Friday 14 July
The tour was excellent- now time to move on .
I flew from Vilnius to Budapest via Warsaw ,yesterday. LOT airline managed to leave ALL of the luggage in Warsaw- It is now here in Budapest and almost 24 hours later, I am still waiting for my bag to be delivered.
12 July 2017
A walk through Uzupio- an small 'arty' area in Vilnius. They declared independence and have a 'Constitution ' . It is quirky and great for tourism!
11 July 2017
Some more photos of Old Vilnius - such a treasure !
My day wandering in Old Vilnius.
I unexpectedly treated myself to a simple Red Amber & silver Pendant 😲. On the way back I stopped to look at a couple of churches and in the Russian Orthodox Church there was a service in progress- I was mesmerised by the big black hats ( which they removed part way through,) and long beards and black robes of the priests , the incense and the voices of the female choir in the background - another world . I loved it .
I am finishing the day at Cafe Montmartre with absolutely delicious mussels , pommes Frites , Cote du Rhone Grenache & warm , runny chocolate fondant with Creme Anglaise .Now waiting for the massive thunder and lightning storm to pass . The streets are running like a shallow stream.
Our Lady of the Gate continued...
In the ensuing centuries, the following grew stronger and Our Lady became an important part of religious life in Vilnius. The following inspired many copies in Lithuania, Poland, and diaspora communities worldwide. In 5 July 1927, the image was canonically crowned as Mother of Mercy. The chapel was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993. It is a major site of pilgrimage in Vilnius and attracts many visitors, especially from Poland.
Apparently the gate and the icon survived because the Russians knew it was believed to be 'lucky' !
It is not permitted to take photos of the icon inside - it is STUNNING-,I spent ages looking at the silver reliefs adorning the surrounding walls -large silver plaques with silver hearts - some reliefs with hearts & eyes everywhere, some with hearts & coffins , some with hearts and dismembered legs & arms .... I must find out about these ........
until a coach load of about 50 started filing through the small space
Our Lady of the Gates of dawn
The painting is in the Northern Renaissance style and was completed most likely around 1630. The Virgin Mary is depicted without the infant Jesus. The artwork soon became known as miraculous and inspired a following. A dedicated chapel was built in 1671 by the Discalced Carmelites. At the same time, possibly borrowing from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the painting was covered in expensive and elaborate silver and gold clothes leaving only the face and hands visible.
The legend tells that in 1702, when Vilnius was captured by the Swedish army during the Great Northern War, Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn came to her people's rescue. At dawn, the heavy iron city gates of the gate fell crushing and killing four Swedish soldiers. After this, the Lithuanian Army successfully counter-attacked near the gate .
Tuesday July 11
A restorative day was in order - I moved from the group hotel to Hotel Domus Maria , right next to 'The Gates of Dawn' the only one of 5 gates still standing. The hotel has beautiful vaulted ceilings along the wide corridors, it is easy to imagine it in it's former life as a monastery.
The only downside so far is that a very loud clock chimes every hour on the adjoining church !
10 July 2017
Monday 10 July
A sunny day greeted us for our last day's cycling , and we started the ride in Semeliskes, a village about 50 kms from Vilnius. It was not a long ride but the terrain is hilly so we all had a good workout . We passed many huge swathes of white flowers .Buckwheat , pretty ,but with a smell reminiscent of dirty sneakers!
We cycled past some small lakes to Trakai , where there is a gorgeous castle on an island in Lake Galve .Dating back to 1400 , much of it was destroyed over time , but now fully restored .
We lunched on traditional local food called Kibinai , basically a 'Cornish pasty ' as we know it , but filled with different meats or vegetables.
We finished the tour with a group dinner at a restaurant in Old Town Vilnius, and some traditional local food. Some tried the Beaver ( apparently not protected here) , but I opted for the buckwheat with mushrooms!
9 July 2017
The ride continued through pretty countryside and birch forest to Silute , a medium sized town . From here we made the 4 hour , 300km transfer west to east , to Vilnius , the Capital city and last stop on this tour .
July 9 - 39 kms
After a transfer south from Klaipėda to the small village of Kintai, we rode the short distance of 10 kms to a point , complete with a small lighthouse, now decommissioned. The expansive view across the Lagoon gave us a better sense of just how long the Curonian Spit is . The most interesting activity at this point is a bird tagging station . They have huge nets set up which collect and gather passing birds into cages . Whilst we were there the ranger came to tag the 'prisoners' and let them go on their way . I intend to search on the internet to see if I can find out more about this programme ,what species are caught and where / if they are seen again .
We rode back the same way and on to a restaurant in a lovely spot amongst large ponds used for fish farming .
Curonian Spit 40 kms
This is a 150 km long spit , half of which belongs to Lithuania and half to the Russian controlled Kaliningrad region. Mainland side of the spit is a giant lagoon , which freezes in Winter and.creates a large natural skating rink ! There are 4 small villages on the Lithuanian part of the Spit and although the whole area is National Park, it is a popular place for summer holidays , with many of the traditional wooden houses ,once the homes of fishermen, upgraded into pretty holiday houses. Hot smoked fish is a specialty of the whole region , for sale everywhere .
Forests were planted way back in the 1760's to try to stop the free flowing sand dunes from moving at the rate then , of 20 metres per year , into the Baltic Sea. Now the dunes are protected but we were able to climb to viewpoints , one of which looked out across the Russian zone . The ride was pleasant , but by 1.30 pm the rain came and we were pleased to load our bikes and ferry back to the mainland!
Klaipėda was called Memel until 1925. Founded in 1252 by the Teutonic Order, who built the city’s first castle, it was a key trading port from the 15th century until 1629, when Swedish forces destroyed it. After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, it became part of Prussia and stayed in Prussian hands until WWI. Then the population was an even split of Germans and Lithuanians.
Under the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI, Memel town, the northern half of Curonian Spit ,a strip of land (about 150km long and 20km wide) along the eastern side of the Curonian Lagoon and the northern side of the Nemunas River were separated from Germany as an ‘international territory’. It remained stateless until 1923, when Lithuanian troops marched in, annexed it, and it became Klaipeda.
An arts festival of some sort was happening while we were there.
Two performances I saw part of were a fire dance and an early evening 'water ballet / play' - and the water is NOT warm !
Note the sign in a reserved parking space outside the Casino!
8 July 2017
41kms Sventoji to Klaipėda
The drive from Riga to Sventoji was long - about 5 hours including stops , across the border into Lithuania. We drove through miles of wheat , beans , buckwheat and other crops , in a fairly flat landscape.
Eventually we arrived in Lithuania's beach resort area , a lovely day with many people doing what one does on a summer holiday . Food stalls along the cycle / footpath which runs all the way down the coast, were doing a roaring trade.
We cycled through a huge park , beautifully kept with a Manor House centrepiece. We saw at least 7 or 8 wedding parties having photos taken .There was even a wedding party with all the guests dancing some traditional jig , with champagne and nibbles all set up waiting under trees in the park !
Then we rode mostly along a cycle path through gorgeous stately pine forest until we reached Klaipėda , Lithuania's 3rd largest city (170,000) and only Port .
7 July 2017
Riga 6 July
More than 750 buildings in Rīga (more than any other city in Europe) have this flamboyant style of decor; and the number continues to grow as renovations progress .Art nouveau’s early in influence was Japanese print art disseminated throughout Western Europe, but as the movement gained momentum, the style became more ostentatious and freeform – design schemes started to feature mythical beasts, screaming masks, twisting ora, goddesses and goblins. The turn of the 20th century marked the height of the art nouveau movement as it swept through every major European city .
Jurmala was popular with the Russian elite , and still is - obviously a pretty expensive place to buy , with wide tree lined streets brimming with large houses in park like gardens. It is also interesting in that there are many beautiful Prussian style wooden houses, all different from each other , from a time gone by. Smart apartment buildings are springing up, I saw several with for sale signs on almost completed developments.
The area known as Jurmala stretches for kilometres along a strip containing several villages and a muddy coloured Baltic Sea lapping onto fine sand .
Resort hotels with spas line the beach in places , each with it's own beach side cafe and sun beds .
The air temperature by midday was 16 , warm enough for some holiday makers to swim . NOT this one !
Thursday July 6
A leisurely start which was fortunate,as the breakfast area of the hotel was rather like a long corridor , so to find the food one wanted to eat was quite a challenge amongst the throng of people all trying to do the same!
The weather forecast wasn't fantastic, with overcast,threatening skies and a cool breeze. Some opted to spend the whole day exploring the city, so just 8 of us set off for the half day ride to the beach at Jurmala , about 25 kms from the city .I enjoyed cycling through the city , across the Daugava River and out to the cycle path which took us through lovely pine forest to Jurmala town .
Wednesday July 5
So we were in Latvia and spent the next two nights in Riga , the Capital.
Some of us decided not to eat with the main group and 2 other single women and I found a very upmarket fish restaurant called Fisherman's Son,
where I ate fish fillet of Sturgeon with purple potato mash and other fancy bits !
6 July 2017
Sangaste 'Castle' was built in the C19 - a wealthy Russian wanted to marry an English girl but her father didn't approve of his daughter marrying a 'barbarian' . So, he built her a castle to prove himself !
After some exhilarating downhills we finally arrived in Valka , where our transport awaited us. Valka is
on the border of Estonia and Latvia , which runs right through the centre of the city !The Latvian side of city is called Valga
These kms were a bit tougher than other days so far , because the ride was through 'Estonian Switzerland '. Hardly a comparison , as the hills were slight inclines , but compared to flat flat Estonia , everything is relative !
After a 1 and a half hour transfer in our bus through agricultural land , we started the ride in Otepaa . It was cold and raining lightly so it was with reluctance that those of us who rode , set off . We cycled by a small lake ,Putäjarv , and through wonderful forests, but the icy wind persisted, even when the rain stopped. I found the hills quite challenging at the beginning, but as the day progressed , the weather improved a little and hills turned to long inclines . It was a lovely ride , broken up by a stop in Sangaste to eat the remains of yesterday's picnic and to have coffee at Sangaste Castle.
Our sleeping place was Hotel Tartu, right in the middle of the city, and an early evening walk of the main sights was in order . It is another old city , full of jaw dropping architecture. Many of the gorgeous buildings are part of the large university campus , situated on the 'hill ' .
Dinner was a group affair , involved a very long wait but we did enjoy the food - For me ,crayfish soup and wild mushrooms with blue cheese
The ride then took us through the last 2 kms of the roadworks, then we left the main road and cycled through picturesque villages and past lake front properties built of timber,modest houses but many with their own boat landing / mooring channels from the lake -. I assume each of these was man made .
The whole area was very quaint, with large crops of onions and potatoes growing. Our trusty driver was waiting for us in the small village of Varnja, ready to load our bikes and take us to Tartu for an overnight stop.
I felt a great sense of privilege to be in this place - right on the boundary between West and East
4 July 2017
Today we transferred in our bus the one and a half hours to Mustvee on Lake Peipsi . The lake forms part of the border between Estonia and Russia . It looks more like looking out to a calm sea and is the 5 th largest lake in Europe .
Our ride took us south on and near the lake shore , the sun shining and the only slight impediment, a head wind . The first 25 kms were on the main road , but with very little traffic it was OK . A long straight flat road through rich green fields of grain and other crops stretching to the horizon , broken up only by farm houses & buildings . The major roadworks for about 10 kms of this kept the monotony at bay and we were pleased to reach the other end where we stopped at Kallaste and had an impromptu picnic by the lake.
3 July 2017
We were back at our hotel by 3 pm , bedraggled and tired . The bathrooms have underfloor heating , mine is so hot I can't stand still for long in bare feet . - It turns out to be a great place to dry all the wet clothes and shoes !
The rain had stopped by 4 pm so I set out for a lovely walk into the forest nearby - the area is a haven for walkers , as there are many trails . A tiring but super day , finished in style at the restaurant nearby which was the Manor House Tavern 250 years ago.
By the way - the fences with sloping palings are supposedly to stop the brown bears from climbing over - they try to climb and slip - True or false I don't know!
Today we cycled in the National Park- The weather forecast was for rain and as we set off at 9 a.m the sky looked threatening, the temperature around 12 degrees. The roads were just as quiet as yesterday as we headed to the Käsmu Peninsular. We passed through a couple of very small villages and reached the Baltic coast .There are what are known as 'erratic' boulders all over this area , apparently washed in from Norway in an age long past . We stopped by the sea ,with a view to the coast of Russia before making our way to the Käsmu Maritime Museum. The rain started and after an hour we were pretty pleased to reach it as our lunch was also in this family home,restaurant, museum right by the sea. They only serve fresh hot smoked salmon with potatoes, salad ,and then baked curd cheesecake . It was exceedingly good . Between 1945 & 1991 the whole National Park coast had a 2 mtr. high fence all the way and was guarded to stop people going to sea.
Monday 3 July
I slept well , in spite of the everlasting daylight /dusk . We dined in the hotel which is the converted distillery of Palmse Manor , a grand Mansion next door , with lake , summer bathhouse,and formal gardens , all beautifully restored to their 18 th. century glory . The wealthy German landowners of the day certainly knew how to live . Even though it is summer , the hotel is being heated which is very cosy .
Estonia is situated on a transitional area where the coniferous Euro-Siberian taiga opens onto a European zone of deciduous forests- or so called boreo-nemoral zone. Almost half of Estonian territory is under forest and woodlands; the area of forest stands has more than doubled during last half of the past century and is still growing.
A piece of incidental information- mainly because I was interested to know what 'kind ' of forest this is called . I have never been this far north before - it is beautiful.
2 July 2017
Sunday 2 July
Our first ride started in the afternoon after a 40 minute transfer on our 'Tour Bus' to Lahemaa National Park , which is east of Tallinn towards the Russian border .
It took some time to sort the bikes , raise / lower/change saddles etc , then we set off under grey skies to explore the Loksa Peninsula .
We are a group of 14 , comprising a cross section of ages and fitness levels .It felt exhilarating to be back amongst nature , on two wheels. Our rental bikes are Merida - the same make as my road bike , but right from the start I had a comfort issue with the saddle !
The road was good with very few cars and we were all struck by the silence . We cycled through Pine forests and past isolated farm houses , pretty much following the coast of the Baltic Sea around the small Peninsula. After 37 Kms and some short stops , we climbed a fairly long incline to our hotel in Palmse . I must say it felt quite far enough after my 16 days of little exercise!
Sunday 2 July
A cool morning, intermittent light rain , but no cold wind -looking forward to getting on a bike again - we drive to Lahemaa National Park then off I go - about 15 of us in the group , mostly female .
Some last shots of Tallinn
1 July 2017
Saturday 1 July
Another day of icy North East winds - 12 degrees but feels colder . Tonight the Cycling Tour group meets for the first time - I have moved to The Braavo Hotel on foot, then walked a little but decided a 'rest' afternoon is in order . The best news is that I have a room to myself 'by default ' - because I didn't pay the single room supplement.
Either no other single women or they have paid to have their own rooms -Yay !
30 June 2017
The reasonably warm evening yesterday was perfect for the open air concert which marked the beginning of Estonia's presidency of The EU for the next 6 months . I joined the throng for most of the show - lovely although I didn't understand a word!
Friday 30 June
I have been travelling for 5 weeks and today is the first day I could describe as cold and a bit miserable !
Fortunately I had planned a day of indoor activities after consulting the forecast on my 'weather app' yesterday .
I spent 2 1/2 hours totally engrossed in the story of Tallinn's history at the Tallinn Museum- such a treat to have no time or company restraints . I emerged to light rain and a biting north wind so holed up in a cafe , with hot soup and coffee for a while .
My afternoon visit was to St Nicholas Church , virtually destroyed by the Russians in March 1944 and although rebuilt it has little original remaining . The interest there is a display of silver ' Guild Cups ' and x 2, 5 part altars etc .
29 June 2017
This city is brimming with the quirky & charming , not to mention the history.Sensational in it's literal meaning ! These dolls captured my interest , advertising the shops full of fine linens , from tablecloths to clothing.
Tallinn - a city I hadn't even heard of until recently- capital of Estonia , 58.67 degrees north . A flat and boggy country with 💯 % literacy !
Right now it is daylight ,dusk or dawn all bar about 2 hours in every 24 .,Population 1 .26 million with life expectancy 74 yrs . Religion Evangelical Lutheran & Orthodox Churches.
Today's max temperature was 20 , but with a chilly breeze coming off the Gulf of Finland.
Old city with a modern semi high rise city burgeoning . Port with lots of space for massive cruise ships , 4 of which I could see from the hill today on my walk . AND I wonder how the city copes with the Huge numbers of people from those ships descending on the Old Town every day , because, as I experienced the phenomenon this morning, they are not actually bringing in much income to the city - They do the walking tour , chaos reigns for about 3 hours and there is no room to stop or shop , and then they return to their ships .
My impressions of Old Tallinn above - stunning
28 June 2017
Wed. 28 June
How only about 2 hours flying north can transport one into a different world !
I left the hotel in Krakow at 8 a.m in short sleeves , eventually arriving in Tallinn , Estonia , at 5.30 pm. after a long layover in Warsaw ,to blue skies and 18 degrees.
The airport is close to the city and the taxi driver was honest . I am staying in an apartment in a beautiful old building right in the middle of the Old Town . It is split into 3 en suite rooms and a breakfast room, rather like a mini hotel . Perfect for the next 3 days until my cycling tour starts.
I set off to explore a little and to eat - the temperature had already dropped although the sun is still shining ( sunset is 10.40pm and sunrise tomorrow 4.07 am !). Restaurants with outdoor dining already had their gas heaters blazing , so I had my first meal with a fleecy blanket around my shoulders . Sea Gulls were calling overhead , such a long time since I have heard that . I have had to retreat early , to get warm