Weekly Photo Challenge – Time Stopped in Skopje

This Skopje clock stopped during the 1963 earthquake.

This week’s photo challenge is about time.  At the old train station in Skopje, Macedonia (which is now the City Museum), time stands still.  You see, a huge earthquake hit the city at 5:17 am on July 29, 1963, and the forceful tremors caused this Skopje clock to stop working.  Of course, the tremors also caused all sorts of other extensive damage (approximately 80% of the city’s buildings were destroyed), and in the days, weeks and months following the quake nations from around the world pitched in to help Skopje rebuild.  Today, Skopje is a vibrant city with interesting architecture, good food and friendly people; I strongly recommend visiting Skopje for two or three days during your Balkan backpacking trip!

Mealtime Monday – The Salad That Turned Me Vegetarian

The Best Salad for a Vegetarian in Barcelona!

I celebrated Christmas in Spain, a country I hadn’t visited since 2005.  Spain will always hold a special place in my heart, as it is the first place I tried to move to on my own (spoiler alert: I failed miserably!) and it is also the place where I became a vegetarian.  One of the things that I credit with turning me into a vegetarian was the salad dressing at a restaurant called Organic, and I was so looking forward to enjoying it again, ten years later.  Sadly, I found that Organic seems to have shut its doors, but in talking to a local I learned that a restaurant called BioCenter offered a similar menu.  Imagine my surprise when I got in line at their expansive salad bar and discovered they were serving the salad dressing!  You can see the vivid yellow salad dressing in the photo above…  On lettuce, on carrots, on cabbage, with tomatoes dipped in it, soaking up the leftovers with whole-grain bread, licking whatever is left right off the plate… This dressing was worth the ten-year wait!

WPC – Girl with Camel, Mongolia

Girl with Camel, Mongolia

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is being optimistic.  What could be more optimistic than youth, whether that is a young girl from Mongolia, or the young camel that she cares for?  Seeing young people who are willing to take a risk (by sharing their day with a foreigner), nurturing (she was so proud to show off her camel!) and connected to nature has to give you hope for the future!  It is common to stay with families when you travel around rural Mongolia.  Many families are always excited to have guests, though a handful have done it so many times that they seem a bit blasé.  One of the highlights of my trip in Mongolia was spending a day with this particular family, who had no experience with tourists before they met us.  Their motorcycle broke down at the side of the road, and our driver stopped to help them.  To repay us for our time (and our driver’s labour) they invited us to their nearby home to use their cooking facilities, meet their children and see their animals.  It was the most authentic, and most memorable, part of my seven-week trip last summer.

WPC – Barcelona’s Pavilion Mies van der Rohe

Pavilion Mies van der Rohe

I have a favorite spot in Barcelona that few people seem to know about.  In fact, when I was there over the Christmas holidays I stayed with a friend who lived only two kilometers away (I walked there from his house!) but had never heard of my favorite place.  What is this mysterious locale, you ask?  It’s the Pavilion Mies van der Rohe, a reconstruction of the German Pavilion that Mies van der Rohe designed for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona.  The pavilion was always intended to be temporary, so it was torn down within a year of its initial construction, but the building’s modernist impact was so unquestionable that in the mid-1980s a group of Spanish architects led a movement to reconstruct the pavilion at the base of Montjuic mountain in Barcelona, where it still stands today.  This week’s photo challenge is all about gravity and feeling weighted or weightless, and I think the Pavilion Mies van der Rohe is one of the few places on earth where you can step a few meters away from the hustle and bustle of the city and feel like you’re actually floating- weightless- in another world.  The use of glass and water throughout the pavilion creates a completely otherwordly effect that I have yet to experience anywhere else, which is why I always make the Pavilion Mies van der Rohe one of my first stops when I visit Barcelona.

The Only Beauty Product You Should Spend Your Christmas Money On

baiden mitten

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart… And by “you”, I mean Baiden Mitten.  Tired of exfoliating gloves, salt scrubs, sugar scrubs, Korean towels, microbeads, apricot kernals, loofahs and whatever other “exfoliating” products were touted as the next big thing, I caved and asked for a Baiden Mitten for Christmas.  It turned out to be a life-changing beauty purchase, and it is undoubtedly the #1 way I would recommend you spend your holiday cash this year!

Unlike other exfoliating cloths, the Baiden Mitten feels very smooth on its surface, and is made of tightly-woven material.  To really get the full effect you absolutely have to start by soaking in a hot tub for upwards of twenty minutes (put a big glass of ice water and your laptop playing your favorite show beside your tub… and don’t add any bubble bath or oil to the water!), and then you simply rub the dampened glove over your skin in long, firm strokes.  You will immediately see layers of dead skin start peeling off, and when you drain your bathtub you will be horrified… and fascinated… by all of the flakes of skin left behind.  I like to moisturize with a gentle, unscented lotion afterwards, and I repeat the process once every week or two.  I wouldn’t necessarily try using the Baiden Mitten on my face (right now I’m into the cult French product A313 for exfoliating my delicate visage) but I love it for my chest, back, legs, arms and torso.  My mitten is still going strong after one year of regular use, and I don’t anticipate having to replace it in the near future either.

So if Santa sent you cash, or an Amazon gift card, and if you want your skin to be smoother than a baby’s bottom, you’ve got to get a Baiden Mitten!

Mealtime Monday – In a Latvian Kitchen

Kitchen Restaurant in Riga, Latvia

This week’s Mealtime Monday posts comes to you from Kitchen Restaurant in Riga, Latvia.  At this chic little eatery just steps away from the central market, vegetarians, omnivores and carnivores can all find a creative, affordable lunch or dinner.  (I feel like that sounds like a paid advertisement, but it’s definitely not!)  I opted for their salad of seasonal vegetables tossed in a rhubarb cream dressing; on the side there was fresh bread with vegan pumpkin “butter”.  I followed this with a second course of cheese tortellini in a sorrel cream sauce, and had to restrain myself from ordering a dessert too!  This was a fine dining meal at family dining prices.  Vegetarians in the Baltics don’t have to worry; there is lots of warm, hearty fare to keep you satisfied!

Empties – December 2015

Empties December 2015

Another year comes to a close, another haul of empties goes into the garbage bin.  So, what will I re-purchase in 2016?

Carefree Aloe Intimate Wash – I bought this in Romania a few years ago.  Unlike some other products with strong perfumes that are designed to mask your vagina’s natural scent, this was a gentle, unscented, pH-balanced intimate wash that kept things comfortable when I was using foreign laundry detergent.  For the sake of your sexual health it’s a good idea to have an unscented, non-irritating product like this to wash “down there”.

Nivea Harmony Time Body Wash – It washed my body and smelled nice.  It didn’t do any favors for my skin.

Live Clean Argan Oil Body Wash – Again, I liked the scent of this one but didn’t find it especially moisturizing.

L’Oreal EverCreme Intense Nourishing Shampoo – I used up the conditioner long ago, and this mostly-empty bottle was sitting in my shower for too long.  This winter, I made a point of using it up.  I love this formula’s rich hydration, and while it can be a bit heavy on fine hair it’s great in dry climates.

Nair for Sensitive Skin – I’m still not convinced that hair removal creams keep me smooth longer than shaving, but I like the smell of this stuff so I buy it when it’s on sale.

Septona Facial Wipes – I bought these (with Greek writing on them!) at the State Department Store in Mongolia, for my Gobi Desert excursion.  They kept my face (and armpits!) clean, but I’d stick with brands I know better in the future.

Secret Antiperspirant – One that keeps popping up in my empties, I know! I was so committed to using the last little bit (because I forgot to buy more…) that it fell out.

L’Oreal Pro-Keratin Refill Shampoo and Conditioner – I received these in a beauty box last year.  I really liked this pairing, from L’Oreal’s salon line, and would repurchase at a lower price point.

Beauty Protector Leave-In Conditioner – Obviously everyone loves the smell of this one, which is a Birchbox exclusive.  It didn’t do much to improve the look or feel of my hair, but again, it smelled amazing.

Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentree – I already had my friend from Franch repurchase this ultra-rich, ultra-hydrating moisturizer for me.  I’ll never get away with using it in the summer, but in the winter it’s kept my skin soft and supple.

Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes Mascara – I liked this one, but no more than a good drugstore mascara.

Benefit Bad Gal LashI’ll never run out, so I’ll never repurchase.

Elizabeth Arden Flawless Future Powered by Ceramide Caplet Serum – I definitely enjoyed typing that more than I enjoyed using this!  The caplets felt like they were full of shimmer, and most of them didn’t actually make it up the pump (you can see they’re all stuck in the bottom of the “empty” sample bottle).  Besides the problems with dispensing this product, there were no noticeable improvements to my skin tone or texture (other than the initial blast of shimmer).

Brazen Eyeshadow (or Lipgloss?) – I think I got this in a Beauty Box 5 a few years ago and just forgot to throw it out.  Never opened, not interested in this coppery color.

Rimmel Stay Matte Liquid Mousse Foundation – I’m always kind of scared of trying out drugstore foundations, but this sample made me think that maybe my fear is unfounded.  I liked the soft, easy-to-apply texture of this foundation.

Eucerin Hyal-Urea Day and Night Cream – I kind of love the idea of skin creams that feature urea.  Both of these offered a good, thick layer of moisture to my skin, but didn’t go beyond basic skincare to offer anything special.

Annemarie Borlind Cleansing Gel and Toner – Samples from my local health food shop; nothing interesting.

MDCI Parfums Peche Cardinal – I finally used up a perfume sample!  One down, ninety-nine to go!  I loved this peach and white floral combination from MDCI Parfums; I wish there was a place nearby where I could check out more of their line.

WPC – Using Squat Toilets


Ah, yes… the “hole in the floor” toilets, also known as the squat toilets.  Female travelers know them well.  I actually once did some contract work in an office in Italy where the only toilet was also of this variety.  Considering how many “how to” guides exist online, explaining how to use these toilets, I know I’m not the only one who experiences a big “oops!” when she realizes that she forgot to pee in the comfort of her Westernized hotel room.  I read one online guide to using squat toilets that suggests removing one’s pants entirely, while another recommends simply rolling them up to the knees, and a third recommended carrying a day pack with an extra pair of pants in case you pee all over yourself!  Add to the mess the fact that you typically have to have your own toilet paper and there is an entire extra layer of preparedness that is new to many female travelers.  There’s no easy way to use these squat toilets (especially when you encounter them infrequently), but rest assured that you’re not the only woman out there going “oops!” when you walk into the stall and find one!


Mealtime Monday – Cake and Coffee in Sarajevo

Cake and Coffee in Sarajevo

I don’t want you guys thinking that all I do is eat cake and drink coffee, but it’s starting to feel like that, no?  In fact, when I posted last week’s entry about sneaking out of the rain for a slice of medovik in Perm, Russia, I thought I could link back to this photo, taken a few years earlier in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I couldn’t find the link, though, and I realized that it was because I’d never shared this photo of the cake and coffee I enjoyed at a beautiful, traditional bakery cafe on Sarajevo’s main pedestrian street (Ferhadija). They had an amazing assortment of cakes available by the slice, and tiny metal tables lined the cafe’s outside walls so that you could sit, sip, eat and people-watch as the crowds passed your table.  I happened to be there during Ramadan, so the city was especially vibrant; for my recommendations about where to go and what to do during a visit at any time of year check out Destination: Sarajevo.

WPC – Transition at the Border of Austria and Hungary


This week’s photo challenge is talking about transition.  At first, my mind wandered towards my photos of autumn leaves and the first buds of spring, but what really resonated with me was the idea of transitioning between one place and next.  Coming from a country with strict border controls, one of my favorite places to transition between places was in rural Austria, where you can ride your bike or go for a leisurely stroll down country roads, through fields of sunflowers, and right into Hungary!  This is one of those border crossings back in 2012; I don’t know if it has been affected by the recent influx of refugees or acts of terrorism, but it breaks my heart to think that free travel throughout much of Europe, like the border of Austria and Hungary, may be at risk today.