Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Baltic States

So, last minute I realized that I could take a few weeks off after the semester ended. I thought I'd go for a normal chill Europe trip, perhaps Spain for a week. Somehow this trip evolved into a round trip ticket to Stockholm to visit and pick up my friend, Joy, to explore the Baltics. A week before the trip, I didn't even know what countries I was going to. A few days before flying out, Joy and I madly planned our Baltic itinerary. We decided to hit them all - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Furthermore, we were going to experience both the capitals and countryside and as an added bonus, we were going to squeeze in Helsinki too. All in 9 days!

Our travel route.
Stockholm, Sweden -> Latvia -> Lithuania -> Estonia -> Helsinki, Finland -> Stockholm.

Latvia: Baltic State #1

I head off a few days before Joy on an infamous cheap Ryan air flight at 6:45 am. My one bag allotment of 10 kg and I ride the smooth hour flight. No complaints.

Riga: the capital of Latvia (day 1)
Riga consist of an Old Town and newer city center. The buildings are mostly restored to their former beauty prior to the Soviet occupation. Latvia was free from the Soviets in 1991, and entered the EU in 2004.

Blackhead's house, the most pictured building in Old Town. It was completely destroyed by the Soviets in the 1940s, but an exact replica was erected in 2001.

The three brothers houses represent Riga's diverse architecture. The oldest is over 600 years old.

Riga's narrowest street.

The market. Hmm, should I buy tomatoes, strawberries AND that leopard blanket?
It was a rather tame market compared to the one in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Mainly, I did not see pig carcesses rolling around and signs for horse meat; only a few encased tongues.

A building in the Art Nouveau District in the city center. Art Nouveau is also known as Jugendstil, meaning "youth style." Here, architects were encourage to be creative and bring a sense of unique style to Riga.

One of the many haunting and flamboyant faces in the Art Nouveau District.

Latvian man reading the paper on the local train.

I took an hour train ride to reach the National Park of Sigulda. On the train I saw school children, teens and elders going about their day.

Note: I think the former Soviet rule in Lativa still weighs on the people; they did not seem to be a joyous bunch. I seldom saw a smile. Everywhere I went and asked, the common answer was "NO."

Sigulda National Park (day 2)
Upon arriving in Sigulda and inquiring at the tourist office (the only place where one person spoke English), another solo female traveller heard the sounds of English from me and asked if I wanted to join her for the day. Sure, why not? So Elaine, from England, and I head off to explore and get lost in the wilderness.

Turaida Castle in the distance: our goal. It was about a 2.5 hr trek to reach this castle.

Me and some castle ruins along the way.

The countryside.
We took many guesses and wrong turns navigating through the park. I don't think we were suppose to go through here, but somehow we did and it was pretty nice.

Finally arriving at the castle. The dungeon prison. Not happy.

View from the castle tower.

The day trip to Sigulda was pleasant. It was nice to explore outside the city and be in nature. I always like getting out of major cities when I travel, probably because I live in one. But these Baltic cities are quaint, small and maneageable.

Day 3: Joy joined me for a last day in Riga before we head off to Vilnius via bus. Inquiring about bus tickets was quite an experience into Lativan customer service, or lack thereof. English was supposedly spoken at Eurolines bus office. But, when I asked why there were many bus times listed and which ones were to Villnius she answered in a huff, "Not all bus can leave at 8." When I tried to ask another question, she didn't even say "No" but merely put her hand out shooing me to another counter. Lovely. The ultimate unspoken No. And of course, our seats were not next to each other; that would be too logical. And a big burly Latvian guy booted me out of my seat. I was not going to fight. But, it ended up being a deluxe bus and a smooth $24 ride.

1 comment:

caroline said...

Everything is so green! :) I think it is so cool that you meet up with other people to travel with!