Riga, Latvia 📷: Bri
Oh 2021. A year filled with uncertainty and also–almost bewilderingly at times–hope. After moving from Hungary to Germany in late 2020, we spent the majority of the new year in lockdown (or some version of it) until the summer. Thankful for these protective measures even if it meant being a little bored at times–both things can be true after all–and making any kind of new destination a special treat.
Similar to 2020, a majority of our planned adventures were eventually cancelled. A combination of Covid unpredictability, health and safety concerns, along with the occasional geo-political strife created a new intentionality when it came to booking any travel; we knew that most likely we wouldn’t go and that was fine. So I included a little of our around-the-neighborhood-adventures in this post.
This year, restrictions and precautions became just another aspect of booking travel. Double checking the rules, making sure documents were up to date, bringing the correct masks, and remaining flexible as regulations change (sometimes in the middle of your trip) are just part of reality right now. And I’m so thankful for it. If it means being extra cautious for a giant plate of latkes and applesauce, your girl is down.
Travel in a pandemic is very much a #firstworldproblem and I am grateful for every occasional (safe) journey outside of my town.
Making the trip from Ohio to South Carolina.
Wandering around Germany, nearby France, visiting the United States for the first time in a few years (seeing friends and fam), and planning a dream trip to the Baltics (how many years in the making?!) with a good friend made 2021 such a special travel year for me.
Wedding fun ❤
Seeing an old friend in Helsinki! 📷: Bri
Taking the ferry from Helsinki to Estonia! Check out Home Base Belgium for all of Bri’s amazing travel blogs — she’s much more updated and together than me!
I’m so thankful for the ability and privilege to see new places and to be able to do so safely.
Riga, Latvia 📷: Bri
This year was also incredibly special as I had the opportunity to really explore topics close to my heart: the ideas of collective memory, how we choose (or not) to memorialize the past, the culture surrounding historical narratives in different places, and how this shifts and changes over time. From the sea islands off the coast of the Carolinas to monuments in the borderlands of the Baltic states, I’m so thankful to not only physically see and experience these sites, but also for the folks who patiently provided me the space to to do so.
I wanted to provide a warning that this post also includes photos and descriptions of memorials and historical sites referencing genocide and war. Be kind to yourself and what you can take on ❤
Channeling my inner 2006 Kirsten Dunst 📷: Bri
Here is my 2021 Travel Year in Review:
View from our back porch (winter 2021)
View from our back porch (fall 2021)
We have so many lovely trails near our house and I’m lucky to have that space available to me to walk with the dogs.
Making new friends
Along with the occasional bizarre holiday display in the main square of our village:
This apparently Donny Darko-inspired Easter setup thoroughly terrified all of us, but especially Arya Tonks, who was absolutely not having this one bit. ALLTHE[NEWPLACE]THINGS:
We were only able to see a few holiday markets in Germany but the ones we visited were breathtaking! This magical little town looks like it belongs in a snow globe.
Able to see this gorgeous and brilliant lady get married!
Plus meet up with a bunch of old friends and a chance to see this beautiful view ❤
Cochem during the fall is so moody–I loved seeing this small town on the Moselle River. The castle that looms above is actually not original–French King Louis XIV destroyed the first castle here and it was rebuilt in the 1800s.
Colmar is famous for its six Christmas markets. We traveled here the first weekend the markets opened, enjoying glühwein and potato pancakes.
View of the Helsinki neighborhood of Töölö from the top of the Temppeliaukio Church.
Riga is breathtakingly beautiful. This photo was taken from the Stalinist Palace of Science, one of the tallest buildings in the city.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany:
Our first travel destination of 2021! What a gorgeous town and is one of the prettiest in Germany.
St. Helena Island, United States:
I finally had the opportunity to wander the breathtaking island of St. Helena, located off the coast of South Carolina.
We spent a weekend in the lovely town of Strasbourg, where we also saw a Mos Def (!!) show.
I have been dreaming of visiting Tallinn since my bachelor’s essay on Estonian national identity. I still can’t believe I was here! This view of the city is from the Kohtuotsa platform in Old Town, also known as the home of the famous seagull Steven.
We had such a wonderful time wandering the streets of Vilnius. This particular part of the city included these lights with translations of a number of different terms. ALLTHE[MEMORIAL]THINGS:
Avenue of Oaks, St. Helena Island (United States):
While not technically a “memorial”–often listed as a “fun” tourist attraction near Beaufort–for me, the Avenue of Oaks on St. Helena is a space for reflection and remembrance. Once the road into Coffin Point Plantation, a forced labor camp that held over 200 enslaved people before their owners fled during the Civil War, the original 1100 acres has now been subdivided and residential homes line the Avenue of Oaks leading up to the former plantation house.
Coffin Point Praise House, St. Helena Island (United States):
Located near the Avenue of Oaks, the Coffin Point Praise House was built on the former forced labor camp of the Coffin Point Plantation. Just 3 m (10 feet) by 4.5 meters (15 feet), praise houses for the enslaved and their descendants were purposefully created tiny out of fear of allowing large groups of people to meet in one location; intentions for structures were completely different for owners and enslaved people as seen in this building and the Chapel of Ease. The name “Praise House” is thought to be derived from the Gullah / Geechee term “pray’s house” and while originally used as a space for singing and worship, these structures also became the heart of rural communities. The Coffin Point Praise House was built in 1900 and remains an important site for many on St. Helena, including the Gullah / Geechee community. It is only one of three that remain on the island.
Chapel of Ease, St. Helena Island (United States):
Built in the 1700s for plantation owners on the island to attend religious services, the Chapel of Ease was used as a space for northern teachers and missionaries to educate and train newly-freed formerly enslaved people following the end of the Civil War. In 1868, a forest fire burned the chapel down, leaving the ruins we see today (including the oyster shells and lime used to build the walls).
Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai (Lithuania):
Visiting Lithuania’s Kryžių Kalnas (Hill of Crosses) was one of the most eerie and unusual wanderings I’ve had the opportunity to experience. Shockingly, we had the space to ourselves! While the origins of the Hill of Crosses varies based on legend and lore, the hill consists of more than 100,000 crucifixes and other religious icons; the space remains a pilgrimage for many.
First mentioned in 1850–but legend holds that the Hill of Crosses is much older than that–as a memorial for surviving relatives of victims fighting against the occupying Russian government (the Russians stifled Lithuanian identity and honoring the dead); cross-making is a part of the cultural heritage of Lithuania and a way to unite the people. Another legend holds that an apparition of the Virgin Mary instructed believers to cover the space in holy icons.
Banned during Soviet occupation, in 1961, the entire site was burned to the ground and was then destroyed another four separate times as locals continued to rebuild the memorial at night. Since gaining independence in 1991, Lithuanians are now openly able to visit the site and today is a tourist destination (although very much off the beaten path). However, the cultural practice of cross-making is in danger of losing its significance as fewer young Lithuanians learn the act.
Hubbard House, Ashtabula (United States):
Just ten minutes from where I went to high school, the Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum is located right next to Lake Erie and was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Already heavily involved in abolitionist work, William Hubbard and his family moved to now-Ashtabula from New York, where he and his brothers founded the Ashtabula Sentinel, an abolitionist newspaper. This house helped many enslaved people and their families escape to Canada, although there is no written account of the number of people that used this stop on the Underground Railroad. Built in late 1840, the house was nearly demolished in 1979, but was rescued from destruction and has slowly been restored. It is now open to tours hosted by volunteers.
Museum of the Riga Ghetto and Holocaust in Latvia (Latvia):
Opened in 2010 and close to the border of the original Jewish Ghetto in Riga, this indoor and outdoor museum includes incredible displays, permanent exhibits (a recreation of an apartment and train car), along with this space of hundreds of lanterns sharing stories of the some of the 70,000 Latvian Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust.
Ninth Fort, Kaunas (Lithuania):
The Ninth Fort near Kaunas, Lithuania has a complicated and horrific history as the land changed hands between political powers. Constructed as the last part of the Kaunas Fortress complex built to protect the Russian Empire’s western border–independent Lithuania was “absorbed” into Russia in the late 1800s–the Ninth Gate was completed on the eve of WWI. From 1940-1941, the Soviets used this space to house political prisoners before being sent to Gulag forced labor camps. During Nazi occupation, an estimated 50,000 Jewish people were murdered and buried here as a part of the Kaunas Massacre. Above is the site of the mass execution and burial place, located behind the fort’s structure. The “Fort of Death” was liquidated in 1944 and after WWII, the Soviets used the Ninth Fort as a prison.
Unveiled in 1984, the Ninth Fort Memorial stands at 32 m (105 feet) tall and commemorates the mass burial place of the Jewish victims of the Nazis buried in the field here. We were so lucky to stop by the space and essentially have the area to ourselves.
Rabbi Meir Garden, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Germany):
Built in memory of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, the garden is located next to the old Jewish dance hall that was constructed in 1400, burned down during a bombing in 1945, and reconstructed. The garden includes these Jewish headstones (discovered in 1914) that are now embedded into one wall, as well as a memorial plaque to the last Jewish families driven out from the city between 1933-1938.
In 1938, the town was declared “free of Jews” and the last remaining 17 members of the community were expelled from Rothenburg. It is estimated that none of the Jewish families that once lived here returned after the war and less than ten Jewish people live here today.
Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, Riga (Latvia):
The former Nazi labor camp outside of Riga is now a memorial to the victims of the murders that took place here. We were able to visit in the early morning and had the entire complex to ourselves. Truly a humbling and eerie moment with space for reflection. The entrance to the camp includes the inscription “behind these gates moans the earth”.
A work camp consisting of mostly Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonians, an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 women, men, and children died here. These enormous Soviet statues were built in 1967 and is one of Europe’s largest monument complexes; the area includes a number of memorials, displays, and even loudspeakers continuously playing a metronome as a symbol of a heartbeat. Similar to many Soviet memorials, the history and how it is represented at Salaspils remains under constant dispute and debate.
Sibelius Monument, Helsinki (Finland):
Unveiled in 1967, the Sibelius Monument was created by Finnish artist Ella Hiltunen and is dedicated to the Finnish composer Jena Sibelius.
One of the prettiest and most interesting sculptures I’ve seen in person! My friend Bri and I had an absolutely glorious day in Helsinki, walking through the parks and wandering through the city’s sites.
Sojourner Truth Memorial Marker, Akron (United States):
Born enslaved in 1897, Sojourner Truth escaped to freedom in 1826 and became one of the most famous American feminists and abolitionists. In 1851, Truth gave the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech overlooking the vista of the Little Cuyahoga River in Akron, Ohio. While debate still goes on as to whether Truth actually said those words at the Women’s Conference, it remains one of the most iconic speeches on freedom and equal rights for women in US history. The site of her speech was originally the Old Stone Church on High Street; today the plaque is mounted outside of a building owned by the United Way.
Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports (Lithuania):
The extremely controversial Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports was constructed by the Soviet Union in 1971 on top of the oldest Jewish cemetery in the capital city of Lithuania. Absolutely enormous, the arena held over 4,000 people and was constructed on the Piramónt cemetery, a space dating back to the late 1400s. After the occupying Russians closed the cemetery in 1831, the Soviet government destroyed the cemetery from 1949-1950 when a stadium was built here. The arena was also the site of the Inaugural Congress of Sąjūdis, which led to Lithuanian independence. In 2004, the center closed as it was deemed unsafe for spectators and today, many markers ask visitors to respect the solemn space and remnants of Jewish headstones lines the walkway. In 2021, plans to build a new convention center on top of the area were scrapped due to Covid-19 and concerns over tourism.
Walls That Remember, Vilnius (Lithuania):
Developed by Lina Šlipavičiūtė-Černiauskienė in the capital city of Vilnius, the intent of the Walls to Remember project is to bring to life the once-bustling former Jewish quarter and a way to “bring back” the inhabitants of the city through imagery. As we walked through Vilnius, I saw a couple of drawings throughout the neighborhood with QR codes. These drawings, based on meticulous archival research, are based off of real photos of people who once lived here at the heart of Jewish life in the city. The artist “chose to use the modern language of graffiti in order to bring history closer to today’s people and youths”. In 2019, the project was vandalized with anti-Semitic icons. ALLTHE[BOOK]THINGS:
Bookstore in Helsinki, Finland
Wandering a bookstore in Tallinn, Estonia 📷: Bri
Elizabeth’s, Akron (United States):
Absolutely love Rachel Cargle’s Bookshop & Writing Centre
Central Library Oodi, Helsinki (Finland):
The breathtaking Oodi library in Helsinki is all the heart emojis and what dreams are made of for how you’d want your library space to look and feel. Oodi invites patrons to “meet friends, create art, read, and relax” and includes spaces to read, workstations, studies, event space, an urban workshop, and a number of other services.
Intentionally designed as an inclusive space with representation and input from the community of Helsinki, the library is a beautiful building with gorgeous views of the city and outdoor space. Swoon.
Rahva Raamat, Tallinn (Estonia):
Estonia’s largest bookstore and a literary landmark, Rahva Raamat is absolutely adorable, with engaging displays and an incredible greeting card collection.
National Library of Latvia, Riga (Latvia):
Known as the Castle of Light, the National Library of Latvia was formed just one year after the Republic of Latvia gained independence in 1918. During WWII, Germany invaded Latvia, occupying Riga from 1941-1944 and renamed the library as to separate the space from an independent Latvia. In 1945, under Soviet occupation, the institution was named the State Library of the Latvian SSR; the Soviets removed certain literature that was designated as “dangerous” and could only be accessed with a special permit. In 2008, construction began on the new library (pictured here) and incudes 13 floors. A number of selected holdings were carried from the old building to the new by a human chain when the facility was opened in 2014.
St. Helena Public Library (United States):
The St. Helena Branch Library is one of South Carolina’s prettiest libraries, located near the historic Penn Center and features this super interesting and informative room on Gullah / Geechee culture and history.
National and University Library, Strasbourg (France):
Opened in 1895, the library holds 3,000,000 volumes and is France’s second largest collection.
Burg Eltz, Wierschem (Germany):
So the fifth season in Germany is definitely fog. We thought we’d miss the crowds by visiting the absolutely breathtaking Berg Eltz at the beginning of the fall, only to be thwarted by the thick autumn fog. I couldn’t stop laughing at our luck. Lesson learned!
Here is what the castle looks like during the summer months!📷: Home Base Belgium
Burg Frauenburg (Germany):
The ruins of Burg Frauenburg are a nice little hike near our house and I was lucky enough to have the entire space to myself. The home of Loretta Sponheim, who paid for the castle’s construction with ransom money received from holding the Elector Baldwin of Luxembourg, Archbishop of Trier captive. A young widow facing poverty and conflict, Loretta successfully negotiated the release of the influential and powerful Baldwin, ensured the succession of her regency to her son, and then retired here before her death in 1346.
Burg Frankenstein, Palatinate (Germany):
For my Lockdown Birthday, I ordered my very own multilayer strawberry shortcake then visited the Frankenstein Castle ruins nearby. Not THOSE Frankenstein ruins, but still a nice walk abound the village’s church, ruins, and cemetery, the medieval castle is named for the local House of Frankenstein and was constructed first as a defensive tower around 1100. During the German Peasant’s War, the castle was destroyed in 1560, but was still used for military purposes.
Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn (Estonia):
Built for Catherine the Great by Peter the Great, this cupcake-vibes palace was built from 1718 – 1725 and currently houses the Kadriorg Art Museum.
Burg Lichtenberg, Thallichtenberg (Germany):
The largest castle ruin in Germany, Burg Lichtenberg is just a five minute drive from our house. Built around 1200, the castle (and the town of Kusel) were burnt down by French revolutionary troops in 1794. Under French occupation, the castle was plundered a number of times before a fire in 1799 destroyed a majority of the castle. Burg Lichtenberg fell into disrepair until 1895 when it was placed under protection as a historical monument before undergoing renovations in 1971. ❤ ❤ ❤
Currently: Reading: Olga Dies Dreaming (Xochitl Gonzalez) Listening: Neon Bible (Arcade Fire) Watching: Ozark Season 4 (Netflix)