The Baltics- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

May 2019

We had decided to take it easy over our May half term holiday, we had my cousins wedding planned for the first weekend and then thought we might chill in London and do some life admin (because apparently that’s what you have to do when you become adult). As May approached we thought… well maybe we could nip over to Lithuania. Ernie is from Klaipėda in Lithuania and we thought it would be a nice opportunity to take a few days out there for him to show me around his home city. Once we booked the flights I thought maybe I could pop over to Latvia and Estonia (as they are only next door right?) As Ernie had been to both of these places already he decided to nip into Warsaw in Poland for a few days. Before we knew it we had planned another crazy half term holiday without initially meaning to. However, I’m so pleased we did because the Baltics were so beautiful!

The whole trip itinerary for myself was;

Monday – Flight to Klaipėda (Lithuania) for a night,
Tuesday – Morning coach to Riga (Latvia) for a day/night,
Wednesday – Morning coach to Tallinn (Estonia) for a day/night,
Thursday – Morning coach to Vilnius (Capital Lithuania), met Ernie who had been in Warsaw and we both took the train from Vilnius back to Klaipėda
Friday/Saturday – Exploring Klaipėda
Sunday – Flight back to London

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Lithuania

Klaipėda Things to see and do

River and Sea

Klaipėda, Lithuania, where Ernestas was born. I feel so lucky to have been given my own, very personal, tour of the area he grew up in as a child. Lithuania’s third largest city is Klaipėda,  it is located in the north west of Lithuania and is a seaport and a popular stopover for cruise ships travelling along the Curonian Spit. It is often known as the ‘ jewel in the amber crown’ as it is the country’s one and only coastline city located on the Baltic Sea. The port was busy and bustling with tourists when we arrived here. There was a beautiful sunset down near the port area, it was tranquil watching the boats pass by. I really liked this statue (below) of a child waving to the boats near the edge of the port. It reminded me of children waving off boats at the fishing village of Appledore in Devon, a place that I grew up. There’s something humbling about how you can be from two very different places in the world and yet feel so many similarities and connections within your lives.

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There’s a calmness that surrounds the port especially in the evenings. There is also a sense of a working port and industry as the tall cranes are lined up silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun.

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The Meridianas is a boat that sits on ‘Danes Upe’ which is a river that runs to the Baltic sea through Klaipėda. As the river flows through the middle of the city, the Meridianas sits center stage and looks beautiful with the low evening sunshine facing it. The boat is easily viewed during a stroll down the river and through the city. If you really want to treat yourself there is a restaurant on board the Meridianas, so you can book yourself a table and try some traditional Lithuanian dishes.

The river also has some peddle boats that people can hire and you shouldn’t’ forget to go and see the mermaid or ‘Undinė’ who likes to rest down by the Dane.

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Surprisingly to me Klaipėda has a beach and a very lovely one at that. My favorite day was when we took the 10 minute ferry across to Smiltyne, which resides on a long strip of land just off of the Northwest of Lithuania . This strip of land is called the Curonian Spit, and as you take the ferry across the water you can see lovely views of both Klaipėda from behind and the forestry areas of Smiltyne ahead.  The Curonian Spit has a forest area perfect for walks and cycling, as well as a beach. As we were here in May the beach wasn’t too busy but Ernie said that in the summer the beach has many people swimming and enjoying sports. There are also paths for cycling along all the way down to ‘Nida’ which has big sand dunes and borders ‘Kaliningrad’ (Russian territory). If you cycle the opposite way you come to the Lithuanian sea museum  which is home to many sea creatures including dolphins. The Baltic region is home to Baltic amber and is the largest deposit of amber and dates from 44 million years ago. All across Baltic countries including Latvia and Estonia, you will find baltic Amber shops and museums. There is a Baltic amber museum located in Klaipėda’s Old Town called Amber Queen. Production of items made with amber has been a long tradition in Baltic regions including in Klaipėda. This substance, which comes from fossilized tree resin in particular pine trees, has been used since ancient times as ingredients in perfume and jewelry as well as being used for medicinal purposes. 

We spent the afternoon on the beach, there are hand ball nets, cafes and bars along the beach too. Apparently, if you happen to be in the Baltic regions when the weather is particularly stormy, walking along the beaches after these storms may see you finding pieces of Baltic amber yourself, from the sea depths. 

    

Exploring Old Town

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Klaipėdas old town buildings have influences from German, Scandinavian architecture, unlike other old towns in Lithuania. A popular place in the old town is ‘The Theatre Square’ which hosts some festivals including the Sea Festival and the International Jazz Festival. The streets are geometrically configured and very straight, as you can see in the photos below.

This map of Klaipėda on the side of a building in the old town shows the straight angles of the mostly cobbled roads and pavements. There are various restaurants, bars, cafes and pastry shops  along these cobbled streets as well as clothes shops, supermarkets a post office and a tourist information center. There is also an old market area ‘senasis turgus’ which is the oldest marketplace in the city, dating back to the 19th century.

Outside of Klaipėda’s Old Town you will see more Soviet style buildings from the years that Baltic countries were under Soviet rule. Lithuania was ruled by the Soviets from the end of WWII until 1991, when the country gained independence. Lithuania then became part of the European Union in May 2004.

Foods To Try

If you are a foodie there are plenty of Lithuanian dishes to try, some that you probably haven’t heard of or eaten before. Staple ingredients in Lithuanian dishes usually include, rye, potatoes, various meats, beetroots and turnips, mushrooms, berries, and diary products. Some of the dishes we couldn’t try, as they include meat, but for the meat eaters out there you could try Cepelinai (or didžkukuliai) which are potato dumpling filled with meat- these are often called the national dish of Lithuania. You could also try Skilandis which is cold-smoked sausage, which Ernie’s parents often have hanging up in the kitchen at home as well as Lašiniai  which is a thick layer of pork fat with skin and is usually a smoked product. Even though Lašiniai is animal fat, some experts consider this to be healthy in moderation as it contains a source of vitamins A, D, F, and E.

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For the veggies among us, you could try ‘Šaltibarščiai’ or ‘Cold Borscht’ which is cold beetroot soup. Ernie likes this dish and ordered it when we were in Vilnius. I was surprised at how pink it was when it came out. I had a taste but I’m not keen on beetroot so I didn’t enjoy it as much as he did. This soup is often served with hard boiled potatoes on the side, like in this photo.

‘Juoda Duona’  or ‘Dark Rye Bread’ is one of the oldest traditional Lithuanian foods. On moving to the UK Ernie discovered our rather more unhealthy white bread and filled himself up on this, his mum rightly saying that it was not very healthy for him, in comparison to rye bread. I actually love eating rye bread which is a much more healthier version of white bread as it is made from dark rye flour and is a naturally fermented sourdough. I especially like eating it dipped in tomato soup.

A traditional Lithuanian drink is ‘Gira’ which is a drink made from fermented rye bread. I guess in a similar way to Guinness, it has a bready but sweet flavor and is IMG_20190601_183126considered a soft drink but does contain some alcohol (0.05-1.5%) because of the natural fermentation. I tried this for the first time in Vilnius when one of Ernie’s friends took us to a lovely vegetarian restaurant. I then had it again in a restaurant in Klaipėda.

Eating as a snack with Gira or another alcoholic drink you could eat  ‘česnakinė duona’ which is translated as ‘garlic bread’, but česnakinė duona is not like the garlic bread that I know. This is harder and oilier pieces of bread that are small and crunchy, having a garlic kick to them. I really enjoyed eating these when I was in Klaipėda, I’m not sure  my hips enjoyed them though! (see right).

If you have a sweet tooth like me and Ernie, you will love the small snacks ‘varškės sūrelis’ downloadwhich is actually ‘curd cheese’ in various fruit and sweet flavors, wrapped in chocolate. As much as curd cheese sounds odd to someone who isn’t Eastern European, it’s actually one of the tastiest sweet snacks I’ve ever tasted. I often pick these up from the Lithuanian shop in Stratford on my way home from work.  This snack is also eaten in Estonia where it’s called ‘kohuke’, Latvia ‘biezpiena sieriņš’, Russia ‘сыро́к, syrok’ and Ukraine ‘сиро́к, sırok’. I like the brand Karums and prefer the Hazelnut or chocolate flavor, this one above is orange.IMG_20190527_192305

Having a party? A traditional Lithuanian cake is called a Šakotis which is like a tree cake. This is also a Polish tradition and is known as a ‘spit cake’ as it is cooked a a rotating spit in an oven or open fire. The ingredients are very similar to a sponge cake, butter, eggs, flour, sugar, and cream,  only the cooking method is so different that the texture and the end product look very different to a sponge cake.  Šakotis are seen below wrapped up in a local supermarket in Klaipeda. We are hoping to have a large one of these at our wedding this year, Ernie’s family if you’re reading get searching for the tallest Šakotis you can find!

Sport

Basketball is a well supported sport in Lithuania and is the national sport. The country has always been among the strongest basketball teams in the world and it has churned out some power houses, including NBA  players such as Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, Jonas Valanciunas, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and one of their most famous players Arvydas Sabonis. When we were in Klaipeda we were lucky enough to get tickets to see the local team Neptunas play, it was quite an event and they won the so the atmosphere was brilliant!

We were fortunate to be in Klaipėda the week that they held Olympine Diena 2019 which hosted a range of sports for people to try out, psyching people up for the 2020 Olympics. I tried out yoga and kickboxing… Ernie tried out hand printing..

 

Vilnius

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Make Everything Great Again – Street mural, designed by artists Dominykas Čečkauskas and Mindaugas Bonanu. Found in Vilnius Lithuania on the side of the restaurant Keule Ruke.

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The sun was gorgeous today in Vilnius, Lithuania. This was taken at the top of St John’s Bell Tower.

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Latvia: Riga

People who say ‘it cannot be done’ should not interrupt those who are doing ~ These words were written in Latvian next to this piece of street art in the center of Riga Old Town and they hold so many truths. Tell the inventors and engineers for flight ‘it cannot be done’, the astronauts and space teams ‘ sending people into space is
‘impossible’. Even if we think back to 25 years ago we might have said, video calls around the world will never happen, or downloading a movie in 10 minutes straight to our screens would be impossible. Medicine is changing lifes, science is changing lifes, charities are changing the world all because of people who are doing. I guess the moral of the painting and quote is to dream big and keep doing until the dream happens, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

St James Cathedral, Riga, Latvia

Estonia: Tallin

There are so many little nooks and crannies to explore in Tallinn. This is the long, narrow alleyway of Katariina Kaik, it has some old town style shops and cafes all the way along it.

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