Sunday, December 23, 2018

Winter Solstice at Ethnographic Museum

We went to the Ethnographic Museum (Latvijas Etnogrāfiskais brīvdabas muzejs) to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the longer daylight growing on the way to the Summer Solstice. These seasonal changes are felt much more distinctly further north. It was an overcast day but there's an almost glowing beauty with the unspoiled snow in the woods. The lake at this open-air museum park was a snow covered frozen which made it look like a huge empty field.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Burning Yule Logs in Old Riga

Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Riga's sunset was 3:43PM and it rises at 9:00AM. It was snowing and 22F (-5C) but we had a great time celebrating local ancient traditions. There was the dragging of the yule log to gather last year's problems. We walked around town and through two of the Christmas Markets. Then we burned the logs and all of our problems with them. I made some videos this time which are at the bottom of this post.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Riga Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets started in Riga yesterday. We wandered around to three of them in the afternoon. It was below freezing with sunrise around 8:30am and sunset a bit before 4pm as the days get shorter. The bottom pics are in the dark but it was around 5pm. It's good to have the Christmas lights up to help brighten the afternoon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Museum for Communication Frankfurt

I'm a bit of a geek so I'm making a separate entry about the Museum for Communication (Museum für Kommunikation). My job is all about various types of communication including mail, landline phones, cell phones, radios, computers, and networking. It's a lot of fun seeing history in the things that have evolved during my lifetime. Like technology, this museum evolved from the Postal Museum so it starts in the lobby with a cool looking postal box.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Frankfurt Museums

There's an awesome 2-day Museum Ticket in Frankfurt for 18 euro or 28 euro for a family. It's much better value than the widely advertised Frankfurt Card. I saw info on the Museum Ticket online but didn't see brochures or advertising for it like the Frankfurt Card. Frankfurt Card provides free transit and only half off at the museums, but that really adds up if you enjoy museums like we do.

This post is about all of the museums we visited except for one, which will be a post by itself. Some of the good museums are in a row along the river and across the street from this wonderful walk under interesting trees. We walked to the furthest museum to work our way back to the pedestrian Iron Bridge (Eiserner Steg).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Frankfurt Germany

A 4 day weekend while assigned in Europe usually means visiting another country. For example, Frankfurt Germany is just a 2 hour direct flight away. There was also a Marillion concert there, which is one of my favorite bands. We arrived around sunset so the pictures start with some night shots. We stayed near Hauptwache S-bahn station for easy transit from the airport and to be near everything we wanted to see.

The Christmas markets started on Monday after we left, so we saw the setup throughout this area. It looks like it'd be a cool experience but it's also probably really crowded, so I have mixed feelings about missing it. There's Christmas markets in Riga so we can get our fill of them at home.

We discovered an awesome 2-day Museum Ticket for 18 euro or 28 euro for a family, which is much better value than the widely advertised Frankfurt Card. I saw info on the Museum Ticket online but didn't see brochures or advertising for it like the Frankfurt Card. Frankfurt Card provides free transit and half off at the museums but paying half really adds up if you enjoy museums. The museums will probably be another blog post so I'll start with the Frankfurt pics here and see how it goes.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Latvia 100 Celebration Fireworks

Latvia celebrated their centenary or 100 years since the Republic of Latvia was established. The day was filled with concerts and parades. It ended with a massive fireworks and light show on the river. It looked like all of Riga was on the riverfront.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Staro Rīga

More than 40 objects are on display at the Light Festival Staro Rīga 2018 this weekend. It's spread out over all of the city so here's just some we were able to get to and enjoy last night. The festival is is a part of Latvia’s Centenary celebration of 100 years since the founding of the Republic of Latvia.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lāčplēsis Day

November 11 is Veterans Day in the U.S. honoring all military veterans. It's sometimes confused with Memorial Day which is to remember people who died while serving in the armed forces. Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day commemorating the armistice ending WWI and is still observed in many allied countries. November 11 is also Remembrance Day or Poppy Day in British Commonwealth nations to remember armed forces members who died in the line of duty similar to the the U.S. Memorial Day.

November 11 is Lāčplēsis Day in Latvia as a memorial day for soldiers who fought for the independence of Latvia. This day marks the victory over the West Russian Volunteer Army at the Battle of Riga in 1919 during the Latvian War of Independence. A popular Lāčplēsis Day tradition is placing candles on and by the wall of Riga Castle. These are pictures of that event and the gathering at the Freedom Monument.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Riga Apartment

Here's a look at our furnished apartment in Riga. There's 2 bedrooms, an office, and 2 bathrooms. It compares very well with what was provided in Caracas and Stockholm.

It feels a bit roomier than Caracas with the really high ceilings and huge master bedroom suite even though it might be roughly the same size. The dining room is bigger and living room is smaller, so I think the rooms are distributed better in this layout. There's a better overall feel of space and it felt comfortable to me rather quickly.

I hear Stockholm is a furnished post now, so the handful of posts that don't provide furniture is that much rarer. We have to keep all of this furniture other than being allowed to swap out the master queen bed for our own. I already hate this mattress so it'll be good to eventually get our stuff.

Unfortunately the bulk of our household effects (HHE) is still in Miami and won't be available here until the middle of next month.  It'll feel more homey once we get our own decorations on the walls and shelves. Otherwise, we're home now (for the next 3 years)!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

The Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum is one of the oldest outdoor museums in Europe and first opened in 1924. It's a bit like Skansen in Stockholm. It's full of building recreations from the 17th to 20th century. They have live demonstrations by folk artisans during the summer but it's definitely not summer now.

It was quiet and mostly closed this time of year, but the price was really cheap to go and check it out. It's just 4 euros for a family ticket during the off season. I see that's about half price, so it isn't expensive any time of the year. It's still fun to time travel in a place like this and I'm sure it's even more interesting when everything's open.

It's accessible from old town Riga on bus 1. That shouldn't be confused with the tram of the same "name" since tram 1 tracks end one stop short of the museum on the other side of the lake. Who gives the same line number to related types of public transit lines? Well, apparently Riga does.

The place is huge since we only saw a quarter of it. I can see a big part of the charm is the natural environment and walking through the trees by the lake. Nature never closes. It just needs us to pay attention to it as we move about. There's always some beauty to be found any time of the year and any weather.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

First Week in Riga

I visited Riga for a weekend before moving here, but now we're newly arrived to live here for 3 years. Our apartment isn't ready yet so we're in a hotel for a few weeks. It happens often enough that someone is moving out just as you're arriving, so there needs to be a little time to fix it up for the next occupants. It looks like it'll be well worth the wait.

These pictures show you around the neighborhood of our hotel which is also where our apartment will be: Old Town! The oldest parts of a city are usually the most amazing parts. They just don't make them like they used to. 😜

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak Colorado is at 14,115 ft / 4,302 meters. I would say it was a difficult hike full of peril, but in reality there's a paved road to the top. It was a bit of a drive but it wasn't difficult. It's also a beautiful drive so it's definitely a treat to experience it.

It's an easy way to see the world from the top of a mountain which is a special way to look at things. You have to see it in person to really get the feel of it since it really defies these pictures and words to describe it. Pikes Peak is a bit like looking out of the window of a plane... without the plane... and standing close to really long drop offs.

Garden of the Gods Powwow

This is a double treat with the Garden of the Gods in Colorado and the 9th Annual Powwow at the Rock Ledge Ranch next to it. The powwow celebrated Native American culture with dancing, food, and vendors. First, here's pictures of the Garden of the Gods.

Pueblos in NM

We passed two Native American pueblos while driving from Santa Fe to Colorado Springs. Puye Cliff dwellings near Española were more rugged and authentic with nice views of the area. The actively maintained Taos Pueblo had many shops and tourists but was still interesting to see. We didn't have time for Bandelier since it was further off our route, but I was told by several people that Puye Cliff is better in some ways because it isn't as highly visited. We just did a quick self-guided tour but the guided tour to the top looks interesting.

Santa Fe NM

Santa Fe is a great vacation destination and it was a favorite part of our home leave roadtrip. Wikipedia says "it’s renowned for its Pueblo-style architecture and as a creative arts hotbed" which gives it a distinct vibe of all around cool for me. We were only there a couple of days but this will be worth going back to many times in the future to see all of the stuff we missed.

Chickasaw Cultural Center OK

If you're ever in Oklahoma on I-35 between DFW and OKC then I recommend stopping at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur OK. We did during our home leave roadtrip. You can wander around the grounds for free but the museum is well worth the entrance fee. The lunch special for $6 is also good value for some great Chickasaw food. The whole place was a high quality experience. I didn't take any pics inside the museum because it was just too interesting for wasting time with a camera.

a lego logo

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Promotion Bridesmaid

I'm a bridesmaid. You can add that term to other odd Foreign Service terms like the "air kiss" used during the assignment process. Obviously it isn't official terminology. However, many people use it to mean a person selected for promotion but not actually promoted because there aren't enough to go around.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Pack Out Phases

I wrote about several categories for sorting stuff during the last move in Sorting Stuff - 60 Days to Departure. In retrospect, nothing was done 60 days out. The reality was more like flailing around wildly a couple of weeks before pack out. I'm tackling my sorting in more distinct phases this time and started the process 3 weeks prior to departure. Eventually I'll have this down to a science, or at least a semi-organized art.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tomorrow's New Country

It's almost time to go!  It's been terrific to know you / But we really can't stay / Tomorrow's new country / Calls us home…for the day. All of these Marillion songs are great but skip ahead to the 6:35 mark in this composite video to hear Tomorrow's New Country. This is the only video I could find with this song in it.
Marillion - Fear (for tomorrow's scary sky) from Thony Thorn on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Choroní and Chuao

We spent a long holiday weekend at Cacaoni Lodge in Choroní with a beach day and a day trip to nearby Chuao. What holiday? Oh, doesn't everyone celebrate the birthday of Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios Ponte y Blanco? Simón Bolívar is da man! Well, as long as I get a day off for him.

Choroní is about 3 hours from Caracas with the last good bit of it over curvy mountain roads from Maracay through a beautiful National Park area. Playa Grande is near town but the lodge took us and half a dozen other guests to an exclusive beach by boat. We also toured the cacao/cocoa plantation in nearby Chuao which is a town accessible by boat. Choroní has a mountain road but Chuao is completely blocked off by the mountains.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Salto Ángel Overview

We finally visited the natural crown jewel of Venezuela about 2 months prior to departure. That's Salto Ángel, Angel Falls, or Kerepakupai Meru in the native Pemon language. It's also the inspiration for Paradise Falls in the Disney Pixar movie Up. This post will serve as an overview for the other blog posts about the trip. I took so many pictures and it's such a big experience that it needs more coverage. It's really worth digging into this trip as an amazing bucket list experience.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ara Merú Lodge

Our last night in Canaima was spent in Ara Merú Lodge because Waku Lodge didn't have room for us. Ara Merú had the opposite problem. We were told we hit them on a Monday between tour groups so we were actually the only guests. This allowed them to treat us to breakfast on the top of their observation deck to see the Canaima Lagoon and falls. Waku Lodge is right on the water so they have better views but this place does their best to make up for their location. It's a really nice and new place. They even have their own waterfall covering their vehicle entrance (above). We didn't spend much time at either lodge with all of the excursions so this place is worth consideration.

Kavak Gorge Waterfall

The fly over for Angel Falls is a flight to Kavak or Kavac. We were so focused on the bigger parts of the trip and getting to fly over Angel Falls that we actually didn't know what we were going to do there. We were told to wear bathing suits for another waterfall but we didn't know the setting for it. Spanish Wikipedia translates it to the Caves of Kavac but it's more of a gorge and grottos thing. We had to swim in this tight gorge to get to the waterfall pictured above. Most of these pics are blurry because once again the waterproof camera kept fogging up and couldn't handle taking pictures in the heavy mist. It was waterproof but not great for taking pics in that environment.

Flying Around Angel Falls

We boarded this small 6 person plane for a flight out to Kavak (more on that in the next post) and flew past Angel Falls on the way there and back. I was "co-pilot" going and my wife got that seat coming back. Our flight took is back over the long day trek from the previous day but of course this was much faster. We flew low over the river and close to the falls next to the lagoon before getting a little more altitude. Angel Falls is set back in the tepuy (table-top mountain) so we made hard banking turns in what was essentially a canyon on the way out. The return trip had us doing the same but then pulling up above the mountain to see a little of the flatter top. It was a great way to see the area but you only get a quick look in a noisy plane so the boating and hiking is an essential experience.

Angel Falls and Back Again

The previous post has lots of Angel Falls pics. The next day's morning light was better so there will be tons of pics in this post too. The trip back to Waku Lodge was only 2 hours because we were heading back downstream. I can't share enough pictures or words to convey the majesty of this area and the tepuy (tepui, mesa, or table-top mountains). Tepui is Pemon native language for "house of the gods" and they are special mountain forms. Their striking cliffs and waterfalls popping out everywhere were magical at times. Angel Falls is the grandest and tallest single drop waterfall in the world, but it ended up being the main crown jewel in an otherwise amazing area. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Trip to Angel Falls

This is the view at the top of Salto Hacha where we boarded a boat to start the long trek to Angel Falls (Salto Ángel). The camp near Angel Falls was about 4 hours of boat riding, hiking, and a restroom adventure (more on that later). We had lunch at camp and then went on a 3 hour round-trip hike up to the overlook (mirador) closer to the bottom of Angel Falls. The return from the overlook had us hiking in pouring rain and increasing darkness to nightfall. Surprisingly the river was lower so we had to wade across the smaller bit of the river in the dark to reach the boat for a bigger river crossing and back to the comforts of camp. Dinner was on our covered patio which was the only shelter. There were restrooms and a trickle of a shower to wash off the dirt but that was about it. They strung up hammocks for us after dinner. We slept on the covered patio as the rain lulled us to sleep. It was an awesome experience!

Salto El Sapo y Salto Hacha

The first amazing experience in Canaima was the falls (salto) of El Sapo (toad) and Hacha (ax). We took the boat across the lagoon and our indigenous guide took us on a hike to show us the local environment. He then lead us to, under, and through the falls in several spots. I emphasize through because we've never been wetter as the falls pulverized water into us. I had a waterproof camera but it fogged up and the lens was frequently covered in spray so some of these pics are a bit psychedelic.

Waku Lodge

Parque Nacional Canaima has several lodges to stay in and the best one appears to be Waku Lodge. They seemed to have the biggest presence right on the water across from Salto El Sapo and all of the excursions were well done. As usual, click on the pictures for a bigger version.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Colonia Tovar Supplemental

Captain's log, supplemental. The away team ventured back out to Colonia Tovar for another visit a year and half after the initial landing party hired a driver to get there. We noted it was a nice spot for a little shore leave so we returned 3 months prior to departure from this strange planet of Venezuela.

We didn't have our car yet back then even though it was 3 months after arrival. I could drive us this time so we were free to take the trip at our own pace. Colonia Tovar hasn't changed much as a nice weekend getaway spot since that first time, which is a great thing. It's a little German alpine village two hours west of Caracas so I hope it can keep its character and charm. Check out the previous post and pictures here.

We stayed at a different hotel so these pictures should be different. We also drove a little past the town and a little higher up to to Pico Codazzi at 2,429 meters (7,969 feet) to see what's on the other side of that mountain top. It was this view...

Saturday, May 19, 2018


This is an amazing live performance of a wonderful song. Steve Hogarth said about this song: "It's whimsical, it's dreamlike. It's a holiday in the mind. But at the other end of the spectrum, it's a total revolution; a take-everything-down-and-start-again song. I'm very fond of Go!"

I feel "wide awake on the edge of the world" as time ticks down on living in this unusual place. I'll miss many things about being in Caracas, but I'm sure it'll be refreshing to step back from a place that too often feels like it's teetering on the edge of the world.

Marillion - Go!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bogota Museums

There are many museums in Bogota for free or very affordable so it's easy to see a lot of different stuff. I like many different types of museums but these pictures are mostly from art museums. There was a free little museum about the city with old maps and information about it's growth which was interesting, but the stuff to really keep in pictures for memories is usually the art.

Bogota Street Art

I don't like annoying tagging and sloppy spray paint is ugly. However, street art is a whole other thing if it's good and in the right places. It shouldn't detract from what's already there. Bogota has some nice street art in La Candelaria. They're not spread all over the city in places you wouldn't want to see it, so overall I think it's an interesting part of the city where it is. There's a guided walking tour available but we had plenty of time to relax and explore on our own. We stumbled on most of the street art in our regular walks around so here's some of that. There's a particular walking street at the end of Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo worth checking out for a variety of reasons.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monserrate Above Bogota

We didn't lack enough oxygen in Bogota so we headed higher to Monserrate to overlook the 3rd highest capital city. Monserrate's highest point is 3,152 m (10,341 ft) on Wikipedia but there's a sign that says 3,170 meters. Whichever figure is right, it's fairly high even though it didn't look like a huge move up from the 2,640 m (8,660 ft) elevation of Bogota. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bogota - La Candelaria

We spent a chilly wet week in Bogota. It's the 3rd highest capital city at an elevation of 2640 m (8660 ft). It isn't hot at that elevation and it can get rather chilly at night, but most buildings don't have heating. The whole place was accepting of whatever nature gave them other than having the occasional fireplace. It was common to see people with their coats on inside everywhere including while dining in the restaurants.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

El Ávila Quebrada Quintero

I wrote about Hiking El Ávila National Park before but it's something people do again and again here. It's a great place to be in nature that's really close. The path I wrote about before is very popular for exercise but there's a right turn towards a waterfall area called Quebrada Quintero that's also really popular. Here's some pictures of that direction.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

World Happiness Report 2018

The annual World Happiness Report is out again and March 20th is the International Day of Happiness. The report measures six key variables supporting well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. I first saw this in the news in 2016 and wrote about it then. It's interesting to see how the rankings change for the countries I've lived in and will live in next.

The top 10 is dominated by Nordic countries. Sweden is #9 and about the same as the previous 2 years I've looked at this since I lived there. The U.S. slipped from #13 to #14 last year and slid further to #18 this year. It's not a good trend so we definitely need to work on those key variables contributing to everyone's well-being instead of mostly benefiting the rich and well-connected. We could learn a few things from the countries above us on the list. That's assuming happiness is a shared goal in American society and the metrics for this report are the right ones. Wasn't there something about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at one time in our history? It's worth looking at more deeply.

Top 20
1 - Finland, 2 - Norway, 3 - Denmark, 4 - Iceland, 5 - Switzerland
6 - Netherlands, 7 - Canada, 8 - New Zealand, 9 - Sweden, 10 - Australia
11 - Israel, 12 - Austria, 13 - Costa Rica, 14 - Ireland, 15 - Germany
16 - Belgium, 17 - Luxembourg, 18 - U.S., 19 - U.K., 20 - United Arab Emirates

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Caracas Museums

We took a tour of some local museums we haven't seen before. We started with a look around the architecture of Teatro Teresa Carreño but we couldn't see inside the theater since they were setting it up for something. We stopped in the natural science museum (Museo de Ciencias Naturales) with a lot of stuffed animals. We spent some good time in the fine arts museum (Museo de Bellas Artes). All of these buildings are in an arts district together near Parque Los Caobos. The day ended with the national art gallery (Galería de Arte Nacional).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Caracas Architecture Tour

We went on a little tour in Caracas to see two completely different eras of architecture. First was the colonial era Quinta de Anauco built in 1797. Second was Villa Planchart or El Cerrito built in the 1950s. Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures inside that one but it's high on a hill with outstanding views so I got pictures of that and the exterior. The house itself was a 1950s artistic cool inside. You can see a few pictures of that at the link above.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Panama Canal Rainforest Boat Tour

Another enjoyable outing in Panama was a rainforest boat tour of the Panama Canal. We were taken around parts of Lake Gatún on a small tour boat dodging huge container ships and cruise ships passing through the canal. It was wonderful seeing the beautiful scenery and getting up close with various monkey groups. They've learned to come to the tour boats for a little easy food but they're still wild. We pulled up under a huge shade tree after several hours and tied up for a quiet lunch on the boat before heading back a little too soon. The animals would be hiding from the heat of the day anyway, but we wouldn't have minded just boating around the Panama Canal for a few more hours. Unfortunately the tour ended anyway just like vacations inevitably end.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Panama - Emberá Village

The most unique thing we did in Panama was to tour a village of the local Emberá tribe. They're a friendly people still living with their traditional ways. There's an interesting history on the tour website. It's a little weird to step in to their lives as a tourist but the tourism helps them to continue living and preserving their traditions and culture for sharing.

We started with an hour drive from Panama City but it was filled with stories and information from our wonderful tour guide, Anne Gordon de Barrigón. She's American but married one of the tribesmen, so she knows a lot about them as an insider. We then loaded up in dugout canoes with outboard motors because the lake and river journey would take too long if we rowed. We're tourists so we don't have that kind of time on our hands... unfortunately. Who has the better standard of living? It does make you think.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Panama Canal, Biomuseo, and Nature Center

If you need to plan a day in Panama City then here's a potentially full day that we did over two days. The Panama Canal, Biomuseo, and Punta Culebra Nature Center are not too far from each other in a line from north to south.

Panama City - Casco Viejo

There aren't very many international destinations available from Caracas during this failing economy. Panama is a main gateway to the rest of the region with 3 daily flights on Copa. It seemed like a good idea to pick it as a vacation spot to avoid having an airline cancel on us when yet another airline stops service to Venezuela. It's just one of those things you have to consider while living in Caracas right now.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Galipán In The Clouds

Galipán is a small town on top of the mountains overlooking Caracas. You can hire a driver to take you up the steep roads in a four-wheel drive vehicle. The driver can be arranged by one of the restaurants. Our driver was arranged by a chocolate shop. Most of the roads are paved but it's easier letting a local take you since they know the little one lane roads around where we needed to go. We ended up going on a beautiful day since the clouds passed around us but also gave us clear views every now and then.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Parque Los Chorros

Parque Los Chorros is a park on the edge of Caracas near the bottom of the Ávila. It's narrow and follows a creek with walkways, bridges, and stairs under big shady trees and tall bamboo. It's a family park with kids playing in the water and a couple of playgrounds. The main feature is a beautiful waterfall. The stairs to the side of it lead up to another pond and a smaller waterfall. It's a fun little park to explore.

It has attended parking available under the elevated Avenida Boyacá. The price was 50 Bs a year ago but it's now 80 Bs. I won't tell you how crazy cheap that is at the current parallel rate because the math is fractions of a penny. There's a little restaurant selling lunch but we didn't eat this last time. It was decent food when we last visited. Overall it's a nice place in the city to relax in nature and is one of of our favorite parks along with Parque del Este (Parque Generalísimo Francisco De Miranda).