Fancy going to Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia? They may be popular destinations for stag weekends, but they’re so much more than that. If you go, you can prepare for the following…
1. Alien-looking languages.
Estonian: one of the three major Uralic languages, along with Finnish and Hungarian. However, they have next to no similarities to any other European language and are famously tricky to learn.
Oh well, Latvian and Lithuanian should be easier, right? Wrong! They bear resemblance to each other, but to no other living language. This little corner of Europe is a linguist’s nightmare (or dream?).
2. Stunning Orthodox churches.
The only thing I like about religion is its buildings, and I’m yet to see other religious buildings as stunning and intricate as Russian Orthodox churches. My Instagram became a scrapbook of pretty churches for the time I was in the Baltics.
3. Ugly reminders of a grim Soviet past.
Brutalist architecture. Neglected relics from the Moscow Olympics (Linnahall, Tallinn). KGB prisons (Vilnius). The threat of re-occupation still lingers over these tiny countries, and the number of historical sites around their capitals are
4. Cabbage rolls.
Cabbage is not a vegetable that inspires excitement, but the golabki I tried for just two Euros in Lido, a cheap Riga buffet chain, were pretty damn exciting. They’re popular not just in the Baltics, but across the Slavic-speaking world.
5. The Euro.
Estonia gave up the kroon in 2011. Latvia gave up its lats in 2014. And Lithuania was the last to convert, surrendering its litas on January 1st this year. They were all replaced by Nigel Farage’s favourite currency, the oft-maligned Euro.
6. Cheap booze.
Well, the stag weekends have to fuel up on pre-drinks somehow.
7. Buzzing nightlife.
…Before heading out on the town. Riga is party central, while Tallinn is quieter but no less alive. All I’m saying is that the last time I chundered from drinking too much was after a rowdy night out in Tallinn.
8. Opportunities to learn to shoot in Soviet bunkers.
A huge tourist draw in all three states’ capitals is using those Soviet relics to boost their economy. All three countries have capitalised on the arms and military bunkers left behind from occupation to create a budding tourist industry of gun shooting excursions. ‘Learn to shoot an AK gun!’ posters are rife in the hostels.
Don’t get me wrong, I am vehemently opposed to a lack of gun control – but in highly controlled circumstances, with blanks in the barrel and a beefy, war-hardened Latvian man standing watch over you, it’s quite good fun.