Over Easter weekend, I went on a whistle stop tour of three lovely Baltic countries; Latvia, Estonia and Finland, all of whom used to be part of the Russian/Soviet Empires and have absolutely fascinating and quite turbulent histories. Latvia and Estonia are very newly independent countries, having only been separated from the USSR in 1991, and Finland became independent in 1917, but all three have a strong Russian heritage that survives in their culture, architecture and cuisine, which was something I found very interesting and evocative as we travelled around.
Latvia and Estonia share similar landscapes and architectural styles: unsurprising as they have been so closely linked for centuries. Endless lines of birch and pine forests spread across their horizons and the cities are characterised by their medieval buildings and tall church spires. Both are fairly recent entrants to the EU and are experiencing exciting change and progress as the impact of this on their economies develops. Tallinn in particular is thriving; known for its technology industry, there is a real feeling of rebirth on its streets, and the younger generation are enthusiastically converting former industrial spaces into quirky shops, high end restaurants, wine bars and coffee shops.
Finland is much more Russian in its appearance; its central square reminded me very much of St Petersburg, which is no surprise, as it was largely remodelled by Alexander I in the early 19th century to make it feel more a part of Russia. It is also distinctively Scandinavian in its watery surroundings, pale colours and emphasis on outdoor life, with loads of parks, islands and walkways around the waterfront, which were a delight.
My highlight of the trip was definitely Tallinn; I found its medieval old town breathtakingly beautiful and fairytale like, and I also loved its more modern, up and coming industrial side, which is filled with loads of fantastic shops and restaurants, such as the delicious F-hoone. Riga has a wonderful collection of Art Nouveau architecture, which is worth visiting the city for alone; it’s concentrated around Alberta Iela, and the museum on the street, which recreates an authentic Art Nouveau interior, is brilliant. The Museum of the Occupation is also a really eye-opening experience, revealing the treatment of Latvians under the Soviet regime. Helsinki felt a little quieter, and its proximity to the water made me feel entirely relaxed and hardly like I was in a capital city at all. I loved its art museum, the Ateneum, as well as its incredible Art Deco station. All three cities are easy to travel between in a short space of time and offer a fantastic range of cultural, historical and architectural sights to enjoy. I’d highly recommend a visit!