A Travellerspoint blog


The Highway to Riga

overcast 9 °C

Tallin was still overcast when we took our last look across the old city's skyline to the docks and ferries this morning before heading to the coach station for our trip to Latvia...
We had booked tickets in advance but could not reserve seats, so we went early to beat the crowds and sit together. But where were the crowds? When our 50 seat luxury coach arrived, (offering WiFi, audio and video entertainment, refreshments and a toilet), we were the only ones waiting. But we guessed the hordes were coming when the conductor carefully labelled our bags and gave us receipts before loading them...
We were still awaiting the rest of the passengers when the doors closed and we took off – just us, the driver and conductor. “We will probably stop to pick up at the airport,” we said to each other, but we didn't. We are very close to Russia here and with all the sabre rattling going on over Syria we figured we had been kidnapped by a remnant of the KGB. Either that or we had booked the world's longest stretch limo...
Travelling off season has its benefits. We usually pay much less than peak-time tourists and never have to queue. However, it can be a little unnerving to be the only guests in an enormous hotel or to dine alone in a two hundred seat restaurant – or to be the only passengers in a 50 seat coach (especially as we only paid twenty dollars each). We have at times been the entire audience for a theatrical performance and sole watchers of a movie; and we often stroll through deserted tourist attractions without being accosted by guides or touts. We have even been the solitary passengers on ferries and boats, and on one occasion James flew solo on a transatlantic jet. So we just sat back and hoped that we weren't on a one way ticket to a Gulag. (Not that we minded – we really enjoyed Siberia).

However, the Soviets left the Baltics 25 years ago and, apparently, all we had to fear was the driving. Why else would there be a green plastic vomit bag conspicuously hanging from every seat pocket...
Our worries over kidnapping and crazy driving came to nought and we smoothly
sailed the 300 kilometres of perfectly flat, and largely straight, road to Riga, the capital of Latvia, through a never ending avenue of boreal forest that stretches all the way to Easten Siberia...
Five hours later we arrived in Riga – still the sole passengers – and the conductor carefully checked our baggage tags before handing over our luggage. The Ruskies may have gone but Soviet bureaucracy lingers on!

Posted by Hawkson 10:59 Archived in Estonia Comments (8)

“Païkest” from Estonia

overcast 5 °C

Estonia is a small country perched on the very edge of Western Europe and it has had a long and checkered history under the thumbs of the Danes, Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians. All of these invaders have influenced the architecture and culture, and Tallinn, the picturesque capital city, has been left a rich legacy of buildings dating from medieval times...
Today, the invaders have gone and the ancient cobblestone streets are reserved for locals and tourists on foot. However, many sections of the medieval wall that once surrounded the city are still intact...
Touristy restaurants and cafes have taken over almost all of the buildings in the old city centre and offer a wide range of local game including bear, moose, elk and wild boar. This is Estonia's oldest coffee house...
We've only been here a couple of days but we're getting to grips with the important words...
We live in Canada - a country where bear, elk, deer and moose are hunted in abundance, yet none of these lean wild meats ever appear on our menus. Judging by the numbers of tourists tucking into these healthful delicacies here it may be time for our restaurants to start getting beyond the burgers and fries. The moose was delicious but how about this for our hotel's breakfast buffet?
Only 1.4 million people live in Estonia and nearly a third of them call Tallinn home.
Estonians are probably the most techno-savvy people in the world and there are more cellphones than people in Estonia. They are generally smart cookies, (many speak three or four languages and they invented Skype), and they have a capital city that has excellent shops, a wealth of well preserved ancient buildings and interesting museums. This is Tallinn's medieval central square...
And these are some of the many churches that dot the old city...
Estonia finally broke away from Russia after the First World War only to be re-colonised during the Second. They have been independent since 1990 and part of the EU since 1994 so you would think that they would be happy. However, despite having a beautiful little capital, excellent food, casinos and sex shops galore, and oodles of inexpensive booze, Estonians rate themselves as the most unhappy people in the whole of Europe. Maybe it's the frequently overcast skies; the frigid arctic winds; or the thought that in a few weeks it will only be light for a few hours a day. However, it's more likely that they simply don't realise how lucky they are.
Riga in Latvia is our next stop. Winter is rapidly approaching and we must hurry south to avoid the chills. So, as the Estonians say, “Païkest” – here's wishing you sunshine.

Posted by Hawkson 00:27 Archived in Estonia Comments (5)

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