Every time I look into booking a trip, I always look to see if we can knock out at least a couple countries if possible. When I looked at booking a trip to the Baltics, I knew it would be quite easy to see Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a short amount of time. I also looked at adding Belarus to the trip, but after learning about the visa hassle, I decided against it. So we were off to the Baltics, not to be confused wit the Balkans, and during our trip we would hit our 40th country! When I said I wanted us to visit 50 countries before we settled down, I didn’t really think we could reach it. But at the time that I wrote this, we were already sitting on 43 and had plans to already be on 47 before the end of summer. I think we’ll hit 50 and keep going strong.

Orthodox church atop the hill in Tallinn

So we started the trip in Tallin, after a 2 hour flight on Estonian Airlines, yet another one to add to the list. I should put together a list of airlines that we’ve flown as well, that could be quite a list as well. Anyway, so we were coming in for landing, and I got deja vu as the area looked in pretty bad shape, and in fact the airport looked like it was surrounded by a ghetto! Well, it actually was a ghetto, and one of the poorest parts of Tallinn. Good thing the old town area was the exact opposite of this, otherwise I fear we would’ve been on the first flight out of Estonia, stat!

“Make sure the Church is in the middle or off to the side…ok thx!”…ugh

We were only staying in Tallinn for one night, so in our typical style, we needed to conquer the city quick. Well, not knowing that old town was as small as it actually is, we conquered all the sights in about 3 hours, tops! We spent a majority of the time at a cafe on the square drinking, and enjoying some of the best soup we’ve ever had. It was smoked gouda cheese soup with bacon. Now, meat is a staple of the Baltics, and it’s everywhere. I don’t know how the girls stay so thin, but you can’t escape meat here. Vegans, collect your and keep moving because there is nothing to see here. We had a nice dinner, although very heavy even for our tastes, and crashed for the night so we could be fresh for our bus ride down to Riga, Latvia!

old town square in Tallinn

We hopped the bus, which was actually quite nice, and headed to Latvia. The scenery between the two cities was, well, dreadful. There is nothing to see, and nothing to travel back for either. Then again, didn’t expect much, so just wanted to get to Riga. We pulled into the bus station, and nothing looked that great to be honest, but we had to walk for about 10 minutes to reach the old town area and our hotel. We turned the corner, and it we did a 180, as the old town area was beautiful and what we expected. Our hotel was quite unique, as it was built within the walls of an old building that was either torn down or bombed out. The backdrop of our bed was actually the original brick wall of the old building, quite unique actually.

our room at Old City Hotel in Riga

The old town area was great, and very easy to get around. Don’t think many cars have ever made it through Riga’s old town area, as the stones were still pretty jagged in areas, and hadn’t been worn down much. The architecture was very similar to Tallinns, as was the craving for meat 🙂 The weather was great, so we just walked around all day, looked at about a dozen church’s, and then once again, sat in the square and had some drinks while we people watched. After heading back to the hotel just to change, we headed out to some popular local stop for dinner, which was extremely cheap for the amount of food they gave you. Cheap is a word that is synonymous with Eastern Europe, and still holds true in the Baltics somewhat, but I can see prices creeping up slowly as they become even more popular. Glad we stopped by when we did. After taking a late stroll through town and admiring everything lit up, we crashed out and got ready for our trip down to Vilnius, Lithuania!

Freedom Tower in Riga…guarded 24/7 by two people

Morning came, breakfast was had, and we were off to the bus station one last time to head to Vilnius! This is a country that I always heard about growing up, especially during the Barcelona Olympics when their first national basketball team was allowed to play following the end of the Russian occupation. They were made famous by the tie-dye basketball shirts they wore as warm ups. Anyway, we arrived in Vilnius around 4pm, and again, I looked around and had thought I made a huge mistake, since everything looked very drab and dreary. A local man actually spotted us, and pointed in the right direction to our hotel. We walked down the road and saw a gate-like opening on the right side. We walked through it, and immediately things changed. All of these old towns in these cities are shut off because they were walled in like a fortress, just seems strange that nothing outside those walls ever developed as nicely.

Vegans Welcome??

So we roll in to Vilnius and walk around a bit, and much to our surprise, find the city very appealing. It was quiet that day, seeing it was Easter, but we could tell the city was pretty lively none the less. We had dinner at this basement restaurant, that was a favorite among the locals, and came on the recommendation of a business colleague. It lived up to its hype, and even made it’s own beer, which made it more special for me. Again, the food was extremely heavy, and we left quite a bit on our plates, but that’s ok, since again, it was cheap. We tackled the city early the next day, and hit every spot we read about and more, including walking through the part of town that is still identical to the time it was Russian occupied. You will be able to appreciate what we saw a bit more by the pictures we took, but fair to say that Vilnius was a surprise to us, and the highlight of the trip!

sign as you enter the “Russian Occupation” part of town

Also on day 2, we headed out to a small town about 30 minutes outside of Vilnius called Trakai. The town is famous for and old castle that lies on an island in town, and is extremely well preserved. It was the off season, so we figured we could get some good pictures that would make it seem like we were the only people there. I think we succeeded:

Trakai Castle

All in all I really enjoyed Vilnius, and would like to see other parts, especially Klaipeda on the coast, but that was all the time we had for this adventure. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to Belarus now seeing it’s not the easiest country to get to with the visa situation, and there is nothing near it that would be easy to go to either, but that really has never stopped us, so who knows.

Our snack outside the castle…deep fried garlic bread with cheese….nom nom

Keep on traveling!

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