Where to go in Ballston Spa

Ballston_Spa

Heads up! Today’s New York Times Sunday edition has a half-page travel article subtitled A Less-Famous Spa Town Enjoys a Revival” devoted to Ballston Spa, NY.

The author mentions “quirky boutiques, upscale bars, cafes and the tastefully restored inn and spa, the Medbery” as affordable alternatives to the busier Saratoga Springs. Some of the small businesses mentioned include lunch hotspots Zest and Iron Roost along with the farm-to-table Next Door restaurant. Doubleday House Antiques and the Ye Olde Wishin’ Shoppe were also cited for their vinyl record collections, quirky wares and vintage “Etsy-ready knick-knacks.”

I, personally, would like to add to that list with a few other lively gems: The Factory Eatery restaurant for their Bootlegger’s Mug Club Craft Beer selection (30 on tap, 40 bottles), the National Bottle Museum for glassworks classes and handmade crafts at Creative Endeavors Gift Shop/Art Center.

To learn more about Ballston Spa, check out this TU blog written primarily by Stuart Williams of the Ballston Spa Central School District.

How to earn travel points and flyer miles

Flyer Talk logo

Flying isn’t free, it’s actually notoriously expensive, but it can be a lot cheaper using frequent flyer miles. At FlyerTalk.com, I’ve learned how to rack up miles by refinancing my home mortgage, using dining programs, shopping through specific portals and opening up credit cards. Just make sure you stay vigilant with your purchases. Don’t let the incentive programs drag you into debt unwittingly.

An even easier method than signing up for credit cards (albeit cards give you the most return) is social media. Facebook will reward fans of airline and hotel pages with as many as 500 miles in exchange for a ‘like’ click. Netflix will do the same if you sign up for their monthly subscription. And, there are even banks like Fidelity who will toss award miles your way for opening a checking or savings account.

For more great ideas, bookmark this gem: A Good Point.net, blog posts about all things having to do with credit cards and their reward programs, upcoming changes and how to get the best value for your miles and points.

A restored Baroque garden of immeasurable beauty

Rundale Palace and Gardens

Rundale Palace and Gardens

Rundale Palace and Gardens

Rundale Palace and Gardens

Horticulturists (and grandmas) everywhere need only visit the Rundale Palace and Museum to know where the end of a Baroque rainbow falls.

Thousands of hand-propagated rose bushes; some modern varieties with names like Bright Smile, Ray of Sunshine, Keep Smiling and, to my surprise, a latent bounty called Henry Hudson, swept me away from a tour of the palace interior in exchange for a solo escape into the gardens. The color intensity explodes like an Old Master oil painting onto 25 acres of ornamental parterres, corkscrew pathways and lush manicured lawns.

Restoration of the Latvian grounds – a former gift of Russia’s 18-century ruler, Catherine the Great, to one of her ex-lovers – began 40 years ago and continues today. Can you imagine how many hundreds of weeding hands it takes to keep a composition of this size happy and healthy?

Pruned hedgerows of lime trees and arborvitae dot gravel avenues. Pergola tunnels imbued with romantic vines provide shaded relief. Motif box plantings of snapdragon and marigolds bed promiscuously with sage and carnations. Idyllic attractions include misting water fountains, ice cream pavilions and an intimate terraced amphitheater perfect for listening to live symphonies.

Dubbed the “Versailles of Latvia,” this garden is indeed the perfect place to experience suspended reality and natural bliss. I lost myself for 90 minutes to the tune of singing birds under a blue sky absent any regrets for missing out on faded wallpaper and formal statues. With 10 minutes to spare, my friend Anne joined me dressed in fantasy costume to do the same.

Rundale Palace and Gardens

Bog floating at Soomaa National Park

Soomaa

Soomaa

How often does a National Park service let you go swimming, alone and unobserved, in a protected lake, pond or swamp? Rarely, in my experience.

But, in Estonia, the Soomaa National Park welcomes visitors to cool off in dozens of “bog pools” that dot the landscape. The adventurous intern, Karolis, wastes no time plunging into a refreshing sinkhole thick with tadpoles and decomposing vegetation.

Scattered with dense forests and wide open canopies of spongy peat moss, Sooma is one of two (the other is Lahemaa) important wetlands in south-western Estonia. Both are a result of 10,000 years of Baltic ice lake receding.

With little nutrients and no soil, only a few stunted pine trees are able to grow in the floodplain grassland. Unlike New Hampshire and Maine, there are no small, bobbing red fruit commercially harvested here, though plenty of blueberries are ripe for picking by July.

The unique mire is easily accessibly from a dry, wooden boardwalk and a 2-story interpretation stand provides a scenic overview of the horizon.

For more information, visit the Estonia Travel and Tourism website.

Soomaa National Park Estonia

Toasting to the future of Estonia

Any self-respecting owner of a wine cellar knows how to toast appropriately in Estonia.  But there's also a lofty responsibility in giving a toast.   The expression "Tervis Sulle, Seks Mulle" quite literally translates into "Health to You, Sex for Me."    -

Any self-respecting owner of a wine cellar knows how to toast appropriately in Estonia. But there’s also a lofty responsibility in giving a toast. The expression “Tervis Sulle, Seks Mulle” quite literally translates into “Health to You, Sex for Me.”
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The romantic languages of Europe, like Spanish, Italian, German and French, are big on gender. They assign a male or feminine connotation to every noun. But the Uralic language of Estonia does not. Does that make their language easier to learn and speak? I’m not sure… but I sure can appreciate the self-deprecating wit of a local when they say “Estonian has no sex and no future (well, grammatically).”

The thing is Estonia does have a future and based on the wistful people, engaging museums and savory dinners I’ve enjoyed this week, it’s a future that travelers like you will want to experience, especially the following:

Cry your heart out to the singing sensations of  Opera ensembles in Pärnu - especially the exceptionally fabulous blond in the red dress on the left of this photo enjoyed at the Villa Ammende.

Cry your heart out to the singing sensations of Opera ensembles in Pärnu – especially the exceptionally fabulous blond in the red dress on the left of this photo enjoyed at the Villa Ammende.

The Villa Ammende has a rare hunting package for a guest to pursue moose, wild boar, wolf, lynx, deer, even bear.

The Villa Ammende has a rare hunting package for a guest to pursue moose, wild boar, wolf, lynx, deer, even bear.

Buy a handmade knitted pair of mittens, socks or leg warmers from the traditional women of the UNESCO preserved island of Pärnu.

Buy a handmade knitted pair of mittens, socks or leg warmers from the traditional women of the UNESCO preserved island of Pärnu.

Remembering the Singing Revolution in Tallinn, Estonia

Singing Revolution

DrumGirl

I think for any visitor to truly understand ethnic Estonians, they really need to appreciate the relationship between song and courage. Both are central to their culture and history.

Music has been used to support political agendas throughout history but never has it sparked a revolution in size and scope to the one on August 23, 1989.

Many of you will remember that on that date, the world’s largest, longest and most peaceful mass demonstration triggered the end to Soviet rule in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. An estimated two million strong stretched hands for more than 370 miles to form a human chain linking the three capital cities. All were singing patriotic hymns at the top of their lungs.

Remarkably, no blood was shed (in Estonia) and the end to a half-century communist regime came roughly two years later.

Not unlike the parents of Marketing Coordinator of Tallinn City CVB, Mari Pever, I was just entering my freshman year at college but while I was studying three-chip cameras, Mari’s parents were making history.

“Yes, both my Mom and Dad were students here in Estonia in the late 80’s and dedicated to the cause (for independence). They used environmental and heritage issues, like the building of a phosphorite mine, as the impetus to protest…but everyone knew it was much more than that.”

Today, Mari’s parents are history teachers who raised their children appreciating the significance of non-violent protests and the Baltic Way.

As a tribute to the Singing Revolution, a festival called the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration is held in Tallinn every five years.

On a guided tour of Tallinn, we stop to reflect on moments in Old Town that preserve the past (not just recent history) with statues, poetry and stories. The week-long Old Town Medieval Days Festival is concluding that explains the artisan-themed costumes performers are wearing at the Town Hall.

Folk Costume Festival Estonia

Lenin

Freedom Square