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Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, January 11, 2010; 2:00 PM
Bethesda, Md.: Hi, my boyfriend is doing an overseas assignment this spring and we were thinking about meeting up in June in the Baltic States for a couple weeks. Do you have any recommendations or travel tips for Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania? Thanks!
Zofia Smardz: Here's a story we did on Latvia a couple of years ago. The info should still be good. We also did a primer that included all three Baltic states when the joined the EU. Our Web site isn't letting me link to it for some reason but here's the info on Estonia and Lithuania:
* WHERE: Northern Europe, on the Gulf of Finland, bordering Latvia and Russia.
* WHY GO: The concentration of medieval buildings in the capital city of Tallinn offers a total immersion 600 years into the past. The rest of the country, particularly the 162,500-acre Lahemaa National Park, boasts a wealth of greenery adorned with ancient manor houses and peaceful churches. For travelers looking to escape even further into raw nature, the hundreds of islands scattered off the coast take you about as far off the tourist path as you can get in Europe.
* DON'T MISS: Kadriorg Park, which runs along the Baltic Coast and is home to the Estonian Art Museum, noted for its striking baroque facade. . . The pristine period buildings of Pikk and Lai streets in Tallinn . . . 600-year-old Tallinn Town Hall, one of the best examples of medieval buildings in northern Europe . . . Olde Hansa restaurant, where waiters in medieval garb plop down platters of pork, potatoes in thick creamy sauce and rye bread. . . . Bog walking or paddling a haabja (Finnish wooden boat) in Soomaa National Park (watch for witches) . . . Puhtitsa Convent, home of vegetarian nuns . . . Hiiumaa and Saaremaa islands, lined with basket-weave fences and home to ancient lighthouses.
* SAMPLE PACKAGE: Spend four nights in the capital of Tallinn, with round-trip air from Dulles, lodging, breakfasts and half-day city tour, for $1,124, through Crown Travel (800-853-6453, www.crown-travel.com). Tack on such optional excursions as the Puhtitsa Convent, the island of Hiiumaa and bog walking for $29 to $159 extra. Book by June 28, and travel midweek, November through December; about $145 in taxes extra.
* INFO: Estonian Embassy, 202-588-0101, www.estemb.org or www.visitestonia.com.
* WHERE: Northern Europe, bordering Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia.
* WHY GO: The Old Town of Vilnius, the capital city, is one of Europe's most attractive town centers. With its medley of architectural styles (Gothic to classical), cobblestone streets and brown-brick facades, it offers a near-perfect glimpse into the past. Kaunas, the country's second-largest city, is an alluring enclave of well-preserved buildings dating to the 14th century. The coastal town of Palanga, with friendly locals and the lovely Amber Museum, offers a great entree to provincial Baltic culture.
* DON'T MISS: The intriguing cultural attractions of Vilnius, such as the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, which documents the extermination of the city's vibrant Jewish community during WWII; the KGB Museum, where thousands of Lithuanians were interrogated and tortured during the Soviet occupation; and Paneriai, a small museum with a memorial to WWII victims outside the capital in a beautiful forest . . . the TV Tower, former site of a Soviet standoff but now a great panoramic perch . . . the stebuklas tile between the Vilnius cathedral and bell tower, which marks the beginning of a human chain that some 2 million Baltic citizens formed between Vilnius and Tallinn in 1989 to protest the Soviet occupation . . . A meal of smoked fish in one of the coastal settlements on the Curonian Spit . . . the Hill of Crosses, near Siauliai, blanketed in thousands of crosses . . . Gruto Parkas, near Druskininkai, an outdoor museum of notorious Soviet political figures . . . The sea resort of Palanga and its Amber Museum, with thousands of examples of "Baltic Gold" . . . The Hill of Witches in Juodkrante, site of wooden sculptures based on legends and folk tales.
* SAMPLE PACKAGE: Visit Lithuania has a host of land-only packages that range from a weekend in Vilnius to a week traveling from city to sea resort. The "Lithuanian Experience," a 10-day escorted tour, includes the Dzukija National Park, a drive along Panemune castle road and a climb up the Hill of Witches, and centers on a cultural event, such as May's international folk festival or July's state celebration of the crowning of King Mindaugas. Price of $1,460 includes accommodations, some meals, transfers, tours and more. Depart May 28, June 18, July 2, Aug. 6 or Sept. 10. Round-trip flights from Dulles to Vilnius, with at least one connection, start at about $770 on such carriers as SAS, United and US Airways. Info: 011-370-5-2625-241, www.visitlithuania.net.
* INFO: Lithuanian Embassy, 202-234-5860, www.ltembassyus.org, or Lithuanian Tourist Information Center, 718-281-1623, www.tourism.lt.