October Road Trip Day 1: Kaunas, Lithuania

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With October break coming up and our trusty new Volvo purchased, we decided to take a road trip. We had one week and endless possibilities… what the hell… Auschwitz! Cody decided on a route with some stops along the way and we were off. Car packed, snacks in the back, map in the front and at 4:30, vroom, vroom. Pulling out of the parking lot from work the weather was chilly and clear with a few hours of daylight left.

After a quick three hour drive through the flat forests of trees dropping their colored leaves and we had arrived at our first destination, Kaunas, Lithuania, the second largest city in this Baltic state. We were tired and hungry but so excited. Kaunas is a cute little river town that is pretty easy to spend a few days in. We checked into the nice Kaunas City Hotel and headed for the window to see our view. Not only did we have a balcony, but we were right over the main walkway through the center of the city. Pretty great!

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Cody found us a great italian restaurant Piccola Italia, actually the best restaurant rated on Tripadvisor and it did not let us down. The place was packed but after 1/2 a drink at the bar, we had ourselves a table. I ordered some cheese-less pizza and Cody had some risotto. It was delicious and it was fairly authentic; they even had limoncello and sambuca on their dessert menu. We had a leisurely dinner and headed back to the hotel to have an early night.

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After an adequate hotel breakfast I convinced Cody to lace up his running shoes and head out to see the city by foot. He found us a running route and we were off, through the city, in search of Kaunas Castle. We found some graffiti, a skatepark, some wonderful old churches, cobble stone streets (that are very difficult to run on) and some cute coffee shops. Our chilly run through the city was great and the ultimate destination was beautiful in the misty morning.

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Right next to the castle there was a photo exhibition that focused the general public and their personal castles. The photos were great and the best part was not the castles, but the people posing. I wish I had a house, because this would  be one of my first projects. Forget the gnomes, just bring on the brick and mortar plopped in the middle of a moat.

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A quick stop to admire some of the best city wall art to this day and a stroll through a great farmers market and we headed back. Time to cut out (we decided we would be back since it was only 3 hours away) and make a run for the Polish border. Warsaw or bust!IMG_4068 IMG_4070 IMG_4071

September Fall Festival

Last weekend we joined some friends at an outdoor market right in the center of Old Town. It was a brisk, windy day which resulted in me buying a 20 EUR hat (hand knit, but way to expensive… I felt bad for the old lady selling them and was freezing my butt off). It did not help that I had wet hair too, but that is besides the point.

In Dome square, right by the cathedral there were booths set up selling foods like honey, cured meats, jams, bread, ostrich and cheese. They were also booths with crafts such as wooden toys, woolen knit sweaters, capes, hats and scarves, amber jewelry and iron items. I wanted to buy a lot of things, but we were on our way to play poker at a friends house and couldn’t pick up a bunch of stuff, so we just looked.

The city is rather small and when you go to an event like this you see people you know at every turn. Within a minute of showing up, I found Cody, who had been out since earlier in the day and we got some beers and decided to walk around. The winter brew was so delicious and the costumes at the booth really made the experience great. We found friends in the beer line, friends to our left and friends to our right. It is fun when it happens like that.

The music was Latvian folk and we watched the singing and dancing for a while. Afterwards we hooked up with our friend Ieva and headed to a favorite bar. Quite a fun day and boy are we loving this city!

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Art Nouveau All Around Us

We love where we live. In fact, that is the next i heart Riga post, but until then let me tell you one reason why. The city of Riga is covered with evidence of the art nouveau period and the area in which we live is famous for it. When we walk all around our neighborhood we come across tourists taking photos of the buildings all around. In fact, our building IS the last building listed in this article… how cool is that. You can take a walking tour to learn more, or you can just walk around with your eyes peeled and your neck craning your head to the sky, like we have been. A tour will come when things settle down, but for now, we are thankful for the interesting art we see all around us.

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Field Trip to the Latvian Parliament

Last week we had our first Grade 5 field trip to the Latvian Parliament for our Peace and Conflict unit. It was a wonderful day for a field trip and the kids were great. The guide was really knowledgable and worked really well with the students. The building was beautiful and I learned a lot information.

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If the deputy does not want paper copies, there is a tree on their mailbox

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The whole building was spectacular, especially the ceilings

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Furniture from the first president of Latvia

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Gifts from other countries to Latvia are on display

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Our Grade 5 assistant, Laima, looking at the artwork gifted to Latvia

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My favorite item in the gift room

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Hiking at Pokaini

A few weekends ago our amazing principal Cal organized a hiking trip after our Saturday Open House BBQ. We packed up the car, bought some provisions, including the best chips in the world (Dill) and headed off. The drive through the country was beautiful. We saw castles, hot air balloons and some quaint country homes. We showed up, about 15 of us in all, visited the center and headed off.

At the visitors center we learned that this forrest is mystical. As the brochure states “there are many questions about this place, but few answers.” Supposedly the rocks have energy that they like to share. There are stones, big and small, collected into piles that no one can explain. “The attraction of the stones is probably that which cannot be seen, that which is perceived through he more delicate senses.”

It was great but “hike” is a stretch, especially since we call Latvia Flatvia. It looked a lot like Oregon with coniferous trees (smaller, but familiar), damp dark soil and mushrooms. The hike took a few hours and there was one hill. It was really a nice introduction to the Latvian country side.

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I Heart Riga: Delivery

I am going to start an “I Heart Riga” category of posts and here is the first one.

We can order delivery for the first time in about 5 years. It was delicious pies from Lulu’s Pizza. Not only that, but since ordering is all online they understand us (we don’t have to worry about speaking Latvian) and I can actually get a cheese-less pizza without the challenges that creates over the phone.

Heck yes Riga!

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First Day of School

The International School of Latvia, where we are working, is celebrating a big milestone this year. The school has been around serving the local and expat community in the Riga area for 20 years. Just 3 years ago it moved into the new and much larger building. It is beautiful and located about 20 km from the city halfway to the coastal town of Jurmala.

Cody and I arrived to work at 7:15 well rested and well dressed. We knew it was going to be a formal experience since we were hosting the Latvian Minister of Education, many from the Embassies in Latvia and the news crew. The excitement was curbed a bit as soon as we went outside to stand in the cold for an hour for the flag raising ceremony. It was a great event, but I was excited to start our day.

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Here is my teaching partner Skye (left) and our teaching assistant Laima. It has been a wonderfully welcoming team so far!

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At the close of the day we met outside for a quick introduction ceremony. The kids nearest in the photo are mine and they performed a song they created that day. We changed the words to “We Will Rock You” and made it applicable to our class. Queen is a great way to start the year off right. I wish it was recorded.
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Tradition in Lativa is to give teachers flowers. I received many beautiful bouquets which were a welcome touch to my sparse new classroom. I only have 14 fifth graders (I know, don’t hate me) and the day, all in all, was a great one. Our new friend Mikyla teaches 3rd grade and we noticed that the amount of flowers you receive is proportionate to the lower grade you teach. This was her being dropped off with about 1/2 of her bouquets. All in all, it was the best first day I have ever had. What a way to start the year off right. Not to mention, a few days later I found out that I was in the news! Check it out! 

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