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julies Apr 5th, 2006 02:25 PM

Lithuania & Latvia other than Vilnius & Riga
If you have visited, what were your impressions of the countries other than the capital cities? In addition to these 2 cities we already plan to visit the hill of crosses, Kaunus & the Curonian Spit in LT.

In other countries we never just limit ourselves to the large cities. We typically enjoy smaller towns and interesting out of the way places but just don't know if there is much for the typical tourist to do in other areas than the ones I've already mentioned. I've got the Bradt guidebooks to each country but wonder what places are really the most worthwhile to visit. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

JaneB Apr 5th, 2006 07:48 PM

Anyone? I'm planning a trip to these same destinations in August. When are you going, julies?

julies Apr 6th, 2006 06:12 AM

Hi Jane--

We'll be there the end of June and 1st half of July. Hope someone here has some thoughts on this. I guess what I'd really like is some impressions from people who've at least seen the country out of the window of a bus or something.

JaneB Apr 6th, 2006 06:29 AM

Well, I look forward to reading your impressions before I make my trip! BTW, there are lots of postings on LP's ThornTree about this area.

Marija Apr 6th, 2006 06:42 AM

If you are driving from Kaunas (not KaunUs)to the Curonian Spit, you'll be passing by many small towns. You can certainly pick a town or two and stop in for a quick look but it probably won't be too exciting. Much of Lithuania is rural and out of the car windows you see green farmland and hills.

There are interesting daytrips from Kaunas (the outdoor ethnographic museum of Rumsiskes) and Vilnius (Trakai). Don't miss these.

hsv Apr 6th, 2006 06:57 AM

In Latvia I would suggest visiting Sigulda, approx. an hour and a half to the NorthEast of Riga. It is the gateway to the Gauja National Park, features a canyon like setting, the former Soviet Union's only bobsleigh track (on which you sometimes do some runs, guided by an expert), a couple of castles that have some relation to Latvian folk myths (Turaida castle). I think it is quite beautiful there.

Another excursion would be Rundale Palace near Bauska, which you would most likely pass anyway coming in from Lithuania. St. Petersburg reminiscent architecture and definitely worth a tour (some very nice guides there). I think I had mentioned this on an earlier thread of yours already.

You might also consider a drive up the coastal route to Pärnu in Estonia, which features a beautiful beach and shallow waters that warm up easily even in Northern summers.

Cesis is another option. It is another 30 min. to the North East from Sigulda and sports an old castle which is sometimes used as an open air theatre. Apart from that, though, there is nothing much there, so it isn't an absolute must IMHO (although the local brewery makes some good stuff that comes highly recommended as an alternative to the omni-present Aldaris Zelta).

Asking about impressions: Latvia appears quaint to me - i.e. outside of Riga, which is a bustling city, very young society in town. The natural scenery is to a large extent rather pristine and efforts have been undertaken to restore natural areals that were formerly destroyed through extensive production and relating pollution during times of the Soviet occupation.
Travel times are longer than for respective distances in Western parts of Europe due to the roads being much smaller and a general lack of freeways (with the exception of a short strip leading into and out of Jurmala and a two-lane road portion on the way to Sigulda). Hope this helps some.

julies Apr 6th, 2006 05:49 PM

We've travelled in other parts of Eastern Europe before so know that drive times are definitely slower than one would expect in more western areas where there are expressway type roads.

I had the impression that I shouldn't be thinking rural France or Italy here with lits of charming small towns. And I suspect I'm right. So, in other words, am I correct in assuming that this area is similar to some other more eastern countries in Europe in that we could compare it to rural Iowa or Kansas--we'll be lucky to find a restaurant at all, muchless an interesting restaurant? Thanks again. You are helping me with my planning for how many days to spend where.

hsv Apr 7th, 2006 12:31 AM

I am, unfortunately, not familiar with rural Kansas and Iowa.

However, I think the region is developping quite fast (just take a look at the growth rates of their gross national products), so change is a material part of daily life.

That said, it is indeed still a bit hard to find interesting restaurants and bars in villages. But coming to think of it, I don't find that too easy in other parts of Western Europe either. But then I think places like Pärnu, Sigulda and even Cesis each feature places that should be able to satisfy your needs and sometimes even please. I remember divine cupcakes on the beachside terrace of Ranna Hotell in Pärnu, a reasonably good dinner in DanLat Hotel Cesis etc. And Riga's restaurant scene is improving and already featuring perfectly good and interesting cuisines of all natures in all sorts of settings.

I think the charm is mostly in the landscape and nature. But then there are villages that have intact ensembles of older buildings - which admittedly sometimes are still a bit rundown and in need of renovation.

Overall, I did not think that the region had a very Eastern European feeling to it. I rather felt able to relate easily to it as it much resembles parts of Northern Germany and Scandinavia - obviously lagging a bit behind due to different development of economy, but the common background from former days of the medi-eval trade organization called "Hanse" cannot be denied, I presume.

ben_haines_london Apr 7th, 2006 01:51 AM

I should like to welcome this correspondence. Five years ago this forum had few queries about the Baltic capitals, and this may be the first query about non-capital places. Freedom came in 1991, so this development is fast. Until now, travel agents and event travel; correspondents in newspapers in the US and UK have said little about the region, bur now these places come in from the col,d.

I hope I will not hurt Fodorsí feelings if I say that good notes on aspects of non-capital Baltic cities are to be found on Lonely Plasnetís Post Cards, under Eastern Europe: the young went there first. Tallinn is already crowded, and Riga and Vilnius are becoming so.

This is all worth celebration. Next are Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, cheap, with no visas for westeners, beautiful and interesting. Just fly to Munich or Vienna, take a day or overnight train (I have a note on how), and on arrival in a fine old city in Romania or Slovakia go to the best hotel they have: you can afford it.

Ben Haines, London
[email protected]

julies Apr 7th, 2006 02:15 PM

Hi hsv & Ben--

I guess I always tend to forget that lots of you are from the other side of the Atlantic from me. Kansas & Iowa are states which are noted for their farm country with little else and just a few local restaurants.

I'm very interested to hear the description of the countryside and that its primary attraction is nature. It helps me to make some decisions about my trip. Frankly, being from a state in the US (Minnesota) that is well-known for its beautiful scenery and remote places, I am more intrested in the man-made aspects of European countries. While I will certainly appreciate places that are unique to me, such as the Baltic, I can always find a beautiful remote lake or farmland at home. But at home I can't find quaint old towns or castles. I'm also interested to hear that many things are more similar to Scandinavian countries than to other eastern European countries we've visited such aa Poland & Czech Republic. This also helps me out especially since a European cousin who visited me here in Minnesota commented that our landscape reminds him of his native Denmark.
Ben--we've been to Romania and absolutely loved it. Bulgaria is also on my to visit list. For someone from the US, Ukraine is a little more difficult although I have heard that Lviv is really great.

marknw1 Mar 12th, 2007 02:29 PM

Outside the main cities is another world. It's generally a lot cheaper and people are more willing to approach you. A lot of Latvia's really interesting attractions are outside the capital anyway.

Dottee May 11th, 2007 08:32 PM

Julies: I am originally from Michigan. The landscape of Latvia and Estonia is much like Michigan. As we drove through the countryside, I sometimes forget that I wasn't in Michigan because it looked so familiar. More white birches was the only difference. Perhaps that is why a lot of Latvians settled in Michigan when they came to the USA. What you won't find in Michigan are the castles and ancient structures that pop up here and there in the most unlikely places throughout the countryside. Almost every town has at least one of these somewhere nearby. I haven't been to Lithuania, but I believe it is probably similar.

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