helsinki | the baltic's | '17 | a story of the semi frozen north..
'my time through helsinki and baltic's took me on a journey of nature, medieval old towns and a once in a lifetime hot air ballooning experience. travelling between these amazing countries in summer time you will meet amazing people and experience an even more amazing unknown history'.
i arrived in helskini on what would be classed as a cold summer night the rain was beating down like crazy. as i left the air terminal to catch the bus to my couchsurfing hosts place. i decided this would be a good place to have my first couchsurfing stay away from my own home. i have hosted people in the past but never stay in someone else's place i just mainly met with people around the world.
if you have never heard of couchsurfing the name says it all its a kind of social network for people to find places to stay while visiting other countries for free, yes free. for those of you who only travel in hotels and the occasional luxury hostel this concept will be strange to you but but for a lot of others out there this is a way to experience the true culture of a place. the hosts are generally very friendly and open minded sometimes you get a bed but most of the time its the couch. let me give you an example of why hosts partake in this sort of thing. eg. if your a host in moscow and you have been trying to learn english for year but never really had the chance to practice on native speakers this is a great way to improve your english level and meet others from new cultures and all it costs you is your hot water bill. also to note if you ever go to stay with anyone make sure that you keep everything tidy and offer to cook one night or take them for a drink or dinner is best its a great way to say thanks.
helsinki port receives alot if cruise ship passengers every day so this is the place to be if you like people its always bustling and has a food & crafts market right on the shore they even have little restaurants in tents serving fried fish. you'll also find my favourite cafe in the whole city johan & nystrom this is a great cafe on the water serving amazing lattes and raw cakes its a must visit to pass the time on the seats outside. take your time to walk around the area as its one of the main hubs for helsinki you will find most of the tourist attractions are located in this area.
i ventured a little future to find some places that i had bookmarked in google maps. the kampii chapel is a small wooden design religious space that is free and open to anyone, its a peaceful rest stop from the hustle and bustle from the noise of the surrounding commercial centre. i also really enjoyed the contemporary art museum close by its free on the first friday of every month. as you venture further out you will come across the temppeliaukion church, its a church excavated from a huge rock near the centre of the city its truly something to behold. €3 for entrance. my favourite place of all was the island of suomenlinna. its a small fortified island around 20 mins from the port. its reach by the public transport ferry so your daily tick will work here. its a great place full of nature and amazing coastal view its a must visit.
so my journey had to come to an end as i was only here two full days. but i wanted to give a special shout out to a super cool vegan restaurant (soi soi) cooking up some good wholesome vegan food including the super spicy satan plate that i can defiantly recommend; its located in the bat and hipster district.
now on too tallinn via ferry.......
i have been wanting to visit here for years ever since i read an article on this country as its fast becoming one of the most technological countries on earth. when the soviet union collapsed, estonia made the decision to closely tie their currency at the time to the scandinavian currencies to bolster the economy and maintain growth. compared the the other countries this one felt most like scandinavia. the peoples mentality, the respect for the environment but also the population looking towards the future for growth investing in technological projects to grow the population and GDP. i can tell you that they have achieved a good medium along the road to a more sustainable future that is enhanced by technology like the self driving buses that are currently testing in the city charged with renewable energy and giving people the opportunity to start to understand a future with drivers.
i was extremely lucky as i arrived on a sunny day after days of rain and my whole time here i had good weather it made a huge difference to the experience i had here.
tallinn old town..
a beautifully compact medieval walled city that has a brightly coloured charmed to it as you can see that a lot of the building are painted in vivid pastel colours. walking around the city you can take yourself back in time its truly a special place that filled with beauty around every corner.
the tallinn card
I had the opportunity to take the tallinn card for a spin. its a tourist card that gives you the chance to visit most of the main tourist attractions while visiting the city. its available for 24, 48, 72 hours and also gives you free public transport all over the city. its defiantly worth it if your only in the city for a few days it can save you a lot of time money and effort. get yours here.
my top things to do in tallinn... are the the tv tower and make sure to go around sunset as you'll get the best views with some awesome lighting for those photos. another great place to go is the seaplane harbour its about a 20 min walk from the old town. they have a museum there but its more for children so i would skip it and head straight to the ships at the back. the ships that they have brought onto the shore you can climb aboard most of them its really fun.
i stayed in the united backpackers hostel its a cozy hostel right near the old town that has recently been renovated. i has on demand movies and a pool table plus the wifi is super fast. i also have to mention a great experience i had in an amazing restaurant called paju villa its a little outside the city in the suburbs about 10 mins drive just take an uber. its set in a beautiful old villa its very new, opened in june 2017 so everything is brand new inside the food is amazing. they use quality estonian produce in innovative dishes. its well worth a visit.
i took the lux express bus to riga it the most convenient way to get there in around 4 hours....
when you ask most people where latvia is they won't have a clue. its nestled between estonia & lithuania. in the past its has been occupied by the swedish, russians, polish and hungarians so you'll find a mixture of different heritages here. i came here on the lux express bus from tallinn its takes around 4 hours to get to central riga. riga has become more popular in recent years due to the rise in low cost flights but its always been popular with visiting russians whom come by overnight bus from moscow & st. petersburg. riga is said to have one of the highest concentrations of art nouveau building in the world outside of the medieval old town but it also has a lot of wooden buildings that you will find all over the city.
the medieval part of the city is truly special with so many churches that give the city its special sky line (as seen in the photo above). riga to me seemed much calmer compared to tallinn as i didn't see as many tourists. i was here on a weekend so if you looking for a quite historical city for a weekend then this is the place for you.
things to see....
of course the old town. its medieval heritage and stunning architecture can keep you occupied for days but i suggest that you get out of the old town and visit the real riga where the locals area. some of my favourites are the central market that is housed in old german zeppelin buildings its massive and has such a vibrance to it a secret place here is a little craft brewery that is located in the vegetable area that i highly recommend. another of my favourite places is the imposing science centre; it has an open observation deck on the 17th floor thats open unit 10pm and only cost €5 i think this is the best place for sunset views in the whole city. to get a good a understanding of the history of the city i decided like in most cities i visit to go on the free tour. its last around 2hours and will take you on a journey of of the history and culture of the city not the old town.
for me food is life and tasting local food its important to truly understand the culture you need to tasted the local food. i took a food tour/tasting with e.a.t riga. its was a interesting 2hs through the culinary aspects of the country. i would also recommend getting your self down to the labietis craft brewery bar. last but not least a chain called lido they are all over but do a great €5 breakfast buffet.
where i stayed...
the seagulls garret hostel. i would give the place a 4 out of 5 stars as it was a little quite when i was there but a nice hostel never the less and its only €10 per night.
if you have have a love for medival cities with a side of baroque architecture then this is the city to visit. it has the cool hipster areas in the main city to so whats not to love make a week of it and visit tallinn too.
on to vilnius, lithuania.....
I was excited to come to vilnius for a few reason. one; its a very unknown city to most people. two; my friend vilius comes from here and gave me some good tips. and three; i organised to stay at what i believe is one of the coolest hostels that i have had the privilege to stay in.
i was staying in one of the newer hostels in the city. fabrika hostel is a cool industrial style hostel with plenty of high ceiling and enough room for you to feel that you have your own space. i stayed here for 5 days which is more than most people would in the city as travellers only spend a few days here so i had a good opportunity to get into the rhythm of the hostel. its located on one of the main streets in vilnius i couldn't think of a better location just of the main road so its quite in the night time you have plently of bars, cafes and restaurants with 1 min walk. i stayed in both a dorm and a private room they have very good double rooms. the showers and bathrooms are all individual so you get your privacy in the morning. the atmosphere of the place was calm and easy going, wifi is super fast here and the staff are always happy to help with all your needs. all in all this is one of the best hostels that i have stayed in. dorms start at €10 & doubles at €35 you can book here
this is a medieval old town that has been conquered many times throughout history but it is still standing and had a nice charm to it. like in most cities that i visit i always recommend that you take one of the free walking tours they seem to be in every city in europe and worldwide. on the tour we manly looked into the history of why this city was conquered but also strolled around the small streets and medieval architecture that has been mixed with more modern baroque style in recent times. make sure to take a few days looking around as there are many bars and restaurants to sit outside and people watch. gedimino tower is a hill next to the old town that has great free views of most of the city on a clear day, get there early to miss the crowds and haze. i really enjoyed the old town and cannot say what was my favourite place as most of it is beautiful so grab your camera and take a stroll. if you looking for something to eat then i recommend; zatar falafel, raw food cafe & donut lab all are super cool and very reasonably priced.
hot air ballooning...
i read that vilnius is one of the only capitals in europe where hot air balloons can fly directly over the city. i had the opportunity to take a flight with a wonderful and super professional company called pramogos ore. we headed out a few hours before sunset over the city and surrounds forests. it only costs around €100 and is defiantly worth it for a once in a lifetime experience we stayed up for over 1 hours and hit altitudes of more than 5000ft. its truly a spectical. justas and team were superb it was one of the best moments of my life. its super safe, the team take care of you all the way. one of the best parts was when we landed in a random strangers garden but they were so welcoming and everyone on the road stopped to take look. we also had champagne at the end of a flight which i believe is a tradition in the air ballooning community when you take your first flight. you can book here
to sum up....
this was an amazing trip that i highly recommend taking as its so easy and time efficient to travel between all these countries. its mostly cheap except for helsinki and nearly everyone i one had perfect english skills. so if you have a few weeks in the summer time then these are some cool pretty unknown countries to visit.
my recommended places to visit
- vilnius old town
- trakai castle (lithuania)
- tallinn old town
- suomennlinna island (finland)
places to eat
- block by dylan (helsinki)
- estonian burger factory (tallinn)
- food tour with eat riga
- big bad bagels (riga)
- zatar falafel (vilnius)
- raw42 (vilnius)
how to get around
-uber (super cheap here) (use code; carlm5078ue for a free ride)
where i stayed
- (helsinki) cheapsleep hostel
- (tallinn) united backpackers
- (riga) seagulls garret
- (vilnius) fabrika hostel
length of stay
- i would say if you truly want to experice all these countries then spend at least 3 weeks.
- its euro in all these counties so no need to worry about money here.
- if your a european citizen and you travel often see my blog post on the curve card its the best travel card around i have saved hundreds of euros using it. download the app and enter my promo code to get €/£5. click here to see the post
country travel tips
atm: any is fine they all charge a small fee.
taxi: can be expensive here take an uber
sim card: if your european then a new law in june 2017 made it free to use your sim.
i also came across a cool company called 'ohjopal' that offers sim cards to foreigners were you cab buy a data package that is useable in all the european union its great value for money you can get it here
uber: use code; carlm5078ue
airbnb: get $20usd off your booking here: www.airbnb.com/c/cmuies