Self guided driving tour of the baltics for 2 weeks in July 2015
2015. 07. 13.
Hello! ... we were really busy with the sightseeing, which was great, better than expected, that is, it exceeded our expectations. The weather was magnificent up to the last Monday, when it got a turn for the worse, with the storm that came from the west and that lingered throughout the remaining of the week. But we knew the weather is nothing that one can control and we also knew that the weather can be very unpredictable and make big sudden turns in that region. So, although a bit disappointing, we cannot say it was completely unexpected. Still, we manage to do pretty much all the sightseeing we wanted and adapted it to the prevalent weather conditions at the time. We had no problems with the bookings and finding the hotels and the hotels were, in general within our expectations as well. There were only some minor issues about some of them. I already have mentioned the light issue we had at the first hotel in Vilnius and how it was resolved when we asked them. We kept having some light issues throughout the trip, although not as bad as in the first hotel, so we didn't request any more room changes. Only at the Arensburg hotel, in KURESSAARE, this was again a bit worse than in the other hotels but we managed. We were happy with the hotels service, in general, as well. The locations were wonderful. The architecture and the decor and design were also, in general, of our liking, with probably the exception of the Barons hotel in Tallin. The architecture and location were good. The decor, especially in the room we got, was in need of a facelift. The furniture was a bit under the stress of the time and it would benefit from some repair and/or replacement. We had a more favorable impression of this hotel from the online documentation than from the reality of it. The other, kind of unpleasant, remark was the fact, strange to us, that the Vihula Manor would charge 8 euros, per day per person, for the use of the pool. They would also charge for any use of any other facility they had. It was the first time we were in an hotel in which the use of the pool was not included in the price of the room!! On a funny side, I think they should charge children more than adults (which is the opposite of what they do) because children are much more disruptive of the calm of the place than adults! However, we understand the tradition of charging children less! : ) Other than that, the Vihula Manor was very pleasant, as a place to relax. We did the two hiking tours, the bigger on the day of arrival, the smaller the following morning, managing to escape the showers. I drove to the coast and the beach, not very nice for beach, has a beautiful scenery. Black rocks and contrasting swans on the water... really beautiful. We also don't like that much the traditional bedding styles in this region of the world - the individual edredons, especially at this time of the year, when it becomes too hot. We prefer sheets. And the pillows were also thinner than what we usually like but we also understand this is the typical style in this area of the world and so... there is nothing we can do!
Annas Hotel in Cesis was very pretty. The access was surprisingly unpleasant - 10 km of unpaved road to get in (specially with copious rain) and even more to get out to the south, although with drier pavement. We also enjoyed the pool, and jacuzzi and even the sauna and turkish bath (we tried it here for the first time because it was the hotel with easier access to it, less complicated). However, the pavement that the architect chose for the pool was very pretty but very slippery when wet. They have warnings all over the place, it is definitively not a good functional choice for the pool area. Esthetics took precedence. The restaurant seafood, was average, though. The products were good but the fish had to be sent back for a bit more cooking. It got better but I had better earlier experiences with that type of fish. As it follows, let's now talk about restaurants. We found wonderful food everywhere! However it was always difficult to choose a restaurant. There are so many attractive proposals everywhere... We particularly liked the restaurant in the Arensburg hotel and the two restaurants we tried in Klaipeda - Meridiano, in the tall ship of the same name (wonderful seafood) and Momo grill. We also liked the restaurant of the Nieburg hotel and another restaurant in Riga - Moos, I think, was its name. In Tallin we had a wonderful lunch at Pegasus and a wonderful diner at Mekk, the restaurant of the Savoy boutique hotel. We also had a very nice diner at the Gastropub of Tallin. We also liked the food experience in the Tavern of the Vihula Manor - apparently very traditional Estonian food! Finally we also appreciated the restaurant of the hotel in Kaunas (hotel Daugirdas). Very good and well done food. We found the experience in Kybynlar, in Trakai, below our expectations, after reading the reviews. The service was also a bit amateurish. After we ordered our food, we realized that they were planning to bring the appetizers and entrees all at the same time, after waiting quite a bit. We also had the opportunity, while waiting, to tour the property, during which we found that there was a nicer esplanade, closer to the lake, with places available. We asked if we could change and it was refused! Not pleasant! The food was not particularly well done. It tasted a bit too... artificial, quick and fast, for tourists, not the homy, family style, we were expecting from the reviews. Unfortunately the restaurant you mentioned in Muhu island was a bit far from the hotel and not easy to go, especially with a rainy weather. So, although we think it may have been a wonderful experience, we could not try it. In Nida we forgot you had given us a recommendation and tried something we don't even recall the name. The place was nice but the food we tried was not particularly charming! The restaurant of hotel Mabre in Vilnius was reasonable but I was a bit disappointed with the steak I ordered. I had asked for very rare / blue / inside cold venison steak. My wife had ordered medium rare. I got mine a bit more done than my wife's! I didn't have the gut to tell them, though. They were so nice...! Sightseeing and museums were wonderful. We enjoyed learning the history of the countries we visited. Very similar but very dramatic. The history museums were, in general, good at explaining it. We missed the opportunity of knowing a bit more about the art scene (past and present) of each country, with the exception of the Estonian art - due to the inclement weather we had a quick tour of the Kumu art museum. A wonderful museum indeed. But we skipped the art galleries in the other capitals in exchange of touring the places and churches. We loved the Art Nouveau of Riga and the Art Nouveau museum! We loved the medieval feeling of Tallin and the barroc and neo classic style of Vilnius. The 3 cities are indeed different but all similar in the way they protect their old town centers. The smaller towns were also very pleasant - Klaipeda, Kaunas, Kuressaare, Liepaja, Cesis. We skipped Palanga and Parnu. We loved Trakai (where we did the 40 minutes sailing tour, although the wind was not very cooperative at the time, almost none), and Kernave. We liked your proposed scenic drive from Kaunas to Klaipeda. Beautiful drive along the river. In general, the scenery throughout the trip was pretty: the forests alternating with huge extensions of cultivated fields and storks everywhere! Beautiful nature colors! It just was a pity that there were not many hills. Hills, raising your viewpoint, make it easier to appreciate the views. But the 3 countries are indeed very flat, which makes it more difficult to get nice shots of the beautiful countryside. We should have tried the balloon trips as replacement, but we didn't have that much time. We got up in some of the high points in the cities to see it from high points. And there are plenty of such viewpoints in almost every town, natural or artificial. So we took advantage of some of those points. The other sort of negative note, for our side, positive on yours, although it is nothing we cannot do about, is the huge amount of tourists, like us, everywhere, specially the capitals, probably with the exception of the history museums! That is a good sign for your business, though. Also we found it a bit too much, the number of esplanades. They are pleasant to use but they alter the beauty of the places. Again, those are the good and bad signs of the same coin. The roads, surprisingly, were relatively good. There were almost no highways but the small population density does not justify it. So it is ok. We just had the bad experience of getting too much road work in Latvia, with lots of one way passages controlled by light signs. It was not that disruptive because we didn't have a very tight schedule. But, again, those are needed to make it better in the future and the summer is the time to do it... so... what can we do? On the positive side, we noticed the remarkably smaller number of, and much less obtrusive, publicity signs (outdoors, billboards, business/store announcement signs), in comparison with Poland. Much less visual pollution than in Poland, probably in part related to the much smaller population density, but also, I would dare to say, in part with better regulation and/or better taste of the people in those 3 countries in comparison with Poland! I don't know. In summary, the final balance was very positive. We loved the experience, even if a bit tiring. But, if we want to see as much as we can in two weeks... that's the price we have to pay! Again, thank you very much for your help and support in the design of this tour, it turned out very nice. Please feel free to use and share any of the information I gave above, with anyone you want. Jose