I’ve just come back from a whistlestop tour of the Baltic region. Eight days of exploring and eating in Copenhagen, Tallinn, Riga and Stockholm. Despite a diet of mainly blood sausage and chips I’ve lost three pounds. My feet ache from walking miles in the wrong shoes and my joints are stiff, but the weather was more glorious than we could have hoped for.
Copenhagen was first. All elegant pastel blues and pinks and white edged with gold. Magnificent parks and pretty palaces. Rosenborg was my favourite a seventeenth century red brick summer palace in lovely gardens where the crown jewels are housed and slightly creepily you can see wax works of previous inhabitants.
We found our accommodation through Airbnb. Our apartment in an old building on Nørrebro was up three flights of stairs – no lift – and full of bright sunshine and limed floors.
We hired bicycles, the perfect way to get around and saw everything from the Little Mermaid sculpture at the tip of the city to Fredriksborg Palace in the centre and Christiania the famous freetown commune in the south. Here the air was thick with dope, the raves loud and wild and the graffiti bright. The next morning cafes were buzzing, stalls were selling souvenirs and there was a giftshop full of trendy homeware. Capitalism comes even to communes it seems.
We visited Hans Christian Andersen – sat in the lap of his statue by the City Hall and found his grave in the leafy cemetery park behind our apartment. Dinner was fish and chips by the canal in Nyhavn. The Tivoli Gardens were closed.
Tallinn was completely different. Our apartment, again on the third floor, was on the northern tip of the Old Town – overlooking St Olave’s church. The town and the old city walls have been beautifully restored and the narrow streets of flat-fronted houses washed with red and ochre and blue and green are just the right side of gingerbready. There was only one house we thought might contain a witch and a cage full of children, but it turned out to be a gift shop. The central square is a tourist trap and the souvenirs were downright naff, but the streets around offer more variety and there’s a glass blower’s in St Katherine’s Passage where we found pretty vases and jugs and plates at affordable prices.
Don’t bother looking in the old port for cute seafront restaurants and bars. They don’t exist. Well not that we saw. We found the cruise ship harbour and some tourist shops but it was out of season so they were shut and we had to walk back into town for dinner. We ate well. Wild boar, pork, lamb and stuffed squid washed down with schnapps. Bizarrely we had curry for lunch one day, but I’ll gloss over that.
If you ever find you need to get from Tallinn to Riga, get the bus. It takes four and a half hours so quicker than flying and cheaper. We paid 16 Euros, which also got us free wi-fi and a wide selection of free onboard films. It also allows you to see more of the country than you would otherwise. Estonia is prosperous, not so Latvia which appears poorer and is much larger. Riga its capital is a large city on the mouth of the river Daugava. It’s old town is less contained and less well preserved than Tallinn though there are pretty buildings and a church on every street it seems. Our apartment was on a busy intersection and a good ten minutes from the old town which wasn’t what we’d intended. However, it was next to the Academy of Sciences from the top of which for 4 Euros you can get wonderful views over Riga. A park and canal runs through the centre of Riga with an Art Deco quarter at one end and an express MacDonalds at the other. Over the bridge a short tram ride away is a neighbourhood of traditional wooden houses, sadly falling down but slowly being renovated.
Dinner, blood sausage, veal and mustardy pork ribs was eaten in a dark cellar where we were the only customers and the waitress barked an exasperated “Jesus Christ” in answer to every question and overcharged for the wine. It was an unforgettable experience. We did better the next night in the charming Petergailis in the shadow of St Peter’s Basilica.
The final stop was Stockholm. My impression is that this is a place where the computer says “No!” So, we couldn’t hire, bikes, go on boat trips or buy alcohol. We couldn’t find the shop we wanted despite there being three branches within walking distance. I’m sure if you get you head round it Stockholm is a marvellously logical city. When you only have two days it is frustrating. Nevertheless we saw as much as we wanted from the royal palaces on Gamla Stan to the downtown shopping area and Ahlens City, Djurgarten and achingly trendy SOFO on Sodermalm where we were staying.
Djurgarten has the most expensive real estate in Sweden and in addition to some magnificent
homes it is also home to the Abba Museum, Skansen an open air museum of Swedish houses and history. A short hop across the harbour on a commuter ferry took us close to our apartment, fifth floor mercifully with a lift this time. A light bright prettily furnished three bedder where we ate in both nights as Stockholm is cripplingly expensive, even for Londoners. We drank low alcohol beer as booze – the only thing we could get hold of. The purchase of alcohol is controlled by the government and only available in special off-licences between 10 and 3pm and not at all on Sunday. We missed the opening times. It seems strange in such a liberal country.
Back home foot sore and weary from so much walking. Note to self: take proper shoes next time.