While exploring Eastern Europe with a friend a few years back, I decided to visit Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Each country is relatively small and the highlights seen in a few days. And the nice part is this part of Europe is really not that far from the UK. I stopped over at Heathrow Airport on my way to Helsinki – I remember the flight time was only a few hours.
After spending a few days in Helsinki – including a memorable stay in a former jail (yes our room was an actual former jail cell) we hopped on the ferry to make the crossing from Helsinki to the gorgoues city of Tallinn in Estonia. This was late spring, yet we had unseasonably warm summer like weather on the crossing. I remember many passengers were up on the top deck soaking in sunshine and a variety of alcoholic drinks.
Cruising is an easy and contrary to perhaps the perception, an often quite affordable way to get around this part of the world. I’ve cruised parts of France before – during my next trip to this part of the world I will cruise the Baltics.
A visit to Tallin is arguably one of the highlights of a visit to this part of Europe. The old town is memorable – with its narrow streets, restaurants, and with the good weather numerous outdoor cafes. After a few days in town (gaining a few pounds in the process) and relaxing at several area spas and saunas, it was time to explore the countryside.
Lahemaa National Park was our ultimate destination but first we stopped at the impressive Jagala Falls to take photos. Remarkably this waterfall freezes solid in the winter time. Lahemaa is known for its bog ponds – and apparently ancient bodies have been recovered from some of these ponds – fairly well preserved. Not thinking of this at the time, but of the warm day – several of us went for a swim – enjoying the thermoclines of the water – heated water on the surface with frigid water just below.
Soon it was time to head south where we were greeted in Riga, Latvia by more typcial weather this time of year – cold rain. We warmed up at a hostel called the Naughty Squirrel with a powerful Latvian drink called Black Balsam (an herbal liqueur with vodka). Much of the rest of that evening was a blur for obvious reasons.
We kept moving and enjoyed a respite from the urban life – by making a trip out to Sigulda where we stayed in a locals home enjoying some delicious cusine.
Starting to feel that ‘getting close to going home’ feel – our final stop was Vilnius in Lithuania. A charming town, we spent our time here on walking tours exploring the food scene – stopping in little cafes, bakeries and bars. This was also the first time I discovered Amber vodka. Stones of amber are placed in aging vodka – and removed before the vodka becomes to bitter (a side effect from the amber).