Baltic bliss-- well, aside from the wind.

Trip Start Mar 31, 2011
1
5
66
Trip End Jul 05, 2011


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Where I stayed
Barons Hotel Tallinn
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Latvia  ,
Saturday, April 9, 2011

We got into Riga at about 6:30 PM on Saturday, and it is much bigger than Tallinn! We got off to a pretty rough start-- Dad had a mishap with the ATM while trying to get Latvian lats, and his debit card disappeared into oblivion. So we got tram tickets in a big hurry and booked it to the hostel to use their phone. We had to climb up 8 flights of stairs with our backpacks on! Good thing we were anxious so the adrenaline helped a bit-- 8 flights with 35 lbs of shit on your back is a sad problem. But the hotel is lovely and the staff was exceedingly helpful. After about 20 minutes with the receptionist and 20 minutes on the Internet, we gave up trying to figure out how to call the credit card company collect (which is what they told him to do). So I had my first experience with Skype calling, and it was extremely positive! It only costs 1.9 cents per minute to call the US on Skype. Amazing! Here is a fun useless piece of information-- Skye was invented in Estonia! Too bad we didn't make our inaugural skype call there. 
Anyway, after the debit card fiasco, it had gotten dark in Riga and we weren't in the mood to get too lost by trying to find Old Town. So we just went to the grocery store to buy some water bottles and hit up a cafe right by the hotel. It was excellent, just as we suspected. I know I've said it 10 times, but the food in this region is extremely tasty and high quality. Hope the trend continues. 
The next  morning we learned that our hostel provides food for us to make our own breakfast, so I pulled out my little bag of cooking essentials (garlic salt, hot sauce) and made egg sandwiches! I hadn't realized how much I missed egg sandwiches-- they weren't quite right because cheddar cheese doesn't seem to exist in this region, but they were still awesome.  The weather had warned clouds, but the sun was shining bright and the sky was perfectly blue. Two beautiful days in a row, how lucky! This time of the year is not famous for weather in the Baltics... the wind is pretty fierce and the sky is usually cloudy. But not today!  
We headed to Old Town, which I was expecting to be pretty similar to Estonia, but it was markedly different. The buildings here are taller and have more elaborate facades, complete with beautiful statues of gargoyles and mermaids and other creatures of that sort. We encountered all sorts of street performers-- apparently Latvia is known for their musical prowess. During the occupation, there were protests known as the "Singing Revolution," where everyone would sing together. Sounds pretty intense-- I bet the Germans didn't have a clue what to do! We spent about half the day cruising around Old Town then headed up to the Art Nouveau district. This district had a few streets that had breathtaking architecture. Most of the buildings are actually foreign embassies. Much prettier than any other embassies I've seen.  
A few interesting things that I've noticed about Latvia: the Old Town has a ton of temporary plastic structures that function as bars during the day, then disappear at night when the real bars open for business. I guess this is so that tourists like us can drink Latvian beer at all hours of the day! Speaking of, Latvian (and Estonian) beer is really really good! It tastes pretty similar to the European imports that we get in the US, except richer and obviously more fresh. Also, there are street vendors/restaurants all through the Baltics and Russia that sell crepes! They are called various different names, but they are pretty much the same: thin pancakes filled with goodies. For whatever reason, I've always thought that crepes were uniquely French, but silly me! I hope there are also crepes all through the rest of Europe, because they make for a cheap and delicious snack. Also, all of the restaurants take credit cards, but they bring out a little contraption to your table so that you can slide it yourself. It makes me feel much better about using a credit card-- some places in Central America take your credit card into a little back room and disappear for a few minutes before reemerging without a receipt. At least here we know exactly where our card is at all times. 
After a short rest, we went back to Old Town for dinner. We went to a little traditional Latvian restaurant and the food was excellent, and there was a singer running around who must have been 7 feet tall. I had roasted chicken served with pears and berries marinated in red wine, beer hollindaise, and reduced soy sauce drizzled on top. It was so good! Then we had rye pudding with dried berries and fresh cream (cream fraise) for dessert-- very traditional and delicious, despite how strange the combination of flavors. I didn't really know what to expect as far as food in the Baltics, but we have encountered nothing but delicious meals time and time again. We read that Latvian food is especially hearty/unhealthy to help them get through the frigid winters... which we can totally sympathize with. It is freezing cold here with a brutal wind, and it is mid April! I can't even fathom how cold it must be in the dead of winter. Plus, we are far enough north that the length of sunlight is extremely variable depending on the time of year. So we've been having about 16 hours of sunlight so far, but they get less than 6 in the winter. Sounds brutal to me.
On Monday morning (4-11), we woke up bright and early to start trying to contact the Latvian bank to get Dad's debit card out of the ATM. After about 4 phone calls, made with the assistance of the hotel receptionist, we arranged to try and pick up the card between 4 and 5 PM at the bank's central office in Riga. Hopefully it is there, because if not, it is running around the streets of Latvia somewhere. Thankfully we were able to put a hold on it either way. But we had to postpone our departure to Lithuania until after 5, so we decided to stay another day in Latvia. Our hostel was really great anyway. Plus it was raining all through the region, so it would not have been a good night to try and navigate Vilnius in the dark.
We relaxed in the morning, then went back to Old Town to check out the Museum of Occupation, which was closed because it was Monday. There were murals on the outside of the museum that basically gave an overview of the history, so we still came out smarter for it. Poor Latvia was right in the middle of Soviet manipulation and Nazi cruelty. What a mess. After the museum, we went back to the hotel to dry off before heading off to the bank to hope that they had our missing debit card. By some huge miracle, they did! Apparently, if the card sits in the machine for too long without someone pulling it out, the machine eats the card and the bank holds it for a little while before destroying it. So we have the debit card and are back in cash-withdrawing action. Just in time to move to Lithuanian currency.
After securing the card, we decided to check out one of the big local markets. The market was gigantic! It was held in old German Zeppelin hangars, which protected airships during construction and also from bad weather conditions during the first World War.  I thought the market was totally great. I was a little bit sketchy, with tons of people lurking around. The fish market was definitely the best part-- I posted an assortment of nasty pictures at the bottom. The spices were pretty cool too, and everything was substantially cheaper than at the market in St. Petersburg.
We had dinner at the Latvian equivalent of Denny's but it was SO GOOD! We got huge bowls of traditional dumplings called Pelmenji, and it only cost us 1 Lat ($2 US) per bowl! If there was a place like this in Boulder, it would put the Gyros on the hill to shame. Aaron and Garrett-- I thought of you guys the whole time. Garrett, you could completely fill yourself up for less than 5 dollars! And Aaron, this would be the optimal drunk food for you. 
We woke up to get an early start to the bus station and, for the first time, everything went as planned and we arrived exactly 30 minutes before departure time (which is when you're supposed to arrive-- we are usually late). But the bus was 15 minutes late, so we ended up standing around in the arctic cold with our backpacks on for 45 minutes. Guess we should have been late. Anyways, now we are on the bus to Vilnius! The bus only cost us 8 Lats, and it is very luxurious, especially for a bus. It has free wireless Internet and a very complex espresso machine that spits out an assortment of delicious drinks. Plus, it has a TV that is playing music videos of the 80's and 90's hits from Jenna's favorite play list. Jenna-- you would definitely be dancing if you were here. Half of the people are even wearing your black unitard! At the border between Latvia and Lithuania, the bus stopped and an immigration officer came on to check our passports, Then a bunch of customs officers with dogs got on the bus to sniff around (for drugs, I assume). Strange for a border between two EU countries-- or maybe it's not strange and we've just been lucky with borders in the past. 
So we will be in Vilnius for a few days, then we have an assortment of night buses and trains through Poland to try and get to Ukraine. I will try to post at least for Lithuania, but I'm not sure about the Internet situation until we stabilize somewhere. Maybe all of the trains will have Internet too! Doubtful. Well, bye for now! Visu labu!

My Review Of The Place I Stayed



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Comments

Adrienne on

Excellent Blog. Thank you so much. What fun to follow your adventure.
Love, Mom

Jeremy on

Great pictures!

TY PECK on

Hi, Have been totally enjoying your blog. You must treasure this time with your Dad, the memories will last a lifetime. You are a prolific writer. Keep the time spent blogging vs the beer and wine in balance. Enjoy!!!!! Ty

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