About Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.
She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.
Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.
Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett
I had an interesting but sad experience today, a reminder that despite hometown bookstores hanging on and still existing in the major cities, times are ‘a’ changing. In a search for travel books on Iceland, I came up short on a recent hunt in and around San Francisco’s Union Square. After a meeting I had in the center, I asked eight people back-to-back, on the street and in nearby shops, where the closest bookstore was. They all seemed to look at me as if I was asking where I might find a place to buy cassette tapes. One girl in her twenties with a black polka dot dress on and fabulous pink lipstick took the earbuds out of her ears to talk to me, saying that she too was looking for one two weeks ago and the one she knew about had closed, so she wasn’t sure.
I later learned that there is one in the Union Square vicinity but it took a little digging to find it and no one I asked knew about it. And so, I hopped back on the Bart and ended up back in the Mission where I knew of Dog Eared Books at a minimum on Valencia. Although they didn’t have anything on Iceland, they were, like most independent bookstore owners and employees, helpful in trying to explore other possibilities in the area who might. They led me to Books Inc., Modern Times, and Alley Cat. I felt a bit more optimistic when I spoke to people in their twenties who not only believed that books were here to stay, but were going to do whatever they could to make that happen. Hear hear. In my exploration, I dove into some other gems and here they are for your browsing pleasure. In other words, get out and support your local book store and if San Francisco isn’t local for you, support them next time you’re in this fabulous city.
The Green Arcade is a funky and eclectic bookshop based on Market Street in San Francisco. Imagine a delicate style dripping with yellowy atmosphere, welcoming chairs, and incredible books, which don’t seem to be shelved as much as perfectly curated. They say they’ve got it all: everything you’ve wanted to read, or know you should read, is there, and you’ll want to rifle through everything else. Below is a shot of owner Patrick Marks inside the bookstore.
Broadly, the store specializes in environment, politics, food, farming, nature, and sustainability, with niche books that would baffle Borders’ corporate buyers. It also has strong local representation, including Erick Lyle’s On the Lower Frequencies and San Francisco Weekly alums Silke Tudor and Jack Boulware’s Gimme Something Better.
The Green Arcade
1680 Market Street @Gough
San Francisco CA 94102
The Dog Eared Bookstore has a line on their website that gives you an idea of their personality right away. They want “us” to know that reports concerning “The Death of The Bookstore” have been greatly exaggerated and that nowhere is this more true than San Francisco, where a relentlessly quirky and curious populace loves nothing more than wandering the aisles of a well-stocked literary emporium. Other stores in their network include: The Phoenix, Alley Cat Books, and Red Hill Books, which are scattered throughout San Francisco and they offer books at rock bottom prices.
They also carry a wide variety of original art, notecards, journals, and magazines. They say, “if you’re looking for a specific book but can’t remember the title and/or author, fear not – we love a challenge. And if you’re looking for something but don’t know what, our staff is always happy to make a recommendation. ” Gotta love it. Obviously great service is part of their motto, so take them up on it.
Phoenix was conceived during a magical time when landlords took chances on people they liked — Kate Rosenberger and George Kirby Desha started the store with $10,000, no previous credit history, and a lease sealed with handshake. The store has relocated twice over the years, but after each move, true to its name, has risen again. Kate hatched the idea for Dog Eared in 1992 at a tea party at the beloved Radio Valencia (R.I.P.). In 1996, it moved it to the larger, sunnier space it currently calls home (formerly a furniture shop called Hocus Pocus) on the corner of 20th in San Francisco.
Like the Mission district it calls home, Dog Eared is wildly eclectic — you’ll find anarchist zines next to Vanity Fair, books on Nina Simone next to books on Joy Division, and the poetry of Michelle Tea next to that of Longfellow. The store has become a destination for visitors from around the world eager to peruse its quirky yet extensive stock, including sections devoted to Beat Literature, Noir mysteries, McSweeneys’, sustainable living, and NYRB Classics.
3957 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
Phoenix is located in Noe Valley, on the South side of 24th, between Sanchez and Noe Streets. The nearest bus lines are the 48 (24th Street), the 24 (Castro Street) and the J-Church streetcar.
Dog Eared Books
900 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dog Eared is located at the corner of Valencia and 20th Streets in the Mission District. It’s about a ten minute walk from either the 16th Street or 24th Street BART stops. The nearest bus lines are the 26 (Valencia Street), 14 and 49 (Mission Street), the 33 (18th Street).
Alley Cat Books
3036 24th street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Modern Times has been around since 1971 and has continued to survive the collapse of the New Left from which it emerged, the assault of chain bookselling, the death of independent stores throughout the country, gentrification of the Mission, and the competition from online booksellers. Located in San Francisco’s Mission District, they sell both used and new books and offer wide-ranging literature on globalization, politics and media, as well as an array of graphic novels, fiction, and criticism.
They maintain informed sexuality and gender sections, and feature one of the Bay Area’s most extensive collections of writings on Latina/o history and culture, including a full selection of Spanish language books. In addition to the thousands of titles they have in store, they have an ever growing collection of used books online and are now selling eBooks with over 3 million titles to choose from. A special thanks to Travis at Modern Times for proactively offering to help me identify some local bookstores who would have travel books on Iceland during a recent search.
City Lights was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. Known as one of the few truly great independent bookstores in the U.S., it attracts “beatniks” anti-authoritarian politic advocates and insurgent thinkers. It is the country’s first all-paperback bookstore that spans three floors of both new-release hardcovers and quality paperbacks from all of the major publishing houses, along with an impressive range of titles from smaller, harder-to-find, specialty publishers. The store features an extensive and in-depth selection of poetry, fiction, translations, politics, history, philosophy, music, spirituality, and more, with a staff whose special book interests in many fields contribute to the hand-picked quality of what you see on the shelves.
The City Lights masthead says A Literary Meetingplace since 1953, and this concept includes publishing books as well as selling them. In 1955, Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers with the now-famous Pocket Poets Series; since then the press has gone on to publish a wide range of titles, both poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, international and local authors. Today, City Lights has well over two hundred titles in print, with a dozen new titles being published each year. It’s a truly unique San Francisco experience, and a must visit for anyone who appreciates good books and loves to read…paper that is.
261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway (North Beach)
San Francisco, California 94133
Alexander Book Company has three floors stocked with over 50,000 new books. It is a full-service independent bookstore, conveniently located in Downtown SOMA district of San Francisco near Bart and Muni (Montgomery Street Station) and just a few blocks from Union Square. They tout most categories of books and feature extensive African-American, Children’s, Graphic Design and Literature/Fiction Departments. They also promote the shop locally message: a study conducted in Austin found for every $100 spent at a locally owned bookstore, $45 stayed in the community as opposed to only $13 when compared to a Border’s in the area.
50 2nd Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Green Apple Books has been around since 1967 and was founded by United Airlines radio technician Richard Savoy. The bookstore today is frequently voted the best used and/or independent bookstore in the Bay Area by local sites and papers. Over the years, as space became available, the store expanded, gradually doubling its width, adding a mezzanine and a second floor, and increasing the inventory of new books. The store’s selling space went from 5,000 to its current 8,000 square feet, allowing the book selection to expand. They have book readings and other activities.
506 Clement Street (@6th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94118
Books Inc. is a locally owned and operated independent bookseller with 12 locations in California. Books Inc.’s origin dates back to the Gold Rush Days of 1851 when Anton Roman struck it rich in Shasta City, California and set himself up in business selling books. That small bookstore was moved, bought, sold, burned, rebuilt, renamed and became Books Inc., as we know it today, in 1946.
Lew Lengfeld, owner since 1946, passed away in 1996 and left Books Inc. to a few trusted employees. The good news was, he left them the business; the bad news was he left them the business just as the national chain stores were discovering and colonizing the West Coast. The impact of this change in climate within the book trade was the closure of ten of the twelve Books Inc. stores and filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an effort to restructure and save the company. Today, it has 12 stores and around 200 employees, the store continues to serve as a shining example that independent bookselling can survive and prosper, even if we must dance among the elephants.
They have four locations in the city of San Francisco.
Books Inc. in Laurel Village
This store handles all website orders as well.
3515 California Street, SF
Books Inc. in Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness, SF
Books Inc. in the Castro
2275 Market Street, SF
Books Inc. in the Marina
2251 Chestnut Street, SF
Cocoon’s GRID-IT!, is a patent-pending organization system that helps you stay organized when you’re on the road. It is now available in stunning aluminum, with a protective, rubber rim. The new aluminum GRID-IT! has two sides, giving you twice as much storage capacity for your chargers, devices, and accessories. GRID-IT!’s unique weave of rubberized elastic straps and new, sturdy design will hold all of your personal effects firmly in place to help you nuke that clutter inside your bag. There are various sizes and they range in price from $24.99 to $49.99.
The organizer also comes integrated into such products as sun visors, briefcases, and luggage. Cocoon’s latest version — the Wrap — surrounds the inimitable Grid-It! board with a neoprene pouch designed to hold a 7- to 13-inch e-reader, tablet, or small notebook as well.
Second Photo credit: Mike Greisser
Enter meet someone obsessed with mushrooms? If not, head to Lithuania to discover that a large percentage of the country is in some way shape or form obsessed with mushrooms. Enter into the Mushroom Kingdom. Says my quirky and amusing guide, “if there were no mushrooms in the forest, the girls would be naked.” Huh? I learn that the majority of residents in more rural areas know which mushrooms should be picked and which ones are poisonous. They’re either picked to consume themselves or they sell them to stores and vendors….or simply set up a small stand on the side of the road just like New Englanders do to sell corn and blueberries.
Mushrooming is a popular pastime from mid-summer to autumn. As a staple, mushrooms are usually harvested in the forest and where you are most likely to find mushroom tables or stands set up on the side of the road is in the Dzūkija region from Druskininkai to Vilnius. Despite its status as a delicacy in Lithuania, mushrooms are thought of by locals as hard to digest. Some of the varieties include:
- baravykas – King boletus (Boletus edulis);
- voveraitė or voveruška (literally, “little squirrel”), lepeška (in Dzūkija region) – Yellow chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius);
- gudukas, vokietukas, kalpokas – Cortinarius caperatus.
Baravykas is the most valued and sought-after species where it is largely used for drying and marinating or used as a seasoning in soups and sauces. Voveraitė is often used fresh as a seasoning in soups or sauteed. An example of a voveraitė dish is voveraitė sauteed with chopped bulb onions and potatoes. Gudukas, arguably the most locally abundant of edible mushrooms due to its lower popularity, is usually marinated.
MerMer, situated in the old fishing village of Kolga-Aabla on the Juminda peninsula, serves delicious food made with local ingredients accompanied by some excellent French and Italian wines. In summer months, they seat diners in their summer house, while in winter you are seated in the cosy house of the couple who runs it: Merrit and Jaan and of course their American bulldog Hummer.
Head out of Tallinn early and take a drive around the Juminda peninsula which takes in the historic fishing villages Kirkkonummi Aabla, Kiiu-Aabla, Leesi, Tammistu, Juminda, Tapurla, Virve and Pedaspea. Nowadays, there are a lot of new houses in these villages, but they also blend in with the old village milieu so it feels on some levels, as if you’ve stopped in time.
Olives, cheese and sun dried tomato spread.
Fresh ingredients are poured into this salad, made with love of course…
Our group at their dining room table, just off their very cosy kitchen.
One side of the living room, where the dining room table sits and visitors dine during winter and cooler months.
Below, our hosts. Behind us is a painting done by Jaan, apparently one of his favorites.
I LOVED this experience and would highly recommend it if you’re going anywhere near Tallinn. Below is a very shaky video (the quality isn’t great) however it will give you an idea of our experience on-site. The photos do a better job at showing off their fabulous home cuisine considering the video quality however it will give you an idea.
Note: The Estonian Tourism Board hosted me for this meal but all opinions expressed are my own.
As my colleagues scattered for a casual walkabout on their own time, my host said she was heading to a friend’s shop to pick up a pair of customized earrings she had made. Enter the world of Estonian jewellery designer Anneli Tammik who lives and works in a funky and artistic shop on an upper floor in old town Tallinn. She considers herself a freelance artist, though jewellery design has always been her specialty ever since she graduated from the Estonian Academy of Art.
With more than 30 exhibitions under her belt and countless awards, Anneli is no amateur. Since 2006, Anneli has made jewellery for Evelin Ilves, the first lady of Estonia. She has been designing masterpieces for the wife of Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves since 2006. When I asked her how she came to create gems for her, she replied, “Estonia is a small country, where everyone know everyone else and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
Anneli is noted to have changed the face of jewellery design in Estonia, using the latest technology to introduce a new dimension to a field long classified as mere ‘handicraft’. Below, she is at work in her studio.
Her studio is small but efficient and when I was there, she had two assistants helping her with repairs and creations from scratch. My host had lost an earring and Anneli re-created the original to match her remaining piece…it was astonishing but they were indeed, identical.
She wears an authentic face and a pure soul to the outside world. Here, she presents a shyer side of herself as she poses for a photo as I snap away.
Newly finished pieces and others still in progress lay scattered across her work table.
I look around. She has it covered. All that I take in is organized and makes as much sense in her world as it is foreign in mine. Paint brushes. Tools. Hammers. Wood plates. Fire torches. Glue. Molds. Paints. Cleaning Cloths.
A beautifully elegant finished product.
You can see her portfolio here.
Note: this experience was hosted by the Estonian Tourism but my opinions expressed are entirely my own. For more on style, go to Estonia & Style or our General Europe Style section. All Photo Credits: Renee Blodgett, We Blog the World and Magic Sauce Media and for more on Estonia in general, visit our Estonia page.
Situated in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, the St. Petersbourg Hotel is a luxury hotel rich in medieval charm. The Schlössle Hotels are small but luxurious. Each hotel is a “Grand Hotel” in miniature, tucked away amidst the cobblestone streets of the romantic cities of Eastern Europe. Elegance, comfort, sophistication and taste are the hallmarks of each individually designed hotel. The hotels offer an environment of peace and tranquillity; a haven away from everyday cares and busy work schedules.
This intimate hotel, which is surrounded by Medieval and Hanseatic architecture, has been carefully restored to reflect the historic style of the capital’s Russian merchants and is an elegant retreat for a modern traveler. They have 27 rooms & suites, which have been individually designed to reflect the Russian merchants’ style. The building itself dates back to the 15th century when a wealthy Russian merchant purchased the property and had it redesigned by the famous architect August Gabler.
Above and below is a suite I stayed in this past spring. (located at the end of the hallways in the corner rooms)
The stairway from the very elegant lobby area which takes you to the upper rooms.
The restaurant where we had an exquisite meal on our last night in Tallinn.
Also nestled in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, is another intimate Schlössle property, the Schlössle Hotel, a quaint boutique hotel that will take you back to Estonia’s medieval past. The Schlössle Hotel is on a narrow cobblestone street where, in the past, numerous storage buildings and merchants’ houses were located.
The street was called after Tallinn’s famous Church of the Holy Spirit, which it passes by, and was a principal road leading from the central market to the harbour. Over the years, thousands have passed this way, among them Tallinn’s finest, and today visitors cannot help but be awe-struck when they realise that they are walking where merchants lived and traded over 500 years ago.
“Schlössle” has painstakingly preserved all the ancient structural details of the building and restored them to their original splendour. The majestic limestone central chimney has been almost untouched by the passing centuries. The building features cut stone ornamentations, small spiral staircases, and the living chambers have irregular corners and wall niches, giving guests the unique experience of stepping back in time into the grand architecture of Tallinn’s Medieval ages.
Subtle mural paintings next to historical stone walls decorate the generous lobby area. Petit lamps on walls and desks create a perfect and haimish ambiance. Massive wooden beams and poles together with several seating-accommodations round the lavish merchants’ style of the whole room.
Below is a shot of one of the rooms.
The exterior of the hotel perfectly matches its historical surroundings.
They also tout a Cigar Lounge, which is encircled by massive stone walls. Here you can choose a cigar from their private selection or if cigars aren’t you thing, order a glass of Cognac in a House of Lords atmosphere. During the summer and spring, you can have breakfast or a snack in their outside courtyard under a shady tree, surrounded by blossoms and blooms.
Below is a map to give you an idea of where both hotels are relative to other attractions and sites.
For more posts from Renee Blodgett, visit her author page. For more on Estonia lodging, visit the Estonia hotels page (top Estonia hotels) and for more on Estonia in general, visit our Estonia travel page.
French designer François Lipovetsky is behind the Lipault Paris luggage collection. Lipault combines modern design and ergonomic functionality into a product that is fashionable and remarkably lightweight yet still durable. Lipault’s collection of brightly-colored, lightweight trolleys and wheeled duffels are great for travelers since they fold down to something small and compact for easy storage. Their designs come in fabulously bright colors — oh so French, from purple, yellow, blue, and more.
While you can get the bags online, Europe’s finest department stores including Galleries Lafayette, Au Printemps, and Selfridges also carry them. The products are also available at Lipault’s flagship store on the prestigious Boulevard de Madelaine in Paris.
Now available on the Atlantic side, Lipault luggage can be found in top specialty luggage and department stores throughout the US and Canada as well as online of course. The soft-side collection is most appealing for travelers — the bags can be conveniently folded up when not in use for space-saving storage. Their hard-side collection is made from 100% polycarbonate for rugged durability.
It slides easily under the bed or in the back of a closet or cabinet. The best part of the carry-on is all the little extras that you don’t think about until you need them—the handle expands to the perfect height, the wheels are smooth, there’s soft padded handles for when you want to carry the bag instead of roll it, and there’s outside pockets perfect for storing shoes or dirty clothing and inside pockets for toiletries or small items. The price range is in the $150-299.
An hour or so outside of Tallinn Estonia, along the coast of the Baltic Sea, lies an abandoned Soviet submarine base next to the village of Hara. The Hara Military Base was built by the Soviets between 1956 and 1958 and was used while they occupied Estonia until they fled in 1991 around the time of their independence. At that time, the only thing they left behind was a barren concrete structure, which has since been defaced by graffiti and strained from years of Baltic wind, rain and snow. Rich but worn out textures atop a cement facade above and below the water’s edge meets weathered and rusted structures, ladders, chains and latches. Among the debris are weakened rocks and wooden slats which have fallen below an area which once appeared to be a walkway separating sections of the base.
Apparently the area we scoured was only 10% of what originated there during Soviet times. There was a measuring system in the sea, and the entire bay was covered with sensors, wires, locators and locators behind wires. The place has an isolated feeling to it despite how many people you bring with you on your long walk along the concrete protrusion that extends into the ocean. Barren, forgotten, isolated, solitude and torment are the words that swept through me as I made my way into the brittle all encompassing wind on that cold April day.
I’ve always been intrigued by graffiti and have taken photos of plastered defaced walls, buildings, ceilings and floors in nearly every continent. I couldn’t put my camera down as graffiti met the memory of Soviet occupation during less stellar times for Estonians who lived in the area.
Somehow jumping up into the chaos of the iron-clad and spray-painted undergrowth of this structure seemed necessary so I could feel the connection to a base camp of a harsh army who ruled in a harsh world. I asked our guide what he remembered, if anything, from those times given that he was relatively young. In 1991, when he was only 15, he saw the rebel in Moscow when Yeltsin came to power with his grandfather who was then 66. He also participated in the remarkable Baltic Chain, which was when three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – demonstrated their solidarity in their quest for independence by forming a human chain on August 23, 1989. Approximately 2 million people joined their hands that day, an extraordinary event which drew global attention and finally led to the Baltic States regaining their Independence.
He gets slightly emotional as he continued telling the story of his grandfather’s last days, who was suffering from diabetes at the time. Once Estonia was free, which his grandfather barely lived to see, he told him that he could die in peace now and shortly thereafter he did.
I discovered the video below by Alex van Es. It is extremely well shot and will give you an idea of a sense of the isolation and abandonment of the place. Despite its vivid desolation, the visit left a memorable and haunting impact, one which remains heavily on my mind.