Order

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I’m back from Belarus (a.k.a. country Nr. 109) and it was surprisingly uneventful. It was not bad per se, but simply not much happened there. If I could use one word to describe the place it’s ‘order’. Everything is in order, everything works, but only in one way it’s supposed to work. As soon as you want to improvise, everything becomes very difficult.
In a sense it’s a kind of Orwellian society from one side and Western consumerism from the other. Two conflicting lifestyles, living side by side. It is not a broken state like Russia, there are no black BMW’s breaking every imaginable rule with gusto because they are above the law. But there is order. Order means you can take pictures of buildings, but not people. Order means the main train station is 3 times bigger than the main airport, if domestic travel is so good, why go overseas. Order means fixed prices, but flexible service. Same same, but different.
Main thing we did is to go around and check soviet monuments, there were a few good ones, with full on USSR signage and slogans. Yes, there are tanks instead of statues as monuments, but there are also a lot of modern buildings, a lot of normal posters. You almost forget about the state propaganda, you see posters for shoes, electronics etc. and then all of a sudden there is a patriotic nail factory poster with slogan “Together – we are Belarus”, or Lenin square or Communist street. Talking about streets, they have the weirdest street signs (here’s one), they are massive, I guess making sure you always know where you are.
No Belarus wife for me either. We went to a club at 11pm, it was empty but all the tables were reserved (it cost $300 to reserve a table in average looking club), so we waited till midnight to see how locals are having fun, but it was still empty. I have no idea when they start, but it’s obviously not before 1 am. May be there is a little bit of Spanish in my Belarus neighbors.
The highlight of my trip, drinking one of my favorite drinks – White Russian in White Russia (Belarus in Russian means “White Russia”).

North Koreans go visa free

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Belarus is one of the very few countries where North Koreans can go visa free. I’m not as lucky, as practically everyone else needs a visa (and invitation letter before that) to visit Belarus. You see, tourism is not big there. Less than 100k people visit Belarus per year. That’s not much compared to 83 million that visit France every year. The impact from tourism is negligible on their economy, there is not much ‘tourist infrastructure’ in place. Even architecture is pure soviet style dream, as 80% of Minsk (the capital) was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in late 40-ties and 50-ties to the liking of Josif Stalin.
That is why I am so excited to be visiting Minsk later this week. There are not many places on earth that still get so little attention and tourism (even Burma is opening up), meaning that you get to experience something truly authentic and unobstructed. It is also ridiculously safe and peaceful place to visit, as you really need to get political to find trouble.
Belarus is actually bordering with Latvia and Minsk is a simple 50 minute flight away from Riga. I call it the last bastion as I’ve visited literally all 40+ European countries except Andorra and Belarus. All in all, I’m really looking forward to visit such attractions as “Mount of Glory” and ‘Stalin Line”. Photos from the trip to follow next week.

Fashion on autopilot

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Hey, all you fashionistas and style conscious peeps out there! You remember my post a while ago where I said that owning 7 pieces of every key garment is enough? Right, so I’ve gone a step further to simplify and automate the time in front of the closet. This time I’ve done ready outfit combinations for each day of the week.
Orange jumper and turquoise pants is monday, red jeans and denim shirt is tuesday and so on. Basically picking an outfit in the morning every day takes me 5 seconds, literally opening the closet door, counting from left to right depending on which day of the week it is and picking it up. Simples:)
Why do this? We all have limited amount of decision making power allocated for every day and I want to put it to good use. That is why we do so many things on autopilot, like going to work, or making breakfast in the morning. Well, getting ready has two approaches. One is doing it on full autopilot and ending up looking like an elf. It actually happens to me quite a lot, as I love red pants and it’s easy to pick up a green t-shirt on the go. Other alternative is to actually devote time and think of the combinations you’d want to wear today. That requires precious decision making commitment although you almost always end up with the same old combinations. So I’ve eliminated this step and created a kind of smart autopilot, which allows me to still look like I’ve put the effort in, whilst focusing my energy for the day on how to take over the world (as the Brain would say to Pinky).
Of course these 7 outfits are not cut in stone, I have a few extra pieces to mix it up now and then and t-shirts for when the sun comes out, but basically this is the basis of my wardrobe. As long as I stick to my golden rule of no blacks or whites, I’m happy.
Now that I think about it, it’s useful for people around me as well, as they can tell time just by looking at me. Like, ough Ivars is wearing his orange shirt & jeans. It means it’s Friday, p.a.r.t.y.! There’s also a downside, if people see me only once a week on the same day. They’ll think I only ever wear one thing, but it could be worse. What do you reckon, is it a good system, bad, would something like this work for you?

Learning to do random stuff, my first song

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At the beginning of the year I set 5 goals I want to achieve in 2014. One of the goals was to write, sing and record a song from scratch. I’ve written about 4 or 5 lyrics now (average to bad). This one I pulled together as an actual mini-song, well it’s more of a reading with some music in the background, but hey, gotta start somewhere to improve by the end of the year. It’s super basic and recorded at home, but I’m surprised that it’s actually not that hard to write up stuff and try to put it in some kind of rhythm and melody. Just base the idea on some real life situations from your life, add a little bit of fantasy and drama, and voila. You can listen to it here.
We put ourselves in the box of sorts, this is who I am, this is how I should behave, and we take it for granted, we don’t question it. But the thing is, these borders don’t exist, we create them in our heads, and once you scratch a little bit on the surface of these walls, peek through a tiny hole, you realize there’s a whole new world out there, on the other side. How awesome is that.
This song was inspired by amazing Italian movie: La Grande Bellezza. About an older guy who lived life to the full. Full of lust, full of glamor, but not much real connections. If you have not seen the flick, check it out, it won an Oscar for the best foreign film.
p.s. My brother told me the other day “Dude, don’t share this stuff with people, we’re family, we understand. But other people will think you’re weird.” Haha, well I actually am a bit weird, and there’s nothing wrong with that, at least that’s me. Have a great day!

They came

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Last thursday night I had a photo exhibit opening @ Kalnciema Kvartals, a small art and design center in Riga, a popular hang out among local hipsters but also regular people, hehe. Anyways, I talked about my photo and travel project ’100 countries under 30′. I was taken by surprise as more than 100 people came on the night. The place was packed.
I’m not sure if everyone enjoyed the night, especially after the free wine run out, but I hope at least that the night was half good. I learnt one thing whilst doing this. I’m terrible at organizing events. Last time I threw a party, it was a disaster, only about 10 people came and 8 of them were girls. This time I over did it in the other direction, more than 100 people came in the place that is supposed to hold 80 people max. So lesson learnt, Ivars, don’t try to organize an event.
Now that I’ve finally done a photo exhibit and event back home, I feel like I’ve properly concluded the project. It never really felt finished until I could show the project back at home. Now I can move on to other things, and stage two of this travel project in particular. 85 countries left in the world and I want to go to all of them in the next 5 years or so. At least before I’m 40 as the final deadline. 7 new countries await for me this year. It’s not much so I’ll have to do some catching up in the next few years, but hey. Next trip, Belarus. Submitting a visa application on Monday, that alone was a project in itself.

1682 days to overnight success

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I started this travel project back in July 2009, but now it’s finally getting some traction and I’m getting my 5 minutes of fame in local media back home (magazine, TV and radio interviews). It’s funny how things work out, you work on something for years, you toil away on your little project and then “suddenly’ the skies open and the dude up there says ‘well, hello boy, I see you’ve been working on something interesting, I’ll make this work for you’.
Ok, I don’t believe in the dude and actually it was my good friend who sent info to her media friends about my photo exhibit/project and it is getting some good traction, which I’m grateful immensely. And not because I’m ego maniac striving for attention, but because I want to inspire people to look at travel differently, jump out of their comfort zone and do something new, something for the very first time. It’s actually not that scary, often the reaction after that goes something like this – ‘is that all there is?!’. Like my cage diving with great white sharks, which I was not looking forward to, but had to try and it proved quite calm and pleasant experience (except for freezing my tits of).
My blog hit the highest amount of readers in the last few days, hello to all you new friends here, reading this. Welcome to the (not so) secret world of Ivars. Here I share my travel stories, observations and photos from the road, along with my general POV on life, because travel for me is intrinsic part of lifestyle that I lead, it’s not something I do twice a year with the champagne in my hand.
I plan, I work, I sacrifice, I save, I fail, I plan again, I fly, I drive, I cook, I wait, wait a bit more, and then there it is, that feeling, that moment in time, when you look at the horizon and think to yourself, yeah this is pretty awesome, I’m glad I did it. And then you move on, to the next milestone, next horizon, waiting to be discovered by you.

Yogurt

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Number one question I get asked when I mention to how many places I’ve been is this: Which one is your favourite? Well, for a long time I had no straight answer as I don’t have favourites, not for countries, nor books, food, movies or music. Then I came up with an answer that satisfied me: I came to realise that countries are just like the yogurt aisle in the supermarket. There’s no perfect yogurt but there is a yogurt for any occasion – there’s a healthy one, there’s indulging one, there’s organic and toffee, too. The same analogy can be applied to countries. There’s no one perfect country, but there are countries for specific occasions. You want to party – hit Rio. You want to shop – the London’s for you. But if you want to get away from it all – Maldives is the place to be.
So with this thought in mind I wrote a song (one of my this years challenges is to compose, sing and record a song). This song is called ‘Yogurt’:

It comes in fifty shades of milk
For any occasion or temptation
Organic, chocolate or plain vanilla
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a thriller

When wheels squeak through the airport
I know I made another mark in my passport
Through the customs and on the bus
Let’s see the city and what’s all the fuss

These countries are just like the yogurt aisle,
You could be browsing them for a while
There’s goji berry if you’re Caucasian
Or the one with jelly for true Malaysian

Some people ask my why I like so much to travel
I ask back if they’ve tried yogurt with sweet basil
Most guys don’t have the clue what I’m on about
But those who do give me a wink and go to scout

When you’re on the road the vision is clear
You know when to push on or when to fear
Take in the tastes and smells of someplace new
There’s only one thing that still stands true

These countries are just like the yogurt aisle,
You could be browsing them for a while
There’s goji berry if you’re Caucasian
Or the one with jelly for true Malaysian


About Me

I've been to 109 countries (out of 193), yay! My mission is to become first ever Latvian to go to every country in the world.
After 10 years on the road, I've moved back home to Latvia for a bit. This blog is about travel, photography and living in foreign countries.

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