The first thing that we would like to do is apologise for the length of time since our last blog post…to be honest a lot of things have been developing here at the “House” since Christmas we have now taken on our very own creative media intern to help develop our activity videos, you can see the results in our videos page. We also celebrated our 7th birthday, yep thats right 7 whole years of providing unforgettable experiences to many many happy clients from all over the world. As the long winter eases its self into Spring (for most of Europe at least) we see that people are looking ahead to their weekend breaks, companies are going abroad for seminars and conferences and the sign of a “world recession” is at least for the most part out weighed by the need for people to get away from the grind of everyday life and experience something new.
This time of year is perfect to get away, hotel prices are still in the low season, low cost airlines have some great deals and the glum winter faces are replaced by faces full of Summer anticipation. One destination that we are seeing a lot of activity in is Budapest, this is one of our newer destinations but from the day we launched its proved extremely popular. Riga welcomed the annual Balttour exhibition in February, the largest travel exhibition in the Baltic States. We went to check it out and see who the movers and shakers are both domestically and internationally.
Spring at Travel Out There also means the end of our winter activities and the start of our cool outdoor activities such as the Freefall simulator, Outdoor Go-Karting and canoeing. So as we started with an apology we will end with a promise, to continue providing unforgettable experiences and also to stay on top of our blog and keep the people who mean the most to us (you) informed on whats going on.
First of all I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. In the past I had a tendency to delay the beginning of the year to February. Main reason being is that my birthday falls in January and I used to find it difficult making resolutions and thinking about fresh starts…when all I was really wanting was to continue the celebrations. Perhaps, coming to an age where one begins to forget how old one is, you begin to opt for more subdued birthdays. This year, I am looking forward to sharing my first birthday with Henry, my new boy! He gave me the best Christmas present I could have hoped for – a smile!!!
Therefore, I suppose I am conforming and yes have decided to make a few resolutions both on a personal and professional front. Yep, there are the standard eat more healthily, exercise daily, watch less TV, read more blah blah but what excites me most about 2012 is a concerted effort to smile more.
Some year sago, a department store in New York City, in recognition of the pressures of its sales clerks were under during the Christmas rush, presented the following homely philosophy.
The Value of a smile at Christmas
It costs nothing, but creates much.
It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give.
It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
None are so rich they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.
It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in a business, and is the countersign of friends.
It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and Nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away.
And if in the last-minute rush of Christmas buying some of our salespeople should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours?
For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give!
Lets not save up all our smiles for the festive period….no matter how austere, or troubled the world may become in 2012 it is so important that we keep smiling!
At Travel Out There we work by the strap line “Experience it 2 Believe it” and sometimes its the only way to describe some of our activities…not least the Winter Bobsleigh. 1km is covered in under 50 seconds and speeds of 115kph coupled with G-force in excess of 3G make for an experience that will last in the memory.
We were fortunate enough to chat with the USA’s Steven Holcomb about how he ended up driving the Bobsleigh for his country and also winning the USA’s 1st gold Medal for over 60 years in the 4 man event.
Q) As we are based here in Latvia, the Bobsleigh is close to our hearts and is our most popular Winter activity, how did you get into Bobsleighing in the 1st place?
A) I was born and raised in Park City, Utah, which is home to one of two bobsleigh tracks in the United States. So, in a sense, I grew up around the sport. I also went to a private school growing up called The Winter Sports School, which is geared towards students that are pursuing a winter sport. At the time, I was an alpine ski racer and that was my goal. Strangely enough, the school is located about 100m from the Bobsleigh track in Park City and I was able to watch bobsleigh training from class.
Q) For those who are coming here to experience a Bobsleigh run for the 1st time, what would be your top peice of advise?
A) Hold on tight. Haha. It’s not a comfortable ride, people assume that it’s a soft, padded, sled and it’s like a roller coaster. It’s not, the sleds are fiberglass and steel, there are no safety restraints, and the ice is not as smooth as it looks. Plus, if you have your head up to watch, shrug your shoulders to keep your head steady. Unfortunately, no matter how well you prepare, or how hard you try while going down the track, you are going to be sore the next day and you’ll find bumps and bruises in the strangest places.
Q) Latvia is famous for being very good at the Skeleton, Martins Dukurs was a silver medalist at the Vancouver Olypmics last year and worldcup winner in 2011. Have you ever tried this event, if so how does it compare to the Bobsleigh?
A) I actually competed in the 1999 US National Championships in skeleton, I finished 6th. I am also the 1999 & 2000 National Skeleton Push Champion. It was all just for fun and I had a great time. I still prefer bobsleigh though. It’s faster, a bit more dangerous, plus, I get to see where I am going.
Q) At the same olympic games you led the USA to their 1st gold medal in the 4 man event for over 60 years, can you describe the moment the medal was placed around your neck?
Celebrating Olympic Gold in the 4 man Event
A) It was the most incredible moment in my life, and I’m not sure I’ll ever experience emotions like that again. It was truly amazing. Take a moment and imagine for yourself how great it would be to stand on the Olympic podium, now multiply it by 1000x, that is getting close to what it was like. It took me 12 years and immeasureable sacrifice to get there, the emotions were overwhelming. Even if I return to Sochi in 2014 and win another Gold, it will never be as big as incredible as the first.
Q) Prior to your pioneering Eye treatment, it was reported that you would often feel your way around the course, now that you have 20:20 vision do you feel that the time spent with poorer vison and a need for a closer bond to the sled and the course has worked to your advantage…in a sense were you forced to develop your other senses to be competative?
A) My poor vision is what made me the driver I am today. It’s said that there are two types of drivers, those that drive by visual cues and those that drive by feel. Since I wasn’t able to see, I had to rely on my feeling to get me down. The disease I had, Keratoconus, is a degenerative disease. So, when I first started driving, I was able to see a lot more (my vision was 20/20), and as my vision slowly deteriorated, I had to rely more and more on my feeling (in 2007 my vision was 20/1000). They say that when you lose one sense, your others are hightened. Well, it’s true, and while I did notice my hearing was getting better, it didn’t really do a whole lot for my bobsledding. However, my development of spatial awareness was incredible, I could feel things that the sled was doing that nobody else could.
Q) The track here in Sigulda, Latvia is used by teams from all over as a practice and test track…in your experience what has been the best track to tackle, both from a technical and speed point of veiw?
A) I have never actually been down the track in Sigulda, only because there are no World Cup races there. The track is not homologated to send 4-man sleds down, so we don’t go there. I would really like to someday, it looks and sounds like an incredible track. My favorite track is in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It’s a natural track, which means that it is built from scratch every year. It’s a sight to see. However, one of the most difficult tracks to conquer was Whistler, Canada. It’s the fastest track in the world, and one of the most technical. A dangerous combination.
Q) You are using Social Media to promote the work your doing with the team and also your sponsors…how has Social media helped you engage with your fans?
A) I do use social media, a lot. It’s the only way that I am able to connect with my fans and keep in touch with what I am doing. Especially in the United States where Olympic Sports take a back seat to professional sports like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. We don’t get any media coverage so people just lose interest or forget that we even exist until the Olympics roll around every 4 years. I use Facebook (facebook.com/stevenholcomb) a lot as well as Twitter (@StevenHolcomb). Come find me and say hello.
Q) Do you have a song/band/artist that you listen to before you compete?
A) I actually dont’ listen to music before I compete. One of the main reasons is that each track has it’s own rhythm and personality. Listening to music puts you on a different rhythm and can mess up what I am trying to do. Also, music tends to get athletes pumped up and aggressive. While that is good for the Push Athletes, as a driver, I need to stay relaxed, calm, and focused.
Q) If you put your IPOD on shuffle, what would be the most random track to come up?
A) I play a lot of video games and I downloaded the soundtrack to Halo 3, a game that I, as well as a number of guys on the team, play a lot. I had my ZuneHD playing on random and the game soundtrack came on. It was really weird to see everybody’s reaction. It was like the video game just came on and everybody started acting like they were playing. It was pretty funny.
Q) What would you be doing now had you never found the sport of Bobsleigh?
Night Train team in action
A) I’m a computer geek, I would probably be doing something in the IT field somewhere. I always wanted to be involved in video games, hopefully I would have applied the same skills and values that I have in becoming the top bobsledder in the world, into finding a good job. I did have the opportunity to meet the Xbox 360 crew last year, that would be AWESOME!!
Q) and finally….What would you say to any kids that want to get involved in a Winter track sport such as Bobsleigh or Skeleton?
A) I grew up in Park City, Utah and my friends and I would sneak out on the ski slopes in the winter and go sledding. I always joked that I wanted to be a professional sledder when I grew up. I didn’t actually expect that I would not only be travelling the world, sledding for a living, but be #1 at it. My advice to kids that want to get involved is that perserverence is the key. I see athletes come and go every year. The athletes that have had succes in bobsled, and in life itself, are the ones that work hard and never, ever give up.
We all know how chilly it can get during the winter in Eastern Europe; anyone who has visited these parts also knows how the locals like to tell tales and stories over strong liquor. We count down the top 5 winter warmers to try this year.
Riga Black Balzam – As thick as tar and 45%abv this drink is a cross between Jagermeister and cough medicine, which is handy as the local Latvians swear by this drink as a cure for the common cold…if you have enough we are sure it could cure most ailments.
Unicums – Brewed from over 40 herbs (apparently) this liquor from Hungary is sure to warm the cockles of your heart, even if the image of a drowning man on the label is a bit odd
Zubrowka – This list would not be complete without a good old traditional Polish wódka and where better to start than the Bison Grass wódka. A single blade of Bison grass is placed in every bottle and although this has been copied many times over there is only one original Zubrowka.
Vana – This Estonian liquor is available in varying levels of potency, from 16%abv up to 50%abv. Of course when in Tallinn there is only option and that the 50%abv, not as old as others on the list it is perhaps a bit more palatable with a sweeter taste.
Rakija – A favourite amongst the Balkans this liquor made from distilled fruit, Serbian Rakija is renowned as the best around, due to the excellent fruit farming in this area…again the not so legal form of Rakija can pack a punch at 60%abv
Every week Travel Out There delivers a whole host of interesting, strange and wonderful activities to foreign tourists in Europe. After all we are your number one experience agency! These people do not spend all their time sat in pubs and it is time the popular press realized this.
In October 20o9 Travel Out There played host to FHM Holland for the weekend. You can read the article on our website – http://www.traveloutthere.com/en/show/page/dutch-fhm-article, at the time this coverage was great for us and the exposure in Holland proved to be a success, with many Dutch coming over to Riga and our other destinations to become part of the TOT family. We have stayed in touch with the guys from FHM and have developed a good relationship with the magazine…so you imagine how pleased we were when we received the long awaited FHM Hotspots video, made during their trip.
This 8 minute video captures Riga and some of the things you can do with the TOT team perfectly…if your Dutch its even better (the video is in Dutch). So we would like to once again say a huge thanks to the guys that made the weekend possible and to the guys at FHM for coming over and helping us share this fantastic city…
There is one ‘Riga’ outside the borders of this planet. However, since space tourism is not so well developed right now and I’m not sure that the small planet which got the name ‘Riga’ way back in 1971 has anything to offer you, I welcome you to land back on Planet Earth and open the map of Europe.
Before we find out where is Riga, we have to clarify where Latvia is (we are back on Planet Earth – no places out of reach now). Some people will tell you that Latvia is a country in Northern Europe, others will say – Eastern Europe. Great! Excited by the North? Want to know what life is like in Eastern Europe? Perfect! Latvia is a country in North-Eastern Europe, along the shores of the Baltic Sea. Finland, Sweden, Germany, Poland – all share the same sea with Latvia. On the other side of Latvia, you might get lost looking at the huge mass of Russia, so get back to the left side of Russia, where it has the border with Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Here we are – in the middle of 3 Baltic States you see one country called Latvia.
Where is Riga? ‘The City of Inspiration’, ‘The Capital of the North’, ‘Nordic Paris’ – these are other names for this city. In Latvian, its called Rīga – with a long ‘i’. In other languages you will find this city as Riqa, Рыга, Рига, Ρίγα, Riia, Ríge, Ryga, Riika… That’s the city founded way back in 1201, and celebrating it’s 810th anniversary this year.
The biggest city in Baltics, one of the oldest cities in Europe, the main industrial, business, culture, sports and financial center in the Baltics – Riga is located in the heart of Latvia – next to the Baltic Sea (Gulf of Riga). You can reach Riga by airplane – the biggest airport in the Baltics is located here. Little Baltic sea cruises have become quite popular to reach Riga from Nordic countries. From Russia, for example, it’s quite easy to come by train – you will get out right in Riga city centre.
Of course, all roads in Latvia lead to Riga and it is not only because Riga has always been the capital city. It has a lot to offer: from medieval Old Town to Art Nouveau architecture, famous opera, sparkling night life, arts and adventures. Did you know that this year Latvia was chosen from a pool of 160 candidates in the third annual survey as one of the Top 10 countries for adventure travel? Have you heard that Riga is included among the Top 5 European cities for summer travel? While the capital of the neighbour country Tallinn (in Estonia) is the reigning European Capital of Culture 2011, Riga is getting ready for 2014 when it will carry this title. Riga is where the magical Riga Black Balsam was made more than 250 years ago and definitely the best place where to taste it.
If you were initially searching for the planet named Riga and wanted to go there, I would strongly advice you to change your plans – let the space tourism develop – the city called Riga (in Latvia, Baltic States, Europe) is getting more and more popular every day, and it’s not without a reason. Where is Riga? If you are on Planet Earth, Riga is close and within easy reach!
What is the single most important thing to keep safe during your travels..? Of course its your passport, one of the main parts of our job is to ensure that our clients don’t misplace or put themselves at risk of losing this vital travel document. Now imagine my embarrassment and horror when on a friends bachelor weekend to Amsterdam I managed to leave my passport on the Easy Jet flight, all the times I have reminded people and here I am 1 off in a party of 9 that has lost his passport….
One bonus of working in the travel industry is knowing how to stay cool under a bit of pressure, in this circumstance it was all on me, I lost it and its down to me to sort it out. To cut a very long story short I end up getting a 4 day pass into Amsterdam in the hope that my passport turns up either at Stansted or in Schipol Airport. After 4 days of Amsterdam you can image all we want to do is get home and sleep off the impending hangover, waiting in the que to board the Easy Jet flight home I hand over my boarding card and the document from Dutch Immigration (which up-till now had been more than sufficient) to my slight horror but underlying suspicion I am informed that the document I had been issued was not valid for an Easy Jet flight, I must present a passport or temporary passport which can only be issued by the local Consular.
So begins my restless night trying to sleep in Schipol airport before I head back into Amsterdam to see the British Consular the next morning. I arrive at the Consular around 11:00am which gave them 2 hours to prepare a temporary passport before they closed at 13:00. Fortunately I was the only “lost passport” case of the day and they managed to sort it all out, all be it to the tune of 130euros. Another 145euros for a new flight and I eventually got home 24 hours after the rest of the party and in desperate need of a shower and some sleep.
This is where the saying “Practice what you preach comes into play” I can safely say that from now on my passport will we glued to my side for any future trips, especially where Easy Jet are concerned.
Cycle count lanes in the Baltics are slowly popping up everywhere, however this seemingly new development is catching out drivers in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. People here are used to some pretty chaotic driving and the prospect of now looking out for an increasing number of cyclists will no doubt cause a few more headaches. We all know that stopping to fix a slipped chain in a cycle lane is deemed offensive let alone parking your car in one.
In Vilnius, Lithuania that is precisely what happened. The Mayor of Vilnius and keen cyclist Arturas Zuokas took matters into his own hands when he came across an illegally parked car;
Ok, so its all for a bit of publicity but also a serious warning to drivers who park in lanes reserved for cyclists. As the Baltics look at ways of preserving and showing their historic cities, without clogging up the streets with endless tourist buses its becoming clear that the use of bikes and other “green” transport such as Segways are becoming more and more popular…sorry car people this mean one thing, more cycle lanes and as a result less street parking, it might be time to buy yourself a little push bike for that short trip to work, if only for the summer months. You can reads the full story from BBC News here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14380367
There is no question that AK47 shooting is one of our most popular activities, with people coming from all over the world just to shoot this iconic weapon. Although we offer this activity in nearly all of our destinations, its without a doubt that Riga is the home of shooting. We have been running this activity since we began and every weekend of the year we can guarantee at least one booking for gun shooting.
On this occasion we decided to write about it an post on our blog, so all of you can get an idea of what all the hype is about. As it happens we had our 1st ever Indian shooters and 4 guys from one nation that seem to love this, Holland. It might be something in the water over there or maybe the beer here in Riga but the Dutch love this activity, “We chose Riga over other destinations just because of this shooting activity” is a common phrase to hear. We took our taxi from the centre to the shooting range, the journey alone was enough of an adrenaline rush, the driver seemed to think he was on the Fast and Furious set weaving in and out of traffic like a mad man…all part of the experience
Once at the range, the sight of empty bullet casings and targets peppered with bullet holes fills the guys with anticipation and excitement. As we run through the safety briefing you can see that the reality of everything is starting to kick in, after all this is live ammunition.
1st up is the Glock 17, standard issue for most Police forces worldwide this weapon is a gentle introduction to the activity. 10 shots at a target 15metres away sounds easy, however if you have never fired a gun before this is all very alien. The 1st 10 shots are fired and one guy can breath a sigh of relief that he has at least hit the target, now the pressure moves to the next shooter and the competitive edge begins to take shape. After all 6 people have fired the Glock 17, the moment of truth arrives and we find out just how accurate the guys have been. Everyone at least hits the target, some of course are better than others but on the whole everyone shoots well.
Next up is the AK47, the reason that people do this activity. Everyone gets 5 shots on this and because it is so accurate we apply some pressure by stating that everyone should hit the target and get all 5 shots within a dinner plate sized radius. The very sight of the AK can turn even the most placid and calm person into a slight maniac, they want to become Rambo and unleash a firestorm upon the target, again our super qualified instructor brings them down to earth by pointing out just what they are about to fire, the sheer power and deadly force of a weapon like this must be treated with respect.
Taking Aim with the AK47
The 1st shooter takes aim at his target with the previous 10 rounds from the Glock fresh in his mind…The safety is taken off and in a few moments all 5 bullets are in the target, at this point most people turn to their friends with a big smile knowing they have just done something that is only possible in a few countries. Again the rest of the group try to outdo each other, some aim for the head, others go for safety and get points on the board, again we go and see how they have done.
The trick with the AK47 is to be quick with the trigger, once the sights line-up you need to fire as there is not much room for error…most of the guys took this advice and shot the AK47 well.
One gun that we always recommend shooting is the WincesterPump Action ShotGun….if your not sure what this is, just think Arnie in Terminator 2, HASTA LA VISTA, BABY!
4 of the 6 guys decide to shoot this, taking the upgrade at 10ls for 5 shots. Each person takes one shot with the best of the group taking the final shot as a bonus. It is a close call as 2 people manage to get the elusive head shot, but in truth there can only be one winner and that goes to the shot that hits the middle of the target giving the James Bond a Hitler type moustache
Now that the targets have more holes than an old Russian car, we can have some fun and let the guys get up close and personal with the guns. Safety on and chambers empty its time to pose and get some pictures to take home. One last group picture to show what’s left of the targets confirm the power of the weapons fired.