Baltic States travel and culturePosted on January 7th, 2010 No comments
Tour Leader Account: Thomas Egli
Travelling in northeastern Europe, and in particular while touring the Baltic States, I soon came to appreciate the rich history of which my best friend’s Lithuanian family was a part. I recall her secretive father who had a basement full of strange documents and photos and her mother whose accent was the strongest of all our friends’.
As I made my way through Lithuania, Lativa and Estonia, I heard the familiar words of a language group more closely related to Sanskrit than any other European tongue. There was something slightly different about the way the people there looked and spoke. Proud and resilient like the land, the peoples of the Baltics retained their distinct cultures and traditions through years of oppression in the former Soviet Union.
If you’ve lived for some time in North America, chances are you’ve known someone whose ancestors were from the Baltic States. Perhaps a Lithuanian neighbour, or a Latvian piano teacher who instructed your child, or maybe an Estonian butcher who saves you the best lamb shanks; everyone has crossed paths with these people. What few have done, however, is bother to ask anything about this part of the world.
Estonians invented Skype, Coco the Clown was born Latvian, and Leonard Cohen’s parents hail from Lithuania. Obscure references aside, these remarkable Baltic countries do offer some of the most unusual experiences of European culture.
Kept behind the Iron Curtain for so many years, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have only recently come onto the world stage. The last pagan nations in Europe have a rich mix of traditions including song festivals, handicrafts, and cured meats. The food is hearty and sophisticated, with a strong influence by local traditions of hunting and mushroom gathering. Fine natural ingredients and a healthy dose of quality vodka complement the modern European cuisine through these northern countries. The cities are a blend of old and new, with one of the world’s best-preserved mediaeval town centres (Tallinn) and largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture (Riga). Young and vibrant, the capitals are quickly becoming new cultural meccas where you can see a world-class opera or organ recital before wandering the cobblestone streets to a late dinner. Mediaeval festivals and modern shopping highlight the painstakingly maintained old towns through the region. Towering cathedrals, ornate town halls, and wooden buildings beg to be photographed around every bend.
As far as enigmatic Europe is concerned, there really isn’t much comparable to the recently independent nations bordering the Baltic Sea. The histories of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are born of knights, kingdoms, sacrifice and paganism. Nowhere will you find more brilliantly preserved mediaeval cities, castles and traditions. Experience the modern culture of a region blossoming on the borders of Europe.
The well-paced Adventures Abroad Baltic States tour offers a unique insight to destinations little visited by North Americans. Enough time is spent in the capitals to give a sense of the different characters of each country, while effort is made to expose the traveller to the rich history of an area tucked away from mainstream Europe. If you think you’ve seen all that this awesome continent has to offer, think again.
Visit the magical European capitals of Tallinn, Vilnius and Riga…and so much more on our Baltic tours series:
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