Old World Baltics

By Bob Schulman

Hurry, hurry... you can be the first kid on your block (or your city, or maybe your whole state) to take a newly announced guided tour of the Baltic hotspots of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (all independent countries) plus Kaliningrad (a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania). Packaged by the Seattle-based MIR Corporation (www.mircorp.com), the destinations will host visitors on 13-day tours this coming April 25-May 7 and Aug. 1-13.

Trakai Castle in Lithuania. Photo courtesy of MIR Corp.

“This mosaic of countries stretches out along a very unique and historic part of the world,” said MIR Corporation founder Douglas Grimes. He noted they were ruled in early years by the traders of the Hanseatic League and were later occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

The tour begins in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, with its collage of narrow cobblestone streets and red-roofed buildings. Guest will explore the Dome Cathedral on Toompea Hill and visit the Song Festival grounds, where the independent spirit of Estonia has been celebrated since 1988 (when 300,000 people sang their way to the beginnings of independence from the former Soviet Union).

A visit to Gauja National Park precedes a city tour of Latvia's capital, Riga, home to the iconic “old town” and its Art Nouveau architecture. Next, guests will travel across the countryside to the Lithuanian seaport of Klaipeda, pausing at the baroque Rundale Palace and at the Hill of Crosses.

The route to Kaliningrad will take travelers through the 5,000-year-old Curonian Spit, passing fishing villages, white sand dunes and the wood carvings of the Hill of Witches. Among features of the city (known as Konigsberg until the Soviets renamed it in 1946) is a World War II bunker converted into a museum. Its Gothic cathedral and its Hansa Square are reminders of an era long past.

Main square in Tallinn, Estonia. Photo courtesy of MIR Corp.

The tour wraps up in Lithuania's capital of Vilnius, designated as a “European Capital of Culture.” Last in the region to give up its pagan traditions and first to declare independence from the Soviet Union, Lithuania is known for its amber – one of the few spots in the world home to the eye-catching jewelry -- and is celebrated for its bravery. City highlights range from the restored brick Gothic castle of Trakai to the KGB museum, commemorating the travails of thousands of Lithuanians. Guests will have plenty of time to explore shops along its cobbled streets and to dicker for amber and linen.

Price of the trip: The tab starts at $6,595 per person, not including flights from home to Europe and back.

More info: The MIR Corporation has specialized in tours across Europe and Asia since 1986. You'll find more info on the Baltic tour on the company's website, http://www.mircorp.com/destinations/baltics/.

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