Often lumped together, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are completely different countries. Though they did share a 20th century history. All were part of the Russian Empire, gaining independence after the First World War. At the outbreak of WWII, they were re-occupied by the Soviet Union. Later they were all ‘liberated’ and ruled by the Germans. These battles caused damages reminiscent of Peterhof. At the end of the war, they were once again ‘liberated’ then occupied by the Soviets who maintained control until the early ‘90’s when all three countries finally regained independence.
We were disappointed by Tallinn. The old medieval part is perfectly restored and seemed completely soulless. When I had visited in 1995 it was filled with shady east block grandees and seedy restaurants where you could curtain off your table for illicit privacy. Now, there are ye-olde-everything shoppes with sellers dressed in medieval costumes trying to lure the tour bus patron. Safe, pretty and boring.
There was nothing left of the medieval heart of Riga in 1945. What you see now was deliberately rebuilt to attract tourists. We decided to skip it and focus on the remarkable art nouveau architecture. The city took off at the beginning of the 20th century: economically, industrially and demographically. Lots of new money and lots of people wanting to build things, particularly nice places to live. The old fortified walls were torn down to make way for boulevards, gardens and housing. The result is a singularly beautiful city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world, mostly apartments. It was the perfect backdrop for cocktails! We popped into the elegant Left Door Bar and sampled several before rushing to Lithuania.
Vilnius, the capital, did not suffer as extensive damage during WWII. The old medieval buildings has burned down ages ago replaced over the centuries with a mix of gothic, neoclassical, renaissance and baroque structures. They create an oddly harmonious grand city center. Exhausted, I put Hunter in charge of finding us a meal. He chose an amazing restaurant, Sweet Root. After enjoying a delicious 7 course-tasting menu of traditionally inspired but very modern Lithuanian cooking we flew on to Warsaw. I may be too old for this!