December 6th - Closer and Closer
I bought a thermo legging at Primark in the Costa Blanca, and then another one in Madrid. I have my Zjwiene trui, which is warm, but I don't think I can comfortably wear it underneath my coat. I know I can wrap myself up in my scarf with a hat over my ears. I might wear a facemask just to keep my nose from freezing off.
The next problem was the shoes. I've been doing everything in my running shoes this year, but they have been designed to let the wind in and prevent sweaty feet. So, those aren't an option. And the shoes I wore in Canada? They got left behind because I didn't expect to ever need them (plus I needed the space and weight). Instead, I got a pair of Quechua hiking shoes that should be perfect. They fit nicely and are warm on my feet. I'm actually looking forward to wearing them.
With the trip coming closer, I'm also working on my planning. Not the actual planning, since I already figured that out before booking. But the maps. Putting together my routes and figuring out how to get from A to B. I did something similar for Madrid and while I barely used it, it gave me a better knowledge of the transit system. It just gives me a feeling of 'I know what I'm doing and where I'm going.
Soon I'll have the route to put into my GPS app and I'll write everything down in my notebook. All that'll be left then will be packing my suitcase and actually going on my trip!
December 7th - How much treating myself is too much?
They have several options, the simple spa access with the pool and sauna and hammam access but I have access to all three of those on the campsite. But then the massages. There is the traditional back and neck massage, leg massage, head massage, facial treatments, and even something with chocolate. I don't know anything about massages. I'm even tempted to get different things. After all, I'm in the hotel for three nights.
But how much treating myself is too much?
Of course, I don't know what time I'd finish my day, but I can book an appointment up until 8PM so that leaves me with plenty of time to do my thing and I can still enjoy my evening afterwards. I just need to remember to pack my bikini. Haha, swimsuit right next to the gloves and scarf.
January 3rd - Tick-tock goes the clock!
What I'm struggling with most, and what I’ve been struggling with since the beginning is Vilnius. It seems to be the church capital of Europe; I don't think I've ever seen so many big churches together on so few square meters. But how many churches can you look at? But seriously, when I did my initial planning, I added Vilnius to the trip because if you go to the Baltics, it feels stupid to leave one of them out. Still, finding things for the trip on Pinterest, Vilnius was the hardest to come up with something. And since I'm working out the final details for Vilnius now, I'm confronted with this problem again.
It has the largest Old Town of the four cities I'm visiting. It also wouldn't surprise me if Vilnius ended up being my favorite capital. The universe works like that.
I have decided that I won't be getting a Vilnius pass. After scrapping some things, the pass costs as much as what I want to do. If you can't save, it's not worth the hassle. The only thing I'll be (potentially) missing out on are discounts are cafés, but that's okay. I can afford a coffee. What's giving me the most trouble is the TV Tower. I love observation decks, and this is one of the only two viewpoints I found. I can’t figure out when to go. Fortunately, I figured out what trolley bus to take to get there and I can just, you know, get on.
January 5th - Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
But the temperatures are dropping again! It's snowing again. I follow the Instagram account of Tallin's, Riga's and Vilnius's tourist offices. The images look so wintery and exactly what I want! However, looking at the forecast in detail, such as Tartu, there are some surprises. It's nice and sunny but it's also -14 C. Not only that, but it feels like -21 C. Yeah, that's cold.
The only time I've been outside in such temperatures was when I had to walk from the plane to the terminal in Calgary Airport. That was like 100m in the dry cold. This is humid cold. Am I unprepared? Most definitely. Is it going to be a shock to the system? Oh yeah. Will there be regrets? Maybe. Am I still excited? Of course! I'll have to make do and push through it. I want to visit places and I couldn't do that if I sit in a café, sipping hot chocolate and looking out the window.
January 10th - Final countdown
I'm excited. I'm leaving way early, using a parking service I haven't used before and flying to countries I haven't been to and don't speak the language (Tere and aitäh is the only Estonian I've managed to remember). Mom and I joked about me getting a broodje kruidenkaas at La Place at Schiphol but I'm kind of looking forward to that now. Jacky wants me to get her krijtjes. I'll get those on the way back since I have an almost 6-hour layover then.
The weather forecast is now predicting rain and sleet instead of snow. I packed my umbrella and I suppose I'll see how it turns out.
January 11th - Let's go!
I've never flown Air Baltic before (why would I have?) and I'd never even seen their planes. Their color is a light green but the ones flying to Tallinn are easily identifiable since they are covered in the Estonian flag. The plane was still half empty due to COVID and I got the window seat, which was what I wanted. Except the weather in Europe leaves a lot to be desired at the moment so I didn't get to see anything. Even them Danes had bad weather. Up there in the sky, I was basking in the sun and it felt like I was flying to a tropical destination. The shock was real when the plan descended below the clouds to reveal a snowy winter landscape.
I had hoped for snow but figured I might not get see much of it. Well, there is plenty! Also enough ice to slip on. I'm glad for my sturdy winter shoes, and while I haven't fallen on my butt yet, I think there will be plenty of wobbly 'woahs' in the next few days.
Getting from the airport to the hotel was pretty easy. Take a tram, switch trams, and get off at the right spot. What would make it easier would be if they announced the stops but luckily, I knew exactly what my stop looked like. I got off at the train station and I don't think they salted the sidewalks here. There was so much ice and slush. Not to mention that slush pools have hidden depths; I've gone nearly ankle deep in a few.
My room is up on the 6th floor with a view of Toompea, Tallin's Old Town hill. I paid extra for that but it's a nice view. Otherwise, it's a good and clean but standard room. I would have like a small kettle instead of water bottles to buy, and I also would have like one large duvet (or whatever they are called) instead of two small ones (I know the Germans love it, but I am not German).
After unpacking, I headed out to get a first look at Tallin's Old Town. I didn't want to do too much exploring since I've planned my two days here, but I couldn't do nothing. The streets are cute and the buildings a pretty pastel, not all of them but a lot of them. I had wanted to try Three Draakon for a late lunch but I couldn't figure it out. Was I supposed to seat myself? Was I supposed to wait to be seated? Was the many on the wall? But where was the English menu? It's a medieval style restaurant and I wonder if it was like that back in the day. Maybe I'll give it another try tomorrow.
I wandered a few streets and went to a mall to eventually grab that late lunch early dinner. I had sushi and ramen. It was really good but again, it wasn't clear if I was supposed to seat myself or what. The Estonians are a little cold as well. They just let you stand there and figure it out for yourself. Even the fact that I don't speak the language is unnerving. Yes, they speak English but still. It's the vibe. I think I read somewhere that the northern countries are colder in their interactions.
I sat down for lunch/dinner around 15:30, and by the time I was ready to go half an hour later, it was dark out. Not full dark but close. I made a quick trip to the supermarket in the mall, discovered prices for food are ridiculous (also discovered there is, in fact, a maximum I'm willing to spend on chips: 3€ for a bag is too much), was disappointed by the selection of chips flavors (where is my salt and vinegar? Or any other interesting flavor? Instead, the choices were green onion and fromage) and grabbed a bottle of iced tea. Once I left the mall, it was pretty much dark. To my body this means it's time to go home. It means it's getting late and time to put on pjs. Never mind it's not even 5:00 yet.
I took a detour walking back, taking advantage of the remaining Christmas lights and the snow in the dark. I found Freedom Square, a little by accident, I must admit, and climbed narrow Pikk Lag up to Toompea. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is gorgeous. Catholic churches and cathedrals are impressive, Christian (North American) churches should be banned, but Orthodox churches! Can't we just do that everywhere? I love the onion domes!
I also took the opportunity to take some night pictures at the two viewpoints up there. Unfortunately, the pictures with my camera didn't turn out too good, but I'm happy with the new phone. Then, I decided to take the 1001 stairs (or something like that) back to ground level and headed back to the hotel. Cobblestones and ice aren't good for my knee so the next few days are going to be fun. I took a shower to warm up but it didn't really help (though I have warmed up by now though).
It rained a little bit early but that has since turned to snow. There is a patch of road right outside where cars and buses don't drive, and I've been using it to track how much of the wintery white goodness has fallen. Considering the weather forecast is still saying it's raining, it's impressive! I hope that keeps up. Hopefully Tallinn looks good in the light of day, and hopefully breakfast is delicious and plentiful because I'm already hungry!
January 12th - Toompea and the rest of Vanalinn
The breakfast buffet was interesting. There were the usuals like bread and eggs and bacon and sausages, but also herring and tomato herring and pickles. How is that breakfast food? What do the Estonians even do with the herring? Put it on toast? Anyway, the bacon was good, and the sausages were delicious. The herring wasn't too bad (I tried just one piece) but I'm still confused about it.
It snowed most of the morning in little flakes. I climbed the stairs up to Toompea, the hill overlooking Vanalinn (Old Town). There are several viewpoints looking out over the city, and they were as pretty in the daylight as at night! I wanted to go up the tower of St. Mary's Cathedral but that's only accessible if the weather is good. The old buildings have been painted in a variety of colors that look so pretty with the snow.
I did a quick tour of the Adamson-Eric museum to get out of the cold and spent quite some time at Kiek in de Kok. The tunnels running underneath are super long and frankly too creepy. The exhibition was interesting, but I didn't look at it in detail. What I was really excited about was the walkway between the towers. That's so pretty! The views of St. Nicolas's Church were the same as from below but it's still different.
By that time, it was lunchtime, and I was a little hungry. Caffeine (as in, the chain of cafés in the Baltics) wasn't very far though I ended up not getting a sandwich. They didn't have regular sandwiches, only croissants and croissants shouldn't be eaten with lettuce. Instead, I got an almond-milk almond latte and a mystery pie. I asked myself, which one looks best and ordered that. Once I sat down, I Googled it. Korviste, said the sign: pumpkin. I think it must have been some kind of pumpkin cream cheese with drizzled caramel. It was delish!
I passed through Town Hall Square again, took a few more pictures, and continued to Masters' Courtyard. Here, a few artisans have their shops, but let's be honest here, the only reason I was there was because Pierre's Chocolates is there. The interior is a strange mixture of thrown-together rugs, drapes, old tables, and decorations. It was warm and dark inside. I got a glass of tea and two bonbons. They were expensive bonbons, even with my 20% discount, but they were good! I got a raspberry and a hazelnut one. Honestly, one might have been enough but does that mean I took one home for later? No. No, it doesn't.
After I left, I noticed twilight was already approaching. It wasn't that much darker yet, but you could tell it was going to be dark soon. I continued through icy and watery streets, lined by the prettiest buildings. I climbed another piece of medieval city wall, got some marzipan, as I was taking pictures of the Russian embassy (we might not like them but the building was definitely picture worthy), a woman spoke to me in... I don't know, Ukrainian or Russian or something. Her English wasn't very good but she made me understand there was a protest (pretends to raise a sign) at 4 o'clock (four fingers) against the war in Ukraine (Slava Ukraine). And yes, when I passed by later, the small protest was there.
Baltics-Trip-126 Baltics-Trip-127 (Notice how the door and windows don’t like up with the roof at all!)
I've been up a few defense towers today (Kiek in de Kok, Maiden Tower, Stable Tower, Helleman Tower, and Tower behind Monks), but Fat Margaret was different. It has been turned into a museum about Estonia's maritime history. Since it was part of the Hanseatic League, and Tallinn was an important trade town, I thought it might be interesting. It was. The most interesting part was the remains of an old Cog (a trading vessel from the 13th century), which were dug up in Tallinn last year.
Baltics-Trip-137 (Yes, in museums you leave your coat and other clothes out in the open like this, without a worry in the world. I kept my bag with me though) Baltics-Trip-138
By the time I left there, it was getting dark. It was barely past 16:00, meaning the sun had already set. I did some more souvenir shopping and eventually made my way back to the hotel. Only to head out again an hour and a half later again because I had made dinner reservations at Peppersack. There are a few medieval-themed restaurants in Tallinn and that's the one I settled on. The staff is dressed old-fashionedly, and the decor fits. I ordered the spicy venison stew in a bread bowl and the oven-baked apple for dessert.
When the waiter brought the stew, I was about to ask him if we were starting with dessert. The bread bowl looked like an apple out of the oven. Honestly, it was a rather small portion. But it was tasty. The berry sauce around it, not so much. There was a spice in it that was truly beurk! And when the oven-baked apple was delivered to my table, I was confused again. No apple to be seen, only two rolled-up pancakes. The apple was chopped up inside them. I thought it was going to be a whole apple! It was tasty too, and I was definitely full at the end of my meal but still.
I made a trip to a supermarket after dinner too. I love having a look in foreign supermarkets. The prices, the products... it's interesting to see what they have abroad. Groceries are expensive in Tallinn, and from what I've read in all the Baltic states, which is weird because salaries are really low! But I did get some skincare products, Estonian and Lithuanian made!
It's been raining most of the afternoon, which sucks. It's turning snow into slush and ice. Emma's Wise Words: Slush puddles are deeper than they appear, so wear high-top waterproof shoes! Hopefully, it'll be at least dry tomorrow. Yesterday I noticed some Estonians walking in the middle of the road and I didn't get it. I have figured it out; no ice to slip on! So, I've decided to walk in water or on the road as much as possible to keep from breaking my neck.
Here are the statistics of the day:
Fallen on my butt: 0
January 13th - Kalamaja and other things
Today was neither a success nor a failure. I'm not sure how I feel about it.
I took my time getting ready before heading out. It rained most of the night and it melted away most of the snow on the sidewalk and a good chunk of the ice too. But the ice that was left behind was even slippery. It's quite the quest walking anywhere, and the water puddles that I've had to cross! It might as well have been the Gulf of Finland.
I slipped my way to the waterfront, from where I could see the old sea fort turned KGB prison turned museum on one side and the ferry terminal on the other. A few ferries were on their way to Finland or just coming in. I was tempted to put my feet in the water at the tiny beach, just to say I’ve had my feet in the Gulf of Finland but decided against it.
I slid my way past the old sea-fort-turned-KGB-prison-turned-museum to the Seaharbor museum. It's inside an old seaplane hangar, though not a seaplane inside, which is a shame. I think a collection of those might have been more interesting than the history of the boats. I finished my visit with a square of apple crumble.
As I was paying for my apple crumble, I realized I hadn't put any money in my wallet (just like I forgot my Tallinn Card print in the hotel yesterday) so I had to go to the hotel before I could pick up lunch at Balti Jaama Turg. Once I had some money to spend, I went for lunch at Samsa Family Bakers for Uzbeki food. Never had it and it wasn't expensive. It was either that or the Ukrainian place next door. I took the most expensive thing on the menu, the manti, which are dumplings. Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to get them. 5 dumplings for 10euro isn't necessarily a good deal. Or is it? They were each the size of my palm, filled with ground beef and onions, served with sour cream and salsa. A little spicy. But soooo good! I was stuffed once I was done, in fact, I barely managed to finish!
I bought a few books, browsed another supermarket and, unfortunately, and annoyingly, didn't get to visit the TV Tower. Let's face it, it was up in the clouds by the time I was ready to head out there. What annoys me is that this morning I thought the weather was good enough to go up there, with some nice colors in the sky. But nooo! I had to do the rest of my stuff first.
Instead, I headed to Kadriorg Art Museum. It's a small art museum located in the Romanovs' old summer palace from the beginning of the 19th century before the Russian nobility went to the Crimea in summer. It's not the most impressive collection but it's so interesting how western European museums have western European art and here, they have Baltic and Russian art. Like it's not the same styles and subject matter.
I went back to Samsa for dinner, getting a chebureki, which is like an empanada but with a different dough and filling. It was the size of the plate, served with sour cream and salsa again. I had the three cheeses and tomato one and it was even better than the manti and half the price. I totally recommend that place if anyone goes to Tallinn, so worth it!
The market was still in full swing; I think it's cheaper to buy food at the market than at the grocery store. The fish section was in another building (it's a covered market with plenty of buildings) and walking in there is like ripping open a package of smoked fish. It didn't stink like dead fish! The touristy things are more expensive at the market than in town but they had some nice antique furniture I, unfortunately, couldn't take home. I went back to the supermarket for something to drink on the bus tomorrow and as I was leaving blood was running out of my nose.
Never in my life had a bleeding nose and tonight I've had two. It just ran right out of my nose and I might have freaked the receptionist out a little bit when I came into the lobby asking for tissues. Didn't want to drip blood everywhere.
Ice stats for the day:
Fallen on my butt: 0
January 14th - To Tartu we good
Today I left Tallinn behind and got on a bus to Tartu. I was a little on the fence about Tartu, if I made the right decision to include it into my trip. But once you're on the bus, it's a little late to be wondering this. Taking the bus was quite the experience. Just kidding, it's like taking a Flixbus but with the onboard entertainment of a transatlantic flight.
Once I got here, getting off at a stop by Town Hall Square instead of the bussijaam, I walked to the hotel. I was way early, and didn't expect my room to be ready but it was. It's right underneath the roof and has a skylight. The decor is a little dated but it's a nice room. I headed out again, back to Town Hall Square, which didn't look much like the pictures at all. First of all, there is a giant Christmas tree that would make Grand Central in New York jealous, an ice rink has been set up in front of Town Hall, and while 2023 has only just begun, there is already a #Tartu2024 sign set up. It's Europe's Culture Capital next year. Despite only frozen clumps of snow, ice, and slush, it looked and felt nice.
I went to Café Werner for coffee and pie. Again, a mystery pie that turned out to be blueberry panna cotta. Honestly, it's a good way to pick your pie, not knowing what it is. I don't think I ever would have picked anything with blueberry but did now because it looked pretty! I managed to climb the hill up to the Observatory but ended up not going in. The park was full of icy paths, and I skated through it. I didn't slip-and-slide uncontrollably like previous days, I actually did it for fun today.
The old cathedral is half in ruins and half a museum, where I did go in, getting a student discount with my UVIC card. The woman at the desk said "A student is a student" when I wasn't sure if they would take mine. And she is right, a student is a student, no matter the country. If only I were a student... They had a diverse collection; the main collection was about the history of the University, which was pretty discontinued. But there was a little something about the cathedral, about herbology, and about happiness. Even a quiz to find out which of the Seven Dwarves you are like; I am apparently Dopey, with a hint of Sleepy haha.
I got my first viewpoint on top of a brick baroque church, though, as it was inside with only two windows on each side, behind plexiglass, the view was a little limited. Back to Town Hall Square and across the river and then back, I did some shopping at the mall, I found a nice green sweater on sale at H&M but half the sweater was missing (yes, I would like the bottom half to go with it, thank you), bought two more books that were on sale, and got Burger King for dinner (it wasn't even 4 yet but my internal clock still hasn't adjusted to the early sunset).
Back at the hotel, I was already in my pjs and ready for the night when I noticed the lights outside. So, I changed and went back out. I crossed the river again and enjoyed the illuminated bridge and town hall and Christmas tree. Honestly, the first half of January is nice because the Christmas decorations are still up.
I only had the afternoon in Tartu but it was a nice place to visit. Tomorrow, I take the bus to Riga, which is a four-hour drive. That's going to be long!
January 15th - To Rainy Riga
Another early day today because I had another bus to catch. Of course, that didn't mean I didn't stuff myself with smoked trout (because I don't think it was salmon) and bacon at breakfast. Odd combi? Who cares! The Tartu bussijaam wasn't as big as the Tallinn one but quieter. It's weird getting on a bus and having to show the driver your passport with your ticket. What's even weirder is that, where the bus crossed the border, it runs right through the middle of a town. The only indication I got was a house waving the Latvian flag rather than the Estonian flag.
Also weird is that these countries, apparently, didn't think it necessary to invest in highways. "We are so tiny; an ordinary country road will get you everywhere." It just baffles me. Two days in a row now, I kept waiting for the bus to take the ramp onto the highway. Well, I'm still waiting...
Anyway, Riga is rainy. There is no ice or leftover snow whatsoever, which, great because no slippery sliding, but sucks because I want snow!
My room wasn't ready when I got to the hotel, but I was able to drop off my bag and headed out. Without an umbrella because that was somewhere at the bottom of my bag, and you can't go rifling through your luggage in an overfull luggage room. I had Asian for lunch and toured a mall. While I've already figured out Caffeine is a Baltic (and beyond?) café chain, I've come across my first Costa as well (do not get the gingerbread latte, it's not worth it).
Because of the rain, I didn't really do what I had planned for today. Most of it required me to cross the bridge to the other side of the river, which I knew would only get me soaked if I even attempted it. Instead, I dove into the Museum of Riga's History and Navigation, where I got a student discount because, screw this, I will get all the student discounts I can get! Latvia and Estonia (and I imagine Lithuania, although they were allied with the Poles the same way Austria and Hungary were allied) have quite the busy history. The Swedes, the Poles, the Russians, the Germans. I'm surprised them Danes didn't get in there too.
It was still raining when I came out, so I went to Costa (a different one) and tried the gingerbread latte and sat for a while, dreading putting my wet coat back on. But it had to be done because I wanted to finally check in and get to my room. It's definitely fancier than the one I had last night, and I finally have a kettle to make some tea! There is also a minibar, and while I know it's not quite the same as a fridge, my lime coke (another don't-get-it-it’s-not-worth-it) is chillin' in there.
Once it got dark, I headed out again to see the Christmas lights. This is the last night they are on (or tomorrow, not entirely sure) so I had to see that. And I got my first glimpse at Lady Liberty, holding up her three golden stars.
I decided to do something simple for dinner and found the nearest Rimi (in the mall across from the hotel, that close) and found the bread section. I got some unknown things that turned out to be a brioche pizza, which was weird, a flat bun with a knakki, mustard and cheese, and a creamy dessert pastry. Also, Rimi is a chain of supermarkets in the Baltics, and I quite like it. Prices in Latvia are a little cheaper, although this Alpro vanilla mini drink I got in Tallinn cost a whole 10 cents more here!
I watched Wie is de Mol when I got back to the hotel and will have to figure out how I'm going to get all my stuff to Vilnius in my suitcase if I want to buy souvenirs. The thing is, I have plenty of space in my carry-on suitcase and my regular suitcase. But the suitcase is too big for hand luggage on board a Lux Express bus. At the same time, I'm only allowed my suitcase on the bus so I've had to stuff my carry-on in my regular suitcase, which fits, but also, it's really full.
There has never been a more complicated game of Tetris!
January 16th - Riga's Old Town
After a rainy start in Riga yesterday, today, the sun actually appeared. At first, the blue sky peeked through the clouds but eventually, they made way for the sun! It's been so long since I've seen it, I had almost forgotten what it looked like. Riga feels entirely different in sunlight and my mood was lifted. I was reminded of Bying asking us one day why we love the sun so much (as opposed to her, since in China, getting any kind of tan is not done), and Alexia told her it just puts us in a good mood. Yes, yes, it did.
I did many of the same things as I did yesterday, taking many of the same pictures but with better lighting. Riga really is pretty with all its pastel Art Nouveau buildings, walking down random streets if I saw a pretty building up ahead. I went to have a look at the Daugava River, which is probably as wide as the Loire! There is a church of some kind every so often, and sometimes even build back-to-back. Some are brick gothic like the Riga Cathedral, others are painted white or bright yellow. They are impressive!
I visited the Three Brothers, which are the three oldest houses in Riga. It houses a small free architecture museum that wasn't interesting at all. But it allowed me a few minutes out of the cold. I saw the Swedish Gate (not sure about the name's history), and the dementor not far from it (a sculpture officially called Ghost that's just creepy) and watched the trams in awe! They look like they are at least 50 years old; how are they still running?
I found a small café where I got a pot of green tea (the more tea you have, the longer you can sit inside), and a maple syrup and pecan pastry (just like the ones I get in Spain). While the sun was out and about, the wind was freezing. The weather app said it was 5°c, which is the warmest I've had so far, but feels like -3, which I think is the coldest. Even after I finished the walk I had planned for the day, I did some more souvenir shopping, did some regular shopping, had a white chocolate latte and classic cheesecake for lunch, and walked around some more, I wasn't sure what else to do. I didn't want to get a head start on tomorrow's planning, but I didn't want to go back to the hotel while the sun was out.
St. Peter Church has a viewing platform. So far, I haven't done nearly half the viewing platforms I would have liked to do so I was definitely going up. Even more so with the sun out and about. I hadn't done it first thing in the morning when I passed because, according to the sign, the church was closed. I happened to see people come out when I passed again and went it. The entrance is a little expensive, but when the guy at the door asked me if I was a student without any prompting on my behalf, I said "Yes, I am," and got a discount. The guy in the elevator going up told us it was cold with strong winds up at the platform. He wasn't kidding; I swear my fingers nearly froze off! But the views are amazing. You can see all of Riga's old town, the Daugava, and beyond! I'm so glad I got to go up. If I'd been here on a Friday or Saturday, I would have gone back to see the city at night as well.
Finally, I crossed the Daugava. Across the river were two things I wanted to do. I wanted a picture of the barbie pink orthodox church, and I wanted to see Latvia's National Library. Obviously, as there is no picture of the barbie pink orthodox church, I still didn't do that. After crossing the river, more clouds rolled in, and the wind had picked up, so I didn't want to walk that far. I didn't get to visit the library either (they are closed on Monday) but I did get to see the building a little closer and it is massive!
I got a salad from Rimi's salad bar for dinner (I've had a craving) and then went down to the hotel's basement for the Spa appointment I booked. I may or may not have spent a little too much time in the sauna. The foot and leg massage was amazing. I wasn't sure what to expect but it gave me all kinds of shivers. I was ready to fall asleep right there on the table. Ekatarina, the masseuse, make me tea afterward, saying I should hydrate with green tea for the first hour. It was an experience I'm eager to repeat tomorrow!
January 17th - Riga but differently
After walking around Old Town Riga for two days, today was supposed to take me a little further. And it did. It snowed most of the morning, which is awesome because it means snow. But what my mind tends to forget is that snow is still water, no matter how fluffy it looks. And so, when it goes down your shirt, it might as well be a big, freezing raindrop. And those scenes in movies where characters look up at falling snow and never get it in their eyes? Not possible!
Anyway, the first thing on the menu was an orthodox church, which is impressive. Not beautiful as the one in Toompea, Tallinn, but how are the golden domes not impressive? I didn't go in, thinking I might do that a little later today. Instead, I headed to the Art Nouveau quarter. The difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco? Art Nouveau is pre-war, from the 1880s to WWI. The shapes and motifs used are different too. In this quarter, all the buildings had sculpted decorative elements that I just loved. Even though the snow made looking up a little difficult, I think I got a good look at some of these buildings. The faces, the full-body sculptures, the lions, and the flowers... I love it all!
As it was really cold, I headed back to the same café as yesterday, had another pot of mint green tea and an apple pastry, and tried to warm up a little before my free tour. The snow was finally sticking, and some places were turning white, which was the kind of view I had expected to see for the entire duration of my trip. There are pictures I now have in three different kinds of weather.
As I was waiting for my Alternative Riga Free Tour in front of St. Peter's Church, another girl walked up and seemed to be waiting as well. Since there wasn't anyone else around, I asked her if she was, and we got talking. Her name was Dellia (not sure how to spell it) from Moldavia but living in Berlin. She was in Riga for less than 48hrs before flying back home. Just a quick solo trip.
The guide, Richardt, soon showed up and we were on our way once everyone was there. The Alternative Riga tour doesn't take you through the old town. Instead, you visit the Moscow district, which is far less fancy. In fact, it's considered on the wrong side of the tracks, which it literally is. We started at Riga Central Market, which is located in 5 old Zeppelin hangars. They were built by the Germans during WW1 somewhere south of Riga. When Latvia became independent for the first time during the interwar period, they took apart the hangars and put them back together piece by piece in Riga, and the market has been there ever since. Doing your groceries at the market is way cheaper than at a supermarket, which isn't at all the case in France. They say that the fish at the market is the freshest you could possibly get. All the fancy restaurants get their fish there first thing in the morning.
The market, like the rest of the Moscow district, has been subjected to attempts at gentrification and modernization but it's just not working. Latvians don't want a fancy food court with foreign foods, they just want their 50-cent pastry and move on. Unfortunately, there was no time to stop and buy anything. Definitely something for another visit. The science museum is located in a building built by the Soviets and you can still see the sickle and hammer symbol high at the top. The district was burnt to the ground when they thought Napoleon was coming but it turned out he wasn't. That was quite the "oops, my bad" mistake the mayor made.
The orthodox church I saw early in the day was part of the Russian Empire's attempt at russification, but the Soviets didn't like it so they turned it into an observatory. And the Freedom Monument, well, they didn't like that either, but a woman convinced them to leave it there, so instead, they completely ignored it. That is the only reason it's still standing today.
I found it very interesting whenever the guide gave a Latvian perspective on current events with Belarus in 2020 and with Russia and Ukraine at the moment. Naturally, they are worried. The last 32 years is the longest period Latvia has been an independent country and they want to stay that way. But they also think things will end up okay. They do what they can to help Belarussians who oppose Lukashenko and Riga welcomed 60.000 Ukrainian refugees last year.
Also, the Baltic countries don't consider themselves eastern European but rather central European. However, they are also very flattered when you call them northern European. Like they are part of Scandinavia or something. Honestly, for me, they are northern European countries because, aren't they in the north? One last piece of advice from our guide, never tell a Polish person their country is eastern European, they will fight you.
After the tour, Dellia and I were both freezing and hungry. I had mentioned I had found this Russian restaurant I wanted to try because I'd never had anything Russian so we went there. It was her first time traveling solo so she was happy to have someone to eat a late lunch with. We probably sat in that restaurant for an hour and a half. I had pelmeni. Apparently, russification also happened through food before she grew up eating that. Even the Uzbeki food I tried in Tallinn she considered as Moldovan/Romanian/Russian. But getting back to my dumplings, they were really good. I had veal broth with them, just for an extra bit of heat. Dellia told me I was supposed to get a dumpling, then dip it into the sour cream and then eat it. What is it with all these "Russian" foods being served with sour cream?
During dinner, we realized she was staying at a hostel across the street from my hotel, so we walked back together. We stopped at Rimi for me to get another salad and then went our separate ways. It was an interesting meeting.
Once I got back to my room, I changed into my swimsuit and headed down to the spa. Like yesterday, I enjoyed some time in the sauna, even tried the Hamman, and lounged in the jacuzzi. Today my massage was back and neck and damn, it was nothing like yesterday. In fact, I'd say it was quite painful. After a visit to the hairdressers, my neck will sore for days from their washing basins. This massage left my back so sore. Is it always like that? How do people enjoy that?
Now I have to pack my bags and tomorrow I move onto Vilnius! I have an extra 30 minutes in the morning because that's what you get when you book a later bus. I'm actually happy with that. While the trip has definitely been good so far, I'm tired. But also excited for the last leg of the journey.
January 18th - Last but not least, Vilnius
My morning was pretty relaxed as my bust was at 9:30 rather than 9:00. That extra half hour and the hotel being located right next to the bus station made all the difference. Until I made it to the driver, and he scanned my ticket and there is a problem. That's when light panic settled in. Why didn’t it work? The driver didn't understand it either; he scanned my paper ticket, my electronic ticket, and searched with my last name, with the seat I had booked. Nada, I just wasn't in the system. The driver didn't speak any English either, so it was a little complicated. But then he notices my ticket is dated Friday 18th; it's Wednesday. Then I notice the month; November.
Problem 1: solved.
Problem 2: how am I getting to Vilnius?
Luckily, I could buy a ticket from the driver. Not sure if he put the 20€ bill I paid him in his own pocket or not. I do know he didn’t give me a random price because another woman didn't have a ticket either and paid the same amount. Honestly, I don't care. I made it to Vilnius after 5 hours on the bus.
The weather in Vilnius is as terrible as in the rest of the Baltics. Big surprise. Luckily, my hotel wasn't too far from the bus station, and I was soon out of the rain. When I reached the hotel on the 5th floor at the railway station, I realized the hotel hadn't sent me the required information to do my own self-check-in. Which is problematic for a self-check-in hotel. After calling twice, I had the access code for the hotel, and eventually also my room number and its access code. I booked a single room (that was the cheapest) and the room is big enough to be an apartment, the only thing you'd need to make it into one is a stove and a kitchen sink. Sure, I'd want a bigger fridge but the small one works for now. Oh, and mood lighting. The ceiling lighting is such a French thing.
By then, it was past 14:00 and I was a little hungry. I had planned to try some Georgian food but when I walked in and I asked the girl if I could still have lunch, she said it was finished. Then why grab the menu, ready to seat me? Seriously. In the end, I ended up at Caffeine yet again with another slice of some pie or other. Well, a caramel brownie.
I walked around Vilnius Old Town a little, but it was soon getting dark and I didn't want to spoil all the pretty sights for the next few days. I got a few things for the fridge; pickles because they are a cheaper snack than chips, some string cheese and some juice. By then, it was 16:00 and dark, not full-on dark but definitely after sunset. Which, to my body means dinner time. I wasn't hungry but I didn't want to have to head back out. While in France, no one would have even been open yet, let alone serving dinner, in the Baltics, restaurants often open at 11:00 and stay open until after the dinner service. I wasn't even the first one to sit down for dinner.
I want to EtnoDvaras, which I had found because they serve Lithuanian food. I seriously underestimated the portions. Fried breadsticks with cheese dip as a starter, which the waiter had to pack up. If I ate everything, I wouldn't have been able to eat the main, and that's what it was all about. I had cepelinai (zeppelins). They’re potato dumplings with meat filling, cut in half and fried. They were delicious and didn't even really taste like potatoes.
After dinner, I headed back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow, I have to go breakfast hunting myself since the self-check-in hotel doesn’t serve breakfast and then it’s a day of walking around and looking at churches. Because there are so many churches, it's impossible not to look at them.
January 19th - Oh, Vilnius
So far, Vilnius feels a little disappointing. It's not as pretty as Tallinn or Riga. It's a lot bigger and busier. While neither of the other old towns were car-free, there weren't many cars. It takes away from the charm. It also feels poor and in need of some TLC - and Old Town looks better than just beyond it. I don't know, I'm just not feeling it.
I started the day by hunting for breakfast. Moss is a little place that offers brunch and coffee, so I went there. I tried their shakshuka, which was really good. A little spicy but not too much. I would have left the cumin out but whatever. It's been on my I-want-to-try-this list for a long time, so I'm glad I can cross it off.
I wandered Vilnius and visited the Picture Gallery. I saw plenty of churches and visited one (I think you have to pay for it but there was no one in the booth so I just went in). I noticed a lot of people heading to church first thing in the morning, crossing themselves before even going in and coming back out rather quickly as well. It was a coming-and-going of people. I passed through Cathedral Square but with the cloudy weather, I didn't go up the tower. I might still do it tomorrow though. Not wanting to eat into tomorrow's planning, I just kept on wandering.
I visited a mall, I did some grocery shopping, and had some coffee with another pastry. I saw some more churches, some better maintained than others, though I didn't get the feeling they were open to visitors. Honestly, nothing had really impressed me, and it wasn't like Riga where I just wanted to keep walking around. Instead, I headed back to the hotel early.
Naturally, nothing is quite so simple. The elevator had an issue where it didn't close the doors and travel up. The women working on the ground floor weren't helpful and just told me the elevator worked and I just had to wait. Like I don't know how to work an elevator, but I waited and eventually called the hotel. I was forced to walk around another half hour before they called back to tell me I'd have to take the stairs. I was finally back and while I want to do what is planned tomorrow, I am finished with my travels. I'm sad to finish on this low but nothing to do about it.
January 20th - A white Vilnius
It started snowing late last night and it was still there when I woke up this morning, and, while wet and melty, the snow remained all day!
I went back to Moss for breakfast again. I had the egg royal today, which is poached egg on cured salmon on an English muffin, and that all covered in hollandaise sauce. While the hollandaise wasn't like any I've had before, it was pretty tasty. I want to try and make this myself, haha. And I was talked into have dessert; I had fluffy pancakes with berries and cream.
The first thing I visited today was the Republique of Uzupis. Not going into the history too much but this district of Vilnius declared itself independent in 1997, on April 1st. The constitution has been translated into a number of languages and is displayed on a wall. It's an artsy community with lots of street art and displays of other types of art.
I wandered through a few previously unexplored streets of Vilnius and ended up at Cathedral Square again. While I had planned to visit the museum in the palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, I ended up not doing that. Instead, I climbed the hill to Geminidas Tower, from where you have a view of Old Town and across the Neris River, which is a lot newer neighborhood. It's an impressive view, especially beautiful when everything is covered in snow. The only downside was a perilous cobblestone path to get up and since there was no one in the funicular ticket office, it was the same uneven path down.
Naturally, I went to Caffeine, as I've done pretty much every day, for a cookie butter latte and a cinnamon bun. Honestly, I expected more from the latte; I didn't get butter or cookie or anything but the cinnamon on the whipped cream trying to choke me. The cinnamon bun was good though. Since I didn't have anything else touristy planned, I went onto the money-spending part of my day.
First, bacon. Yes, a bacon hunt, both for Mom and for myself. I went to Rimi first, but I only found expensive bacon there. I figured I might as well check Lidl. They had a promo on the bacon. It was now 0.95euro instead of 1.15euro. That's really cheap, so I got some. Later, after I had dropped everything off at the hotel, I went to the Lidl not far from the hotel and got some more bacon. Also, pelmeni like I tried in Riga. Yes, they are frozen but they are chilling in the freezer now and I'll just pop them in the suitcase tomorrow morning. They'll make it.
Second, on my money-spending list was some more book shopping. I already got some books in Estonia but I wanted some more. After all, my suitcase isn't full yet. Now finding English books in Lithuania is a little more complicated. But I found some. And I got them. I can't remember the last time I went on such a book-buying spree. Was it in Edinburgh 2018? Was it in London 2019? Either way, it's been too long, and I didn't hold myself back much.
Now, I've packed my suitcase except for a few little things for tomorrow. I'm a little nervous about the bus, mostly because I haven't taken one here. But I'm sure it'll be fine. The flight isn't as early as on the way, or even my Madrid home flight. So, I'm sure I can make it to the airport before the flight leaves.
Time to go home!