The Baltic Countries

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What a whirlwind trip we had and now we are back to the ferry for the overnight crossing. We arrived to sunny weather in Helsinki and returned to the camping for another night. We had booked passage on the ferry to Estonia for the next afternoon. We finally had a couple of days to do nothing! The Ferries to Tallinn leave from the west harbor. It is easy to book on line and we found the Eckero Line was the cheapest for the afternoon sailing of the 3 options. You can also book 2 bikes and 2 people on one reservation, which is rarely the case.

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We arrived early, but so did quite a few others. The bikes are all loaded on the second level of the ferry and there were lots of new looking tie down to secure them. The crossing was very calm. The boat is very nice and there are all kinds of different seating options. There were 6 or 7 bars since this is a bit of a booze cruise at night. There were 2 different bars with live band playing.

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The forecast was for a light rain, but when we unloaded it was torrentially raining. We had planned to camp, but even the streets were flooded so we did not think the campground would be better. The first few places we stopped were full and one had a suite for 180$. We by then were a ways from the city and looped back to finally find a hotel at a reasonable price.

The next day of course it was spectacular. We drove to the old town and did a walking tour. There are 4 cruise ships docked today and so the old town was packed.

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Today we booked ferry tickets from Lithuania to Stockholm in 4 days time. That said we planned a loop through Estonia and into Latvia and Lithuania and planned at least 450 km per day.

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Day one we rode west to the coast 100 km to the “beach” town of Haapsalu. From here we backtracked 40 km and then rode south and west to Tartu. We took a lot of secondary and tertiary roads, some of which were dirt.

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Estonia is a very clean and prosperous looking country. The farms are neat and tidy and the homes even the old ones are well kept. The cities are very clean and beautiful. Also since these are relatively new countries in the Baltic region they are wired! They have the fastest intenet in Europe.

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Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia and was founded in 1030. We enjoyed the Main Square and dinner there.

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We continued south for a total of 491 km. We did not see any camping after about 2 pm of course. We ultimately crossed into Latvia and finally we found a hotel in Aluksne that let us camp on the lawn by their pond for 5 Euros. We had taken the dirt short cut to the town, which had some sections of very bad washboard.

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Riding south again we stopped and toured the city of Rezenke. Then we tried to stay off the highway, but this proved difficult on our way south to Lithuania.

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There was a section of about 50 km with construction where they had ripped up the roads and there were timed stoplights every few km. This got a bit much after the first few. It was worse because they were not coordinated at all. At some points when slow moving vehicles were coming towards us the light would already be green Once even they cars ran the red and we met them part way! Finally we got to the end and managed to get onto a decent secondary road. The last bit we were on the highway into the city. Here we again did a small tour into the Capital of Vilnius, with its beautiful architecture.

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Now we turned north towards Riga, which is our destination for tomorrow. Here we really tried to get off the highway, but several of the roads were dirt with some washboard again. Again we did not find any camping, but we did find a hotel in Panevezys after 537 tiring Kms.

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A beer and a beer/grapefruit drink in Lithuania = 1.34 Euros!

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We slept in today until 930, but it was no issue since we had only 167 km to go to Riga Latvia.

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We took the secondary roads all the way, which wound thru the forests and farms. The towns show their Soviet history.

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Arriving in Riga we had booked an apartment for 40 Euros in a city where hotels are very expensive. From the outside we were a bit worried, but it was very nice inside.

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We could walk across the river to the old town. On the way you pass the very modern library building.

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The city was having its annual summer festival and there was music and events all over the old town.

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We started with a visit to the Central market, which is housed in what were previously 5 German Zeppelin hangars. Here we enjoyed some local delicacies.

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From here we did a walking tour of the old city including some of the beautiful churches and art deco buildings. Here the men must remove their hats to go in to a church, but women need to put on a head covering. They have them to borrow so it is no issue.

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There are several famous landmarks here including the “3 brothers”, which are the oldest in the city. They are built in the 15 th, 17, and 18 th century.

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Dorothy you would love this! It was a garden party in the park and at each table there was an activity (like write a letter on an old fashion typewriter) or craft.

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Funny we ran into this Swiss biker that we had met at the Helsinki camping. We also ran into him a few days later downtown. And today we saw him in Riga.

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At the center of the Town Hall Square is a statue of Roland, the Patron saint of Riga. The most memorable building on the square is the House of Blackheads, rebuilt after WWII. It was once the headquarters for the Blackheads Society, a group of “unmarried” German merchants.

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Riga’s Freedom Monument survived the Soviet rule because of a clever change in the symbolism of the robed woman holding three stars up. These stars originally signified Latvia’s three regions, but during Soviet times, the meaning was changed to prevent its demolition. The three stars were assigned to represent the three Baltic Republics, and the woman holding them represented Mother Russia.

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Riga’s Powder Tower, which once held gunpowder, is a relic of Riga’s medieval defensive systems. Today it is a part of the Military Museum.

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The Three Brothers buildings, located side by side on Maza Pils at numbers 17, 19, and 21, represent three architectural styles present in Old Town and are the oldest stone houses in existence in Riga. They were built in the 15th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

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Riga Cathedral, or Rigas Doms, is a massive Lutheran church originally dating from the early 13th century. Riga Cathedral is impressive for being the largest medieval church in the Baltics, its two-meter-thick walls, and its enormous pipe organ. During Soviet times, it was used as a concert hall.

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The Swedish Gate was built in the latter part of the 17th century. Most of Riga’s walls, gates, and defensive systems have long since been torn down, but the Swedish Gate remains.

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We did a bit of a walk into the city on our side of the river, where there are several large parks and the area famous for the old wooden houses. These are in stark contrast to the Soviet area concrete buildings.

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One Response to The Baltic Countries

  1. Norbert says:

    Hi Sara and Dan .
    Beautiful pictures and a lot of history,I don’t think in Canada or the USA people realize the history and Culture in Europa and the wonderful Building,you have put an enormous amount of hard work to let us know there are other cultures than Hollywood and Las Vegas .
    Norbert

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