The Baltic States were a bit of a mystery to John Kirk, but they didn’t disappoint. John travelled on Intrepid’s Baltic Experience and in 15 days he visited 6 countries and enjoyed more surprises than he could count…
“The trip began with an unexpected highlight in Helsinki, the capital of Finland – it was a real gem. Our visit to the 250 year-old Suomenlinna Sea Fortress was outstanding, as was the walk to Senate Square with the imposing Lutheran Cathedral or Suurkirkko. Dinner amongst the stalls of the harbour market provided a tasty introduction to delicious local cuisine and beverages.
After Helsinki, we took a ferry to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The Old Town with its narrow cobbled streets is heritage eye candy. Much of it dates from the 11th century and is extremely well restored and preserved. The optional bike tour to the old suburbs was informative and fun.
After more than 4 decades of secrecy hidden behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, the people of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are now telling their stories. They are absorbing, sometimes terrible, at times gruesome, but mostly uplifting and inspiring stories.
The most pleasant surprise of the trip was Riga, the capital of Latvia. Old Riga is a city of beautiful gardens, ancient churches, restored historic buildings and young people.
We met our local guide near the magnificent Opera House on the edge of the colourful Vermanes Gardens. He gave a warts-and-all account of Latvia’s recent history during the Russian Occupation. We walked to the imposing Freedom Monument erected by the citizens of Riga in 1935 as a symbol of national identity. It defied the Soviets for more than forty years.
On the edge of the Old Riga is the vibrant Central Market (Centraltirgus) housed in 5 old 1930s zeppelin hangars. It was a great place to watch the locals and sample the tasty Latvian food. My favourites were the piragi (bacon rolls) and the sticky pastry stuffed full of blackberries and blueberries.
Our time was short in this beautiful garden city, and all too soon it was off to experience more surprises in Lithuania, Warsaw and Berlin!”
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* photo by Jana Shaffner – Intrepid Photography Competition