Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Paris Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou is also known as the Pompidou Centre in English because English likes to annoyingly rename things even if it's only to change the order of the words. Regardless, or with less regard, the Center of Pompidou (because Americans like their -er endings to spell like it sounds) is a really cool looking modern art museum.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Paris Louvre

The Louvre is world renowned and amazing so I don't need to write much. It's more fun and challenging taking pictures of statues from different angles instead of the paintings so most of my pics appear to be of statues and ceilings.

There was a longish security line outside. We immediately got our tickets from a kiosk after going down inside the pyramid since the lines inside were non-existent. The national strike reduced the crowds but the museum had several major sections closed. I think it was a fair trade with all things considered.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Paris Palais Garnier Opera House

Palais Garnier is the national opera house. I don't usually like being led around on a guided tour but this guided tour was great for the stories behind the building. The building is opulent but it'd be a shorter visit without the guide. The guided tour gets to sit down in front of the stage so that was a bonus and then you're free to walk around again afterwards for a fuller experience.

I wouldn't have thought of this as a destination but it was within walking distance of our hotel during the national strike. It was highly recommended through one of my wife's local friends. There's many other great things to see in Paris, but this is a pretty good one for the list if you're trying to figure out what to do in Paris in this area.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Paris Grévin Museum

Grévin Paris Museum is a wax museum. I've been to several great wax museums, but this one is a step above the others because of the amount of work they've put into the rooms. The figures are all very life-like but they're scattered around in more realistic settings instead of just on display. There was a woman who was pretending to be a statue but we couldn't tell until she moved.

Paris 2019

We arrived in Paris at the beginning of the largest national strike in decades. We left a week later with no end in sight for the strike. It was still a great week of vacation for us since we saw most of what we planned despite the issues. It just required a lot more walking and adding a few taxis into the mix.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Vilnius - Užupis

I love interesting art and unusual places. Užupis in Vilnius, Lithuania was right up our alley with some fun outside areas to explore. It's an artist district with a twist. On April 1, 1998, the district declared itself an independent republic (The Republic of Užupis).

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

We had a great day exploring this big museum in Vilnius for the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. A new palace compound was reconstructed on the ruins of the old palace. Part of it opened in 2013 and the whole thing opened just last year in 2018. There's some history on it at the link above.

The ruins are incorporated in the interior of the building so just walking through that is really cool. Their great presentation of Lithuanian history and reconstructed palace rooms are also worthwhile. The whole thing was just 8 euro so it's worth at least a quick stroll through the buildings even if you're not that interested in their history. We were interested, so we spent most of the day here exploring it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


We took a Lux Express bus to Vilnius, Lithuania for the 3-day weekend. Lithuania is the country south of us. Latvia sits in the middle of the three wonderful Baltic countries. Lux is a great and affordable bus service with many trips per day to a variety of places in this region. The bus to Vilnius had some nicer premium seats similar to first class airline seats for only 10 euros more than the already affordable bus prices. The bus had a toilet, which was convenient for the 4 hour trip to not need pit stops.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Lavtian National Museum of Art

We've already been to the main building of the Latvian National Museum of Art (Latvijas Nacionālais mākslas muzejs) but I didn't blog about it then because the rooftop terrace wasn't open. There's several other buildings and you can get an annual pass to the whole museum system which is a great bargain if you're planning to see them all. Here's a look at this grand building in the summer with the view from the rooftop.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Latvia National Botanic Garden

The National Botanic Garden (Nacionālais Botāniskais dārzs) in Latvia is 30 minutes away by car or train. It's always nice to stroll around beautiful gardens and a nice park while summer is still hanging around for a bit.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Rīga City Festival

"Is Riga ready?" is not supposed to be answered with yes (see below)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bastejkalna Park Riga

Bastejkalna (Bastion Hill) Park is probably my favorite part of Riga. There's lots to love around here but the park along the canal is a wonderful place for a walk. It has the National Opera on one end, the Freedom Monument, an awesome water feature, and lots of other stuff to see as you stroll along winding paths under the trees. There's many more nice parks around the city but we're really fortunate to have this particular park so close to home.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Riga Art Nouveau Buildings

If you're ever in Riga then be sure to look up! Jūgendstils (Art Nouveau) architecture in Riga makes up roughly one third of all buildings in the center of Riga. The city boasts having the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture anywhere in the world.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Rīgas Sv. Pētera Baznīca

St Peter's Church is very close to where we live in Riga but we finally went up in the tower today after many months of living here. It's amazing some of things you miss right next door until an out-of-town guest shows up.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Jūrmala Latvia

The Majori train station in Jūrmala gets you to the heart of this Baltic beach town near Riga. Google says the drive from Old Town takes about half an hour which is the same as the train. The train costs €1.40 each way so we're happily living the public transit life here. We arrived in Jūrmala and stumbled upon a traditional Latvian dance festival so that was cool. This beach town looks like a fun place to hang out even without a special event. We've heard Jūrmala is the place to be during the summer here and we agree!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Turaida Castle

Turaida Castle is a cheap train ride away to Sigulda and a short (and small) bus ride to Turaida Museum Reserve. The castle was started in 1214 and went through various changes until it's decline in the 17th century. It wasn't rebuilt after it had become private property and a major fire in 1776 destroyed a lot of it. It became a protected object in 1924 and they've rebuilt some of the structures as they turned it into a museum. It now has some interesting exhibits in many of the buildings. The main tower is well worth the climb to get a view of the surrounding land like the picture above.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Celebrating Līgo and Jāņi at Dzegužkalns Park

We had a wonderful night celebrating a traditional Līgo and Jāņi at Dzegužkalns Park. This picture is as dark as it gets about half an hour after midnight. That glow on the horizon is the twilight of a sun that doesn't go to bed since we don't achieve full night this time of year. What do you do to celebrate the shortest night in a place like Latvia? You sing, dance, eat, and light stuff on fire. If you see one thing in this post then look for the video of the flaming wheel heading towards the bonfire below.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Victory Memorial and More Riga Parks

Riga is great for green spaces and parks. We have the most amazing park by Vecrīga (Old Riga or Old Town) along the canal circling Riga where the city walls used to be. There's lots of other city parks dotting around the map to check out so this is about a few of those near the Victory Memorial.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Austin Museums

We visited two good museums in Austin. One was the Blanton Museum at the University of Texas which had a good amount of contemporary art which I liked and a dash of some other stuff. The pic above and below is a fountain on the vast university grounds and the somewhat infamous UT Tower. Google for UT Tower shooting if you don't know why.

The other museum was the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. We caught it an hour before closing and it was just enough time to see it all. If it wasn't so hot and muggy then I would have liked to spend some more time there because it's a great garden setting for the sculptures. It'd be a nice relaxing place to hang out in a more favorable temperature. I guess I need to acclimate again to the Texas heat.

Austin Texas

I've been a Texan since I was 12 but I finally visited the Texas Capitol Building during an R&R from Latvia. Austin has a slogan of "Keep Austin Weird" but it really isn't any weirder than any other city I've seen. We looked for the weird and didn't find very much of it except on souvenirs in the shops. I did see one red hat for sale saying "Make Austin Weird Again" which would be more appropriate now. Here's some pics around town and the Capitol.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Meža Kapi - Forest Cemetery

We visited the forest cemetery in Riga on this May 1st holiday. It looks like a great place to rest after you die. It's a grand setting for a cemetery with each grave serving as its own little garden tended to by their loved ones. There's a big military memorial cemetery which was grand in a different way with the Mother Latvia monument and eternal flame.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Stockholm Viking Museum

This is a quick post about the Viking Museum in Stockholm which wasn't there when I lived there. We're in Riga now so we took the Tallink overnight ferry there and back again for the long Easter weekend. It's a cheap way to travel to Stockholm and kind of fun with the shows, bars, buffets, and rooms like the bigger cruise ships. It wasn't what I though of when I first heard about riding on a ferry. First, here's a few pics from the trip to Stockholm.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Random Budapest

Here's random left over bits from walking around mostly on the Pest side of Budapest where the Parliament is and the cute little Budapest Eye. OK, it's not small but it's not as big as the London Eye.

Budapest Museums

Budapest has some great museums like most European cities. It's also where my new favorite artist Victor Vasarely comes from so there's a museum devoted to him. I first noticed his work recently in a Frankfurt museum and it was great so I'll start with that museum. We also visited the Hungarian National Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, and the Budapest National Museum. The Kuntshalle Contemporary Art Museum was redoing their exhibits so there wasn't much open for the price. They pretty much discouraged us from buying tickets so we didn't. There's just a few pics of the exterior here.

Budapest Városliget Park and Vajdahunyad Castle

Városliget Park or City Park is a wonderful place with Vajdahunyad Castle. I really love this castle because it's an intentional mashup of old styles.
Vajdahunyad Castle was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition which celebrated the 1,000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895. The castle features copies of several landmark buildings from different parts the Kingdom of Hungary, especially the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania (now in Romania). As the castle contains parts of buildings from various time periods, it displays different architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Originally, it was made from cardboard and wood, but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from stone and brick between 1904 and 1908.

Buda Castle District and a Labyrinth

We went up the funicular to the top of the Buda Castle District just for the fun-icular of it. This time we turned right and checked out the rest of the Castle District with Fisherman's Bastion. We also went underneath the area and  wandered through a dark labyrinth. The only thing left was to fly over but I didn't see a way to do that so that's as much as we covered there.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Carnikava Latvia

The embassy running club hired a bus to take them to a race in nearby Carnikava on the Baltic Sea. We joined the running club for a day, but not for running. Instead we took a nice hike through the woods and along the beach. We had to dodge the runners here and there but it was a relaxing day in nature as the temperatures finally climbed out of the freezing zone this weekend.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

World Happiness Report 2019

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: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. I first saw this in the news in 2016 and have checked it out every year for Happiness Day. It's interesting to see how the rankings change for the countries I've lived in.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Museum of Decorative Arts and Design

The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Dekoratīvās mākslas un dizaina muzejs) is another part of our annual pass to the Latvian National Museum of Art. There's a lot of goodness with this museum card.

The top 2 floors have the permanent collection of various textile, ceramics, metal, leather, decorative wood, and glass art. It's a decent size and there's some interesting pieces. The bottom floor has the changing exhibition. It currently contains The Weather Diaries with textiles and photography from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. It was also interesting to see on a cold dreary day in Riga.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Barely Missed Promotion

I was selected for promotion in September but I didn't meet the cut for how many people they could promote. I wrote about it in Promotion Bridesmaid. I didn't have my ranking or the overall statistics to know how close I was to the cutoff at that time. The promotion statistics have been released. It was a close one and it couldn't have been any closer.

214 people competed for promotion in my specialty and pay grade. My personal scorecard says 66 people were deemed worthy of promotion and I was 46 on that list. They were only able to promote 45 of those people or 21%.

They promoted 45 so I'm first loser at number 46!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Skills Incentive Program (SIP) and CISSP

I passed the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) test and I'm so glad that's done! I previously wrote a little about Skills Incentive Program (SIP) pay at the end of this post when I first started with the Foreign Service. They've tweaked the rates to an extra 10% or 15% pay for 3 years depending on the level of the certification.

CISSP is a 15% cert so that'll be awesome after I finish the paperwork, receive the certificate, submit it to the SIP panel for review (only meets every 2 months), and then HR finally processes it for Finance to add it to my pay. It'll easily be summer before I start seeing the fruits of this labor but it'll continue for 3 years. If history repeats then it'll continue for 5 extra months even though I told HR 2 months early and repeatedly begged them to stop it until they finally did. Finance gladly takes back the overpayment in sizable chunks until the HR induced debt is repaid. They always do. Regardless, it's a great benefit!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sutas and Belcovas Museum

The Romana Sutas un Aleksandras Beļcovas muzejs (museum) is an interesting little part of the Latvian National Art Museum system. It's a part of our annual pass but it's also a short diversion if you have a little time to kill and 2 EUR.

We went to catch the missing piece of the Latvian portrait series exhibits which are ending in a week. This museum had the caricatures and cartoons portion of the larger exhibit spread over two other museums. Those portions were massive meals of art compared to the tiny taster bite of this museum. It was interesting to see but quite small.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Malta Gozo Bus Tour

The island of Gozo is a smaller island in the Maltese archipelago accessible by a vehicle and people ferry on the northside of Malta. It has its own hop-on hop-off buses to get around for a day trip if you like that option. We do and so we did it. This one felt a bit rushed at times because the next bus was 45 minutes and we were fighting a clock for getting back to the ferry for our arranged transportation. It was still a good trip with the oldest megalithic temples at Ġgantija and the former Azure Window at Dwejra Bay.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Malta South Bus Tour

The south bus tour compares well with the north tour. This included the Tarxien Temples, the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, and the Blue Grotto. Be sure to book well in advance for the Hypogeum near the Tarxien Temples if you're interested in ancient temples. It looked like it'd be really neat but we couldn't get in because we didn't book it several weeks or months in advance.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Malta North Bus Tour

The north bus tour of Malta has some interesting stops. I don't know how to choose between north or south if you only have time for one since they have different strengths. We visited San Anton Garden, the walled city of Mdina, and the Roman Villa in Mdina. I didn't think the Roman Villa was worthwhile for the cost so I'm not going to bother posting the few pics I took there. Mdina is the star of the north tour.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Valletta Malta Museums

Valletta has several museums worth a visit. We started with the completely free and worthwhile Fortress Builders with plenty of information and city models. After that we ventured through several paid museums. There's a 10 day Malta discount card for 20 EUR available at the museums. It gets you half off many museums along with other discounts for Malta Sightseeing bus tours and some restaurants. We got our 20 EUR back and more on that deal.

Valletta Malta

Malta is a Mediterranean island nation with medieval walled cities, Knights of Malta, megalithic temples, and warmer February temperatures than Latvia. What's not to love? They were under the rule of various empires including the British, so that's why they drive on the left and English is an official language alongside Maltese. It's an easy vacation spot for English language and getting around.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Arsenāls Art Museum

Arsenāls is a large exhibition hall for art and another part of the Latvian National Museum of Art. They don't have permanent exhibits in this building. The more modern years of the Latvian portraits exhibit are currently on display. It's a great space and I like how the overall art museum is broken up into more manageable chunks in different parts of town. They do charge for each chunk so it may not be so convenient for tourists, but we bought the yearly pass to all of them. We can come and go as we please throughout the year as exhibits change. Here's a look at what's in this one now.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Rīgas Birža Art Museum

We went to the Rīgas Birža art museum yesterday which is a part of the Latvian National Museum of Art. It's a nicely restored old building in the middle of old town with a good permanent collection and temporary exhibits with a variety of art. Riga has a lot to offer and we're fortunate to live here!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

WinterCon in Riga

We went to WinterCon here in Riga presented by UniCon. It was an interesting break from the winter outside but not as good as other Comic Cons for me since it was too focused on anime and K-Pop dance. I'm not into those things at all. There wasn't enough of the things I like but it was still interesting.