The night time journey from Latvia to Estonia didn't seem like such a great idea when we turned up in the next country with very tired eyes. Nevertheless, this quickly escaped me when I saw that Tallin Coach Station had bed like seats. 7am and we all practically landed on them and were in zzz land within minutes. Thank you Estonia. This little blast of sleep allowed us to play tourists in a less delirious state. We tried to find the apartment we rented and couldn't work out if we were at the right place of not. "This is definitely 21 ...." We didn't keno our exact apartment number but we got into the inside and Mimi and Dani decide to leave their heavy bags under the stairs until it was check in time. I kept mine as I had all the travel documents and figured it would be more akward to carry folders than my backpack.
First stop, thanks to our bellies calling, was the Reval Cafe which on troposo said it was a cafe with good breakfast enjoyed by the locals. Count me in, two of my favourite things; breakfast and local places. Nevertheless on this occasion we didn't have the option to opt for local food but my favourite breakfast of salmon poached eggs on toast yum and of course coffee (Italian haha). We did watch a local mum as she allowed her baby to wander the cafe out of her view only to stand behind the door and get smacked down by another breakfast hunter entering. Ouch.
This breakfast set us up quite nicely to enjoy the noon free walking tour. Lots of internationals joined together to listen to a young girl who although seemed quite nervous, had a great deal of knowledge. Estonia has only been an independent country for 21 years and basically the Germans and the Russians chopped and changed as owners.
The photos above are the Kiek in de Kek which means towers in German or according to our tourguide cook in the kitchen. There are two stories about how it got its name. The tourguide said that it was because the kitchen was the most prominent part of the tower and most central. The other reason was that you were able to see what's cooking in nearby houses.
This is the War of Independence Victory Column which was erected in the square as a marker of pride at the country finally getting independence. However, because 75% of Estonians are athiasts they really don't like how it looks as well as them feeling like it looks "Nazi" so therefore they don't feel it really represents the country.
The story about the picture above (Look closely for two different stone parts) was one of my favourites. The city used to be divided into two and you had to get back into your side if you were at the other by midnight. A young in love couple from different sides underestimated the time it would take to get home and as midnight was approaching they started to run back only to be turned to stone together as the clock struck 12. So now these are Tall Hermann and Fat Margaret - the towers is Toompea Castle.
We really enjoyed the tour and ended up in the main square where we ate at a medieval resturant. We enjoyed a bowl of Elk soup, different pastries and local beer for very cheap. The place was really cool - the woman spoke to us like we were in the medieval times, it was very dark and only lit by candles,and you didn't get a spoon to eat your soup with.
Following this we headed back towars the apartment to check in via a few shops to try on some cool hats. Winter days approaching, I wonder what people would think if had hat like this on my head?
I then got an email from the people who own the apartments to say they would meet us at the address "36 maakri" which definitely wasn't where they left their bags. Oops. So we went back to the apartments and Mimi buzzed in and thankfully the bags were there. We went along to the next address but because my phone had died I couldn't call them to tell them we were there. So thanks to the electricity of the Radison Hotel, I was able to charge phone and call him. Result. The apartment was really nice. A good size and would be perfect for any group travelling.
After naps and showers, we headed out for dinner and went to Tommi's Bar and Grill. Litre beers were the happy hour drink only costing less than 3 euros. We ordered lots of different foods for us to share. The thick Russian soup was so good as well as everything else. My favourite meal of the trip :)
Using our map we then scoped out a few more places. We went into Red Emperor Hostel Bar but it looked like a student hallway so we quickly left and went to Valli Bar to try their in house famous shot "millimallikas". In agreeance with the map blurb, this was a small stinky bar with elderly irregular regulars. I hate doing shots and usually sip them, however, their millimallikas made me hate them even more. This was the most disgusting thing ever. Alcohol topped with Tabasco sauce and my usually tactic of doing it in a couple of sips led me to being mocked by the locals and a very on fire throat.
Onto the Drink Bar and grill described as the beer Mecca of Tallin. We just shared a beer and relaxed a little in there before heading to the Hell Hunt which is the oldest new pub in Estonia (open since 1993) which has weird animal head dolls on the wall and doors on seeking. We also like the sign which was translated - 1 soup, 1 steak and 1 beer.
Overall an interesting night in Estonia.
Waking up in Riga, excited to explore another city. Checking my app we looked up places for traditional breakfast and found a brilliant restaurant. We had a breakfast for queens for so cheap.
Different types of pancakes - the banana and cheese were so yummy; different patties - chicken and pork; eggs; a variety of smoothies; good coffee; lots of fresh fruit and juices. This was on the outside of Vermanes Gardens (the oldest park in Riga) which we walked through after our massive breakfast.
We explored the different tourist attractions such as the Freedom Monument which was made to honor soldiers killed in the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920).
In the midst of touring we met two German girls who had been travelling a lot so we sat down with them for a while and had some chat. One girl sounded like a German Australian as she changed between accents frequently.
In search for the castle, we realised we had walked past it. Unable to see it from all the constructions, it definitely isn't a competitor for the best castle.
We took a break from walking in a local traditional resturant and enjoyed some Latvian beers and snacks. Following this we ticked off a few more attractions such as the Swede Gate and the many churches. We met a very interesting character outside one of the churches. There was a wedding taking place so when asked her if she was going to the wedding, she said no and that she just came to see the flowers🌼🌺🌷🌸 because she likes nature. I then asked if she was from Latvia and she answered, "so, so!" Anyway this just added to the observation that both Lithuanians and Latvians have a great love for flowers. Flowers everywhere. r
We then enjoyed a balsalm (a fruity drink) before going to Spot for Happy hour and meeting a very nice Estonian guy who told us all about the history and local eats. It was he who advised us to curb our craving for local food by eating at Ala. Although he did say beforehand that it wouldn't be as good as home cooked food and that we should just pay a local to eat at their home or could get his mum to cook.
We ended up at Ala which was a huge medieval place with live music and food samples coming around on a regular basis. We played the game, "where are they from?" And didn't do well at guessing people's nationalities. However this got is talking to lots of different people - Swedish school teachers, Japanese tourists, German bowlers, a five aside football team from London and some more English people. Oh and let's not forget the one local that we found.
We ordered drinks and also a platter to share. The platter was huge consisting of pickled herring, cheeses, ham, chicken, carrots, bread, horseradishes, etc.
Dani enjoyed some dancing with the lady pensioner and then we has some banter with the Englishman. It was then time to get back to get our bags so we could head to the bus stop which we turned up on time for :)Finishing our trip with games of pool in hotel, I managed to surprise myself and win two games. I guess this was because of pocketing blacks and also a white once hit the winner haha!
After a morning workout of runs and TRX and a yummy omelette (with a side of peas...random), we embarked on the bus journey to Vilnuis.
After an hour and a half trip of tossing and turning sleep, we arrived to the Lithuanian capital. Through the Gate of Dawn, we found a fire fighting competition outside the town hall.
My competitive side really wanted a try at the body carrying, hose firing race. Instead we watched and later got a shot on fire engine :)
Continuing on the sightseeing route, we came across the European Space Expo. Lithuanian are having their first satellite into space which was exhibited along with lots of other cool interactive learning screens. The place was filled with school children so we were glad when we finally got an activity station to ourselves and learnt about pollution etc.
The castle was next on our list and we decided to take the cable car up to the sky. The most amazing views of the city along with sounds of the busy life below. Over 40 churches and Vilnuis was quite apparent from the castle view.
We could no longer take the hunger anymore so we ate at a traditional restaurant with outside seating on the busy Pilies Street. The waitresses were quite blunt and the food wasn't as good as the food in Kaunas. We tried the traditional buckwheat pancakes along with dumplings and it didn't quite agree with my taste buds. l
In the mission to see the rest of the sites, we got caught in rain storm and ran into the closest place. The 'white elephant' was a vegetarian quirky place with a lot of cool characters. We enjoyed a coffee until the rain went off and headed to Snekutis for our dinner and litre beer.
The place is owned by a fifty something moustache'd man who we were happy to see he was working there so we could get a picture of him. This pub was small with a lot of charm. Thinking we were close to the bus station, we enjoyed some fried dumpling and beetroot soup. Yum.
The time came when we had to leave for our bus to Latvia just as another downpour started. Since the bus station wasn't as easy to find as it looked on the map we were scurrying around to find it. On arrival, like a drowned rat and with only five minutes to spare, we ran around the station looking for our bus and then an English speaking worker. Neither were to be seen. We went to the information desk who advised us that we had missed the bus and we were supposed to get it from city centre. Oops. So plan b? What do we do now? Squelching feet and very few Lithuanian Lats? we then were informed there was a bus at 1030 which is the time we were supposed to arrive in Latvia and meet Mimi. Well with it being our only option, we decided to stay close to station to make sure we made it. The next three hours were spent in MacDonalds using their wifi and having the smallest coffee each. The basketball was on too so it wasn't that bad. We went to the bus stop with plenty of time and our puppy dog eyes didn't work with the driver to let us use our other ticket so we were luckily able to use card to buy new tickets.
4 hours later we arrived in Riga, Latvia and luckily Mimi was tucked up safely in bed. The A1 hotel was nice but we obviously didn't spend a lot of time there but the sleep did feel great.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.