If you move the cursor over the photos you will find a second one in some cases In Germany we summarize the three states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania within the term “Baltikum”. The three nations however consider themselves as totally independant, who are no closer to each other than Germany to Poland or The Nederlands. The area in the very north east of Europe always fascinated me and so I was lucky that I coulds convice Fritz to do the tour. Although he was a little concerned about the weather. He should be right. The population in the region is not very dense. So we rode long roads without spotting any village or even a single farmhouse. Towns marked on our road map often only consist of a bus station at the beginning and the end and two or three little farms or houses in between.
In 28 days with an average day stage of 91 kilometres we cycle 2,554 k through Latvia – Estonia – Latvia – Lithuania and back to Latvia. We ride our Santana-Visa tandem follwoed by a Bob Yak single wheel trailer. Our gear consist of a 2-person dome tent from Exped (Mira III) and an aged but reliable trangia cooker. Our stuff is packed in Ortlieb and Vaude bicycle bags. We take the ferry from Travemünde (Germany) to Ventspils in Latvia, which takes about 23 hours. Along the coast we ride northbound. In Estonia we pay a visit to the islands Saaremaa and Hiumaa, before we travel further along the coast via Tallinn to Lake Peipsi on the border to Russia. Back in Latvia thr route leads us through the east of the country. Due to a bicycle break down we take a lift by car from Rezekne to Vilnius in Lithuania. Along the river Memel we cycle westbound back to the Baltic sea to the famous Curonian Spit. From Ventspils we take the ferry back to Germany.
… we take the chance to camp under a roof (pic.2)! Again and again we have to bear cold rain. In Cesis we spread out our wet clothes in a café but we cannot allow them to dry out as we need to travel on. On a deserted campground we find a huge covered stage. The people in this region love to sing and a lot of song festivals take place thoughout the year on stages like this. As the weather is unsteady we put up out tent on one of these stages. Nice people who live in the neighbourhood supply us with a big water canister. We heat up the water on our cooker in order to enjoy a warm shower in the middle of the stage. Only thing missing is the audience, but we do not really need it while taking a shower.
The landscape in these three countries is mostly flat. Although we ride very close to the coast, we have seldom the chance to see the water. Between the beach and the roads there is a strip of pine and spruce forest. Therefore we cycle on dead straight roads with little varieties. From time to time we take a little detour over one of the well kept boardwalks down to the beach, which is miles long and deserted. Unfortunatly the sea does not look very inviting for a swim. 10°C, too cold for us.
The three capitals Riga (Latvia), Tallinn (Estonia) and Vilnius (Lithuania) compete in “Who is the fairest of them all?” We chose Tallinn as our favourite. Maybe because it welcomes us with pleasant weather or because we get such a professional tour around by our warmshowers-host Sten, who explains his town and country with a lot of expertise. In any case, all three cities are worth visiting. We are also suprised by Tartu, the university town in the east of Estonia. The elaboratly restored historical centre presenting itself in the warmest sunshine lets you want to stay for a while.
Coming from the north of Estonia we cycle alongside Lake Peipsi southbound. Situated near the Russian border, which runs through the lake, the region is very much influenced by Russian speaking people. Mostly old people seem to be left over in these little Russian villages. Maybe the young ones left in order to find a job in one of the bigger towns. Before we came here we visited some of the giant former estates in the north of the country. There are more but with our bicycle we only manage to visit three of them. Some of them, like Palmse and Sagadi, are beautifully restored and open to the public whereas others fall into ruin like Kolga (s.pic 2).
Estonia / WarmShowers host near Otepää
Sigrit and Helgurd, a couple from Tartu let us camp in the garden of their dacha near Otepää. Unfortunately they could not be with us in their neat littel weekend home. But they prepared a fire for us and heated up water for a shower. Afterwards we cook a delicoius soup at their fireplace. If the weather would have stayed dry, we would have fit in a rest day at this place. But rain sets in again, so we move on.
Muddy roads between Estonia an Latvia
Lot of raod works are going on.And we are the victims of that. Frequently we have to ride gravel roads with ambitious slopes. But it was seldom as bad as seen on this picture. For more than 15 k the road was soaked with rain. In a situation like this you begin to doubt whether a bicycle is the appropriate means of travel. We knock on a door to ask for the way to the next accomodation. Instead of sending us to the next town, the family invites us to stay the night in their house. Only price we have to pay is to drink a lot of local herbal liqueur with our host while reporting all about us and our journey.
Just having passed through Rezekne in Latvia we suffer a bad break down of our rear wheel. The flange on the hub breaks out taking three spokes with it. No chance for a repair. Fritz almost jumps in front of an old camper van with a German number plate, which comes along. The students Felix and Christine who are on a 12-month journey through Europe give us a lift to Vilnius in Lithuanis, 200 k from were we stranded. But even there we cannot find a proper new hub for our bike. So we need to improvise by hooking the spokes which miss the hole in the hub into neighbour spokes. It lookes a bit odd, but our tandem dealer in Germany assures us, that it works. We will have to change broken spokes every now and then during the days to come. Meanwhile Fritz is quite experienced in applying new spokes. In Klaipeda we manage to get a new rear wheel, which works for a while before it shows a dent. You do need a strong wheel for a fully loaded tandem with trailer.
At the mouth of the river Memel we need to take a boat to the Curonian Spit. We ask a couple of people but they seem to think that they can rip off stupid tourists. They want to charge 100 Euros and more. We cycle down to the little port where the ferry (pic. 2) will bring us over to Nida the next day. At cost of 18 Euros for the two of us including the bike. And we even may camp here on the lawn of the marina, paying just a little fee. The hose at the boat dock is our (cold) shower. The evening is warm and we enjoy the singing of a sedge warbler and a romantic sunset.
Lithuania / Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit is a giant dune which is surrounded by water on both sides. Sandy beaches as far as you can see. Although we are in the midst of the summer season and the weather is as bright as it can be, we only spot scattered people enjoying the beach. The Baltic sea is shimmering from light green to deep blue. This is the kind of beach you look for when going on a summer holiday. We are forced to ride our damaged tandem over bumpy bike paths. The police would not let us take the road. Cars only. They seem to be a bit fussy here. Whenever we rode over motorways during the last weeks no one seemed to care about it, but here in a real touristic area, everything has to go the proper way.
Four weeks we pedaled through the three countries of the eastern Baltic region. Apparently we must have experienced the worst summer for ages. It was freezing cold, wet and windy. Only the last week was warm and sunny. A bit of a compensation. Many times during the tour I dreamt that someone would give me a lift home. But now, looking back, I do not want to miss a single day of this trip. The Baltic people (I hope you excuse that, for once, you are lumped together in one basket) are great people and enthusiastic Europeans. All of the younger ones speak perfect English. In every ever so small village you find a public library and free WiFi (pic. 2) is available almost everywhere. Only in the very east, near the Russian border you find life being highly influenced by Russia. All other regions are orientated towards western Europe. Each of the three countries cares for their own language and culture. Due to the flat landscape we did not find scenic highlights like you would in the mountains but the fascinating encounters with the people will not let us forget this journey.