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Trip

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

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.

 

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.

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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.

 

Art Nouveau District of Riga

5 Reasons Why You Should Linger in Riga, Latvia

By | Baltic States, Europe, Trip | No Comments

From Tallinn, Estonia, we took a 5 hour bus ride to Riga, the historical capital of Latvia. Here’s why might be charmed into staying a few extra days in the city that’s been dubbed the “Paris of the North.”

 

1 | It’s the Cultural Hub of the Baltics.

Like Tallinn, the entire city of Riga is an UNESCO heritage site.

Like Tallinn, the entire city of Riga is an UNESCO heritage site.

Views of Riga, Latvia

You can get 360 degree views of the city from the top of the Academy of Science, €6.

It was originally a Viking settlement before being occupied by a different culture nearly every century (Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians). Today, Gothic churches cozy up next to outdoor cafes, modern lounges, and tranquil spas.

It was originally a Viking settlement before being occupied by a different culture nearly every century (Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians).
Today, Gothic churches cozy up next to outdoor cafes, modern lounges, and tranquil spas.

Riga, Latvia

Modern mixes with old.

 

2 | You’ll Be Amazed By The Architecture.

Riga is a cultural mutt and it shows in everything from the Dome Cathedral, it's more important church, to the Art Nouveau district.

Riga is a cultural mutt and it shows in everything from the Dome Cathedral, it’s more important church, to the Art Nouveau district.

Art Nouveau District of Riga

Riga has one of the world’s biggest and best Art Nouveau districts.It also happens to be one of my favorite art history periods, so I’m justifiably biased. #artnerd4lyfe

Art Nouveau District of Riga

The period stressed creative freedom and movement and inspiration from nature, hence the incorporation of vines. It was a reaction to the stiff, Victorian era of realism. And while these these buildings may look stoic today, Art Nouveau was innovation at its prime in its heyday.

 

3 |You’ll Be At Home If You’re A Digital Nomad

While I try to stay away from most things digital when I’m traveling, for a design consultant like myself, I like the option of lingering in an open-air cafes to catch up on work. Riga has the largest number of free WIFI spots per square km in Europe and is surprisingly one of the most and settings like these don’t hurt.

While I try to stay away from most things digital when I’m traveling, for a design consultant like myself, I like the option of lingering in an open-air cafes to catch up on work. Riga has the largest number of free WIFI spots per square km in Europe and is surprisingly one of the most and settings like these don’t hurt.

 

4| You Can Indulge Your Caviar Dreams

Food is relatively cheap, compared to other EU countries.

Food is good and relatively cheap, compared to other EU countries. A simple breakfast of smoked salmon in tartar sauce and lingonberries was light and awesome.

Central Market, Riga

But for the super cheap, one of the best places you can go for fresh, local goods, is the Central Market. Everything from pickled fish and baked goods to desserts and fresh berries (amazing) are located in and around 5 WWI Zeppelin hangars that have been converted into Riga’s biggest market. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

My favorite was the fish market in the last hangar, where I got smoked salmon (ask them to slice it) and caviar for a total of €9. Tuck that in a loaf of just-baked bread (€2) and you’ve got the lunch of a queen.

My favorite was the fish market in the last hangar, where I got smoked salmon (ask them to slice it) and caviar for a total of 9 euros. Tuck that in a loaf of just-baked bread (€2) and you’ve got the ballin’ lunch of a queen.

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McDonalds and caviar dreams

Dave from our group bought a jar of caviar from the market for €25 euros. If you’re wondering about the back story, he decided to bring it out to the club, and later on for a late night snack. #caviardreams

 

5 | There’s Good Night Life

It’s been called "the second city that never sleeps" (though I think whoever coined that term may have never been to New York). Even on a weeknight, we found restaurants open until midnight and lounges and small clubs raging until 3am. Hearing Miley blast from outdoor patios is a funky juxtaposition to the quiet cobble stone streets of 800-year-old Riga. But that’s what makes this city such a charming mix of the old and new.

It’s been called “the second city that never sleeps” (though I think whoever coined that term may have never been to New York). Even on a weeknight, we found restaurants open until midnight and lounges and small clubs raging until 3am. Hearing Miley blast from outdoor patios is a funky juxtaposition to the quiet cobble stone streets of 800-year-old Riga. But that’s what makes this city such a charming mix of the old and new.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Latvia gained its independence so until 1994, people had never seen a McDonald’s. So here we are sitting at the crossroads of history, eating late night Big Macs and leftover caviar from the market in Latvia’s very first fast food joint. I’m still not sure why someone brought a jar of fish eggs to the club, but what did I say about caviar dreams? Anything is possible.

Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax. Where else can you get your hands on an assortment like this? #wheninestonia

7 Things To Do In The Fascinating City of Tallinn, Estonia

By | Baltic States, Europe, Trip | No Comments

After leaving Helsinki, we crossed the Baltic Sea for the off-the-radar capital of Tallinn, Estonia. From getting lost in a fairytale town, to shooting AK-47’s, and visiting abandoned prisons, here’s our list of to-do’s in this fascinating city of contrasts.

 

1 | Take a Free Tour of Old Town

Tallin, Estonia

The entire town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old plazas with modern cafes melt into small alleyways with cute markets and shops.

Old Town, Tallinn

After centuries of being absorbed by the Germans, Danes, Swedes, Russians, and then later by the Germans and Russians again, Estonia is a cultural mutt. The easiest way to capture its long and complicated history is to join a free walking tour. They start at noon and start at the Tourism Center in Old Town.

Kiek in de Kök (Round Tower) is a 15th-century tower built by the Germans. We didn’t end up getting to it, but from here, you can also check out the bastion tunnels, a network of passageways 10m under the city.

Kiek in de Kök (Round Tower) is a 15th-century tower built by the Germans. We didn’t end up getting to it, but from here, you can also check out the bastion tunnels, a network of passageways 10m under the city.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a relic from the Russian Empire.

 

2 | Haul Yourself Up A Tower and Mount The Old City Walls

City Walls of Tallinn, Estonia

Climb up the tower in the middle of the city and walk along the ancient borders of Old Town. €6 admission. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Views from the city walls.

You’ll get spectacular views.

I couldn't help but be a creeper and spy on this cute terrace next to the city wall.

I couldn’t help spotting this cute terrace next door. It’s not spying if I admit it.

 

3 | Take a Shortcut Through a Hidden Alley

Hidden alleyway of Tallinn

Veer off the beaten path, go under an unmarked archway and find solitude in an old passageway.

Alleyways of Tallinn

 

4 | Channel your inner Furiosa

Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax. Where else can you get your hands on an assortment like this? #wheninestonia

While I’m far from being a gun enthusiast, there’s nothing more empowering than a girl who can handle her own. Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax, meaning you can shooting things like an AK-47 is actually allowed. #wheninestonia

Shooting in Tallinn

Shooting in Tallinn

Shooting in Tallinn

Golden Desert Eagle

Golden Desert Eagle

Shooting in Tallinn

Yowza.

 

5 | Get a Glimpse of Estonia’s Soviet Past

Patarei sea fortress-prison

It’s hard to appreciate how hardy Estonians are without getting a first-hand glimpse of its rough history. Patarei was first built by Tzar Nicholas I as a sea fortress-prison for the Russians. It was then taken over by the KGB to torment and kill political prisoners. It wasn’t until two centuries later in 2004 that this chamber of terror was finally abandoned. It was the same year that Facebook launched.

Patarei sea fortress-prison

There are 4 floors, with this being a relatively tame level where prisoners bunked. It was in the basement, where men were used for experiments and the incarcerated were taken into a room and shot.

Patarei sea fortress-prison

In one of the courtyards where prisoners were allowed to roam for an hour each day.

Art in Patarei Prison

After its abandonment, art exhibits, concerts and festivals started popping up.

Today, the occasional concert, art exhibit and music festival happens within the prison's graffitied walls.

In one of the old communal bathrooms.

Art in Patarei sea fortress-prison

Point taken.

 

6 | Reconcile Your faith In Humanity At The Patarei Beach Cafe

Patarei Seaside Cafe

Unwind from Patarei’s dark past with a visit to the seaside Cafe they built right next to the prison.

Patarei Beach cafe

In the summer you can grab a beer, a chaise lounge and borrow a blanket for a cat nap next to the Baltic Sea.

 

7 | Try a locally sourced meal

Last but not least, eat well my friends. While there’s no real national dish, Estonian food is defined by its locally sourced ingredients. Try anything with root vegetables, berries, mushrooms, and if you’re adventurous, game meat (beaver, boar, elk, etc.).

 

 

Take off to Scandinavia

To Scandinavia and the Baltic States!

By | Europe, Scandinavia, Trip | No Comments

It’s the start of yet another Map&Move trip and I wonder this at the beginning of every trek: is there anything more adrenaline-inducing than catching an overnight flight and waking up to the smell of a new country?

 

Take off to Scandinavia

17 of us are about to board flights in our respective countries to meet up in Copenhagen. We’re trekking through 8 countries surrounding the Baltic Sea for the next two weeks. Welcome to life on the road. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.