Day 66 – 24.7.2016
Moscow to Latvia border crossing

We left from our Moscow hotel (first time without Michael and Susanne since joining them on our journey) around 7.45am with packed breakfast towards the Latvian border.

We had booked an accommodation for us to stay before the border crossing so that we cross the border next day in the morning, but we were impatient and since we had reached the border by 4.00 pm, decided to take a chance and cross it. There were about 30 cars waiting to exit from Russian side to enter into Latvia. It took us about 2 hours to exit from Russian side to Latvia border control. Again there was a big queue. Our vehicle was checked by one lady officer, who was so nice. One young male officer took our documents for verification after checking the chassis no from the car and the original documents. These documents were returned to the third officer after about 90 minutes. He then made entries on his computer, scanned the documents, after which our passports were stamped. Alas, we were through the formalities in about 4 hours.

By then it was 8.00 pm and we had to stop somewhere for the night. While at the border managed to book a homestay for Euros 20 at Savagi Guest House, Andjeli about 43 kms away from where we were. It was a nice villa with a separate entrance on the first level to our room. We requested for some dinner as we had nothing after our packed breakfast in the morning. The owner readily agreed to make some omelette with bread and coffee for Euros 5 each. Also she agreed to give us breakfast for the same cost. It was a nice cosy place and after a good night’s sleep, we left for Vilnius, Lithuania in the morning.

Day 67 – 25.6.2016
Latvia via Lithuania

We drove from Savagi, Andjeli to Vilnius in Lithuania. After reaching Lithuania we came across a huge lake with a walking bridge built over it. It gave a nice view of the lake.

After a small break, we drove for another 2 hours after which we stopped over at a huge mall for some lunch. We were surprised to find such a huge mall in this town. Lots of people spoke English there. We had some soup and salad for lunch, and then drove towards Vilnius. We arrived around 3.00 pm to the Vilnius City Centre. After parking the car, we went around to see the Churches.

Vilnius is the capital and the largest city of Lithuania with a population of 542,664 as of 2015. Its Jewish influence until the 20th century has led to it being described as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and Napoleon named it “the Jerusalem of the North” as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with the Austrian city of Linz.

We parked our car and walked towards various monuments and churches.

The first monument we visited was the King Mindaugas Monument created to mark the 750 years anniversary of Mindaugas coronation. The monument is 4 and a half meter high and portray the king, sitting in his throne and holding the royal regalia – scepter and the sphere with the cross on it. The pedestal of the monument is surrounded with calendar of the sun, marking the most important pagan and catholic festivals.

We then went towards the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania which was originally constructed in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the future Kings of Poland. The palace is located in the lower castle of Vilnius, evolved over the years and prospered during the 16th and mid-17th centuries. For four centuries the palace was the political, administrative and cultural centre of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was demolished in 1801. Work on a new palace started in 2002 on the site of the original building, and it was opened on 6 July 2009. There were a lot of tourists around here.

We then left from there and parked our car near the Old Town and visited The St. Nicholas Church which we understand was built before 1387 in this Old Town of the capital city Vilnius. This is not the oldest surviving church in Lithuania, but one of the oldest examples of Gothic architecture in Lithuania. The high altar holds a painting of St. Nicholas with a silver setting from the 16th century. Also it is adorned with two sculptures: a polychrome statue of St. Louis from the Gothic period, and Vytautas’ bronze bust erected in 1930.

Just a few metres away was the Vilnius Cathedral Square (picture above) which is the main square of the Vilnius Old Town and the Vilnius Cathedral is right in front of it. It is situated at the crossing of the city’s main streets and reflects the city’s diversity, a key location in city’s public life. It is the most lively and important location in the city, and widely known symbols of Lithuania. The square also has a tall bell tower, situated several yards from the Cathedral.

St. Peter & Paul’s Church is a Roman Catholic church located in the Antakalnis neighbourhood of Vilnius, Lithuania.

The Chapel of Saint Casimir in the Cathedral of Vilnius with its murals and paintings in Baroque style. The chapel was built after Prince Casimir was canonized a saint by Pope Clement VIII in 1602 on the initiative of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund III Vasa,

We could see from a distance the Three Crosses in Kalnai Park which we understand is a prominent monument in Vilnius, on the Hill of Three Crosses, originally known as the Bleak Hill in Kalnai Park. According to a legend, seven Franciscan friars were beheaded on top of this hill. Wooden crosses were built at this location since the early 17th century. The monument was demolished by Soviet authorities on May 30, 1950. Residents of Vilnius wanted them restored hence they were rebuilt 1.8 metre higher than those of 1916. Broken pieces of the old monument are several meters below the rebuilt monument.

Then, we visited the St. Anne’s Church a Roman Catholic church in Vilnius’ Old Town, on the right bank of the Vilnia River. It has one nave and two towers. It is built using 33 different kinds of clay bricks and painted in red.

Vilnius TV Tower weight of which is estimated to be 25,000 to 30,000 metric tons composed of a concrete base, a 190 m (623 ft) long hollow reinforced concrete pipe, a reinforced concrete saucer, and a 136 m (446 ft) long steel spike. Radio transmitters are housed in the lower part of the concrete tower with antennas attached to the steel spike. Bungee jumps are available to the public from the roof of the observation deck.

Around finishing sightseeing Vilnius around 5.00 pm we left for Adazu Novads, 322 kms away. We had to reach Marika’s house by 8.30 pm. We were speeding and right then a passing cop stopped us and gave a ticket to us. We were fined Euro 40 – which we were asked to pay online within a month. We were behind our schedule now by 15 minutes after which we were again heading to Adazu Novads. We were driving into Marika’s compound and simultaneously she too drove in. She welcomed us and showed us to the guest house and let us settle down before going for dinner. She treated us for dinner at a nearby restaurant, after which she drove us to the beach about 10 minutes away. After dinner we went home, where we met Marika’s husband. While we chatted with him, Marika prepared some mint tea and gave us some cake. We then went to the guest house to sleep.

Marika was an excellent host. She made us feel at home. We stayed at her guest house which was used by them as a Sauna place. Just 20 meters behind their house was a river where the family and friends normally swam. The property was really very wonderful, but more important was Marika and her attitude towards life. She was a very dynamic person, a Rotarian and a Mrs Universe 2008, etc. Etc. She loved nature, had a lot of fruits, flowers growing around her property.

Day 68 – 26.06.2016
Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia

In the morning, Marika prepared breakfast for us, while we used the WiFi for booking a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. We then exchanged the Rotary Flags. Her son and nephew clicked some pictures for us.

Marika then drove us to the old town of Riga to show us around the city centre.

Riga the capital and the largest city of Latvia with about 7.0 lakh inhabitants ftis considered to be the largest city of the Baltic states and home to one third of Latvia’s population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava.

The River Daugava on which we went for a cruise is a river rising in the Valdai Hills, Russia, flowing through Russia, Belarus, and Latvia and into the Gulf of Riga. The total length being 1,020 km.

We found a lot of crowd near the colourful House of Blackheads, a Gothic building with a Dutch Renaissance façade, also the most photographed building in Riga.

We were informed that the current reincarnation of the building was built in 1999 and is a very faithful copy of how it looked prior to its bombing by Germany in 1941 and the subsequent removal of what remained by the occupying Soviets in 1948. Unlike other buildings in Riga, such as the nearby St Peter’s Church, which were also rebuilt post World War II damage and look old, the House of Blackhead’s doesn’t look old – it is way too bright and new looking. Added to the need, or desire, to preserve history there was another thing that demanded that the House of Blackheads be rebuilt and this was an engraved medieval text on the building which specifically spoke of the rebirth of the House of Blackheads should that be necessary:
“Should I ever crumble to dust, rebuild my walls you must”

Riga City Council is located in the Riga Town Hall at the Town Hall Square in the heart of Riga. We walked through the narrow cobblestone streets with shops selling souvenirs and flowers .

We passed by the Freedom Monument a tall memorial located in Riga, Latvia, honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920). It is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia.

National Library of Latvia could be seen across the river. It plays an important role in the development of Latvia’s information society, providing Internet access to residents and supporting research and lifelong education.

We saw Škoda 15T, a 100% low-floor multiple-unit tram with articulated bogies at either end of the train, and Jacobs bogies between the segments. The tram has two double-doors in each segment of to allow fast boarding of passengers, and one extra side door leading to the driver’s cabin.

Laima Clock Tower – we were informed by Mariska that it was one of the major landmarks near the Freedom Monument and fta classic meeting place for people in Riga.

We saw the Latvian National Opera House behind the fountain where Ballets, Orchestra etc are held regularly.

Riga Central Market is Europe’s largest market and bazaar in Riga. It is also one of the most notable structures from 20th century in Latvia and has been included in UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main structures of the market are five pavilions constructed by reusing old German Zeppelin hangars and incorporating Neoclassicism and Art Deco styles. The market is 72,300 square metres wide with more than 3,000 trade stands. At this market various Latvian-grown and homemade products, exotic fruit and spices, as well as manufactured merchandise are sold. The market includes five pavilions each with its own category – vegetables, dairy, meat, fish and gastronomy products, as well as an outdoor area with stalls and stands, the Night Market and ‘Round the Clock Farmers’ Market.

It’s also true, however, that the Market’s distracting hustle and bustle is fertile ground for swindlers and pickpockets, so we are warned to be careful!

We then took a 40 minutes boat ride to see Riga from the other side. After boat ride she drove us back home where our car was parked. She then hurriedly packed some sandwiches, fruits, etc. for our lunch and we left from there for Tallinn, Estonia.

Estonia – Tallinn

We then drove about 291 kms before we reached Tallinn in Estonia. We had booked a hostel accommodation, Aquamarine where we had to share the Bathrooms. We only had a small bedroom for ourselves. Anyway after checking in, we took a cab and left to visit the Old Town of Tallinn.

Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia, situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg was the last Baltic Country that we were visiting. Tallinn occupies an area of 159.2 km2 and has a population of 4.5 lakhs. Approximately 32% of Estonia’s total population lives in Tallinn.

Ethnic Estonians are a Finnic people, sharing close cultural ties with their northern neighbour, Finland, and the official language, Estonian, is a Finno-Ugric language closely related to Finnish and the Sami languages, and distantly to Hungarian.

Estonia is a developed country with an advanced, high-income economy that is among the fastest growing in the EU.

We were staying quite close to the old town. We took a cab who charged us Euro 7 to drop us to the old town. This city had its charm, with modern and medieval fusion with a vibrant vibe of its own. It had an intoxicating mix of ancient church spires, glass skyscrapers, baroque palaces, appealing eateries, brooding battlements, shiny shopping malls, rundown wooden houses and cafes set on sunny squares. Some Soviet throwbacks were mixed for added spice besides all two-tiered houses similar to the fairy-tale charms.

We were strolling in the old town, when we came across an Indian restaurant and could not resist the temptation of some Indian food and there we were ordering some Biryani, Papad, Raita etc. The food was good after which we met the owner originally from Hyderabad. Got to know from him about how he had happened to settle here 20 years ago in Tallinn after trying his hands many other places. He was very happy and doing well for himself. We also met a few students of whom some were from India, the others from Bangladesh who also had come to have Indian food. Witnessed others who were enjoying Biryanis, Kebabs, etc.

After dinner we took a cab back to the hotel as we had to leave early next day morning to take the ferry to Helsinki.