Our two weeks in the Baltics was an interesting experience for us, detailed here.
We wanted to spent time in the Baltics, partly satisfy Trevor’s ongoing interest in former east bloc countries, partly to visit some less touristy spots, and partly to experience the subtle cultural differences we expected in the region.
In true banker form, we’ve put together our top “takeaways” from our time in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
All of the comforts, none of the tourists
We both thought the Baltics had been on the tourist map for long enough now that we might be running into big tour groups and British bachelor parties. But we didn’t. Obviously, there is a little of that – but, even in July, none of the places we visited felt crowded like we’re used to in other parts of Europe. And prices were affordable – to rent full apartments (granted, often basic/studio apartments), we paid as little as €30-40 per night. Granted, after our trip to Iceland everything seemed cheap.
Restaurants were high quality, there was a full range of accommodations available, transit was comfortable and cheap, wi-fi access was everywhere, and almost everyone spoke some English (at least their English was better than our Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, or Russian)!
Ice cream is appropriate in all weather
It doesn’t matter how cool it is out or how overcast – ice cream is always appropriate to locals. This isn’t just a Baltic phenomenon, as we’ve seen the same thing in British “beach” towns. It seems like in cooler countries, if it’s summer you buy ice cream regardless of whether it’s actually hot out. More power to them, but we weren’t convinced.
Europeans love their statues – of anything
Granted, all the statues add to the overall historic atmosphere and add some of the history and context to visiting a region. In North America, statues seem limited to athletes and politicians, whereas we saw statues here dedicated to anyone from doctors to architects to priests and more. But they also love their random statues.
Food options had their high and low points
Overall, the food was great. We enjoyed scarfing down stuffed pancakes (really just savory crepes) at Kompressor in Tallinn, amazing kebabs at Food Box in Riga, fried bread with cheese dip and potato dumplings at Katpedele in Klaipeda. Pizza was surprisingly common throughout the Baltics (although not particularly good). Beer was good and plentiful. And we learned that the only way to improve on deep fried potatoes is deep fried mashed potatoes. Unbelievable!
But some options were less appetizing. Pigs ears, snouts, and hooves were on many menus, but we didn’t venture to try them (although Trevor loved his pigs neck steak at Katpedele). Kvass, a fermented drink made from rye bread – tasted like drinking rye bread. So if you ever eat some rye bread and think “I wish this came in liquid form”, now you know it does!
It felt like we were carbo-loading throughout the Baltics. Good thing we were walking ~15km/day. The food was great, but heavy and left us craving something green. We’ll need to get some veggies into our diet before we arrive in Krakow for the annual pierogi festival in a couple of weeks!
NO ONE jaywalks
This was shocking to us coming from Toronto, and we imagine would be downright unsettling to tourists from somewhere like New York where more people cross against the signal than with it. It was weird too, because queues are not really respected (we saw people butt and nudge others out of the way just to be the first on/off a ferry, for example), but crosswalk signals seem to be almost universally respected. At least by jaywalking, we had a relatively risk-free way to maintain our rebel cred while on the road. Booya!
Personal hygiene remains below North American standards
Confusing and unfortunate. ‘Nuff said.
We’re too old for hostels
Now, we already knew we are too told for dorm beds. That was a given. But after staying in a few hostels, we decided that at this point in our life we like our own space and especially our own washroom. Queuing in the mornings to shower or brush your teeth really sucks. Don’t judge us 😉
Clearly it won’t be possible everywhere on our travels, but there are so many comfortable budget options that hostels are rarely the best option for us.