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Former SSRs: the Baltics, Belarus and Back

Former SSRs: the Baltics, Belarus and Back

Old May 1, 18, 11:23 am
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Location: PVD, BOS
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Former SSRs: the Baltics, Belarus and Back


I recently set for myself the long term goal of visiting every country in the world. After my last trip, I decided that a shorter trip to Europe would be a bit easier to plan and execute. This trip really came together at the last minute, with all the planning happening within 2 weeks of departure.

Along with visiting a few new countries, I also wanted to burn a couple of my SWUs as cheaply as possible (within reason). It was a time consuming effort to find a combination of flights and dates that would work, but I did it finally. The hardest part was finding TATL flights on AA metal that had C inventory and convenient onward connections. With the demise of AB, that was easier said than done.

Over the course of 7 days, I would visit 9 countries, fly roughly 12,500 miles and add 7 new countries to my list. The routing I finally decided on is as follows:

BOS-PHL-ZRH-HEL (AA/AY Discount Y Fare with SWU)
HEL-TLL (AY Discount Y Fare)
TLL-VNO (BT Discount Y Fare)
VNO-MSQ (B2 Discount Y Fare)
MSQ-RIX (B2 Discount Y Fare)
RIX-HEL (BT Discount Y Fare)
HEL-CDG-ORD-BOS (AA/AY Discount Y Fare with SWU)

In this report:

American Airlines Business Class: Boston - Philadelphia
American Airlines Business Class: Philadelphia - Zurich
SBB Train First Class: Zurich - Vaduz
Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Feldkirch, Austria and SBB Train First Class: Buchs - Zurich
Finnair Economy Class: Zurich - Helsinki
Scandic Helsinki Airport Hotel
Finnair Economy Class: Helsinki - Tallinn
Hotel Telegraaf Tallinn
Tallinn, Estonia
Air Baltic Economy Class: Tallinn - Vilnius
Vilnius, Lithuania
Belavia Economy Class: Vilnius - Minsk
Minsk Doubletree Hotel
Minsk, Belarus
Belavia Economy Class: Minsk - Riga
Hotel Bergs Riga
Riga, Latvia
Riga, Latvia (continued)
Air Baltic Economy Class: Riga - Helsinki
Scandic Helsinki Airport Hotel
Helsinki, Finland
Finnair Economy Class: Helsinki - Paris
American Airlines Business Class: Paris - Chicago
American Airlines Business Class: Chicago - Boston

My Trip Reports:
10 Countries in 9 Days (CX, KE, QR, TG, KL, BI)
Former SSRs: the Baltics, Belarus and Back
Bangladesh, Burma and Beijing the Long Way (with stops in Laos, Singapore and Tokyo)

A Passage to India with stops in Qatar, Sri Lanka and Scandinavia (AA, QR, UL in J)

Last edited by swingaling; Jan 7, 19 at 11:04 am
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Old May 1, 18, 12:28 pm
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Aa2418 bos-phl

American Airlines
Domestic First Class (J)
Cheapo Y Fare upgraded with SWU
AA2418: BOS-PHL (Boston to Philadelphia)
24 April 2018
Boeing 737-800 (Two Class Configuration)
Seat 3F

Departure: 03:05PM
Arrival: 04:45PM

It had been several years since I'd flown from the domestic terminal at BOS, so I was really in for a treat here. Terminal B at BOS is probably one of the all time greatest airport terminals ever built. The layout is incredibly efficient and intuitive; delays are non-existent. Flying from here was truly a pleasure. How could anyone ask for more? Ok, sarcasm over.

This was a pretty basic flight. Not much service to be had, though I was lucky that we basically had an on-time departure and arrival. That was my primary requirement for this flight and AA met that expectation.

AA Admiral Club
Roughly a 6 mile walk from the check-in area near my check-in area and departure gate. Flying AA really feels like a second class citizen at BOS. The renovated portion of Terminal B is way nicer than the dingy old area by my departure gate (B6-9 area).

After walking a half marathon to the Admirals Club, I arrived to find.... Another fairly generic AC with minimal free food. Espresso, Diet Coke and the snack tower of sadness were all available for free, so that's a plus.

Comfortable enough for a quick snack.

Chips for $3?!?! No thanks, I'll have the free snack mix, please.

After a 20 minute pit stop at the AC, I commenced the 30 minute walk to my gate. There's my ride in all her splendid majesty.

Snapped this during our takeoff roll.

Not much else to report on this one. We eventually made it to PHL and deplaned as quickly as possible to catch my next flight.
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Old May 1, 18, 1:00 pm
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Aa92 phl-zrh

American Airlines
International Business Class (J)
Cheapo Y Fare upgraded with SWU
AA92: PHL-ZRH (Philadelphia to Zurich)
24 April 2018
Boeing 767-300 (Two Class Configuration)
Seat 4J

Departure: 06:20PM
Arrival: 08:50AM +1

After arriving in PHL, I began the long trek from the high numbered C gates to my onward flight in Terminal A. Despite the typical throngs of leisure flyers to Florida clogging the terminal halls, I made it to the BA First Class Lounge in no time. After a quick Diet Coke, small snack and a restroom pitstop, I made the short walk to my boarding gate.

Boarding began a few minutes later and I was quickly ushered on board the crown jewel of the AA fleet. The stately and luxurious Boeing 767-300 was ready and waiting for me. At a spry 25 years young, this bird will soon be destined for a boneyard in New Mexico. It can't happen soon enough.

View from my seat while waiting for everyone else to board.

This is the only time I've been jealous of folks in an A330, Envoy Suite be damned.

Thompson Vantage Seat
This was my first experience with the illustrious Thompson Vantage seat. The reviews were spot on. While it's certainly not the worst J seat I've flown (looking at you TG), it's far from the best. The design is dated and quirky. For instance, there's no built-in IFE, just the clunky tablets handed out by FAs. And the seat controls are in a location that makes it extremely easy to operate by mistake.

It's a far better seat than anything in Y, but I didn't love it. However, it was more than adequate for an 8 hour hop over the Atlantic.


The meal service commenced shortly after take-off and was a pretty efficient affair.

Obligatory drink service with warm nuts. Since I wanted to catch some sleep, I eschewed my customary Diet Coke and went for a seltzer instead.

First Course
I'd had this manchego and melon salad on my ORD-NRT flight last September, but it was still good. The salad was also tasty, though I'm not a huge fan of hearts of palm.

Main Course
Went with the chicken. It was pretty tasty. The risotto wasn't very good; it has a very strong earthy taste that I didn't care for.

Had the tart for dessert and it was also pretty good. Solid B- thus far.

After dinner, I took some Bendaryl and got a solid four hours of sleep. The seat was pretty comfortable for sleeping and the chatterboxes across the aisle eventually shut up, so I could get some rest.

I awoke in the midst of the breakfast service, so I ordered the eggs and ate a few bites. The eggs, potatoes and fruit were decent. The biscuit was excellent, but the cinnamon roll and sausage were not good.

Swiss Alps

Don't fail me now!

Amazingly green in CH. It seemed to be at least a month ahead of the Northeast US, where it was still cold and gray out.

The landing and immigration were uneventful.

Upon arrival, I made my way to the landside pay showers where I pay the princely sum of 15CHF for the use of a shower room. Not a great value by any measure, but totally worth the cost.

Last edited by swingaling; Sep 10, 18 at 11:55 am
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Old May 1, 18, 1:51 pm
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SBB Train to Liechtenstein

After my arrival at ZRH, I had roughly 11 hours before my onward flight to HEL. Since Liechtenstein was on my list, I figured this would be a perfect time to go there for a quick visit. Since it's not near any large airports, I decided to take the train to Sargans, then hop a short bus to Vaduz. From there, I made my way back to Zurich, but instead of going directly back, I made a short detour to Feldkirch. The Feldkirch detour cost nothing, but it also checked Austria off my list.

I full anticipate going back to Austria at some point, but in the the mean time, it's done.

Not a whole lot to say about the train ride. It was pretty straightforward and efficient. Some excellent scenery along the way, though.

Zurich HB

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Old May 1, 18, 2:02 pm
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Vaduz, Liechtenstein

There's really not a whole lot I wanted to see and do in Liechtenstein, so I just walked around a bit and enjoyed the scenery. Knowing how expensive everything is here, I decided against a restaurant meal and brought along some food I'd bought at Zurich HB.

The photos speak for themselves. A pretty little town, but nothing overly interesting. Lots more Chinese tourists than I would have expected, though.

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Old May 1, 18, 2:14 pm
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Feldkirch, Austria

Before long, it was time to catch the bus to Feldkirch, Austria. There was no border check or any other formalities and surprisingly little indication that we were entering a different country. The only real indication was the presence of a disused former immigration checkpoint on the road into Austria.

Overall, Feldkirch was a fairly pretty town and it was a LOT more lively than Vaduz. Definitely a lot more going on here, though it's not a large town by any definition.

The aforementioned midday snack purchased from Brezelkonig at Zurich HB. It was a seriously tasty pretzel, but absolutely slathered in butter. I like butter as much as the next fella, but I don't know how anyone can maintain any semblance of a waistline if they eat these things regularly. I gave up after eating a quarter of this butter-laden creation.

On the bus heading back toward Buchs (via Liechtenstein), then onward to Sargans on a separate bus. Then I had to catch my train from Sargans to Zurich HB. The SBB Saver Day Pass really was a good buy.

Heck of a view from the Buchs bus terminal.

Back on the train to Zurich

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Old May 1, 18, 2:35 pm
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Ay1514 zrh-hel

Economy Class
AY1514: ZRH-HEL (Zurich to Helsinki)
25 April 2018
Airbus 319 (Two Class Configuration)
Seat 10A

Departure: 07:10PM
Arrival: 10:50PM

Prior to departure, I decided to get something to eat for dinner. Cheap and good were my primary requirements. There's an excellent sausage stall outside the entrance to ZRH, which had a great reputation. So, I got some currywurst, fries, bread and a Coke Zero. It was truly excellent. This is my kind of food.

My chariot awaits.

Overall, this flight was fairly quick and uneventful. Not really much to report here. Minimal amenities and decent service. Pretty typical intra-Europe flight, honestly. The only complaint was my seat mate had the nerve to turn off my air nozzle, which was point at me not him. So I promptly turned it back on and problem solved.

First time that's happened to me. Also, am I the only one who thinks the FAs on AY look a bit sinister wearing their black leather gloves?

Last edited by swingaling; May 1, 18 at 7:18 pm
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Old May 1, 18, 5:02 pm
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Originally Posted by swingaling
crown jewel of the AA fleet
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Old May 1, 18, 7:17 pm
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Scandic Helsinki Airport Hotel

Scandic Helsinki Airport Hotel

Upon arrival at HEL, I made my way directly to the hotel for some long overdue rest. The hotel is a fairly long walk from the AY Schengen arrival gates, so it took around 15 minutes to walk from the plane to the hotel. The hotel itself is located close to the airport terminal building. There's also a police station and the AY flight ops center located in the same building. I believe AY flight crews also stay at this hotel when working.

In any event, the hotel is perfectly fine for a night or two. The rooms aren't very large, but the hotel is new and quite comfortable overall. Most importantly, the location is quite good for a layover in HEL. I booked the standard king room, which included free wifi and breakfast.

Anyway, I checked in and went to bed soon after arriving. After a good night's rest, I made my way to my onward flight the following morning.

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Old May 1, 18, 7:41 pm
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Ay1015 hel-tll

Economy Class
AY1015: HEL-TLL (Helsinki to Tallinn)
26 April 2018
ATR 72 (One Class Configuration)
Seat 1C

Departure: 11:55AM
Arrival: 12:25PM

Upon arriving to the airport, I proceeded to the priority security queue. I was through in about 2 minutes flat and in the lounge another minute after that. The whole process was excellent and extraordinarily efficient. The Finnair Lounge was perfectly fine. Decent food and bev selection and lots of seating with excellent runway views.

This was an extremely quick flight taking us a grand total of 63 miles. We boarded from an e-gate to a remote stand. I'd forgotten that the ATR boards from the rear, so choosing the first row wasn't the best idea. On the plus side, the seat next to me was empty and the FA watched the overhead bins like a hawk to ensure the bulkhead pax had space in the bins to store our bags.

The flight was so short that there was no inflight service, which was fine with me. I didn't get any photos, but before I knew it we were on the ground and I was through customs. TLL is a small, but fairly new airport. It's very nice and efficiently laid out. I'd happily fly there again.

Our Air Norra ATR 72 is hiding behind the LOT plane on the far left.

Leaving the airport on the number 4 tram into town. Cost is a whopping 1 Euro. Super easy to navigate.
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Old May 1, 18, 7:51 pm
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Hotel Telegraaf Tallinn

Hotel Telegraaf Tallinn

I decided on this hotel based on the reviews and its location in the heart of the Tallinn Old Town. It's a very nice boutique hotel, and part of the Marriott Autograph collection. The hotel is quite new and very nice overall. I'd certainly stay there again. It also has a very good restaurant, which is a plus.

Not much else to say about it, as I didn't spend a lot of time there.

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Old May 1, 18, 8:44 pm
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Great report and photos! It looks like you had a great trip so far - the weather looks beautiful in Switzerland.
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Old May 1, 18, 9:31 pm
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Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Old Town

What can I say about Tallinn? The old town is utterly charming and beautiful. The architecture is wonderful and in excellent condition. It's my understanding that there's been a significant amount of restoration and preservation done recently and it really shows.

There are tons of quirky old buildings to see, restaurants, churches, shops, cafes and kitschy medieval role playing for the tourists. It's all very well done and it was a joy to visit. I'm definitely planning to visit again one day soon.

Lunch at Draakon

A meat pie, sausages and pickles. Very tasty.

St. Mary's Cathedral

Amazing views from the bell tower of St. Mary's. Cost 5 Euros to go to the top.

A Lada in its natural habitat.

St. Olaf's

KGB Museum

Solitary Confinement Cell

Pavlova for tea time

Room service for dinner. They make an excellent burger.

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Last edited by swingaling; May 2, 18 at 8:06 am
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Old May 2, 18, 9:23 am
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Bt332 tll-vno

Air Baltic
Economy Class
BT332: TLL-VNO (Tallinn to Vilnius)
27 April 2018
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 (One Class Configuration)
Seat 4C

Departure: 08:55AM
Arrival: 10:15AM

Got up bright and early to catch my flight to Vilnius. I made use of the number 4 tram to the airport, which was cheap and reliable. The tram stop was across the street from one of the entrances to the Old Town, so it was very convenient.

A well preserved example of Soviet architecture next to the tram stop.

Arriving at the airport

Some construction work being done on the arrivals and departures entrances. I believe TLL is doing additional expansion work as well.

The lounge was fairly basic. Not very crowded, but not a whole lot on offer in terms of food. There is a rooftop smoking terrace, so I went up there to grab a photo of the airport.

Grabbed a quick breakfast from a cafe in the terminal. The croissant was pretty good.

Then I did some window shopping. Elk sausage anyone?

Anyone fancy a game of chess?

The arrival of our plane was a momentous occasion. There she is in all her glory.

YL-BAY up close and personal

A building adjacent to the airport property appeared to be slightly on fire as we departed. Luckily the prevailing winds were blowing the smoke away from us, so it did not impact our departure.

Good seat pitch for this small plane. Once again, I scored an open seat next to me so I could stretch out a bit.

In the air once again. Did I mention that this was my first flight on a Q400? They are incredibly loud. The engine drone completely drowned out the captain's voice when he made announcements.

Touched down safely in VNO a short time later. The Vilnius airport terminal exterior is noticeably uglier than Tallinn. They also have precious few jet bridges, so most planes board from remote stands.

Overall, this was a pretty uneventful flight. Plane was decently comfortable and it was on-time. Not much more I can ask for. There was a drink/food service, but everything was a la carte, as one would expect from a LCC.
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Old May 2, 18, 11:39 am
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Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania

This being my first trip to Lithuania, I really had no idea what to expect, but my expectations were fairly low. I'm glad to say that Vilnius far exceeded my expectations. The city itself was charming and quite pretty and vibrant. The folks I met were all quite friendly and welcoming of tourists. Another reason I'd been looking forward to seeing Lithuania is that I have a number of ancestors who were originally from towns outside of Vilnius. As far as I'm aware, no one else in my family has been back to Lithuania in well over 120 years.

Vilnius was severely impacted by the actions of the Nazis during WWII. Prior to the war, Vilnius was over 30-40% Jewish. Roughly 95% were murdered during the war and today there are around 2,000 Jewish inhabitants remaining. The majority of survivors immigrated to Israel in the years following the war.

I'd built a 10 hour layover for myself in Vilnius, so I headed directly into town. The number 88 bus leaves from in front of the airport terminal and took me directly to the Dawn Gate, which is one of the entrances to the Old Town. It was fast and cheap. 1-2 Euros each way, I believe.

Since I had so much time in Vilnius, I planned to take two walking tours. A tour of the Old Town and Uzupis and a second tour of other (formerly seedier) parts of the city. Both tours were free, which is really great. Tons of folks from over a dozen different countries showed up for the tours. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Vilnius. They also had pay tours on different themes and the prices were quite reasonable.

Pre-tour Vilnius Walkabout
I had 90min to kill before the first tour, so I walked around the Old Town a bit and took in the sights.

Vilnius Jewish Ghetto Theater Plaque
"The heroic efforts of the Lithuanian Jewish artists in 1942-1943"
The theater remained active until the murder of the ghetto residents.

St. Nicholas Church

Lunch at Cili Pica
Fast service and good food. Also dirt cheap. Lunch cost around 4 Euros.

Old Town and Uzupis Free Walking Tour
The tour left from the old town hall and lasted around 2.5 hours. They worked on tips, but our guide was very friendly and informative. Highly recommended for anyone who goes here.

Site of the former Vilnius Great Synagogue
This was an enormous synagogue that could seat around 3,000 congregants before it was destroyed. On its former site is now a Soviet era kindergarten building.

Bust and Plaque of Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna

Naked woman riding a bear.
Because of course.

Street market

Independent Republic of Uzupis
A quirky and charming artist enclave near the Old Town

Mermaid mascot of Uzupis
If you look into her eyes, you'll never want to leave.

Artist studios

Backpacking Jesus

Map of Uzupis

Awesome street art
The street art in Vilnius was really great overall. It made the city feel really vibrant and alive.

Uzupis Central Square
Angel blowing a horn. Last year they put a big bag of cannabis in the horn and set it on fire for the Uzupis Independence Day on 1 April.

We then had a short downpour and sought shelter in a covered courtyard. It soon passed, however.

St. Anne's Church and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church

St. Michael the Archangel Church

Cathedral Square

Walking back to Town Hall Square to catch the next tour

The Alternative Tour
Halle Market

Millo's paper birds

More street art

Apparently, this was originally a mural of Trump and Putin kissing, but someone defaced it with white paint. So they redid it and painted them sharing a joint instead.

Train station

Tony Soprano

Mural portraying the insecurities felt during the transition from a Soviet economy to a capitalist economy

Former Soviet building turned into a multi-use artist space.
The bust of Lenin was replaced with a giant metal hook

Memorial for an author who used to live in the area

One of very few remaining signs advertising former Jewish owned businesses.
Jews were allowed to advertise for only a very short time in the history of Vilnius and this one was uncovered recently during the renovation of this building. It's been cleaned and preserved remarkably well.

Margutis Square
This is where old babushkas would sell black market liquor after the liquor stores had closed for the day.

Choral Synagogue
The last remaining synagogue in the city. This was saved from destruction because it served as a medical supply depot during the war and Nazi occupation.

In case you have a hankering for Cantonese food

I love the contrast between old and new

Bust honoring Frank Zappa
Because why not

The tour wrapped up there. At that point, I had time to grab a quick snack and then catch the 88 bus back to the airport. The bus was running a bit late due to rush hour traffic, but I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
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