Archive | June, 2012

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Sigulda, Latvia – Gauja National Park

Posted on 20 June 2012 by brett

Gauja National Park - Bobsleigh Track

Gauja National Park – Bobsleigh Track

What we read about the Latvian countryside, particularly Gauja National Park, sounded spectacular. A one hour bus ride east (from Riga) left us in Sigulda, the center of Gauja Park. The town was smaller than we excepted with only one street and a few local cafes. We met up with Kristjans, who we met through the local tourism office. He’s an 18 year old student, interested in learning about other cultures and wants to be a translator. He took us around to all the major sights in the area.

Bobsleigh Fitting

Bobsleigh Fitting

World renowned Bobsleigh track

Sigulda is known for housing the longest bobsleigh track in Europe. Russian and European teams (Germany/Austria) come every year to practice tobogganing, luge and bobsledding at this Olympic quality track. A steep decline from the track led us into the Gauja forest where we found beautiful trails, flowers, plant and bug life. Continue Reading

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Riga, Latvia…”The Paris of Eastern Europe”

Posted on 17 June 2012 by brett

Riga, Latvia

Storybook land of Riga, Latvia

Latvia, so close to Lithuania, yet so different. We spent our five days in Latvia between the capital city of Riga and the quiet countryside around Sigulda. Once our bus from the Curonian Spit crossed the border into Latvia, the Soviet influence prevailed, as we drove through several small Latvian towns. Riga felt like a world away from the atmosphere of Vilnius. While the capital’s old city streets were charming, their attempt to highlight the stunning Baroque architecture felt forced to please tourists. International chains such as TGI Fridays, hamburger and rib joints were prevalent…… replacing the precious local family run restaurants, cafes and beer joints we all love. To summarize, the old city felt very compact and lacked the culture and local life that we found in Vilnius. However, walking the streets did make you feel like you were in a storybook land. Continue Reading

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Curonian Spit… Nature’s Gem of the Baltics

Posted on 15 June 2012 by christie

Curonian Spit Sand Dune

65 m highest Sand Dune on the Curonian Spit

Everyone we met in Vilnius and Kaunas raved about the Curonian Spit, so we were compelled to journey toward the Baltic Sea to see this natural wonder. The Curonian Spit is a 98 km long, 3.8 km wide, sand dune spit situated between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea. What makes this place so special are the mysterious sand dunes formed during 3,000 B.C., and the beautiful pine forests spanning the spit. The highest dune, “Parnidis Dune”, measures 52m high. We were happy we waited to buy our precious amber stones, as the Amber (also known as Lithuanian gold) was extracted just here from the Baltic Sea 50 million years ago!

Captain Drago

Captain Drago of the Baltic Sea!

The Curonian Spit Sand Dunes

The Spit is only 3.8 km wide at the most and is 70% covered with pine forests. Today, the Spit is divided evenly between Lithuania and Russian’s Kaliningrad region. We didn’t expect to find this small piece of Russian nestled between European countries. Our guess is Russia felt obliged to hold onto something after their demise in Eastern Europe. On our first night in town, we took a two hour boat ride around the Spit, exploring the amazing sand dunes with three other couples. Our captain was a funny guy who spoke several languages and translated his stories from Lithuanian, to German, to Russian and English to accommodate the four different nationalities on the boat. We sailed out pass Nida towards the Russian border where we found the most spectacular sights of the highest dunes. It’s mind blowing to think about how these dunes even exist in such conditions. Continue Reading

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Cekiske, Lithuania: Home of My Forefathers

Posted on 13 June 2012 by brett

Cekiske Jewish Cemetery

Cekiske Jewish Cemetery

Believe it or not, we didn’t know our ancestors were from Lithuania until the past year. Christie’s grandfather didn’t know his grandfather and has little information about Kasimires Yurgelis, other than he came to the U.S in 1890. Luckily, my cousins Eric and Andrew have spent countless hours building the Finkelstein Family Tree with Eric interviewed several key family members during the 1970’s. Not only do we have some photographs, but also the name of the village, Cekiske, in Lithuania where the Finkelstein’s and Nodel’s lived. 

“Finkelstein” means diamond or “sparkle stone” and reflects our forefather’s trade as gem merchants during the 1800’s. Our experience around Kaunas and Cekiske (check-keesh-ke) revealed that most non-Jewish villagers worked for Jewish merchants during that time. Continue Reading

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Vilnius: Gateway to our Lithuanian Heritage

Posted on 12 June 2012 by christie


Vilnius, Colorful city of Baroque Architecture

The past month in Jordan and Israel was amazing, however we were delighted to be on our way to the Baltic Region. As we lifted off from Tel Aviv airport, our excitement for exploring a completely different culture of the world quickly set in. Moreover, we both have family heritage from Lithuania dating back to the 1800’s, before both our ancestors migrated to the United States. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was our first stop in the Baltic Region. Vilnius’ Old City still dominates daily life with locals out enjoying the warm weather among the beautiful Baroque style architecture and old churches. The town is quiet, peaceful and full of parks, cobblestone alleys and “Kavines”. We walked for hours with few cars or tourists around. It was like the city was our own.

Lithuanian hosts

Sigita & Vidas, our kind Lithuanian hosts

Amazing Lithuanian hosts
After a good experience in Singapore, we decided to use for our stay. We found a three-story apartment very close to the Neris River and city centre. AirBNB is great because you get the benefit of a more intimate experience living with locals. Our hosts, “Sigita & Vidas” both work in the Arts and their home is beautifully decorated with interesting art pieces and cozy furniture. Their kindness began with their offer to pick us up from the airport at midnight on a Saturday night. Upon entering their flat, we were greeted by their adorable and friendly dog “Snoopy”. Sigita and Vidas made us feel like family. We shared stories about researching our ancestry and learned about Lithuanian culture. Sigita shared her authentic borst soup, cheeses, honey and strawberries. Our experience with our hosts was incredible and made our trip to Lithuania, searching for our ancestry, even more special. Continue Reading

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