I recently made the trip to Latvia and Lithuania to explore the old towns of these former Soviet countries. My first observation of both, particularly Lithuania, is that they were what I expected Russia to be like. I suspect they are actually what Russia is like, except while I was in Russia what we saw was very much controlled by our guide and not ‘the real’ Russia.
Riga in Latvia is famous for it’s old town and party until dawn clubs. I unfortunately (or not) was there to relax and explore old town before meeting Jess in Vilnius, Lithuania. I spent my morning wandering the beautiful lanes of old town, enjoying the beautiful mixed architecture and navigating between sites with the help of google maps. Later I joined a free walking tour which took me out of the old town to the site of the old WW2 ghetto, Moscow suburbs as they are known and some other spots in the city less visited by tourists. This tour was a great introduction to Latvian History, as all I really knew about before I went was the Soviet/Nazi history and Independence. I didn’t realise the Baltics were the last Pagan nations, nor did I realise Latvia has a very high Russian population, something like 30-40%. After the tour I made my way to the Central Markets to have a wander. I even bought myself a snack of cheese and gherkins from younger stall operators (to ensure they spoke English) and my Russian ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ came in handy since most of the market stall owners are Russian. This was a bit of a surprise to them I think since based on appearance, they were definitely expecting me to say Hello, rather than Privete (no Russian characters available haha).
6.30am Saturday morning I made my way to the bus station to go to Vilnius to meet Jess, while everyone else was making there way home from the clubs. The 4 hour bus trip was relaxing and a good opportunity to look out the window at the Baltic countryside. Honestly it was pretty grim. Run down cottage type houses, surrounded by a frozen swamp and bits of snow didn’t really make it look that much fun. Once we got across the boarder and further south it became green fields and paddocks being prepared for crops, but still the homes were a bit rundown and depressing.
After meeting Jess, we made our way to lunch. This turned out to be somewhat difficult as unbeknown to us, it was Latvian Independence day. This explained the flags everywhere and all the closed shops and restaurants. We did eventually find an open restaurant, and after lunch went for a wander and explore. We checked out xxx, and the KGB museum. After a relaxing break at the hostel we headed out for dinner and wine, key aim being to try some local food. My advice on this if you ever visit Lithuania… potato pancakes are great, flag everything else. Unless stodgy potato dumplings and pigs ears are your thing.
Sunday morning we managed to fin ourselves a hipster coffee shop in old town, complete good flat whites and Avo toast. After breakfast and some wandering to explore the Presidential palace and other parts of old town we joined a free walking tour which was great to learn all about Vilnius and Lithuanian history, before making tracks to the airport.
Cold snowy mornings in Riga
Old City Gate
Old Town Alleys
Buildings similar to what they have in Russia, but turns out they’re actually German
Town musicians of Bremen… in Riga
Run down Riga
Site of the Riga ghetto in WW2
24/7 flower markets
Riga’s frozen city canal
Kiwi Bar! Free drink if you can prove you’re a kiwi.
Frozen road to Vilnius
Old town streets
St Nicholas’ Church
Uzupis… Vilnius’ free town
Off to the Museum
Avo toast and flat whites
I have this theory that the former soviet countries paint their buildings so colourfully to cheer themselves up during the bitterly cold winters
Another beautiful church
The old city gate
Vilnius City Hall
Free town street art
Just another church