By Scott Carlson
Baltics and Beyond, a St. Anthony Park-based travel agency, is deepening its niche travel business.
Company owner Cindy Bielke recently announced that beginning in 2022 St. Anthony Park resident Peter Kalnin will lead the agency in developing and conducting new European travel itineraries and tours in the Baltics.
“Our travelers will benefit from the deep knowledge and on-the-ground connections that Peter will bring to every Baltics and Beyond tour,” Bielke said. “As a former language teacher and student of European history, Peter also is well experienced in making foreign travel and new cultures come alive in engaging and interesting ways.”
“The Baltics have not been over-touristed or overdeveloped and are a relative bargain for budget conscious tourists or people simply eager to get off the beaten path and experience a part of Europe that is entirely new to most travelers,” Kalnin said. “I’m eager to shape tours that highlight facets of European history, crystallized in real living places, that can still be experienced in meaningful ways today.”
Bielke, a St. Anthony Park resident, founded Baltics and Beyond Travel in 2018. The company’s first tour included 22 travelers to Latvia in 2019. That group visited much of western Latvia, in addition to several days in the Latvian capital city of Riga. The group included members of the House of Hope Presbyterian Church of Saint Paul’s youth choir, who performed in multiple Latvian churches as part of the tour arrangements.
Kalnin, a fluent Latvian and German speaker with a master’s degree in European history from the University of Chicago, will lead Baltics and Beyond tours in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and other European countries next year. He recently relocated to Riga, Latvia, and is doing translation and other projects for the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia besides his work with Baltics and Beyond.
Navigating the global pandemic has been challenging for Baltics and Beyond. The travel agency postponed tours in 2020 and 2021.
“Like most travel companies, we paused and waited to see what was going to happen,” Bielke told the Bugle. “The safety of our travelers remains a top priority. We did not want to encourage travel when things were so uncertain.
“Now that many are vaccinated, Covid has become a manageable challenge,” Bielke continued. “But we still need to stay attuned to the risks and we will adjust tour dates if infection rates warrant that.
“We offer a guarantee that travel deposits will be returned in full if a Baltics and Beyond traveler needs to cancel due to a Covid infection. We also provide travel insurance, just in case.”
The three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are located across the Baltic Sea from Sweden, bordering Russia, Belarus and Poland on the northern European lowlands.
According to a press statement, Kalnin was born in Minneapolis and raised in Oregon. His parents were immigrants from the Republic of Latvia and spoke their native language at home. For the past 20 years Kalnin has been a teacher, mostly of high school German in Minnesota, but also English as a Second Language and primary grade German at an international school near Berlin, Germany. He has been active in the Minnesota Latvian community, singing in Latvian choirs and ensembles, as well as teaching the language to children and adult learners.
Meanwhile, Bielke has had a longstanding interest in the Baltics. Her father was a native Latvian forced to leave the country as a war refugee during WWII. And about 10 years ago, she began regularly visiting the Baltics.
“I decided to start Baltics and Beyond Travel to share this delightful, mysterious part of the world with other Americans,” said Bielke, a former marketing and event management professional. “Our tours are designed to give people a sense of that history and context, while also providing unique, fun and relatively affordable travel experiences.”
For further information on Baltics and Beyond and upcoming tours, visit its website at www.balticsandbeyond.net. For early bird specials and other information, email Bielke at email@example.com.
Scott Carlson is managing editor of the Bugle.