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TRAVELLING IN THE BALTICS
Theres no doubt about it, the Balkans had definitely been a highlight on my four month tour of Europe.
14 June 2014 Saturday 00:37
Theres no doubt about it, the Balkans had definitely been a highlight on my four month tour of Europe. Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia had totally surpassed my expectations and I was ready to explore the rest of Europe. This time though, it was the turn of the Baltic states made up of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in northern Europe, near Russia.
These former Soviet states are fast becoming the new hot spots for European breaks. Cheap drinks and a variety of nightlife attract groups of lads replacing Prague as a stag do location. Although there are a shortage of girls travelling alone here, the Baltics are incredibly safe, great for those on a budget, and are popular with travellers who travel from north to south or vice versa.
Youll find all sorts of activities here from staying overnight in a former Soviet prison (unfortunately only available from the summer months as I soon found out), bobsledding, husky dog sledding, paintballing or shooting an AK47 yes, you did hear right! Latvia even has an Australian Backpackers Bar a stationary campervan cleverly fitted out into a bar. Estonia offers party hostels with evening bar crawls where hoards of travellers descend upon the city drinking shots, snorting Absinth and drinking until 6am in the morning.
Transport is cheap, getting from capital to capital costs approx 15 with Ecolines or Simple Express. The food is cheap. Eat in traditional restaurants and you could spend less than 7 for a two course meal, or you can always try their own version of fast-food Hesburger, their equivalent of Macdonalds (although this has made its way across the Channel and does make an appearance). If you prefer coffee shops, Coffee Inn has scrumptious veggie wraps and mango smoothies with comfy seats to people watch and wile away the hours.
If you prefer somewhere a little less quiet, more authentic with a European charm then I definitely recommend Lithuania. The city of Vilnius with its Baroque style buildings and cobbled streets is the place to go to for those wanting to avoid the tourists. Its more untouched by tourism than Latvia and Estonia and is my favourite capital out of the three.
Take an alternative walking tour to explore a different side of Vilnius. Visit the quirky area of the Republic of Artists, only entered by those who promise to be creative. A road sign of the Mona Lisa before you cross the bridge is a warning for those who do not smile whilst entering. Lithuanians definitely have a sense of humour; from the statue of Jesus wearing a backpack (Lithuanians say he was the first backpacker) to the Square of Genocide with a cats nose with the tale that once rubbed, promises to grant your wish.
Although small, it has a Little Manhattan with skyscrapers that you can see from the panoramic view of Vilnius Hill and a Little Shanghai home to the gypsy population with shabby chic buildings. Although Lithuania neighbours Poland, its language is closer to that of Latvia a great country for my second stop.
Just a few hours by bus is Riga, the capital of Latvia with a stunning old town and a huge indoor market which was once the biggest in Europe. Most of the produce here is locally grown and if you visit at 6pm youll be able to pick up a bargain cheaper than any Latvian grocery store. No where is far here and it seems that just around every corner is another area to be discovered.
Theres an Italian courtyard, modern shops, a peaceful park, and even a Moscow-style town just a short tram ride away, transporting you back one hundred years. If you stay in Riga, you should definitely stay in the Old Town. Its cosy, colourful and has a really comforting feel to it.
Imagine being back in the Medieval times, playing archery, drinking hot wine and meandering around an old fortress. Well you can in Tallin, the capital of Estonia. Only 4.5 hours from Riga by bus, Tallin appears to have the largest Old Town where you can spot people dressed in traditional costumes and feel as though you have been transported back centuries before. Its a picturesque city to walk around in and has the same style colourful buildings in pastel pinks and yellow which seem typical for the Baltic capitals.
So how do they compare to the Balkans? They are definitely much colder (now I know where the saying Its Baltic comes from), and the Russian influence is there. But being only a 2.5 hour flight from the UK, they are perfect for a long weekend. Just dont forget to take a fleece with you
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