Departures: Power of surprise kindnesses in travel

By Spud Hilton Published 7:25 pm, Thursday, March 26, 2015 Photo: Spud Hilton / The Chronicle 2013 Image 1of/1 CaptionClose Image 1 of 1 Chronicle Travel Editor Spud Hilton poses with a group of Ukrainian folk singers in traditional costumes at Vilnius Castle in Vilnius, Lithuania. Chronicle Travel Editor Spud Hilton poses with a group of Ukrainian folk singers in traditional costumes at Vilnius Castle in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Spud Hilton / The Chronicle 2013 Departures: Power of surprise kindnesses in travel 1 / 1 Back to Gallery The moment I saw the heavily embroidered sleeves, I began looking for an escape route. The uniforms were not terrifying, nor did the men and women wearing them look particularly menacing. It’s just that people in traditional period costumes, especially in tourist areas, make me veer. Not avoiding the costumed folks nearly always has the same result — guilt. Typically I encourage tipping of street performers (especially if you post photos or video to Facebook or Instagram), but costumed “performers” have always been a quandary. Is putting on an unauthorized Mickey Mouse suit and posing with kids in Times Square really performing? It’s work, but is it the kind that should be encouraged? Costumed characters already are so prevalent, I’ve thrown money in the hat for Spider-Man in Venezuela, Generic Panda Guy in Paris and Levitating Jesus in Madrid. I’ve tipped Bronze Statue Guy on four continents. LATEST TRAVEL VIDEOS Now Playing: Now Playing Fiji's crystal blue beaches and lush jungles. Travel & Leisure Turtle Island in Fiji has a maximum occupancy of 28 people. Travel & Leisure Captivating Copenhagen Travel & Leisure Picture-perfect Valletta, Malta Travel & Leisure Save Money on Continue Reading

In Baltic cities, ‘free’ guided tours are worthwhile

Visit The Boston Globe Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Comment on this Scroll to top of page L. Kim Tan Globe Staff  March 08, 2014 RIGA, Latvia — Whatever your travel budget, it’s nice to know what you’re paying for. I was thinking this as we explored Riga’s bustling Central Market during our second stay in the city in eight days. We were trying to decide the remainder of our two-week tour of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and, more immediately, lunch: Those peasant-style meatballs and gray peas with bits of smoky bacon looked inviting at the corner food bar. Tomorrow, how about a 33-mile trip to Sigulda — worth the train fare and admission to see more medieval castle ruins?With any purchase on the road, especially in unfamiliar locales, it’s a hit-or-miss proposition. There are few guarantees; you pay, and hope. Wouldn’t it be great if you could experience it first, then decide what it’s worth?My wife and I discovered just such a thing during our recent visit to the Baltic nations: walks on which the guides left it to participants to decide what to pay afterward. Available in a handful of cities in northern Europe, the walks are billed as “free” tours led by English-speaking “volunteers,” but participants are welcome to tip. It seemed a simple concept, but after our third walk, we decided it’s brilliant: It got us to try a different way of seeing a place, each time with unexpected results. Advertisement The guides we met, all friendly young locals, wanted to show us what they loved about their hometown. We joined two walks in Riga, one within the Latvian capital’s old town and the other outside of it, and liked them so much we took in a third when we visited Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Each walk took about 2½ hours, during which our guides dished out local history and social commentary as we wandered neighborhoods sometimes far off the Continue Reading

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 ‘value’ travel spots for 2016

window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-5', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 5', target_type: 'mix' }); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-10', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 10', target_type: 'mix' }); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-12', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 12', target_type: 'mix' }); Photo: salehuddinlokman / Getty Images/Flickr RF Image 1of/13 CaptionClose Image 1 of 13 <b>10. Western Australia</b>: Nicknamed the "Coral Coast," this state on the Indian Ocean includes pristine reefs, intriguing rock formations, the Margaret River wine region and the capital city of Perth (shown), among other attractions. Free museums and a weak Australian dollar make travel now a good deal, according to Lonely Planet. For tourism info, see <a href=""></a> less <b>10. Western Australia</b>: Nicknamed the "Coral Coast," this state on the Indian Ocean includes pristine reefs, intriguing rock formations, the Margaret River wine region and the capital city of Perth ... more Photo: salehuddinlokman / Getty Images/Flickr RF Image 2 of 13 <b>9. Timor-Leste</b>: Also known as East Timor, this former Portuguese and Indonesian territory on the island of Timor offers beautiful beaches, such as Jesus Backside Beach in Dili, the capital, and budget lodgings for as little as $10 a night. Airfare, however, might be pricey, as Lonely Planet notes. For more about the country and tourism, see <a Continue Reading

Banker: “Nightmare” dodging extortion attempts in Latvia

LONDON (AP) — Latvia's top banking official, a key member of the European Central Bank, has been accused by local bank Norvik of seeking kickbacks, trying to launder Russian money and retaliating against the bank when it refused to play by the "rules of the game." In a high-stakes drama for the tiny Baltic country, Ilmars Rimsevics was detained Saturday by Latvian anti-corruption authorities and questioned for hours into the night. State TV showed him walking free on Monday, without charges, though he is still being investigated for suspected bribery. Norvik bank has filed an international legal complaint against Latvia in which it alleges that a "Senior Latvian Official" repeatedly sought "to extort monetary bribes," and threatened the bank when its owner and chairman, Grigory Guselnikov, refused to pay up. "The high-level official mentioned in our request for arbitration is Rimsevics," Norvik's CEO, Oliver Bramwell, told The Associated Press. Guselnikov confirmed that it was Rimsevics. Rimsevics' lawyer told Latvian TV that he promises to provide more information about the case on Tuesday. The ECB declined to comment on Rimsevics' status. The threat of criminal charges against the man who has been at the top of the country's banking sector since 1992, in the wake of the Soviet collapse, has plunged the small Baltic nation into turmoil. Rimsevics' detention is particularly sensitive as he sits on the top policy-making council of the ECB, Europe's most powerful financial institution, and is privy to the state secrets of Latvia, NATO and the European Union. Any connections to money laundering would raise concerns of the risk of blackmail from Russia's secret services or organized crime, and come at a time when Latvian security services warn that Russia is actively trying to obtain state secrets from Latvian officials to weaken the European Union and United States. Guselnikov said he first met Rimsevics in 2015 after he was introduced to a man called Renars Continue Reading

Today’s quirky news: Beer biosphere? Air tests positive for booze at frat party

Beer biosphere? Air tests positive for booze at frat party BALTIMORE — There was so much drinking at a frat party in Maryland that police say even the air tested positive for alcohol. Montgomery County Police wrote in charging documents that an officer who tested the air in the Bethesda home with a breathalyzer got a reading of .01. Because of that, officers had to test dozens of mostly underage partygoers outside.The Nov. 14 party was first reported by WJLA-TV.Police were called to the house for reports of a loud party.Police say six men who lived at the house, all 20, were each charged with more than 100 counts of providing alcohol to minors.Court documents show residents said most of the partygoers were students at American University in Washington. Navy rediscovers captured flags hidden for nearly 100 years ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The curator of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum wasn't exactly sure what would be found: records indicated five display boxes long used to exhibit captured British flags from the War of 1812 actually concealed more banners underneath.But not until all 61 banners were painstakingly removed in December for a conservation effort did curator Charles Swift, who is also the museum's managing director, actually see what was hidden. And he was gratified to learn that conservationists had uncovered dozens of other flags — many captured by the Navy in other conflicts of the 19th century.The 46 newly discovered flags — including banners from battles in Asia and from the Spanish-American War — had originally been put on display in 1913. But seven years later, they were covered up by the 15 flags from the War of 1812 — and sealed up for nearly a century.No one alive had seen the flags long hidden from view."More importantly than just seeing them was seeing the colors," said Swift. "It is what struck me immediately. It was sort of dark, but you could see the colors — the vibrant colors — of them having not been Continue Reading

At least 51 killed, dozens injured in Latvia shop collapse: reports

Hordes of shoppers were picking up food after work in the Latvian capital when an enormous section of the supermarket’s roof caved in. Firefighters rushed in to save them, only to be crushed themselves when a second part of the roof collapsed. The death toll from the rush-hour disaster Thursday evening at the Maxima supermarket in Riga rose to at least 51 on Friday, including three firefighters, police said. Spokesman Toms Sadovskisk said the death toll is expected to go even higher, and that six of the dead were still unidentified. Another 35 people were injured, 28 of them hospitalized, including 10 firefighters struck just as they entered the unstable building, the Fire and Rescue Service said. It was the largest tragedy for the Baltic state since it regained independence in 1991. Latvia’s government declared three days of mourning starting Saturday. The rescue agency could not say how many people might be trapped under the rubble in the densely populated, working-class neighborhood between downtown Riga and the city’s airport. The reason for the collapse was still not known, but rescue and police officials said workers had been building a garden on the roof as part of the supermarket’s original design. Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs told reporters that large bags of earth and sand on a weak spot on the roof could have caused the collapse. An enormous crater-like hole gaped in the supermarket’s roof, while building materials were still stacked on the remaining sections. Rescue workers kept up their round-the-clock search for possible survivors as darkness fell on Friday, periodically turning off all equipment and asking the relatives of missing people to call so they could pinpoint ringing phones. Dozens of firefighters carefully sifted through the rubble. Rescue agency spokeswoman Continue Reading

Mexican leader congratulates US – but not Trump

LONDON (AP) — The latest on world reaction to the U.S. presidential election (all times local):2:20 p.m.Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is congratulating the U.S. on its election — though not directly winner Donald Trump, who alarmed many by describing Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists.Pena Nieto has sent a series of tweets repeating his readiness to work with Trump "in favor of the bilateral relationship." He says Mexico and the U.S. "are friends, partners and allies who should continue collaborating for the competitiveness and development of North America."The value of Mexico's peso currency plunged sharply after the election of Trump, who has denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement that has led to billions of dollars in trade between the two nations.Mexican Treasury Secretary Jose Antonio Meade held a news conference Wednesday morning, urging against "premature reactions." He said the election result won't immediately affect trade and said Mexico "is in a position of strength" to face whatever may come.___2:15 p.m.Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev says the election of Republican Donald Trump as U.S. president offers an opportunity to repair ties between Moscow and Washington.The Interfax news agency reported Gorbachev says "maybe he will understand that a lot depends on the position of Russia."Speaking Wednesday from a hospital bed, Gorbachev says "under a new president of the U.S. the Russian-American relationship could get significantly better. I am convinced it is essential now to go straight into a two-way dialogue on the highest level."The 85-year-old Gorbachev was admitted to the hospital for what Russian media reported was a planned pacemaker.___2:05 p.m.Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has congratulated businessman Donald Trump on being elected U.S. president, calling his win "historic."Sharif, a businessman himself, praised Trump's commitment to free enterprise.The Pakistani leader says Wednesday that Trump's Continue Reading

Want the most powerful passport in the world? It’s time to become a citizen of Singapore

The tiny nation of Singapore now has the most powerful passport in the world.According to the Passport Index, which tabulates the number of countries that holders of passports can enter either visa-free or by gaining a visa on arrival, holders of the Asian city-state’s travel documents can cross borders most smoothly. The No. 1 spot comes after a recent decision by Paraguay to remove visa requirements for those carrying Singapore’s passport, meaning 159 countries can now be easily visited.The index, which is an online tool that ranks the world's passports by their cross-border ease of access, was developed by Canada-based international residence and citizenship advisory firm Arton Capital.In a statement, Philippe May, managing director of Arton Capital’s Singapore office, said the ranking “is a testament of Singapore’s inclusive diplomatic relations and effective foreign policy.”Until Paraguay’s decision, Singapore, which is the first Asian nation to head the rankings, was tied with Germany with a score of 158. Germany is now in second place, followed by Sweden and South Korea at 157.Meanwhile, the index brought bad news for American passport holders. According to Arton Capital, since President Trump took office, Americans have become less welcome across the globe, with Turkey and the Central African Republic being the most recent nations to revoke visa-free status, leaving the U.S. with a score of 154 and behind 18 other nations.At the bottom of the list? Afghanistan, with a score of 22. The troubled nation is followed by neighboring Pakistan, at 26, and Iraq, also at 26. New Top 10 Passport Power Ranking: 159 – Singapore 158 – Germany 157 – Sweden, South Korea 156 – Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, United Kingdom 155 – Luxemburg, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Portugal 154 – Malaysia, Ireland, Canada, Continue Reading


ELLEN JOHNSON Sirleaf was sworn in yesterday as Liberia's president - Africa's first elected female head of state - and promptly pledged to end the country's history of corruption and violence. In traditional African headdress, Sirleaf took the oath of office in a ceremony attended by thousands of Liberians and scores of foreign dignitaries, including First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Rice. "We know that your vote was a vote for change, a vote for peace, security . . . and we have heard you loudly," Sirleaf told Liberians in her inaugural speech. The Harvard-educated Sirleaf will serve a six-year term as head of Africa's oldest republic, founded by freed American slaves in 1847. The resource-rich country had been under the thumb of hard-liner Charles Taylor, who plunged the country into chaos after invading from neighboring Ivory Coast in 1989. During yesterday's ceremony, two U.S. Navy warships were docked offshore in a show of force, while the UN deployed 500 peacekeepers in the capital city of Monrovia. The swearing in of Liberia's "Iron Lady" comes one day after Socialist Michelle Bachelet won election as Chile's first female president. She and Sirleaf are the latest among a number of women to rise to power in democratic elections in recent months. In October, Conservative Angela Merkel became Germany's first woman chancellor, as well as the first chancellor from former Communist East Germany. Among other woman heads of state, according to Who's Who and the World Encyclopedia, are: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines; Helen Clark of New Zealand; Khaleda Zia, who leads Bangladesh, with 144 million people the world's sixth-largest nation, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia. [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis’ many gifts take him all the way from Latvia to NBA’s brightest stage

Kristaps Porzingis, a seven-foot Latvian, ambled about the Barclays Center’s inner bowels shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday. He wore a carmine red suit with a black leather shawl collar, shaking a white No. 15 Knicks jersey with both hands as boom mics hovered. He ducked beneath a doorway and looked down a ramp by the loading dock. Black curtains kept passersby from peeking in on post-draft celebrations, and his parents, Talis and Ingrida, idled nearby, a ball beneath his father’s left arm, his right arm around his wife’s shoulder. Their older sons, Janis and Martins, surveyed the scene. Porzingis, blonde and bone-thin, bounded toward them. He pivoted as if on a catwalk before leaving, opening his suit jacket to reveal lining featuring Latvia’s carmine-and-white flag. He unloosed pent-up patriotism. “Latvia!” he said. “Representing!” RELATED: CARMELO NOT HAPPY, BUT KNICKS DRAFTING PORZINGIS MAKES SENSE Booed in public, Porzingis rebounded in private. Nineteen years old and now a Knick, he negotiated the back hallways with aplomb as cameramen choked his path. Onlookers unfamiliar with his ability to finish lobs with dunks in transition eyed a confident gait and casual grace. He spoke English fluently, just as he can speak Spanish and Latvian. He wore a small scar above his top lip, a reminder of a collision with a counterpart’s head last season in Spain, the country he called home the last four years. His phone filled with messages, texts streaming across the Baltic and Atlantic seas. He appeared at home, but hurdles remained. MSG broadcaster Tina Cervasio, positioning for an interview, watched as he nearly tripped on a wire. “Oh!” she said. “We don’t need to hurt you the first five minutes you’re with the Knicks!” FOLLOW THE DAILY NEWS ON FACEBOOK. CLICK HERE TO “LIKE.” Porzingis proved steady. He survived his first night as a Knick. Striding on stage Continue Reading