The magic drink of Latvia is Balsam and I drank it!

The mighty Latvian sausage in Riga.

Right now, I’m running around like a headless chicken because I’m in Spain.

In Baaaaaarcelona.

OK. That’s not entirely true.

I’m really at a seaside resort on the Costa Brava. A place called Lloret de Mar.

But I spent a lovely day in Barcelona too, but more about that in a few weeks LOL!

So last week I wrote a lovely post about how gorgeous I found Latvia to be, and with the help of Linda the Irish Queen, the post ran through Facebook like wildfire. My post went live on Monday and on Tuesday I had 4,000 hits for the day.

On Wednesday, I had almost 7,500 hits on the day alone! And it kept on growing.

Latvia was the gift that just kept on giving.

I couldn’t believe it.

I am amazed at how many people, in this case, the Latvian people, really loved my post.

Source: serendipitymc.com
Source: serendipitymc.com

Thank you so much everyone!

So for those of you who don’t know and are coming to The British Berliner for the very first time, we were on an independent trip around the Baltic Region. This journey was an adventure of fifteen (15) days in total:

  • Three (3) days in Vilnius (Lithuania).
  • Three (3) days in Riga (Latvia).
  • Three (3) days in Tallinn (Estonia).
  • Two (2) days in (Helsinki) Finland.
  • One (1) more day in Tallinn (Estonia) again.

This is what I have written about them so far:

A European Capital of Culture.
A European Capital of Culture.

We travelled around the above four (4) countries by coach-bus and we were extremely lucky to be on a part-sponsorship of the largest international express route coach-bus operator in the Baltic region. An Estonian company called Lux Express, taking us through the Baltic Region by road from Germany, all the way through to Estonia, and back again!

And why?

Basically because the region has not really been discovered by tourists and travellers, and I’m also slightly eccentric LOL!

The Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland are countries based in Europe and their capital cities have stories of richness, history and grandeur, unspoilt by the full-board package set and the larger louts of stag and hen nights. They are sparsely populated, and not your typical cheap and friendly destination.

My mantra has always been, why not?

That’s why!

And quite frankly, even though you might have heard a whisper of these countries, nobody really knows anything about them, and hardly anyone you know, has actually been there.

It’s time to change all that.

Photo@ J-O Eriksson

When I said that Riga was beautiful, I absolutely meant it!

And that included the food.

Do you remember the musical number from Oliver Twist:

“Food, glorious food!
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day
Our favooooooourite diet!”

You can find what I wrote about food in other countries right here but food from Latvia was something else.

Yep!

Being that Riga and therefore, Latvia is in an unknown part of the world, it stands to reason that it’s food and drink culture would be similar so.

So now that you know how fascinating I find food posts, here comes the feast of Latvia!

A LATVIAN BREAKFAST:

Exotic seafood in Riga, Latvia.

The item above my good man, was breakfast.

Yes, breakfast. And let me just say, it was one of the best part breakfast items we ever had on our journey, and not because it was most unusual, even though it was, but because it was seafood.

In this case fish.

I loooooove fish!

But just look at that dish above. Is it not just delish? As I write this piece, my mouth is watering and I’m trying quite hard not to swallow my spittle!

It’s a wonderful plate of salmon with a dollop of mustard and dill creamy sauce, flakes of smoked herring, radishes, green peppers, baby pickled onions and bean sprouts!

Do you see what I mean?

Breakfast in Riga, Latvia.

The dish above (if you’re vegetarian or vegan, don’t look!) is a plate of grilled sausages, slices of bacon, peas, cucumber, peppers, sweet corn, radishes, onions and tomato ketchup.

This delicious wonder was part of the very generous breakfast buffet served by our rather lovely four-star boutique hotel  –  Hotel Justus. As I told you last week, Hotel Justus is located right within the architectural UNESCO protected area, and has just 48 rooms designed to embrace the architectural charm and historical delight of Riga.

Small enough to feel intimate and large enough to get all the benefits of a well-run boutique hotel.

Cost – Nothing at all. Included as part of the sleeping overnight fee!

A slice of toasty and a pasty in Riga, Latvia.

A slice of buttery toasty and a pastry.

Yum!

Cost – A part of the breakfast package!

A LATVIAN STARTER:

You all know how I very much like soup.

It was raining buckets and we found a tiny little bar/restaurant in which we were pretty much the only guests. Well, we decided to try something different.

Green soup from Riga, Latvia.

We had this green soup and a basket of brown bread.

It was absolutely awful. I felt as if I wanted to vomit and then I asked what exactly it was.

It was hemp! What the ?!&%!!

Yuck!

I didn’t choose another starter!

Cost – Between €1 – €2.00.

Shredded cabbage and pickles in Riga, Latvia.

We were introduced to the Riga Central Market and we absolutely loved it.

We liked it so much that we came back again the next day! Markets are such good ways to find the culture of a people. In fact, markets are really good ways to find the people! They’re all at the markets hanging out LOL!

Above you can see shredded cabbage and pickles.

Carrots, turnips, swede, spring onions, shallots and other strange vegetables found at the farmers’ food market in Riga, Latvia.

Carrots, turnips, swede, spring onions, shallots and other strange vegetables found at the farmers’ food market. Does anyone know what the purple round vegetable is, or is a beet? Beetroot perhaps?!

A basket of soft home-made herb bread with a sort of green olive sauce in Riga, Latvia.

A basket of soft home-made herb bread with a sort of green olive sauce. It was classified as “soup of the day” but was completely scrummy!

Cost – €1.50

LATVIAN MAIN DISHES:

Suckling pig in Riga, Latvia.

Oh yeah baby!

We went to this really nice place called Folkklubs Ala Sia.

Let me just tell you that the lip-smacking meal above is a 24 hour sautéed suckling pig! A suckling pig rolled onto crispy smoked pork potato mash, spring greens, crumbled traditional country cheese, oven baked tomatoes and a sautéed sauce.

Cost – €7.60.

Flounder fillet in Riga, Latvia.

Flounder fillet sprinkled with onions and bean sprouts combined with pan-seared asparagus and cauliflower puree served with creamy-Riga-sparkling-wine sauce!

Cost – €16.50.

 lovely meal of pork (?), red cabbage, some gravy in Riga, Latvia.This meal was from the little place that I can’t remember. There was nobody there but it didn’t really disturb us as by this time, we just wanted to find a place, chill out, eat and relax and the guy at the bar was pretty friendly so we did just that!

After the disgusting soup of hemp, we ordered this lovely meal of pork (?), red cabbage, some gravy and a side salad of felt salad which you recall in the Czech Republic, seems to be very common in this part of the world!

Cost – I can’t remember!

 

how much I like the sausage!

You know how much I like the sausage! Well, “The Tall Young Gentleman” had a wonderful meal of grilled pork sausages, white cabbage, mashed potatoes and a couple of tomato slices. Delish!

Cost – If only I could remember where we ate it!

 

a spicy tomato and cream dip!

Followed by a spicy tomato and cream dip!

Cost – Dip! Dip! Dip!

 

Because caviar. In Riga, Latvia.

Because caviar.

OMG. I don’t know if it was the real stuff but we constantly saw prices at the Riga Central Market that would pop your eyes out!

But look at that trout. See how fresh it is.

It was so fresh that we constantly saw batches of live seafood wriggling around, freshly caught.

The Music Producer was a little upset that the fish would feel the pain of life coming to an end, and would suffer. What do you think?

Cost for the caviar – You really don’t want to know. Even in Latvia! Cost for the trout – €7.90!

LATVIAN AFTERS:

 

A cupcake and a muffin!

As I said earlier, we went back to the Riga Central Market and discovered a hell of a lot more delightful little things such as:

A strawberry cream tart covered with flakes of strawberry icing and a custard-covered muffin with a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands!

Cost €0.28 & €0.26 respectively.

Cream puffs in Latvia, Riga.

Pastry cones filled with cream.

Cost – €0.36.

 

Sugary puffs filled with clotted custard cream and covered with castor sugar in Riga, Latvia.

Sugary puffs filled with clotted custard cream and covered with castor sugar.

Cost – €0.26

 

Cupcakes in Riga, Latvia.

Not at the Riga Central Market but we had them for breakfast! I have included it here as cupcakes aren’t really for the first meal of the day unless you live on the Continent where they follow the philosophy, “If it’s nice. Include it in the breakfast buffet” school of thought LOL!

Cost – Dream on!

 THE MAGIC DRINKS OF LATVIA

 

The delights of a Latvian brewery.

We went to a really jolly place called “Vina Teatris” or Peter’s Brewhouse. The brewery is known as the only one of it’s kind in the Old Town and is locally owned and operated.

It was our last night so we decided to go for it and really get into the delights of Latvian breweries.

I drink beer but I’m not a strong beer-drinker as one beer in the summer sun and I’m dancing on a festival float! Hand me one sugary glühwein and I go flat on the floor!

Just give me a couple of glasses of bubbly, nice fruity cocktails, a couple of ice-cold vodka shots and you’ve got a badge of approval by The British Berliner!

The Music Producer ordered the “Beer Tasting” set of three (3) beers which came with a huge bowl of aniseed.

We didn’t know what to do with it so we chewed it anyway LOL!

Cost – €7.50

My glass of wine and the seeds in Riga, Latvia.
My glass of wine and the seeds!

Cost – €3.60

 

The Latvian Balsam.

So Riga Black Balsam is a traditional herbal liqueur similar to the Czech Becherovka and is made with lots of ingredients mixed into vodka and other stuff!

I decided to “treat” my husband to the delights of a Latvian speciality – the Latvian Balsam. Now, I had heard so much about it in fact, Heather from Ferreting Out the Fun had even gone on a tour of how to make it. We didn’t have time to do such frolics so I thought taking a few shots would be the next best thing. We went to a “tourist” place called As Lido or Alus Sēta.

I was up for an adventure so the bar man gave me two varieties: the real balsam and the blackcurrant one.

I tasted the blackcurrant one and it was quite OK and then we decided to go for the original one too.

Swallow!

And oh no.

Not swallow!

Throw up!

I’m sorry to say this, but the original balsam was bloody awful!

We couldn’t believe it.

Was it an acquired taste like oysters? (I love oysters!).

Did you have to drink it in a particular way like tequila? Ha! I have stories I could tell. But not today LOL!

Or was it that we just didn’t like it?

Ah well!

Cost – €1.30

 

Riga Black Balsam.

Well, that’s it. I told you that the food in Latvia was fascinating. Go see for yourself and if you have any questions or need any help, let me know!

This article is not sponsored, but all opinions and the wonderful cupcakes and seafood that I was fascinated by, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about the very interesting Estonia and what we did in Tallinn, Estonia with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

Eddie Izzard will be back in Germany and will be front-lining a killer international night of comedy at the Admirals Palast on 08.05.15.

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. Anybody can apply!

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, then you ought to!

May is going to be exciting.

Watch this space!

 

A pig's snout!

Have you ever been to Riga? Would you ever try a pig’s snout or would you stick with Riga Black Balsam?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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Gosh! Riga in Latvia is gorgeous: 10 reasons to go there right now!

Photo@ J-O Eriksson

Bring out the pimms!

Things are definitely moving for me as The British Berliner.

Not only did I participate in a [VIDEO] interview that I contributed to as a representative of the Berlin Travel Massive Blogger Community at the ITB Berlin last month,  but I was again approached by a respectable Berlin on-line newspaper to do a video interview about my views on the upcoming British national elections!

I’ll let you know when it’s done!

Spain - Here we come!
Spain – Here we come!

As far as travelling is concerned, at the end of the week I will be on a very, very, very short break to Spain.

Hoooooola!

Unfortunately, it won’t be a long break of sunny bathing and tequila drinking as I still have to hand in and complete my Masters’ Dissertation at the University of Chester. In England.

Oh dear me no.

Sigh!

Bloggers at the ITB in Berlin.
Bloggers at the ITB in Berlin.

I’ll be going to the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference otherwise known as TBEX to do a little networking, learn something new and meet other international bloggers. I’ll tell you all about it in May, after I’ve walked all over town and I’ve gorged myself on tapas.

For now though let’s get back to where I was just a few weeks ago in the Baltic Region.

So I’ve written about our adventure in Lithuania and the very excellent but enormously cheap food that we had in Vilnius.

Ah! Good Times!

Get ready for the other country in oh-my-gosh-is-it-or-isn’t-it-in-Eastern-Europe….

LATVIA

A song and dance festival in Latvia.

The Baltic States might be small in landmass but the countries are considered to be old European in look, rich culture, enchanting history, and long-established tradition. In fact, quite enchanting!

Latvia, also known as the pearl of the Baltic States and officially as the Republic of Latvia, is situated in the Baltic Region of Northern Europe – on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

I absolutely love the Baltic Sea and make every effort to go there every two years but from the Polish side rather than the German one!

Harmony of the countryside in Latvia.  Photo@ Arturs Jasinskis
Harmony of the countryside in Latvia.
Photo@ Arturs Jasinskis

Latvia is a multi-cultured state and right in the middle of Lithuania, Belarus, Estonia and Russia! As the Lithuanians, the Latvians are Balts by ethnic and linguistic origin and although separate independent countries, have closely related languages. The Latvians also have indigenous people called Livs and the two neighbouring countries both speak an Indo-European language and are the only two true Baltic languages that have survived!

Happily, all the traditions have merged together creating a unique environment, a vast cultural historical heritage.and a country-state of about 2 million people.

Latvia, is also a country not well-known and even within the E.U. itself, many Europeans have a hard time remembering what the capital city is.

It’s Riga by the way!

RIGA

Lovely Riga in Latvia.
Lovely Riga in Latvia.

Riga is the capital city of Latvia and also the largest city in the Baltic State Region.

You might not have ever heard of Latvia, but surely you’ve seen those pictures of elegant men and woman strolling arm in arm on the tiny streets of Riga nourished by Russian glamour and elegant Art Nouveau boulevards!

It's Me! Don't I look fabulous?
It’s Me! Don’t I look fabulous?

Riga is a metropolis pulsing with life, romantic walks and live music and celebration. It’s a medieval city that has been preserved and still shows traces of its religious and Romanesque past and has been proudly inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the wonder that is it’s unique architecture in the “old town” and also as one of the European Capitals of Culture designed to highlight the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe and increase the sense of belonging to our common cultural area that is the European Union. And this took place in all of 2014!

Wow!

WHY GO TO RIGA?

Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia.

So let’s get down to brass tacks. Riga in Latvia is gorgeous. I’m going to give you ten (10) reasons to go there right now!

  1. The architecture is amazing: Everywhere you look is an impressive piece of art from each and every era. Whether you like art nouveau, romanesque, gothic or baroque architectural style, if you wanted it, you would find it within a few paces. The only city that I can think of that would be similar is London. Do you know that if you looked hard enough, you would even find parts of the old Roman London Wall!
  2. It’s in the “other” Eastern Europe: It’s still pretty unknown, very far “East” and not on either the backpackers or tourist run, so it’s pretty cheap and is never going to break the bank.
  3. It’s a Baltic hub: If you’re looking to go to the Baltic States then of course, you have to either go through Latvia, start in Latvia, or end in Latvia. It’s quite easy to get to as pretty much every airline in the Nordic-Baltic region does a stop-over in Riga, so you might as well give it up and stay a while!
  4. OMG the food: We ate terribly well and ate and drank to our hearts’ content. It’s that cheap, you should! Unlike Lithuania where we pretty much ate only rustic food, Latvia has a combination of both elegant and of a better class. More about that next week!
  5. Romance: Pretty much every European capital city has an “old” part of town and a “new” part of town. Cities taken over by the Soviet Union were able to hold onto the “traditional look” mainly due to the lack of interest in changing it, and a distinct lack of finance. However, these capital cities now have the last laugh as they still have the feel and look of centuries past, when royal or local aristocrats would probably chop people’s heads off, but would also walk the cobbled streets or ride across them and hunt for “spoil.”
  6. It’s small: Although Riga is the largest city in the Baltic State Region, it’s population is only a little over 600,000 inhabitants. I mean, the whole country is only about 2 million people! It’s small size means that it’s easy to meet people and to move around.
  7. Sausages: It seems to be a thing in Riga, so we had loads LOL!
  8. Communication: Most people speak English and have an endearing accent mix of American English, Swedish and Dutch. Oh, and they also have a warm sense of humour!
  9. The farmers’ market: An intriguing place where you could get the head of a pig, live fish swimming on the bare table, exotic vegetables, and tiny little cupcakes that didn’t cost more than 30 cents! More about that next week!
  10. Because Art: The best place in the world to find living pieces of Art Nouveau is indeed in Riga! 

TAKE ME THERE?

Our extremely funny walking tour guide in Latvia.
Our extremely funny walking tour guide in Latvia.

As you know, we were so lucky to be on a part-sponsorship of the largest international express route coach-bus operator in the Baltic region. An Estonian company called Lux Express, taking us through the Baltic Region by road from Germany, all the way through to Estonia, and back again!

In travelling from Berlin to Lithuania, we were on the cheaper arm of the coach-bus company called Simple Express but once we got to Latvia, we were switched to the more aptly-named Lux Express.

Lux Express.
Lux Express.

And was it luxury?

It was certainly different from any other coach bus company that I have either travelled with. And I’ve travelled with a lot LOL!

The seats were wider and bigger, there was a toilet on board and because there were fewer people, was fairly clean!

At the back of the bus was the even more luxurious V.I.P section. I had originally wanted to book that part of the coach-bus but it wasn’t to be as the reality is that most travellers would be at the front LOL! I nevertheless, had a peek. The V.I.P. section was curtained off for privacy just like a plane and there were one person seats rather than two. Each seat also had a small flat screen.

Bring your own blanket!
Bring your own blanket!

Even so, whichever part of the coach-bus you sat in was pretty awesome. We practically had the place to ourselves and could recline back quite well, there were night lights on the floor, individual screens on the seat with which you could watch films, comedy or TV series, listen to music, play games or go on-line. And this time the WiFi was fantastic, so if you had a smaller laptop rather than the huge one that I have, you could do as much work as you wanted!

The headphones were complimentary and there was also as much complimentary tea, coffee and hot chocolate as you liked. You just helped yourself as there was a huge drinks machine in the middle of the vehicle. And we did.

Very nice indeed!

The journey from Vilnius to Riga was only 4 hours and 15 minutes, so I watched part of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and a silly little film called “The Watch” although the  improvisation performed by Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill was brilliant!

IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?

Just me and my er...goat!
Just me and my er…goat!

Hardly!

Well, a little, but only because Riga is tiny. It was low season, the weather was wet and windy, and we all swarmed to the same place in order to have something to do however, the bars and restaurants had plenty of space. In fact, you only had to stand outside for a second when at least five (5) or six (6) various staff members would rush out to “help” you choose where to go!

WHAT IS RIGA LIKE?

We were only there for three (3) days but Riga definitely made an impression on me.

Unlike Lithuania, I didn’t find Latvia to be Eastern-European-like. Quite the contrary. At first glance, I found Riga utterly charming but then I haven’t lived there for five (5) years, unlike my crazy Irish friend Linda who became Latvia’s “most-wanted” on her utterly scathing but hilarious blog…

Riga is an Old Europe type of place very eager to welcome tourists and entertain you as every corner had some sort of bar, pub, or steak house! Having said that, they’re very easy to avoid if you’re not into that stream of entertainment, as every other place is of historical interest, art-inspired or a lovely cafe or restaurant. In fact Riga is stuffed with museums, art galleries, historical squares and places of worship!

I DON’T SPEAK LATVIAN.

It has really surprised me that in every Baltic State English is widely spoken however, if you speak Russian, you won’t be out-of-place. Having said that, a rather wonderful American-Russian blogger friend of mine was rather alarmingly, pretty much insulted, so watch out for that!

AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?

If things get too bad, you won't be able to live here 'cos it's peasant history!
If things get too bad, you won’t be able to live here ‘cos it’s peasant history!

I don’t think so. It might be a country from “the other” Eastern Europe but you’re definitely not going to be living in a cave!

I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

There are plenty of hostels to be had.

I can’t give you any details but catering to the more budget conscious traveller is still fairly new and we even saw the very first Latvian hostel ever, and other moderately priced accommodation.

I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY, IS THERE SOMETHING FOR ME?

Hotel Justus in Riga, Latvia.

Hell yeah!

We stayed at a rather lovely four-star boutique hotel in the heart of the old town of Riga which I first saw on the website of a personal fitness trainer/sailor called Victor.

Our hotel was called Hotel Justus. Hotel Justus laid right within the architectural UNESCO protected area, was a Bishop’s residence in 1210, was part of a tavern in the 20th century and had just 48 rooms designed to embrace the architectural charm and historical delight of Riga. We were in the Family Suite which had two separate bedrooms and a joint bathroom.

Heeeeeaven!

It was nice to have the luxury of separate but joint bedrooms especially when you’re travelling and knick-knack is just thrown everywhere!

It was lovely just to have the space LOL!

Hotel Justus in Riga, Latvia.

Whenever we go on a family holiday, I like to mix things up a little in order to experience a wide variety of accommodation possibilities, to meet the locals, and to stretch our budget in a more comfortable way.

In Lithuania, I decided to book a small family Bed & Breakfast consisting of just seven (7) rooms, and located between the Old Town and a park. This B&B was called Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast and we were in the Family Room. This time around, it was time for a little more comfort.

Our stay at Hotel Justus was an indulgence.

When you book a room on-line, you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get and can only hold your breath and cross your fingers.

I didn’t know what to expect in Latvia and was surprised at what we received.

"The Tall Young Gentleman" enjoying his "space."
“The Tall Young Gentleman” enjoying his “space.”

Our Family Suite consisted of two separate bedrooms, a hallway, and an en-suite bathroom. The Master Bedroom had a double bed, two (2) rather nice fancy armchairs, a writing-table, a large antique wardrobe, a mini-bar and a large-screen TV and AC unit.

The second (2nd) bedroom had a chaise longue that could be converted into a single bed, a writing desk and chair, a large antique wardrobe, a large-screen TV and an AC unit. “The Tall Young Gentleman” was in his own private little world, loved it and was pretty ecstatic!

We had an en-suite bathroom that was very clean and fitted out with hair and body wash items body lotion, and plenty of fluffy towels as well as free WiFi and a generous buffet breakfast of both Baltic and Nordic origin.

Breakfast in Latvia!
Breakfast in Latvia!

For breakfast, we had delicious cold cuts, a variety of sea-food, vegetables, sauces, pickles and cream, scrambled egg, sausages and bacon. As well as a wide variety of cereal, fruit, bread, cake, pastries, tea, coffee and juices.

All this from €140.00 per night in the Family Suite which for three (3) people would be €47.00 a pop!

Delightful!

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET TO LATVIA?

Gorgeous stuff!
Gorgeous stuff!

We only went for three (3) days so this was a sloooooow cultural family trip.

There is plenty to do in Riga. You can:

  • Go on a free walking tour. We went on Yellow Riga Free Tour.
  • Explore the urban history and architecture of Riga.
  • Take photographs of the Riga Castle.
  • Walk by the riverside and imagine living in the historic seat of power. It’s closed until 2016 but after that you’ll be able to take as many panoramic pictures as you want.
  • Check out some of the lovely churches and places of worship which are just bursting to be visited.
  • Go to the lovely Museum Riga Art Nouveau Museum and Centre.
  • Glide into the National Opera.
  • Wander around the Freedom Monument.

Down the side-streets in Riga, Latvia.

  • Stroll freely through the side streets.
  • Go to the oldest public museum in Latvia  – the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation.
  • Visit the Latvian National Museum of Art.
  • Take in all of the Art Nouveau.
  • Pay your respects in the Jewish Quarter.
  • Go people-watching inside the Zeppellin hangars of the Latvian Central Market.
  • Merely ramble along the cobbled historical streets.
  • Check out the various cafes, bars and restaurants for a quick bite and a few rounds of Latvian beer and vodka!
  • Go shopping.

WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?

Riga is pretty small so that everywhere is walkable.

Taxis are cheap. A taxi from our hotel to the international coach-bus station cost a marvellous €5.00!

Full of joy & relief!
Full of joy & relief!

ANYTHING ELSE?

If you’re flying with a budget airline, be prepared for delays.

My husband was only on the trip for a week and would rather eat his own hat than travel back to Berlin by road.

On his lonesome.

He decided to fly back to Berlin with airBaltic!

It was an ordeal!

His plane had left Riga and then due to technical difficulties had to turn around and fly right back again!

Bearing in mind the horrible accident that took place a few weeks prior, I was obviously a little nervous and for the first time in my life – anxious and was all over Facebook and Twitter trying to get the latest flight updates. Thankfully, all went well and he arrived home safe and sound.

MY VERDICT:

Photo@ Graham

I really liked Riga.

It’s lovely. It’s old. It’s got history, Art and culture, and looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s not as cheap as Lithuania, but is certainly reasonably priced.

If you’re looking for the next best European city that’s safe, quiet, and away from the tourist throngs, you’ve found it.

WOULD I COME AGAIN?

Absolutely!

I intend to do just that and can’t wait to visit again.

Let’s do it!

Photo@ Avisionn Photo

For more information about coach-bus travel to Riga, please contact: Lux Express.

For more information about a four-star boutique hotel, please contact: Hotel Justus.

For more information about an independent free walking tour, please contact: Yellow Riga Free Tour.

This article is part-sponsored by Lux Express and we get a little discount on the hotel, but all opinions and the wonderful art-deco architecture that I was fascinated by, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about the wonderful Latvian food and drink. Yummy!

After that, there will be posts on what we did in Tallinn, Estonia with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

I’ll be going to TBEX Europe (Travel Bloggers Exchange) an International Networking Conference, for the first time! It’ll be taking place in Costa Brava, Catalunya, Spain from 30.04.15 – 02.05.15.

Strictly Stand Up English Comedy Night will be taking place at the Quatsch Comedy Club on 29.04.15.

Eddie Izzard will be back in Germany and will be front-lining a killer international night of comedy at the Admirals Palast on 08.05.15.

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. Anybody can apply!

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, then come meet me in Spain!

April is going to be bright and sunny.

Watch this space!

Art Nouveau in Riga.
Art Nouveau in Riga.

Have you ever been to Latvia? Do you think Riga is gorgeous or all hype? Is Latvia in Eastern Europe?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

Please Share it! Tweet it! Or like it!

I survived a 26 hour coach-bus adventure and I didn’t die!

©2012-2015 onelung
©2012-2015 onelung

So I’m back from the Baltic Region and I’m totally and utterly knackered because I arrived back in Berlin just today!

It was a 26 hour coach-bus adventure journey.

We didn’t die!

Craaaazy!

This independent trip was fifteen (15) days in total:

  • Three (3) days in Vilnius (Lithuania).
  • Three (3) days in Riga (Latvia).
  • Three (3) days in Tallinn (Estonia).
  • Two (2) days in (Helsinki) Finland.
  • One (1) more day in Tallinn (Estonia) again.

That makes 12 days for the holiday itself and 3 days for travelling! Whoop! Whoop!

I had lots of fun but I’m exhausted.

I’m also very pleased that I’ve just been to a completely new region of the world, and I’ve knocked four (4) new countries in one (1) go!

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve just returned from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

So why the hell did I do this?

God Save the Queen in Cool Britannia!
God Save the Queen in Cool Britannia!

Well first of all, I’m a little eccentric. I mean, remember that time when I climbed up a live volcano in Bali or when I fell off a ski lift in the Czech Republic? And what about the sex show that I went to in Amsterdam?

Exactly!

I like pushing buttons.

But why go to the Baltics?

As of now, the region above has not really been discovered by tourists and travellers. To be candid but have you ever heard of Latvia? What about Lithuania? And to be honest, we all know of Finland, but how many of us have actually been there?

‘Told you so!

A map of the Baltic Sea.
A map of the Baltic Sea.

These countries are based in Europe and their capital cities have stories of richness, history and grandeur, unspoilt by the full-board package set and the larger louts of stag and hen nights. They are sparsely populated, and not your typical cheap and friendly destination. As a matter of fact, prices in Finland border on the insane and Estonia has prices that would make your hair stand up, although still considered to be a “budget” destination.

I want to experience these countries for myself.

That’s why!

LITHUANIA

Vilnius.

I went to the capital city of Vilnius.

I’ve already discussed basic background, and although I know that the “other Eastern Europe” ought to be cheaper than Western Europe, it isn’t always the case. In fact, I would consider Prague more expensive than Berlin!

I love Prague.

I even used to live there and back in the day, everything cost hardly anything at all.

Prague is still a very wonderfully budget place to go to but it’s got competition.

In Lithuania.

I really couldn’t believe how wonderfully low the prices actually were.

Amazing!l

So now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:

WHY GO TO LITHUANIA?

The European Flag.
The European Flag.

Living in Berlin means that Continental Europe is right on your doorstep. Basically, if you’re an expat living in Europe and you don’t use the opportunities to check out the neighbouring countries, then you’re a fool!

There. I said it.

A fool!

Bread & Butter - Berlin Fashion Week.We are lucky that our continent is a wonder of different countries, cultures, languages and customs. Merely an hour away from Berlin is the border of Poland. A completely different country in every way. Surrounding Germany is also France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. Every one of them beautiful, interesting countries.

And I have been to them all.

Many times.

Lithuania of course, is a different kettle of fish having recently established re-independence  from the ex-USSR in 1991 – a mere 24 years ago. As a result, Lithuania is still fairly “new, ” unspoilt, uncrowded, welcoming to visitors and desperate to stand out from its Baltic brothers.

And if you’re that way inclined, you can be sure nobody knows where it is. A true adventure!

VILNIUS

VilniusHome18

HOW DO I GET THERE?

You can of course fly.  There is an international airport in Vilnius with major Eastern airlines being the main market but for most of you reading this blog, the following airlines might apply: Aeroflot, airBaltic, Finnair, Estonian Air, LOT (Polish Airlines), and Ryanair.

You generally can’t take the train if you’re coming from Western Europe as Western train companies don’t come this far “North”. They go up to Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia yes, and then East to Hungary and Romania! Trains in the Baltics tend to come from Russia or ex-USSR States and no-one really recommends them as they’re far too old, far too slow and far too unreliable.

Pretty much everyone we met was travelling either by car or by bus, and so were we!

The Lux Express Bus.

We were on a part-sponsorship with – Lux Express, and it really wasn’t that bad at all.

From Berlin to Vilnius in Lithuania, we travelled with the Simple Express part of the company. My husband – The Music Producer – was sceptical, but trusted my judgement.

Thankfully, everything went smoothly.

I had communicated with the company on-line as per details and requirements, and they were wonderfully professional and timely, with information and tickets.

The coach-bus was clean and all the luggage was individually checked and handled by one of the drivers. Passports and I.D. cards were also individually processed and tickets double-checked. Seating was allocated and unlike typical coach-bus journeys, was outfitted with individual flat screens and WiFi, albeit not always working, but you can’t have everything LOL!

Bring your own blanket!
Bring your own blanket!

I tend not to sleep on coach-buses, trains or planes, and this trip was no exception. Happily, the individual lights were all working.

We had brought along our own blankets and cushions (although you can also buy them on board for €4.00 and €3.00 respectively), and I read my kindle and even watched a couple of films such as the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Bad Neighbours.”

I started to watch “Foot Loose”, but I lost interest!

Pick your poison on the Lux Express!
Pick your poison on the Lux Express!

The coach-bus was fully booked from Berlin but once we got to Warsaw, there was a huge shift in seating after midnight, and then free seats were available. So we were able to take double seats and stretch out. They even had seatbelts, floor lights, power supply outlets per double seats, headphone slots (which you can also buy for €1.50) and a toilet that was somewhat clean.

Until the end of the journey.

Phew!

We were on a part-sponsorship, but Lux Express has discount prices if you book early.

You can usually get a one-way single ticket from Berlin to Vilnius with the Simple Express from €36.00 – a journey of 7.15 hours and through 3 countries! From Vilnius to Riga with Lux Express from €15.00, and from Riga to Tallinn from €16.00. You can also go to Russia with the company if you so wish. From Tallinn to St. Petersburg from €25.00!

IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?

Skipping in the rain!
Skipping in the rain!

OMG. You have got to be joking. Perhaps because it was at the end of March but there was hardly anyone there! You could literally count all the tourists and many were quite young. Lots of tourists from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, America, Canada, Australia, and the UK. In fact, we bumped into the same French man that we met in Lithuania, in Latvia!

They say that in the summer Vilnius gets crowded, but I hardly doubt it, as there are only 3 million people in the whole country!

WHAT IS VILNIUS LIKE?

Pre-Communist Lithuania.
Pre-Communist Lithuania.

At first glance coming into Lithuania, I found the country to be very Eastern-European-like with lots of abandoned buildings with busted out glass windows, clapped out blocks of flats, commmunist-sized boxes, abandoned industrial chimney factories and looking awfully grey.

OMG!

Once we checked-in, looked around, and fairly soon after went on our free walking tour organised by Vilnius With Locals, we pretty much knew were everything was.

Our Vilnius tour guide.
Our Vilnius tour guide.

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, one of the largest old cities in Europe, and is covered by countless churches. In fact, 65! It might have a population of only just half a million people, but all that history makes up for it!

Although our young guide didn’t talk too much about the Jewish history of Vilnius, it is also known as “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” because of its strong Jewish past, “Little Rome” and “North Athens.” Vilnius is a treasure-trove of Baroque craftsmanship and a valuable and historical site of not only Baroque, but also Gothic, Renaissance, and other architectural styles.

The Independent Republic of Užupis in Vilnius.
The Independent Republic of Užupis in Vilnius.

We experienced panoramic views, we walked around the town, we had lunch at the Independent Republic of Užupis – a bohemian community of artists – and located on “the other side of the river” separated by a bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site in itself, and similar to the Freetown Christiania community in Copenhagen!

I’ve been to the independent community in Denmark. It’s very laissez-faire, but pretty cool.

We went to many cultural sites of interest in Vilnius and although it was freezing and wet, we had a fairly good time.

My group looking sorry for themselves!
My group looking sorry for themselves!

I really like walking tours and this tour really gave us an insight into the capital city. It was snowing and freezing cold and it dampened many an enthusiasm as half the group abandoned ship and took off! I was stupidly determined to hang on until the end, when in reality, all I really wanted was a hot toddy!

It paid off though as our tour guide introduced us to a local place for lunch, where we had our very first original, authentic Lithuanian food.

We clapped our hands and tucked in!

I DONT SPEAK LITHUANIAN.

Lithuanian children are the future!
Lithuanian children are the future!

Not a problem.

I was surprised to discover that English is widely spoken.

Everywhere!

A good tester of this were the children. I approached two young boys and they spoke beautifully. I also met a small group of children in the National Art Gallery who stared a little at my fabulousness but again, they spoke fantastic English and allowed me to take a few photos of them dressed up in historical costume!

If you can speak English, German or Russian. You’re in!

AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?

VilniusHome16

Whenever we go on a family holiday, I like to mix things up a little in order to experience a wide variety of accommodation possibilities, to meet the locals, and to stretch our budget in a more comfortable way.

In that wise, I decided to book a small family Bed & Breakfast consisting of just seven (7) rooms, and located between the Old Town and a park. This B&B was called Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast and we were in the Family Room.

The owner – Aleksandra Kiseliovienė – was lovely. She’s a smiley, fun, jolly woman who looked 26 but wasn’t! She also appreciated and understood the importance of social media and had a really easy-to-use website, and is all over Facebook! As we chatted about the Fall of the Berlin Wall and international travel, she told me that she had recently taken a similar bus trip herself in travelling from Vilnius to Prague.

Aleksandra very kindly invited us to join them for breakfast even though breakfast for us, would normally have started the next day.

We accepted!

For more about the lovely Lithuanian food, hang on until next week!

Our stay at Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast was a delight.

When you book a room on-line, you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get and can only hold your breath and cross your fingers.

I didn’t know what to expect in Lithuania and was surprised at what we received.

In the Family Room.
In the Family Room.

The Family Room consisted of six (6) bunk beds, each with a set of drawers that you could lock and individual light and power supply outlet, a table, two (2) chairs and a huge bean bag. There was also a private balcony which had a garden table and two (2) garden chairs, perfect for summer hanging out and chilling!

There were only seven (7) rooms in the whole house so there was a bathroom on each floor which was shared. It was clean and fitted out with shampoo/conditioner, shower gel and other toiletries which you could use free of charge, if you so desired. Each guest also had two (2) sets of towels.

One of the double rooms.
One of the double rooms.

The beauty of a B&B is that if you’re nervous about visiting a country, it’s a lovely way to blend the virtues of a hotel and a hostel. You have the safety and security of a family home with the option of meeting people in an open kitchen. Very similar to a lovely place that we went to on our hiking trip in the mountains of Wales a few years old ago, that place was called The Old School Hostel and Bed & Breakfast.

Ah Wales. Love it!

But I digress.

With just seven (7) rooms, you’re able to meet as many people as you want and at the time that we were there we met a young pilot from Italy doing his advanced flight training in Lithuania (it’s cheaper!), a young couple from Poland, an old couple from Spain, and ourselves!

On our last day, we also met three beautiful young girls from Minsk (Belarus) who had just returned from Belgium. Once they knew that I was a corporate trainer, although shy, wanted to practice as much English as they could.

Gifts from Belarus.
Gifts from Belarus.

They were so sweet that before they left, they gifted me with a magnet of Belarus, some Belarus chocolate, and a traditional Belarus tea-towel! If you’re in any of the ex-Russian States and looking for cheap flights to the West, then Vilnius is the place to be!

You can also cook in the kitchen (as food & drink are not allowed in the bedrooms), and crockery and cutlery and other cooking utensils were readily available. A sofa and soft cushions were also scattered around so that if you didn’t want to stay in your room, you could take your laptop into the kitchen. The kitchen also had a flat screen TV that was on a loop of music from VH1.

For the first time, I actually saw the video of some of my favourite contemporary songs as I don’t watch TV! I do however watch films, DVD or Netflix series, and BBC Science & Travel programmes which I pre-record.

I just don’t watch regular TV!

A B&B always has a touch of home.
A B&B always has a touch of home.

Most importantly, Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast had free WiFi, space to dump all our stuff after our long weary journey, free tea and coffee 24 hours a day and a free breakfast. Everything a couple, a group of friends, or a family with a young teenager, needs!

All this for €60.00 per night in the Family Room which for six (6) people would be €10.00 per night, and in double rooms, from €29.00 per night.

Per room!

Pancakes from Lithuania!
Pancakes from Lithuania!

For breakfast, we had delicious home-made pancakes with home-made blueberry, strawberry, and apple jam with cream, yogurt and slices of fruit, And you could have as much as you wanted along with helping yourself to free tea and coffee.

Lovely!

I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Well, if you're on a smaller budget...!
Well, if you’re on a smaller budget…!

No Problem. Pretty much any Eastern European country is quite cheap and is never going to break the bank. If you’re on a budget, you could do worse. Beer is about €2.00 or $2.12. Meals including a starter, beer snacks, and lots of drinks came to about €20.00 or $21.20 and that was for the three of us. Including drinks!

If you’re making your own meals there are a few local supermarkets around and they are very helpful.

I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY, IS THERE SOMETHING FOR ME?

A view through the Gate of Dawn - iStockphoto.
A view through the Gate of Dawn – iStockphoto.

Sure there is.

Plenty in the Old Town.

I can’t tell you about the luxury of Lithuania but in a few weeks, I will be telling you about the luxury of Latvia, the artistic design element of Finland and the five-star glory of Estonia!

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET TO LITHUANIA?

In Vilnius, Lithuania.

We only went for three (3) days so this was a sloooooow cultural family trip.

There is plenty to do in Vilnius. You can:

  • Go on a free walking tour, of which there are plenty.
  • Check out some of the lovely churches and places of worship which are just bursting to be visited.
  • Go to the National Museum of Lithuania.
  • Visit the Vilnius Picture Gallery.
  • Pay your respects in the Jewish Quarter.
  • Go up Gediminas’ Tower and admire the Old Town.
  • Climb up the various hills and fortifications hill and take as many panoramic pictures as you want.
  • Merely ramble along the cobbled historical streets.
  • Check out the various cafes, bars and restaurants for a quick bite and a few rounds of Lithuanian beer and vodka!
  • Go shopping.

WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?

Vilnius is so small that everywhere is walkable.

Taxis are cheap. A taxi from our B&B to the international coach-bus station cost a fabulous €3.60!

ANYTHING ELSE?

Don't forget your hat!
Don’t forget your hat!

Yes, the weather.

We arrived at the end of March and it began to snow. Very briefly, but still! Winter had been minimal in the UK and Germany this year, and it came as a bit of a shock. In fact, most of Northern Europe experienced snow this year.

At Easter!

As a result, it was snowy, rainy and freezing cold, which we weren’t really dressed for. On the first day.

We adjusted soon after LOL!

On talking to our host, this type of weather is pretty typical in Lithuania so hoods up, hats on, think gloves and welcome to the windy cold.

Laurel & Hardy. Shhhhhh!
Laurel & Hardy. Shhhhhh!

MY VERDICT:

I found Vilnius to be quiet and clean and the people enormously friendly and welcoming. It’s a really small town and very easy to navigate. English is widely spoken, the Old Town is lovely and if you’re going to the Baltic Region then Vilnius is a must. In fact, we met people from Australia, France, Belarus, Poland, Italy and Spain. Pretty much everyone we met was doing the Baltic Run.

WOULD I COME AGAIN?

Never say never!

A rather disturbing-looking doll!
A rather disturbing-looking doll!

For more information about coach-bus travel to Vilnius, please contact: Lux Express.

For more information about a family-based B&B, please contact: Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast.

For more information about an independent free walking tour, please contact: Vilnius With Locals.

This article is part-sponsored by Lux Express and Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast.

We received a part-complimentary-part-discounted stay on our B&B but all opinions and the fantastic Lithuanian dishes that I thoroughly enjoyed, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about the wonderful Lithuanian food and drink. Oh my!

After that, there will be posts on what we did in Riga, Latvia and our experience in Tallinn in Estonia with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

International Games Week Berlin 2015 is a leading cross-industry communication and networking platform for games businesss, development and culture, and will be taking place between April 21-26, 2015.

I’ll be going to TBEX Europe (Travel Bloggers Exchange) an International Networking Conference, for the first time! It’ll be taking place in Costa Brava, Catalunya, Spain from 30.04.15 – 02.05.15.

Strictly Stand Up English Comedy Night will be taking place at the Quatsch Comedy Club on 29.04.15.

Eddie Izzard will be back in Germany and will be front-lining a killer international night of comedy at the Admirals Palast on 08.05.15.

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. Anybody can apply!

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin in April, you’re going to miss all the good stuff!

April is going to be invigorating.

Watch this space!

Lithuanian vodka!
Lithuanian vodka!

Have you ever been to Vilnius? Have you ever taken a long distance coach-bus trip around Europe? Pancakes or bacon and sausages?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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