FORESTIA ROUTES Borja Hernández Broeckermann

My adventure in the Baltic countries

Starting Point:
Difficulty level: Challenging

This adventure began on a cloudy day in the city of Alicante in the south east of Spain. I headed towards the airport where a few hours after I boarded my plane to the city of Kaunas (Lithuania). Waiting for me are 2 weeks of solo adventure through the Baltic countries. After a 4 hour flight my plane finally landed in Kaunas. I could not believe my luck when I saw the sun shining at is best since I was mentally ready to welcome the rain, the cold weather, also temperature was pretty awesome about 20 degrees Celsius, it was a very good first contact with the country.

At the other side of the arrivals hall a man, holding a sign with my name was waiting for me and provided me with a car that I rented days before. From that moment on and until the day I embarked the ferry in Tallinn´s harbour (Estonia) in my way to Helsinki (Finland) that car and myself would be best friends.

 

After hitting the road for about an hour, I arrived in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. I did found a place to stay that night (a nice and cosy apartment in the centre of the old town of Vilnius) I decide to go for a short walk since I still had a few hours of sunlight before the day was gone. I crossed the entrance walls to the old town of Vilnius I could already feel the Russian influence (especially in the elderly people) but there was also a European spirit promoted by the younger generation that constantly tried to overthrow the Soviet spirit.

On the flight I met Vladi a 50-year-old Lithuanian who told me that I could not leave Lithuania without eating Zeppelines, so without really having an idea of what I should expect I entered a tiny bar and not without difficulties due to the language barrier between me and the waiter I managed to order the desired dish. Zepelines are a kind of a massive potato gnocchi, stuffed with meat, bathed in oil and topped with crispy bacon, as you see all very healthy, but hey, as they say once a year does not kill anyone and aniways Vladi told me that if I do not try them they would not allow me to leave Lithuania, so I guess, Mission completed.

 

After spending a couple more days exploring the capital, getting to know a little bit more about the history of the country and after visiting some emblematic buildings, palaces and castles such as Trakai castle a beautiful red stone castle on a lake connected by a footbridge and with a clear medieval atmosphere I kept moving towards the north to the country to the city with unpronounceable name of Anykščiai. A city in the middle of the nature, surrounded only by forests and endless plains. At the hostel that I was staying someone mentioned about a beautiful forest with a 2 kilometres tree walkway built on the top of the Sequoias and that offered some dream views of the valley, trees and dream views sounds good to me, said and done, I took my map and in less than a minute I was already on my way. When I first arrived I was surprised in what a perfect condition the structure was conserved taking in consideration that the entrance fee was only 1 euro. I was surprised of not having heard anything else before about that place considering that it really was something unique. It was a short walk on a metal structure where you could see thru the surface you were walking on. I believe the height must have been somewhere between 20 and 30 meters, being honest at moments like that is when you put all your faith in humanity and you can only hope that the engineer in charge of that mega construction had not bad day. Although I must confess that I was a bit scared I really enjoyed the walk, I was walking through the treetops and the only thing I was able to hear was the sound of birds and some noisy squirrels fighting for a pine. After finishing my walk and just before hitting back to where I was about to stay that night I walked down to the river to sit next to it and chill for a bit. I was carrying some matches and paper and decided to make a mini fire in an authorized area to do so to prepare myself a hot chocolate in order to warm up my hands as the afternoon was taking over and it started to get a bit cold.

 

After a goodnight sleep another day started, another day of endless plains, I started to miss mountains a little bit but I was enjoying the numerous lakes and forests I was coming across. Without even noticing I was welcomed by a sign to Latvia and just a few minutes after I had cross the border I was ready for my first tourist stop in Latvia. I visited Rúndale palace, a baroque palace with some beautiful gardens built in the 17th century by the Dukes of Courland, which was abandoned after the different wars suffered by the country and that has been restored over the past 20 years for me luck and the one of so many others.After spending a couple of hours visiting their different rooms and walking through their colourful gardens I continued my route towards the north and so I made it into Riga.

 

I did arrive earlier than expected and my apartment was not ready yet, that’s when Tarek crossed thru my mind a Canadian guy that I talked to some days ago while in Lithuania who told me that the best thing in all Latvia was the beer and most particular a local beer called “Valmiermuiza” and since myself and beer get really well along I decided to find out if that Canadian was right or not. I have to admit that the beer was good but the best was yet to come when suddenly the waitress asked me if I would like to try “Ķiploku grauzdiņi” and when I am offered something that I have no clue what it is I never hesitate to accept. I was served some deep fried black bread sticks sautéed with garlic along with a ranch dip, something that sounds very simple and in fact it is but that honestly made my day, it was simply delicious. From that moment on I declared myself a fan of those bread sticks and there would not be day during my stay in Latvia that I did not had them at some point during the day. How I was supposed to burn all those calories was something that I was not even worried about.

Finally, I made it into my apartment, It was a long day so I went to bed. The next day after I woke up I decided to go and explore the Latvian capital, being honest I did like Riga a bit more than Vilnius, the atmosphere was more cheerful, I could see people smiling more and the city itself was more modern and sophisticated, the old town was beautiful with lots of colourful buildings and  something that I was really impressed by was the little details in many of the emblematic buildings.

After spending the morning in Riga, I decided to head towards Jumarla, just over an hour drive north. Jumarla its probably the most famous coastline area all over Latvia, it is an endless beach where the view cannot quite reach the end of it, the day was so sunny again, I really could not believe my luck these days, it was Sunday and it was packed with people enjoying the perfect weather, there was even some brave souls having a swim (considering that we still continue in the month of April) in the ice-cold waters of the Baltic. It was a really enjoyable morning, but it started to be time for me to head towards the east in order to get on time to Gaujas National Park where a long day of hiking, lots of nature and a bunch of medieval cities were waiting for me.

Finally, my thing, nature and a lot of walking I could not wait for that moment.  My first stop at Gaujas National Park was at the medieval town of Sigulda, a fairy-tale town in the middle of a dense forest well known for its famous red fort castle at the top of the valley and visible from several viewpoints along the national park. Observed from a distance surrounded by the wild nature and the fog makes time go back to medieval times and for moments your imagination flies and pictures how that mystic place may have look like a few centuries ago.

Since I was surrounded by nature I took advantage and had a snack in an area free of trees next to the Guajas river. It was Monday and I felt that in the entire national park it was only me and the absolute loneliness, there was only silence and the sound of the river slowly going down its channel, I was loving that moment for myself so much that I decide to stay there sitting for about an hour not doing nothing, just enjoying that moment of peace and loneliness that the national park was offering me, but as much as I would have liked to stay there longer I had to continue. So, I started to walk back to my car and when I did so I drove for another hour before arriving at Cēsis another medieval city and where later I was about to sleep that night. Cecis received me with the majestic castle of Cesis. In my opinion the best preserved and the greatest exponent of medieval building in the entire Baltic. For my surprise and after I had pay a 2 euros fee for the entrance I was provided with a glass chandelier and a candle to explore the dark corridors of the castle, something different but very authentic and an unforgettable experience, once again I found myself immerse in a world of Fantasy.

A new day dawns and after an overdose of medieval history it was time to keep moving north to reach the neighbouring country of Estonia searching for more adventures. After driving 3 hours I arrived at my first stop in Estonia, the city of Pärnu, it did not take me long time to realize that the Baltic feeling in this country was not as strong as in the other two, it was more a kind of Nordic feeling perhaps because of the Finnish influence, here people were more fashion, more cool if I may say so, prices also raised a lot and I noticed that after I entered a supermarket and a bag of potato chips which 50 kilometres further south (Latvia) was fifty cents now was one euro fifty cents.

While I was searching for local restaurant to try, some Estonian food I ended up in a pizzeria that everybody was talking about “Steffani Pizza”. Oh my god, yes, what a food experience believes it or not but after have visited over 104 countries who was going to tell me that I had to go to Estonia more accurate to the border city of Pärnu to have the best pizza I have ever tasted, it was so delicious and unique it was so amazing that I even felt sad to finish it, while I am writing these words my brain cannot get rid of that wonderful sphere of toppings that made my day.

The rest of the day I walked thru the colourful streets and also took a short walk along the beach of this small, but at the same time beautiful city of the Estonian coast.

A new day and a new adventure was about to begin, it seemed to be a good one because again it was time for national park, this time the national park of Soomaa in the central area of ​​the country was waiting for my visit. After I arrived and once again the park seemed to have been reserved in its entirety for myself, once again I was not able to spot anyone else but me during my endless walks through the National park, I walked through wetlands, large areas of pine trees, forests with swamps and natural pools surrounded by a rough tundra. I spotted a deer that also looked surprise of the presence of humans in the area and you know what dear friend I am glad that it’s only a few of us who come to your beautiful forest to bother you.

I was enjoying as a child, when suddenly from the distance I could see that a storm was approaching, so without further delay I started walking back to the parking lot where my vehicle was located since I thought to myself that being on the middle of a plain terrain with a storm on top was not something I would have like to experience.

On my way back, it started to rain like if there were no tomorrow, my luck had last already for too long and for the first time on this trip I got some rain, after sometime I finally made it to my car I was completely wet but happy to have spent another perfect morning surrounded by nature and enjoying some amazing spots that the National park of Soomaa offered me.

After another 2 hours of driving I arrived at the city of Tartu a university city with a young atmosphere and a lot of life going on, but before I went to sleep I gave myself a tribute in a very traditional local restaurant called Pussirohukelder.

After a massive breakfast and a small tour visiting a couple of Orthodox churches and the old university of Tartu I continued my route towards the north, that day I would end up in Tallinn the capital of Estonia but before that I made a stop in Rackvere, an impressive castle, of very Large dimensions that could perfectly have been used as a shooting location for movies such as Braveheart or tv series like games of thrones. Here you could not only enjoy the majestic architecture of the castle but also understand how they use to live in medieval times and participate from medieval activities, the price if I do remember right was about eighteen Euros but it included a guided tour thru the castle, access to the catacombs and as mentioned before a bunch of medieval experiences such as archery shooting, horseback riding, making homemade wine and visiting the torture room among others.

After I did my doctorate in medieval culture and with the growing feeling that the Medieval era was starting to wake up an massive interest inside of me I returned to the road heading to the modern city and capital of Estonia Tallinn. My first contact after I arrived did only confirm what I already knew, Estonia is a sophisticated, modern and organized country with a complete different mentality from their Baltic neighbours. The old town of Tallinn was by far my favourite of the 3 Baltic capitals, it was the most charming one, the most picturesque and the one that invites you the most to make your brain go back in time and replace the cars for floats with horses and the multiple bars for wine cellars and street markets.

For the first time in my entire trip the tourists appeared, Tallinn is full of people from all over I got to hear people talking in German, Russian, English, Spanish, French and for some weird reason Italian a lot Italian. The city offers several viewpoints to observe the picturesque reddish roofs of the old town and combines the magic of a perfectly preserved ancient city with an innovative and modern city that has nothing to envy other major European cities.

Two days where gone in Tallinn and my adventure started to get to his end, It was time to say goodbye to my lovely car, the one with whom I did travelled thru 3 countries in 12 days and made more than 2000 kilometers together, but that was not enough reason to be sad since as soon as we said goodbye to each other I already found myself boarding the ferry that for the next 3 hours was about to take me across the Baltic Sea from Tallinn to Helsinki the Finnish capital where 2 days later I had to board the plane in my way back to Spain and my adventure was about to end.

Helsinki welcomed me with a temperature of 2 degrees and a complete cloudy sky, but that did not stop me from exploring the city. It reminded me a lot of St. Petersburg (Russia) there was a clear Russian influence in his architecture being “Tuomiokirkko” the Lutheran cathedral the greatest exponent of it. I have to confess that Helsinki disappointed me a little, perhaps because of my high expectations. Helsinki it’s a pretty city, but nothing out of the ordinary, at the end of the day just one more average European capital.

This has been a bit of my 14 days experiences in the Baltics and I did mentioned some of the things that most caught my attention, if I had to summarize in one sentence my personal experience about the trip. I would say that none of the countries visited will enter in my top 10 places to visit, however they will remain in my brain with unique moments and unforgettable memories, such as the other more than 100 countries that I have had the fortune to visit did.

Traveling and going out there to explore the world is the most beautiful thing that life can offer us and I do encourage everyone to do so. Only destiny made you born in one country or another, you are not an inhabitant of the country you were born in, you are an inhabitant of planet earth and for that reason, give yourself the privilege to know the different countries, the different races, the different cultures, the different ways of approaching life, all of them so different but at the same time so unique and special.

Do not limit your senses, your adventurous spirit, don’t hold that crazy desire of going out there to know the world, your world, leave your comfort zone, be brave enough and discover by yourself the amazing adventures out there who are waiting for you. And if someone tells you not to, just smile look forward and go and after you did, ask yourself if it was it worth it? I already know what you will be answer, but this I will let you discover that by yourself.

Credits:

Credits:

Images © Borja Hernández Broeckermann

 

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