Monthly Archives: October 2019

#26 Lithuania


Having discovered the comfort, affordability and convenience of bus travel in the Baltic States, Peter and Penny again caught the Lux Express to their fourth and final destination on this Northern European tour. Though still chilly, they were glad of some drier weather to explore the beautiful city of Vilnius. They dropped off their luggage and headed straight for the Old Town, entering through the Gate of Dawn, where visitors come to venerate a golden icon of the Virgin Mary. While strolling the cobbled streets, the pair wondered why they had heard so little about the stunning architecture of Vilnius, which to them rivals that of any greatly acclaimed city in Europe. They found their way to Cathedral Square, intrigued by the bright, columned Cathedral lined with statues and the separate, even more imposing bell tower. They thought the exterior of this Cathedral, one of many churches to see in Vilnius, unusual in its design, though as ornately and impressively decorated both within and out as any they had come across. With so much to see and learn about, Peter and Penny decided a walking tour was in order. So bright and early Sunday morning they headed for the Town Hall meeting point, from where a knowledgeable and engaging tour guide led them through the sites of Old Town including the former Jewish Ghetto. They learned with dismay that Vilnius, once known as the Jerusalem of the North, had had a significant Jewish population before WW2. Later, they temporarily left their 26th country and crossed a bridge into the artsy neighbourhood known as the Republic of Užupis. They found out that though only fictionally independent, it boasts its own currency, flag and constitution and annually celebrates its independence on April 1st every year. They perused the many mirror plaque translations of Užupis’ quirky constitution, stopping to read it in English and surprised to find it in Irish. Following their tour, the pair relaxed over a potato pancake lunch before one last uphill walk to see the Gediminas Castle Tower and catch a view of the charming city from above. With so much to write home about, Peter and Penny felt #26 Lithuania was the perfect end to their autumn tour.


#25 Latvia


The pair next hopped on a bus from Tallinn and headed south to Riga, with nothing but endless green fields to look at on the way. They arrived to find a rainy capital city, so quickly relieved themselves of their bags, donned their coats and set off into the old town. After a quick stop for burgers they began to explore the old red bricked buildings before quickly realising that Penny needed to do an extra bit of clothes shopping if she was going to brave the colder weather that had decided to join them on their trip. All hopped up Peter & Penny set off to scale the large tower of St. Peter’s Church that lay imposingly right in the middle of the old town. They both reckoned that if they could make it up this would be the best view of all of Riga. On the way up the stairs they read about the peaceful demonstration against Soviet rule by the Baltic people in 1989 where 2 million of them held hands across the 3 countries. They spanned all the way from Tallinn, through Riga and down to Vilnius. Peter & Penny were thrilled to learn that now, almost exactly 30 years later, they were lucky enough to be travelling along what has now come to be known as ‘The Baltic Way’. They made it to the old rickety elevator that lurched and groaned as it slowly pulled them up to the summit of St. Peter’s. The view was no disappointment. They saw the whole of Riga, from the Soviet styled Academy of Sciences building right across to the ultra-modern radio and TV tower. As the wind picked up Peter & Penny quickly descended back down onto the streets of old town and made a beeline for the House of the Black Heads. They learnt a lot about the fascinating history of this ancient brotherhood of merchants that once travelled through this region, as well as the rich history of the Latvian people. The pair soon had to pack up and leave, but they came away with a great deal more knowledge about this part of the world, as well as a lovely photo just as the sun popped out and shone across country #25 Latvia.


#24 Estonia


After a short, calm sail, Peter and Penny disembarked in rainy Tallinn and hopped in a taxi that took them as close to their hotel as the cobbled streets of Old Town would allow. Even on a grey day, they could already appreciate the charm of this walled city. Their hotel itself, with its old fashioned lift and ornate furnishings, added to the authenticity of its historic surroundings and the pair could hardly believe their luck when they spotted the incredible view of St Nicholas’ Church and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral from their window. With limited time to see the city, they set out as night fell to visit the nearby Freedom Square and sample the exceptional local cuisine. They soon realised that delicious food would be a main feature of their stay in Tallinn. The next morning, they went to see the splendid Alexander Nevsky Cathedral up close in daylight and glimpse an elevated view of the red roofed towers of Old Town. Circling back to greet the cheerful Chimney Sweep at Karjavärava plats, they then caught the bus toward the Harbour to Lennusadam maritime museum. With simulated plane rides and interactive exhibitions, not to mention sailor costumes to try on, there was plenty to see and do here. But exploring the inside of the 1936 Lembit submarine was a true highlight of their trip to country #24 Estonia. As they strolled back to Old Town, Peter was lured by the sweet smell of roasted almonds to the medieval Olde Hansa restaurant for a sticky snack to tide him over till his next gourmet Estonian meal.