Saturday, August 31, 2013

Downtime in Estonia. Smoked Chicken and Apples.

So happy he gets to pick apples....for free!

From the Visitors Center at Soomaa National Park, we had the challenge of getting ourselves back to the Klaara Mnani. A few u-turns here and there and one of us recognizing a landmark here and there and we eventually managed to arrive back rather painlessly....far less painless than the reverse trip.

Hello Estonia! Bogshoeing.

Exploring a bog in Soomaa National Park. Love the footwear!

It was an early wake up call this morning. Our first destination of the day was Soomaa National Park in Estonia. We had to be there (not sure exactly where in the Park) to meet up with Aivar Ruukel, a well known local guide who has made Soomaa his area of specialty. I had seen quite a lot of information about Aivar on the web including this highlight and was looking forward to spending time with him.  Though Ieva had listed all the driving distances on our itinerary, this would be our first driving foray in to Estonia and so I had no idea what the road conditions would be like, what the road signage would be like and therefore, how long it would actually take us to get from Valmiera to Soomaa. Better to arrive early than miss our time with Aivar.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Baltic Roadtrip Day 1. Sigulda and Turaida Castle.

Bird's eye view of Turaida Castle.

After our visit to the Latvia Ethnographic Museum, we followed Ieva's itinerary and drove our way to the town of Sigulda. The main road signs in Latvia are pretty good and we arrived into the outskirts of Sigulda in no time. Our goal was to make it to Turaida Castle but we first had to find town center which turned out to be a different challenge. Ieva had instructions which we did our best to follow - back to navigating using landmarks! 

Baltic Roadtrip Day 1. Latvia Ethnographic Open Air Museum.

At the Latvia Ethnographic Open Air Museum.

Our grand Baltic driving adventure truly gets underway today! We had our final buffet breakfast at the Elizabete this morning. I'm going to miss them. All I can hope for is that the other places we'll be staying at can match the quality of what we've been enjoying here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Enjoying Down Time in Jūrmala.

Jomas iela, the main pedestrian only street in Jūrmala.

After our lunch in Bausaka, we got back on the road. Our destination for the afternoon was Jūrmala ("Yer-mah-lah").  Located about 20 kilometers from Riga, it's a popular seaside resort. Bro was in charge of navigating us from Bauska to Jūrmala. We're quickly getting accustomed to reading the road signs and maps here - bodes well for the rest of our Baltic road trip.

Roadtrip to Rundāle Palace.

Strolling through the Rose Garden at  Rundāle Palace.

I love roadtrips which explains why I've been so enthusiastic about doing this self drive tour. Today, we're heading out of the city to see  Rundāle Palace, supposedly Latvia's nod to Versailles and to explore Jurmala, a popular seaside resort for locals.  I must admit, I'm curious what a Baltic seaside resort looks and feels like. I don't imagine there will be any palm trees :-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mushroom Hunters.

Our basket as we began to fill it up with beautiful mushrooms, Latvian woodland gems!

As planned, we spent the day foraging for mushrooms. According to our itinerary from Ieva, we would be meeting our guide outside the Elizabete Hotel at 9:30a. The plan would be to drive to/from the mushroom spots in our car.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Exploring Riga. More Art Nouveau.

Standing in the entryway of the Art Nouveau Museum and looking up at the spiral staircase.

From Old Town Riga, we  arrived back at the hotel and parked out front. Back to that damn ticket kiosk. I swear that thing hated me. I put in my pin and chip Visa. Punched in the end time which covered past breakfast the next day and then prayed. First try, no luck. Maybe I wasn't following the instructions correctly or maybe I was too impatient. Try again and this time.....waited to be sure every bit of a transaction was completed before initiating the next step. Ta da!! That worked. I now know what to do! Ticket in the dashboard, stuff out of the car and we're back in our room.

Exploring Riga. Old Town.

In the heart of Old Riga.  St. Peter's Church on the left; House of Blackheads on the right.

From where we had parked our car, outside Riga's Central Market, we could see the spires of Old Town. For a few minutes, we debated whether to leave the car where it was and walk over or try and find a closer parking spot. We settled on doing the latter - I didn't want to have to worry about walking all the way back to the market to essentially just pump the meter. So, we hopped in the car and drove towards Old Town. There were plenty of available park spots but we ended up pulling into a parking lot instead. It seemed a bit sketchy at first - the "ticket booth" was actually a camper. When we first walked up to it, there didn't seem to be anyone inside but then a young guy popped up from the bed he was resting on. We would pay by the hour so we could stay as long as we wanted. Perfect for us! We got our ticket and then double checked the car to make sure we hadn't left anything out in visible sight, locked all the doors and went on our way.

Exploring Riga. The Central Market.

At the Central Market, Riga.

Today is our first full day in Riga. We woke up bright and early and headed down to breakfast room located down in the hotel's basement. It was a small buffet but with a decent offering of food - what we would eventually come to think of as Baltic style breakfast.....bread, cheese, eggs, smoked and pickled meats and fish, some sort of salad, yogurt and fresh fruit. Juice, tea/coffee to wash it all down with. I'm a savory breakfast girl so eggs and smoked meat it was for me (I love the ham here) and of course, a cup of tea. Bro, on the other hand, can really pack in the food. I think he had a serving of every item and in some cases, two servings!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Riga, Here We Come!

Art Nouveau building at 13 Alberta iela, Riga.

It seemed like ages ago that had arranged the flights for both my brother (aka Bro) and I. He would be leaving SF about an hour before me and would arrive into Frankfurt airport about an hour and half after I landed.