Day 134 to 154
03.06.2013 - 23.06.2013 22 °C
After a busy few days in Helsinki, Finland we boarded the two hour ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. Both of us agreed upon arriving in Tallinn that it felt like a second home and that having been to Tallinn before we knew our way around immediately. Having been to Tallinn before we didn’t immediately head out and do all the touristy things, we mainly wandered around the Old Town and reacquainted ourselves with Tallinn. We noticed a few things had changed since we were last here four years ago; there were a lot more tourists, there was even a Hop-on Hop-off bus making its way around the city. Since last being in Tallinn, Estonia has adopted the Euro and from a tourist point of view prices in some restaurants had definitely increased; however, as Rein’s cousin (who lives in Tallinn) told us the local’s wages haven’t necessarily increased with these price increases. Rein’s cousin, plays the piano accordion in a jazz band and we were lucky enough to see his band, Abraham’s Café, play in Tallinn. We also were lucky enough to have arrived in Tallinn when the Old Town Days festival was in full swing. This festival celebrates the history of Tallinn in the medieval times. As part of these celebrations was a May Count Tournament, which is where the best sons of Tallinn make their way to the countryside to test their weapon handling skills to make sure Tallinn’s defence system remains strong. At the end of the tournament the best ‘Count’ is chosen and as his reward he gets to choose his favourite Countess!
After a long overnight bus ride (and almost hitting a moose along the way!!) from Tallinn to Vilnius we arrived in Lithuania. It was a bit of a shaky start as we were very tired and had a hard time finding our hostel but once we checked in and got some food and sleep we were as good as new. After acquainting ourselves with Vilnius we headed over to the KGB Museum (one of many in the Baltic states). We spent three quite eye opening and depressing hours at the museum, there was so much information to comprehend in regards to the occupation of Lithuania by both German and Soviet forces. If learning about some of the horrible circumstances of those times wasn’t enough the basement of the building was the old KGB prison where you could see firsthand what conditions political prisoners faced, including an execution chamber. On a much lighter note like lots of other countries in this area of the world Lithuania is very flat, with not many hills, let alone mountains. However, in the middle of Vilnius there is a small hill on top of which the old town castle is positioned. This viewpoint offered amazing views over Vilnius and the surrounding areas. We also visited Užupis, an independent state within the city of Vilnius. If anyone has heard of Christina in Denmark then you know roughly what we’re talking about (although the people of Užupis don’t sell marijuana). On one of the walls in Užupis there is their constitution in about 25 languages. One of our favourites from the constitution was that ‘A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need’ and ‘Everyone has the right to make mistakes’ and many other great examples.
After Vilnius it was onto the capital of Latvia, Riga. The old town of Riga reminded us very much of Tallinn as it was relatively intact, compared to Vilnius’s old town which has mostly been destroyed over the years. We went on one of the free walking tours that Riga offers and went to the lesser known parts of town. One of these stops was in the food markets which are the biggest undercover food markets in northern Europe. These buildings were built and before they put on a regular roof they recommissioned four Zeppelin hanger roofs from another town near Riga as the roofs for the markets. This creates what feels like a massive space for the markets. There is a hall for meat, vegetables, dairy, and fish. On the walking tour we also visited the Academy of Sciences building, nicknamed “Stalin’s Birthday Cake’. Originally this building was built (during Stalin’s time) as a gift from other Soviet countries to the people of Latvia and was supposed to have a statue of Stalin on top; however, Stalin died halfway through the building process so this addition was abandoned. Today it functions as a regular office building.
We are now back in Tallinn, Estonia awaiting the arrival of Rein's parents and sister who will travel with us around the Estonian countryside.