Mega event was published for the beginning of July this year. It's a country we'd never been to before so straight-away we started looking into the possibility of a visit. The idea for the trip started out as a long weekend in Tallinn but in January we were looking at the flights and accommodation and decided it would be a wasted opportunity not to visit Lithuania and Latvia at the same time and make a holiday out of it - so a plan was hatched for a Baltic States road trip.
'The Baltic States? Where is that??' Well that's the question quite a few people have asked me, it's not the usual holiday destination admittedly but we love to explore new places and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Just in case you were unsure, The Baltic States are in north eastern Europe and contain the countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.
We decided to fly into Vilnius, hire a car, spend a couple of days exploring the area before moving onto Riga in Latvia, then on to Tallinn in Estonia where we'd attend the mega event then as we'd be so close it seemed like a great opportunity to hop on the ferry for an overnight trip to Helsinki in Finland - another new country for us - then back to Tallinn where we'd spend a few days before heading home.
Our trip almost came to an abrupt end before it had even started. On Friday I was off work and went out for a bike ride with Beth, after work Mark came to meet us and after a ride around a local park about 3 miles from home we went our separate ways, I went off towards home and Mark carried on looking for a cache we'd struggled to find and said he'd catch us up. About an hour later he rang me, he sounded very confused saying he didn't know where he was or what he was doing, he'd lost his glasses, ripped his jeans - he kept repeating himself over and over again.... I quickly realised he'd fallen off his bike and bumped his head as he seemed to be suffering from amnesia and didn't even know his own address - to cut a long story short he'd fallen off his bike at speed and managed to knock himself out so after an ambulance trip and six hours in A&E we finally got home at midnight having decided that the holiday was not going ahead.
Mark hobbled out of bed and said we really ought to try and go away as planned as it was far too late now to cancel any accommodation and we'd lose all the money we'd already paid for the trip. So after a quick discussion we quickly packed and prepared to leave for Stansted airport - another long story: when we booked our flights in January we had no idea we'd be moving house 130 miles away - we looked into changing to Manchester airport but it wasn't possible so it then meant a 230 mile trip from home to Stansted - a 4 hour journey! Amazingly we made it with about 20 mins to spare before boarding.
Up bright and early and ready to explore Vilnius.
Even at 8am the heat was quite intense, the forecast said temperatures of 30 degrees so we knew it was going to be a hot one.
We decided to start off playing the Vilnius Sightseeing Wherigo as the first zone was near our apartment - which incidentally was the first wherigo in Lithuania. Then after going for coffee and cake we headed up to Gediminas Hill to the tower and for a look around the museum.
|Impressive views at the top|
A really interesting exhibition and history lesson in the museum about the story of The Baltic Way. The Baltic Way was a peaceful political protest that took place on 23rd August 1989. Approximately two million people joined hands to form a human chain spanning 675.5 kilometres (419.7 mi) across the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, considered at the time to be constituent republics of the Soviet Union - they joined hands in their drive for independence and freedom from Soviet occupation.
|The Baltic Way - Route of the Human Chain|
Anyway, matsretep, the Dutch couple said that they had just visited (the day before, I think) the Geographical Centre of Europe which was only about 16 miles away. This sounded fascinating and it wasn't something we were aware of so we decided we'd add that to Monday's itinerary. Incredibly, it was soon 17:30 and mandarin had to return to work so we had a group photo and said our goodbyes. What a friendly bunch the Lithuanians are!
|Sampling local cuisine - |
Later, after our evening meal, we decided it was cool enough for the walk up to the three crosses on Bleak Hill.
|The remains of the old concrete crosses can still be seen nearby.|
|Fantastic panorama of the city from Bleak Hill|
|3 windows - one for God, one for the family, and one for Grand Duke Vytautas.|
It was good to sample some a Trakai traditional pasty - Kibinai are traditional pastries filled with mutton and onion or chopped chicken and popular with the Karaite ethnic minority in Lithuania.
Next stop was a visit to the Geographical Centre of Europe.
After a re-estimation of the boundaries of Europe in 1989 it was determined that the geographical centre of Europe is located near the village of Purnuškės 16 miles north of the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. The monument was erected at the location in 2004.
Unfortunately the visitor centre was closed but on the plus side it meant we had the place to ourselves.
|Baltic Way Monument, Vilnius|
Checked out of our apartment and headed towards Riga.
The Hill of Crosses
It's not known how many crosses adorn the hill but in 2006 they estimated there to be 100,000, it is thought today there could be half a million crosses. During our short visit a number of people were approaching the hill with crosses. There was a gift shop selling crosses for people to place on the hill, which personally I thought was poor taste but plenty of people were buying them
We were glad we'd arrived early before the crowds of tourists, as we were leaving many coach loads were arriving and starting the walk along the path.
Well, this goes to the top of the list of unusual places we have visited.
We were keen to find as many different cache types as possible on our trip. In Lithuania we managed to find a Wherigo, Traditional, Earthcache, Multi, Puzzle, Letterbox and Event
|Saying goodbye to Lithuania|
We'd just crossed the border into Latvia when we were stopped by the Police, apparently for speeding! We felt sure we hadn't been but the Policeman reckoned we were doing 80km in a 50km zone - hmm we weren't convinced, before we spoke he'd assumed we were Poles - the car they'd just pulled over in front was a Polish vehicle - anyway we apologised and appealed to his good nature and he let us off - we drove away slowly.
After finding an interesting letterbox the next stop was a virtual. This was at Salaspils concentration camp, an extremely poignant and moving location but interesting history too.
Then we drove into Riga to check into our apartment and went to the restaurant next door for our evening meal.
|More Latvian grub|
|Not sure what it's called but trust me it's ammaaaazing!|
After our evening meal we decided to check out the location for our event the following morning - we'd taken the co-ords from Google maps so just wanted to check the area around the monument was accessible as I'd read that the area was guarded.
On the way we stopped for a really cool cache - Tea House TB/GC Graveyard - the cache is hidden inside a tea house, you go inside and say the codeword at the counter and they hand you the cache - we've done a number of this kind and think they are brilliant.
We needn't have worried about the event location, the area was guarded but not inaccessible, we just hoped we weren't asked to move on in the morning.
Our event was about half an hour walk from our apartment so up bright and early for a day exploring Riga.
We arrived about 15 min early and straight away cachers started arriving. We like to have an event when in another country so we can hopefully meet some local cachers and glean information of local must-do caches which might not necessarily have high numbers of favourite points for example. We normally have an evening event but our original plan was to only spend one day in Riga so we moved it to the morning to give us plenty of time to find any caches that may be mentioned.
|Some cachers were on their way to work so we had to take a number of photos|
|A few more attendees|
|Event Log book|
We chose 9am pretty much at random but it seemed to work particularly well as several cachers stopped by on their way to work. The event ran over for a fair bit longer than the planned 30 mins but there were so many people to talk to. It was good to chat to lilliedal and Lyngerup.dk who remembered us from the Danish Mega event last year. After the event we went off to find Muahaha, a local highly favourited cache with a couple of German cachers Geoclaat and muleule, wanderlusta (from San Diego) and a local cacher who said he'd come along to help if we needed it - the other cachers had already had a good look previously but given up but this was our first look and Mark put his hand straight on it! - can't give any spoilers but safe to say I really want to set one just like it at home, absolutely brilliant.
Riga Central Market is Europe's largest market and bazaar. It is one of the most notable structures from 20th century in Latvia and has been included in UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The main structures of the market are five former German Zeppelin hangars built from 1924 to 1930.The market is 72,300 square metres wide with more than 3,000 trade stands.
|House of the Blackheads|
House of the Blackheads was built some time in the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a club for unmarried German merchants in Riga. Major works were done in the years 1580 and 1886, adding most of the ornamentations. The building was bombed to ruins by the Germans in 1941 and then what was left was demolished by the Soviets in 1948. The building as it stands today was reconstructed between 1995 and 1999 incredibly using the original blueprints!
|Spot where the tradition of decorating Christmas trees started|
The decorating of Christmas trees originated in Riga, way back in 1510 a group of bachelors, a little worse for Christmas spirit dragged a pine tree to their clubhouse and covered it in paper and dried flowers, ribbons and straw dolls. At the end of the evening they set fire to the tree. From that day on, decorating the ‘Christmas Tree’ became a tradition, which eventually spread across the globe (without the burning bit thankfully).
The Three Brothers are the oldest medieval dwelling houses in Riga built around 1490.
|Traditional Latvian mittens|
The morning was spent playing the Tragic Legacy wherigo. When we were planning our to-do list we added this wherigo as a 'maybe' as the listing said to allow a couple of hours and requires a 38km drive and we weren't sure if we'd have time. As it happens we fitted all the sightseeing in yesterday. The Wherigo took us around six key points concerning the fate of Jews in Riga during the Holocaust.
One of the locations was at Rumbula Forest where 25,000 Jews were killed in or on their way to the forest on 2 non-consecutive days - November 30th and December 8th 1941. As we arrived a man and a woman were just leaving, we got talking to them, they explained they were from Israel and they told us that 25 of the man's family had been murdered there - his own mother having moved to Israel just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Although sad and extremely moving, it was interesting and educational.
We spent the afternoon in Jūrmala. Jūrmala is about 16 miles west of Riga, it's a resort town and its sandy white beach stretches for 21 miles. It's the fifth largest city in Latvia. As we approached Jūrmala I spotted what looked to me like toll booths but they were set aside in a small area to the side of the main road, luckily we reacted quickly and pulled over to see what it was all about, some people were driving straight through and others were going through what looked like ticket machines. I quickly googled it to see what it was all about as there were no signs. The first entry I found referred to it as a 'Tourist Trap', basically if you miss the exit for the toll booth you will be pulled over instantly and issued with a 60 Euro fine! Quite a fine considering the Toll Fee is only 2 Euros. Thank goodness I spotted the booths, there were loads of not so lucky tourists being stopped further up the road by the Police.
|A paddle in the Baltic sea|
There's a brilliant observation tower in the forest, it's 38 metres high - it was a great view at the top but a little disconcerting how much it wobbled so I was quite glad to get back down on the ground.
|It's a long way down|
After a lovely meal out we spent the rest of the evening wondering around Riga Old Town and relaxing on a beautiful evening, such a fab holiday enjoying every minute.
|Our apartment in Riga|
We have a long drive ahead of us this morning We're off to Tallinn and it's a 240 mile journey. After last night's lovely sunset we were expecting another sunny day so were surprised when it clouded over a few miles out of Riga and the heavens opened and we drove for quite a few miles in the pouring rain but we didn't mind too much, we've enjoyed some lovely sunny days so far and at least it's a day we are mostly in the car.
|Narrowly avoided a head-on collision|
We passed mile after mile of pine forest which was quite surprising but later I looked it up and it seems that forests cover 42% of the land area in Latvia and timber and wood products are among the country's most important exports. That explains it.
|Arriving in Estonia|
We stopped a couple of times on the way to break up the journey but were glad to finally arrive in Tallinn at 4pm after setting off at 8am.
We drove straight to our apartment, it then took another 2 whole hours to sort the parking. When we booked we understood that there was paid parking next to the apartment. In actual fact it was a car park where you could only pay with SMS text. After asking a couple of locals for help we tried paying by text but the text wouldn't send and then when it did I didn't get an acknowledgement, so I had no idea if I'd been charged the steep 10 Euros or not. So we gave up with that and drove around to try and find alternative parking but everywhere had the same SMS payment system - the apartment reception were far from helpful and eventually we found our way to an underground car park at a shopping mall just under 10 minute walk away - for an extortionate 14 Euros for 24 hours. By the time the car was sorted and we'd had our evening meal we didn't really leave much time left so we just had a quick look around the Old Town and hopefully have more time on Sunday.
It's been a long day and to be honest I'm glad to have a few days now without any long driving journeys. It'll be good to spend a few days in this area and hopefully find a bit of time to chill out and relax before heading home. Haha 'relax' now that will be a novelty ....
|That jacuzzi bath looks very inviting|
Today we attended the Estonia Mega Event. It was set in a great location about 10 miles south west of Tallinn. It was really good fun to meet lots of cachers from many different countries and it was also good to have a chat with some of the North Wales Mega committee.
|North Wales Mega Stand|
|Always nice to bump into Signal|
Having completed the lab caches we decided to head to the West coast to find the only letterbox in the whole of Estonia - yep the ONLY one in Estonia. So we hoped it wasn't going to be a DNF. The location was at Pakri lighthouse. There were 260 steps to the top of the lighthouse, it was well worth the climb for the views at the top, although tough going in the 30 degrees heat.
While we were researching what to do on our visit to Estonia we spotted a rather interesting place - we love a bit or Urbex and look for places to explore whenever we can.
A former quarry that was worked by the inmates from the nearby prison, quarrying ceased in the 90s and soon became flooded when pumping stopped. Although private land and protected by razor wire it has become popular with locals for bathing and diving - the whole area looks completely hazardous for swimming! We asked some locals for directions and they pointed us to the best parking which was along a very muddy, bumpy track (arrgh the hire car deposit), we parked up alongside other cars and there was a well trodden path across a wall protected by razor wire, we carefully made our way to the base of the spoil heap and it was a very slippery climb to the top to find the cache.
We spent the evening attending a couple of events and enjoying a drink with other cachers in Mad Murphy's bar in the Old Town Square - drinks were over 6 Euros a pint which seemed a lot as we'd found everything else to be fairly reasonable but I suppose these were tourist prices being situated right in the centre. The funny thing is we were still all sitting outside the pub at 11pm and it was still light! Doesn't seem to get dark at all, even at midnight it wasn't dark.
We'd had heavy rain all night and when we woke in the morning it was still raining. We can't complain really as this is the first rain we've had in 8 days, up until now it's been hot and sunny so if anything a bit of rain was a welcome relief.
|CITO log book|
We had a wander round looking for litter but only found a few sweet wrappers so after a while we headed off to find a puzzle and a multi - That completes all the icons we needed for Estonia.
|Here it is!|
We headed back into Tallinn Old Town to explore and relax as up to now the trip has been pretty full on.
|Happy Chimney sweep - touch the buttons for luck|
Up at 5am this morning to get the ferry to Helsinki. It's been raining heavily all night and was still raining when we left the apartment at 6am.
We were first on so managed to get a seat near a plug socket for the laptop so I could get up-to-date with logs and the blog.
The 2½ hours flew by and we were soon docking in Helsinki.
|Finally in Finland!|
We are staying in Helsinki overnight and will return to Tallinn tomorrow just before midnight. So the plan is to find 9 cache types.
As soon as we left the ferry we drove a short distance to the first cache type of the day.
|First stop a letterbox|
Then an old traditional.
|GC72 - Sungear|
We passed a man picking berries on the way there. On the way back to the car we went over to chat to him, he spoke fairly good English, we asked what he was picking and he explained he was picking 'bilberries', he gave us some to eat - yeah goes against everything our mothers told us - a strange man in the woods gave us wild berries to eat - but we tasted them and they tasted a bit like blueberries but not as sweet. He said he picks them just once a year and last year he picked enough for a full freezer and for his two daughters too. He asked us about the Euro football and we went on our way. Everyone we've met this holiday has mentioned either the football or Brexit.
|View from our hotel|
|and that's the ceiling!|
We were really pleased and surprised that so many turned up to our little meet and greet event. It was such a shame that about 10 minutes into the event it started to pour with rain, but the Finns are obviously used to the rain as it didn't seem to bother anyone and the event continued as planned. It was great fun and once again we were able to get a few tips on must-do caches on our short stay.
After having a bite to eat we went on to do a puzzle, wherigo, earthcache and multi. It was still light at 10pm so this meant we had plenty of caching time before going back to the hotel.
|Famous Helsinki Pub Tram|
|Opintoputki pedestrian tunnel|
|Frozen yoghurt machine at breakfast|
Breakfast was served at 6.30 in our hotel so we were out nice and early, we'd planned to spend the day sightseeing.
First stop was the Helsinki Museum. There's a highly favourited cache there and we'd tried to find it last night but we realised that we needed to be inside the museum and it was just about to close, so this morning we arrived nice and early. This cache was brilliant. I love finding caches that are placed inside buildings, they're great fun and we've found a few now - we've found three on this holiday which is quite surprising as they are quite rare.
Then we took the ferry across to Suomenlinna where we spent the rest of the day. It was great fun exploring the islands. Suomenlinna is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands and which now forms part of the city of Helsinki. The islands are no longer a military base and in 1991 they became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There were a few great caches to be found too including a brilliant one inside the church.
We walked over 10 miles today and were glad to have a sit down once we got on the ferry back to Tallinn. We arrived back in Tallinn at midnight.
Heading home today.
We woke up early to a glorious sunny morning so we decided to spend the last couple of hours finding a couple of caches that had been on our to-do list and having a wander around Tallin old town in the sunshine.
When we got back to our hotel after visiting Rummu I decided to google more info about the place for the blog and came across a music video which featured it.
The video also featured a large stepped building which we discovered to be Linnahall in Tallinn - the derelict sports venue of the 1980s Olympics. So we knew we would have to go and have a look and hoped we'd be able to get close to it for some photos.
As it happens you can freely walk around it and over it but access inside the building is strictly prohibited.
Time to get planning our next adventure.