In the Baltic countries of the Eastern Europe most of our time was spent exploring the charming and historic old towns of Tallin, Riga and Vilnius. I enjoyed this very much, but was also pleased to also have the chance to venture out of the towns to the countryside or the beach.
On a fine sunny Sunday we headed out of Riga to Latvia’s, and perhaps the Baltic’s most popular summertime playground – Jurmala. It seemed the rest of Riga had the same idea and we were packed in like sweaty sardines for the 30-minute train ride along the coast.
The beach is 33kms long and certainly very pretty with almost white sand set against a backdrop of large pine trees. Nestled amongst the trees are sweet wooden cottages that look like little gingerbread houses rimmed by gardens full of flowers and vegetable patches.
It turned out to be a very hot day. I lay in the sun for about five minutes before I became too hot and attempted to take a dip. I wasn’t very successful. Initially the water seemed warm, because it was the depth of my ankles. But by the time I had waded to my knees it was bitterly cold. I managed two quick plunges. Even swimming in Tasmania had not prepared me for the Baltic!
Dark clouds looming, moments before the storm
Our day at the beach came to a rather premature end as dark rain clouds rolled across the sky. This prompted a mass exodus from the beach to the nearby station where we all huddled under the covering as the rain began to pelt down. So again we, and the rest of Riga, piled onto the train for the journey back to town.
Probably a more relaxing trip was our jaunt to Trakai, 28kms from Vilnius, Lithuania, to see a stunning Teutonic castle set on a beautiful lake. Teutonic refers to the order of knights from Prussia that were formed to launch crusades into the Baltic states fighting against the pagans – Lithuania being the last European state to convert to Christianity in the 14th century.
Now this was the place we should have gone swimming – the water was clear and inviting and I am sure would have been warmer than the sea. All around the edges of the lake people lay in the sun and dived off wooden boardwalks in to the cool waters. It was an idyllic spot, made even more beautiful by the backdrop of the castle on an island in the middle of the lake.
It also so happened that the World Rowing Championships (for under 23) were being held on the lake, so we spent the afternoon by the shores of the lake, watching the rowing teams and guessing which countries they represented. It seemed most Europe and the Americas were there – but unfortunately Australia and Chile were noticeably absent!