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gertie3751 May 14th, 2012 08:55 AM

Gertie in Eastern Europe
Well, here we are as threatened. I'll start this and see how I go. If you suddenly stop hearing anything it's because I've got tired of the sound of my own voice, found something more interesting to do or gone over the edge.

Easyjet was easy; easier than getting to STN on a Sunday morning. I got myself ensconced in a little apartment in the Old Town steps away from all the action, in a medieval cobbled courtyard full of arty-farty workshops and craft shops. So far so good. Found a supermarket for essentials like tea and red wine, smelly blue cheese and fresh bread. A good start.

But it's COLD, around 10C, not like 30C when I left TX or even 15C in London. (Some Aussies I got tangled up with on the airport bus said they had had 2C in Bath with sideways sleet last week). None of that here: bright and sunny and clear Baltic light, eggshell blue sky, pastel coloured houses, a very pretty city. By 2pm I decided it was warm enough to risk having lunch outside in the sun, but most tourists seem to have been eating and drinking al fresco all day....

Have spent the day tramping around with my trusty Lonely Planet, climbing on bits of the city wall, admiring the bright green trees and early spring flowers, goggling at the Baltic to the north and avoiding large groups of day-trippers from the cruise ships. But Monday the museums are closed: this I found out when some cruisers stopped me and asked why the museums were closed. I must look like a local....? Plenty of churches open though and towers to climb for views. And an organ recital to listen to this evening in a wood-panelled Lutheran church built originally around 1350.

I think there is a lot more to this city, but much of it is Soviet era construction which I can pass on. I gather the Old Town has been tarted up only since 1990. Some of the old pictures are grey and miserable. But they have done a great job in the past 22 years and it's well worth seeing. People have been wonderful, a bus driver even stopped his bus and got out with me to show me the way. Can you imagine that in London? And they all speak English! There is a lot of Russian around though, not only in the architecture and the Orthodox churches, but also in the signs and voices in the street. Outside the Old Town it's all straight wide avenues going on forever like St P along the coast. And of course the old KGB headquarters makes you realise how under the thumb they were.


gertie3751 May 14th, 2012 08:59 AM


Pegontheroad May 14th, 2012 09:48 AM

Great report so far. Interesting. i hope you continue.

Kwoo May 14th, 2012 10:18 AM

I assume your first report is on Tallinn, right? My husband was there in the 1970's and loved it. Still raves about it and wants to go back.
And yes, I hope you continue with your report. I'm very much interested in this part of Europe.

irishface May 15th, 2012 04:42 AM

Please continue!

fourfortravel May 15th, 2012 05:58 AM

Do continue! Just put cotton in your ears to block the sound of your own voice. :) I, too, am interested in this part of Europe!

annhig May 15th, 2012 02:36 PM

lol - i wondered if this was some sort of quiz - first person to guess the city gets a prize.

keep going - i want to be able to guess where you go next!

gertie3751 May 16th, 2012 05:31 AM

What a great idea! I hadn't intended it as a guessing game, just forgot to preface it with a title!
So in the same spirit, here's the next chunk:

The bus trip along the Baltic was uneventful, smooth, wide roads, no traffic, arrived early. Slight hiccup in that my expensive fancy bus costing a fortune didn't materialise, was replaced by the boneshaker variety and I got a refund but....

Quite an amazing place this. First off is the variety of buildings: the city seems to have been decimated so many times that there is always new stuff going up. As of now much of it is under reconstruction after the Soviet onslaught. And right in the centre are the most beautiful bright green parks. Miles of them. There are spires of every shape and size, domes, towers, steeples, grey monstrosities reflecting Catholics, Lutherans, Nasty Nazis and Catastrophic Communists. The luck of the geographical draw eh?

Cobbled streets, trams and trolley buses, pretty pastel coloured houses, Art Nouveau everywhere. Apparently the most in a crick in my neck from constantly looking up. Language-wise, it all sounds like Russian, and I wonder what Latvian sounds like. I think I have sussed the national genetics though: the Latvians are finer featured than the Russians. Most places seem to speak 3 languages effortlessly. Thank goodness one of them is English. Very noticeable though is the generational divide: employees in ticket offices in public buildings tend to be the same Grumpy Old Women I met 40 years ago in Eastern Europe. They snapped and barked at me with ne'er a smile and probably would've sent me to the gulag without a second thought. Note to self: interact with young people if possible; not only do they speak English, they also grew up after customer service had been invented.

Have spent the day walking myself to a standstill all over the city. Done churches, museums, parks, acres of market, Stalin's Wedding Cake (every Eastern European city has one), the occasional coffee shop and restaurant for respite, and lastly the very touching history of the Jews of Latvia. Now it's pouring down and although I have a brolly, have come back to my sweet hotel for a cuppa and a rest.


Did you get it?

irishface May 16th, 2012 05:42 AM

I thought so!

Looking forward to (Vilnius?) next part.

Pegontheroad May 16th, 2012 06:19 AM

I enjoy your breezy writing style and your choice of details.

adrienne May 16th, 2012 07:12 AM

You make these cities sound so interesting! Now I have more places to visit on my list.

Can you provide some details as to the places you stayed, prices, restaurants, etc.?

So it's 50 degrees F. in May. Is that the afternoon temp? Hopefully not.

gertie3751 May 16th, 2012 09:04 AM

I have a breezy writing style? :)

Places I stayed:
I'm a budget traveller. This trip I'm alone so usually I pay for 2. In Tallinn I used Lonely Planet and stayed in Villa Hortensia. 40 euros per night, nice little apartment with cooking facilities. Right in the Old Town.
Prices in Tallinn were European average, not cheap at all. They use the euro so that was easy.
Public transport is very cheap: 1.60E on the tram, about 6E for the bus to Riga (4.5 hours).
Temperatures were cool. This is a long way north. 10C midday but warmer in the sunshine, cooler in the Baltic breeze. Very long days, still light at 11pm, never really got dark.
Riga: staying in Hotel Edvards. 48E per night. Very central, lovely people. Family-run.
Rain here but warmer than Tallinn. Stormy weather forecast for tomorrow! Likewise long days and light nights. We're almost at White Nights if we were in StP.
Currency is the LAT, 2$=1LAT, So easy to pay over the odds. They don't take other currencies but will accept credit cards.
Restaurants are not cheap at all, US prices or more. Probably much cheaper out of the tourist zone and if you can speak the language which I'm not and I can't.

annhig May 16th, 2012 11:29 AM

mmm - don't think I'd have got Riga - i'm a bit hazy on baltic states. we looked at going there, but sadly no local flights and we didn't fancy schlepping up to london just for a long weekend.

nice to see how you are linking them all together.

adrienne May 16th, 2012 04:23 PM

Thanks for the details!

Marija May 16th, 2012 04:29 PM

I predict Lietuva next.

gertie3751 May 18th, 2012 09:23 AM

You are all correct and all shall have prizes.

I'm here! This is what this trip was all about. All the other places are just add-ons. Trying to imagine the scenes here in 1812 as the Grande Armee staggered back from Moscow. Lots of back streets and hidden little courtyards, unrestored 18th century churches and what in England would be Georgian streets, make it surprisingly possible. Wonderful to see Where History Happened.

Bus trip here was smooth and comfortable; expensive Lux Express with such delights as coffee, telly, reclining seats. Very testosterone-full, looked like a lot of working blokes. The 2 opposite me consumed 4 large beers and a bottle of vodka en route. I enjoyed the fumes. The road was long and straight, the countryside flat as a pancake. Nothing to stop armies from Berlin and Moscow walking straight in.

This is a stunning baroque city. I am completely blown away. It's not what I expected at all. Masses of churches, curlicues, gilded spires, pink and golden facades, cobblestones, twisty alleyways. There are several large empty spaces in the middle, overgrown with grass, little parks or car parks, where the Jewish ghetto was before the Nazis carted the people off and the Soviets knocked the buildings down. The enigma of absence eh? Man's inhumanity to man always amazes me.

It's chilly, though yesterday's rain has stopped and sunshine makes all the difference. Was out and about at 8am (6C, brrr) to avoid the tour groups and it was definitely parky. Walked all over town for 4 hours. Big market just outside the Old Town with a row of babushkas selling produce probably grown on their private plots. Old habits die hard. I didn't dare approach them after my experience in Riga. Coffee shops and restaurants are staffed by young English-speaking people who were probably my waiters and waitresses in London last year. Some museums and churches have info in Lithuanian, Russian and Polish so I am even more linguistically challenged. There is music everywhere, street players, organ recitals and fantastic choral stuff in the spectacular Russian Orthodox church. The University is a tangle of 'hidden courtyards' with a precipitous bell tower and views to die for.

You have all probably all faded out by now. Enough to say that this is due a longer visit. Luckily (or not?) Ryanair flies from STN.


Domus Maria Guest House is 48E a night. It's in a converted (!) convent and is a bit monastic, chilly and austere for surprises there. But it gets good reviews. Prices in town are not cheap, same as for Riga. You pay in Lithuanian Litas or by credit card.

gertie3751 May 18th, 2012 08:30 PM

Sorry, done it again.
This was VINIUS

gertie3751 May 18th, 2012 08:31 PM


thursdaysd May 18th, 2012 08:36 PM

I loved the Edvard, glad someone else is staying there! I also loved Riga, but then Art Nouveau is my favorite period. Looking forward to more.

Pegontheroad May 19th, 2012 10:53 AM

Great report. Yes, you do have a breezy writing style. I have a hard time reading most trip reports, but yours is a jewel.

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