Coming to you from Helsinki, Finland, I spent the past week zooming through the Baltics, including Vilnius, Lithuania, Riga, Latvia, and Tallinn, Estonia.
While it seemed like I whipped through all these places, there was so much to see and experience, that it seems like weeks ago that I was in Warsaw.
After my stinky bus ride from Warsaw, I finally arrived in Vilnius at night, and everything was closed by that point, so I my dinner consisted of mixed nuts and some dark chocolate I still had. But the hotel I checked into had a buffet breakfast included, so I took advantage of that in the morning!
Lots to do that day. I had to book a bus to Riga, since I had a place there booked that night. And I wanted to see Vilnius, and pick up a few things at the store.
Vilnius was impressive!
It seemed like a medieval town, and I thought back to my Dungeons & Dragons days at certain times. I really was bummed that I only had about 4 hours to see things, which meant climbing up to the castle, getting some photos, walking through town, and oh yeah, I managed to finally pick up some badly needed socks at the huge farmers market in town!
So I got back to my hotel to get my bags, ordered an Uber, and made it to my 4pm bus to Riga. This time, the bus was mostly empty, and it was luxury all the way. I think it cost me 3 extra Euros and I had plenty of leg room, and even had electrical outlets to plug in my phone, that suddenly seems to be battery draining at a faster clip, ever since I started traveling.
Riga was gorgeous! I never heard of this city until a few days before in Krakow. And BAM, now I’m here.
This was my favorite city yet. It seems to have everything. Lots of beauty, water, modern conveniences, and still inexpensive.
I rented a private room in a hostel in Riga, and it was a strange but oddly cozy place. It was not social at all, and you had to climb up several flights of stairs to get to it.
The first day I wasn’t greeted with a front desk person but rather a note, telling me to text this number to get the code to get the key! Anyway it was quite nice and private inside, and I felt like it was pretty ideal after I was there a couple days. There was also a family with 3 kids there the first night! First time I’ve seen that in a hostel!
I met up with a few guys there the first day. Fun times with some fellow freedom lovers.
I ate about 8 meals at this place, Lido. There are several of them in the city (and in other Baltic cities). They have a wide range of food, much of it healthy, at a great price. Mostly I was loading up a plate and paying about 5 Euros per meal.
Then suddenly, I had to leave Riga to catch my bus for Tallinn.
Interesting side note. When I walk around, and walk by a person, it’s natural for me to look people in the eye and smile or at least acknowledge them. For the most part, this wasn’t met with a look or smile back in Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Poland.
Serious faces. Life is a struggle. Others are not to be trusted!
But this eased up a bit in the Baltics. I noticed Riga to be slightly more friendly. It’s still got that old communist scrooge hangover, but there are slightly happier looking people than in the other countries I had been to on this journey.
On to Tallinn, Estonia another pleasant 4 hour bus ride.
Around half the size of Riga, Tallinn is a modern city with an old town. In general, Tallinn did really well right after the fall of the Soviet Union. My guess as to why is that they were really building up to independence in the late 80’s. Anyone remember the famous Singing Revolution? Pretty inspiring, a third of the population turned up for that one. None of the Soviet guards could do a thing about it.
The people seemed to really embrace the free market like no other place after the fall of communism in 1991. The supermarkets in Tallinn are really impressive. I usually talk about how ‘Merica has the best supermarkets, and I still think it does, but Estonian stores are huge and have a nice selection, unlike just about everywhere else I’ve been in the world.
The government set the income tax rate at a flat 22%, and has since actually lowered it to 20%. So compared with the government owning everything you earn, this led to quite a boom in business.
Estonia also does most things online. You can start a business in 5 minutes online. Taxes are paid online and you don’t need an accountant. And they even offer e-residency to people that don’t live in Estonia. Quite more advanced than the bureaucratic nightmare that exists in the US to do most things government-related.
I enjoyed the Old Town in Tallinn, kind of typical of other Europe old towns, but the selection of restaurants made it a little more special.
I got a chance to have dinner with a couch surfing guest I had in 2012 in San Diego from here. Since she is vegan we ate at a vegan restaurant, and it wasn’t bad! The dessert was my favorite part, some kind of meringue thing with berries.
My Airbnb was great. Here’s a video:
I later made it to the local beach. It’s not exactly Coronado, but it met my need to be near the water, and I even got some sun on my white body.
I even went on a Tinder date. Well not really a date, but a meeting for breakfast. We had a nice chat, but towards the end of the conversation, she says “I don’t need a man in my life. I’m happy being alone.” Then asks for the check. Haha. I never expect to meet the love of my life when passing through cities for 3 days but that is quite a funny thing to say after meeting on Tinder, a dating app! Maybe I didn’t WOW her enough to change her mind.
And I finished the visit to Tallinn by meeting up with Toivo, a local entrepreneur who a friend referred me to. He was nice enough to show me around some of the surrounding nature in Tallinn. Great time hanging out and seeing some different non-city things, and amazing views of the water.
My one week in the Baltics was kind of crazy, constantly on the go. But, I wouldn’t change it. Now I know much more about each place. I took walking tours of both Riga & Tallinn, and both guides were really cool, funny, and informative.
And, my winner is…..Riga! I would love to have been there longer and explore more than I did. It’s just big enough and there’s a beach nearby (that I never made it to). Cheap, modern, friendly-ish, and just a nice vibe overall.
Part of why I sometimes like to bounce around from place to place is the slowing down of time effect. Your brain has to process new places at all times. It’s new and different and your brain has to slow down. I’m sitting here writing this post from my apartment in Helsinki, and it’s VERY strange that I have a whole week to not travel again.
I think there is something to be said for the action of traveling constantly. I don’t think I could keep that schedule up for very long, and it is REALLY hard to get work done when your mind is always trying to figure out how to get to the next place, but it’s a good thing to do here and there when I’m not craving down time.
I made it to expensive Helsinki and I already have stories, to be continued.