Does what it says on the tin – picking up where my last blog post left off with the conclusion of the travel chapter of my summer (now only 6.5 weeks behind!):
From Moscow I flew to Vilnius, Lithuania, where I was staying with a friend of a friend, Mykolas, and his family. Mykolas was a wonderful host and did his best to show me the main sights of Vilnius and the surrounding area. Unfortunately it was stinking hot, which significantly decreased all parties’ willingness to be out and about. While I didn’t manage to explore Vilnius as thoroughly as I did the other Baltic capitals (which, given the temperature, I was totally fine with), I definitely tried the most local foods here – local ‘mead’, mutton pasties, cold beetroot soup, potato zeppelins and more.
From Vilnius I was back on a bus to Riga, Latvia, where I arrived late at night. Fortunately I had booked a taxi transfer from the bus because by this stage the broken wheel on my suitcase was well and truly ‘munted’ as we say in NZ.
The next morning started off with a walking tour of the old town, with a very dynamic host – though a lot of his jokes were rather predictable. He did take us round to some interesting sights, picking out certain buildings and things, but I felt overall this was less informative than the tour in Tallinn where we got a better overview of the history of Estonia.
On the walking tour I befriended a Frenchman named Matthieu, and we hung out for the rest of the day – doing a bit of wandering, but mainly just chilling in the park which was actually really nice. We ended up going out for curry as we both happened to feel like it. I really did try to seize that Latvian food opportunities but they were actually pretty few and far between in the old town, so spare ribs and spuds were as close as I got (apart from a ‘taster’ of Riga black balsam which I did not enjoy).
The next day I did another walking tour which was of the city as a whole, and was much better. The guide really knew his stuff, was witty in a more subtle way, and was a lot better at answering general questions people had about Latvia.
I then headed out to see the Art Nouveau quarter, which actually has the highest concentration of art nouveau facades in the world, particularly along Alberta Iela. One of the apartments has been preserved as a museum, which was ok, but nothing special if you’ve seen art nouveau decor before. It actually really reminded me of the Katherine Mansfield house in Wellington, just because of the way it’s an old family apartment all set up to visit, with a kitchen and maid’s room etc.
Comparing my experience of the three Baltic capitals, it is hard to pick a favourite out of Riga and Tallinn. I think I enjoyed Tallinn the most, which was I’m sure because I was there with a friend. The old town was beautiful, and there was a perfect amount of stuff to us to do in the time we were there to stay entertained but also just chill and not be racing round. It was quite spread out though, with public transport needed to get to some of the things we wanted to do. BUT it was very cheap and we had some really good meals in fairly fancy restaurants for around €10.
Riga on the other hand was much more compact in terms of old-city-meets-new, and definitely had much more impressive architecture all over the place, from all sorts of periods. I think it had more outdoor green spaces too. Its main plus is that it is the most convenient destination being the main airport hub for the three Baltic states. However, it was hardly cheaper than France, and I just didn’t get the same feel from it as Tallinn. I guess I would therefore recommended anyone planning a visit to go to all three and decide for yourself!
My departure from Riga started at 5am and involved 12 hours of travel as I flew to London Gatwick, got a bus to Birmingham, and lastly a train to my final destination of Sheriffhales, a village in Shropshire. A simple shower has seldom felt so good. I was in Sheriffhales to visit relatives of ours, who I’d last seen in 2013 (and before that in 2002). The plan was to have some downtime to recover from all the rushing around, but I actually ended up being kept pretty busy for the ten days I was there! I happened to be there over Queen’s birthday weekend, which involved a cream tea put on by the school children on the Friday, a barn dance on the Saturday (featuring lighting rigged on the barn ceiling by yours truly in a tractor bucket), and finally a neighbourhood barbecue on the Sunday. After unbelievably decent weather the whole first week I was there, it of course bucketed down on Sunday. In typical British fashion, the barbecue stoically went on under a hodgepodge of gazebos, and it was actually a really fun evening! Of course, the sun came out at 9pm when we were all packed up.
Aside from that big weekend, one of my highlights while in Shropshire was popping across the border to Wales, where we spent a day. We visited Pontcysyllte aqueduct, known as ‘the river in the sky’ as it is a bridge transporting water (and canal boats) some 38m above the River Dee. We also headed to nearby Chirk Castle and Aqueduct. Later in the week I also spent a morning at the village school having a nosy; being a primary school of three classes it was quite different to my experience in France that’s for sure.
From Shropshire I headed down to Bath in the southwest of England to visit some family friends I hadn’t seen in at least ten years. I had a lovely time staying with them and especially meeting the canine members of the family!
We had a couple of family outings, the first of which was to Bristol where we wandered round Clifton Village, a very nice part of town, and the waterfront. It was a lovely sunny day and nice to feel like I was back in civilisation!
The following day’s excursion to Dorset was not quite as successful as it rained ALL DAY. However, after two hours in the car, with the dogs, we were bloody well soldiering on. Thankfully, the 30 minutes walking uphill through cloud with zero visibility paid off with some decent views at the end – even if it did continue to rain on us as we ate our picnic lunch on a stony beach. To his credit, Kit stuck to his word and took the dogs for a swim (albeit in a wetsuit). Our reward for being such troupers was – of course – Devonshire cream tea.
Bath itself was a lovely city, full of beautiful architecture. I had been here before when I was much younger and could remember enough to not want to go to the main attraction – THE Baths – again. I nonetheless enjoyed wandering round the streets, drinking in the buildings, and visiting other historical places of interest like the Jane Austen house and fashion museum. We visited a couple of National Trust properties in the area too.
Another Very Important Thing that happened while I was in Bath was the BREXIT REFERENDUM. After being in the UK for several weeks during the height of the campaigning, I was very happy to see it right through to its conclusion. Of course I couldn’t vote, but on polling day I unashamedly tagged along, contributed to #dogsatpollingstations and milked the snapchat filters in honour of the event. Frustratingly, the actual ‘event’ of the votes coming in all happened overnight – so it would have been much easier to follow from NZ. I stayed up till around 1am, when the first ‘leave’ constituency came in, then went to bed. Quite by chance I woke up around 6 so stayed glued to the results until it was all done and dusted. Then I went back to sleep for a few hours. I was only in the UK for a couple more days, but the general atmosphere seemed to be one of disbelief. It was all rather anticlimactic really, with such a ~life changing~ event not really changing, well, anything, in the immediate aftermath at least.
From Bath I headed to Switzerland where I was until a few days ago. I will have a new blog post on that hopefully soon, as I now actually have some free time on my hands AND decent internet! Right now I’m back in Lyon and on the all too familiar grind of flat hunting and sorting out some administrative stuff before I start my new job on the 1st of September. It’s definitely nice to be back in familiar territory and no longer on the move. Fingers crossed for a swift resolution to the housing saga! A suivre…
A très bientôt,