Three Escapes for the Frequent Flyer

By Kailash Maharaj
October 9, 2015

 

 

Lithuania Vilnius Siauliai

A church in Vilnius. A wedding at the famous site of Siauliai. /K&S Media

 

If you like PRAGUE TRY…

1 KAUNAS

I’m not one for heavy dream interpretation, but before coming to Lithuania I had a dream.  The specifics were a bit blurry, but what I do recall was opening my hands to find a tiny white amber pendant in the shape of a heart. I store this nice reverie for safekeeping.

By the time I’ve taken the nearly two hour bus ride from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital city, to Kaunas, any thoughts of amber are long forgotten, overtaken by the sheer quiet of this lugubrious city.  This quiet belies the city’s history.  It’s hard not to imagine War times when visiting old town Kaunas, the city was heavily bombed before World War II, and several times thereafter– there are signs of this all over.

But presently I’m entranced by the sense of pensiveness pervading the 13th century Kaunas castle–a minimalist, and largely reconstructed structure, with emblematic tower and small red flag waving in the wind.  The large red brick castle is a striking contrast to the bright green grass surrounding it.

If Vilnius is the glitzy mistress, Kaunas, is the shyer, more reserved maiden preferring to show its beauty in soft vignettes rather than all at once.  There is the House of Perkūnas, an original gothic building, numerous churches and parks where I wander through forested paths.

At the banks of the Nemunas river, I clasp my amber pendant.  As I watch the coursing river I finally know what it symbolizes – a regret that I’m only now able to surrender.

Don’t Miss
The House of Perkūnas, an original gothic building.

Great Eat
Zalias Rata, once the Kaunas Governors’ home is a charming restaurant  resembling an old cottage- complete with wait staff donning traditional costumes, and a wood burning stove.  Enjoy koldunai grybai, ravioli stuffed with mushrooms.

Where to Stay
Off Laisve aleja, past the stunning blue dome atop St. Michael the Archangel cathedral at The Reval Neris.

 

Tulum Beach

Tulum Beach and Ruins. /K&S Media

If you like CANCUN TRY…

2 TULUM, MEXICO
I am standing facing east, the sun blazing overhead, atop rock cliffs that cling to the beachside where sea turtles nest, and sun seekers from around the world frolic in the azure water below.  Palm trees jut out at perpendicular angles to the horizon while restored Mayan stone buildings dating from the 13th through 15th centuries surround me.  Unlike many of the other Mayan ruins I’ve visited, Tulum is not surrounded by dense tropical forest but an arresting seascape.

Marking one of the last towns along Mexican’s Mayan Riviera, past Cancun and Playa del Carmen which have definitively moved into the realm of 21st century mega-tourism, Tulum remains an unfussy sleepy beach town with a puebla, old town, and not much else.  Most of the beachfront resorts and cabañas have an eco-yoga relaxed vibe and many do not even have locks on the doors. But don’t be fooled, this is fast becoming a go-to destination for a well-heeled stylish crowd.

After exploring the ruins,  I am satisfied to people watch and take a cool dip in the Caribbean Sea.  This site was once a trading post and port but I contemplate how it must have looked centuries ago, and how the beauty that impresses me now was just as powerful then.

Don’t Miss
Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve’s waters for fishing or boating or visit Muyil lagoon and see canals dug by ancient Mayans.

Great Eat
Flor de Michoacan, a paleteria, serves local popsicles, ice cream made with local fruit and juices.

Where to Stay
Azulik: This unique resort has villas directly on the Caribbean Sea. Great spa services.  Adults only.

 

Fruit for Sale in CostaRica

Fruit for Sale in CostaRica. /K&S Media

 

If you like THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TRY…

3 SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
San Jose, like Costa Rica itself, is a hub for adventure with a sophisticated European feel. Each region adjacent to San Jose feels as though I am exploring one of the capital city’s neighbourhoods.  I’ve had my share of adventure in this adrenaline heaven. In Arenal, I walked along a hiking path, El Silencio leading to a green mountainous landscape overlooking the cloud covered volcano, bubbling with ferocity. At night I returned to get a glimpse of the vibrant orange lava sputtering from conical heights. I had come face to face with twenty foot, half ton crocodiles near the bridge over the Río Tárcoles and been entertained by capuchin monkeys, notorious kleptomaniacs, on the beaches of Manuel Antonio. I had zip lined and veered precariously close to hot springs where the rising hot water nearly burned through my shoe’s soles.

When my thirst for adventure waned, I sought gentler though equally thrilling discoveries: a black Madonna in the church of Cartago, the lone remaining ox-cart maker and his grandson hand carving wooden tables in a tiny workshop, wild orchids perfuming the air and keel-billed toucans squawking in tropical trees.

But nothing had captivated my imagination more than the pursuit of the resplendent quetzal, an emerald plumed bird infamous for its elusiveness. Jorge, my Yoda-like guide and friend in Costa Rica, being a Tico, resourcefully found an area where, he told me, we might have a fighting chance of seeing the bird. Early one morning we traipse through bush to Savegre. Here in the Talamanca Mountain Range, apples and pears and other temperate fruit grow in orchards. Several hours elapse with no sign of the bird. Finally, in an aguacatillo tree, we spot a pair. I sought adventure throughout Costa Rica but nothing fulfills the thrill of the chase like this.

Don’t Miss
The neo-classical National Theatre of Costa Rica, founded by coffee barons, it is a national icon.

Great Eat
Eat at a local soda, or rustic restaurant just like the locals.

Where to Stay
A chance to see the beautiful resplendent quetzal, hike nature trails, ride horses; spa and restaurant facilities also available.  Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve & Spa – San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica,

Other Great Trips

Crete (Greece)
Crete seems like a tiny island but the undulating landscape where mountains bar the way to towns, and monasteries perch precariously atop slivers of rock make getting around take longer.  But do not miss Samara gorge, Sitia, the ancient archaeological site of Knossos, Agios Nikoloas, Heraklion for its shopping and Hania for its seaside charm.

Oostende (Belgium)
A long race track, a white sand beach, fishermen with nets – this is quintessential Oostende, a coastal city in Belgium.  It is often referred to as the Queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts because of the Belgian royal family’s fondness for the city.  Lunch seaside or stroll the esplanade in this place full of sunshine.

Valletta (Malta)
The winding streets of Valletta make it easy to follow the custom of the locals who walk every evening along the water, while vegetable and fruit wagons follow suit.  By day, the vibrant colours of Malta come alive in the painted fishing boats, the wonderful colors of the harbours, and the old buildings and churches.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.