A Bit of Scandinavia, A Bit of the Baltics
I just came back for a short 5-day trip across Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), and Riga (Latvia). You can see my route above (Don’t you love map? I love map!). In fact, I already recommended this route to a couple of people since I came back. You can cross from Helsinki to Tallinn with a short ferry ride, less than 2 hours! Some people do a day trip from Tallinn to Helsinki, and some people do it the other way around. Either way, the ferry is so convenient that it’s a shame to miss either of the two cities. Both are quite different so it’s great to be able to get a taste for both Scandinavia and the Baltics!
From Tallinn to Riga is 4-4.5 hours bus ride, also convenient with good bus. It’s a shame that we didn’t continue all the way to Vilnius in Lithuania and complete the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). We met a British couple who did exactly that, covering three Baltic states, but starting from Lithuania. I also gave them the tip to do the day trip to Helsinki from Tallinn (again, see!).
Helsinki was the first Scandinavian city that I’ve ever been to. I never had big interest in the Scandinavian, as I thought them to be mostly expensive and cold (literally and architecturally) and at the end — Helsinki was just like what I imagined. I could appreciate it for what it is, it has some interesting architecture and next to a pier, it was also very warm when I was there, but it’s also expensive (I got a beer at dinner for €8.90) and the city is mostly new. In fact, Helsinki is the only capital city in Europe that doesn’t have a medieval past.
I’d like to go to Helsinki again if I get a chance, as I only spent less than 24 hours in it, but Scandinavia has not gone up my priority list in general.
Tallinn was a completely different beast. It was small — about the same size as Bruges, and the Old Town was just a joy to talk in. Part of it is performance for tourists yes, but you’d feel like walking in a medieval city, cobbled stones, city walls, and all. I absolutely loved Tallinn and wouldn’t mind going back anytime.
We expected Riga (Latvia) to be somewhat like Tallinn, but perhaps smaller. The opposite happens. Riga was in fact BIGGER, and it was not like Tallinn at all. Latvia was occupied by many countries in the past, but the big four were Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Germany, so their architecture, food and culture are a mix of those.
We took a walking tour around Riga, and interestingly in our group there were visitors from all those countries who have occupied Latvia in the past — looking a bit sheepish :)
The thing that I didn’t quite anticipate was how hot it was going to be! I was struggling with the heat throughout the 5 days, though the worst was in Riga when it reached 32C.
The very nice thing about all three places was that they were not touristy, so it was all generally pretty quiet and nice, unlike Western Europe where you have to fight the crowd all the freakin time. I would love love love to go back again to Eastern Europe. In fact, I’m going to do another trip (longer this time for over 2 weeks) to the East part of Europe, but I shall spill the beans when it’s time :).
ps: With Finland, Estonia, and Latvia, my country count now reaches 30 countries. (!) And in this trip I managed to tick off 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites: The Historic Center of Tallinn and The Historic Center of Riga. Yes, both capitals are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Including the capital of Lithuania had I managed to go there!