Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland
13.5: Munich -> Hannover
14.5: Hannover -> Kiel (ferry to Klaipeda)
15.5: Ferry -> Klaipeda -> Nida (Curonian Spit)
16.5: Nida -> Klaipeda -> Vilnius
18.5: Vilnius -> Trakai castle -> Vilnius
19.5: Vilnius -> Hill of Crosses -> Rundale
palace -> Riga
21.5: Riga -> Latvia ethnographic museum ->
Jurmala -> Riga
22.5: Riga -> Tartu
23.5: Tartu -> Tallinn
24.5: Tallinn -> Jägala juga waterfall -> Tallinn
25.5: Tallinn -> Lahemaa NP -> Tallinn
26.5: Tallinn -> Helsinki
27.5: Helsinki -> Ferry to Germany
28.5: Ferry to Germany -> Travemünde ->
29.5: Hennigsdorf -> Munich
Planning and overall impression
I had been planning a trip to the Baltics for quite some time. One of
the options included a visit to St Petersburg (three days side trip
from Helsinki), another option was to fly from Helsinki above the polar
arctic circle to experience the midnight sun. In the end we limited the
trip to just the three Baltic countries and left the two optional side
trips for the future.
Baltic countries have developed considerably since the end of the
Soviet Union. I was expecting to find some remnants of the Soviet past,
but in reality found three quite advanced and dynamic countries with
good infrastructure and living standards. Of the three Estonia is the
most advanced and expensive one.
Plenty of pretty, tall and
fashionable young girls in all three countries, especially Lithuania
and Latvia. Seems that careers in the modeling industry are quite
in focus here amoung young women.
In May-June the light is special
in the Baltics and there are plenty of photo opportunities. There is a
lack of geographical features (except perhaps for the beaches), but
this is compensated by interesting architecture in the cities. Helsinki
instead is not that interesting as a city.
Costs were low to moderate in Lithuania and Latvia, still reasonable in
Estonia and high in Finland. Hotels in Helsinki were about 50% more
expensive than in the Baltics.
Food is not exacly a reason to travel to
the Baltics. Generally speaking it's quite greasy, cooked with plenty
of fats. We relied mostly on Asian and other foreign restaurants and
occasionally of fast food outlets when time was short.
We booked apartments and hotels
in the 50 to 80 Euro/day range. Especially apartments were very good
value - a fully furnished apartment with enough space for a family of
four for as low as 50 Euro/day in some cities. Of course not in the
city centre, but with a car you can quickly get into town.
Helsinki we tried Airbnb but won't use them again. Highly complex
regsitration process which almost failed, and after that we paid 120
Euro for a tiny apartment in central Helsinki. The promised parking for
the car wasn't available and instead we got a fine of 60 Euro for
leaving the car where the host told us to leave it. It would have been
cheaper to spend 150 Euro for a real hotel.
Money / Exchange rate
1 Euro ~ USD 1.12
ATMs are easily available in the cities.
The Euro is used in all Baltics countries we visited.
phones and prepaid cards
Due to the
substantial reduction of roaming fees within the EU we roamed with our
German SIM cards and didn't bother to buy local SIM cards.
Hotels and apartments where we
stayed offered free WLAN. In addition free WLAN is available in many
malls and restaurants. Otherwise we relied on the mobile phones to
access the Internet.
Some rain at the beginning and end of
the trip (more rain along the coast), otherwise mostly good weather
with sun and blue skies. The first week was a bit fresh with peak
temperatures below 20°C, the second week generally warmer with peak
temperatures above 20°C on some days.
Health / Vaccinations
No vaccinations needed for the area.
VISA / Entry requirements
No VISAs needed as all countries we visited were inside the EU.
No issues here, probably due to the good economic development of the region.
- Vilnius, Riga and especially Tallinn are very nice.
- The coastal areas (Curonian spit, Jurmala etc.) are beautiful as well if the weather is good.
Things to avoid
- Compared to the other capitals of the Baltic countries, Helsinki is relatively unimpressive.
We travelled by car from Germany
to the Baltics, then used the car to get around. This was the perfect
solution for us, as we were travelling with two kids and had lots of
luggage. Parking options are available in all Baltics capitals. In
Tallinn we left the car in the hotel parking and just walked around the
old city on foot.
Ferries are a good option to cover the larger
distances (between Germany and the Baltics), as driving overland across
Poland would take a lot of time and be tiring.
13.5: Munich -> Hannover
Hotel Novotel, Hannover. 76 Euro for a nice modern
room with everything. Conveniently located next to the train station,
parking costs 3 Euro/day in the nearby parking house. Free WLAN,
comfortable beds, nicely furnished. The room is quite big. Separate
toilets for shower/bathtub and peeing. It's possible to separate the
room in two parts with a movable partition.
Weather: rainy and cold in Munich (10-13°C), a
mix of sunny and overcast and more rain as we drive north towards
Hannover. Clear sky in Hannover at night.
We manage to leave at 3:20pm, but later while on the motorway realise
that Shirley forgot to switch off all lights at home and in fact the
ventilator fan in one of the toilets is still on. Because we cannot
leave the fan running for 16 days (we are worrying it might fail if it
runs non-stop for 16 days and cause a fire), we drive back home to
switch it off. When we restart driving it's already 5:05pm, i.e. we've
lost 1:45 hours in the process.
Some traffic jam north of Munich starting in Eching, which we try to
avoid by leaving the motorway, only to run into another traffic jam on
the land road which runs parallel to the motorway. So, after a while we
get back to the motorway and here the traffic, while initially jammed a
bit, becomes soon smooth. The next major traffic jam is around Nürnberg, later
on the traffic, while heavy, proceeds smoothly. Many, many cars on the
streets this Friday afternoon.
After some breaks we reach the hotel in Hannover at 0:16am.
14.5: Hannover -> Kiel
(ferry to Klaipeda)
Overnight on the ferry to Klaipeda. We have a cabin
with window. Beds are relatively comfortable, but Shirley gets stung
once by something, perhaps a bed bug? The cabin has a small clothes
hanger place and a toilet with shower. Plenty of water. A/C power
socket in the cabin. The cabin is small, but it's possible to arrange
things in such a way that the stuff (suitcases etc.) does not block the
place. Drinks are surprisingly inexpensive in the bar (soft drinks in a
can for 1.20€), and probably food is not expensive either. Big car
ferry with four decks for cars, two (or three?) for people. No lift -
you need to carry your bags up and down staircases.
Weather: mostly overcast, some rain, every now
and then some rain. Windy and quite fresh (around 10-14°C).
We get up late, pack our stuff and get ready. A bit after 11am we get
out of the hotel looking for a bakery where to have breakfast. We
discover an entire shopping mall complete with a Kaufland supermarket
attached to the hotel and the train station. So we have breakfast
there. Then shortly before 12pm we check out of the hotel.
After checking on Google Maps and the Internet, it appears that driving
to Kiel via Bremen is only a small detour and Bremen is a much more
interesting place than Kiel. So initially we drive to the motorway for
Bremen. On the way we stop at a petrol station and refuel the car.
soon as we reach the motorway it becomes quickly obvious that we won't
drive to Bremen today. There is heavy traffic on the motorway, plenty
of cars, not so much traffic jam, but we progress very slowly. And,
although the ferry leaves at 8pm, you are required to check in two
hours before by 6pm.
So we just drive to Kiel, planning to have a nice late lunch there and
briefly look at the city. We arrive around 3:30pm and park the car in a
car park (1€/hour). The historic core of Kiel (or let's say, whats left
of it following the bombings of World War II) is not that impressive.
It's also not such a big place. After some walking we find a Chinese
restaurant where we have some late lunch/early dinner at 4:15pm. The
food actually sucks a bit (plenty of glutamate, plenty of meat in a
thick brown sauce, not that many vegetables), and is not cheap either.
At 5 something pm we leave the restaurant and walk back to the car. The
idea is to buy some food for the trip to Klaipeda. Not that easy to
find a supermarket - they are all concentrated in the centre of Kiel.
After some driving around we park in front of the train station and
walk to the Kaufland supermarket inside the train station. It appears
that this is a small supermarket with stuff for people who do a train
trip. So we walk to the mall across the street and there find an Edeka
supermarket and plenty of shops selling fresh food.
After shooping for food we drive to the Klaipeda ferry in Ostuferhafen
15, arriving there around 6:25pm, quite late. We first check in at the
DFDS office, where we get the tickets for the ferry. Then we proceed to
the ferry boat. Once on the boat, we drive to the lowest deck (deck 1)
and leave the car there. Then we get the keys for the cabin.
In the evening everybody is watching the Eurovision song contest.
Ukraine wins after including the votes of the juries, but Australia
wins the popular vote.
15.5: Ferry -> Klaipeda
-> Nida (Curonian Spit)
Hotel Jelita, Nida. 70 Euro for an apartment with
two rooms, attached bachroom with shower. Nicely furnished with a bit
old-fashioned furniture. Free WLAN in the room. Refrigerator, TV,
heating, no A/C. Not too high-tech, but comfortable.
Weather: sunny with clouds, windy the whole day.
Quite fresh (temperatures around 13°C). No rain, but the forecast for
tomorrow is rain.
We get up late and only leave the cabin at noon. In the early afternoon
I go out on the upper deck.
Great sunshine, beautiful views of the sea,
very windy. Around 3:30pm we approach the harbour in Klaipeda. Then it
takes almost another hour until we actually are in the harbour. Once
there, first the upper level trucks disemabark (lots of trucks on this
ferry - I wonder if it's more economic to send a truck by boat rather
than let it travel the same distance by road). Finally at 5:30pm we are
able to drive out of the ferry and get into Lithuania.
The first impression of Lithuania is that it is not a poor country. The
infrastructure is in a good shape, the streets are clean. There is no
old-Soviet era feeling, perhaps Lithuania left that behind some time
We drive to the ferry for the Curonian Spit. 13.45€ to use the car
ferry to cross the short channel separating the mainland from the spit
- very expensive, I was thinking the passage would cost around 2€. Once
on the other side we drive towards Nida.
Beautiful scenery of forests, sand dunes and villages. This is a place
where you can spend a couple of weeks relaxing if you have the time.
After a couple of stops along the way we reach the hotel in Nida around
7pm. Surprisingly swarms of large mosquitoes everywhere. Quite big
mosquitoes, I wonder if these are real blood-sucking mosquitoes.
We check in and later have a dinner in a restaurant around 8pm. Quite
heavy Lithuanian food with plenty of cream and fat, but not too
After dinner I get on the other side of the spit. There is a great,
endless white sand beach. Would be a nice place to relax if the
temperatures were higher.
16.5: Nida -> Klaipeda
Victoria's apartments, Vilnius. 65 Euro for a
beautiful modern apartment with everything (fully equipped kitchen,
toilet with shower and washing machine, modern rooms nicely decorated).
Free WLAN. The apartment is in a newly built apartment block, about
2-3km from the centre of Vilnius. Parking space included for free.
Clean rooms, spacious, very elegant. Good value.
Weather: rainy and stormy in Nida and Klaipeda,
temperatures around 7°C. Strong winds and rain until about 100km after
Klaipeda. Close to Vilnius the weather changes: it stops raining and
the sky opens up. Beautiful sunset, dry, no wind. Amazing how a
distance of 300km changes the weather.
In the morning it is raining, so we are not in a hurry to leave the
hotel. I was thinking
to explore the Curonian spit, but with a weather
like this it's pointless. So around 12pm we leave the hotel and start
driving towards Klaipeda. Along the way I make a brief stop to take
some photos of the beach and the forest. When we reach the ferry to the
mainland, this time it is free (apparently the 13.45€ I paid yesterday
cover a two way trip).
We reach Klaipeda at 1:25pm and stop at the Akropolis
shopping mall, which we already had spotted yesterday. It's
immediately facing the
road to the ferry. This mall is elegant and quite high end. Inside
there are plenty of cool shops, many selling designer products, a big
ice rink which is still open and many restaurants.
We have a lunch in a
Chinese restaurant, then explore the mall a bit and buy some groceries
in one of the supermarkets.
It's probably 3:30pm when we finally leave the mall. Now we drive to
Vilnius, the next stop in our trip. There is a good motorway all the
way from Klaipeda to Vilnius, but the weather conditions are horrible.
Strong lateral winds which push the car to the side and rain for the
first half of the trip. Quite tiring to drive the car, because you have
to hold the steering wheel firmly in your hands and watch out for
sudden wind bursts which push the car to the side. Every now and then
there are speed limits of 100, 80 and even 60 km/h on certain sections
of the motorway.
Around 6pm the host of our hotel in Vilnius calls to tell that there is
no hot water. We could stay a a friend's place, but only for two nights
(we were planning to spend three nights in Vilnius). I purchase a
mobile data package for Shirley's smartphone and ask her to look for a
place in Vilnius. And Shirley manages to find a place, so we cancel the
original booking. Technology is great - we manage to search and book a
new place while driving on the motorway. And the booking works fine -
within minutes we receive the confirmation and I call the new host.
I enter the new address into the navigation system and reach the new
place in Vilnius before 7pm. Before smartphones and navigation systems
existed, travelling around like this would not really have been
possible. We would have had to use paper maps, ask people for
directions, call one by one hotels in a paper directory or head to a
tourist information centre. Now instead everything works fine
Lithuania makes the impression of a quite developed, technologically
sophisticated country. It's not the ex Soviet republic kind of place.
It seems more wealthy than Poland,
the cars on the streets are quite
good. Good infrastructure, free WLAN everywhere, many new buildings.
After checking in the apartment, we drive into town to the Vilnius
cathedral. There we park the car (1.80€/hour parking fee between 8 and
24 hrs; later I discover another parking just 200m from there for
0.90€/hour from 8-22; free after 22 hrs) and have some quick food in a
nearby KFC restaurant. Small portions in this place, compared to
portions in KFC restaurants in Munich. After dinner we walk around a
bit, making it to the top of the old castle.
It's now 9pm and I drive Shirley and the kids back to the hotel. Then I
immediately drive back into town for some blue hour photography. Great
views from the top of the old castle hill. I'm back in the apartment at
Victoria's apartments, Vilnius.
Weather: sunny in the morning until about 11am,
then a mix of sunny and overcast (more overcast than sunny). Clear
skies again in the evening. No rain. Quite fresh, temperatures probably
not much higher than 10-13°C.
Because the weather is not good, we only leave the flat at noon. We
walk to the nearby supermarket, where we buy some food. Then we have a
simple lunch in the Japanese sushi restaurant in the mall and head back
to the apartment. There we wait half an hour for the laundry in the
washing machine to get ready.
After 2pm we drive into town, parking the car near the Vilnius
cathedral (90 cents/hour) at 2:45pm.
Finally the sun comes out. We
explore a bit the adjacent park, then head to the old town of Vilnius.
The old town of Vilnius is definitely cute, with its historic core with
baroque style buildings and old houses. Lots of tourists today. We
spend the entire afternoon until 7pm walking around the area, stopping
every now and then in cafes and restaurants to have some food. The food
here is definitely not bad ('eatable' as Shirley puts it), although in
one place where we stop the staff manages to mess up totally my order
of pancakes. First they serve pancakes with bananas instead of apple
& cinnamon as I ordered them. Then the pancakes come dry, without
maple syrup, honey or some other liquid.
I must say that the women in Vilnius dress mostly stylish. Lots of
girls in 'model-size': tall, slim, many pretty ones, suitable for a
modeling career. Not that many stunnigly beautiful, to-die-for girls,
but quite a good standard. In other cities girls are quite careless
about the way they look, but here girls and women are quite
fashion-conscious and have good body shapes. I wonder if it is just
Vilnius or the whole of Lithuania.
Another thing I noticed already yesterday is that car drivers here stop
for pedestrians at street crossings. That doesn't happen in many
countries. Overall this seems to be a country of people who follow the
rules and are polite.
After 7pm we drive to the Rimi shopping centre near our flat and have
some dinner there. In the evening after 9pm I head back into town for
some blue hour photography.
18.5: Vilnius -> Trakai
castle -> Vilnius
Victoria's apartments, Vilnius. Today the battery
of the mobile phone we use to open the garage door is empty. Great
technology, but what if the battery is empty? We call the administrator
lady and she brings a new phone with a charged battery.
Weather: a mix of cloudy, overcast and sunny.
After 6pm the sky opens up and the evening is beautiful. Quite fresh
(10-13°C) until the sun comes out. 6°C at night.
Again we stay in the apartment until late because the weather is not
that great. Around 2pm we get out and have lunch in a Chinese
restaurant which Shirley had spotted yesterday. A full meal for 3.50€ -
unbelievable. Together with a soft drink the cost is 5€, and the taste
is not bad.
After 3pm we leave the restaurant and drive by car to the Trakai
castle. This is a beautiful castle on an island in a lake, surrounded
by forests. Beautiful setting. Trakai is about 25km from Vilnius and
getting there by car takes about half an hour. The castle and the
surroundings (forests, a village) are stunningly gorgeous, especially
if the sun is shining. Parking costs 1€/hour between 8am and 10pm.
This 16th castle was in ruins at the beginning of the 20th century.
Then in a series of restoration works which extended over a period of
80 years the castle was completely repaired and brought back to its
state in the 16th century. I guess this place is not in the UNESCO list
because so much of it was rebuilt in the last century.
The entrance costs 6€ for adults and 3€ for children. Inside the castle
there is a nice museum with several exhibits. It's also possible to
practice archery and crossbow shooting (2€ for six shots). After
visiting the castle, at 5:15pm the kids and I rent a paddle boat (7€)
for one hour. Some fun getting around the lake.
It's 6:40pm when we finally drive back towards Vilnius. On the way we
stop at a Maxima shopping centre to buy some groceries. The Maxima
centre consists of a large supermarket with some additional small shops
and a restaurant.
At 7:15pm we drive back to Vilnius. There we have a dinner in the same
place where we had lunch today. We're back in the apartment at 8:40pm.
At 9pm I get out again and drive to the Trakai castle for some blue
hour photography. I'm back at 11:30pm.
19.5: Vilnius -> Hill of
Crosses -> Rundale palace -> Riga
Neretas apartments, Riga. About 50 Euro/night for
an apartment with everything (dishwasher, washing machine, fully
functional kitchen etc.). Free WLAN. There is a parking area for cars,
but parking is not always available. There is even an electrical heater
you can use. Fríendly and helpful host. The only problem of this place
is the location: 4km from the centre of Riga, i.e. you can't walk
there. This apartment is good, but the one in Vilnius was even better.
Good shower, with plenty of hot water.
Weather: first (relatively) warm day of the trip:
lots of sun, from time to time overcast, otherwise many clouds in the
sky. No rain, temperatures up to 18°C.
Quite intensive day: we leave the apartment in Vilnius at 11:30am and
drive to the Hill of Crosses site, 220km northwest of Vilnius near
Siauliai, arriving there at 2pm. This hill of crosses is quite cool, as
there are countless Christian crosses planted there on a small hill
surrounded by meadows and trees. The whole setup is also quite
photogenic. Not too many tourists today.
We spend 20-25 minutes in this place, then drive to the nearby Girele
restaurant where we have lunch. Quite decent food, relatively
inexpensive. It's finally 3:30pm when we start driving to the next
The next destination is the Rundale palace
in southern Latvia. It's a
distance of 75km and according to the Lonely Planet guide this place
closes at 5pm, so we have to be there as soon as possible. The drive
proceeds smoothly. It's all a single lane per direction road, but
because there is little traffic we proceed quickly and reach the
Rundale palace by 4:25pm.
The Rundale palace is a beaufitul palace similar to the
Versailles complex in France or the Nymphenburg castle in Munich.
Big palace with
two wings with a large garden.
The family ticket costs 13 Euro for the
long tour of the castle interior + 2 Euro for the photo permit (50 Euro
if you want to use a tripod). It's another 2 Euro per person to visit
the park. The rooms inside the palace are nicely decorated and there
are paintings of the Curland family who have been owning this place in
At 5:45pm we are done with the palace and after a brief stop in a
nearby cafe for some snacks and icecream drive to Riga. It's an 80km
drive, which takes about an hour. After arriving at 7:30pm, we head
straight to the old town. The idea would be to have dinner and a quick
look at the old town before heading to the apartment.
The problem is to find a parking, that is an affordable one. The
cheapest one I find says 2 Euro for the first hour + 2.5 Euro for each
Plenty of places for 5 Euro/hour. We waste about 40
minutes, a couple of times being told that it's not allowed to park
here. It's surprising that parking in Vilnius was so relatively
inexpensive and here it's so pricey. Finally at 8:10pm we leave the car
in a place and then find out that parking in this place after 8pm is
So we walk into the old town of Riga. Narrow cobblestone streets,
renessaince/baroque era palaces, very touristy place (at least for what
concerns this area). Lots of tourists everywhere. We have a dinner in
an Italian restaurant (surprisingly good food, considering where we
are, and moderately priced). Finally at 10pm we are at the flat where
we meet the host. The host suggests to take a taxi into town tomorrow,
because parking is expensive in Riga.
Neretas apartments, Riga.
Weather: in the morning until about 11-12am sunny
blue sky. After that overcast. Later in the afternoon after 3pm
spotless blue sky and great sun until about 8pm. Then for about an hour
the sky is cloudy again.
We leave home late, only after 1pm because the weather is not so good.
Initially we head to a Maxima supermarket where we buy some groceries.
Then we drive to the nearby Riga centre mall in order to have some
lunch. On the first floor of this mall there is a food court with many
fast food restaurants and some other restaurants (for instance an Asian
one). After lunch, we head again to a supermarket to buy some stuff,
then drive into town.
The challenge is now to get into town. We've decided not to take a
taxi, because it's 12 Euro to go and come back and anyway it's already
3pm, so even after paying 2-2.50 Euro/hour for parking until 8pm we
would spend more or less the same if we went by car. But I did some
research this morning and found some less expensive car parkings (1
Euro for two hours by Europarks), so I key in the address and drive
After some exploring we find one place. It's a parking in a Statoil
petrol station, but all parkings are already taken. So I drive out and
end up in a road to a parking and notice that there are empty spaces
the side of the road where people leave their cars. We ask several
people if we are allowed to park there. All say yes, and in fact there
are no street signs stating that parking is prohibited here or costs
In fact there is no parking ticket machine anywhere. Looks like
we found a free parking. We leave the car there and start exploring the
We spend the next hours until 7:15pm walking around Riga. Right now the
sun is shining and the combination of blue sky and great light make the
city look beautiful. There is a green belt of parks surrounding the
city on the outside. Lots of renessaince, baroque and neoclassical
buildings everywhere. Practically all buildings in the historic core
are in a good shape, probably because of restoration activities which
took place over the past years. Here and there a modern building has
been constructed in the historic core. Lots of shops, restaurants and
cafes. Many tourists on the streets.
We get to the top of St Peter's church (adults 9 Euro, kids 3 Euro) for
some nice views of Riga.
Overall the historic core is sufficiently
compact that in a few hours it is possible to explore it all.
At 7:15pm we walk to the same Italian restaurant of yesterday and have
dinner there. At 8:30pm we walk back to the car. There is no fine for
the parking. We drive back home. Later in the evening around 10pm I'm
back in town for some blue hour shots.
21.5: Riga -> Latvia
ethnographic museum -> Jurmala -> Riga
Neretas apartments, Riga.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Some
clouds in the late evening. Temperatures up to about 20°C. No rain,
leave the apartment in the afternoon after 2pm and first drive to a
petrol station for some fuel and a car wash, then briefly stop at a
photo store for some camera equipment. Then we drive to the Latvia
ethnographic museum. This is an open air museum located about 10km east
of the centre of Riga in a large wooded area along the Juglas
lake. Inside there is a collection of old Latvian houses. Somehow
but many houses, actually most of them, look the same
and there could be more exhibits in the houses and more explanations in
Anyway, when we arrive at 3:45pm, immediately a lady shows up who sells
us a parking ticket for 2 Euro. Then we purchase a family ticket for
8.50 Euro and walk into the open air museum. It's houses spread in a
forest which extends along the lake. In some houses there are people in
traditional clothes, performing some tasks. We spend the next two hours
walking inside the park, then at 6pm are back in the car.
Now we drive to Jurmala, the seaside resort of Riga which is located
about 20km west of Riga along the Baltic sea coast. Getting there from
the ethnographic museum takes a bit less than an hour according to the
navigation system. But then we first stop in a supermarket for some
food (we have skipped lunch today). Then later when we are about to
drive into Jurmala the police stop us.
Turns out that we should have purchased a 2 Euro entry permit.
says that he must prepare a protocol and the fine will be 55 Euro.
Seems a bit steep, especially considering that we are foreign tourists
who have no way to know about this entry permit.
Well, there are street
signs with some text in Latvian but they are easy to miss, especially
when all cars are ignoring them. The guy then reduces the fine to 20
Once in Jurmala we lose some time driving around looking for the city
centre. We don't find it, but after some time we park the car
place with shops and restaurants (Tirgou street, next to the Redbus
cafe). From there it's a short walk to the beach (near the five star
Baltic Beach hotel). It's an amazing view, wide open space, evening
sun, beautiful white sand beach extending for kilometres. Much less
developed than the beaches on Rügen island in Germany, but even more
beautiful. It's a pity it's so windy and cold today.
After some time on the beach we walk back to the street and after some
searching find an Uzbek restaurant. This has some quite interesting
food and a nice central Asian setting. After dinner we drive back to
22.5: Riga -> Tartu
Gildi 4 Külaliskorter apartment in Tartu. 80 Euro
for the apartment on the top floor of an old building in Tartu. The
good thing about this place is that it is 100m from the town hall
square and right behind the university and has its own free parking.
Two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, free WLAN (but slow), separate
shower toilet with clothes washing machine and peeing toilet (as was
the case with the Riga apartment). The shower is a bathtub, but
actually the attachment for the shower head is broken, so you can only
take showers if you hold the shower head in one hand. Water boiler
system for the shower: there is barely enough water to finish one
shower. Otherwise the standard is much lower than that of the
apartments in Riga and Vilnius. Everything is old, the quality of the
furniture is so-so, the windows of the sleeping rooms can't be darkened
properly. Shirley's first comment is that this place is overpriced. But
the good thing about this place is its location - no need to drive by
car into town, because we are already in town.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, some clouds.
Temperatures up to 21°C, the first really warm day since the beginning
of this trip. No rain.
We leave the Riga apartment at 11:25am and first drive to the Nativity
of Christ Russian Orthodox cathedral in Riga.
This is surrounded by a
large park and today because the sun is shining, the sky is blue and
because of the spring everything looks beautiful. Shirley and the kids,
because they don't care about old buildings, head to the playground
area in the park, while I walk to the cathedral and take some photos.
Photography not allowed inside the cathedral, but then the interior is
not that photogenic either. So after I'm done photographing this
building I walk back to Shirley and the kids.
We then start driving towards Tartu. On the way, just outside Riga, we
stop at the Alfa shopping mall which today is open, even if it is
There we shop a bit around and have a lunch in the Chilli Pizza
restaurant. Should have taken the pizza, because my Asian fish dish
with rice is not that good. At 2:15pm we continue driving to Tartu.
The road in Latvia is not very good. For the largest part of the trip
it's one lane per direction.
In about 70%-80% of the Latvian section of
the road the tarmac is in a poor shape. On the Estonian side the road
is in a much better shape, with a quite smooth surface.
After a couple of stops we reach the apartment in Tartu. There we meet
out host, a young Estonian girl, blonde and pretty
as many girls in
Tartu. She shows us our flat and we check in.
Around 6pm we get out and start exploring Tartu. There is actually not
that much to see in Tartu. It's basically the university and the town
hall square. Otherwise it's a pretty city, with beautiful parks and
nice buildings, but not that much to see.
Shops and malls close earlier than in Latvia. Compared to Latvia and
Lithuania, Estonia seems to be more developed but more regulated. Lots
of pretty girls and women on the street (many blondes), and many of
them like to wear sexy (or perhaps they do so because today is a sunny
We have dinner in the Vapiano restaurant of the Kvartal shopping mall.
It's 7:15pm and the shops of the nearby Kaubamaja mall are already
closed and so are most shops in the Kvartal mall. Quite a difference
from Lithuania and Latvia, where there are malls open until 11pm.
After dinner we head back to the apartment. After 10:30pm I'm out again
for some blue hour photography.
23.5: Tartu -> Tallinn
Old House apartments, Tallinn. 80 Euro for an
apartment in the centre of the old town (300m from the town hall
square). Parking included in the price. Fully equipped, the only thing
which is missing is the washing machine for the clothes. Only one
toilet for peeing and taking a shower and it's not clear if there is a
fan which sucks the smelly air out. Free WLAN available. One of the
rooms is facing the street where there are people and cars passing by.
Also here it is not possible to properly darken the rooms (it seems
these people do not know that dark curtains exist).
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds (thin
high altitude clouds layer). Temperatures up to 22°C, quite warm during
daytime, more fresh at night.
In the morning around 11:20am I'm out again for some photos of the old
town, then at 11:50am we start driving towards Tallinn. Today is a
wonderful day and the drive proceeds smoothly on the good road to
Tallinn. It's mostly one lane per direction, with only a couple of
sections (in the middle of the trip and the last km before Tallinn)
with two lanes per direction. Not clear to me why they don't build
motorways in Estonia.
At 2pm we stop in a mall a few km
from the city centre of Tallinn.
There we have some lunch and buy some groceries in the supermarket.
Price level higher than in Latvia and Lithuania.
Around 3pm we drive into Tallinn and first stop at the office of the
OldHouse apartments. There we register and then drive to the apartment.
We unload our stuff and settle in the flat. The car parking is out of
the city walls, a 500m walk from the apartment.
At 4:50pm, while Shirley and the kids are resting in the apartment I
exploring the old town of Tallinn. It's indeed very cute -
traditional middle ages / renessaince type of European old town.
Actually a bit almost too cute.
Everywhere there are restoration works
ongoing to fix buildings and streets, the way a medieval old town is
supposed to look like. There is a certain atmosphere of Disneyland
fantasy castle here, in the sense that they are trying to make this
city as cute as possible. It's a very, very touristy place. Probably
the entire historic core heavily depends on tourists and therefore is
targetted at them.
I spend the next three hours walking around the old town. Around 8pm I
meet Shirley and the kids at the apartment. Together we walk to an
Asian restaurant which Shirley spotted when we were driving to the
apartment office earlier today. It's the Monk restaurant in Nunne
street. There we order some fried noodles and a tomato soup. All dishes
are not that good (Shirley complains that this is the worst Asian food
she every ate; in fact my dish is quite tasteless and this restaurant
isn't cheap either).
After dinner it's already 9pm. We walk a bit around Tallinn, having a
look at the place. Since the kids are still hungry (they didn't finish
the food in the restaurant), we buy some stuff in a McDonalds
restaurant, before heading back to the apartment.
At 10:30pm I walk out again for some blue hour photography. The sky
starts getting deep blue after 10:45pm. Lots of people on the streets.
I'm out until after midnight. The cool thing is that the sky doesn't
get black. It stays blue, even after midnight. I'm back in the
apartment after midnight.
24.5: Tallinn -> Jägala
juga waterfall -> Tallinn
Old House apartments, Tallinn.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day.
Temperatures up to 22°C.
Around noon we look for hotels in Helsinki. Prices are quite high
(above 120 Euro) if you need a room in central Helsinki with free
parking. There are hotels out of Helsinki or hotels in Helsinki without
parking for less than that, but if you factor in the cost of a car
parking for 24 hours the cost gets quickly quite high. So we give a try
to Airbnb, a platform we haven't used so far. We find a place with
parking in central Helsinki for 120 Euro (the initially shown price is
much lower, but it climbs to 120 Euro if you add all fees).
We contact the host and ask some questions about the flat. Everything
looks ok, so we proceed with the booking. The mess starts when we try
to set up an Airbnb account. First it requests a telephone number.
Never mind. Then it requests a photo of us. None of your business, so
we just upload a black image. Then it requests scans of an ID or
passport. Ok, this is still understandable, because also in a hotel you
need to show a passport or ID when checking in. But the real problem
comes when it requests a Facebook, Google+, LInkedIn or Weibo account,
which I don't have. Shirley has a Facebook account, but we can't use
that because I'm registering with my name and in any case there are
lots of photos of our kids up there which we don't want to share with
There is also an option for completing the registration without
Facebook & Co. You make a short video of yourself, explaining who
you are and why you want to book a room with them. But honestly, why
would I make a fool of myself just to book a room?
What happens is that the booking expires after 11 hours. The problem
will be fixed the next day (see below).
Leaving home after 2pm, we spend the day in Tallinn having a look at
the city. At 5:15pm we climb up the clock tower of the St Olav church
for some views of Tallinn. Right now the sun is in a not so suitable
position, so I guess I will return tomorrow morning. Then we slowly
walk back to the apartment.
In the evening at 8pm we drive to the Jägala Juga waterfall, which is
located about 30km east of Tallinn. By car it's a half an hour drive.
The road is partly motorway and partly land road. The waterfall is
quite cool - not that high (less than 10m), but wide and with plenty of
water. As soon as we get out of the car, we are attacked by a swarm of
big and very aggressive mosquitoes. Never seen anything like that,
except perhaps in the jungle of Tioman island (Malaysia), but there the
mosquitoes were smaller. In Germany there are also mosquitoes, but
these are smaller, don't attack in swarms and are much more discrete
(they don't jump on you like here). I have to wear a jacket to protect
myself at least partly. These insects attack every patch of uncovered
skin and even sting through the trousers.
Because of the mosquitoes we only spend 10-15 minutes in this place. I
wonder how the people who live in the nearby village cope with the
situation, because covering yourself with mosquito repellent every day
for 3-6 months of the year is not really an option.
After the waterfall we drive to the Ülemiste centre shopping mall,
arriving there at 9:25pm. We find out that the mall has already closed
at 9pm, so drive to a nearby Prisma hypermarket where we buy some food.
We are back in Tallinn at 10pm.
25.5: Tallinn -> Lahemaa
NP -> Tallinn
Old House apartments, Tallinn.
Weather: same as yesterday, sunny, blue sky the
whole day. Temperatures up to 22°C.
I get up at 9am and reopen the Airbnb booking which in the meantime has
been cancelled. I remember that years ago I had set up a Google+
account, but never used that. So I try providing that to Airbnb. The
curious thing is that Airbnb does not take that. It rather wants the
details of my Gmail account. I had stopped using Gmail after the
Snowden affair due to privacy concerns. There are still some old mails
stored there and apparently some contacts, which Gmail must have
extracted from my smartphone.
Since Airbnb requires access to my contacts in Gmail (none of your
business, Airbnb!) I just delete everything in my Gmail account (all
old mails and all contacts), before granting Airbnb the right to browse
through my Gmail contacts. Once everything is done I'm registered with
Airbnb and can finally book the damn apartment in Helsinki. Booking
accomodation with a standard hotel booking site is much less of a
hassle, so in the future I'll try to avoid using Airbnb.
At 10am I get out and walk to the St Olav church. There I climb again
on the tower, hoping to get some better shots of Tallinn than
yesterday. And indeed this time the photos come out better than
yesterday. I'm up there for 20 minutes, then go down again because I'm
done and because the viewing platform starts being very, very crowded.
It's full of people and when I walk down the staircase there are masses
of people climbing it up. Luckily I went up straight after 10am, when
the tower just had opened and there were few people.
Back home at 10:40am Shirley and the kids are still sleeping (last
night the kids fell asleep well after midnight - happens sometimes when
kids are on a holiday and the school discipine is missing). Around
10:50am everybody is awake and the day slowly starts. Breakfast, school
exercises, plans for the day.
We leave the apartment at 1:20pm.
The first stop is the Kadriorg
palace, a Baroque palace with gardens at the eastern outskirts of
Tallinn. This is quite cute (free entry, no ticket). Especially the
gardens and the adjacent park are very nice. Tallinn is a very green
city in May, with beautiful gardens, parks and greeneries.
Around 2:10pm we drive to the Ülemiste shopping centre, which is
located near the airport of Tallinn.
This time the mall is open.
Beautiful, modern mall, perhaps the nicest I've seen so far in the
Baltics. Lots of high end shops, but also many shops catering to the
Here we have some lunch in an Indian restaurant on the
first floor. Then, after buying some drinks in the Rimi supermarket
inside the mall, we start driving to the Lahemaa national park around
Driving to Lahemaa takes around an hour. After a section of basic road,
it's mostly a motorway-like road with two lanes per side and a 110 km/h
We first drive to the park visitor information centre in
Palmse. There I buy a map for 1.90 Euro and discuss with the lady about
the options for 2-3 hours.
The Lahemaa national park is located about 75km east of Tallinn north
of the motorway to Narva and is rather big.
It's a park with coastal
forest, and is supposed to host wildlife and have interesting rock
formations on the coastline. Then there are old manors, built by rich
people in the past, which nowadays are either museums or hotels.
We drive from Palmse to Oandu. There we do the yellow trail (i.e. a
trail with yellow markings). This is a circular trail in the forest
which brings you back to the parking. I must have misunderstood
because I had understood that this is a short trail with a
total length of 1 km. In reality, walking speedily it will take us over
an hour to complete this trail (we walk between 5:15pm and 6:25pm), so
the total length must be more than 3km. The reason we walk speedily are
the mosquitoes: also this place is full of mosquitoes and if you don't
move the mosquitoes will try to sting you.
Beautiful coastal forest, very well maintained trail with elevated
plankways for large sections of the trail (useful in case it rains).
Bushes of blueberries everywhere, although now the blueberries aren't
Once back in the car we drive the next place, the beach of Vosu. This
is only a few km away and we are there at 6:50pm. Now this is a beach,
but is not as nice as the Jurmala beach. It's actually quite small and
the seawater is dirty (there is some yellow stuff in it, perhaps pollen
of the trees?).
The kids immediately start playing with the sand and the water.
Probably they wouldn't even mind to swim in the sea water if we didn't
After this place we drive to the Käsmu promontory. Also here there is a
good trail which from the parking loops around the promontory. I meet
some Russians which are camping here and grilling some meat. Not such a
bad idea, would be nice to spend the night here. Photogenic boulders in
the sea water at the promontory tip.
It's 7:45pm when we finally start driving back to Tallinn. At 8:40pm we
stop again at the Ülemiste mall. We buy some groceries and some
take-away food at the Indian restaurant, then drive back to the
apartment in Tallinn.
26.5: Tallinn -> Helsinki
Apartment of Dima (Airbnb), Helsinki. 120 Euro for
a small apartment. It seems that the host usually lives here, and moved
out to make place for us and earn some money. The apartment is ok for
one night, but the toilet is very, very small (about the same size as
the toilet in our ferry cabin Kiel-Klaipeda, although perhaps the ship
toilet was bigger). It's amazing that you can put a kitchen, toilet,
living room and bedroom into such a small place. The apartment is
advertised as having free parking, but in reality there is no allocated
parking space and you have to put the car on the street (and hope there
is a parking available).
Weather: overcast in the morning in Tallinn.
Quite heavy rain and cold. We've been really lucky with the weather in
Tallinn - three straight days of good sunny weather. Overcast also in
Helsinki and some rain there as well. Temperatures around 16°C in
We leave the apartment shortly after 10am. We return the keys and the
parking card to the OldHouse hostel, then rush to the harbour, to the
Eckerö terminal. There we walk in and want to check-in. We are told to
drive straight to the ferry, lanes 7-8. There we queue up and wait for
some time. We'll only get on the ferry around 11:20am. It's a big,
car-only ferry with nine decks (decks 3-5 reserved for cars). No
The ferry departs early at 11:45am. We sit in the front area of the
deck. Olf-fashioned Finnish music playing. After some time a band shows
up and plays some Finnish songs. Some old couples dancing on the floor.
The ferry reaches Helsinki on time around 2:30pm and we disembark.
We drive to the apartment of Dima. On such a grey day, with an overcast
sky Helsinki is even less appealing than it already is. Lots of not so
cute streets with brick buildings. Unimpressive, old streets, which
have been built years ago and never renovated.
In Dima's place it's his mother who opens the door and hands over the
keys. We move in and I find a place where to park the car. I was
thinking of visiting Suomenlinna, but with such a weather I prefer to
take a rest in the flat.
After 5:30pm we drive to the Itis shopping mall outside Helsinki. This
is supposed to be the largest mall in the nordic countries, and in fact
it's huge and flashy. Lots of high-end but also middle-class shops and
outlets. Not too many restaurants and no food court with affordable
food. We have some dinner in an Indian restaurant, then buy groceries
in a supermarket (there are two supermarkets, a Lidl discounter and an
S-Market). Quite a fe
w black muslim women covered with hijiabs in this
We are back in the apartment at 8:30pm. Later in the evening, around
11pm, I'm in town for some blue hour photography.
27.5: Helsinki -> Ferry
to Germany (Helsinki-Travemünde)
Cabin on board of the Finnlines ferry
Helsinki-Travemünde. 500 Euro for the car and the ferry cabin. This
ferry cabin is much more luxurious than the Kiel-Klaipeda one: it's
bigger, has a TV, refrigerator, cupboard for the clothes, window,
double-bed + two stacked beds. All beds have soft mattresses.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few small clouds,
relatively warm (18-20°C), no rain.
We sleep late and only manage to leave the apartment at 11:50am. There
is a fine of 60 Euro for wrong parking on the car. Actually this
apartment was advertised on Airbnb as with free parking,
and in fact I
parked where Dima told me to park the car (under the bridge), and now
there is this 60 Euro fine.
We drive to the market square and park the car in a nearby parking. We
could also have walked, but we are short of time. While Shirley and the
kids have a walk in town (they've never been to Helsinki), I take the
ferry to Suomenlinna. It's 12:25pm and the next ferry is at 12:45pm.
check with another company, but their ferry is only leaving at 1pm, so
I buy a ticket for the 12:45pm ferry (JT-line).
When the ferry arrives, there is a cute blonde girl who is doing all
docking manoeuvres, i.e. fixing the ferry with ropes to the harbour
dock. First time I see a girl doing this kind of work. Everywhere else
I've been this task is done by muscular men, but here in Finland it's
done by young blonde girls. And this girl is even slim and good-looking.
The ferry leaves punctually at 12:25pm, then makes a stop at a small
island, then finally arrives in Suomenlinna at 1:10pm. But this is only
the first stop, as I'm supposed to get out at the second stop (King's
gate) and walk back to the first stop. The ferry waits 10 minutes in
this place, then continues to King's gate and arrives there at 1:25pm.
I now have 20 minutes left to explore Suomenlinna and walk back to the
first stop. Had I known the timings and the distances, I would have
walked from the first stop to King's gate and back, as this would have
given me 15 more minutes in Suomenlinna.
Anyway, Suomenlinna is a 18th-19th century fortress on an island,
initially built by the Swedes, then taken over and further used by the
Russians. It's a UNESCO world heritage site on an island near Helsinki.
The site is not terribly interesting, but the island is quite pleasant.
At 1:45pm I'm on the ferry back to Helsinki. I pick up the car (these
two hours of parking have cost 12.50 Euro), meet again Shirley and the
kids and together we drive to the Itis mall. The idea is to have some
lunch and buy some more food for the trip. It's actually already 2:45pm
and we should check in at the ferry at 3pm already, so I just buy some
sandwiches at a Subway restaurant and some drinks and drive to the
The Finnlines terminal is located about 19km east of Helsinki. This
time you don't have to walk with your documents to a building where to
register. You just drive with the car to gates. After showing our
IDs/passports, we are given the access cards and can proceed to the
ferry. Much simpler than the check-in in Kiel for the Klaipeda ferry.
We park the car on the 8th deck of the ferry. Our cabins are just one
level higher on the 9th deck and there is even an elevator. Compare
that to the Klaipeda ferry, where the car was on the 1st deck and you
had then walk with the (heavy) bags/luggage up to the 5th deck and
there was no elevator.
The ferry leaves on time at 5pm. Today the weather is good and the sea
is quiet. We spend the rest of the day relaxing in the cabin and on the
ship. There is not that much to do here. There is a bar/restaurant/shop
area on the 11th deck, but it's quite small (just one shop, a couple of
bars and a restaurant). On deck 12 you can ago outside and catch some
fresh air and sun. All bars and restaurants close at 9pm which is
amazingly early (on the Klaipeda ferry the bar closed only at midnight).
28.5: Ferry to Germany ->
Travemünde -> Hennigsdorf
Ibis budget hotel Hennigsdorf, Hennigsdorf. 46 Euro
for a budget room. The room is simple, no frills, but fully adequate.
There is a table, washing bowl, TV, two beds one over the other. Small
toilet with shower. Free WLAN.
Weather: overcast day with some sun at sea in the
morning, blue sky in the evening. Quiet sea, very smooth.
Second day at sea. We sleep until late. At 11:30am we walk to the
restaurant area where there is a brunch buffet (9:30am to 1pm). Adults
pay 23 Euro, kids until 12 years of age pay 9.50 Euro. I have a quick
look at the buffet. It's not really that appetising and I'm not sure if
I would want to eat here even if this buffet was free.
For sure I
wouldn't want to spend 23 Euro for this food. Shirley isn't that
impressed either, so we walk back to the cabin.
The buffet dinner will be much better (adults 27 Euro, kids 13.50
Euro). We basically spend the day not doing much (and there isn't much
to do anyway on this ferry).
The ferry arrives on time in Travemünde and we are able to leave the
boat by 9:50pm - just 20 minutes after our arrival in the harbour, much
faster than I expected. Then we lose some time because the Navigon car
navigation system uses old maps and directs us into a road which is
closed to the traffic. We reach the hotel in Hennigsdorf near Berlin
29.5: Hennigsdorf ->
Home, sweet home.
Weather: sunny, temperatures up to 30°C. In the
late evening heavy rain in Bavaria, temperatures drop to 15°C.
We leave the hotel at 11:50am and initially refuel the car and wash it
in the nearby petrol station. There are now around 600km to drive to
get back home.
If there was no traffic, these 600km would be doable in
five hours (six hours with breaks). In practice it will take the whole
day to get back home, becuase of countless traffic jams here and there.
It starts with a horrible traffic jam at the junction of the A115 and
A10 motorways (caused by the high traffic and road works on the
motorway). After over an hour in the jam we decide to get out of the
motorway and make a big detour on land roads to avoid this jam area.
In practice we run into another jam on the land road, because we are
not the only ones who have tried to avoid the traffic jam on the
motorway and there are lots of cars on this land road. And then there
is a traffic light with 10 seconds of green followed by one minute of
red at the entrance to one small city. Possibly the small city uses
this traffic light to reduce the traffic flowing through it.
There will be more traffic jams later. In the evening, south of
Nürnberg, it starts to rain very heavily and it gets dark. Very poor
visibility, lots of water on the road, strong wind. Difficult to drive
fast. Even after 10pm there are still so many cars on the road.
I tell myself that I won't be driving again at daytime during peak
holiday periods through Germany. There are just too many road works on
German motorways going on at any given time and traffic on German
motorways collapses when there are too many cars.
If I knew about this traffic situation, I probably would have continued
driving last night after 1am and would have arrived much further south.
At least at night there is much less traffic on German motorways and
virtually no traffic jams.
We reach home at 11pm in the evening after almost 10 hours of driving.