Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland

Everyone needs to see the Aurora Borealis once in their lives, right? So began the journey to Oulu, the southernmost city of northern Finland. Oulu is located in the subarctic region and it’s pretty close to the geographical centre of the country. That makes it a great city for Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland.

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Oulu

My photographer friend and I had started chasing the Aurora Borealis a few days earlier in Helsinki. After spending the day in the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland, it was time for us to hop on a bus. Roughly two and a half hours later we were in the largest city in the Subarctic region of Finland; Oulu.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Cycling on a Snowed Over Footpath

We had prearranged a host in Oulu who was doing her second Master’s degree at the Oulu University. Our host, Anna, had lived in many different places in the world and had some interesting views on daily life in Finland. We had planned to meet her at the university, so from the bus station we need to get a local bus. We had considered walking, but even though it was only a couple of kilometres, the cold was getting too much for me. Oulu has a super modern fleet of buses. The cost of riding one reflects that. It’s €3.50 for a one zone ticket. That ticket lasts for as many rides as you like within that zone for 60 minutes, or 80 minutes for multiple zones.

Snow Everywhere!

We may have prematurely exited from the bus, but we were still in the general vicinity of the university. This meant we got to walk through some of the winter wonderland that is Oulu in Febrary.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Snowed Over Canal

The snow didn’t just cover the ground, it literally stopped watercourses from running too! Some creative soul had decided to put some lights on what would’ve been the banks of a canal. With all the white everywhere, a little bit of colour was quite a welcome sight.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Lights on Canal Bank

It wasn’t the only place in town where someone had decided to add some coloured lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Blue Lights in the City K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Blue Lights in the City Centre

But these ones changed a little bit. There’s nothing I like more than watching lights move. I mean, that is the whole reason I had tormented myself with a trip to Finland in the winter!

Oulu City Centre

We were getting quite used to seeing snow everywhere by this point. So when we encountered a paved area with no snow, we were a little perplexed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Paved Are With No Snow

How could this small patch of ground between two other patches of ground that were snowed over be snow-free? We were so obviously confused by it that a lady walking past us stopped to tell us that the ground was heated. Well, that makes sense. But then we wondered why it was just that patch and not all the paved areas in the city centre.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Policeman Statue

It really was better not to think too much about that one, so we just kept walking and came across this guy. He is a monument to the Finnish Police. I didn’t see any police the whole time I was in Finland, so I can neither confirm nor deny if they look anything like this portly policeman.

Getting Around Oulu

As I mentioned earlier, the local bus services in Oulu are rather pricey. €3.50 for one zone and €5.80 for two zones. We worked out pretty quickly that things were going to get very expensive. We were staying in Martinniemi, a small village about 40 minutes out of Oulu. That meant we would need to spend €11.60 a day just to get to and from Martinniemi. That’s not including transport within the city.

We opted to get a multiple day ticket, which ended up being much cheaper than buying separate tickets. As you can see on the Oulu transport site. The only problem was, we couldn’t buy these tickets anywhere in Martinniemi. So we ended up having to purchase them through the Oulu Transport App (Oulu Joukkoliikenne).

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day One

We had scoured over our maps for hours to choose a place that wasn’t too far away from where we were staying. It wasn’t that we minded walking but the cold was really affecting us. The place we chose was only 700 metres from where we were located. As we got closer we started to realise that even though the map had indicated there was a path to the spot we’d picked, it actually wasn’t accessible from where we were.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Tree Lined Street in Oulu

We had however, ended up in a huge open area with a perfect view of the sky to the north. A completely cloudy sky. There was no way we were seeing any lights that night, so we headed back home. It was only a minor setback. We still had two nights.

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day Two

We got back to looking at our maps to find a better vantage point. But this time we were smart and decided to check out the suitability and accessibility of the place during the day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Snowy Road in Martinniemi

On the way we saw an abandoned house. Our curiosity got the better of us and we went inside. As you would imagine, the house had been stripped bare and the inside was pretty much just snow and graffiti.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Snow and Graffiti in Abandoned House

But it did have a nice view of the outside world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. View Out of Abandoned House

Once we finally made it to a tiny frozen-over marina we knew that we had chosen well this time. It was interesting to see all the small boats that would normally be docked there, dry-docked on stands near the car park. We noticed a few small cabins there too.

Walking on Water

Not long after we got there, a guy drove in and parked his car. He proceeded to get a gas bottle and a box out of the car boot. They were placed on a small plastic thing with a rope attached to it. He started pulling it along the snow covering what would be the water of the bay in the summer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Man on the Frozen-Over Bay

From what we figured, he had a cabin on a nearby island. As the water was frozen solid, the only way to reach it was by walking.

Second Time Lucky?

When we returned that night there was a bitingly cold wind blowing. I grabbed my phone to check what the time was and saw a warning I had never seen before; a flashing thermometer. Then that was it. My phone that had over 50% charge an hour beforehand just died. Then my friend looked at his two phones and they both had the same problem. That, the wind and the cloud cover were signs for us to leave.

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day 3

This was our final chance to see the lights. The Aurora app we had downloaded informed us that there was a great chance of spotting Auroral activity under clear conditions. This made us hopeful. Given the phone issues of the day before, we made sure to keep our phones out of the cold as much as possible.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Cabin at the Marina

We sheltered in this cabin for a bit after the wind got too much for us. We were surprised to find that it had electricity. It also had some kind of stove in the centre. We surmised that it must be for people to use if they get stuck at the marina due to bad weather.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Inside the Cabin at the Marina

Once we ventured back outside we realised that there was too much cloud cover to see anything. But there was definitely something going on behind that cloud cover.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Lights Behind Clouds

There were no buildings in that area that could be causing such bright lights, so it must have been the Auroras. Damn cloud cover!

Nallikari, the Place for Summer and Winter Activities in Oulu

Just before we made our way back to Helsinki on an overnight bus, we decided to see if we could get some kind of winter activity in before we left Oulu. Nallikari, which is a beach area in the summer, seemed to be the place to go.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Nallikari

According to the internet, they had all types of snow activities happening there. Except of course when we went. All of their normal activities had been halted for one reason or another. They told us we could come back in a few days but that wasn’t really going to work for us.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Nallikari Beach Shacks

We explored the area for a little bit. It was quite amusing to see beach shacks on snow. Although the coolest thing we did that day was stand on the sea. Well, what would have been the sea if it wasn’t frozen over.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Nallikari Beach Frozen Sea

I guess that meant it was time for a selfie with our host while people walked on the ‘sea’ in the background.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Selfie at Nallikari Beach

Just in case you’re wondering, that’s a look of pain on my face. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t feel my hand at that point. I’d had to take a glove off to unlock my phone so this picture could be taken.

The End?

We jumped on our night bus back to Helsinki not long after. Then flew out of Helsinki back to London where I was supposed to get a flight home 2 days later. That flight got cancelled and I was stuck in London for an extra two weeks. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, my host Anna messaged me with a picture of the lights just after we left. She’d seen them as she was getting off the bus near her house!

At least I can tick ‘visiting the Subarctic region in winter’ off my list, but the Aurora Borealis will have to wait for another time in another country.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

If you’ve enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland, please feel free to share and click the picture you like to Pin It for later! :o)

Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland

If you’ve never heard of Kemi before, it’s way up north in Finnish Lapland. As you would imagine, it is covered in snow for roughly half the year. But there’s something special about this sleepy little Lapland town. It’s famous for constructing the world’s biggest snow fort every year. The Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland draws tourists from all over the world. As I found out when I heard more people speaking Cantonese and Mandarin than English while I was there.

Introduction to Finnish Lapland – Kemi

My photographer friend and I had taken an overnight bus from Helsinki to get to Kemi. The change between the two cities was quite stark. While Helsinki’s sky was perpetually overcast, there was very little snow. Kemi’s sky was still quite overcast, but the ground was white from snow cover. There were no roads and footpaths. Only snow. I suddenly saw an image in my head of me ending up on my butt because I’m totally inept at walking on snow. Luckily, I narrowly avoided hitting the ground by grabbing my friend and nearly making him fall. It just seemed like the right thing to do! As Canada, Kazakhstan and now Finland have taught me, walking on snow sucks.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Everywhere

The snow made everything surprisingly bright, despite the overcast sky. I had always heard that Lapland region was perpetually dark in the winter, so I wasn’t expecting much daylight or brightness. I needed to wear my sunglasses because the glare from the snow was hurting my eyes! We had arrived at 10am and noticed a nearby food place. We thought we could go and grab some breakfast and use the WiFi, but it was closed. Okay, plan B, check at the supermarket across the road. Although the staff were really nice, they seemed quite clueless as to where stuff was in their town. They did advise us that most businesses wouldn’t open for another hour at least. Time for a walk then.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snowed in Bikes

Walking Through Kemi

As you would expect of somewhere only 90 minutes shy of the Arctic Circle, the town of Kemi on Bothnian Bay near the Swedish border is rather small. Both in area and population. I don’t know if it was because of that or because of the cold, but there was almost no one around. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I saw many cars driving around. I did see quite a few parked cars with a substantial amount of snow on them though. You really couldn’t blame people if they wanted to hibernate at home for the whole winter. Given the daily subzero temperatures the town offered. It was hovering around -4°C when we were there. Yuck!

Lumi Visio/Snow Vision

The people that had ventured out had found an interesting way to keep themselves occupied.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Sculpting in Kemi

We had stumbled upon some kind of snow carving competition in the centre of town. Note I said snow, not ice, carving. To be honest, this was somewhat of a novelty as I’d never seen anyone carving snow before. Given the copious amounts of snow around Kemi, it totally makes sense to turn it into art. But I did wonder how the huge blocks of compacted snow collected from the bay found their way to the centre of Kemi.

The competition, called Lumi Visio or Snow Vision is an annual event in Kemi. During the competition teams race against the clock to build a sculpture to a theme. I’m not entirley sure what the 2020 theme was but if I had to guess, I’d say cartoons.

As much as I wanted to stay and check out the sculptures for a bit longer, I found that, even with winter gloves and shoes, my hands and feet started to hurt after several minutes of no movement. Seriously, how do people live in these temperatures?

Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland

I got some feeling back in my extremities as a walked but wasn’t sure how much more of the cold I could take. That was why I was so happy to this sign. It meant the Snow Castle was near! Lumi Linna is Finnish for Snow Castle.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Castle Sign

A team of architects and engineers spend months planning and building the castle using a different theme each year. Looks like the castle’s 25th year was ‘Igloo Style’. Even though the shape and size of the castle may be different each year, there are some things that are always included in the design. Like the Ice Bar and the chapel.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Kemi Snow Castle Chapel

I was told that people come from as far afield as Hong Kong to get married in that chapel. Being from Hong Kong, this sounds like an absolute crazy concept to me. Considering our winter temperatures rarely fall below 10°C and most Hong Kongers start wearing polar jackets when the temperature gets below 20°C. I guess they do it more for the gimmick factor.

Inside the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland

After walking through a hallway from the entrance, you’ll find yourself at the Ice Bar. Of course they make the bar the first thing you come across and the lovely bar tender will definitely try to entice to grab a drink to warm up. But maybe the carvings on the wall above you will distract you enough to make you not care about having a drink.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Ice Bar K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Ice Bar Wall Carvings

As we walked further into the castle, there were a few different coloured caves with sculptures you could sit on and pose for photos. Unfortunately my camera just couldn’t deal with the green and blue lighting in those rooms. To be honest, my camera was having issues with the cold by this point. Clearly it’s a warm weather camera! Anyway, walking to the end brings you to what looks like a meeting room.

There was a dining alcove that split off from the main area. The ‘chairs’ were made of ice and covered with reindeer fur. I had to try one out and I didn’t freeze my butt off. So that was nice.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Dining Alcove

Rooms in the Kemi Snow Castle

As we were walking back out, I noticed a hallway off to the left that we hadn’t explored yet.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Hallway

Coming off that hallway were several rooms. Some just for sitting down and hanging out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Sitting Room K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Shark Room

Then others for sleeping.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Dinosaur Sleeping Room K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Sleeping Room

As warm as that bedding looks, I could never see myself being able to sleep there. Especially seeing as the temperature inside the castle was colder than outside. Which was already bloody cold enough!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Castle Temperature

Tourist Centre

Outside the castle there is a permanent building, called SnowCastle365, that acts as the reception for the castle hotel and glass cabins. It’s also the place to book other adventures, like reindeer sledding, snowmobiling and dining in an ice restaurant. I gave all of these a miss, because as you would expect, they were prohibitively expensive. There is also a cafe in that building as well as public amenities and some comfy couches to sit on before you head back out into the cold.

Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland – On to Oulu

Once we finally got up the courage to brave the cold, we headed back to the bus station to get the bus to Oulu. We were slightly perplexed when the bus hadn’t showed up five minutes past it’s departure time. We spoke to a local lady who was also waiting and she confirmed that we hadn’t missed the bus. She told us not to worry because it often runs late.

The bus ended up being about 15 minutes late and we were surprised that we recognised the driver. He was the same driver who had driven us from Oulu that morning. It was his second run back to Oulu that day.

Will we see the Aurora Borealis in Oulu? Stay tuned for the next installment

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve had fun learning all about the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland, please do us a favour by sharing it and click the picture you like to pin it for later! :o)

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi

Just a two and a half hour ferry ride from Tallinn in Estonia is the Finnish capital city of Helsinki. From there it’s easy to access one of the world’s coldest and most isolated regions. I may have mentioned before that I really hate the cold. Why had I spent a couple of weeks heading north into Finland in the middle of winter then? Two words: Aurora Borealis. I’m a sucker for pretty lights. So began a new adventure; chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi.

I wasn’t confident in my camera’s ability to capture scenes very well, so I made a friend who is a photographer take the trip with me. On the off chance that I would be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that is the Aurora Borealis. We had gotten the 6 am ferry from Tallinn, which got us into Helsinki bright and early. Actually, not so bright really. It was still pretty dark by the time I got outside the terminal building at 8:30 am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Port of Helsinki

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi. Wandering Helsinki

Not far from the port I got the first taste of what would be awaiting me in northern Finland. You know, that white stuff that covers the north for about half the year.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Snow in Helsinki

Luckily, that was all the snow I saw in Helsinki. In fact, the city seemed to be surprisingly free of it. I don’t know if this means that Helsinki doesn’t get as much snow as I had imagined. Or if they’re just really good at hiding it. Mind you, I’ve been in Canada in the winter and snow isn’t something that can easily be hidden. So I’m going to run with my first thought; Helsinki isn’t the winter wonderland I thought it would be.

Easy to Navigate City

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bloody cold! Almost too much for my warm weather body to handle. But my only choice was to suck it up and walk. Helsinki is an amazingly walkable city. There are wide footpaths and cycle paths everywhere. The signage is also pretty great. I think it would be a pretty difficult city to get lost in.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Informational Signs in Helsinki

One thing I noticed while wandering around Helsinki, was that the Finns seem to have quite a sense of humour. Whether it’s a sign at the entrance of a fast food joint

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Finnish Humour

Or sculptures like this one, called Naughty Boy

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Naughty Boy

Speaking of sculptures, there was no shortage of them around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Square near Kampi Bus Station

I guess it was a sign of the season that I saw some temporary ice sculptures too. Or half sculptures. It looked like one of them could’ve been Snoopy, but someone made a mistake while sculpting it. I mean, there’s no way it could’ve melted in that weather!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Ice Sculptures Outside Oodi

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi. Oodi in Kansalaistori Square

A well-known building in Helsinki is its central library or Oodi as it’s known locally. It’s located in Kansalaistori Square, which is right near the city centre. Oodi bills itself as “A meeting place, a house of reading and a diverse urban experience”. It certainly is an experience. It also seemed like the place to be on a dull winter’s day. We thought we’d go there for the warmth and WiFi. Everyone in Helsinki had the same idea, it seemed. It’s the most crowded library I’ve ever seen.

The outside of the building is striking, with a three storey glass facade. Each of the three floors of the building had different areas. The third floor had all the books, along with a children’s play area. We found a terraced area with powerpoints on the second floor. There were loads of people just hanging out there. A wander around the second floor allowed me to watch a 3D printer in action. Oodi had several 3D printers for public use. The geek in me was happy. Yes, this was definitely no ordinary library.

WiFi Everywhere

Oodi also had sewing and embroidery machines, studios and editing rooms, games, music and meeting rooms as well as a restaurant and a cinema! Of course, there was also WiFi available, as there is everywhere in Helsinki. You see, Finland decided back in 2010 that internet access was a right and should, therefore, be available to everyone. That means free WiFi is everywhere. You don’t have to go far to get connected in the city.

Quirks in the City

Helsinki is a beautiful and clean city that’s easy to navigate, but it does have it’s quirks. Firstly, I’m not sure if they get to see the sky in Winter there. It seemed to be perpetually overcast. Or dark. I only managed to get a few photos while it was light. Not because I was wandering around late at night but because it got dark at around 3 pm!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Helsinki Street

As much as they believe internet is a right in Helsinki, they don’t believe that relieving yourself is a right. If you want to use the toilets in many establishments, you have to make a purchase. All the toilets have security codes which are printed on the receipt you get after you pay. You’d wanna hope that you don’t end up in a huge line when you really need to go.

Another interesting concept in Helsinki is night prices at fast food places. If you want to get something to eat after 9 pm, the menu prices increase and the specials disappear. Even if the place is due to close at 10 pm, they’ll switch to night menu prices for their last hour of trading. And those prices will possibly continue for their first hour of trading the next day, depending on their opening time.

Also, it seems that a lot of things are Lactose and Gluten free. I even saw Lactose free sausages!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Laktisiton/Lactose Free Product K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Gluteeniton/Gluten Free Product

Crazy Prices

Some Northern European countries are well-known for their exorbitant prices for everyday items. While I was expecting Finland to be more expensive than the Baltic countries I had just come from, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the prices did jump. Some things were more than twice the price! It was just as well that I’d run under budget in the Baltic countries.

The only other country I’ve come across in my travels that is more expensive is Norway. I figured that prices might get worse the further I headed into the north. With that in mind, I stocked up all the cheap(ish) non-perishable stuff I could get my hands on at the Kamppi Centre.

Interestingly, the Kamppi Centre was one of the biggest redevelopment projects and the largest construction site in Finnish history. It took four years to transform the area in downtown Helsinki into the hub that it is now. It has almost anything you could need, like a huge shopping centre with nightclubs, offices and residences as well as local and long-distance bus terminals.

Overnight Bus to Kemi from Kamppi

The buses that I took in the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), especially in Vilnius were quite luxurious and had complimentary hot drinks. This was not so with the Finnish overnight bus that we were taking to Kemi in Finnish Lapland. It was the least comfortable of all coaches taken thus far, despite being comparatively more expensive. I had mistakenly assumed that things would get more luxurious in Finland. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

I stared out the window of the mostly empty bus as we made our way out of the city. For the first hour there was no snow to be seen. Then I watched the amount of snow slowly increase on the road, until about 2 hours out of Helsinki where everything as far as the eye could see was covered in several centimetres of snow. Including the road! I thought the bus driver might slow down at that point but he did not. As terrifying as it sounds to me, driving on snow is the only way you get anywhere in the winter in Finland.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Snow Covered Road on the Way to Kemi

Arriving in Lapland

I had actually managed to sleep a bit on the way, as the ride had been pretty smooth. We pulled into Oulu, the biggest city in Northern Finland at about 7 am. But that wasn’t the end of the journey. There we had to wait a short while for the bus that would take us onto Kemi in Lapland. That two hour journey continued on snowed over roads until we were finally in Kemi.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis -Helsinki to Kemi. Abandoned bike in Kemi

Follow the continuing adventure in Kemi

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

If you’ve liked ‘Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi’, please give it a share and click the picture you like to pin it for later! :o)

Discover Old and New Tallinn

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Komandandi Garden Above Freedom Square

Strangely, the further north I went into the Baltics, the less comfortable the intercity coaches became. At least they were fairly empty which allowed me to stretch out on every ride. This time I had travelled from the Latvian capital of Riga to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Now it was time to discover old and new Tallinn.

As I exited the bus, I saw ‘Tallinna Bussijaam’ written on the top of the building. While I presume that this is Estonian for bus station, ‘bussijaam’ is also very close to the Cantonese for bus stop. Aren’t languages fun?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Tallinna Bussijaam

I had decided to walk the 4 kilometres from the bus station to my accommodation near the old town. I’d already been sitting down for several hours so a bit of physical activity was in order. I’m not sure if it was because I was finally acclimatising to the northern European winter weather but Tallinn didn’t seem to feel as cold as Vilnius and Riga had.

Discover Old and New Tallinn – Finding the Old Town

As I do in many places I visit, I’d decided to head straight for the old town. It’s no secret that I love old towns but the old town in Tallinn is particularly special. It’s one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. This was probably a huge factor leading to its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. First Taste of the Old Town

When approaching from the west or the south, Vabaduse väljak or Freedom Square marks the beginning of the Old Town. The Independence War Victory Column can be seen looking over the open-air square.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Freedom Square Independence War Victory Colomn

If you follow the small set of stairs up to behind the column, you can look back over the square from the Komandandi Garden and see St John’s Church. Actually, if you’re feeling lazy you could take the ramp to the left of the stairs. But seeing as there are less than 50 stairs, it has to be the easiest climb to a viewpoint that I’ve ever encountered!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. St John's Church at Freedom Square

The ratio of effort to awesomeness-of-view factor here is pretty low. Stepping even further into the garden will give you a view over a lot of the new city. You’ve really got to love low-rise cities!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. City View from Komandandi Garden

Freedom Square at Night

It’s also worth revisiting the square at night. The whole area gets lit up and has a completely different feel.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. St John's Church in Freedom Square at Night

Even some of the trees in the area get to shine at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Trees With Lights near Freedom Square at Night

Discover Old and New Tallinn – Toompea Castle and Russian Orthodox Church

The Komandandi garden and its viewing area are on Toompea Hill. An historic castle, Toompea Castle (Toompea loss in Estonian) sits behind the garden. The Castle has been standing since the 9th century! It currently houses the Estonian Parliament.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. City Wall Near Toompea Castle
City Wall Near Toompea Castle

Right next to that is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Aleksander Nevski Katedraal). It quite obviously stands out in the area, as a Russian style building.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral

The building was left to rot during the USSR rule over the area, but since Estonian independence in 1991, it has been lovingly restored and looked after.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at Night

It actually forms quite a stark contrast to some of the other buildings of the old town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral From the Old Town

Walking Around The Old Town

As mentioned before, the Tallinn Old Town is one of the most well-preserved in the world. So it is literally like stepping into another century.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Centre of the Old Town

The first things to capture your attention are the cobbled streets and stone walls.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Stone Wall in Old Town

Locals have definitely capitalised on the old-world feel of the town. This has ensured that the Tallinn Old Town is the most touristy of all the Baltic old towns. That’s really saying something considering I was there in winter. I would guess winter is not the high tourist season in the Baltics.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Touristy Centre of the Old Town

While this town board is cute, it’s definitely heading towards cheesy. The cheesiest thing about this old town was all the locals dressed up in medieval clothes. At first, I thought it was rather endearing. Then they just seemed to be everywhere and it started to feel too gimmicky. Especially as many of them were just trying to get you into their establishment.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Stone Tunnel in the Old Town

That doesn’t mean that the town was without charm. In fact, it was quite lovely walking through the cobbled streets and admiring the buildings. Once you get away from the centre of the town, the gimmicky stuff disappears.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Cobbled Street of the Old Town

The Old Town becomes even more appealing at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Old Town at Night

Churches and Religious Diversity of the Old Town

There are quite a few churches and cathedrals representing different religious denominations throughout the Old Town. The aformentioned Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Lutheran St John’s Church are two of them. Then there’s the Baptist St Olaf’s Church and the Roman Catholic St Peter and St Paul Cathedral near the centre of town. To name just a few.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. St Paul and St Peter's Cathedral

All have amazing interiors showcasing different ornate styles. Some even have towers you can climb to get a view over the old town. Visiting them is, of course, restricted during services. To find out more about the churches of the old town, go to the Visit Tallinn website.

Viru Gate

One of the most important and prominent features of the old city is the Viru Gate. This 14th century gate was once a major defensive feature of Reval. That’s Tallinn’s historical name, used until 1918.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Viru Gates in the Old Town

The Viru Gate essentially represents the start and the end of the Old Town, depending on which side of the gate you stand. From inside the gate, you can look out onto modern Tallinn and the markets just outside the gate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Viru Gate Looking Out to Modern Tallinn

Discover Old and New Tallinn – Modern Tallinn

Beyond the walls of the Old Town is a vibrant, modern Baltic city. The transport options in the city are amazing. With modern buses and trams running regularly.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Modern Tram

There are also quite a few green spots around the city. Although, they’re more like grey spots in the winter.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Kadrioru Park

I would assume that the Kadrioru Park, pictured above, would be lovely and green in Summer and Spring. A walk through this park will bring you to the Kadriorg Palace (Kadrioru loss) which contains the Kadriorg Art Museum.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Kadriorg Palace

Behind the palace are some gardens, which I’m sure look lovely in summer and spring. In winter they are a work in progress.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Kadriorg Palace Garden

Discover Old and New Tallin – The Port Area

Perhaps one of the most surprisingly happening areas in Tallinn is the port area. Although everything is quite spread out, there are several waterside restaurants and pubs dotted throughout the area. There’s also a local fresh produce market, Sadama Turg or Harbour Market, at Terminal C.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and new Tallinn. Nautica Centre at Tallinn Port

In front of the port area there’s a decent size shopping centre called Nautica. It has around 60 shops, including a cinema, cafes, restaurants, bars and a mini golf course!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Patterned Building

Something else that caught my attention when leaving the port area was this building. So much so that I just had to stop and stare for a while.

Ferry to Helsinki

I was told by a ticket lady at Terminal B that there were only two options for sailing to Helsinki. Viking Line and Tallink. They also happened to be quite expensive for a two hour ferry ride. So I walked to Terminal A where I found out that there was in fact a third company, Eckeroline, with ferries serving the route. They were much cheaper too! It’s best to purchase the tickets online as the ticket offices at the port seem to have very short opening hours.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and new Tallinn. Terminal A at Tallinn Port

The ferry ride was comfortable enough and there was free WiFi onboard.

Stay tuned as the adventure continues into Finland

Final Thoughts

The northernmost Baltic country of Estonia has a lot to offer, both scenically and historically. I think the only thing left to say is, if you get the chance visit Estonia!

Check out this list of Free Things to do in Tallinn

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you would like to discover the old and new Tallinn for yourself, click on the picture you like to Pin It for later! :o)

Reflections of Riga

Unfortunately, my luxury bus ride from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius had to come to an end. I was now in the Latvian capital of Riga. In this article I’ve included photographic reflections of Riga as well as my own experience of the cosmopolitan capital city.

The hours seemed to have flown by while I was on the bus and it was now dark. Very dark. But it wasn’t even 7pm yet. I don’t think I could ever get used to these crazy European winters!

There was something that struck me about Riga straight away. It instantly seemed more modern and happening than the Lithuanian capital city that I had just left. I had arrived in both cities at similar times, yet Riga was a lot more lively. More lights, more people, more traffic and more open stores.

Reflections of Riga – Confusing Subway Tunnel

I was hungry but as it was already dark I decided to drop my bag off at my accommodation first. Navigation through the city seemed rather easy. Except at the intersection of two main roads near the train station. Pedestrians had to use a subway to pass under the intersection. A subway that confused my map. Stupid GPS!

So imagine being tired then having to try to get your bearings in a subway tunnel that seemed to have far too many exit options. There should have only been four but there were at least 10. To add to the fun, the subway tunnel had an ever so slight curve that threatened to turn me around completely. I was not willing to give up like my map did. So I made an impromptu decision to take the exit that looked the nicest. That’s tired logic for you. Luckily, it turned out to be the right exit. Sort of.

I had actually taken the exit just after the one I needed. It wasn’t a major problem seeing as it has still taken me to the right road. Just the opposite of it.
I was able to rectify that problem at a ground-level crossing a few minutes up the road. Once I finally made it to my accommodation, I was in a very tired and hungry state.

Chatty Chick and Local Eats

The receptionist at my accommodation was the opposite of everyone I had encountered in the Baltics so far. She was chatty. Extremely chatty. I’m normally always up for a chat but I’d had a long day and was very hungry. I asked her for recommendations for good places to eat local food. She advised that a chain called Lido would be a good choice.

There was a Lido nearby, so I made my way there. I was surprised to see that it was ‘buffet style’. Not only that, instead of a normal buffet, where you pay a set price and eat what you want, you had to pay individually for each thing that you ate. Furthermore, there were only a few local looking dishes on the buffet. It mostly seemed like American kind of food. That’s not what I came to Europe for!

I was not interested in walking around town looking for some local food, so I settled on a €1 beef wrap from the place next door. It hit the spot and didn’t break the bank. My favourite kind of food!

Reflections of Riga – Beautiful Buildings and a Blue Bridge

Now that I’d got some food in me I was feeling much better and was ready to explore the town a bit!

While walking to my accommodation from the bus station, I had noticed a few things that I had decided to go back take a closer look at. Firstly, there were a crazy amount of Christmas decorations adorning trees on the side of the road. That wouldn’t be too strange if it weren’t the end of January. More than a month after Christmas was over!

The main attraction for me was the blue bridge I’d seen earlier. This bridge is the path of Krišjāņa Barona Iela over Pilsētas Kanāls or City Canal. Of course, it looks like any normal boring bridge during the day. But at night it’s mesmerising. Especially with the reflections on the canal.

The canal starts and finishes at the Daugava River which flows 1020 kilometres, all the way from Russia, through Belarus and Latvia to the Gulf of Riga. Pilsētas Kanāls is flanked on both sides by lovely parks and green spaces. But who cares about that, how about that bridge, eh?

Day Trip to Sigulda

One of the main things I was looking forward to doing in Latvia was bobsledding at the international track in Sigulda. The town is about an hour from Riga by train. The train runs quite regularly throughout the day. I didn’t want to leave it until too late but I also wanted to leave after sunrise. Would you believe sunrise was around 9:40 am? I settled on the 10 am train.

Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the time it would take me to walk to the train station. I nervously approached the ticket window at 9:58 am. I half expected the lady behind the counter to refuse me the ticket as it was so close to departure time. She didn’t. She took my €2.10 then gave me the ticket with a smile and no hint of urgency. I still needed to get to the platform though!

Most people would run at that point, but I’m not a runner. I just started walking faster. To be fair, my fast walking is faster than some people’s running. I made it on to the train and was comfortably seated just before the train started moving. The train ride was quite relaxing and the scenery was very green. I was especially impressed with the pine forests where all the trees seemed to line up in perfectly straight lines. For kilometres upon kilometres.

Reflections of Riga – Sigulda

Just over an hour later I had made it to Sigulda. It felt like the temperature had dropped between Riga and Sigulda by at least 5 degrees. I might’ve thought this was all in my head if it hadn’t been for all the people dressed in snowsuits and ski gloves. This was amusing to me as I’d never seen people walking around in snowsuits when there was no snow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Path in Sigulda.

I stopped for a quick eat in a cute little cafe near the station where they served soup in a bowl made of bread. Then I made the freezing walk to the international bobsled track. I was excited about the adventure on which I was about to embark. Things didn’t quite go to plan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I saw many people walking around adorned with colours of different countries. Canada, Russia, Korea. Uh oh, it was a competition day! That meant that bobsledding was closed to the public for the day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. View of Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I had gone all that way, so I decided to take a walk around the complex. It was rather impressive actually. After watching a few of the teams fly past me from a viewing area, I couldn’t stand the cold any longer.

Reflections of Riga – Train to Sunset

As I had decided to leave earlier than planned, I got back to the Sigulda train station rather early. More than 40 minutes before the next train was due. I was happy to wait inside the station where it was much warmer than outside!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Sigulda Train Station

The wait didn’t really seem to be that long, even though I was having problems accessing the free WiFi at the station. There was no announcement when the train had arrived. Luckily I’d seen it pass the station building on the way in. Once I was back in Riga, the sight that I saw was nothing short of amazing.

You know the strange thing, it wasn’t even night time yet! I had arrived at the Riga Train Station just after 5 pm! It was still afternoon.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Train Station Clock at 5:20 pm

Leaving Riga on Another Luxury Bus

I had learned my lesson from having to pay extra by purchasing my bus ticket at the last minute in Vilnius. So I had pre-purchased my ticket online the day before. This was a weird concept to me, as transport prices are generally set, or negotiable, no matter when they’re purchased in most other regions that I’ve travelled in.

After I showed the bus lady my ticket she motioned for me to get on the bus and said that I could sit anywhere on the bottom deck. The service was going all the way through to St Petersburg in Russia, but it was almost empty until Tallinn, which was my destination. This bus also had a swanky hot drink machine like the Vilnius to Riga bus. The seats weren’t as comfortable though.

We made some random stops along the way. At one of the stops, we seemed to just be waiting, as no one got on or off. One of the passengers decided to take the opportunity to pop off the bus to have a quick smoke. The driver wasn’t having it, but as he didn’t speak English, the best he could come up with was, “No bus stop please”. Can’t argue with that, I guess.

Keep an eye out for the continuing Baltic adventure in Tallinn, Estonia

———————————————————————————————————————————

If you’ve enjoyed the story, please let your friends know and click the picture you like to Pin It for later :o)

Free Things to do in Vilnius

When it comes to budget travel, the Baltic states are some of the best for value for money. Lithuania is probably the cheapest of all of them. Additionally, there are also many free things to do in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. What’s better for your budget than things that cost nothing, right? The following list could keep you occupied for days! A sample itinerary has been included at the bottom of the article to help you plan.

As an aside, you may be interested to know that the Lithuanian government decided a few years ago to market the capital city as the G-Spot of Europe. With the tagline, ‘Nobody knows where it is, but once you find it – it’s amazing’. They even have a website. You should absolutely take the test on the site for a laugh. Anyway, back to the free stuff!

Search For Street Art

There is art to be found all over Vilnius. There isn’t necessarily one place to see it all though. This means you could easily spend a day wandering around town finding random murals. There is definitely more street art in the old town. Sometimes it’s hiding in back streets, so make sure you explore everywhere! Also be aware that the art isn’t always just confined to walls. There are random sculptures around town too, especially in parks or in front of buildings. There are art installations that light up at night. Sometimes the canvas isn’t a wall, but a car. Just keep an open mind and there is art waiting to be found all around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Lights K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Car Art

Free Things to do in Vilnius – City Parks

From small river-side and street-side parks to massive inner-city parks covering thousands of hectares, Vilnius has a lot of green spaces. We’re going to look at four of the main parks in the city for this article because they are easily accessible and contain a lot of interesting and fun things to do.

Pavilnių/Pavilniai Regional Park

First, let’s talk about the Pavilnių/Pavilniai Regional Park, 5 kilometres east of the Vilnius City Centre. The park covers over 2100 hectares, making it small for a regional park but it’s still one of the biggest city parks in the world. It can be accessed from the Pūčkorių Atodanga bus stop or the Pavilnys Train Station. The park has the highest geological monument in all of Vilnius. The monument, called Pūčkorių Dam, towers 65 metres above the city and offers great views. As you can guess, the city of Vilnius is rather flat.

Aside from apparently having the ‘most impressive’ view over Vilnius from the platform of Pūčkorių Dam, Pavilnių/Pavilniai Regional Park has 15 other hills that offer panoramic views over the city. It also has botanical reserves, waterfalls, an adventure park and a river running through it. In addition to that, there is an old water mill and hiking trails within the park’s borders. You could probably spend a whole day there.

Vingis Park

As the second largest park that the city has to offer, Vingis Park is a popular spot with locals. It has a stadium on its grounds that has hosted many international music acts. You might find people cycling or running on the many trails going through the park. Or maybe you’ll get distracted by the pretty flowers of the small botanical gardens.

Bernardinų/Bernadine Park

This park is located right in the city centre along the banks of the Vilnia River. It can be surprisingly quiet, despite its location. It has served a few different purposes and had a few different names throughout history. Now it contains many paved walking paths, sculptured gardens, children’s playgrounds and a giant chess board. Then it has something unique in Vilnius; singing fountains. But only between 9 and 10pm in summer.

Kalnų/Kalnai Park

Kalnų/Kalnai Park is located right near Bernadine Park on the opposite side of the Vilnia River. Its name means park of hills. There are four main hills in the park that you can climb to get a view of the city. One of them is Crooked Hill, where a famous historical monument stands.

Monuments With City Views

As mentioned before, Vilnius is a rather flat city, which means that firstly, it’s great to walk around. Secondly, you don’t have to work very hard to get a decent view of it. As an added bonus, many of the viewpoints in the city come with a free history lesson.

Gediminas Castle Tower

Gediminas, sometimes referred to as the father of Vilnius, was the Grand Duke of Lithuania in the 14th century. He had a dream that led him to build a city around the hill the castle tower now stands on. It was named after the Vilnia river. The tower is the only remaining remnant of the castle built by Gediminas. The great thing about it being on a hill is that you get an almost panoramic view of the city below. To your left you’ll see the old town with all its old-world architecture. In stark contrast, on your right, you’ll see the new town with all its modern metal constructions. It’s also an amazing place to watch the sunset!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Gediminas Castle Tower

Trys Kryžiai/Three Crosses

The historical Trys KryZial/Three Crosses monument lies atop Crooked Hill in Kalnai Park. The crosses are said to be a monument to Franciscan monks. Legend says they were murdered for trying to convert the city to Christianity. Some versions of the legend say they were crucified and floated down the river. Some versions say they were beheaded on that hill. No matter which legend people believed, the crosses became an integral part of the city’s skyline. They can be seen from almost everywhere in town, which means you can get a great view of the whole town from them.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Three Crosses

Free Things to do in Vilnius – Take a Walk Along a River

While most cities in the world will have just one main river, Vilnius has two! Not only that, both have a fair amount of green spaces touching their banks. Let’s talk about the Vilnia River first. While it may be the smaller of the two rivers, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of things to do and see along its course. The Vilnia River winds through the old town and following it will bring you to some interesting sites.

Vilnia River

You may have noticed that three of the four parks mentioned earlier are connected in some way to the Vilnius River. That means a walk along this river gives you an almost never-ending list of things to see and do! Not only that, but it passes through a bit of the old town as well. That means you can see the best of nature, history and modern day living in Vilnius, all from one river. Here are just a few things you might see on your walk –

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. St Anne's Church near the Vilnia River K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Bridge of Locks on the Vilnia River

Neris River

The Neris River forms the dividing line between the new and the old city. It is a 510km river that starts in Belarus and flows all the way to Vilnius. While the Vilnia River winds through the quieter areas of the old town, the Neris River is flanked on both sides by a main city road. Despite that, it can be surprisingly quiet and soothing to walk along its sunken banks. Along this river you’ll see a beach as well as many green spots. You might also spot some street art on some of the several bridges that cross the river.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Neris River

Free Things to Do in Vilnius – 3 Day Itinerary

As you can see, a lot of the things mentioned above are inter-connected. So without any further ado, I present to you an itinerary to help you get all these things done in 3 days. You can even download the PDF version to take with you, using the link below :o)

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Free Vilnius Itinerary Page 1 K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Free Vilnius Itinerary Page 2 K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Vilnius. Free Vilnius Itinerary Page 3

Free Vilnius Itinerary

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve found this ‘Free Things to do in Vilnius’ article interesting and helpful, please tell your friends and click the picture you like to Pin It for later :o)

Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius

What happens when a warm weather person ventures into the Baltics in winter? A lot of complaining about loss of feeling in the extremities of the body. I will never understand how people can live in such horrible temperatures! But I had heard that the old world charm of Vilnius in Lithuania was something that I really needed to experience first-hand. So I put on 20 layers and got myself on a plane.

Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius – Airport or Train Station?

As far as international airports go, the Vilnius International Airport, or Vilniaus oro uostas in Lithuanian, is a bit on the smaller side. It is still the largest of four airports in Vilnius and sees about 5 million passengers through its halls a year. Upon entering the terminal, you could be excused for mistaking it for a train station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport

The nice lady at the tourist information centre indicated which bus went to the old town and where it left from. Luckily the bus stop was just outside the terminal building. So I waited inside, away from the cold, where I could see the bus stop. It was already dark at 5pm.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport Bus Stop

The number 88 bus didn’t take long to arrive. Unlike what I’m used to at home, where you enter a bus through the front door, this bus took passengers through the back door. In my tired state, I just sat down without paying. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realised I hadn’t paid. The driver didn’t seem fussed about this at all and nonchalantly took my €1 when approached later.

The Old Town At Night

Upon arriving at the bus stop near the old town, a short walk from the main road took me to a cobbled street. As lovely and old-worldy as it looked, it really wasn’t easy to walk on. The cobbles were the biggest I’d ever seen. A few metres of walking on that was annoying enough to make me switch to the narrow footpath to the side of the road.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cobbled Road

I went to the old town centre to search for some food. Almost everything was closed except a small supermarket, that looked like a convenience store, and a Hesburger. Hesburger is like a Finnish version of McDonald’s. It actually outsells McDonald’s in Finland and the Baltic states. As options were running low, I settled on the €1 Cheeseburger. It was as disgusting as I thought it’d be.

I grabbed some supplies from the convenience store/supermarket. I didn’t want to eat another cheeseburger the next day. Most groceries were reasonably priced, which was great for the budget. The old town did have a certain charm about it, but it was also a little boring. At the time I thought it could be because it was night and many things were closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Empty Streets During the Day
Maybe it’ll be a bit more lively during the day, I thought. It was not.

Exploring the Old World Charm of Vilnius by Day

I was struggling to get myself out into the cold, but I really wanted to see the city. Just as I was ready to go, it started snowing! I wasn’t going out in that, so I decided to stay inside a bit longer. I ventured out about 20 minutes later to find not one trace of the recent snow anywhere. Where did it go? Did I imagine it was snowing? No, I’m 100% sure it was snowing. Obviously snow works in mysterious ways incomprehensible to the mind of a warm weather person.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Where's the snow?
Where’s the snow?

Magic snow aside, the cloudy skies seemed to accentuate the beauty of some of the buildings. But they didn’t seem to do much for the mood of the locals. I’m quite used to people being friendly and approaching me wherever I travel. Things were a little different in Lithuania. People just didn’t seem to want to talk. I mean, they would interact with me if I asked for directions, but they’d give the shortest answer possible. They would constantly look like they were uncomfortable with the situation and waiting for any opportunity to get out of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cloudy Sky

This happened with just about every Lithuanian I tried to engage with. All except the smoking lady at the bus station. She never actually spoke to me but her interactions with others were quite hilarious. She shamelessly interrupted conversations smokers were having with their friends to get a cigarette.

The hilarity leveled up when she approached a smoking tourist. She didn’t speak English, so she just stood near the tourist and his friend. Then she started nodding her head and looking at them while they were talking. When they stopped to look at her, she pointed to the guy’s smoke and put her hand out in a ‘give me’ kind of fashion. Needless to say, the poor guy was a bit dumbfounded and handed her a cigarette. He then watched her walk off towards her next victim.

Street Art

I’d heard that a famous political mural with Trump and Putin kissing was near where I was staying. I wanted to find it! Of course, things didn’t quite go to plan. All I had was a street name, so I found that street. The mural was nowhere to be seen. I did find some other art along the way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Street Art

That mural was right across the road from this interesting statement hung on the side of a train..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Train Statement

Was it a sign of a dystopian future? Or are the people of Vilnius really not able to express opinions after 10pm? It would explain their stoic demeanors and standoffish ways. Anyway, back to the art. Once I’d given up on finding the famous mural, I came across this in a back street.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Alien Street Art

If it hadn’t been for this, I’d have never noticed the drainpipe next to it. The thing I had been searching for was there. Sort of.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Putin Trump Mural Sticker

As I couldn’t find the original, this was the closest I’d get to seeing it. Then I spotted an embroidered car. I wondered, how many months would that take to make?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Embroidered Car

The last arty thing I spotted, while not strictly street art, was still cool. What’s the best way to make something stare-worthy? Use coloured lights!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Light Art

Bernardine Park/Bernardinų sodas

On the west banks of the Vilnia River lies Bernadine Park. It has an interesting history that has seen it closed and reopened under different names by different regimes. These days it’s mainly full of manicured beds of flowers and fountains. From there you can access two historical monuments. The Trys Kryžiai or Three Crosses and the Gediminas Castle Tower.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Three Crosses K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Gediminas Castle Tower

I had intended to climb the hills for both of these. The path to The Gediminas Castle Tower from the Bernadine Park was closed for repair. This was also the path that was needed to access another path that led to the Kalnų Parkas and the Three Crosses. That meant that both required a longer walk around the outside of the park to reach their other access points. So I chose to just do the castle tower as it was rapidly approaching sunset.

Experience the Old World Charm of Vilnius – Gediminas Castle Tower at Sunset

The tower is actually a part of the Lithuanian National Museum, the main building of which is a few minutes walk from the tower. The path up to the tower is short, but steep.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Path to the Gediminas Castle Tower

A lot of the path is cobbled too, which makes it a little bit more difficult to navigate. I guess that’s why a funicular has been built to take people to the top of the hill for €1, or €2 for a return trip.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. City View From Gediminas Castle Tower

You can see almost the whole city from the top of the hill. I’ve got to admit that it was a pretty amazing view. The top of the hill was very windy. It was already quite cold without the wind. So you can imagine how difficult it was to take pictures with numb hands. But I just had to get a shot of this amazing sunset!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Sunset View From the Gediminas Castle Tower

Experiencing the Old World Charm of Vilnius at Night

Winter in Lithuania brings about an early sunset. So it starts getting dark before 5pm. The cold seems to really kick in after the sunset too. But that didn’t stop me from checking out the city after dark. Well, that and the fact that I was on the other side of the city from my accommodation and had to walk back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River

The river looked so pretty and peaceful after sunset, even though there was a main road running either side of it. It actually looked quite amazing at dusk.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River After Sunset

I walked alongside the river for as long as I could, before heading back into the city via an intersecting road. It wasn’t long before I came upon another park, so it seems like there’s a fair amount of green spots in the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Lights in Park

This park was lit up with lights that changed colours at intervals. You don’t want to know how much time I spent staring at them! Let’s just say that I was so distracted by the lights that it took me a while to realise that there was an ice rink right behind me. Complete with a disco ball!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Ice Skating at Night

Luxury Bus

Once it was time to leave Vilnius, I got myself a €16 bus ticket to Riga. I was not at all happy about paying that much for a 5 hour trip. But I guess that’s just par for the course in Europe. I remember wondering, when I purchased the ticket, what was so special about this bus? Was there a reason it cost so much?

Well, it was the most luxurious bus that I took in all of the Baltics. Or anywhere for that matter! The seats were roomy and comfortable. The heating was set at just the right temperature. And there was a hot drinks machine that dispensed coffee, hot chocolate and tea! I tried to drink €16 worth of tea, so I think I got my money’s worth!

Stay tuned for the continuing adventure in Latvia.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve enjoyed experiencing the old world charm of Vilnius, please let your mates know and click the picture you like to Pin It for later :o)

Amazingly Unique Adventures Around The World

Are you an adventure lover? We have compiled this awesome list to help you plan your next adrenaline-filled holiday. On a budget! If you’re tired of the same old boring sights and you’re looking for something to get your blood pumping, you’ll love this list of amazingly unique adventures around the world!

Africa

Let’s take a trip to the little-known, but wonderfully welcoming northern African country of Mauritania. Its location just south of the Sahara makes it very flat and desert-like. What Mauritania has that no other country does, is one of the longest freight trains in the world that allows stowaways! It’s colloquially known as The Iron Train.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Amazingly Unique Adventures Around the World. Riding The Iron Train In Mauritania

The loaded up train runs from the iron ore mines in Zouérat to Noudhibou via Choum, then returns to Zouérat empty. Stowaways can hop on at any of the three stations, but competition for the best cargo car can be fierce! You don’t want to end up with a two kilometre walk back to the station because you got on the wrong end of the train!

Where: Zouérat, Choum and Nouadhibou in Mauritania
Price: FREE!! Yes, you read that right!
Adrenaline rating: 😲
Best time to do it: April to June

Further reading Mauritanian Adventure

Amazingly Unique Adventures Around The World – Asia

The second of our amazingly unique adventures around the world happens in the South East Asian country of Laos. You can hire what looks like an inner tube from a tractor tyre and float for three kilometres down a not so beautiful river. The scenery you’ll see on the way is pretty amazing though!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Amazingly Unique Adventures Around the World. Tubing on the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

There are a few riverside bars on the way offering drinks and local delicacies. While the pace of Tubing is generally slow and relaxing, there can be patches of water where the flow is faster than the surrounding water. Or even patches of rocks close to the surface that will conspire to not let you pass. Navigating these can lead to hilarity.

Where: Nam Song River, Vang Vieng, Laos
Price: 55,000KIP/US$6 for the tube and 60,000KIP/US$6.70 deposit returned to you if you take the tube back before 6pm.
Adrenaline rating: 😲😲
Best time to do it: December to February to avoid the crowds, or July to September if you want a faster ride and don’t mind competing for space at the riverside bars.

Europe

Do you like drifting through snow and ice with your butt mere centimetres from the ground? Then this one’s for you! When winter really sets in near the northern Estonian town of Tartu, the winter Go Karts come out. You can hire one of these karts to speed yourself around a frozen lake for 8 minutes.

If you prefer the safety of a car, you can try an Adrenaline Drive, Taxi Lap and Rally Experience. These three options are not quite in the budget range though. Obviously, the weather has to be cold enough for the lake to be sufficiently frozen, so you need a bit of luck on your side for this one.

Where: Lake Võrtsjärv, Tartu, Estonia
Price: 15 for 8 minutes
Adrenaline rating: 😲😲😲😲😲
Best time to do it: January and February, if it’s cold enough for the lake to be completely frozen.

Further Reading: Winter On Lake Võrtsjärv

Amazingly Unique Adventures Around The World – North America

Next up on our list of amazingly unique adventures around the world is Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua. Yes, this is exactly what you think it is! Take a rickety wooden board and fly down the side of an active volcano on it. What could possibly go wrong?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Amazingly Unique Adventures Around the World. Volcano Boarding in Leon, Nicaragua

In truth, the volcano is constantly monitored and hasn’t erupted since 1999. The tour operator gives you safety gear and a full briefing on how to control your speed on the descent. They’ll even record your speed with a radar gun. It seems 40-50km/h is about average, but some speedsters have been clocked at over 90km/h!

Where: Cerro Negro, Leon, Nicaragua
Price: US$25 + $5 park entrance fee
Adrenaline rating: 😲😲😲
Best time to do it: December to February

Further reading: Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua

South America

A tiny little town in Ecuador provides us with our next unique adventure. The Swing at the Edge of the World. It sits atop a 2600m high mountain overlooking a valley. Legend has it that a grandfather who worked at the seismic monitoring station inside the treehouse at the top of the hill wanted to encourage his grandkids to visit by adding a swing to the treehouse. It worked and eventually word got around.