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Baltics, 2019

In late 2019 I took a work trip to Europe, to run 5-day workshops in Sweden and the UK as well as to attend a conference in Finland. In the middle of all that, Keewi and I took a vacation in the countries known as the Baltics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These countries are quite small, so we rented a car in Tallinn, drove down to Vilnius, back up to Riga, and ended back in Tallinn, taking 12 days for the whole thing. This gallery centers on that vacation, although there are also photos from Sweden and Finland before we arrived in the Baltics, and photos from Norwich, in the UK, where I did one workshop.
Stockholm, Sweden
The first workshop I did was in Umeå, Sweden. I didn't have time to take photos there, but I did get some photos in Stockholm on my way out. The food I photographed is moose carpaccio, which was remarkably yummy. The final photo is me at a statue of Linnaeus in Humlegården, a bit of a pilgrimage for me as a biologist!
Turku, Finland
I took an overnight ferry to Turku, Finland, for a conference there. The first photo shows a double rainbow from the ferry just before it arrived. Most of the rest are from Turku Cathedral, in the city center.
At the end of the conference, there was a final dinner at Moominland, a theme park based on the children's books by Tove Jansson. I grew up reading those books, so it was rather magical for me. We took a boat out to Moominland, which is on an island near Helsinki. My favorite characters from the books are the Hattifatteners.
Just before leaving Turku, I took a day trip to the western end of Ruissalo Island for some birding. I didn't take any bird photos (didn't have my long lens), but it was a beautiful spot.
Helsinki, Finland
After the conference in Turku, I took a train to Helsinki and then a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. I had a little time to see Helsinki briefly. Rows 2 through 5 are from an art museum in downtown Helsinki. I didn't get the names of the artists for the sculptural pieces. The paintings are by Henri-Edmond Cross, Maurice de Vlaminck, Magnus Enckell, and Paul Signac, respectively. The park statue of the woman in a wolfskin is a memorial to Johan Ludvig Runebergin, the Finnish national poet and author of the lyrics to the Finnish national anthem (shown on the statue).
Now we've arrived in the Baltics, via ferry from Helsinki. This section is from Estonia, beginning with Tallinn. Tallinn is a charming and beautiful city with a gorgeous medieval center. I would highly recommend it as a vacation spot; you get all the beauty of a European capital, without the tourist crowds of Paris or Rome — and with lower prices, too. This is true also of Vilnius, later in this gallery.
We took a guided day trip to Lahemaa National Park, east of Tallinn. These photos are from several different spots in the park, including a wooden walkway through a bog, a restaurant where we stopped for lunch, a restored manor house (there are many of these in Estonia), and a walk to the Baltic Sea, where swans were swimming (the water of the Baltic, while still salty, is much fresher than the Atlantic). The final photo is of the tallest waterfall in Estonia — which is not very tall. It's a very flat country, with lots of lakes, conifers, and bogs.
After a couple of days in Tallinn, we drove down toward Vilnius, in Lithuania. This next section is from Viljandi, a charming little town en route (if you take the central route rather than the coastal route, to avoid the traffic around Riga). Viljandi has set up a walking route, marked by sculptures of strawberries, that takes you past old ruins and other scenic spots. The paintings at the end, in a small and very nice art gallery, are by Paul Kondas, Juhan Muks, and Markku Arantila, respectively.
Latvia: Gauja National Park
Our next stop on the way down to Vilnius (which is in Lithuania, the southernment Baltic country) was Gauja National Park (which is in Latvia, the middle country). Gauja is a beautiful park that we didn't have much time to explore. These first photos are from Cēsis, a town in the middle of the park that has castle ruins. Apart from the castle it seemed rather boring and depressed, and we were glad we had chosen not to stay the night there.
Now we're in Sigulda, at the southwestern corner of Gauja National Park, where we stayed for two nights. Sigulda was a very nice town; we were pleasantly surprised by it, since our guidebook was not very enthusiastic about it. More old ruins, in various stages of restoration.
These next photos are from Rundāle Palace, south of Riga; we stopped there while driving from Sigulda to Vilnius. Lovely architecture, a beautiful garden, and a gorgeous exhibition of old fans, a few photos of which I've included.
Now we've arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania. This is the only part of Lithuania that we spent time in, since this was a quick trip. We spent a lot of time walking around looking at the beautiful buildings; Vilnius is famous for its Baroque architecture, and it feels like there is a gorgeous church on every corner. Toward the end of this section, I've included six photos of a fresco by Petras Repšys in the Vilnius University Museum; every inch of the walls and the ceiling are filled with paintings like this, all showing the same surreal imagination. I found it quite amazing!
On the way out from Vilnius, we stopped at Trakai Island Castle, west of the city, a neat but touristy castle site that dates back to the 14th century. It has an interesting cultural museum where I took a few photos. One unusual exhibit in the museum was of ornate old carved pipes, for smoking; I've got a photo of a small one here, but some were well over a foot long.
Latvia: Riga
Back up to Latvia now, to Riga, which we didn't stop in on the way down. Riga is filled with lovely old Art Nouveau architecture because, through an accident of history, there was a major build-out there just at that moment in history. We also toured an Art Nouveau museum in Riga, which was small but has some beautiful pieces. We also went to a ballet in Riga, a performance of Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev.
Driving out of Riga back toward Tallinn, we stopped at a nice beach spot north of the city, near Saulkrasti, with views out across the Baltic Sea.
U.K.: Norwich
After our vacation in the Baltics, I went onward to the U.K. to give another workshop in Norwich, at the University of East Anglia. Norwich is a really great town with a lively city center. I had great fish & chips, visited one Norwich Cathedral that turned out not to be the main Norwich Cathedral, and then found my way to the main (much larger) Norwich Cathedral. I ended my day off at Norwich Castle, which frankly was not very exciting; but it did have a pretty nice exhibit of practically every species of bird that has ever been sighted in Norwich. (The bird pictured at the very end is a Gyrfalcon, usually found much further north.) The whole day I kept happening upon Morris dancers, who happened to be having a big convention in town that day; they were very colorful and fun, so that was a neat coincidence!

These images copyright © 2019 Ben Haller. All rights reserved.