.

Yuri trained soldiers for the Lithuanian military. When he first mentioned this, we didn't realize the weight it carried. It wasn't until later on that I realized that Lithuania had restored its mandatory military service for men earlier this year. It issue really people hard; it came a surprise and this incredible article captures the emotional issue well. The most surreal part in all of this was Yuri's 6-year-old son who hung out with us on the field.

Yuri trained soldiers for the Lithuanian military. When he first mentioned this, we didn’t realize the weight it carried. It wasn’t until later on that I understood why he emphasized his training: because many Lithuanians felt unprepared for military service and the issue has been hitting the country hard. “Can you imprison a man’s choice and call it free living?” someone pleaded in this emotional reaction to the unexpected mandate.

The most surreal part in all of this was Yuri’s 6-year-old son who hung out with us the entire time.

We started out with pistols. 4 types to be exact: the Glock-17, SIG Sauer P226, Colt, and Makarov PM. No big deal.

Back on the shooting range Yuri made it clear from the start: we would be learning everything from the ground up. First, the pistols…

There was no hand-holding: Yuri made sure we learned how to fill our own cartridges and to lock and load our guns.

We learned how load bullets in our own cartridges and to lock and load our own guns.

The Uzi

With every rotation, the guns got heavier.This was the Uzi.

The Uzi

I’m proud to say that Emily was the best shooter of the day. #GirlRepresent.

Target practice

I liked Yuri from the start. He was like a gentle militant, the kind of dad I’d imagine drilling you hard at soccer practice but would let you get an extra scoop on your double fudge sundae. He made us review our target practices after each and every round, marking each successful shot with tape and teasing us when our aim was embarrassingly off.

Guns20

AK-47

Shooting the H&K G36

And while it was empowering as a woman to own the gun range, I realized that I rarely flip gender story around to talk about society’s expectations of men. Men who protested the military service were quickly labeled “unmanly,” “cowardly” and “disgraceful.”

Shooting in Lithuania

Thompson “Tommy” Gun

The Thompson “Tommy” Gun.

Obligatory victory shot. Dave, second from the right had a staple gun. #dork

Ending the day.

Leftover casings from one of our rounds.

Leftover casings.

Shooting in Lithuania

Photo Credit: Calvin Sun

Shooting range in Lithuania

Shooting range in Lithuania

All the while, this little nugget was riding his dirt bike around. T

And in the face of all of this, my sense is that Lithuanians are tough people. Case in point, Yuri’s son who had been riding around on this little dirt bike. No big deal. Just hanging with a bunch of rifle-handling noobies on the field.

How to Spend 2 Interesting Days in Unexpected Vilnius, Lithuania

By | Baltic States, Europe, Trip | No Comments

Medieval churches sit on old cobblestone streets and everything melts into a pink mirage come sunset. It’s almost hard to believe that you can find a renegade republic and shoot a Tommy gun in the same city. Here are our tips.

 

Get A City Tour of Old Vilnius

Vilnius is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the largest surviving (and arguably most gorgeous) medieval quarters in Europe. Case in point: the 13th century St Ann's Church.

Vilnius is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the largest surviving (and arguably most gorgeous) medieval quarters in Europe. Case in point: the 13th century St Ann’s Church.

St. Anne’s Church Complex

I’m not usually a fan of tours, but there’s more than meets the eye with this old city and the best way to appreciate its history is to take a free city tour. They start in Town Hall and you can get info at any hostel or hotel.

2

St. Casimir’s Cathedral

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania is the stuff that fairytales are made of. Another favorite: the fluffy, bubble gum exterior of St. Casimir’s Cathedral.

Find the Runaway Republic of Užupis and Get Your Passport Stamped

Here, you can cross the bridge to Užupis, the renegade district that has declared itself an independent republic. It has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers and constitution- all fittingly made official on April 1st, 1997.

Cross the bridge and walk over the Vilnia River to the neighborhood of Užupis. The renegade district has declared itself an independent republic from Lithuania since April 1st, 1997. (Notice the date.) The republic has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, and of course, constitution (see below).

Go inside the cafe pictured above, and a waitress will knowingly nod her head, reach inside of a drawer, and make your stay Užupis official with a passport stamp.

Come on April 1st, Užupis’ Independence Day and get your passport stamped. If you can’t make it then, the Republic is forgiving. Just go inside the Užupis Cafe (pictured above), and a waitress will knowingly nod her head, reach inside of a drawer, and bestow upon you a stamp of validation.

Bridge to Užupis

Go back outside and take a flight of steps until you’re under the bridge. Find the swing over the river and make merry!

Off to the side of the bridge, spot a whimsical mermaid.

Off to the side of the bridge, spot a whimsical mermaid.

Užupis!

On the bridge, find some love locks.

The Užupis Constitution

Take a 10-minute walk to Paupio Street, and you’ll find the Constitution of Užupis fixed to the wall. It declares perfectly just statements like: “Man has the right to individuality”, “a dog has the right to be a dog”, and my personal favorite, “a cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.”

Climb up the Bell Tower of Vilnius University

Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius

Climb the Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius for an amazing spread of the city.

Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius

Voilà!

Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius

Change Courses and Shoot a Gun in an Open Field

Shooting in Lithuania

Take advantage of the plethora of artillery choices and the wide open fields, and book a session at a gun range. Our instructor picked us up from our hostel and drove 30 minutes outside of Old Town.

Shooting in Lithuania Shooting in Lithuania

Catch a stellar Sunset

St. Casimir’s Cathedral

Enter through Bernardine Park, stroll along the river and climb up Hill of Three Crosses.

Check out the view of Old Vilnius from the Hill of Three Crosses.

Check out Old Vilnius from the Hill of Three Crosses.

Spy Gediminas Tower off in the distance, the very last bits of the Upper Castle of Vilnius. Lithuania.

Spy Gediminas Tower off in the distance. It’s the very last bit of the Upper Castle that’s still standing in Old Vilnius.

Sunset

Contemplate life, or nothing at all, but remember to come prepared with a bottle of wine.

Take a night stroll through Old Town

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square.

 lazy dinner among the quaint cobblestone streets along Vilnius University:

Finish off by walking along Pilles Street. It runs from Cathedral Square to Town Hall and it’s line with cafes, small shops and artwork being sold along the street. Our rec: Forto Dvaras for local dishes like meat zeppelins, wild mushroom soup, and deep-fried cod.

The Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania

Walk all the way to the southern edge of Old Vilnius and rendezvous with the Gate of Dawn, the only surviving piece of the city’s one defensive wall. Our accommodations, Hostel Gate, were right by here.