Estonia and Latvia
We arrived in Tallinn by train from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Tallinn was a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the other two cities in which we had just been. Estonia is like Russia in that it is a Post-Soviet country, but Tallinn hasn't quite rushed to catch up to the rest of the western, commercial world quite like Russia’s big cities.
In Tallinn we stayed at a hotel on the edge of Old Town, the best preserved medieval city in Europe, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Old Town’s cobblestone streets made for a nice wander, filled with the expected tourist shops and restaurants. Our favorite cafe was a medieval tavern called III Draakon, it was the kind of place that I might have dismissed as a tourist trap, if they didn't happen to serve the most perfect pastry pies, soup, and mulled wine. The October weather was starting to dip down to freezing, so we went back twice so that I could eat more toasty mushroom pies and warm up my veins with mulled wine.
We were very curious to see the KGB Museum in Tallinn, since all things KGB and Soviet are pretty fascinating. The KGB Museum tour is at the Hotel Viru, which up until 1991 was the only hotel in Tallinn, and there the KGB used spy on its guests. There is an entire floor of the hotel which housed secret rooms with audio equipment where the staff would listen in on people of interest who would stay at the hotel.
From Tallinn we decided to rent a car to drive across the border to Latvia and back. The drive would only be about 4 hours, and we would have the opportunity to see some of the Estonian and Latvian countryside. The major highway we drove to Riga was rather monotonous, and the highlights were stopping at a giant chair on the side of the road, a cute town with an old church and some interesting homes and street art, and a very cold, very windy beach.
We only had two nights to spend in Riga, and just as we got into the city a rainstorm that eventually turned into a snowstorm rolled through. We took a slushy walk through the old town of Riga, but it was evening time and nothing appeared to be open.
I think that the Soviet Stalinist style of architecture is cool is a menacing Gotham-city sort of way, so we visited The Latvian Academy of Sciences sciences building and observation deck. This building, nicknamed "Stalin's Birthday Cake", was built in the 1950s in the same style of Stalin's Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow. These buildings look old and gothic, but when you get up close you can see how cheaply they are constructed of materials like cinder blocks, and the interiors are very basic and uninspired. Weird architecture is one of the many reasons I find Soviet Union history and these Post-Soviet places so interesting.
Day two we took advantage of the car we had and drove out of the city to the Ķemeri National Park and bog. Somebody from Latvia on Instagram had recommended that I check out Ķemeri when I asked about a scenic natural place the I might go to fly my drone. I am so happy that we got the tip, it was a such an incredible place in which we were nearly alone (we crossed paths with just one or two other groups in the time we were there).
Ķemeri Park features a boardwalk that takes you through these perfectly vertical pine trees before arriving to The Great Ķemeri Bog (its like a marsh or swamp). The boardwalk winds for almost two miles around the soggy marshland and over deep dark pools of water, it was a natural landscape unlike anywhere I've ever been. This was such a great place to fly my drone; the bog looks even more incredible from above!
Drive back to Tallinn and Vaidava Ceramics
We had to drive back to Tallinn the next day (our trip to Riga was far too short, I know). We didn’t want to take the same road back to Estonia, instead we hoped to find a more scenic route. We had come across a local artisan shop when we were in Tallinn that sold very nice modern clothing and housewares, and a collection of ceramics had caught our eyes. Vaidava Ceramics was the name of the manufacturer, and we found that the ceramics were made in a small factory in a Latvian town also named Vaidava.
Vaidava was only an hour detour on our return drive to Tallinn, so we made arrangements to stop through and visit the ceramics factory. The quaint little town is set amongst Baltic pine trees, and Vaidava Ceramica was an equally quaint little factory.
The drive from Vaidava back to Tallinn was significantly more scenic than the main highway we had taken between Tallinn and Riga. The road we took brought us through forests and farms, and the border between Estonia and Latvia was at higher elevation where a blanket of snow covered the ground. After passing several farms with cute sheep, we decided to stop and visit a flock of fleecy friends. Jason thought it would be a good idea to feed them some of his Latvian Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and they seemed to really, really like it.
We continued to Tallinn where we returned our trusty rental car, and took a taxi to the ferry port where we boarded our overnight "booze cruise" to Stockholm, Sweden.