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Trip Report Baltics by Bus

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10 Day Classic Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) bus tour of 4 capital cities in 8 days. Organized by Gate1 Travel.

Our first stop was Tallinn, capital of Estonia. We spent much of our time in the medieval “Old Town”, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Highlights of the tour included the Toompea Castle, the 14th-century Gothic Town Hall, and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Souvenir shops are plentiful and the people were friendly and helpful (and spoke good English). Some of the shops that sell alcohol even offer free samples. We especially liked the Vana Tallinn (a dark brown rum-based liqueur) and the Con Amore Plum (a plum liqueur with cognac). On the last night if our stay here, our group was treated to a nice dinner at the Peppersack Restaurant and Grill. The staff was dressed in medieval costume and even treated us to a little “dinner theater” for entertainment.

Our second stop was Riga, capital of Latvia, whose historical center is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our group went a walking tour of parts of the old city, with our guide pointing out the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classic style of architecture (which reminded some of us of Paris). Highlights of the tour included Riga Castle, St. Jacob's Cathedral and the Liberty Monument. After spending a morning full of walking, we enjoyed a relaxing ride in a canal boat that took us around the Old Town on the Riga Canal and the Daugava River. We later sampled the country’s traditional liqueur, Riga Black Balsam. While it was a little too bitter for my wife to drink “straight up” (I thought it tasted like Fernet-Branca), she liked it better when mixed with champagne.

Our third stop was Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. Our hotel was located right in the heart of the Old Town, one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Central Europe and yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited lots of shops selling amber jewelry to get an idea of what the going prices were (although we held out until later, when we got to Poland). Highlights of the tour included St. Peter and Paul Church and St. Anna's Church, Vilnius University, Gediminas Tower and Vilnius Castle. While waiting for the bus to take us to our tour of Trakai Castle, we sampled some Krupnikas (a honey and spice liqueur) – a traditional drink dating from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th - 18th centuries.

Our fourth and final stop was Warsaw, capital of Poland. While much of the city was destroyed during World War II, Warsaw's Old Town was meticulously rebuilt in the 1950s with as many of the original bricks reused as possible. It has been placed on the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites as "an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century”. Highlights of the tour included a drive along the “Royal route” from Castle Square to Lazienki Park and a walking tour of the Old Town and the Old Market Square, where we finally purchased a beautiful amber necklace. We also took an optional tour of Wilanów Palace, built for Poland’s last king (John III Sobieski). Our hotel was right next to the Golden Terraces, the largest shopping center in Warsaw. While we had hoped to find a bottle of Starka (rye vodka aged in oak barrels), we were unable to find any. We settled for a bottle of Żubrówka Palona, a premium blend version of the more traditional “bison grass” vodka. We were not disappointed in the least bit.

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