At the time we visited Finland, Lana was living and working in Copenhagen so the trip was easily planned and done from there. It's only a short flight from Denmark to Finland so we decided to start our tour of the Baltic states there arriving in Helsinki May 5, 2012. Our plan was to visit Helsinki then take the ferry to Talinin, the capital of Estonia, which is only a short distance away then fly to Riga, the capital of Latvia, and back to Copenhagen. We would miss Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, because time off from work limited our adventure. Helsinki as many know is a very well kept and organized city. It has recovered completely from the damage it suffered during the last war with the Russians just prior to WWII. In that conflict it was bombed but not leveled. Today it is a spotless, charming jewel on the Baltic coast. We had only one day to enjoy the experience so as is our mode we took a city bus tour then followed up by walking the city center and water front. Our photos were taken mostly on the walk. The water front is well worth seeing and has a substantial market where we ate lunch after cruising the stalls. After lunch we walked up to the old fortress overlooking the harbor and bought tickets to view it's contents. Our photos show some of the more interesting furnishings and a few views out the windows. Interestingly, the Fins maintain a military guard at this historical place. He paces back and forth with his rife on his shoulder in a very formal manner. Perhaps it is Finland's equivalent of the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. or the guards at Buckingham Palace in London.
The ocean voyage was pleasant, weather fair and seas moderate. Our ferry was a modern vessel, well equipped, and comfortable as any we have experienced anywhere. We felt we were in good hands and traveling safely. Like many boats that take passengers across international borders ours had a duty free shop with a wide selection of the usual goodies that folks are interested in when traveling and getting a chance to escape the home town taxes that can be very steep in most Scandinavian countries. Liquor, smokes, confections, perfumes, and such were available. I opted for my usual bottle of whiskey figuring I'd save myself a bunch by enjoying it in our hotel room in Talinin. There are no customs inspections on these trips so one could stock up with little chance of being caught over limit.
We arrived at the port of Talinin during daylight so were able to see something of the city during the taxi ride to our hotel. What we saw was a part of the new city that has developed outside the medieval walled old city where most of Talinin's charm is located. The modern city reminded us of what can be found in other countries that have lived under Soviet governments as did Talinin from the end of WWII to the disintegration of the Soviet government in 1989. There yet remains examples of the public art and statues from the days of socialist realism. Building facades showing courageous workers waving red banners are still there. But inside the old city almost nothing of the past 100 years exists.
Walking through the arched gates into the medieval world is quite an experience. The feeling of being in a time machine comes to mind. The old city has been very well preserved and deserves to be as it is definitely a national treasure. Like parts of other famous European cities the craft that produced the buildings, fountains, statues and churches is really not longer with us. Yes, restoration is always possible but the beauty of these old cities is never again to be created, only honored and admired. One of the great tragedies of the modern European wars is the destruction of so many works of art. Talinin fortunately was not attacked during the 20th century wars leaving the old city essentially intact. The Estonians have to be complimented on how well they have preserved their old world city. Like many other European countries Estonia has a defined set of rules that limits development in the national treasures such as the old city. Businesses still operate but the architecture, streets, signage, and traffic are controlled to prevent destruction of the old city feel and look. If you need your McDonald fix it's waiting for you just outside the city walls.
The flight to Riga went well and on time. Arriving in Latvia the scene changed dramatically. Riga has so many more relics of the Soviet era. Tall buildings mimicking those found in Moscow are still in use. Once you see one of these monsters you will never forget the almost foreboding appearance and the drab concrete exterior. We didn't see any statues of Lenin or Stalin but we did see several examples of the socialist era art that decorated the sides of commercial buildings with scenes of workers boldly marching with tools on their shoulders and a determined look in their eyes. The city has charm but there is no intact old city. Bits and pieces of medieval structures exist as do the remains of the city wall in places. There are cobbled squares with open air markets is several locations as well as the usual commercial buildings built perhaps in the last 100 years. One major difference between Riga and Talinin is that Riga has become more mixed regards the old and new city. The new has overlayed itself over the old and replaced it in many places and there remain many relics from the Soviet occupation.
Return to Finland & Baltic States