Sometimes I write about my adventures so that others may follow in my footsteps, tweek what I did and make their own adventures better. If only one person gets inspired from my shares, it’s totally worth it. Realistically speaking this is not one of those times. This is totally different. You can take my advice in Italy or the U.S. national parks, but you’ll probably never take my advice to visit Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Picture this . . . let’s face it . . . this is not me saying that YOU MUST GO (really, you should– but like I said, realistic here) this is me sharing a part of the world that you may not ever have the chance to see again. You may not ever even think about it again. If it makes you feel any better, Google maps even got a little confused and froze while trying to track down this part of the world.So this is my story about our 1250 mile trek across the Baltic countries. Together, these three cuties have a total of about 6.2 million people– that’s roughly the size of Houston or Philadelphia. They speak three different languages. They descend from different ethnic tribes. Seriously speaking, I probably am doing a disservice by grouping them together in one big blog post like this because they truly deserve so much better. This is the Europe that is just as beautiful as the south of France or Tuscany, just lesser known , with a rougher past.
We began our journey by flying into Riga, Latvia. This is where we eventually ended too. Although I usually reject Russian stereotypes, I did question my own intelligence while struggling to breathe through heart-wrenching, sporadic drops during the flight. Do they even screen those pilots in Russia? What are the aircraft mechanical regulations over there?
The photo above was my first introduction to the region. I had no idea what to expect, yet I sat delighted. What on Earth were those yellow fields?
So we picked up a mighty steed at the Hertz in Riga. People drive like straight bats out of hell in this region. Andrew quite liked their efficiency. . .after all, “When in Rom— ” *sigh, you get the idea.
As my travel experience increases– the less I find myself planning rigid schedules and destinations– and the more I find myself drifting along with wherever the experience takes me. It’s a beautiful thing.
In this case, the beautiful things that I drifted along with were the little specks that danced in the winds of the forest, along the fields, and over the glassy ponds of the countryside. The sunshine played games through the tree branches. Birds sang songs of nymphs and woodland creatures.
These are superstitious lands. These are old, very old lands. The lands that time seems to have forgot. Each summer Latvians abandon their cities, take to the fields, disrobe themselves and baile around bonfires. Despite their hardships, they stay close to their roots (literally).
People live quaint lives in cottages with immaculate gardens. Every country cottage seems to be accompanied by a line of damp clothes that bow at the mercy of a light breeze.
Don’t all people sort of covet this type of serene and simple life?
I found myself contemplating a purchase of a country villa and disappearing into the beautiful, natural world.
I had one of the best meals of my life. It was delectable, gourmet, cheap, yet simple. A plate sample of handmade butter mixed with variations of ground nuts and mushrooms spread on homemade bread. The best seafood soup (tomato based) that I have ever had in my life. I also tried the oxtail soup. And a filet from a local village grass fed cow. (Link : http://www.hotelsaldus.lv/index_uk.html)
Simply put, the place has not always been this peaceful. An abundance of natural resource and strategic sea ports has kept this place in the firing zone throughout most of history. I borrowed this photo from a street museum that cataloged the history of Latvia. Statues of Lenin were pulled down and dismembered.
It turns out that the yellow, never ending fields are a type of weed called Rape fields. New to me. Beautiful at first. Toward the end of the trip . . . sick of lookin’ at em’.
Anonymous and untouched beaches. I mosey, barefoot, in the chilled sand.
Castles that you’ve never heard of. History lessons on the side of the road, (older than our entire country); discarded– a reminder at how frail human civilization and the allusion of time seemingly are, yet in the minds of most are not.
Evidence of Soviet invasion everywhere, including in Tallinn, Estonia. This structure was built for extension of the Moscow Olympics in 1980. It held concerts under the ground for a while. It’s now abandoned. Teenagers approach the place to partake in activities that their parents wouldn’t approve of. Four letter words describing Putin lace the walls in neon colors. Linna Hall
Religion was outlawed during communism, to take away ones hope is to have complete control over them. Orthodox Christianity is tightly wound into the chord of culture here as the people of the region have embraced their own identity after kicking out the Russian government.
The fishing village of Mustvee along Lake Peipsi is filled with content townspeople. They are technically called Old Believers. Lace curtains drape their interior walls. People sell dried fish. A hard life for a town that makes it’s living on the fish that come from a lake that is frozen solid for almost 3/4 of the year. A staunch group of individuals.
Each farm is accompanied by a large nesting stork in springtime.
Interesting for two Americans to drive down these paths
Soviet bunkers and watchtowers on every corner
Countryside manors lay abandoned. The country continues to recover from Soviet oppresion, WWII, and the common Eastern European “brain drain” of young professionals who move elsewhere in the EU.
The Soviet missile base of Plokstine. The area where Soviets would have detonated the missiles that (they claim) could have reached U.S. soil. Now a museum, where we wondered about without a guide, very claustrophobically.
Cape Kolka, where two bodies of water meet each other at a point.
At the end of my trip, I learned of a time in Latvia, where parents left their children (who begged to accompany them) at home. Adults headed to their capital building, made makeshift blockades, and told the Soviet army that they would be independent from the stifling Soviet grip. This “Come and take it” mentality made me proud of them, proud for them– in a way that sort of tied all human spirituality together. Good for them, I thought. A country this beautiful, this cultured, this full of history, and full of people– some of the first I might add– to revolt against their communist oppressors. I hope it continues to be a droplet of serenity on the map.