Riga was the city I flew into to start the Baltic leg of my trip. First thing I did was climb the tower of St Peter’s Church for a great view of the city. Of course, I did the free walking tour with Yellow Free tours where I met a couple of awesome girls. We checked out things such as ‘Stalin’s Cake’ , the food markets in the old airplane hangers (one of my favourite markets in the world!) and the oldest wooden church in the Baltics before a few of us branched off and went to an amazing teahouse in the middle of a snow-covered park.
We loved this teahouse and stayed there until the sun set. We sat on cushions, drinking tea, and people watching in the snow while we were cosy and warm inside. We then found a place that had great happy hour cocktails (our introduction to Balsam!) and went to a restaurant for more authentic eating.
The next few days were jam-packed with activities such as shooting (pistol, Russian AK-47 and a shotgun – fun!), bobsledding in Sigulda with the Latvia Olympic Bobsled team and exploring around the town of Sigulda. Bobsledding was great fun and reminded me exactly of the movie ‘Cool Runnings’, you go so fast and really have to turn into the corners.
The Occupation Museum which was a simple museum but really interesting and one of the staff helped us a lot by explain about the history of Latvia in simple terms. We had a cup of tea watching the sunset in the Skyline Bar of the Radisson Blu Hotel for a great end to a day.
Soo many fun activities in Riga, I loved it and had a great time with some awesome people!
My next stop was Tallinn in Estonia and I caught the bus for a few hours laden with goodies from the super-cheap and delicious Latvian food markets.
I went exploring with a girl I met staying at the hostel and we went to III Draakon where we ate elk soup and I also had a moose and wild boar pie – yum! The coast was picturesque with the frozen ocean and snow-covered beach.
We did a guided tour of the KGB Quarters in Hotel Viros which showed and explained how they used to spy on everyone 24-7 and were! Managed to score ourselves some super cheap (roughly 3EUR) Opera tickets for that night’s performance too!
A few things we checked out in Tallinn were the KGP Quarters in Hotel Viros, Pirata for the Cemetery of Statues, Rock Al Mare District (Open Air Museum and Tallinn Zoo), and the Sea Harbor Museum.
Incredible sunset over the frozen ocean and back at the hostel to watch a movie with popcorn with the hostel owners – I was the only guest there!
After an incredible week in the Baltics it was time to head to Scandinavian Finland. A couple of Aussie boys from the hostel joined me on the early morning ferry to Helsinki and booked at the same hostel. We dropped our bags off and went for a wander around town. Chilled out for a picnic lunch by the White Cathedral overlooking the main square.
We walked to the frozen-over harbour which looked sturdy enough (and a few other people walking on) so we thought ‘why not’ and wandered across the frozen water to an island. It was a beautiful day and we ended up with burnt faces regardless that it was only +2degrees!
As we were all on a budget and Helsinki was definitely not cheap, we picked up a kebab for dinner and found ourselves a bar down some back streets. This was entertaining. It was a small little bar and once we entered, we realised it was full of bikies. These guys were very rowdy but very generous and bought us drinks to sit down and chat with us and even bought us a few rounds of shots!!
My train from Helsinki to St Petersburg in Russia was super early at 0512!! This meant that I was able to watch the stunning landscape covered in snow, pass by as the sun rose. Border control was done on the train as the Russian guards came through the carriages and once off the train it was a bit intimidating with all the Russian guards and their German Shepherds standing watching our every move as we walked off.
I was very fortunate that a young lad who sat next to me on the train offered to show me to my hostel. Yes, my defensive guards went up and I refused to get on a bus with him so in the end he walked me to the front door of my hostel – who said Russians are not friendly?! Anton even gave me a few tips of what to do and where to eat whilst in St Petersburg..
I was definitely intimidated by Russia. Nothing was in English and you barely saw any English-speaking tourists walking around. All the tourists were Russians themselves! My saviour to Russia was the ‘trip advisor app’. This app downloaded the main sights (in categories that you select) and stays loaded on your phone without wifi. I followed this map around and checked out the sites recommended to me.
On my way down the Nevsky Prospect to the Cathedral of Our Lady Kazan I looked down a side street and noticed an incredible looking building. It was the Church of the Savior on Blood and it was amazing. I checked it out inside and wandered around the stalls selling various bits and bobs in a market nearby.
A few other cool things I checked out around St Petersburg was the Neva River, Peter & Paul Fortress, the Bronze Horseman Statue, the Vodka Museum (with a group of Canadians from the hostel), Russian State Museum, Leningrad Blockade Museum, and I loved walking up and down the Nevsky Prospect (in the snow!). The Hermitage Museum is my favourite museum and it is huuuuuge!!!! Apparently, if you spent two minutes at each item in the museum, it will take you ten years to look at everything in the museum!!
I did a ‘Metro’ tour which took us around the incredible metro stations of St Petersburg. They were damn impressive with chandeliers, mosaics, statues and glass columns!!
It was my 23rd birthday while I was in St Petersburg so I treated myself with a ticket to the ballet. I went to the theatre at the Hermitage State museum and saw Swan Lake. It was amazing.!
One of my mates from London had managed to organise a bunch of flowers to be delivered for my birthday and the hostel also bought me a cake which I shared out and met an Aussie and a Brit. I got along well with these guys and we stayed up out chatting for a number of beers (which were pretty strong), until the sun came up.
Now it was time for my train journey to Moscow.
I shared my train compartment with two Russian guys who ended up buying me a couple of beers and we sat chatting most of the way – again great guys.!
Wow, Moscow was a lot harder to get around. At least St Petersburg had signs in English – here I had to attempt to match up the Crylic to find what direction my hostel was once I got off the metro!
I checked out the Red Square which amazed me all lit up at night and another stunning cathedral. St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Explored the Kremlin and checked out the Assumption, Annunciation, Archangels and the Holy Robes Cathedrals before doing my own ‘metro tour’. I bought a ticket and went around on the circle (brown) line getting out at each stop to check out the impressive stations. Geez you would not think these places are train stations they are that grand – more impressive than St Petersburg’s metro stations.! Mayakovskaya is, by far, my favourite station.
I went to the Gulag Museum which gave me a better understanding of the Stalin and Lenin time and how bad Stalin actually was. Did a communist tour with Moscow Free Tours (also did the free walking tour with these guys) and had dinner with a few people from the tour to have my last borscht for my last night in Russia.
I went to the airport via the Red Square to check it out once more and then it was back to London and back to work for me after an incredible trip away. Challenging at times (in Russia) but I did love it all.
I will write more information in due course regarding how I applied for my Russian visa in London and the steps I took – not a short or cheap process but well worth it to get to Russia!!