The Baltic States by Airbnb – Independent.ie

Thomas Breathnach takes a trip through Riga, Vilnius and Talinn using the homestay website, Airbnb … and makes several friends along the way.

this is the journey as it should be.

Aromas of fresh dill, chewy scrambled eggs and freshly brewed coffee float around the rafters. My hosts preparing breakfast in front of my eyes.

Forget about hotel concierges or insider guides – I’m making my way through the Baltic capitals via Airbnb. It’s a speed-dating story of local accommodation for the modern independent traveler.

Airbnb is an online community marketplace for customers to book accommodation directly from local hosts and, among its eclectic inventory of 800,000 properties across the globe, a Soviet-era apartment building in Tallinn, Estonia, provides the backdrop to my first excavations.

My hosts, and purveyors of my morning drinks, are the team of Triin Kaarde – a classically trained violist – and her fiancé Sasha, a dancer and member of their nation’s proud Russian minority.

“Hey, Russia is never a minority!” he jokes across the table.

It seems that the pan-European community is already taking shape. I might be a real stranger in the shadow of Triin and Sasha’s awesome fitted kitchen, but we are already chatting and lounging like a group of Erasmus students together. It’s like home.

It’s Saturday, and my hosts are off to visit Tallinn’s Balti Jaam flea market, so I jump at the invitation to join the bargain hunt. “They sell everything you never want,” Triin says, as we negotiate groups of Babushka grannies, fiercely embroiled in junk Russian roulette spins.

A day of urban wandering continues, without fatigue linked to the visits of the old town and rich in insider information, around the lively district of Kalamaja.

At nightfall, we reluctantly part ways after 24 hours of bonding – they’re bound by the tram to a house party; I am on the bus for Riga in Latvia. My next Airbnb adventure comes from the fantastic suburban home of Ilze Lidere; a born and raised Latvian artist who, like many of her compatriots, made a stay in Ireland.

“I worked as a florist in Longford for seven years! she shines, welcoming me to her block.

Ilze is a warm character, an eccentric hybrid of Agnetha Fältskog and Phoebe Buffay, with an utterly eccentric house. A dead plum tree covers his hall; there’s a cat named Frida Kalo in her cottage garden, and The Age of Aquarius wistfully comes out of the stereo.

Forget an overnight stay, when can I move in?

Turns out I’m Ilze’s first Airbnb guest, but I’m effortlessly wooed by his mi-casa-e-su-casa hospitality. During my stay we talk about art, life and Longford over fresh mint tea and birdsong – it’s a vibe more reminiscent of a mindfulness retreat than a stay at the inhabitant.

There is still a life beyond, and Ilze later directs me towards the arty district of rue Miera; The so-called “Republic of Bohemia” in Riga.

Along a street art and VW Bugs trail, I watch my host’s beatnik town pass by. Amid global trends in hipster standards, it seems Riga is no different from Kreuzberg, Williamsburg or Stoneybatter. Banjos, pulled pork and Conor McGregor’s barbs are there. The conformity of the design is most certainly excluded.


On the road to Riga, Latvia.

The last frontier of my Baltic hopscotch is Vilnius, the alluring capital of Lithuania, and a city where honey-hued baroque streets buzz with life.

“Every day is a Sunday in Vilnius! says Victoria Diaz, an Argentinian fashion marketer, who, along with her photographer husband Tomas, is my latest Airbnb host. My visit to Vilnius coincides with that of Jonines; The Midsummer Festival in Lithuania, where dozens of free nightly events reclaim its leafy streets.

So Victoria, Tomas and I step out of their retro loft, passing through Vingis Park, where flying fireflies dot the sky above us.

Throughout the night, we explore the photography and art exhibits surrounding Lutgis Square, eventually stumbling upon an open-air recital of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Such Baltic happiness.

The next morning, Victoria offers to welcome the day with the most unexpected of Lithuanian practices… Tai Chi. It turns out that the city of Vilnius, together with the local Chinese community, holds a series of classes across the city every week. Thanks to Tomas’ bike, I pedal for a free morning on the banks of the Neris. It is time for reflection.


Thomas’ base in Vilnius.

If “to Airbnb or not to Airbnb?” is the question, then a resounding “yes” must be the answer.

This whirlwind tour of the Baltics gave me a better understanding of three wonderful cities than I might have expected from hotels and guides.

From Tai Chi to chai tea, these pictures made me want to come back. And when I do, I’ll have a few social visits to pay for.

Thomas’s Airbnb hosts:

In Tallinn, Triin and Sasha offer a sofa bed from € 34 (ad # 2925940). Arthouse Riga offers private rooms from € 57 per night (listing # 1113661). In Vilnius, Viktoria and Tomas offer private rooms from € 38 (ad # 2576006).

AIRBNB: What is it?

Airbnb (airbnb.ie) is an online community that allows any registered property (from a refurbished church in Galway to a refurbished KLM plane at Schipol Airport) to welcome guests. Local hosts exist in over 190 countries, including Ireland, and the site adds a service charge to every booking, increasing the rate by around 12pc. Hosts and guests can leave comments about the stay.

Getting There

Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – the three Baltic capitals – from € 82 return. It also operates routes between Cork and Knock Ireland West to the region. On the ground, Lux Express (luxexpress.eu) is a great way to bus across nations. City-to-city rates from € 20 per trip.

Book the best value for money vacation packages in the Baltic States at independent.trip.ie.

NB: All prices are subject to change / availability.

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