6 Obscure – but Vital – Aspects of the Undiscovered Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, lined up along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in northern Europe, stepped out from the shadow of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century.
Lithuania was first to reinstate independence, in 1990, and the others soon followed. Since then, these beautiful pastoral countries have become flourishing members of the European Union, considering themselves kin with the Nordic countries across the water, rather than their closer neighbors, Russia, Belarus, and Poland.
In 2018, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will each celebrate 100 years of statehood. The celebrations are so big in Latvia, the country has pledged to ! Lithuania and Estonia also have hefty celebrations planned. There’s never been a better time to visit these Baltic countries.
The Old Towns of each of their capitals – Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with cobbled streets and handsome medieval churches . Each of the three independent Baltic nations has a rich history and a variegated cultural heritage – which makes visiting all three of them a fascinating journey.
But besides their complicated histories and red-roofed capitals, there are other reasons to travel to the Baltics. Here are two striking elements for each of these yet-to-be-discovered countries that make them so arresting.
- Estonia: Music and the Internet
- Latvia: Art Nouveau and – Drone Boarding?
- Lithuania: Amber and Birding
Estonia: Music and the Internet
Estonia lies just across the Baltic Sea from Finland, and its people are closely related to the Finns. Approximately 1,500 islands dot the Estonian coastline, and 1,110 lakes glisten in the countryside. Large tracts of forest harbor the European lynx, brown bear and moose. Estonia’s citizens were responsible for the Singing Revolution in 1988, which eventually resulted in the restoration of its independence from the Soviet Union.
The blossoming of Estonian national identity in the 19th century was inspired partly by the recognition of the riches of Estonian folk music. The country’s first Song Festival was held in 1869, and today Estonia claims written records of some 133,000 folk songs, one of the largest collections in the world. In Tallinn, you can visit the Song Festival Grounds where Estonians defied the Soviet Union in 1988 by singing forbidden songs, and where every five years an enormous international festival is held.
By 2007, online voting became available, and by 2012, most people were filing their taxes online. In parliament, according to , “every draft law is available to the public to read online, at every stage of the legislative process; a complete breakdown of the substance and authorship of every change offers significant transparency over lobbying and potential corruption.”
How did it happen? Held back by the Soviet’s forced annexation, the country was able to start with a clean electronic slate in 1991, and built its information infrastructure from the ground up, skipping the cumbersome paper-clogged bureaucracy of the 20th century. Today e-Estonia, as it’s called, features one of the world’s fastest broadband networks, free WiFi nearly everywhere, online government services, and the headquarters of NATO’s cyber defense system.
Latvia: Art Nouveau and – Drone Boarding?
Latvia is a green and pleasant land of pastures, farms and forests. Over 42% of the country is covered with trees, mainly Scots Pine and Norway spruce. The Gulf of Riga, a shallow inlet of the Baltic Sea, gives Latvia 531 kilometers of coastline. Latvia re-established its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and was accepted into the European Union in May 2004.
As a subject of imperial Russia, Riga became the main Baltic port, and the city expanded significantly during the ensuing years. You can take a tour a few blocks north of the city center where Riga’s most famous art nouveau buildings are grouped, many designed by Mikhail Eisenstein (father of film director Sergei Eisenstein).
Lithuania: Amber and Birding
A verdant country of rolling hills, deep forests and a lovely Baltic Sea coastline, Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe, and the first of the Baltics to declare the re-establishment of independence from the Soviet Union. Its capital, Vilnius, boasts a baroque Old Town, as well as a life-size statue of Frank Zappa – a heady mix of the old and the new.
In Palanga, along Lithuania’s coast, you can visit the Amber Museum, occupying the former manor house of the noble Tyszkiewicz family, who built the neo-Renaissance palace in the late 19th century. Transformed into a museum in 1963, the stately structure is the perfect foil for the exhibits of luminous amber that it features. The collection reflects the history of amber, its formation and the wealth of information it offers the scientific community about the ecosystems, climate and species of the past, as well as its use for adornment.
Visit the Baltics with MIR
MIR has more than two decades of Baltics travel experience, offering on-the-ground support and quality you can trust and guides and tour managers that clients rave about.
You can explore the history, culture, and landmarks of the Baltics on these MIR itineraries:
Top photo: Celebrations in Vilnius, Lithuania.
PUBLISHED: February 15, 2017