For ten days in early July, four close friends and I made the two hour flight over to Estonia in the eastern Baltic. With a mixture of cultural amazement and drunken puerility we travelled from Tallinn to Parnu, to Riga and back to Tallinn again.
Disregarding the drunken tomfoolery, beautiful women (a look-but-not-touch commodity given four out of five of us had girlfriends) and prancing around in a sauna hat shaped like a frog's head, the two Baltic States had more than a bit to offer.
Firstly, we stopped at Tallinn Backpackers, a small hostel housing around thirty travellers in mixed rooms. We were welcomed by a loud but friendly, moustachioed Australian who told us enthusiastically about the ethos of the hostel - "alright lads, double happy hour is between 7 and 9 and the beers are one euro a can" - and showed us to our room at the top of the turret-like building in the centre of the Estonian capital's Old Town. From there we sampled both the night-life and the many attractions for the more abstemious traveller.
Next, we travelled to Parnu, Estonia's beachfront city. The city was an interesting collaboration of communist utility, post-1992 consumerism and a dash of Estonian folk culture but the considerable dearth of things to do made Parnu our least exciting stop.
Estonia offered a surprisingly varied cultural experience. Of course, we sampled the predictable and went out most nights but the country offers much more. Walking trips across the beautiful, boggy landscape of Lahemaa National Park fulfil a desire to see both Estonia's exquisite forests and - for me - to pose for a photo on an 'erratic' boulder wearing nothing but red swimming trunks.
Riga, and a hostel named "Fun Friendly Frank's," was the third stop on our Baltic tour. A larger, busier city than Tallinn or Parnu, Riga offered a range of activities for us to enjoy: from a seedy nightclub aptly named 'The Club' to a pleasant open air bar in the centre of town.
A trip to a distinctly Nordic beach in Jurmela, near Riga - where a DJ blasted house music and large, hairy men in speedos played volleyball - and a trip to the very informative and seemingly well-known Occupation Museum made Riga an equally diverse adventure.
What was most exciting was the sense that it seemed largely undiscovered by foreign tourists. Out of the way of the traditional Interrail tours, these two Baltic States offered attractions that were quiet and free for us to discover.
Grand country estates, magnificent natural endowments and a history that easily rivals any big European country make Estonia and Latvia more than a destination for drunken English men on stag-dos. The cliché that post-communist Europe has little more on offer than cheap beer, sex shops and football hooligans can be launched out of the window - and good riddance.
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