The baltic rocks
After decades under Soviet rule, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are really coming into their own. Tim Abrahams reveals why it’s good to watch the sun rise in the east.
In the pint of beer test Estonia. Latvia and Lithuania are probably the cheapest travel destinations in Europe. It‘s about £1 for half a litre. even in the most expensive bars in Vilnius. the capital of Lithuania. and it shelves off dramatically once you get outside the Old Town. Prices in Riga and Tallinn — capitals of Latvia and Estonia respectively — are a little higher but the oft—quoted remark that one or all of these cities is ‘the new Prague‘ has its basis in irrefutable ale-purchasing fact.
To love the Baltic states, you have to love forests
So said the writer Anatol Lieven. During winter the combination of snow. ice and pines makes for a full-on Willoughby Chase atmosphere throughout the Baltics (although there are no wolves). But in the summer the woodlands are glorious. Natives retreat from the cities to their country cabins and live a life of barbecues and dips in the pristine waters of over 1000 lakes dotted throughout the three countries. In Aukstaitijos National Park (l()()km north east of Vilnius) you will find a particularly attractive series of tranquil lakes and towering pines. Email aand‘islt for info on accommodation. You can hire tents. sleeping bags and (Christ. if you must) guitars.
The lingo iiveryone under the age of 30 speaks at least some linglish.
Variety is the spice of life It's hard to believe but behind the equally weird names that we lump together as the Baltics there are three distinct
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nations. Here is a quick guide. Estonia: the language is like Finnish and so are the people. who can be aloof. have a very dry sense of humour and love their mobile phones. Latvia is the poorest and the smallest of the three. It was deliberately Russilied during Soviet times so nearly half its inhabitants are Russian. The Lats and the Russians are often at odds with each other. Lithuania is Catholic and very religious. unlike the laissez-faire Lutherans to the north. Strangely. its people are known both for their passionate temperament and their mercantile pragmatism. Vilnius. capital of Lithuania. looks Polish. unlike Riga and Tallinn. which look German and Scandinavian respectively.
It’s, like, a melting pot man
History has been a nightmare from which the Lithuanians. listonians and Latvians are only just waking up. Poles. Swedes. Danes. Russians. Germans and Fins have governed them. often badly. But they have their hard won independence now. As a result the architectural remains of these empires can now be treated as a rich legacy. Just look at Toompea Hill in the centre of 'I‘allinn‘s old town. Toompea (‘astle was built by Danes and Germans after they defeated the fistonians in the early 1200s. The nation‘s oldest church. the Toomkirik. is nearby and is the burial site of German and Swedish noblemen. The adjacent Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral was built by the (‘xar in 1900.
Good genes The people of the Baltics have been given a rich genetic bequest as well. For lo it is true. the Baltics are full of
This page, clockwise from left: Vilnius, Curonian Spit, Vilnius. Opposite, clockwise from top: Vilnius, Talin, Curonian Spit, Vilnius, Klaiepeda.