Hello Baltics

Hello Friends, Family, and Followers!

When we last left off we were headed on a flight from Kiev, Ukraine to Vilnius, Lithuania, the capital of the country.  We left first thing in the morning and made sure we had secured a cab the night before so we wouldn't have a repeat of Lviv (See last entry). The flight was hilarious and painful at the same time.  Imagine taking a flight with no reserved seats, no line, or no order of boarding the plane.  The airline was called Wizz Air (yeah, odd name) and it was a free-for-all.  Luckily, we have become far too good at flexing our muscles in these types of situations so we sat next to each other.  How are we going to make it back home?  People are going to hate us!

For the first time in quite a while we had a plan.  We needed to be in Tallinn, Estonia in 12 days to take a ferry to Helsinki, Finland.  We had heard from everyone that we spoke to how expensive Helsinki was so we only slated three days to visit then we were headed to London to visit friends...but that's for the next blog!

If we had gone by land this journey would have taken us 4 days at least but we knocked it out in an hour and forty-minute flight.  We hadn't flown in three and half months so this seemed amazing to us at the time.  Now we realize that it was just a flight so stop being so dramatic.

After standing in front of the bus stop for what seemed like an eternity trying to mime our way through asking bus driver after bus driver if their bus headed to the city center, we abandoned the bus option and opted for the train.  At least we could read the sign that said "city center" at the train station. 

We arrived at our hotel at 7:00 am, half asleep and ready to curl up in a bed. Oh wait, we were staying in a budget hotel that charged $10 extra to check in before 2:00 pm and $5 to store our bags.  It's times like these that it's difficult to be a traveler on a budget.  For us, $15 meant dipping into our daily budget which was not an option at this point since Eastern Europe has been tugging at our wallets a bit more over the past few months. Instead, we opted to lug our bags around town, wandering aimlessly through the streets of Vilnius like zombies.  See, there are not so glamorous parts to traveling around the world. 

Despite the dreary weather, the town set the stage for some great photo opportunities. 

We arrived back at the hotel at 2:00 pm sharp. Those 7 hours might have been some of the toughest 7 hours of our trip.  We were on the brink of losing our cool with each other several times because we were so tired.  After a two hour nap, we were back to greeting each other and the world with a smile.

One of the places we visited was the KGB museum.  Obviously, the museum was about the influence of the KGB on Lithuania.  Once again it was a terrible history but yet, once again, we found ourselves there.  What's wrong with us?  We need to start visiting happier places.  One positive is that it made for some fun pictures.  Leeeeeeaaaaannnnneeee...I see you.  Woah, it's actually a little spooky.

Good place to put a mirror.

Josh went ahead and let Leanne out so he wouldn't be haunted forever.  Good move.

If you ever find yourself in Vilnius check out the castle at the top of the hill.  So cool!

Hmmm...this guy looks like he approves.

Vilnius was jam-packed full of beautiful buildings.  This is no exception.

When visiting Vilnius, Trakai Island is an unbelievable opportunity to see one of the best Northern European castles in existence.  Is it touristy?  Yes, of course, but if we avoided every touristy place in the world we would have missed a lot of what makes this world such a wonderful place.  We spent the whole day here taking pictures and enjoying the marvel of the castle.

Is that a drawbridge?  Why yes, yes it is.

More photos of the castle.

Josh let her out...again.

Haha!! Now it was Leanne's turn.  Did she let Josh out?  After much thought, she decided it would be hard to cover up so she set him loose.

We spent three days and three nights in Vilnius but figured it was time to move along.  We decided to check out the Western coast of Lithuania to see if we could get some beach time in.  Also, it was about 600 yards away from Russia so maybe we could sneak in?  (Spoiler: No we couldn't.  Actually sneaking into Russia sounds like a terrible idea.)

Our destination was Nida, Lithuania where they serve your cider beer with a straw!

Josh was excited to finally get some quality beers under his belt.

Leanne was jonesing for a tan but the weather was still a bit fresh.

At least the sun was shining and we were able to shed some layers of our clothes.  That's Russia over Leanne's shoulder.

Nida is a beach town so of course we wanted to dip our toes in the sand and the ocean.  The strange part was it took us almost an hour to find the darn beach.  After much anticipation of the lapping ocean ahead, we stumbled upon these confusing and shocking signs.  Which direction do you go to find people actually wearing swimming attire and not their birthday suits?  What, there's an area for nude families. What is this place???

After we flipped a coin we decided to head straight since there wasn't a sign indicating what people would be wearing that direction.  Turns out, we chose incorrectly.  The beach was littered with old men that we wished were wearing budgie smugglers.  Unfortunately, these budgies were set free.  We did manage to capture a picture sans budgies of any sort. 

At the end of every nude beach experience is a silver lining.  Why hello beautiful double rainbow.

Also of note, we saw a midget standing strategically at the end of the rainbow.  We have a picture but decided not to post it to be "politically correct".

Smoked, scary looking fish anyone?

Don't mind if we do!  We joined the locals by getting our hands dirty and eating their cuisine.  Josh wound up eating most of Leanne's portion because she was scared of the texture not to mentioned its angry facial expression.  Is that even possible for a fish to have facial expressions?

The next day we braved the wind and laid out on the beach for a few hours.  It's not everyday that you get to wear pants over your bathing suit.  We got a small dose of Vitamin D which we were lacking over the past few weeks.  We left Nida all smiles.  Josh even managed to do his Fantasy Football draft here.  It was terrible!  We need to save a few things for when we see you guys.  Bring it up.

Onwards and upwards to Riga, Latvia.  We have a confession to make.  We were in Riga for 5 days and apparently weren't in the picture taking mood because we hardly have any photographic documentation of our time there.  We were caught up in the moment of enjoying the lifestyle there that we didn't carry our camera around every second of every day.  Sometimes, constantly seeing the world behind a camera takes away from its luster.  This was one of those times that we enjoyed just living and not capturing our daily life.  Here are a few of the moments we did capture.

The couple that wears red together, stays together!  Josh usually makes Leanne change if we wear anything that remotely looks similar in patterns or colors.  Leanne snuck this one by him.

There's a weird story behind this sculpture.  There's an old fable that of course we can't recall but its something about this larger than life man carrying a baby across the river.  We think he might be the Latvian version of Paul Bunyan.

Riga's historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau architecture.

We couldn't find anything to do one day so we decided to visit the Riga zoo.  While not one of the best zoos we've seen, the animals were out enjoying the warmish weather.  Riga only has a few months of warm weather.

A plus side of the zoo was that they catered to vertically challenged adults.  Thanks to this step stool, Leanne was able to see what wasn't in the top aquariums.  There was nothing in there!

We went to Majori for the day to the enjoy the beach.  The weather was colder and colder the farther north we went but we kept at it.

We spent the day at the beach freezing our behinds off.  We were in pants and jackets but that didn't stop us from walking along the ocean.  

We have no idea what this is all about but we watched other people taking a picture so Josh joined in too. 

After a beach day we headed back to the city and then headed on north to the city of Tallinn, Estonia.  

The views from the city were breathtaking.

Josh somehow, Leanne has no idea how, found a Texas flag in Estonia.  Estonia!?!  Ok, well here's your picture.  Gig 'em!!

While we're at it...go Dawgs!!

After our college spirit we headed back out to the city.

Japanese Tea Gardens

Old Town

Is this the Renaissance Festival or Northern Europe?  I'm SOOOO confused.

As we mentioned in the beginning of the post, we had to catch a ferry to Helsinki in a couple of weeks.   Well, guess what?  It felt like the blink of an eye but our two weeks were up so it was time to move along.  We made our way across the sea and set foot in Helsinki early on Sunday morning.  We were excited because we were Couchsurfing (not familiar with Couchsurfing?) with a couple kind enough to host us for three days and two nights.  We realize that is not nearly enough time in Finland but we had to catch a flight to London. 

Meet Pauliina and Antti.  We had to take their picture off of Couchsurfing because we somehow forgot to take a picture of all four of us.  What is wrong with us lately?

It was a rainy day so Pauliina and Antti made plans for us to go to an indoor rock climbing gym.  It was a blast!  Neither of us had been to an indoor rock climbing gym but we managed to pull out some skills and make it up the wall. 

The girls taking a break...

Pauliina and Antti's house was so creatively decorated.  In the directions that Antti sent us, he said:
"Go to the house that looks like a used video game shop."  We weren't certain what that meant but when we arrived, it all made sense to us.  It was awesome.  We give them the award for the most creatively decorated place.

Our visit to Helsinki was during the work week so while our kind hosts were at work, we went exploring.

We went to Suomenlinna for the day and it was gorgeous.  Suomenlinna was a suggestion by our hosts so we decided to spend the day there.

Foreshadowing for Ireland?

Such a pretty place.

After visiting the Finland "Countryside" we went back to seeing the sites of the city.

Bridge of Love

Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church that dominates the hilltop of Helsinki.

This looks like the Scandinavia we had imagined.

Just like the figures painted on the sidewalk it was time for us to move on down the road.  

We want to thank Antti and Pauliina one more time for making our visit to Helsinki even better. Seeing a place through a local's eyes is so rewarding.   Thanks for the strong espressos, the laughs and the fun stories.  We will think of you when we return home to the snow; wishing we had a sauna in our house.  We hope to see you in Colorado so we can return the favor. 

With Greece and Turkey included we were in Eastern Europe for about 3 months and a week.  Wow, time flies!  With another travel chapter in the books we were beyond excited to head west to visit friends.  London was calling!

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