This summer’s adventure began in Stockholm, where we spent just two days, eager for more exotic and less expensive cities.
From Stockholm we took a luxurious ferry to Tallinn, Estonia and then, after three enchanting days in the Old Town, moved on by overnight train to St. Petersburg, where we spent four days and enjoyed two ballets!
From St. Petersburg, we traveled by overnight train to Riga, Latvia, a city full of culture and surprises, where we spent three days, including a day trip to Jurmula, an enchanting resort 40 minutes from the capital.
From Riga we took a day train to Vilnius, Lithuania where we spent three days touring the Old Town, especially the Jewish museum of the Vilna Gaon.
From Vilna we took a day train to Bialystock, Poland where, before World War II, 70,000 Jews resided. From Bialystock we traveled by train to Warsaw, this year for rest, recreation and shopping, having toured the Jewish sites last year. From Warsaw we moved on to Budapest, Irwin ’s favorite Eastern European city. After one night in Budapest, we flew to Israel for two weeks to see family and revisit our younger days, especially mine in Haifa, my still-favorite city.
We spent four days in Jerusalem, visiting my aunt and uncle and cousins. It’s been five years since our last visit so it was an emotional time. We visited our Cuban friends in Raanana who have recently made Aliyah (immigrated).
I re-entered the Old City of Jerusalem celebrating a personal anniversary — forty years since I first entered through Damascas Gate in 1967. Cousin Judy took us to the Bethlehem Machsom (checkpoint) and we had a glimpse at the wall that cuts off the Palestinians from Israel.
After Israel, we spent three days in Budapest and finished up in Vienna for the last two days.
As I sort through the hundreds of photos of places and people we met and saw along the way who hosted us and showed us their cities, I look forward to sharing this adventure of a lifetime with you.
Stockholm to Tallinn
Times and Places
Stockholm was beautiful, cold and expensive. Our hostel was right in the middle of the Old Town, perfect for exploring narrow, cobblestone streets full of caf és and boutiques. At $100 US a night for a tiny room, the hostel itself was nothing to write home about. With its clean showers and washrooms shared with many, we had to rent the sheets and make up our cots after landing jet lagged and bewildered. But the manager was extremely friendly and helped us book our overnight ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.
Unfortunately it was rainy and cold in Stockholm, forcing me to buy a sweatshirt and wear it for the next two weeks! This rain followed us to Tallinn and, to a lesser degree, to St. Petersburg and Riga. While they were sweltering in the south of Europe as far up as Budapest, we were shivering in outdoor restaurants, pulling blankets provided by the management around us and sitting as close as possible to the outdoor heaters. We drank lots of tea and ate berry crumble, which is served up warm in almost every caf é in the Old Town.
We were fascinated by the White Nights in Stockholm, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, and Riga. There is daylight till 11 pm in Tallinn! This makes for natural security and romantic late night teas in outdoor caf és.
We took the Hop-On-and-Off Bus around Stockholm, stopping twice in different areas to take pictures of the architecture and sip coffee on picturesque streets. This do-it-yourself tour is $25 and you can get on and off the red double deckers for 24 hours and explore different parts of the city on foot. The bus tours are available in most of the cities we visited and all cost about the same. Our happiest time on the bus was meeting a couple from California and getting to know them. The people we meet, whether tourists or citizens, always make our trip more memorable and enjoyable.
From Stockholm we took the most luxurious ferry ride we’ve ever experienced to Tallinn overnight. Our romantic and cabin had a double bed and we had to pull ourselves away from its sheer luxury and privacy (after roughing it in the Stockholm hostel) to experience the cuisine of the “coffee shop,” which included thick lox sandwiches and glorious desserts. We won’t dwell on it here except to say this was possibly our most fattening summer adventure ever. The ferry ride, $150 US each, was pricey because the price is for a return trip. Most Stockholmers spend the day in Tallinn and return home the next evening. There is an enormous buffet on board, which the Swedes lined up for in two shifts, at $45 a head. We opted for the less daunting caf é.
The only snag on this leg of the journey was in finding the port our ferry left from. Our manager ’s assistant mistakenly told our cab driver to take us to the wrong port. (Stockholm is a huge port city and there are many ports so it ’s easy to confuse them.) We ended up paying our driver triple, but finally, after stopping and asking several times, we reached the terminal, took a number, and waited an hour or so to board. The luxurious ferry made up for the harrowing misadventure of finding it.
To give you a real taste of Tallinn, I’d have to provide you all with the thick slabs of mouthwatering smoked salmon we gorged on at the market during our three day visit.
We stayed at the Villa Hortensia in the Old Town, in a tiny loft with rustic wooden beams and a kitchenette. Villa Hortensia, owned and managed by a Finn, Jan Parn, is located in a courtyard surrounded by artisan shops and a Chocolateria. ”
Tallinn is enchanting and accessible, and Estonians are happy to be free of Soviet domination. Their language, appearance and behavior seem more Scandinavian than Slavic to this Canadian with her limited knowledge of Scandinavian people and countries.
Since there is much to tell about our visit to Tallinn and many pictures to show, I will continue next issue with the description of Tallinn ’s Old Town and the World Folk Festival we stumbled onto in the main square.