The Baltic States
The three small countries collectively referred to as the Baltic States have a combined area smaller than Missouri and a population only a bit larger. But they've always occupied a bigger place in our imagination—so we looked forward to our first visit here with eager anticipation.We explored three historic port cities spending most of our time in the historic "old city" centers.
Klaipeda, Lithuania sailing ship and amber jewelry
We knew the least about Klaipeda, Lithuania's only seaport. Pronounced clay-puh-da, we learned that for most of its history it was called Memel. Founded by Teutonic Knights in 1252, it was a German (East Prussia) city for most of its history .Some of the old town architecture resembles German styles of the era, including some "half-timbered" buildings.
Amber Museum, Klaipeda
Our excursion here included a coach ride to Palanga, a resort town about 30 kilometers north of Klaipeda. We walked through a grassy, wooded botanical garden on our way to tour the Amber Museum and then strolled a pedestrian promenade leading to the beach. Back in Klaipeda we enjoyed a beer at Katpedele, a historic restaurant/pub and strolled the streets of old town. Al fresco lunch on Theater Square featured traditional Lithuanian potato dishes—not exactly to our taste.
Views of Riga, Latvia
Riga, population about 700,000, is the largest city in the Baltic States and Latvia's capital. It's a very historic city and once a member of the Hanseatic League, a commercial league of trading cities around the Baltic and North Seas founded in the 12th century. We were surprised to learn that Riga is situated on the Daugava River several miles inland from the Gulf of Riga.
Riga's quirky and distinctive architecture (note cat on the roof!)
We spent our time here in the "Old City," a World Heritage Site. It's compact, paved with cobbles, though walkable, offering several very picturesque squares and beautiful architecture. Many buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and reflect perhaps the largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture anywhere.
Estonia's capital, Tallinn, appeared out our porthole in the morning after an eventful overnight sail from Riga. Early to bed, we were startled to hear the captain on the public address system announcing a small detour as we set out to rescue a distressed pleasure craft. All we could see were lights that we presumed were from the distressed vessel. In the morning we learned that a small sailing vessel, without sails, lost power and was stranded in fairly heavy seas. Nautica's crew brought two people aboard until the Latvian Coast Guard arrived to take them back to port.
Tallinn is another of those Hanseatic trading cities with a complicated history.The city was ruled by Danes for 125 years, by the Teutonic Knights for over 200 years, by the Swedes for 150 years and by the Russians for another 200 years until Estonia became independent following the Russian Revolution.Throughout most of that time the city was known as "Revel" and was populated largely by so-called Baltic Germans—mostly merchants.
We looked forward to wandering the streets of this vibrant city of about a half-million, especially the narrow, cobbled lanes of the World Heritage "Old City," considered one of the best-preserved medieval city-scapes in Europe. We toured a couple of large, beautiful churches, and admired the bustling town hall square and the largely intact defensive wall and towers. But due to a cold, steady rain we gave up our idea of wandering and returned to Nautica at the conclusion of our tour—regretting that we didn't see more.