Explore customer Dale Fehringer, recently travelled on our Cycle the Baltic States, he enjoyed it so much, that he felt compelled to write about it, read his blog below.
"We were in Vilnius, Lithuania, to begin a cycling tour of the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), organised by Explore.
There were 11 of us - eight Brits and three Americans – representing a variety of ages and backgrounds. It was a cordial group who all got along well and we spent the next week together; cycling, sharing and developing friendships. Our mutual goal: relax, enjoy and take in as much as possible.
Egle, our tour leader, met us in the hotel lobby the night before our tour began. She was keen to show us the sights and teach us about this part of the world.
Vilnius, the capital and largest city in Lithuania, is vibrant and feels comfortable and modern. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a strong history of Jewish influence and a plethora of beautiful churches. Today, it has a government presence, museums, universities, tiny cafes and craft shops, a symphony, and spectacular hill-top views.
We cycled in Trakai Historical National Park, which is an oasis less than 20 miles from Vilnius with peaceful woods and pretty lakes. We happened upon a festival and were treated to women in traditional costumes, local music, and dancing. We toured the ruins of the Trakai Castle, first built in the 14th century, and now a museum of Lithuanian history.
We took a five-hour bus ride through flat farmlands to the west of the country, to a city called Klaipeda, across the water from Stockholm, Sweden. Klaipeda was once the capital of Prussia, and it's been fought over by Poland, Germany, Sweden and Russia over the centuries. Today, it's a cruise ship stopover and a major summer resort for people from Lithuania. We pedalled through a forest to fishing villages, where locals have trawled the Baltic Sea since the 16th century. A short ferry ride away from our hotel is a long sandy stretch of land called the Curonian Spit, which is excellent for cycling and bird watching.
We cycled through the Giruliai Forest from Klaipeda to the resort of Palanga. Now primarily a summer resort town, it has been around since 1161 when the King of Denmark disembarked there with his army and captured the castle of the Curonians. We enjoyed cycling through the nearby forests and taking in the peace and beauty.
Then it was on to Latvia and Riga, its capital and largest city.
Slightly inland on a river, Riga is a very old and diverse city of around 700,000 people and is sophisticated, and up-to-date in every way. It has an efficient transportation system, decent stores and restaurants, lots of culture and entertainment, good schools and universities. It’s known for having one of the best collections of art nouveau buildings in Europe, many with elaborate, decorative facades.
Lahemaa National Park
The drive across Latvia to Estonia was across farmland with tan-coloured fields, stone farmhouses dotting the horizon, occasionally interspersed by small villages with tall, pointed church steeples. Estonia is clean, organised, and slightly wealthier than its neighbours, and like them, it has a long history of occupation and struggle.
We spent most of the day cycling in the large, scenic Lahemaa National Park on the northern edge of Estonia. It features lakes, rivers, forests, and gigantic boulders carried here by glaciers thousands of years ago.
Tallinn is a beautiful, medieval walled city with castles, cobblestone streets and Russian Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic churches. We toured the city on foot and appreciated the history, variety of architectural styles and cleanliness. It was Saturday and the public squares were packed with tourists, mostly Russian, who were buying souvenirs and drinking shots of vodka and beer in enormous steins. We peeked into hidden courtyards, wound down narrow cobblestone streets, and climbed stone staircases to enjoy sweeping views of rivers, castles, and red-roofed buildings, hundreds of years old.
Our group had a farewell dinner at an ancient restaurant called the Pepper Sack, once owned by a spice trader in the 1500s. We exchanged hugs and said goodbye to each other and to Egle, who had diligently shepherded us around the Baltic States, sharing her knowledge of this part of the world and relating stories of growing up here during Soviet times.
This was a delightful trip! We learned a lot about a surprising and wonderful part of the world and we’ll have terrific memories to take with us."