Out of the Soviet shadow

RUSSIAN REVIVAL STYLE: Alexander Nevski Cathedral in the old city of Tallinn is a Russian revival style Orthodox Church, built between 1894 and 1900.
DANCING IN THE PARK: a classic example of Latvian folk dancing and costumes in Riga.
KADRIORG PALACE: Built between 1718 and 1725 by Peter the Great for his second wife Catherine, the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn currently houses the Kadriorg Art Museum.
CATHEDRAL SQUARE, VILNIUS: Cathedral Square is the main square of the old city in Vilnius, Lithuania. It features the cathedral, its bell tower and a monument to Grand Duke Gediminas.
CASTLE RUINS: The ruins of Gediminas Castle in Vilnius, Lithuania. The first wooden fortifications were built by Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and the first brick castle was completed in 1409 by Grand Duke Vytautas.
NATIONAL LIBRARY: The main building of the National Library of Latvia in Riga, also known as the Castle of Light. It contains 4.1 million books and other publications.
DOWNTOWN RIGA: Left, a tourist bus in downtown Riga, with the Vansu Bridge in the background.
GATES OF DAWN: The Gates of Dawn entrance to the old city of Vilnius in Lithuania.
THE THREE CROSSES: The Three Crosses is a prominent monument in Vilnius, Lithuania. Legend has it that the original monument was a memorial to seven priests who were beheaded there in the 17th century.
PAPER BIRDS: Millo’s paper birds in Vilnius Lithuania. From a street art festival in 2015.
BUSKING IN TALLINN: Street Buskers in Tallinn’s old city.
SOLDIERS HONOURED: Freedom Monument in Riga is in honour of the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920).
PITKA MEMORIAL: The Johan Pitka Memorial Statue in Tallinn. Pitka was a famous Estonian military commander from the Estonian War of Independence until World War 2. He was also a sea captain, a businessman and a farmer.
ON STAGE: Youthful singers, part of the Riga Summer music festival.

Phil and Sue Newdick continue their travels in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania . . .

A two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki to Tallinn took us on to our next Baltic state, Estonia; another country, different customs and a different language.

It is claimed that Estonia uses a language that is different to most others, however this is not an issue for us as there are plenty of people here who not only speak English but are willing to help “turists”.
Tallinn has retained and restored a lot of its older buildings, and a visit to the Old Town is a step back into another century.

Like Finland, the currency is the euro, and the weather is still very similar to what we have seen. A bit cool, low 20s. The city is even flatter than Helsinki and although there is a good metro system, we walked most of the town — in spite of the constant threat of rain. We were unable to find an apartment in Tallinn, however we had found a good hotel and really enjoyed the luxury of not fending for ourselves.

Before leaving home we had done a bit of research on transport in the Baltic states and had seen references to railway services. The reality is the few short sections of rail still operational are really only good for short daily excursions, not national or international travel. However, we stumbled on to enough information to plan what turned out to be a very comfortable, reliable bus service that took us through the Baltic states and into Poland, where we were able to continue on with our favourite form of travel.

Our next journey was by bus to Riga in Latvia, where we had booked an apartment with all the necessities we needed for a six-day stay. This gave us some time to catch up with our laundry and come up with a plan for the next couple of steps of our journey.

We quickly discovered that Riga is a first-class destination.

Our knowledge of the politics and the culture of the Baltic states was so limited. We were shocked to learn that the Soviets, as allies of the Nazis, invaded and occupied Latvia and the Baltic States. In 1939 when Hitler invaded, they considered they would be better off under the Nazis than the Soviets — big mistake, as they soon realised.

Along come the Allies with the promise that after WW2 all borders would be restored to pre-1939 boundaries. Sadly the allies neglected to convince the Russians, who continued to occupy these states under the pretext of annexation until the Soviet bubble burst in the 1990s.

The claim that these states suffered all the adverse effects of a 50-year occupation is very true. One huge effect was the migration policies that reduced the Latvian population to 52 percent. However, we saw a population rejoicing in what they had left and just getting on with things — due in no small way to their entry into the EU and its support.

These opinions we have formed in no way cast any aspersions on the warm-hearted people we have met on this trip, just condemnation of the political regimes that have dominated their recent history.

Our apartment in Riga was not the most luxurious but ticked all the boxes for convenience, including a good bus service to and from all the bits that we want to see.

The weather continued pretty much the same as it had all trip — plenty of water to make the flowers grow, but enough fine weather to keep us busy exploring.

During our stay in Riga there was a music festival, and it really was great to see the locals performing their dances and songs in the streets. The restored buildings of the old city and happy people — it seems as if celebrations for the end of the occupation will go on for a while yet — made for a fantastic atmosphere.
We used a day of rain as a rest day to catch up on laundry and to plan our trip into Lithuania and on to Poland.

Five hours in the top of a very comfortable double-deck bus, we then took a short commuter bus journey to our next “home” — aptly named Cosy apartments — in Vilnius, Lithuania.

We were in Vilnius for four days. The weather continued to be a bit cooler than we had anticipated, but hardy souls that we are we donned warmer gear and got on with the touristy bits.

Vilnius still has older parts to the city, but not as much as the other Baltic states. The evidence of the extended Soviet occupation is still very evident; the attitude of the people today is a good indication of how much of a relief it is to have that cast aside and be able to govern themselves.

Phil and Sue Newdick continue their travels in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania . . .

A two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki to Tallinn took us on to our next Baltic state, Estonia; another country, different customs and a different language.

It is claimed that Estonia uses a language that is different to most others, however this is not an issue for us as there are plenty of people here who not only speak English but are willing to help “turists”.
Tallinn has retained and restored a lot of its older buildings, and a visit to the Old Town is a step back into another century.

Like Finland, the currency is the euro, and the weather is still very similar to what we have seen. A bit cool, low 20s. The city is even flatter than Helsinki and although there is a good metro system, we walked most of the town — in spite of the constant threat of rain. We were unable to find an apartment in Tallinn, however we had found a good hotel and really enjoyed the luxury of not fending for ourselves.

Before leaving home we had done a bit of research on transport in the Baltic states and had seen references to railway services. The reality is the few short sections of rail still operational are really only good for short daily excursions, not national or international travel. However, we stumbled on to enough information to plan what turned out to be a very comfortable, reliable bus service that took us through the Baltic states and into Poland, where we were able to continue on with our favourite form of travel.

Our next journey was by bus to Riga in Latvia, where we had booked an apartment with all the necessities we needed for a six-day stay. This gave us some time to catch up with our laundry and come up with a plan for the next couple of steps of our journey.

We quickly discovered that Riga is a first-class destination.

Our knowledge of the politics and the culture of the Baltic states was so limited. We were shocked to learn that the Soviets, as allies of the Nazis, invaded and occupied Latvia and the Baltic States. In 1939 when Hitler invaded, they considered they would be better off under the Nazis than the Soviets — big mistake, as they soon realised.

Along come the Allies with the promise that after WW2 all borders would be restored to pre-1939 boundaries. Sadly the allies neglected to convince the Russians, who continued to occupy these states under the pretext of annexation until the Soviet bubble burst in the 1990s.

The claim that these states suffered all the adverse effects of a 50-year occupation is very true. One huge effect was the migration policies that reduced the Latvian population to 52 percent. However, we saw a population rejoicing in what they had left and just getting on with things — due in no small way to their entry into the EU and its support.

These opinions we have formed in no way cast any aspersions on the warm-hearted people we have met on this trip, just condemnation of the political regimes that have dominated their recent history.

Our apartment in Riga was not the most luxurious but ticked all the boxes for convenience, including a good bus service to and from all the bits that we want to see.

The weather continued pretty much the same as it had all trip — plenty of water to make the flowers grow, but enough fine weather to keep us busy exploring.

During our stay in Riga there was a music festival, and it really was great to see the locals performing their dances and songs in the streets. The restored buildings of the old city and happy people — it seems as if celebrations for the end of the occupation will go on for a while yet — made for a fantastic atmosphere.
We used a day of rain as a rest day to catch up on laundry and to plan our trip into Lithuania and on to Poland.

Five hours in the top of a very comfortable double-deck bus, we then took a short commuter bus journey to our next “home” — aptly named Cosy apartments — in Vilnius, Lithuania.

We were in Vilnius for four days. The weather continued to be a bit cooler than we had anticipated, but hardy souls that we are we donned warmer gear and got on with the touristy bits.

Vilnius still has older parts to the city, but not as much as the other Baltic states. The evidence of the extended Soviet occupation is still very evident; the attitude of the people today is a good indication of how much of a relief it is to have that cast aside and be able to govern themselves.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.