Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer vacation part I (Estonia & Latvia)

There is nothing I love more about living in Finland than the long summer breaks.  Many people, including our family, take the entire month of July off (plus or minus a week).  It means lots of long sunny days, adventures and travel.  Our family appreciates both adventure and relaxation and we decided to kick off our summer vacation with a ferry/car trip across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia and Latvia.  These two Baltic countries are in close proximity and since they are relatively cheaper than Finland, they make a nice getaway.

Kuressaare Castle
We started by driving from the capital city of Tallinn to the island of Saaremaa in the Northwest corner of the country.  This easy drive included a 30 minute ferry ride to get to Saaremaa.  Before arriving at the hotel we explored the Kaali meteorite crater.  This 110 meter wide crater is estimated to be 4000 years old.  I can only imagine the power of this crater when it hit the earth and created a impact comparable to the Hiroshima bomb.  Next stop on the Estonia tour was our hotel located in the idyllic city of Kuressaare.  The hotel was very nice and located right next to the bay and the Kuressaare castle.  This little city, the capital of Saaremaa county, dates back to the 13th century.  Our family enjoyed the brief stay in this region of Estonia before packing up and driving down to Latvia.

Kaali Meteorite Crater
My wife and I have been to Tallinn, Estonia several times because of the close proximity to Finland, but never had ventured further.  Latvia is the next country in line and it is only a 4-5 hour drive from the top of Estonia to the border. All 3 of the Baltic countries are tiny in comparison to major European countries and are easily navigated through by car.  We stayed in Latvia for a brief visit to the capital city of Riga and a few surrounding cities.  Riga is a very nice city situated on a river and like Tallinn also features an old and new town.  What makes Riga unique is that it features art nouveau and 19th century wooden architecture.  The historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site and the European cultural capital of 2014.  Riga seems to be pointed in the right direction these last several years.  However with that said, Riga is still not in the European monetary community as they are still using their local currency.  While gasoline was significantly cheaper than in Estonia and Finland, I didn't think overall prices were that much less.  At least not in the capital area.

Riga, Latvia
After Riga, we would begin our drive back to Estonia and spend our final day of this journey in the capital city of Tallinn.  During our drive back to Tallinn from Riga, we encountered an large parade of cars that were headed North at fast speeds with police following at the rear and front.  We wondered what famous dignitary could be driving with so many cars following?  My wife was driving behind them and kept following at speeds of about 120 km/h (75 mph).  Finally after an hour or so as we approached the Estonian border, the policeman at the rear stopped in front of us and told us to wait 5 minutes before proceeding.  Then as the Latvian police car drove back away from us, we noticed the other police pointing his finger and scolding us.  I guess we must have followed them too closely and they were not too happy about that.  Finally, we were on our way and passing the Estonian border back to Tallinn.  The next day in Tallinn we would see the German president's wife having lunch with the Estonian president's wife and finally figured out that the German president, Joachim Gauck, had been visiting the Baltic countries.  Next time we know to be careful when following a 15 car entourage.  :)  The visit to Tallinn was fun as I always enjoy this bustling little medieval city just 2 hours via ferry from Helsinki, Finland.  It used to be a cheap paradise for Finns coming to save a little cash, but today prices have risen and it is also in the European community. Other places we visited in Tallinn were the very interesting KGB spy museum in the Hotel Viru and the Maritime museum at Seaplane harbor.

Trailing German President Gauck from Latvia to Estonia
Overall, we had a very nice time for leg # 1 of our summer vacation.  Summer trip leg #2 to be continued in part #2.  Stay tuned!

4 comments:

  1. Glad to hear that you had a nice time in Estonia!

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  2. Estonia was very nice. Syntax - how long have you lived over there?

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  3. Five year now but we have our sights on Finland in the near future. I've enjoyed my time here in Estonia but it's hard to have a comfortable life as prices are so high and wages so low. You seem to like it there in Finland, yes?

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