Five months after my last trip to Scandinavia I decided to visit the Baltic again – and set off for my first destination: Helsinki. I had expected it to be much colder there, but the temperature was actually no lower than 16°C. To my constant surprise as I traveled around the Baltic the weather remained bright and sunny – while in Dubrovnik, I heard, it hardly stopped raining! This time the luck was with me!
I have to admit that I was not impressed by Helsinki as a city – I even found it rather boring. The only photo I was pleased with was one of the cathedral – otherwise it was all rather disappointing. The streets of Helsinki seem to be deserted after office hours, and the entire city is eerily quiet with only the sound of trams breaking the silence.
Boarding the boat to Tallinn is a quite an event because the Finns are so eagerly prepared for the shopping! I remember hearing from various sailors that the alcohol is cheap enough in Estonia to make it well worth the trip. This is hardly surprising as every other country in this region has prices that are around half those in Finland. The ferry to Estonia is more like a cruiser than like our ferries in Croatia, and seem to be all about opportunities to part with money! But I chose the sun deck and basked in the sun for the two-hour ride.
Tallinn is a really inspiring place, such a beautiful sense of restraint and simplicity. It is a city under UNESCO protection, and is big enough for tourists to lose their way wandering the streets, and the places that offered a break from the crowds came as quite a relief.
Paris of the North
The typical architectural style here – and later in Riga – is Art Nouveau. Exploring the more remote corners was fascinating, and my camera was constantly ready in my hands. After a long walk it is time for a break, and this is a country where you cannot possibly be a vegetarian. You cannot refuse the ubiquitous offers of deer, reindeer and other typical animals of the north. These and the constant flow of craft beers seem to be the local diet. I was surprised to find how many people, here and in Latvia, spoke Russian. The supposed minorities sometimes seemed to make up the majority! There were times that this Baltic region reminded me of the Balkans…
Always in sight of the hills I take the four hour bus journey to Latvia- more particularly to Riga. There is little traffic on the roads, both countries being only sparsely populated, with the recession causing many to leave. In Riga the church spires are a constant landmark and guided me towards the old town centre. The city is smaller than I expected, set between canals, the river and the sea.
It reminds me of the city of Gdansk in Poland, including the amber that seemed to be in every shop window. I have to admit I lost my way a couple of times in the maze of streets. And then I found it: our dear Orlando – he is there in Riga, just as he is in Dubrovnik. The days pass quickly and my mind is adjusting again to the prospect of returning to work. A two hour flight and I am back in Dubrovnik – where the sun is shining once more and I am happy to be back; and also happy to bring with me the memories of another new region explored.