A Travellerspoint blog

March 2019

Riga, Latvia.

Baltic Queen of Art Nouveau Architecture.

sunny

Riga.

One of Riga's many faced houses - Riga

One of Riga's many faced houses - Riga

Riga is the capital city of Latvia. It has a population of around 700,000. This city was founded in 1201 and is a former member of the Hanseatic League. Riga has an old town with lots of beautiful old buildings and a new town with lots of Art Nouveau architecture.

The New Town: Art Nouveau Architecture.

Riga's New Town is famous for its Art Noveau architecture. Beautiful examples can be found at Alberta 2, 2a, 4, 6, 8 and 13; Elizabetes 10a, 10b and also at Strenieku 4a. These streets are close together and while there is Art Nouveau architecture elsewhere in Riga this area is the most beautifully restored. We walked around this area 3 times on our visit, because we found it so stunning. The house at Strenieku 4a was built in 1905. It used to be a student hostel but now houses the Stockholm School of Economics. Alberta 12 houses the Riga Art Noveau Museum, which is open from 10am to 6pm. This building contains the apartment of Konstantins Peksens who was one of Riga’s best Art Noveau architects. He is supposed to have created around 250 buildings in Riga. The building was also home to famous Latvian painter – Janis Rozentals and writer Rudolf Blaumans. There is also some beautiful Art Nouveau architecture in the old town, for example at Jauniela 25 there is an Art Noveau building with a large female head.

Art Nouveau - Riga

Art Nouveau - Riga

Art Noveau - Riga

Art Noveau - Riga

Art Noveau - Riga

Art Noveau - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture. - Riga

The Old Town.

The Old Town in Riga is also a beautiful place to visit. Sights here include the great and small guild halls, the cat's house, the beautifully restored house of the blackheads, the three brothers (three houses next to each other which each show a different style and period of architecture) and the Riga Museum of Occupation. There are also many churches and a beautiful cathedral. There are also lots of places to eat and drink. There is a beautiful park separating the old and new towns. When we visited, it was a very popular place for people to have their wedding photos taken. The Independence Monument also known as Milda is located on the parkland. It used to face a statue of Lenin, but that is long gone.

My husband with the old town. - Riga

My husband with the old town. - Riga

Gardens: Bastejkalns Park.

Bastejkalns Park consists of gardens which stretch along Riga's Canal dividing the old and new town areas. These are a very pleasant place for a stroll and a spot of people watching.

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

Gardens. - Riga

The National Opera House, Riga. - Riga

The National Opera House, Riga. - Riga

Wedding Group. - Riga

Wedding Group. - Riga

The Freedom Monument.

The freedom monument is located in the parkland dividing the old and new towns. The freedom monument is a woman standing on top of a tall column holding three stars in her hands. These represent the three historical regions of the country: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. Locals affectionately call the woman on their freedom monument Milda. She was first unveiled in 1935. She was designed by Kārlis Zāle. At the base of the monument there are friezes showing Latvians working and fighting for their freedom. The freedom monument used to face towards a statue of Lenin which has long since been toppled. Milda is an important symbol of freedom for the Latvian people. There are guards around the bottom of it. Locals place flowers at its base and newly weds pose for wedding photos next to it.

The Freedom Monument - Riga

The Freedom Monument - Riga

Freedom Monument Guard - Riga

Freedom Monument Guard - Riga

Milda - Riga

Milda - Riga

The Cat House.

As a major cat lover, I really wanted to see this house. It is called the cat house because there are two statues of angry black cats on the roof of the house. It is located at Meistaru10/12. Legend states that the owner of the house was a wealthy merchant who wanted to join the Great Guild opposite his home. At that time the guild was controlled by German merchants and they did not want to admit a non-German into their ranks. In fury the owner of the house ordered his two roof top statues of angry cats with arched backs and raised tails to be turned so that their bottoms pointed directly at the Great Guild. The Guild members were outraged by such disrespect and took the merchant to court. After a lengthy court case the statues were turned round and the merchant was admitted to the guild.

Cat House - Riga

Cat House - Riga

The Cat House. - Riga

The Cat House. - Riga

The Cat House. - Riga

The Cat House. - Riga

The Cat House. - Riga

The Cat House. - Riga

The House of the Blackheads.

This beautiful building stands on the main square in Riga's old town. It was used by bachelor members of the blackheads merchant guild. The original building was completed in 1344. Over the centuries it was expanded and embellished. However, it was completely destroyed in the bombings of 1941. The building was completely rebuilt and was finally finished in the 1990s. This fits in nicely with the inscription over the building's door 'if I should fall, build me again.' There is a statue of Roland, Riga's patron saint in the centre of the square near the House of the Blackheads.

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The House of the Blackheads - Riga

The Three Brothers.

The Three Brothers refers to three houses that are next to each other, but each one comes from a different architectural period and style. These three houses are the oldest stone houses in Riga. The oldest house is N°17. This house dates back to the 15th century. The other two date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Three Brothers - Riga

The Three Brothers - Riga

The Academy of Sciences.

Riga like many former Communist countries has removed lots of traces of its Soviet past. The Academy of Sciences Building survived. Locals nickname it Stalin's Wedding Cake. I rather liked it myself. There are still some hammer and sickle emblems on it. The building is 65 metres high. There is an observation deck on the 17th floor. This is open in the summer months, but there is an entrance fee.

The Academy of Sciences - Riga

The Academy of Sciences - Riga

The Academy of Sciences - Riga

The Academy of Sciences - Riga

Central Market.

Riga's Central Market dates from 1930. It is housed in five pavilions that were used as zeppelin hangars during WWI. It is colourful and well worth a stroll.

Central Market - Riga

Central Market - Riga

Central Market - Riga

Central Market - Riga

Great Choral Synagogue.

This is a very sad review. On July 4th 1941 while Riga was occupied by the Nazis, hundreds of Jewish refugees from Lithuania, together with local Latvian Jews were locked up in the basement of this synagogue then it was set on fire. The synagogue's ruins remain today. They are located about 10 minutes walk from the train station. Inside the ruins a metal menorah and a memorial stone remain as about the only indication of the buildings original role. Nowadays the remains are a peaceful place where children play and locals get on with their every day life.

Great Choral Synagogue - Riga

Great Choral Synagogue - Riga

Great Choral Synagogue - Riga

Great Choral Synagogue - Riga

Great Choral Synagogue - Riga

Great Choral Synagogue - Riga

Flower Stalls Riga.

There were some lovely flower stalls in Riga. It is customary for locals to place flowers at the base of the freedom monument. At one time during the communist era this would have been an offense.

Flower Stalls, Riga. - Riga

Flower Stalls, Riga. - Riga

Flower Stalls, Riga. - Riga

Flower Stalls, Riga. - Riga

Flower Stalls, Riga. - Riga

Flower Stalls, Riga. - Riga

Daugava River.

Stroll down to the River Daugava and walk across one of the bridges there for good views back towards the old town.

The River. - Riga

The River. - Riga

Pet Cats: No car should be without one.

I just found this cat rather cute in its comfortable resting place. I love cats and will photo any I see on my travels. Many are born posers.

Riga cat - Riga

Riga cat - Riga

Buskers.

There were quite a few buskers on the streets of Riga including one young girl playing a form of bagpipe.

Buskers - Riga

Buskers - Riga

Buskers - Riga

Buskers - Riga

Mrs World.

As we walked home on our last night we bumped into a beauty competition which held my husband up for a while, I can tell you. Personally, I did not know there was such a thing as Mrs World, or I might have entered!!!

Mrs World - Riga

Mrs World - Riga

Hotels.

The Reval Ridzene Hotel.

The Reval Ridzene was in a perfect location for us. It is situated between the old and new towns. It is a handy walking distance from everything we wanted to see the independence monument, new town with its art nouveau, old town with its beautiful old buildings, the bus station. However, although it is very central, it is far enough from the centre to be quiet at night. Our room was clean and comfortable. Staff were pleasant and the bill was correct at the end of our stay. We had a daily breakfast buffet with an extensive choice of food within the hotel restaurant which is shaped like a pyramid and made of glass. Address: Reimersa Street 1, Riga, LV1050.

Our Hotel. - Riga

Our Hotel. - Riga

Transport.

Eurolines Buses.

We travelled to Riga from Vilnius, Lithuania by Eurolines bus. Then from Riga to Tallin, Estonia by Eurolines bus. The buses were on time, clean, comfortable and very good value. I would definitely recommend them.

Overkill on the warnings"

We read so many negative things about Riga before we went, we almost did not go. We almost expected to be attacked as soon as we stepped off the bus. We saw no trouble at all during our visit and were not overcharged anywhere. Of course, be careful as you would be anywhere and certainly keep away from the dodgy bars/sex clubs with blacked out windows, but Riga in my opinion gets a worse than merited press.

Posted by irenevt 23:16 Archived in Latvia Comments (6)

Vilnius, Lithuania.

Quirky Capital City.

Beautiful St John's Church in Vilnius university - Vilnius

Beautiful St John's Church in Vilnius university - Vilnius

Vilnius.

We visited Vilnius in summer 2009 and loved it. It is a small city and you can certainly do the centre on foot. Vilnius was City of Culture 2009. There are several different aspects to the place. It is a city of churches, mainly in the Baroque style and has a beautiful old town. Some of the churches have been beautifully restored; some are in a sorry state of repair after misuse during Soviet times. Perhaps the most insulting misuse carried out by the Soviets was making the Church of St Casimir into the museum of atheism. The churches are not just museums. The Lithuanian people still appreciate their new found freedom of religious practice and you'll see lots of worshipers in the churches as well as tourists.

Vilnius - a troubled history.

Lithuania has been occupied by the Germans, the Russians, the Poles, the Latvians and the French. Its cemeteries provide an interesting insight into its past. Likewise so do its museums such as the Museum of the Holocaust, The KGB Museum, the TV tower. Vilnius also has its eccentric side, for example, its independent Republic of Uzupio and its Frank Zappa Monument.

My husband outside Holocaust Museum - Vilnius

My husband outside Holocaust Museum - Vilnius

Places to Stay:

Hotel Rinno: Good Location for Visit to Vilnius.

We stayed at the Rinno for two nights. It was within easy walking distance of the train and bus stations. The hotel is family run and the staff were helpful and friendly and spoke good English. Rooms were comfortable and clean but with no added frills. Leave valuables at the front desk. Breakfasts were good. You can eat inside or out. Help yourself at the cold food buffet and order extra hot food such as delicious homemade pancakes or egg dishes. It is very easy to walk to the city centre from this hotel. There are supermarkets and restaurants nearby. It is close to tram/bus stops.The only downside was the hotel was a bit noisy at night due to late night revelers on the street. Address: Vingriu 25.

Places to Eat.

Restaurant Gabi: "A filling meal in pleasant surroundings"

This restaurant is located half way between St Anne's Church and the main street of the old town. You will pass it if you follow the sign for St Anne's Church in the old town. It is near the Amber Museum. The restaurant has a pleasant old-fashioned interior and a lovely beer garden out the back. It has an English menu with clearly marked prices. Service was quick, pleasant, efficient and honest. Food comes in large hearty extremely filling proportions. We had garlic bread with cheese as a bar snack with our local Utenos and Svytyrus beers. Lithuanian beer is very good. I had mushroom filled ravioli for my main and my husband had zeppalini a local specialty of minced meat covered with potato and shaped like a zeppelin. We could hardly stand up by the end we were so full or maybe that was the beer. The bill was accurate and extremely good value. I'd happily eat here again.

My husband in Gabi restaurant - Vilnius

My husband in Gabi restaurant - Vilnius

Things to do:

Antakalnis Cemetery.

I found this cemetery fascinating because Lithuania has had such a varied and troubled history and this cemetery contains reminders from nearly every part of it. Antakalnis is sometimes called The Soldiers Cemetery. There is a monument to the Napoleonic soldiers who once occupied Lithuania, rows of small wooden crosses commemorating the Polish soldiers who died here, rows of Tartar graves, and an extinguished eternal flame and row of red army guards protecting the Soviet Army graves. A beautiful pieta statue stands next to the graves of the border guards and civilians killed in Lithuania's 1991 struggle for independence. We just happened to visit on the anniversary of one of these massacres and found that every one of the graves was adorned with beautiful fresh flowers showing that the Lithuanian people have not forgotten those who died to ensure their freedom. A visit here is a fascinating and moving experience. Some of the grave stones are incredibly ornate. Directions: Take a bus or tram heading towards Antakalnis from the centre of town. This cemetery is about 10 to 15 minutes walk from the Church of St Peter and St Paul.

Antakalnis Cemetery

Antakalnis Cemetery

Antakalnis Cemetery

Antakalnis Cemetery

Antakalnis Cemetery

Antakalnis Cemetery

The Church Of Sts Peter And Paul.

This church is away from the centre in the Antakalnis district of town. It can easily be combined with a visit to Antakalnis Cemetery and is reachable on foot or by tram. The church dates from 1668 and is worth visiting due to its stunning Baroque interior. The walls and ceilings of the church are covered everywhere with around 2000 white stuccoed figures. The church also has a huge chandelier shaped like a ship.

The Church Of Sts Peter And Paul

The Church Of Sts Peter And Paul

KGB Museum.

This is an interesting though fairly depressing place to visit. The KGB Museum is housed in a fairly attractive looking building which was once used as gestapo headquarters during the German occupation of Lithuania, then later became the headquarters of the KGB. Part of the building once housed a KGB prison. The outer walls of the building are now inscribed with the names of victims who died inside the prison's execution room. The museum is on 3 floors. Upstairs is concerned with life during the Soviet occupation. It contains the eavesdropping room in which people once monitored phone calls and bugged rooms etc. The ground floor has exhibitions concerning the life of Lithuanian partisans. Your life expectancy once joining a partisan movement was only around 2 years. This floor also houses exhibitions connected with deportations to Siberia, including photos and examples of handicraft showing how the Lithuanians maintained their traditions in the Siberian labour camps. Downstairs is the prison building with cells, a padded cell for prisoners who cracked under strain and where beatings could take place soundlessly. There is also a very disturbing water torture cell where victims were made to stand on a tiny raised platform. If they fell asleep or moved they would fall into the cold water or ice below. There is a small exercise yard and a glass floored execution room. Under the glass some of the belongings of execution victims are displayed. As can be expected the place, especially the prison, has a disturbing atmosphere, but provides an interesting insight into Lithuania's disturbing past.

KGB Museum

KGB Museum

Green Bridge.

This bridge dates from 1952 and has a soviet style sculpture at each of its four corners. When Lithuania gained its independence almost every Soviet era statue was removed and destroyed. Somehow these four survived. The statues represent Youth, Peace, Agriculture and Industry and Construction. Peace, which is a statue of two armed Soviet soldiers, has one of the very few remaining hammer and sickle symbols to be found in Vilnius.

Green Bridge

Green Bridge

Uzupio.

After Lithuania gained its independence this breakaway republic decided to declare itself independent, too. Located in the centre of Vilnius, just across the river from St Anne's Church , Uzupio attracted a community of artists and misfits, who decided to write their own constitution and declare themselves independent. Their independence Day is on April 1st and on that day people crossing into Uzupio can have their passport stamped. The Uzupio constitution includes clauses such as granting every dog the right to be a dog. In the centre of Uzupio, at the junction of Uzupio and Malunro, there once stood a giant egg statue. It was eventually claimed that this egg was hatching and on the first of April 2002, the now covered up egg was unveiled to reveal that it had changed into a beautiful angel statue. We found the original egg statue still going strong in a square near the Great Choral Synagogue.

Uzupio is worth a visit for its sheer lunacy. There are lots of restaurants here. We had a pleasant meal in the Uzupio pizza restaurant. The Bernadine Cemetery is in this area. Although we did not have time to visit this cemetery, it is described as the most romantic cemetery in Vilnius due to its beautiful location along the river. Directions: Walk across one of the bridges near St Anne's Church and you will see the defaced signs declaring you are entering the Republic of Uzupio.

Uzupio

Uzupio

Uzupio

Uzupio

Uzupio

Uzupio

The Gates Of Dawn.

The Gates of Dawn were originally part of the city walls, but later they were converted into a chapel. The chapel dates from the 16th century and houses an image of the Virgin Mary. The image which can be seen from the street as well as from within the chapel is supposed to be able to work miracles. If you are in the street facing the image there is a door to your left, pass through and climb the stairs to enter the chapel.

The Gates Of Dawn

The Gates Of Dawn

The Cathedral Of Sts Sanislav And Vladislav.

The cathedral is an impressive looking white building with a separate bell tower. The statues of 3 saints stand on the roof of the building. They are St Stanislaus, St Helena and St Casimir and represent Poland, Russia and Lithuania. The originals of these statues were removed by the Soviets in the 1950s. The present statues are copies and date from 1997. The present cathedral building dates from 1419. Inside have a look at the golden altar and the chapel of Saint Casimir ­ the patron saint of Lithuania. During Soviet times this building was used as a picture gallery. There were even rumours it was to be converted into a car repair shop. The building was reconsecrated in 1989. Outside, about halfway between the cathedral and the bell tower, you will find Stebakalas or the miracle stone. This stone marked the end point of the human chain for independence which stretched from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius on August 23rd 1989. If you stand on the stone, you can turn a complete circle clockwise and make a wish. At the side of the cathedral is a statue of Grand Duke Gediminas and his horse.

The Cathedral Of Sts Sanislav And Vladislav

The Cathedral Of Sts Sanislav And Vladislav

St Anne's Church.

You can reach this church by following the sign post on the main street of the old town. This church was designed by Benedikt Rejt who also designed parts of Prague Castle. The exterior of the building is very gothic and beautiful and is apparently made up of around 33 different kinds of brick. When Napoleon saw this building he was apparently so impressed with its beauty he wanted to take it back to Paris with him in the palm of his hand.

The Church Of St Ann

The Church Of St Ann

St Anne's Church

St Anne's Church

A Few Interesting Monuments.

The monument to Chiune Sugihara.

Chiune Sigihara lived from 1900 to 1986. From 1939 to 1940 he worked in the Japanese consulate in Kaunas. He was so alarmed by the horrendous treatment of Lithuanian Jews at this time that he, together with a Dutch colleague, issued around 6000 visas directly against his government's orders. He saved thousands of lives through his actions. When he was moved to Berlin in 1940 he gave his official stamp to a Jewish man on the train station platform enabling him to continue saving Jewish lives. Around 95% of Lithuania's Jewish population was murdered in the Holocaust. There is a small monument to Chiune Sugihara outside the Holocaust Museum. We did not enter the museum as it was closed when we got there. There is another monument to him outside the Reval Hotel Lietuva. I did not visit this but it supposedly has several cherry trees.

A Few Interesting Monuments

A Few Interesting Monuments

The Monument to Frank Zappa. ­

This monument is located in a car park and consists of a brass replica of Zappa's head on top of a stainless steel pole. It was commissioned by a Lithuanian student who is a Zappa fan and was made by Konstantinas Bogdanas a sculptor in his 80s who spent much of his creative life churning out Lenin statues. There are several psychedelic murals behind the statue.

A Few Interesting Monuments

A Few Interesting Monuments

A Few Interesting Monuments

A Few Interesting Monuments

The Three Muses.

The somewhat sinister looking statue of the three muses is located outside the National Theatre on Gedimino Street.

A Few Interesting Monuments

A Few Interesting Monuments

The Monument of the Barricades.

This is located outside the seimas or parliament building on Gedimino 53. Parts of the barricades erected to defend the newly independent Lithuanian parliament from a Soviet crackdown on January 13th 1991 have been kept. They are encased in glass and covered with political graffiti.

A Few Interesting Monuments

A Few Interesting Monuments

Vilnius In Your Pocket.
Look up Vilnius in Your Pocket on line before you go. It's got great tips on accommodation, restaurants, things to do and current events. We bought a hard copy at the airport when we arrived, too. The in your pocket series covers most of eastern Europe and some of western Europe, too. It is a wonderful travel guide.

Buses And Trams.

I strongly recommend a ride on some of the slightly battered local buses or trams. You can buy your ticket from the driver. They are great fun. However, make sure you get a ticket, the little old ladies who sometimes inspect tickets are noted for taking no prisoners when it comes to fare dodgers.

Posted by irenevt 03:39 Archived in Lithuania Comments (2)

Estonia.

Two very different visits to Tallinn.

sunny

My husband by Tallinn - Tallinn

My husband by Tallinn - Tallinn

Tallinn Revisited - Last summer August 2009

I was fortunate enough to visit Tallinn, Estonia. It was a short visit just one overnight, as Madonna was performing a concert there, and accommodation prices for the dates of her concert were through the roof. This was not our first visit to Estonia. We went to Tallinn on the 26th of April 1986. How can I be so precise about the date? Because it was the same day as the Chernobyl disaster, though of course, we were not to know that at the time. Myself and my husband, at that time my boyfriend, were both living in Finland and decided to take a day trip to Tallinn. It was a popular trip in those days as the ferry had 9 bars, and since alcohol was (and indeed is) extortionate in Finland, many Finns made the four hour trip and did not even get off. At that time Estonia was very much part of the Soviet Union and as soon as we told people we were going there, they started telling us horror stories about how they knew people who had visited and never been seen again. We laughed it off at the time, but when we actually set out, we began to be a little nervous in case the stories were true.

We were part of a Finnish tour group and should have gone on an organized tour round the city, but when we arrived all tour members with Finnish passports passed through customs at speed, while we two British passport holders, threw the authorities into confusion. It took us a full hour to be let into Estonia. And our entire trip there was only supposed to be four hours long. When we finally got through, our tour group was long gone, and we had to venture round by ourselves. At that time it was compulsory to change a certain amount of money. We spent our whole stay running round the beautiful old town and the in tourist shop trying to spend our money. Unspent roubles would be confiscated upon departure. We bought masses of beautiful Russian wooden dolls, painted wooden spoons, tins of tea. We had so much money left it was unbelievable. We started buying street snacks and telling the vendors to keep the change. They would not. They were too honest or too afraid. We could not get rid of our money in the allotted time. It was simply impossible.

We arrived back at customs an hour early in case we had the same problem getting out as in. We were both in the same queue. I got through first. I got distracted for a moment, turned round and my boyfriend, who had been just behind me had disappeared. I thought maybe he had come through, passed me and gone on the ship. I boarded. I thought no, he would not have got on without me. I got off. No sign of him. I boarded again. Still no sign of him. I got off. Stories of people disappearing started to make sense. I was running on and off the ferry in a state verging on hysteria. Finally, as the ferry was about to depart, whistles blowing, people screaming at me to board, he turned up. Our passports had been removed when we entered Tallinn. By chance, I had got in the right queue to get my passport back as we left. My boyfriend had got in the wrong queue. Due to linguistic differences no-one could tell him this. So the lady at passport control got on her phone and summoned two armed guards to frogmarch him to the right queue. He thought he was about to get shot or arrested. As he waited in the correct queue, he watched me running back and forth hysterically but could not catch my attention. Anyway it kept us amused at dinner parties for months to come and somehow we both made it back alive. Thank God for those 9 bars on the return voyage!

Tallinn Now.

In Tallinn now you will have no problems spending your money. There are shops, bars, restaurants, cafes all over the old town. The streets which in 1986 were almost totally empty are filled with hoards of locals and tourists. I feel so fortunate to have seen both stages of Tallinn's history. We even left Tallinn for Helsinki from the same ferry terminal where we had lost each other in 1986. It is now covered in graffiti and its roofs were a popular location for local sun bathers. Times have certainly changed.

Visiting Tallinn.

We visited Tallinn's old town and further afield we visited Kadriorg the former palace of the Russian Tsar, now an art gallery set in stunning grounds.

Tallinn's Old Town.

Tallinn's old town is beautiful. I especially loved the city walls with their rows of tall circular towers. It's great to take a stroll along them and there are many opportunities for beautiful photographs. There are lots of churches, gateways, a huge town hall set in a wide open square. The upper part of the old town has beautiful views across the red roofs of Tallinn and a lovely old Russian church. Lots of good locations to eat and drink, too.

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town - Tallinn

Kadriorg Palace Art.

Further afield you can visit Kadriorg the former palace of the Russian Tsar, now an art gallery set in stunning grounds. As our hotel was equidistant between the old town and Kadriorg, we walked here on our last morning in Tallinn. We did not have time to visit the art gallery as we had to catch the boat to Helsinki early that afternoon, but we strolled through the beautiful grounds and admired the palace building from the outside. Definitely worth a visit. Directions: Walk through the park along Weizenbergi, then take a left at the KUMU museum. Peter's home is an easily overlooked white cottage on your left.

Gardens at Kadriorg. - Tallinn

Gardens at Kadriorg. - Tallinn

Kadriorg - Tallinn

Kadriorg - Tallinn

Kadriorg - Tallinn

Kadriorg - Tallinn

Kadriorg - Tallinn

Kadriorg - Tallinn

Toompea Hill viewing platforms.

Tallinn's old town can be divided into the upper town on Toompea Hill with its castle, Russian church and viewing platforms; plus the lower town with its city walls, town hall, churches, towers and squares. The Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms are on the edge of Toompea Hill from these you get great views across the red tiled roofs, church spires and towers of the lower old town.

View over the lower town. - Tallinn

View over the lower town. - Tallinn

View over the lower town. - Tallinn

View over the lower town. - Tallinn

View over the lower town. - Tallinn

View over the lower town. - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

This Russian Orthodox cathedral is named after Alexander Nevsky, a Russian nobleman who attacked southeastern Estonia in the 13th century. The cathedral was designed by Mikhail Preobrazhensky and was completed in 1900. It is a beautiful building and dominates the upper town. Address: Lossi plats 10, 10130 Tallinn.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn

Town Hall Raekoda.

Tallinn has a huge town hall building dominating the town hall square of the lower town. This building has been the centre of civic rule in Tallinn since the Middle Ages. The town hall was completed in 1404. On the roof of the town hall there is a weather vane, the locals nickname Old Thomas. This has watched over Tallinn since 1530. Town Hall square is a bustling lively place. Address: Raekoja Plats.

Town Hall Square - Tallinn

Town Hall Square - Tallinn

Tallinn's Town Hall. - Tallinn

Tallinn's Town Hall. - Tallinn

City Walls and Towers.

One of the pleasures of Tallinn's Old Town is strolling along the walls and viewing the many defensive towers around town.

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Fortifications - Tallinn

Loose Women.

My husband spent most of his time in Tallinn picking up loose women and having his photo taken with them.

Conquest number one - Tallinn

Conquest number one - Tallinn

Number Two - Tallinn

Number Two - Tallinn

And Number Three - Tallinn

And Number Three - Tallinn

Ferry Terminal.

This is the ferry terminal where we had so many problems in 1986. It is much more relaxed now and a popular spot with sun lovers. It was very interesting to see it again after having such a bad experience of it in the past.

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Terminal

Wander Aimlessly.

The lovely streets of Tallinn's old town lend themselves beautifully to a spot of aimless wandering.

Tallinn old town - Tallinn

Tallinn old town - Tallinn

Tallin old town. - Tallinn

Tallin old town. - Tallinn

Posted by irenevt 00:31 Archived in Estonia Comments (2)

Overland to Russia.

Travels in 1985 and 1986.

Lenin looking on. - Saint Petersburg

Lenin looking on. - Saint Petersburg

Leningrad and Vybourg.

Leningrad.

I'll use the name Leningrad in this blog, even though it is now St Petersburg, because that is what it was when I visited.

I visited Leningrad twice. Once in 1985 and once in 1986. Of course this page will not have up to date information about Leningrad, now known as Saint Petersburg. I am writing this page because Leningrad made a deep impression on me all those years ago. I think my enjoyment of my visit there helps to explain my fascination with former Communist countries nowadays.

The Eternal Flame. - Saint Petersburg

The Eternal Flame. - Saint Petersburg

When I was nineteen, I went to live in Finland for a year and work as an au pair. I was not a very street wise or sensible nineteen year old. My poor mother was very worried about me going and insisted that I took 200 pounds with me in case the family I was to live with mistreated me. She told me if I was in any way badly treated or unhappy, I was to book a flight and come straight back home. I, horrible person that I am, used that money almost instantly to book myself a holiday to Leningrad. I then felt so bad about misusing my mother's money that I spent much of the year desperately saving off my meagre wages so I could give her the money back when I got home. I never told her what I had really done with her money. I just said I had never had to use it. Well, at that time it would have been difficult to go to Leningrad in any way other than on an organized tour. I went by myself on an English speaking tour. The other members of the tour group, mainly American, Canadian and Australian were incredibly friendly and I was not alone for long. I had a wonderful time and met some lovely, lovely people.

This is what I remember of the trip. When our bus arrived at the Russian border, we had to go through customs and passport control. I was nervous. The idea of crossing the so called Iron Curtain was a big thing in those days and before my trip, lots of people started telling me horror stories about people who had visited Russia never to be seen again. I laughed this off before the trip, but was not laughing when I reached the border. The border guard sensing my nervousness began to fire lots of questions at me in rapid succession until I got so confused, I accidentally declared I was carrying hundreds of Russian roubles. This would have been illegal. Then realising what I had just said I started shouting: "I mean I have Finnmarks; I don't have any Russian roubles. I have never even seen a Russian rouble in my life". At which point he just started laughing at me and let me through, so all the time he had just been joking with me because he could see I was nervous. Even I then saw the funny side of it and laughed, too, so maybe Russians were not as bad as I had been led to believe.

The Summer Garden. - Saint Petersburg

The Summer Garden. - Saint Petersburg

My other memories of the border were: the toilets had no doors on them. Due to desperation I used them anyway, but no-one else in my group would. Our driver had somehow forgotten the paperwork for the bus. He was told he had to drive all the way back to Helsinki to get it. After much negotiation, they let him drive the whole tour group to Vyborg and leave us there, while he went back for the paperwork. As an apology, the driver bought all of us Russian champagne that night and we all had quite a party. We stayed in a posh hotel during this trip. I had to share a room with a Canadian lady called Norma. She belonged to a Christian organization and she took no further part in the tour. Instead she secretly went off to meet with a group of people her church had sent her to help. She gave them everything she had brought with her including all her clothes. I gave her half of my clothes to carry on the way back, so she did not have to travel back with a suspicious looking empty suitcase.

Other things that stick in my mind are that we visited the opera one evening and watched a performance of the Doctor Faustus. It was wonderful and the audience enthusiasm and participation had to be seen to be believed. It was more like attending a football match than an opera. After two acts, being a bit of a philistine, I put my coat on and tried to leave. The person next to me explained that it was not actually finished yet. I was greatly surprised. In all I think there were five acts. It went on very late.

Next day we visited the Hermitage Museum and, after two nights of very little sleep, I actually fell asleep several times leaning on plinths holding priceless vases and things. A posse of little old Russian lady attendants followed me everywhere and kept holding me up every time I went to sleep against a treasured exhibit. It is just as well they did. If I had broken anything, I would probably just be finishing my prison sentence around now. They must have been delighted to see my tour group leave.

Monument to Tzar Nicholas I. - Saint Petersburg

Monument to Tzar Nicholas I. - Saint Petersburg

St Peter and Paul's Fortress. - Saint Petersburg

St Peter and Paul's Fortress. - Saint Petersburg

Saint Isaac's Cathedral - Saint Petersburg

Saint Isaac's Cathedral - Saint Petersburg

One of my most treasured memories of visiting Leningrad is the trip we took to see the Palace and Gardens of Peterhof. To get there we had to travel by boat. The fountains in front of the palace with their stunning gold statues were quite amazing to see. There is a fountain at Peterhof Summer Palace in which four model ducks swim continuously round in a circle chased by a little dog called Favoritka or Favorite. As the animals move round there are lots of barking and quacking sounds. A notice by the fountain explains “The little dog Favorite is chasing the ducks on the water; the ducks are saying to it: ‘It’s no good. You have the strength to chase us, but not the strength to catch us!’” This fountain dates from 1725 and was built by Paul Sualem for Catherine I. The animals are moved around by a water wheel under the fountain. The sounds were originally created by bellows. Now they are tape recorded. During the war the fountain was destroyed by the German troops. It was restored in 1957.

On the boat to the summer palace. - Saint Petersburg

On the boat to the summer palace. - Saint Petersburg

The Summer Palace - Saint Petersburg

The Summer Palace - Saint Petersburg

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Duck and Dog Fountain, Peterhof Summer Palace. - Saint Petersburg

Duck and Dog Fountain, Peterhof Summer Palace. - Saint Petersburg

Other wonderful sights that we visited were Saint Isaac's Cathedral, the Plain of Mars with its eternal flame, the Summer Garden with its elegant statues, Smolny Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral and the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. That church has that name because it is built on the spot where Tzar Alexander II was assassinated. Saint Isaac's Cathedral is a beautiful and impressive building in the heart of Saint Petersburg. Saint Isaac's was originally the city's main church. It was constructed between 1818 and 1858,by French architect Auguste Montferrand. Under the Soviet government, the building's interior was stripped of all religious images. It was like this when we visited in the eighties. In 1931, the cathedral was turned into a museum. A huge Foucault pendulum was installed in the centre of the cathedral to help visualize Copernicus’s theory. We were able to see this pendulum when we visited. With the fall of communism, the museum was removed from the cathedral and religious services were resumed once more.

Smolny Cathedral - Saint Petersburg

Smolny Cathedral - Saint Petersburg

Saint Isaac's Cathedral. - Saint Petersburg

Saint Isaac's Cathedral. - Saint Petersburg

Kazan Cathedral. - Saint Petersburg

Kazan Cathedral. - Saint Petersburg

On my second visit to Leningrad in 1986, I travelled with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. This trip illustrates our different travelling styles. For the first trip I paid lots of money, booking the first trip I found with no research, shopping around or planning. For our second we went on a cheap Finnish speaking tour at a fraction of the price of my first trip. On my first trip I stayed in a five star hotel. On the second we stayed in a tourist class hotel and caught fleas from the bedding. The first thing I did when I returned to the super clean Finnish family I lived with, was leap into the bath and try to stay there until I felt sure I had drowned all the little blighters. On the first trip I stayed with my tour group and went where I was told. I was mainly well behaved except for falling asleep against a few priceless treasures in the Hermitage Museum. On the second we used the tour group to get to the centre of Leningrad, then ditched them and did our own thing. That man is a bad influence!!!!

When we ditched the tour group, I took us to some of the sights I remembered from my first visit which Peter had not seen. Then we spotted a ferry on the River Neva. Lots of locals were getting on. There was a sign next to it in Russian which neither of us could understand. "Let's get on it, " my adventurous husband said. "What if it goes out of the Leningrad area?" I said knowing full well we only had visas which allowed us to stay within the city. "It lasts an hour, " said Peter. "I am sure it will go half an hour down the river, then half an hour back. " So we got on. At first, we were having a great time, enjoying the scenery, sampling local food and drink, enjoying being the only tourists on a real attraction that locals used. Then we looked at the time. We had been on for 45 minutes, no sign of turning back. Where were we going? 50 minutes still sailing onwards! 55 minutes the same. We were panicking big time, wondering what kind of mess we had got ourselves into, where we were going to end up and whether we had the right visa to be there. Amazingly the boat seemed to sail 55 minutes in one direction, then make it back to the starting point in 5 minutes. Don't ask me how. I just know it did. Tides ! A partially circular route ! I don't know. All I know is that it was with great relief that we disembarked where we had got on. Surely nothing else could go wrong! Oh, but it did!

It had been a great day. I was sold on the attraction of doing things by ourselves, rather than being taken around. We were already starting to laugh about the boat trip after all it had all worked out in the end. We were tired and hungry, dinner was included at the hotel. All we had to do was get back there. "We'll get on a tram," said Peter. "Or we will miss dinner." We had not researched anything, tram routes, how to buy a ticket, nothing. We just waited for a tram. Peter said confidently that it was going in the right direction and we got on. Or rather I did! The tram was packed solid with people and the only way to get on was to throw yourself in and stand packed like a very, very squashed sardine inside. I struggled to even turn my head and say sarcastically to Peter: "This is going to be fun !" Only to find that the doors had closed and he was still standing on the street while I was well and truly on board. I had no idea where the tram was going, no idea where our hotel was I have an appalling sense of direction. I had no money, no ticket and no map. Peter was shouting something at me that I could not understand. Then we were moving off! I decided the only sensible thing to do was to get off at the next stop and try to find my way back to Peter. I would just have to hope no-one asked for my ticket before then. To be honest, the ticket inspector would have had to be squashed against me to be able to check my ticket anyway. No way could anyone move around this tram. I would also have to hope Peter had not got on the next tram. The distance between stops seemed endless and I was trying to commit every twist and turn to memory. I could follow the tram lines back if need be if they did not criss cross each other too much. Finally, we stopped, the doors opened. I managed to get off and started to make my way back. I soon found Peter. He had chased after the tram at top speed and was clutching his heart desperately trying to stave off a heart attack a few blocks away. Greatly relieved we boarded the next tram together this time and even made it back just in time for dinner.

Field of Mars and Church of the Saviour on Blood. - Saint Petersburg

Field of Mars and Church of the Saviour on Blood. - Saint Petersburg

On Nevsky Prospekt. - Saint Petersburg

On Nevsky Prospekt. - Saint Petersburg

One evening on our second trip was spent watching the ballet Giselle. An amazing performance with encore after encore and the audience going wild with delight. The audience enthusiasm and participation really made being there so special. There was cheering, clapping, foot stamping. The performers lapped it all up. Peter, who had not really wanted to go, said it was more like going to a football match than a ballet and absolutely loved it.

Next night was spent at a local bar where we drank vodka and danced. There were four of us. We were careful with money, handbags as we knew people were poor, but one of our party left her sweater on the chair while she danced and it got stolen. In a way we could not really even resent it. It was easy for us to buy a new sweater, but not easy for people in Russia to buy anything at that time. I remembered on my first visit when I had had a long time in Vybourg while the driver returned to Helsinki for the missing paperwork that I had wandered into a clothes shop. Nothing had been on rails; everything was lying jumbled up in boxes on the floor. Every item looked old, gray, drab. It was more like a jumble sale than a shop. I'm not a clothes person, most of my clothes are fairly cheap and yet people kept looking enviously at my cheap red jumper. I think it was the bright colour that made it stand out. On our second trip the chambermaids at our hotel starting miming that they wanted to buy tights from me. If I had known, they were so difficult to get, I would have brought some and given them to them for free, but I hadn't. Instead I offered them a used pair. I was not asking them for money. I was just trying to be kind, but they stuck their noses up in horror. Maybe it was the smell of my feet, or maybe they did not understand I was giving them the tights without expecting money. Anyway they refused to take them, making me the butt of many can't even give her clothes away jokes for years to come.

Taking Photos.

Back in the eighties, I took hardly any photos. I had no money for films or film developing, so I do not have lots of pictures from my visit. We should and hopefully will visit Saint Petersburg some day to see how it has changed, but I feel very privileged to have visited Leningrad when it was Leningrad and to have briefly seen such a different way of life.

The Peter and Paul Fortress. - Saint Petersburg

The Peter and Paul Fortress. - Saint Petersburg

Outside Saint Isaac's Cathedral. - Saint Petersburg

Outside Saint Isaac's Cathedral. - Saint Petersburg

Vybourg.

In addition to visiting Leningrad, on both trips we briefly visited Vyborg. On the first trip I had lots of time in Vyborg as the driver had to abandon us there while he went back to Helsinki for his missing paperwork. I walked by the river and looked at the Viking ship and the castle. I also went inside a Russian orthodox church but hurriedly left as there was a funeral going on and I did not want to intrude. As I said earlier I also visited a clothes shop that was more like a jumble sale than a shop. Everywhere I went people stared at my clothes which stood out as much more colourful than everyone else's. On both trips we stopped for lunch in Vyborg. The first time we ate in the Druzbha Hotel.

I think this bus is in Vyborg. - Saint Petersburg

I think this bus is in Vyborg. - Saint Petersburg

Vyborg Castle and Viking Ship. - Saint Petersburg

Vyborg Castle and Viking Ship. - Saint Petersburg

Vyborg Castle and Viking Ship. - Saint Petersburg

Vyborg Castle and Viking Ship. - Saint Petersburg

Posted by irenevt 22:29 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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