I’ve found that an important part of enjoying travel is to set realistic expectations. By the time I started planning my Baltics trip, I had already been to most of the “marquee” places and popular destinations in Europe like Italy, France, etc. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had been on my list of places to visit for a while just because of their history, but none of these countries really seemed like I would fall in love with any of them. So I was not expecting this to be an amazing, unforgettable, can’t-wait-to-go-back type of trip – and it wasn’t. In that sense, my trip to the Baltics met my expectations. I was not overly amazed nor disappointed. But at least I satisfied my curiosity, and when I hear these countries mentioned in the news, I have some context to know kind of what they are talking about.
As I was planning, I had trouble getting excited about it until I decided to add the side trip to St. Petersburg. The ferry made me nervous at first because I had never slept on a ship before – but the ferry experience turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip for me. St. Petersburg itself was nice, but the experience of taking the ferry to an exotic place and back – and being there – was really the fun part.
Still, I didn’t leave St. Petersburg devastated that I didn’t have another day. Another night WOULD have been nice, though. I enjoyed seeing and photographing the city’s unique bridges most of all, but it’s time-consuming to do in a big city like that. More time would have helped and might have given me another shot to take night pictures.
I barely spent enough time in any of the Baltic capitals (or the countries themselves!) to be able to claim I know them well. It would take a good week or more in each of the capitals even to start to claim that. Of all the places I saw in the Baltics, Riga and Tallinn were my favorites. Riga is a more substantial “real” city, a big place with a lot to see (and I surely didn’t see all of it). I found Tallinn more “charming” and more relaxing (probably because it is smaller than Riga), yet I didn’t leave feeling I hadn’t see everything I wanted to. I left Riga feeling like I would like to have seen more, even though I found exploring Riga somewhat fatiguing.
Estonia may have been my favorite country, though. Of all the places I visited, I think I’m most likely to return here, probably to see the islands off the west coast. I can imagine building a future mini-trip around exploring Estonia more and maybe going back to Riga for a few more days at the same time. But Latvia otherwise didn’t seem that appealing. I didn’t plan my day trips well from Riga, it’s true – but partly that’s because they didn’t seem that interesting in the first place. I really didn’t like the Jurmala area on the coast. Sigulda seemed like a nice town but the park in the spring was nice but nothing unusual to me; I’ll bet it would be gorgeous in October.
I saw more of Lithuania than the other two countries; I saw four towns or cities (Vilnius, Trakai, Kaunas, and Šiauliai.) The country was more interesting than delightful. I don’t feel a burning need to return and see the coast or anything, like I kind of do for Estonia.
None of the countries had what I could call amazing scenery outside of the cities, though I’ll bet Sigulda in the fall is nice.
In the Netherlands, Delft was a delight – a small town with little to see (for me) but I am almost certain I’ll stay there again when flying out of Amsterdam in the future.
I’m not sure if I would do anything differently on a future trip, except go at a different time of year, when the days are shorter! I was very lucky with the weather (only very rare rain, and I never opened my umbrella the entire trip), but I hated staying up so late to take night pictures. I realize this isn’t an issue for most travelers who might enjoy the long days. For me, an early October trip might work better if I were going back, also to see the fall colors. Maybe I’d spend more time researching day trip options for Latvia next time…