Seeing how I was 18 and thus I could finally exit Romania without a guardian, I knew I had to start visiting Europe… Well, more than I had before, anyway. Where to go? So many choices! I could go… to London or Germany or Prague. So, where did I go? Riga and Tallinn, of course. Plus a daytrip to each of Vilnius and Helsinki. Why? Well, I always felt a “weird” attraction to these countries (Latvia and Estonia). I had even done a geography project on Latvia in the seventh grade. Furthermore, TAROM had recently started a 4x weekly flight to Riga, just in time for me to buy a ticket. This sequence of events set everything in motion.
So here’s a detailed account of my itinerary so you can see what to expect from this TR. The flights took place in July, for who’s interested, but I don’t think the dates are necessary to mention. I will say I left on a Monday and returned on a Sunday.
RO223 OTP-RIX 15:00-17:15 Boeing 737-300 Seat: 05F Reg: YR-BGE
BT341 RIX-VNO 06:40-07:30 Fokker F50 Seat: 10A Reg: YL-BAS
BT348 VNO-RIX 18:30-19:20 Fokker F50 Seat: 06D Reg: YL-BAU
BT363 RIX-TLL 20:10-21:00 Boeing 737-500W Seat: 09F Reg: YL-BBH
BT340 HEL-RIX 09:55-11:10 Fokker F50 Seat: 02D Reg: YL-BAW
RO224 RIX-OTP 18:00-20:20 Boeing 737-700 Seat: 13A Reg: YR-BGG (Retrojet)
Well, let’s say that I wasn’t in the best mood in the first half of 2010; I was depressed. When I bought these tickets I wanted something to lift my depression. This was my way out of there. Of course, then, a few days before the trip started I didn’t want to go. But I did, and in the end, it did make me happy.
OK, so the summer of 2010 was when Romanian airlines got in line with the rest of the world and launched online check-in. Thus, I proceeded to use this service on my RO223 flight to Riga. Of course, this guaranteed me a sequence number of 1, which I’m not accustomed to, to be honest.
The next day I showed up to OTP airport, a couple of hours before the flight. I got the boarding pass from the check-in desk (there was this option, and I like such boarding passes much better than the ones printed at home). There was no one there when I showed up and everything went smoothly.
OTP was in the middle of renovation works; a new wing was being built and the traffic flow in the old wing was modified, providing me with a bit of confusion, as the entrance to “Gates 7-10” became a meter wide door and a very narrow stairway. This is a bus gate and after waiting for boarding to start, I was among the first to enter the bus. After boarding was completed I counted about 40 passengers on the flight. Not too good, but it was a Monday and this is probably not a business route.
Here are two pictures of the construction as it was in July (now it’s virtually complete—amazingly fast for Romania):
A pic of our engine and a pic of our sister ship YR-BGI:
Soon everyone got on our 733 and we were set to depart for Riga. The flight left more or less on-time; I only worry if I’ve got a connection, so I can’t be sure how on-time we were. Our flight path took us over Urziceni (the small town with a Champions League team last season), Bobocu Airfield, Focsani, Onesti, Suceava. Afterward, we left Romanian airspace.
Here is Bobocu Airfield:
Suceava Airport and parts of the city:
Mitocu Dragomirnei, my grandpa’s native village:
I was reading the in-flight magazine, which detailed TAROM’s entry into the SkyTeam Alliance, future plans (double daily LHR flights eff March 2011, for example). I was served a meal, I believe chicken with rice (the typical choice). The meal was good, especially because few airlines offer a meal on a 2 hour sector. Then instant coffee and tea were served; I went for the coffee this time.
Over Ukraine, I saw a couple of interesting cloud formations, here are a couple of pics:
Wing-view in flight:
Seat row in flight (5/6 free in my row):
Soon, the enjoyable flight was over, as we landed in Riga around 17:15. Overall, very good; TAROM offers a good in flight product. Years ago, RO was nothing to write home about, but now, both in-flight and ground services having improved, and with other airlines having reduced their service level, RO became one of the better airlines in Europe (of those whose products I’ve sampled).
YR-BGE in Riga:
Apron views at RIX:
While in Riga, I visited the aviation museum by the airport; it wasn’t exactly the nicest place to go, because most of the aircraft are not in very good shape, but there are some interesting mostly soviet-built aircraft lying around. The Antonov 24 and the Mil 8 are the highlights of the exhibition. There are some places to see the action at RIX, but none particularly good for taking photos of passing airplanes. While at the airport I decided to print my boarding pass for my next day flight to Vilnius and IIRC, the boarding passes for my future flights to Tallinn.
Anyway, here’s the An-24:
Some views of Riga:
Riga is a very nice city to visit, particularly in the center. I haven’t seen many of the typically communist neighborhoods, but according to the places I’ve seen, Riga was the cleanest city I’ve been to. Even if this aspect is true just in the touristy places, it’s still quite amazing, coming from Romania, but also knowing just how “clean” Rome or Paris are. Riga also strikes me as one of the most civilized places I’ve seen, and the city is very nice, well worth a visit, even if just for a couple of days.
Anyway, the night before my flight to Vilnius I didn’t manage to fall asleep for some reason. It wasn’t the fact that I was excited to fly on a Fokker 50, although I was. I really can’t tell why; maybe the single bed wasn’t enough room to toss and turn. I resided at the Green Apple hostel, which is inside 4-star Hotel Riga, making up the non-renovated part of this establishment. Spartan room (as expected), but good prices.
Anyway, the next day at 4:45am I was outside the hotel waiting for the AirBaltic shuttle to the airport. The driver made the least positive impression in Latvia, but even he knew a bit of English so he could communicate. Anyway, after a half-hour of turning around various Riga hotels (including Islande (?) Hotel to pick up a LOT crew), we headed (finally) to the airport, about an hour before my flight was to depart. This was enough time to pass through security, head down to the extremely crowded round terminal (I hope those familiar with RIX will understand), head back up because I thought I was in the wrong place and head back down after convincing myself that was the right terminal. Oh, by very crowded I mean about 3 people… When boarding was called, guess how many people showed up? If you said 4 (me included), you’re right! A very poor LF, but that’s no surprise given the time of the flight (06:50). I don’t think that many people fly from Riga to Vilnius (I may be wrong).
Pics in the airport:
LOT ERJ-145 and a sea of aircraft operating for AirBaltic:
So boarding was completed in about 20 seconds and we were ready to depart early. We did, took off, and after about 45 minutes we touched down (early) in Vilnius. Anyway, VNO terminal was much larger than RIX, but it was very empty. Lithuania doesn’t have a good record in maintaining an airline running for a good period of time, it seems.
Pics in the cabin:
Anyway, in the terminal… Well, let’s just say there was no one there aside from the 4 passengers, the currency exchange lady and the newspaper stand lady (where I got bus tickets). I got on the bus and headed to Vilnius city center—very early. Naturally, when I got there I wasn’t overly impressed. It was much larger than Riga’s center, quite clean as well (the promenade along the river wasn’t that pretty and clean), but there didn’t seem to be much to do (at 8am?... no way!). So I walked around aimlessly and wasn’t that impressed. After a while I visited all I could find in the center, including the highlight, the Vilnius medieval castle. Other than that… Well it’s mostly churches all the way down to the train station. OK, but kinda boring at the same time... If there’s not much else.
Here are a couple of pics of the city and castle:
The area outside the city center (once exiting through Ausros Vartai—the Gate of Dawn, IIRC, although it’s in the south of the city) was typically Eastern European--that is a bit run down. Nothing too bad, though. I got to the train station, tried to buy tickets at the desk, but was sent to the train. After waiting and after a journey of a few minutes, I arrived (and yes, I did pay in the train).
A pic of the airport (looks old, but it’s modern inside):
There was a direct flight to Tallinn, but it was both cheaper to connect through Riga and also I would log more flights… No brainer! The bad part is a connection of 50 minutes. Conveniently, the inbound flight was late, and we boarded and left VNO late. Furthermore, the active runway at RIX was 18, meaning a 50 mile detour; we passed by the airport then we landed almost 15 minutes later. Since this flight was full, pax had to wait for their gate check-ed bags, further reducing my margin. Luckily, once I got to the terminal and ran to the gate. Boarding there was almost complete, so a further 5 minutes would’ve meant a missed flight for me.
New problem: I had put my boarding pass in a different location than usual and couldn’t find it. Finally, the nice gate agent gave me a new one in order to quickly finish boarding. Of course, on board I found my boarding pass immediately.
So, the flight was scheduled as a wingletted 737. The day before the flight, the seat map indicated a F50… So I got seat 9D. Then AirBaltic switched back to a 735 with winglets… Row 9 was in fact an exit row, and luckily the flight wasn’t full… so I switched to 9F.
Wing pics, in flight:
Pretty much on time, we left and had an uneventful flight to TLL. We arrived on-time, landing on runway 27 and docking at an air bridge in the new and quite nice, interesting architecturally terminal in TLL. It’s definitely not your typical bland airport.
View of the terminal (not a very good one):
I got my bus ticket and left toward the city and my hotel. Anyway, I’d planned to fly on Avies’ service to Kardla, but as I couldn’t complete the transaction on-line, I had to abandon the idea, as I didn’t want to waste my time in the airport trying to book this ticket (strange, I know, but I really enjoyed Tallinn and there was nothing to see in Kardla). Tallinn is a very very nice city and I had enough to see for a couple of days; very beautiful and nice city center; overall it was more modern than Riga, but just as nice.
A few pics from Tallinn:
After a couple of nice days here, I took the ferry to Helsinki; when I arrived, the weather was just horrible (13C and drizzle), whereas so far on this trip, I was given superb weather: 25-30C and sunny skies. Anyway, first I went to the hotel and then I started my power walk through Helsinki to see everything there was to see. The bad part? It seems I’ve managed to see all I was interested in, in just under 8 hours. My hypothesis: Helsinki is a very nice city to live (if you’ve got the money), but it’s not that interesting touristically.
Here are a few pics of Helsinki:
At night at my hostel, I managed to print out boarding passes for both HEL-RIX and RIX-OTP flights, for a small fee. The next morning, I took a bus to the main train station and then took the airport express bus to the airport. The weather was still miserable and quite cold, but even so, once past security, I tried to get as many pics as I could of the HEL traffic.
Highlight: Finnair retrojet:
(Sorry for the reflections and the weather!)
Finnair E-170 and E-190:
Air Finland 757:
Blue 1 BAe146 (Avro RJ):
LH and Finnair Airbuses:
Anyway, right around 30 minutes before departure we started boarding (of course, there was a bus involved) and soon the bus left with a reasonably full load of passengers for a Fokker 50. We boarded and left more or less on time. Again, there was nothing special on this flight, good or bad. After landing in Riga, I went out to explore the city more, as seven hours is too much time to spend in Riga airport; the traffic is not that intense and I had seen most of the aircraft types hanging around RIX.
Here are a couple of pictures of Riga Airport from the outside:
And look at what I found inside a museum: wooden models of the Boeing Supersonic Transport:
Anyway, after a nice lunch and a needed gift buying session, I headed back to the airport to wait for the TAROM 737-700 that was to take me home. After security I found a nice viewing area. Unfortunately there was a group of annoying, stupid Englishmen that kept mocking the fact that I was taking picture. I ignored them as I considered the best course of action. I kept taking pictures, of course.
Air Baltic 737s:
Air Baltic DHC-8-400Q:
Air Baltic Fokkers:
Then, the highlight of my day: I was going to fly on the TAROM retrojet, YR-BGG:
Anyway, at around 17:30 we boarded. I chatted for a bit (until we got to the plane—bus again) with a young dude who was returning from his vacation in Riga as well.
We took off on time and had a nice flight again; meal was served. However, my seat was in poor condition this time; this was unfortunate. However, it was one of RO’s oldest aircraft whose interior they have yet to update. There was an airshow on the typical 737-700 TV displays; mostly however, there was information on TAROM’s prices and information about random stuff in our world. Interesting, but I probably would have preferred the airshow (which stayed on for about 20% of the flight). We landed in OTP on runway 08L and after a 5 minute taxi we got to our parking stand.
Thank you, TAROM and AirBaltic, for enjoyable rides and the opportunity to fly on a new aircraft type and the retrojet.
Pictures of YR-BGG:
And of an A310 at OTP:
Finally, an E-170 at OTP, ready to depart for HEL:
Overall, a very good trip. Thanks for reading.
Comments always appreciated. If there’s anything that would make my TRs better, let me know.