Grand European Travel guest Vickie P. shares highlights and photos from a recent guided vacation she did with her husband to Russia, Warsaw and the Baltic States Guided. Read more to get her perspective on Warsaw, the interesting architecture of Riga, Latvia and more.
Our adventure actually began 9 months prior to our departure when my husband spied a trip that included visits to Warsaw, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. A trip to Russia was on our bucket list and the inclusion of the Baltic states was a bonus. He booked the trip. This was the first land tour we had taken and our first experience with Grand European Travel. The trip began in Warsaw.
The city of Warsaw has been meticulously restored after the devastation in WWII. Using detailed paintings as their guide, efforts to make it the same as before appeared successful. One of our first stops was at beautiful Lazienki Park where we admired Chopin’s memorial amidst numerous flowers and green foliage.
The 1944 War Memorial depicts the Polish uprising noted as the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance during World War II. We also visited the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews which chronicled the events in WWII. Prior to WWII, Polish Jews made up 1/3 of Warsaw’s population. After it was only 1/10th. It was a moving experience.
The Madame Curie Museum in Warsaw deserved a visit, after which we strolled through the old town area admiring all the beautiful architecture. We found local artists with their wares gathered in the square. We had to buy some paintings of the area.
The Barbican built in 1540 is a remnant of Old Town Warsaw’s defensive structure. Like many buildings, it was almost entirely destroyed during WWII and later rebuilt based on 17th century etchings.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a beautiful salute to the fallen. The timing of our visit was great as we were able to observe a changing of the guards performed with precision. The adjacent gardens were meticulously maintained adding beauty to the park.
No visit to Poland would be complete without enjoying the local fare. We enjoyed some pierogi and local beer.
From Warsaw we began our trek through the Baltic states starting with Vilnius, Lithuania where we visited the beautiful church of St. Peter and Paul. We took in all the street venders at a seemingly mile long flea market, stopping to enjoy potato on a stick and a rendition of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Later, we explored the 13th century castle island of Trakai.
On the way to our next stop in Riga, Latvia, we paused at the Votive Hill of Crosses located in northern Lithuania. The hill was a place for locals to pray for peace, their country and loved ones. This symbol of resistance against Soviet occupation evoked emotions of thankfulness for the freedoms we enjoy in America. Each time the Soviets would remove the crosses, they were replaced with even more by the local people.
The architecture of Riga was beautiful. We especially liked the House of BlackHeads originally called the New House built in 1334 and reconstructed numerous times with the latest completion in 1999 following the destruction by the Germans in 1941.
Riga’s Old Town visit included Domkirk and the city walls. I was enchanted by the building with the cat figures on the tops of the building corners. The story about them was quite interesting. The Cat House was built in 1909 and is known for the cat sculptures, with arched backs and raised tails, on its roof. It is said that the owner of the house wanted the cats to be placed with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild nearby, as he held a grudge against its members. It was later ordered that the cats should be turned so as to face the guild house.
Click here to finish Vickie’s story by traveling with her to St. Petersburg and Moscow.