The Baltic Countries
July, 12th to 25th, 2008
Saturday, July 12’Th
It’s a strange thing not to a trip by taking the bus to Billund. But I have moved to Aarhus, so the bus to Billund is of no use today. Instead it’s the train bound for Copenhagen. My Air Baltic plane leaves for Vilnius at 8.30 pm.
The flight takes about 1½ hour, and with the difference in time on one hour it’s about 11 pm as we land in Vilnius. I find a taxi for the ride into town and my hotel Domus Maria. I arrive at about midnight, and go to bed.
Sunday, July 13’Th
Domus Maria is an old convent, close to a few fine churches. Now it’s been rebuilt into a nice Guesthouse.
I get up early – at 8 am and after breakfast I head for the town. Because my mind has been on moving to Aarhus and a new job, this trip is not as pre-planed as I use to do. But Vilnius is a simple and not to big city, so it’s easy to find my way around I start out with 3 sights close to Domus Maria.
First it’s the church of St. Teresa. It’s packed with people this early Sunday morning. Then it’s The Gates of Dawn, an old city-gate from the 16’Th century. Under the roof there’s a small chapel also packed with people. Finally there’s the Russion Orthodox church of The Holy Spirit. They are allowed sleeping a little longer. The place is just filling up on this time of the day.
I continue my first tour of Vilnius to the more touristic parts of town. Well – there are not too many tourists around on a Sunday morning. There are only a few tour-groups hanging out. After a few hours it starts to rain so I head back toward the hotel.
On the way back I pick up a cup of coffee at a café. When I’m there the rain stops. So instead of going to Domus Maria I pick up the city-tour again. I walk along some nice streets toward Gediminas Hill where a small railroad takes me to the top. It would be pretty ease to walk up the hill, but that’s not allowed. There’s a fine view from the top.
Down again and a visit to the Vilnius Cathedral. A mass is going on, and the place is packed. In front of the church there’s a strange tower. At the bottom it looks like a lighthouse, but then someone discovered there’s no water around – so the rest is built like a bell-tower instead.
Enough sightseeing for trip one, so it’s back to Domus Maria for a short stop.
Trip 2 is shorter. I visit the only Frank Zappa memorial monument I have ever seen. When I’m there it starts to rain again. This time it’s serious, so I head for my hotel. There’s thunder and lightning all evening, so the time is spend at room 205, before heading for dinner at local place a little later.
Monday, July 14’Th
This day is a bit of the beaten tourist-track of Vilnius in the “Old Town”.
First trip is for “New Town”, via the Vilnius University that dates back to 1579. It’s the oldest university in Eastern Europe. There are some nice buildings with some nice yards in a nice neighbourhood. The Presidents palace is just on the other side of the road.
Then I head for New Town along the shopping-street of Gedimino Prospekta. My intention was to visit the building that formerly was used by both KGB and Gestapo, but now is a museum for the victims. Unfortunately it’s closed on Mondays, so I will have to wait for that. Instead I head for the Lithuanian Parliament, which is very very ugly.
Back towards town along Gedimino and all the shops. I cross River Neris for a visit to the shopping-centre called Europa. It’s amazing – no matter where you end up in the world these days – you find shopping-centres like these. This completes Trip 1 of the day, so I head back for a break at the hotel.
Trip 2 is for a very nice area called Uzopis. This is not the traditional tourist place. It’s an independent area, who has claimed their freedom and has got its own constitution. You can find it on a wall in 4 different languages. For instance a dog has the right to be a dog; a cat has a right to an owner, but can decide it doesn’t want that owner anyway. It’s ok to share anything that you own, but it’s not ok to share what you don’t own. I really like such weird places.
Vilnius is a great city to stroll around especially when you get a little out of the tourist-zone. And then it’s cheap. A pizza at a restaurant is about 3 €, and a large beer is 1.50 €.
Tuesday, July 15’Th
It’s time for a half daytrip to Trakai. I take a local bus through the outskirts of Vilnius. It’s a 30 km ride and it takes about 45 minutes to reach Trakai.
Trakai is a nice area with lakes and a castle on a small island in the middle of one of them. Count Kestutis started to build the castle back in the 14’Th century. Now it is a great place for a day out for the people living in Vilnius. The area around is populated with some people called The Karaits. They arrived from Krim back in the 14’Th century but are originally from around Baghdad. They live in some very fine and colourful wooden-houses. There are only 12 families left, so it won’t be long before they are gone
I take the bus back to Vilnius early afternoon for my usual break at the hotel.
Trip 2 is a walk around Vilnius. A visit to the post-office that is just like old eastern-European days. It’s so slow, and no one cares about the long line of people waiting at the desk. It takes ½ an hour to buy a stamp for my postcard.
Wednesday, July 16’Th
There’s not many sights left in Vilnius, but today I visit what’s left.
First sight is the Museum of Genocide. It’s very interesting. It used to be headquarters for both KGB and Gestapo. The museum is about the soviet-era – about deportation to Siberia, political prisoners and the Lithuanian freedom-movement. In the basement you find the old KGB-cells for political prisoners. Here they were interrogated, tortured and now and then shot. It’s creepy. They haven’t done much to the place, so it looks a lot like it used to when it was used for these terrible things. But certainly a very exiting place to visit.
From there I cross the Taurakalnis-park nice views across Vilnius to the Rusian Orthodox church of Romanov. I like the roof that looks like green onions.
Then it’s lunchtime and a visit to a Casino to get rid of my coins. You are not allowed to bring weapons into the Casino, so I don’t.
The rest of the day is spent in the fine yard at my hotel reading a book, before dinner-time at my local favourite Cili. And this was Vilnius.
Thursday, July 17’Th
Here I am, in the cozy lounge at Raid und Draugis hotel in Riga. Eurolines left Vilnius at 10 this morning, and it toot 4½ hour to get here.
Not surprisingly my first job was to find the hotel. It’s an exellent hotel in the middle of Riga. My room is no. 37. When this was done it was time for a little lunch and a look at the city. There are more tourists here than in Vilnius. That’s especially British low-cost-tourist that’s just here to get drunk. It’s quite annoying to be honest. I walk half a tour recommended by Lonely Planet. It’s around old town and ending at a city-park with a nice little canal running through.
Then it’s time for a break before dinner. It’s important to stay away from the places where the brits are having fun. So the restaurant on the other side serving “fish’n’chips” is out of the question. Prices here are higher than in Vilnius. Almost 5 € for a pizza and a large beer is now 2.50 €.
Friday, July 18’Th
And what have I been doing today?
First there was this huge market in Riga, where almost everything was for sale, and a lot of people were hanging out shopping.
Then it was Riga from the top of a high Stalin-era building close to the market.
Then I visited the Museum of Occupaton of Latvia. It’s about the Russian occupation before and after WW2 – and the Germen under the war.
Right next to it there’s the House of Blackheads. It’a almost a little castle, but it was built in 2001. It looks just like its predecessor from 1344. But that one was ruined by the Russians and the Germans.
And finally it’s a long walk north and east of Downtown Riga. Riga is good for walking. It’s as flat as a pancake, and there are plenty of nice houses and strange places, when you get a little lost.
Saturday, July 19’Th
On a Saturday like this where the sun is shining, it seems like most of the people living in Riga leaves the city, and leaves it for the British drunks. Instead they head for the beaches at Jurmala, and so I.
About every 15 minuttes the train leaves for Jurmala from the railway station in Riga. The trip takes aout 30 minuttes. I get off in Dubulti, one of several stations at Jurmala. From here there’s a short walk down to the beach. There are a lot of people down there, doing what you’re supposed to do at a beach – bathing, sunbathing, playing football etc.
I don’t want to do any of these things so I head for the major city of Jurmala called Majori. Here people are walking up and down the street of Jamas Iela. There are café’s, restaurants and a lot of people. There’s also a few tourist-traps like the museum with old Russian cars and motorcycles that I visit. But there’s also a very fine event with statues build in sand. They are vere impressive.
At 3 I head back on the train to Riga. I’m back in time to see the last part of todays Tour de France on the TV, and later for a short walk through some street of Riga.
Sunday, July 20’Th
This is my last day in Riga. At the hotel I have picked up an issue of Riga This Week – no. 92. Inside there’s a walk throgh Old Riga. Some of the places I have seen – some I have not. For instance I haven’t been to the top of the tower at St. Peters Church, so here I start. The view is spectacular, and there’s a nice feature for the tower – an elevator.
Further on to St. Johns church, which surprisingly enough is closed on a Sunday. Then I pass through Konventa Se Ta, with some nice houses. After this I cross the large Livu Laukums Square, with tourists all over, some nice old buildings now mainly used for concert-halls. Across there’s a house called Cat’s House, with 2 black cats on the ceiling.
Then I’m at the Dome, where a show is going on, so I continue to the old powder-tower of Riga. This is now a weapons-museum. From here I follow more old building to St. Jacobs Church; where a show is also under preparation, before getting to the Seima – the parliement of Latvia. It’s pretty small, so you could easily miss it.
A little away from here there are 3 old houses called The 3 Brothers. Outside 2 people are playing the old Elvis-hit – “I can’t help falling in love with you” – on a trombone and a tuba. That’s pretty weird. The final sight is the Riga castle where the President of Latvia is living.
Now there are no more sights left in Riga, so I can just as well head back for the hotel for Tour de France.
In the evening it’s another short trip. I visit the City Casino with some slot-machines, to get rid of my coins. It takes forever since I keep on winning. Finally I have to give up, get my coins back and go to the nearby Rimi to buy some chocolate instead. It’s raining now – so I head back for the hotel.
This was Riga.
Monday, July 21’St
I’m leaving Riga at 10 am with Eurlines to Tallinn, where I arrive a little past 2 pm.
Then things start to go wrong! First of all the busterminal is not at the spot where I thought it would be – it’s much further away from the city-center than expected. This means that I get lost on my walk to the hotel, which honestly shouldn’t have been a walk, but a taxi-ride. It takes 1½ hour of walking before I find my hotel in Tallins Old Town called Meriton Old Town. Then it’s certainly time for a break.
Later my first walk in Tallinn Old Town. There are lots of tourists here. Most of them are from Finland and Sweden. And there are lots of old houses, churches, museums, hotels, restaurants and cobble-stoned roads. And it is unbelievable clean everywhere. The local life takes place outside Old Town, which is more like a tourist-settlement. So I head outside for dinner. A large beer is now 3 €, so things are going the wrong way.
Tuesday, July 22’nd
This is the great sightseeing-day in Old Tallinn. First stop is just outside my dooe. It’s the St. Olaus Church with a 139 m. high tower. It was built in the 15’Th century, and is supposed to be the highest building in the world at that time (how would anyone know??). KGB used to use it as a good place for surveillance.
Further on along the city-wall in Tallinn, and a monument for the ship Estonia.
Then it’s more church. First it’s the Holy Spirit Church from the 13’Th century. Outside there’s a very old clock. Then it’s the Peter and Paul Church. It’s closed today. But the Dominican monestary next to it is not. You have to make your own “ticket” by hammering a round metal-thing with a huge hammer. It’s a little expensive to get in, but it’s valid for the rest of your lifetime, so it’s kind of OK. The monestary was built in 1246 and was used by Scandinavian munks, which was sent here to chritianite the estonians.
Further on along the city-wall and another church. It’s the huge and ugly Jaani Church. Then on to the tower with the weird name “Kiek in de Kök”, which means something like “Look into kitchen”, named so because you could see into the kitchens of the nearby houses. There’s a small arms-museum in the tower.
I head back to the hotel before trip 2 of the day. This takes me to Upper Tallinn or Toompea as it is called. There’s a fantastic beautiful Russian church called Alexander Nevsky, with their domes looking like onions. Inside there are lot’s of icons, but as it is in Russian churches – not a chair og bench within sight. Everything is done standing.
Just opposite is Toompea Castle. It’s huge and there are real chess-towers in the corners, but the pink colour is not my idea of colours for a castle. A little away is the Dom – the largest church in Tallinn. From Toompea you also have some of the best views across Old Tallinn and its surroundings.
On the way downhill I pass the old Danish Kings yard. They’ve got a spot like this because rumours say that the Danish nationalflag fell from the sky in Estonia on the 15’Th of July in 1219.
I’ve had enough sightseeing for this day. Only dinner and relaxing is left for the rest of the day.
Wednesday, July 23’rd
The trip of the day is not anything recommended by the tourist-office. I am heading for the city of Paldiski. It’s about an hour by train from Tallinn.
Paldiski was an important harbour for the navy back in the soviet-days. So they built this ugly town with plenty of bunkers and other military facilities.
Some of it has been preserved, so together with the ugly buildings that used to house the military employees, some petro-chemical industry and a harbour now used for car-impor, it doesn’t make a lot of good photos for the tourist-brochures. But I find it exiting and it’s also a part of reality. And after all there’s also a small beach where kids are having a good time bathing in the dirty water of the Baltic Sea – and there’s the loveliest train-station I have ever seen. It’s as much a contrast to the city that anything could be. I spend a few hours out here, where there are only 2 other tourists for the day, before heading back on the train to Tallinn.
The rest of the day is spent on nothing special.
Thursday, July 24’th
Another day in beautiful Old Tallinn
First visit is to a museum just around the corner. It’s The Maritim Museum, which is housed in a tower called Fat Margaret. There are a lot of things in the museum about the sailing-history of Tallinn, and from the top there’s a fine view across the harbour and all the cruise-ships down there.
Next I head for the harbour. Due to terrorist-fright you are not allowed to walk around the harbour, but from the ferry’s arrival-hall you can see some huge ships around. A big one from Helsinki has just arrived, and is loading off. Most of the cruise-ships seem to be German.
Back to Old Tallinn and a visit to a tourist-trap called Eppingi Turn. It’s also a part of the city-wall, but really contains absolutely nothing.
Lunch is at an Ukranian restaurant. Ukranian sausages are not recommended.
After a break at the hotel I head out again. I head for the tourist-spot no.1 in Vilnius, the City-Hall Square. It’s packed with tourist and restaurants, but I’m here to see the City Hall. It was built between 1371 and 1404, so it’s both old and very fine. On the room you will find the small statue of Vana Toomas – Old Thomas – as a symbolic guard for Tallinn. He also doubles as a weathercock.
Next stop is St. Nicholas Church from the 13-th century. It was destroyed by Russian bombs during WW2, but is now restored. Inside it contains some of the most valuable religious paintings from the Middle Age. Among them is the famous painting of “Dance Makabre” by Berndt Notke from the 15-th century.
After this I walk aimlessly around the southern parts of Old Tallinn, before I’ve had it for this day.
Friday, July 25’th
I’ve made a mistake on this trip, and that is going back in the evening. This means that the rest of the day is just for killing – and it’s a little annoying.
So I kill this hot summerday in Tallinn by visiting another stupid museum built into the wall, then visiting the city-museum, which is rather exiting, a good lunch and finally a visit to the photographic museum of Tallinn. Finally it’s time to head back to the hotel and get a taxi to the airport.
The check-in is fast, so there are another few hours to kill in the airport before leaving with Estonian Air at 6.10 pm. The trip to Copenhagen takes 1½ hour, so including time-difference I arrive at 6.40. The train leaves at 7.40, and I’m back in Aarhus slightly before midnight.