Part two of my Baltic adventure was a full day Tallinn-Riga Bus Tour, taking me from the capital of Estonia, to Riga of Latvia. The usual bus ride would be four hours, but the tour makes the journey much more enjoyable and memorable. Stopping at multiple places in between, it gives you a deep understanding and feeling of the two countries as you watch the roads fly by.
The tour begins in the middle of Tallinn with a meet and greet with five fellow travellers who you will be getting to know over the next 12 hours. It is a nice and intimate number, where you can really get to know each other and share travel stories along the way. Perfect for swapping travelling tips and finding your next holiday destination!
The first stop of this journey is at a castle that used to be a hill fort in 9th Century AD. The castle became a convent in the 13th century and was badly damaged in the Livonian war (1558), Polish-Swedish wars (1600) and Northern War (1700). The fort is tactically located with a height vantage point, overlooking the river and sits on several levels. What remains are from the effects of what seems like cannon attacks, with holes filling up the large walls. It is quite an incredible site to see a wall full of gaps while standing over the long river. The area is now used as a amphitheatre for folk music and folk festivals. The backdrop of the river is truly stunning and the rest of the small town is quite quaint and nice to walk around.
Helme Caste and Anne’s Wall
The next stop is a small Estonian castle built in the 14th century, again located in a tactical position, very much like an outpost. Legend has it that castles used to have a young girl occupying it. The name of the girl was unknown and as long as it was kept as a secret, the castle would be kept safe. The story goes that when this particular castle was attacked, there was a tremendous fog surrounding the area. The enemy could not see where the castle was and were about to retreat. However, the name of the girl (Anne) was eventually revealed to the army and immediately the fog cleared and they were able to attack and conquer the castle.
Sitting just behind the castle is Helme Spring, a small square shaped hole which offers fresh and clear water. It is said that if a young women was washing her face with the cold water and lost a pearl jewellery in the process. The story went on to say that the lady then had skin as soft as silk and this has caused others to come to the spring and even throw pearls into the water!
A short walk behind all this is Helme’s Caverns, caves carved into sandstone. This was a hiding place for foreign invaders during the Latvian Crusades. More recently in the 18th century the caves used to hold sermons and acted as a chapel. However, the entrances to the larger halls have now been caved in and today we can see two halls and about 20 meters of low walkways. Walking along the dark and low caves is quite an exciting part of the journey, we were able to see some carvings on the sandstone walls and even a bat hibernating!
Lunch at Valga and the Military Museum
A quick drive and we were in a deserted village on a Sunday, looking for a restaurant thats open for lunch. It turns out that the fancy looking place that was planned was shut for one day a week and we were just not lucky enough. After a small drive we found ourselves in a small restaurant offering some local food. I had their version of fish and chips, but with the fish covered in an almond batter. Quite an interesting mixture of food!
After a hefty feast, we stopped closeby to a local miltary museum. It was a place full of old tanks, helicopters and miltary equipment and vehicles. There was even a bunker that looked a bit cosy but probably a safe spot during troubled times. This is a nice little area to wonder around, look at some old miltiary cars, while snacking on some apples from the tress, a great way to digest that heavy lunch.
Gauja National Park
The afternoon continues with a stop at this National park, the largest and oldest in Latvia. The foresty is beuatiful and the mini hike is done at an easy pace, while allowing you to soak up the natural scenes and enjoy the views. It is a very beautiful park with some views of the river. A perfect stopover to stretch the legs.
This is an old medieval town that came from around the second half of the 13th century. It is small but has a slightly haunting feeling to it. In 2014 it competed again Riga for the title of European Capital of Culture. The centre has a very old looking castle and park, which again is nice to have a walk around.
The final stop before Riga was at the Sigulda bobsleigh track. The history of sledding in this region started as early as 1887 and has become very popular, with several European and World Championships held here. The longest track is around 1200m long, with 16 turns and is used by a two man bobsleigh. The huge structure of the complex is impressive and if you are lucky enough, you might even see some athletes doing practise runs!
A long but Enjoyable Adventure
The long day finally comes to an end in the centre of Riga. The journey was highly enjoyable, with the right amount of stops to break up the long journey. You will make some friends and really get to know each other. This is a perfect tour to turn the journey between the two cities more bearable, enjoyable and fun.
Also published on Medium.