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The Significance of Height in Flat Lands
Our journey to the Baltic States began rather chaotically as we slept straight through our alarm and wouldn’t have made the flight if it wasn’t for our persistent taxi driver! On arrival in Tallinn we were greeted by bright blue skies and long twilights, a good portent for the next three days. Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the northern most Baltic State and it sits between Russia and Latvia.
Tallinn’s lovely Old Town is broken into upper (Toompea) and lower (All-Linn) Old Town. We walked the cobbled streets, following the city walls and stopping for lunch and drinks in different locations around the city. On our second day we visited Kadriorg, a lovely park 2 kilometres from the Old Town, and visited the city beach, before having dinner in the Old Town. After dinner, we watched the late sunset (although it never actually got very dark) from the abandoned port in front of our hotel.
The warm weather followed us when we moved to Latvia, and after an easy drive through the picturesque countryside we arrived in the capital, Riga. We headed into the Old Town to see the sights and have some dinner. Like the other capitals of the Baltic States, Riga has an Old Town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to the largest number of art nouveau buildings in Europe.
The centre is very pretty, quite cute even, but ever so small, with plenty of outdoor cafes and markets. Whilst in Riga we walked around the major sights of the Old Town; the Blackheads House, the Cat House, the churches and the castles before visiting the stifling Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The poor Latvians have been occupied and violated by everyone before being unwillingly absorbed into the Soviet Union. The ‘must-see’ museum was excellently presented and held so much information and some haunting personal accounts of Latvians’ experiences through their wars.
For views over Riga and the Daugava River a lift took us to the top of St Peter's Lutheran Church. From here we could see our next destination, the Central Market, where Latvians were shopping for fresh fish and cheeses. Dinner and some beers (and a little pottery shopping) was the last we saw of Riga before we left this new nation for its neighbour and fellow Baltic State, Lithuania.
Lithuania is an extremely flat country. Its highest point is only 294 metres above sea level and yet during our very brief visit to the country we managed to spend the majority of the time climbing
different hills! On entering Lithuania, our first stop was the famous Hill of Crosses. The hill, which has come to be an extremely significant monument of Lithuanian national identity, is a stirring sight with thousands of crosses and monuments of all shapes and sizes. Its origin is unknown, but prior to Soviet occupation it was a place of pilgrimage for Catholics. During the Soviet occupation the crosses were bull-dozed three times and it became a representation of Lithuanians’ allegiance to their own identity as they protested peacefully against occupation by continually resurrecting the crosses.
From the Hill of Crosses we continued to the capital, Vilnius. The Old Town is very popular with beautiful architecture, restaurants and museums. We took a brief walking tour of the city, in which we saw Cathedral Square and the pretty Baroque streets before we went to the Museum of Genocide Victims which is locally referred to as the KGB Museum as it is housed in the old KGB Headquarters in Vilnius.
The museum is heart-rending, showcasing some rooms exactly as they were as padded cells or torture chambers. Bullet holes were still visible in the execution room. Yet the most disturbing thing about the KGB Museum was that its most recent execution was thought to have happened in 1996.
With all of this in mind we continued our sight-seeing and another encounter with the hills of Vilnius. The second hill had the remainder of the castle on its peak. In case we hadn’t yet seen enough hills or crosses, we walked up the Hill of the Three Crosses for further views and yet further crosses! For dinner we decided to try the Lithuanian tasting plate which turned out to be potatoes cooked in a variety of different ways. It wasn’t bad but it was definitely too much potato! A quick visit to the Gate of Dawn and a mangled ice cream were our last experiences in Vilnius before we travelled on to Warsaw and Poland.
An edited extract from Lara Craig’s travel blog. For more Baltic travel contact Viv Craig at Viv’s Travel Bug (4455 5047)