Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Baltics 2016 - wrap-up

"Have you been to the Baltics?" Yes. Yes, we have.

We have been to Helsinki:
  • Sauna including jumping in the Baltic
  • Best rooftop bar (Skyview at Hotel Torni)
We have been to Tallinn:
  • Europe's oldest continuously operating pharmacy (1422)
  • The III Dragons pub, an authentic cellar in the Town Hall featuring beer and hand pies served by surly women in medieval garb...
  • ...which is also where we met Yvgenia, a seed biologist from the University of Latvia attending a conference there, who recommended that we visit the pub "Ala" when in Riga
  • Neighborhood locals bar featuring accordionist, danseuse/chanteuse, and sad drunk lady
  • Drinking Vana Tallinn and shots of Milli-millika, a vile concoction of tequila, Jaegermeister, and Tabasco sauce
  • Post-tour lunch and travel-tips exchange with visitors from Korea, Mexico, Colombia (living in the UK), at a restaurant where we had herring and crepe-like pancakes filled with salmon
  • The movingly-presented Museum of the (Soviet) Occupation
  • Climbing to the top of the steeple of St. John's church, with its vertigo-inducing 1m-wide observation ledge
We have been to Riga:
  • Buying smoked pork and homemade black bread in the enormous (4 Zeppelin hangars) locals market 
  • Experiencing two nights in a row of trying over 20 Latvian beers (mmm) with local cuisine while listening to Latvian folk music in Ala, a beer cellar dating back to the 13th c.
  • Taking the commuter train out to Kemeri National Park and renting bikes for a 20 mile ride through the bogs and forests
We have been to Vilnius:
  • Lunch with our tour guide and various visitors, during which we had the US, UK, Finland, Argentina, Germany, Croatia
  • A visit to the oldest university in the Baltics, including climbing its belfry, whose interior construction looks like it might give way at any moment
  • Staying in a former Carmelite monastery, Domus Maria
  • Dinner with Vita Reinys, who may or may not be related to Tonia, in a traditional and earnest Lithuanian restaurant where every aspect of the meal was carefully explained, we sampled different kinds of honey mead (traditional aperitif/digestif distilled from honey), and the host did a shot with us as we closed down the restaurant
  • A brief visit to the Lithuanian Railway Museum (located at the train station) followed by what is surely the world's shortest ride between downtown and an airport: 5 km, 5 minutes, 1 stop
And we have experienced the Baltic culture's major holiday, Jonines (St. John's Day) aka the midsummer/solstice festival, at its major nature destination, the Curonian Spit (a UNESCO World Heritage Site):
  • 30-mile bike ride along the spit, including a traditional Lithuanian lunch, a walk on the dunes, and a dip in the Baltic
  • Buying local smoked fish for dinner and washing it down with more honey mead
  • Watching the traditional ceremony in which young single women float their wreaths in the harbor; a wreath that floats away quickly means she'll be married soon
  • Hanging out with the traditional musicians during the after-party
…and we did it all accompanied by Travel Penguin.


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