After our express tour of Saint Petersburg got us back into Helsinki, we jumped straight from one boat to another to take us to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Tallinn is one of the oldest capital cities in the world and the old town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world according to Unesco.
We were pretty exhausted by the time we arrived, the previous 2 weeks had been pretty hectic, so it was a great time for us to chill out and relax and start planning again for the next few weeks. The great thing about this part of the world is the internet speed is amazing. They have the most internet startups per person in Europe and Skype was also born here. Another country of very interesting history, between the Danes, Swedes, Russians and even Nazis, the country has been occupied for nearly its entire history. They had a short period of independence (22 years) between the two world wars but it wasn’t until 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union that they regained their independence.
We had exhausted our enthusiasm for museums over the previous couple of weeks so we limited our cultural intake to a single walking tour. Otherwise, while we weren’t catching up on Netflix, we spent our time exploring the city, walking the cobblestone streets of the old town and finding new sights to see and new places to eat.
It is fascinating that after such a long period of time with so many different inhabiters that the old medieval town still exists so extensively. A lot of shops and restaurants are built into the original medieval walls so it’s pretty cool to sit there and have a coffee or lunch amongst a wall that is 800 years old. We found the Estonian people pretty friendly and learnt that in the Estonian language there is no future tense and no gender differentiation, so it’s said they have no future and no sex! Poor country!
From Tallinn we jumped on a bus and headed south to a town called Pärnu, a popular summer holiday spot and also the location of the largest dance festival in Scandinavia. The bus ride is worth mentioning. It cost $5 euro each and it was a 2 hour journey, which in itself is good enough value but it was a luxury coach with wifi and screens on the back of every seat.
We meandered around Pärnu for the afternoon but found that the town didn’t have much to offer, most likely because it’s not summer holiday season. There was no one around and the weather was chilly. We gave the #1 restaurant on trip advisor a go for dinner. It was a pizza place that was extremely popular. Just after we arrived, the line was consistently 15-20 people long for the entire time we were there. Despite this, we decided it’s more than likely a #1 due to lack of competition rather than exceptional pizza.
After a night in Pärnu it was time to head to Riga, the capital of Latvia. The Latvian history is quite similar to the Estonian history, but without as much Scandinavian influence. Our time in Riga was a little similar to Tallinn. We had an afternoon of glorious springtime weather and we spent about three hours napping under the warm sunshine in a park with about 50 locals, all students or old people. The city has an old town that we spent a couple of days exploring its many nooks and crannies. It has interesting architecture with a medieval core which was originally made up of wooden buildings but as they had all been destroyed over time they are all built from stone in an art nouveau style.
Our stay was punctuated by a quick trip back home (or as close as we could get – the Kiwi Bar) to watch the Dreamtime at the G between Essendon v Richmond. The city certainly tried to make us feel at home by doing its best four seasons in one day impression, the afternoon was cold wet and miserable but by dinner time the weather had turned and we got a beautiful sunset.
We had dinner at a place that was one of the more popular restaurants in town, luckily we had a reservation as every minute or so people came in asking for a table and were rejected. After eating the food we’re almost jealous of them as they missed out on some pretty disappointing food. We’re starting to think Baltic Food isn’t for us, hopefully it’ll get better.
We’ve now hired a car and are spending a couple of weeks driving around Latvia and Lithuania.