Tallinn – Vilnius
Travel through the Baltic States by public transport is not easy. There is a project under way that will put a high speed line from Warsaw all the way to Tallinn, via Vilnius and Riga, but will be several years before it is finished. There’s lots of information on the indispensable Seat 61 site (Tallinn – Riga) (Riga – Vilnius.)
In summary, you can do the first section by train, but not the second. There is a constant flow of coaches running up and down, as many as 3 or 4 an hour, from three different companies. I didn’t finally decide how was going to do this part of the journey until the alarm went off at 6:45. I had two options:
- Jump out of bed, quick shower and breakfast. Get down to the railway station. Two trains (with a 4 hour wait between them) taking 10 hours to Riga, then another 4 hours by coach to Vilnius.
- Book a through coach from Tallinn to Riga, grab another hour in bed, a lazy breakfast, but arrive 3 hours earlier than option 1.
It was a difficult one! The Interrail purist in me said I had to do the train, but it was very early, and I’ve had some really long days back to back. I booked the coach and enjoyed my lazy start to the day.
It was half way through breakfast when I realised that Tallin has more than one bus station. The one I needed was of course two bus journeys away, not the one I’d walked past, five minutes away. Fortunately I still had plenty of time and made it with no need to dash.
I was slightly dreading the idea of a full day on a coach, but the reality was much better. The seats were very comfortable – better than most trains actually. I also had a double seat to myself, which helped me relax a little more – for all that I’ve been travelling across Europe for a couple of months, I’m still very COVID aware. I do still try to avoid crowded places or close proximity so a bit of space and very good ventilation on the coach was greatly appreciated.
In many ways it was like being on a train, just more stop-start in urban areas. I spent the time updating this diary, doing some work, and when were were out of coverage I watched a couple of episodes of Strike, which I’d downloaded from the iPlayer before I left.
As we arrived in Riga, I spotted the Latvian Academy of Sciences, known as “Stalin’s Birthday Cake.” It is astonishingly similar to the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw (“Stalin’s Wedding Cake”) and also, apparently, to a number of buildings in Moscow. Understandably, both buildings are a cause for mixed emotions in their respective cities.
I spotted this unofficial border flag on a water tower as we passed into Lithuania. Official signs tend to be quite minimal, if they are there at all, but evidently someone felt that a little more was needed, which is rather fun. I wonder if they put it up every morning.
I had a short walk from the bus station in Vilnius to my hotel. It’s lovely to get a really warm welcome from hotel staff, as I did here. The hotel is built on top of part of the old city walls, and they take full advantage of the quirks of the building. A scroll in the room told the story of how the place came about. When you’ve lived out of of bags for a fortnight, something a bit different sticks in the mind, and this place certainly did it for me. Whether or not it is a distraction technique so you forget that there is no lift to your room on the third floor is incidental! I would certainly go back there if I was visiting again.
After a couple of work-related Teams calls that I’d put off while I was travelling I went for a look at the city. The hotel was near to the old town so I headed there first.
I tend not to look too closely at maps when I’m visiting places for the first time, unless I have a specific place that I want to see. Wandering where my eyes take me has generally served me well. A pointer in roughly the right direction is enough to set me on my way. In this case the advice was turn right out of the door then first right.
This put me at one end of the Old Town, which is essentially one long road, with a number of squares on the way, but as far as I could tell, heading off in any direction was not as interesting as carrying on. There was a sign down one road to a viewpoint, but it was 700m away, so I passed by.
Several times I thought the Old Town was coming to an end but it went on for almost a mile, until I reached a large square with the Cathedral and adjacent bell tower. The square is overlooked by the remains of a castle, which I didn’t climb up to look at more closely.
The light on the cathedral was lovely, as we were minutes from sunset. Directly opposite it on the square, I spotted another long straight road. It was difficult to miss as the sun was setting directly along it. It looked like that was the way to head next.
The buildings on this road were all 20th Century. Again it went on for about a mile, passing a couple of large squares, one of which had the very impressive national library. I turned back at the river, just after the parliament building. A rather odd sculpture was suspended beneath the bridge.
As I walked back I stopped and read the plaques and several information boards on what had been the KGB Headquarters during the Soviet occupation. Part of the building is now the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, and the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania is based here. Looking at photos and seeing the same buildings in front of you makes it all feel very real, even without stepping inside.
I had dinner in a cafe near to the cathedral, then walked back to the hotel. The old town looked lovely after dark.