Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Fall 2019 - Part One The Baltics

This is the last time I plan to visit multiple destinations in one trip so I crammed in seven countries in six and a half weeks.  I was joined by my sister for the first three weeks and we started with two days in amazingly expensive Helsinki visiting the Design District, the incredible new public library and Suomenlinna Fortress before taking a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. We followed the usual Baltic itinerary - Tallinn, Riga, Latvia and Vilnius, Lithuania and my sister suggested we visit two smaller towns which really added a lot to the trip.

It is really easy to travel in the Baltics.  Lots of people speak English and the train and bus stations are within walking distance of the city centers.  We were able to pay for almost everything with our phones which greatly reduced the chance of my dropping and losing my credit card and there were good discounts for booking bus and train tickets online.  Lots of free WiFi made it easy to navigate our way around.

Tallinn is famous for its Old Town, Riga has tons of amazing Art Nouveau buildings and Vilnius is full of Jewish history. All three cities have wonderful museums, great shopping and some really incredible restaurants. There are castles and churches around every corner.

Best Museums
  • In Tallinn - Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour Museum, located in an old seaplane hanger, the Baltic Chain exhibit (more information here:, Puppet Museum and the Patarei Communism Museum.
  • Tartu - Estonian National Museum
  • Riga - Art Nouveau Museum, Art Museum, Ghetto and Holocaust Museum, Jews in Latvia Museum
  • Vilnius - Palace Museum, Holocaust Museum and Samuel Bak Museum

Ghetto and Holocaust Museum

Animated film depicting life on a submarine, projected onto a submarine -
Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour Museum

Puppet Museum

Best Markets, Shopping and Neighborhoods
  • Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn - there were "creative districts" in other cities but this one was the best.
  • Riga Central Market located inside reused German Zeppelin hangers
  • Cold Weather ( designer winter clothes) and Farmer's Market in Riga
  • Uzupis District in Vilnius - a self-declared republic with some nice stores, great outdoor art and an amazing fish restaurant.
We had a fantastic time in two smaller cities -- Tartu, Estonia and Cesis, Latvia. Tartu is home to Tartu University, several weird sculptures, the Estonian National Museum and some really beautiful parks and buildings.  Cesis is the place everyone goes to for fall colors and we were just in time.  We went on a great hike just outside of town and took a bus to Sigulda to explore more castles and see the leaves.  We also took a day trip to Trakai, just outside of Vilnius. Trakai is one of the places settled by members of the Karaite sect whose religion is based on the Old Testament and we visited the small museum in town.  We finished with shopping and a walk to yet another castle -- it was the only nice weather day we had in Lithuania.


Trakai, Lithuania

Art Nouveau Building - Riga

Tallinn, Estonia

Cesis Castle

Autumn leaves - Sigulda, Latvia

Train station - Helsinki, Finland


We couldn't find the salt licorice ice cream I wanted to try but I did find this tar flavored licorice on the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn.  It supposedly one one of the "ten most brutal candies" available in Finland.

I made this candy at the Laima Chocolate Factory in Riga.  It doesn't look too good but it was delicious and came in handy when I was on a train with no food.

Clavis Riga cocktail at Neiburgs hotel in Riga -- Riga Black Balsam, rhubarb liqueur, apple juice, white chocolate syrup and pomegranate syrup. Tasty!

Kybinai - traditional Karaite cuisine.  Traditionally they are filled with meat but I had one with spinach.

Thanks to my sister we ate at some really amazing restaurants.  This fish entree is from Dziaugsmas Restaurant in Vilnius.  Absolutely fantastic and after the opera, we went back to the restaurant for dessert - potato ice cream.

A nerve tonic from Tallinn.  I purchased the herbs and bottle at the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe (in 1422 the place was on its third owner).  I added vodka when I got home but I haven't tried it yet.

Great Ideas/Interesting Things

This is a "reverse vending" machine for recycling plastic bottles.  This picture was taken in Helsinki but the machine is made in Germany.  The user inserts a plastic water bottle and once it is accepted by the machine, the machine dispenses money to the user.

One of only two public drinking fountains I saw in Estonia - there weren't very many in Latvia or Lithuania either.

According to the law, everyone in Estonia is required to wear a reflector on their clothes so they can easily be seen by cars. I didn't see too many people actually wearing them even though I read that the Estonian government has distributed enough free reflectors so that each citizen should have received at least three.

 When people have too many apples, they leave the extras for people to take.

Umbrella locker -- I know they have these in Japan but I have never seen one before.

Most restaurants, including the small ones, have a play area for children.

When you buy a ticket at the Estonian National Museum, you get a ticket with a language chip - obviously I got the English chip.  When you get to a display, you wave your ticket and this happens:

My sister contacted a relative and found out that some of our ancestors came from a small village in Lithuania.  Our bus happened to drive right by it and I managed to get a picture.

Coming Up Next - a visit to Ukraine, volunteering in Romania, and another trip to Sofia and the Riga Monastery

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