Saturday, April 6, 2013

Return to Europe. The Baltics.

Art Nouveau building at Elizabetes Iela 10b, Riga

I'm late getting this blog started considering I've already been planning this trip, on and off, for quite a few months now.  It all started back last October when I emailed my brother with two choices for the big 2013 trip - either Japan in the spring or the Baltics and Russia in the fall.  Don't ask me how I came up with the Baltics.  I think I just saw a photo somewhere of Tallinn and fell in love with what I saw.  I am very easily enticed :-)  A few more photos of Tallinn and Riga, and I knew the Baltics were a strong contender.


I reached out to my brother and of course, he's interested in traveling with me and like me, knows virtually nothing about the three Baltic nations - Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.  Nonetheless, we are both willing to discover these countries.

Our custom tours to Mexico and Sri Lanka had worked out so well for us that I wanted to find something similar for the Baltics.   But lo and behold, as I surfed the web, one site after another offered self drive tours of the Baltics.  The more I read, the more intrigued I was by the idea of a driving tour.  We would have the freedom to go wherever we wanted as long as we made it to each destination by night fall.  The distances didn't seem far.  I did a comparison of the tour offerings of several companies and finally settled on Baltic Country Holidays and got the ball rolling. Our entry point would be Riga, Latvia.

Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn

At the same time, I started to check into going to Moscow and St. Petersburg, basically using them as layover stops on the way to the Riga. In terms of flights, it was easy to arrange. The challenge was with getting tourist visas. After doing some research, I finally came to the conclusion that getting a Russian tourist visa for just about a week's visit was not worth either the cost or the effort. We'll have to save Russia for another trip.

In early February, I reached out to several people whom I thought could be interested in joining my brother and I on this trip, including my friends Soon who I traveled with to Guatemala and Morocco and my friend Ayşe who went with my brother and I to Mexico and who I traveled with to Quebec.  I also reached out to two of my cousins (on my mother's side of the family) , whom I've not seen in decades but one of whom I've been keeping in touch with via Facebook.  They're sisters and both love to travel and both love a bit of adventure.  I think the wanderlust gene comes from my mother's family tree :-)

I gave them until I returned from Israel to decide whether or not they wanted to come along. One by one, they dropped out and for now, it's just my brother and I though I've yet to hear from my cousins and there is a remote chance that one of my nephews might come along.  Planning group travel is most certainly never easy!

Dawn Gate, Vilnius (image by Marcin Białek)

While people were mulling over whether or not they wanted to come along. I worked on refining the itinerary with the travel agent, adding a couple extra days in each city so we could just have some time to relax.  I also added a two day side trip from Tallinn to Helsinki, Finland.  There's a daily ferry that goes over and it's just about a two hour ride to get to Helsinki.  So, we started with a 12 day trip and we're ended with a 22 day trip :-)

I have yet to firm up the accommodations as the number of people is still not quite fixed but my brother and I have already bought our plane tickets so it's Baltics or bust!!

And the planning continues!