A true Baltic experience
If you have ever been curious about the Baltic States, these walking holidays may very well appeal to you, as they did to my husband and I.
In all three cities we stayed in we could see the evidence of the original German founders of the towns, with the old houses so very similar to those in certain towns in Germany.
The three countries have suffered from occupations by a variety of other countries and often suffered violent wars or events. The last was of course the occupation by Russia in all three.
The scenery in all three is also in some ways similar – fairly flat, with lots of woodland and lakes. In summer these lakes form a good breeding ground for mosquitoes, but we were all forewarned and thus could slap insect repellents onto our skin.
We stayed in the capital, Tallinn, an old city and UNESCO heritage site, which still has medieval town walls and many old houses. While we were there, Tallin enjoyed a Jazz festival, which some of the group enjoyed – particularly in the evenings.
The walks in Estonia were good, yet it was disappointing that the beavers had decided to hide when we were there, so we did not see any on the beaver trail. It was also interesting later the same day to see the boulders (erratics) from the ice age at the coast on a walk.
The walk along the road to St Brigit’s convent in Tallinn was perhaps not the most successful as we spent a lot of time just walking along the shore on an uneven concrete path and in the end we had too little time to do all the suggested sightseeing successfully.
Free days in Tallinn are easy to fill, as there is so much to see. The “Tallinn card” (a travel-cum-entrance-fee card) was a good investment, but we would have liked to have the three days in a row in Tallinn and thus the three-day card and then the free day afterwards.
En route between the countries we visited sights each time which broke the journey well and gave us more insight into the history of this part of the world.
Riga is another interesting city, where again we found a UNESCO heritage site – this time because of the very large number of art nouveau buildings.
Exploring the city was made so much easier as Ramblers Worldwide Holidays had chosen such a conveniently located hotel, which also was very good indeed.
The city of Riga may be chosen by many stag parties for their destination from Britain, but do not think it is a city for lager louts – it is sophisticated and the excursions into the national parks, with castles and boardwalks and the unavoidable mosquitoes near lakes, were enjoyed by all who took part.
We were fortunate to have a folk music and dancing festival while we were there and thus enjoyed experiencing examples of folk music and dancing with people, young and old, dressed up in national costume, who came from all over the Baltic States and much further afield, some even from the USA!
The capital, Vilnius, is up and coming, but that Lithuania is economically the weakest of the three countries is unfortunately obvious. This did not mean we, as a group, did not have a good experience here.
As the Catholic Church is very strong here there were many more churches even to visit here than in the previous two countries.
It was sad to see how places of worship were treated under the Russian regime – you can still see reminders of that. Hearing the orthodox monks singing their service in a responsorial form was very moving.
Lithuania was yet another country in which we could soak up a lot of varied history. We enjoyed a walk to the enchanting Trakai castle, which had been rebuilt but sensitively so, and contained an excellent museum.
The memories of this trip will remain with us for a long while and I hope others will also be able to enjoy this trip as much as we did.