Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Christmas in the Baltics

I love Christmas. I love everything about it.  The music, the decorations, the anticipation of what's to come.  All of it.  Most of all, I love the traditions that surround the holiday. While they have changed slightly from year to year, for the most part, I grew up doing the same thing every Christmas Eve and Day and LOVED it.  The Christmas Eve church service followed by hanging stockings and reading Christmas stories.  Christmas morning spent in pajamas opening presents and eating breakfast casserole. The big Christmas dinner with all of my family.  I love all of it. 

I knew when Mike and I got married that we wouldn't be spending Christmas like that every year.  I'm a traditionalist, but also realistic. When we moved overseas, I knew going home for Christmas wouldn't be in the cards.  That being said, December has proved to be the hardest month each year. It's resulted in many tear filled days, unmet expectations and lots of loneliness.   Last year, I spent Christmas morning taking a Turkish test instead of in my pajamas eating breakfast casserole. Our Christmas dinner comprised of just the two of us and was over in about 20 minutes. It was nice, but not what I was used to. 

This year, I felt like such a grinch because all I really wanted to do was skip Christmas.  Don't get me wrong, I loved going to all of the German Christmas markets, decorating our house and listening to Christmas music.  It definitely helped being in a country that celebrates Christmas because everywhere we went was filled with the Christmas spirit. Despite all of this, I knew that spending another Christmas Day of just the two of us would be tough. So, when planning our big winter trip, we decided to add a few days onto the end and spend Christmas in the Baltics!

We flew from Sweden to Tallinn, Estonia and landed there late afternoon.  While it stayed light a little bit longer, it was still dark when we arrived at the hotel around 4:30.  By this point, we're pretty used to that seeing as sunset is normally around 4:00 in Berlin!! Anyways, our hotel was walking distance from the old town, so after we dropped off our bags, we headed downtown for dinner. 

The next day, our first stop was the KGB museum, which we both LOVED! Our tour guide was hilarious and wasn't afraid to make some jokes about Soviet Russia. Definitely worth the tour.  We also went to the maritime museum, which was also really cool!  We saw Estonia's first submarine that could hold four people and got to go down into a WWII submarine, which had Mike giddy with excitement. 

Estonia's first submarine

It's like he's back on Lady Jax!

The next morning, we ventured up the hill to check out the other part of Tallinn that we had heard so much about.  It was a cute little neighborhood filled with charming cobblestone streets and lots of little shops and restaurants. 

Baby Maximus and I in Estonia! Checking countries off the list!

The best part of this neighborhood was the view of the city, St. Olaf's Church and a bird included

We had an afternoon flight to Riga, Latvia, which was only a 45 minute puddle jumper, so we arrived there mid-afternoon, which allowed us to do some exploring.  There is some dispute between Latvia and Estonia over who can claim that they are the creators of the modern day Christmas tree (the NYTimes did an article on it that I found while we were in Riga.  Perfect timing!).

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One of the things to do that kept popping up of things to see was the cats on the roof in Riga.  We didn't know what to expect, but this is what we found. It's said that the man who commissioned the building wasn't allowed into the Tradesmen's Guild, so he had these cats placed on the top of the house with their tails facing the Guild House. 

Our second day in Riga was Christmas Eve, which was interesting because it turned out to be the major Christmas holiday for Latvians.  A lot of things were closed and the Christmas market was pretty bare.   Regardless, we walked around and enjoyed the city for a bit before heading to a bar where we met some other Americans.  I tried to find a church service to go to, but an hour of trying to decipher Latvian online and a lot of tears (those pregnancy hormones don't have any shame) in the bar resulted in me giving up and just saying a prayer that the Big Guy upstairs accepts my apology.  

We woke up Christmas morning in our hotel room and, despite all of my dread surrounding this day, it actually was fine. I didn't regret coming because, to me, it just felt like another day.  The hotel didn't even really do anything for Christmas, which was a blessing in disguise.  We went down for a late breakfast before heading out to a movie (Sing! was good...not great).  By the time we got back, it was time to FaceTime with my family who was awake and opening presents.  It was fun to see all of them, although it obviously would have been better to be there in person.  Plus, we got to watch them open our presents, which was fun.   That evening, we had reservations at a fancy restaurant for Christmas, but by the time it was time to go, neither of us really felt like going.  We ditched the reservations and went for a restaurant called the Meat House.  Mike had a burger and I had pork loin.  It was the perfect way to skip Christmas.

The next morning, we caught another puddle jumper to Vilnius, Lithuania where we spent one rainy night. 

It rained pretty much our entire time in Vilnius, which definitely put a damper on our time there (pun intended), especially because there isn't a ton to do in Vilnius.  It's a cute little town, but there aren't many museums or actual sights to see. The one KGB museum we wanted to go to was closed, so we found ourselves without much to do, but I do think it's worth a stopover in Vilnius. 

That's kind of how I felt about all of these little capitals.  They were all cute, picturesque places  to spend a night or two, but there wasn't a ton to do in any of them. Despite this, they were great places to spend a few days over Christmas. 

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