After looking through the guidebooks, we decided we couldn’t fit all three Baltic states into a single holiday, so we opted for a trip to Rīga and Tallin. The logistics were straightforward but not trivial, and we ended up with flights to/from Gatwick instead of our more usual Heathrow.
Fri 8th: We get up at ridiculous-o’clock. Fortunately the roads are running smoothly and the directions to Purple Parking are clear, and we get there by 7am. Check-in/bag-drop with Air Baltic is straightforward, as we can use the business queue (a quirk of having the temerity to pre-purchase hold baggage). Normally I don’t pay much attention to the aircraft itself, but I do notice the Bombardier CS300 seems particularly new and shiny, and the airline magazine informs me it is also significantly more fuel-efficient. However, it does seem unusually warm, unlike most aircraft which seem somewhat over-chilled. The flight is smooth and on-time, and although there are at least two stag parties on board it’s an orderly affair. Transfer by bus into central Rīga works as advertised and it’s a short walk to the hotel. We take a walk around the town, taking in the Alexander Nevsky orthodox cathedral, the Art Nouveau district, parks, squares, and the old Zeppelin hangars which now form the central markets, which are closed by the time we get there.
Sat 9th: Overnight, the power has blipped at least three times, and each time it comes back on, all lights in the room come on, which is irritating to say the least. But after a decent breakfast we’re off to the Art Nouveau museum and the cathedral. In the afternoon we visit the House of the Black Heads – a guildhall whose name derives from St Mauritius, though the house is a complete post-WW2 (and indeed, post-Soviet) reconstruction.
Sun 10th: We take in the Rīga Bourse art museum, and later the Latvian National Museum of Art (which turns out to be free on that day) and the Metzendorff House.
Mon 11th: We have a short morning to fill, so we visit the Synagogue (again, largely reconstructed) and the interior of the central market, before catching our bus to Tallinn. It’s a four-hour trip (with a short pause in Pärnu) and the Latvian A1 isn’t the best of roads – a single carriageway, though it’s so straight it could have been built by the Romans. The transfer between Tallinn International Bus Station and the hotel is the one bit of the trip I hadn’t researched properly, and we muddle around without actually paying for the tram ride, because it seems everything is electronic and online. (Fortunately, we don’t claim back the outstanding balance on the card we buy for the rest of the holiday, so my conscience is clear). We wander around in the late afternoon and early evening in part of the Old Town. It’s obviously picturesque, though I have a sense the tourism element is hammed up and over-done, with medieval-themed restaurants all around the town square.
Tues 12th: It’s raining – the one bad weather day in our holiday – so, having sorted out a public transport card (which it seems must be paid for by card, not cash) we head off to the Kadriorg district and the Kumu art museum. By the afternoon the clouds have cleared and it’s dry to walk across to the Kadriorg palace. We also see Peter the Great’s house and the Russalka memorial.
Wed 13th: We find we are waking up very early, due to the long hours of daylight, and the absence of any climate control in the hotel room, so before museums open we check out the ferry terminal, which is a 10-minute walk from the hotel, before booking ferry tickets for a trip to Helsinki later in the week. Back in the Old Town we take in the Kiek in de Kök Museum and Bastion Tunnels. An afternoon walk around the west side of the Old Town walls seems much quieter than the centre.
Thurs 14th: Out to the Kalamaja district and the Seaplane Museum. The Suur Tõll icebreaker is particularly interesting. Like all museums of this type, it is plagued by small people, but for the most part we avoid them.
Fri 15th: Another early start. We looked at the times and decided the 07:00 ferry to Helsinki was the one to catch. Check-in and boarding is straightforward, and we’ve booked breakfast on board. We get a good view of the archipelago and Suomenlinna fort as we approach Helsinki. Once we’ve disembarked it’s about half an hour walk into the city centre, where we visit the cathedral, the impressive University Library, the Railway Station, and other attractions.
Most of the afternoon is taken up in the Ateneum and National Museum. The return ferry departs at 20:30 and we’ve booked the all-you-can-eat buffet, which turns out also to be all-you-can-drink, but the wine isn’t so good that you want more than a couple of glasses anyway.
Sat 16th: It turns out we misread the opening times of the architecture museum, so our morning is filled by the Estonian History Museum at the Great Guild Hall instead. This proves to be more interesting and less interactive than the guide book had suggested.
We’re very early at Tallinn airport, but it was always going to be a difficult day to fill; it gives us time to stock up on essentials such as canned bear meat, elk salami, and lingonberry jam. The return flight is smooth and we’re home at a reasonable hour.