After a beautiful day spent in Helsinki, it was now time to move on. Places to go and people to see! I got up really early, checked out, and walked to the bus stop using google maps. Most of the time Google Maps works really well, but sometimes it is just TOTALLY off. The bus stop it brought me to was not the right one (it was on the bus route, but the bus I needed doesn’t actually stop at that particular stop) and then I had to walk for another 20 min with my heavy backpack in the darkness of the early morning, trying to find the right stop and stressing that I would miss my ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.
I finally found the stop, got the next bus, then the tram, and made it to the harbour with a bit of time to spare. Success!!! But not entirely, since I realized that I lost my rain jacket somewhere along the way. Ugh, of course I did.
I actually really loved that jacket, and it was the only “jacket” I had for colder weather, even though it was thin and really more for rain protection than cold weather protection, but still. So annoying! And so typical for me, I am forever losing things.
I got on the ferry (I was traveling with Eckerö Line which I booked through Direct Ferries) and quickly started exploring, because it was huge! There were several restaurants and cafes, a casino, a nightclub, a few bars/pubs and some shops to buy duty-free stuff. Apparently some of the longer overnight ferry rides are used by the Scandinavians as party boats, especially on the Stockholm to Helsinki route or the Stockholm to Mariehamn route.
I had opted to be cheap and not get a bed for the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride, which normally I wouldn’t mind as there was lots of space to walk around plus I had my laptop with me to watch movies on, but I was sooooo tired and a bed to sleep on would’ve been really nice. So instead I opted to treat myself to brunch, one of my favourite meals! The brunch buffet was really good, plus there wasn’t a lot of people in the restaurant so I had a table next to the window all to myself, which was nice, cause I could watch a movie while I ate.
I arrived in Tallinn at 11am and got an uber car to Tallinn Backpackers, the hostel where I would be staying. I checked in, dropped off my stuff and headed out with George, a guy from England who was volunteering at the hostel in exchange for free accommodation, and Lital, a girl from Israel who was also staying at the hostel.
I really enjoyed the walking tour! I had no real knowledge of Tallinn or of Estonia’s history, but it turns out they have a pretty interesting history, having been ruled alternately by Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Germany before finally becoming independent (again) in 1988. And Tallinn is a really pretty city, especially the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) as it is one of the best preserved medieval and Hanseatic cities in Europe. Did you know Tallinn is known as the “Silicon Valley of Europe” because it has the most startups per person of Europe? It was also the start (or end, depending on how you look at it) of the Baltic Way (or Baltic Chain), which was a peaceful political protest that happened on August 23, 1989. It involved 2 million people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania holding hands and forming a human chain that stretched 675.5km (419.7mi) from Vilnius to Tallinn, to protest for independence from the Soviet Union.
After the tour, the three of us were hungry so we walked around until we found somewhere to eat, an American-style pizza place. The food wasn’t great, but the company was! After our mediocre lunch, we headed back to the hostel and spent the evening hanging out in the common room with some of the other people staying at the hostel, talking, drinking and playing energetic games of foosball. It was such a fun night! I had a great time staying at Tallinn Backpackers, the atmosphere was friendly and fun and I met some really cool people (I’m talking about you: George, Lital, Tegan, David, Francois and Emmett).
The next day I had a lazy morning, eating the free breakfast in the hostel and hanging out in the common room for a while before heading out with Lital. We walked to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a beautiful Russian Revival-style orthodox church. We took some pics then walked around this really pretty park before heading back to the hostel. We met up with some of the others and went to Kompressor, a restaurant that specializes in sweet and savory pancakes. Yum!
Then it was back to the hostel, and for me, time to say goodbye and continue on my journey. I got an uber car to the bus station to catch my 5pm Lux Express bus to Riga. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the bus, but it was actually REALLY nice. It reminded me of the buses in South America, inexpensive, yet very comfortable. We each had our own tv screen with lots of movies to choose from, the seats were comfortable and reclined very far, there was a bathroom, plus there was coffee and water. I ended up watching two movies, Lucy and In Time and they were both pretty good.
I arrived in Riga, Latvia at 9:30pm, walked to my hostel (Riga Old Town Hostel & Backpackers Pub) and checked in. It was a pretty cool hostel, kind of small, but the first two floors are actually a pub, so if you’re in the mood to party or just to drink, this is the place for you! And the reception desk/bar on the first floor is a renovated VW Type 2! You also get a welcome drink when you arrive and a free breakfast beer in the morning. Ooh, and the door to get to the rooms is a bookcase, so it’s like a “secret” door!
I had my welcome cider, then headed up to my dorm room. I was in a 4-bed dorm but I ended up being the only person in the room that night, which was amazing!
I decided to take advantage of my “private” room and watch movies on my laptop WITHOUT headphones! Ooooh, so exciting! But then I ended up not going to bed until 5:30am, oops! Since there wasn’t anything I REALLY wanted to see or do in Riga, I let myself sleep in until past noon, which in hindsight, turned out to be a good thing. I went across the hall for a shower, then realized when I tried to get back into my room afterwards, that I had left the key card IN the room and so I was locked out. In the hallway. In just my towel.
I thought I might end up having to go all the way down to the reception/bar to get let back in, but since I had gotten up so late, housekeeping was cleaning the rooms on the floor below me and they were able to let me back in. Phew, crisis averted!
I finally headed out to explore Riga, walking through the Old Town and heading to Bastejkalna Park, a really pretty park that borders a canal. There are lots of benches to sit and enjoy the park and bridges to cross to the other side of the canal, including one where lovers have placed hundreds of locks on it to signify their commitment to each other. The park is also home to the Freedom Monument which honours soldiers killed in the Latvian War of Independence.
I then walked through another really pretty park called Kronvalda Park that the canal also runs through. I found a really cool giant statue of a monkey dressed like an astronaut (a tribute to monkeys that died in spaceflights), a statue of Russian poet/playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin, and a statue of a giant blue snail (which is apparently part of a series of giant colourful snail statues in Riga, but that was the only one I saw).
From there I went to visit Albert Street to see some Art Nouveau buildings. Central Riga is well known for its Art Nouveau buildings and in fact it has the highest concentration of this type of architecture in the world. Art Nouveau is a style that was popular at the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century and is inspired by nature and plants.
Afterwards I headed back to the hostel to chill, but I was no longer alone, cause there was now a guy staying in my room (way to ruin me having the room to myself, random dude).
He wasn’t really chatty and I wasn’t really in the mood to make friends, so I just watched tv on my laptop (with headphones this time) and caught up on social media before going to sleep. I was only halfway through my quick jaunt through the Baltics and so far it had exceeded my expectations. I was looking forward to doing more exploring.