Latvia Summer 2012

Like a lot of people we combined a trip to Estonia with a trip to Latvia, in our case two weeks in each place. In Latvia we stayed in the nicest spot we have ever stayed in anywhere, and in RIga, which was also beautiful.

Our first port of call i Latvia was the nicest spot we have ever stayed in anywhere, which was at the edge of the Gauja National Park, more of which later. But what made the house a Meza Namins so special was the place itself, rather than its proximity to the park.Not only was the house lovely and perfectly kept, the surroundings were magical and all for us!  The house is in its own woods with a boating lake, BBQ spot, campfire spot and walking trails. We spent a week of enjoying all of this and making a big jigsaw puzzle…And the best thing about it was the cost, which at around Eur75 a night was cheaper than a place in the UK by a country mile, and let me repeat this, we had the whole place to ourselves.

Tommy going it solo on the boating lake
Tommy going it solo on the boating lake
A cabin in the woods
A cabin in the woods
A walk in the woods
A walk in the woods
A lovely spot to burn marshmellows
A lovely spot to burn marshmellows
It doesn't get better than this view
It doesn’t get better than this view after a year in the desert

The rest of Latvia

After all that breathless description, what of the rest of Latvia? The bits of the countryside we saw were as lovely as Estonia, the Gauja national park even had a few hills. So lots of froggy forests, castles and lakes and what not…

A Latvian mountain in Gauja. The sign says no photos.
A Latvian mountain in Gauja. The sign says no photos.
Off to explore some Castle Dungeons
Off to explore some Castle Dungeons

Riga

Riga was the last few days of a month-long trip and after a month you are contemplating locking the kids in a coal shed for the rest of their lives, which isn’t conducive to enjoying one of Europe’s finest art deco cities…Still onwards and upwards..

One thing we did right was to get rid of the car in Riga as the city is compact enough to walk around and we were right next to the train station for the odd day trip. The only problem with being round the back of the train station is the round the back of the train station crowd, although I was able to get rid of half a bottle of cheap Latvian vodka to one of my new bin surfing mates and the kids seemed obviously to the dodgy characters around the place.

A room with a view
A room with a view

That might be the very train we took to go to Jurmula a Latvian seaside spot, which was pretty and pretty developed. One experience there proves that ALL Latvians are honest though, Lorena left her wedding ring in a pub toilet, realized on the train back to Riga, I got off and took the train back the other way and hey presto the ring was behind the bar and the day was saved. Oh and you can buy amber everywhere in Jurmala (and Riga come to think of it).

Show me the amber!
Show me the amber!

Back in Riga it was art deco time which failed unsurprisingly to float the kids boat and I also managed to a quick solo visit to the Riga Ghetto and Holocaust Museum which was fascinating. Luckily there were enough parks dotted around the town for the other parent to keep the kids happy if you want to do something without them. There is also a big river to A. Throw the kids in or B use to take a boat ride for not very much if I remember and there are some great photo opportunities for crane spotting.

Lorena was wearing a brace on this holiday and refused to smile in any photos as a result, still the resulting pout was smouldering
Lorena was wearing a brace on this holiday and refused to smile in any photos as a result, still the resulting pout was smoldering
Art Deco, mum and dad 10/10, kids 1/10
Art Deco, mum and dad 10/10, kids 1/10
There aren't enough photos of cranes
There aren’t enough photos of cranes

Estonia Summer 2012

We spent two weeks in Estonia when Tommy was 6 and Danny was 4. We spent time in Tallin, Haapsalu and Viljandi

Tallinn

Is cheapish and has plenty for the kids, and the best thing for a capital city you can do everything with the kids on foot in the old town. We rented a small apartment right in the thick of the action and spent our days visiting museums and eating a lot…

Tallin has some good war/death/soldier stuff waht with Estonia getting attacked a lot....
Tallin has some good war/death/soldier stuff what with Estonia getting attacked a lot….
Danny was still using a pushchair which could be a challenge in the cobbles
Danny was still using a pushchair which could be a challenge in the cobbles
The apartment had the wheel they used to haul goods upstairs when it was a warehouse a million years ago or there abouts
The apartment had the wheel they used to haul goods upstairs when it was a warehouse a million years ago or there abouts

If highlights were the medieval foodstuffs to be had, and because we had an apartment we could also feed the kids one of three things they ate at the time….

Also after coming from Abu Dhabi the city looked really green, with good parks. Outside the old town we also went to the Occupation Museum which had some nice Soviet era stuff as well as enough guns to entertain the boys…

mom doesn't look too impressed with Lenin
mom doesn’t look too impressed with Lenin

The kids also made friends with the girls who worked in a bar next door after Tommy tried to order a glass of wine there…. people on the whole kept themselves to themselves but at least the boys managed to break the ice a bit…

We took the boys' new friend on a train round around Tallinn to see the sites
We took the boys’ new friend on a train round around Tallinn to see the sites

We also had a day trip to Helsinki on the ferry which was fun on the way over and a bit tiring on the return journey. Still we had a nice day in the city, which reminded me of my hometown of Birmingham…

We hung out with this American family on the way over
We hung out with this American family on the way over
Danny wasn't too happy when Tommy took a rest in his pushchair
Danny wasn’t too happy when Tommy took a rest in his pushchair

Next we were off in a rental car (at about EUR20 a day) to the coast. The spot we stayed in in Haapsalua was next to the castle and we were there during the White Lady Festival so it was pretty busy. There were loads of green spaces around the castle and of course walks along the promenade, so the kids got loads of fresh air.

The playground at the back of the castle is really cool, and free :) the local kids were a bit bemused by the rowdy Latino boys
The playground at the back of the castle is really cool, and free 🙂 the local kids were a bit bemused by the rowdy Latino boys

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Around Haapsalu, like pretty much everywhere in Estonia, you are close to some lovely FLAT countryside which is an ideal introduction to walking in the countryside with little ones. We found all the places we went for a walk in the Lonely Planet to Eastern Europe or the Estonia tourism website which was really comprehensive.

Being there in the Summer the weather was perfect for us coming from the Gulf but the mosquitoes were biting, so remember to pack the repellent.

There was lots of fog hunting to do, we had a few casualties but most survived the experience
There was lots of fog hunting to do, we had a few casualties but most survived the experience

We either walked in the woods like in the picture above or in open fields like in this shot. Again I can’t remember where this was but I do know there are lots of easy places to find like this.

Flat countryside makes easy walking for the kids
Flat countryside makes easy walking for the kids

Viljandi

Is a bit off the tourist trail, but it was on the way to Latvia where we were headed next and we found a nice campsite to stay on. To be honest with the kids this young they weren’t after any big sites, they enjoyed walks around the campsite, visiting a disused railroad depot and the highlight of this part of Estonia, a weird military museum set up by some local Estonian militia. When three foreigners turned up they opened up the place for us and gave us military posters. We got to clamber on tanks and I looked pretty fine posing with this Estonian resistance gun…. oh and if they charged us to get in it was a couple of dollars at most…

There were some BIG Soviet Era trains rotting quietly in Viljandi
There were some BIG Soviet Era trains rotting quietly in Viljandi
If I lived in Lincolnshire or Holland I probably wouldn't choose Viljnadi for a holiday, but coming from the desert this looked pretty good
If I lived in Lincolnshire or Holland I probably wouldn’t choose Viljandi for a holiday, but coming from the desert this looked pretty good
Lean mean fightin' machine
Lean mean fightin’ machine

Places to Stay 

There are lots of self catering options in Estonia which you can find through their website or through self-catering websites. We stayed in a flat in the old town in Tallin, a pretty small one bedroomed place in a wooden house in Haapsalu and a log cabin on a campsite in Viljandi. At the time we paid between Eur50-75 a day for places and they were all to a good standard even if the place in Haapsalu was on the small side

The spiral staircase in the Tallinn flat was made for charging up and down
The spiral staircase in the Tallinn flat was made for charging up and down
Mom surveying her kingdom in Haapsalu
Mom surveying her kingdom in Haapsalu
Our German host on the campsite enjoyed playing/running over the kids
Our German host on the campsite enjoyed playing/running over the kids

The food

It was great for us to be able to buy local produce, smoked fish, sausage and veg and the local beer. eating out was great in Tallin which has lots of options like wild boar, BUT these places tend not to have much for the kids so maybe feed them first and they can have an ice cream while you eat. Outside of Tallin we didn’t really eat out, the couple of times we did there were pork chops and boiled potatoes involved.

In Haapsaluu there were market stalls selling local produce
In Haapsaluu there were market stalls selling local produce
We fired up the BBQ in Viljandi
We fired up the BBQ in Viljandi

Would we go back?

Yes, it was cheap, the roads were nearly empty, it was quick to get everywhere and there is lovely countryside. The kids had a great time doing small stuff, there were no big wows, but lots of frogs to catch and walks in the woods.

We found these WWII slit trenches in the woods
We found these WWII slit trenches in the woods
Who needs Disneyland when you can jump on benches
Who needs Disneyland when you can jump on benches
Not exactly sunbathing weather
Not exactly sunbathing weather

If I lived in the UK I would be less inclined to rush back because the weather was a bit nippy at times and the were people, were, well like the Brits 🙂