Baltic roundtrip May 2015

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by steffa, Jun 27, 2015.

  1. steffa

    steffa n00b

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2013
    Oddometer:
    4
    Location:
    Stockholm, Sweden
    After being on a few job assignments in Tallinn, Estonia I wanted to know the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) a bit more. I am a child of the cold war, born in 1953, and the Baltic countries were a long time parts of the USSR the Soviet Union and then they felt completely inaccessible. Now it´s about 25 years since that time and I know a lot has happened and I was very curious to see how it is.
    I sold the idea to my wife Brith, who drives a BMW R850R and our friends Krister (Honda Africa Twin) and Ewa (Suzuki Vstrom 650 ). I myself drive a Triumph Tiger 800. We have made a number of shorter trips together in Sweden, normally 4 – 5 days so we know we enjoy travelling together and when I brought up the idea they all immediately got enthusiastic.
    We live in Stockholm and the Baltic countries are easily accessible via more or less luxurious ferries so the easy way was to take the ferry from Stockholm to Tallinn (Tallink Silja line, high standard). Homebound I wanted to try the ferry going from Ventspils (Latvia) to Nynäshamn (south of Stockholm) operated by Stena Line (basic standard, lorry freighter).
    We planned a nine- day trip starting Friday May 22<sup>nd</sup> and back in Sweden Sunday May 31<sup>st</sup>. We wanted to eat and sleep well so we booked hotels via the Internet. Especially we looked for ones with secure parking (gated and/ or monitored). Since Tallinn is so easily accessible we decided to skip it this time.
    So our rough plan was to stay in: Narva (close to the Russian border), Pärnu, Jurmala (close to Riga), Daugavpils (east Latvia), Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda and finally the ferry from Ventspils. All in all about 2000 km:s.



    Day 1, May 22<sup>nd</sup>, Friday – Stockholm to Tallinn. Planned distance 50 km.
    We set off on a Friday evening May 22<sup>nd</sup> from Stockholm. Many people go cruising to Tallinn over the weekend so that boat is a party- goers boat. You leave Stockholm at 18.00 CET (GMT+1) and arrive in Tallinn 10.00 EET (GMT+2).


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    The boat goes through the archipelago, it takes several hours before it reaches open water. Several ferries goes to different destinations, the one ahead of us probably goes to Helsinki.

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    You drive on- board together with lorries and cars and once you are onboard the crew tie your bike and make sure it does not move. They even put a rug in the seat to protect it! We let the panniers stay with the bikes and only carry a small soft bag with some clothes and night stuff up to the cabin.



    Day 2 May 23<sup>rd</sup>, Saturday – Tallinn to Narva. Planned distance 250 km.
    Next morning we had breakfast onboard and then it was time to drive off the ferry. When departing Ewa and I was stopped by the police (random selection) and I had to show our passports and make a breath analyse test for alcohol. The regulations are very strict so the limit is close to zero. Of course we passed and could continue. Test like these are no big deal. In Sweden they are pretty frequent and even more when departing ferries like this. When arriving to Stockholm all lorry drivers have to make the test to get the port gate opened. I think it is a good idea – too many people are killed by drunk drivers and on these ferries some people drink a lot.
    Anyway our general plan was to avoid large roads. The big road is road #1 from Tallinn to Narva. No curves – motorway – utterly boring. Instead we chose to go as close to the coastline as possible.


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    The way out of Tallinn via Narva Maantee took us thru some suburbs followed by industry areas which had seen better days. We then had to go a short while on Road #1 before we could turn onto road 260. There we saw the first speed check by the police. In Estonia they are very strict and we saw numerous speed cameras and police and we had heard in advance that speeding I very expensive so we kept an eye on the speedometer the whole time.

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    We passed Kolga, where we stopped and looked at an old mansion, to our disappointment it was more like a ruin. We had hoped we could get some refreshments but no luck there.


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    We pushed on. Next stop was Võsu, a little village close to the coast. It is some kind of recreation spot with summerhouses, rather empty now before the season. In Võsu we found a restaurant, or maybe more of a bar where we got a good meal. They don´t make a lot of advertising, it looked closed, it was only because we asked a local and then saw some cars outside that we discovered it. Later on it was like this on several occasions. It looks closed until you enter.


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    Inside it was warm and cosy, just what we needed. Not many guests but good food.

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    The road went close to the coastline so we stopped and took a closer look.

    Finally we came to Narva. The roads had been good until we came to the city limit. The last kilometers we had had to go on road #1 and it was obvious there was a lot of heavy traffic in and out of Russia. Deep tracks and holes everywhere.


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    Our hotel was very nice. I think it was rather newly renovated and it had a gated parking with video monitoring from the reception so our bikes were safe.


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    Narva is on the border to Russia. On the left you have Russia, on the right Estonia. There are two old forts, one on each side. Ivangorod on the Russian side and Hermanni linnus with the white tower on the Estonian side.


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    The Russian border control is on the left side of the bridge. You can see the cars waiting there. The Estonian (and EU) border control is a bit up on the right side, not seen in the picture.


    Narva was a place for a famous (in Sweden anyway..) battle with the Russians in 1700. The Swedes won that time but in 1709 at Poltava in nowadays Ucraine the Swedish luck turned. The battle of Poltava was lost and that was the beginnng of a retreat into the existing Swedish borders.
    A lot can be said about the history, I won´t bother you with that now, there has been a lot of fighting and bloodshed during the centurys. Let´s hope it stays peaceful as it is right now.


    This was the beginning of the trip, next post will be about the next part of our trip; Narva to Pärnu on the Estonian west coast.
    #1
  2. steffa

    steffa n00b

    Joined:
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    Stockholm, Sweden
    Today I will continue telling about our trip. By he way I will post the .gpx files and some more info about the hotels in the section "Trip Planning". I see the map is not detailed enough to show the small roads we travelled.

    Day 3, May 24<sup>th</sup>, Sunday - Narva to Pärnu. Planned distance 350 km.
    When you’re in Estonia you have to go to a SPA. Pärnu is famous for that so we headed west to the coastlline.

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    We started by following the Narva river to the coast to Narva-Jõesuu. This is a very nice town with nice houses and hotels. We followed the coastline until Jõhvi and then took road 32 south towards lake Peipsi. We could have taken paved roads all the way but we chose to take a small dirt road when we were close to the lake.


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    “Fika” (swedish word for coffee break with something to eat and a chat) is obligatory and a nice way to stretch the legs.
    The passage along the lake was nice but it was impossible to get to the shoreline. Too many summerhouses and no public piers or anything like that.


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    We passed a nice village, very close to the border. Many houses were newly renovated, some were in the process of.

    In Jõgeva we stopped for lunch and petrol.


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    The landscape varies. Sometimes open fields, sometimes forests, sometimes marshes. Everywhere you see storks. Every farm has one. A long time ago they were common in Sweden, but he modern agriculture has driven them away. It´s nice to see these birds.
    The roads were mostly excellent but sometimes a little boring because they were straight for kilometers.


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    In Pärnu we stayed at a SPA hotel with pools and saunas.
    We enjoyed the stay but were too tired to go to the city. We just stayed at the hotel and enjoyed ourselves. This hotel had no “official” gated parking but they were very helpful so Ewa and Krister could put their bikes inside a closed storage area. I had installed burglar alarms on our bikes so I did not feel the need to do so with our bikes. They were visible from the reception and nothing happened during the night.


    Day 4, May 25<sup>th</sup>, Monday – Pärnu to J&#363;rmala. Planned distance 200 km.

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    J&#363;rmala is a fashionable seaside town southwest of Riga. It´s in Latvia so we had to pass the Estonia/ Latvia border on our way there.
    This route took us along the coastline. We tried to go as close to the shore as possible. This meant we unexpectedly ended up in sandy paths sometimes.
    The main road along the coast is dull and feels dangerous. In Estonia there is strict enforcement of the speed limits but in Latvia speed limits seems to be only recommendations. Both trucks and cars drive fast and are very pushy so it sometimes feels uncomfortable. On our way into Riga, with a 50 km/h speed limit we were overtaken by a car that even passed a traffic island on the wrong side. It was a close call since he happened to meet a speeding car as well.


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    The border crossing was just a sign and two flags. We stopped and took some photos.


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    We just headed straight on and came to smaller and smaller roads. Finally it was not more than a track in the forest. The track was sandy with part of loose sand. Tricky riding for us with street- tires on the bikes.


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    It all ended up with a small bridge obviously blocked for larger vehicles.
    Then we decided to go out to the nearby large road. It was the main road to Riga so the traffic was intensive and fast. Not so fun.
    Driving through Riga was a challenge. The traffic is quite crowded and we were not used to the city but the people were friendly so it all went well. There is though one thing to know about and that is the bridge toll when you pass the bridge to J&#363;rmala. It caused me some confusion so I had had to check it out via the Internet. Anyway, suddenly as you go from Riga to J&#363;rmala you have pass a bridge. There are no clear signs in advance; you just get a few seconds to realize that it is a kind of toll bridge. You don´t have to pass through toll gates, the bridge is open, you have to buy a ticket just before you pass the bridge and have it visible in the window screen. And that´s the point. When I checked it out on the Internet I understood that a) it does not apply to motorbikes and b) it does not apply of you stay at a hotel in J&#363;rmala. So we were on the safe side but I did not know that when the police were just in front of of us when we had passed the bridge. You don´t have to show the ticket when you leave J&#363;rmala, it´s just for that passage.


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    J&#363;rmala is a nice place. The beach is wonderful. It´s early in the season so the water temp is around 12 – 14C. No bathing today...


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    The weather was very nice and we found a good restaurant in the sun. Brith, my wife, is on the left. Then we have Ewa and Krister.


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    Here is one example of all the nice houses. They come in all sizes and shapes. One even had pinnacles and towers. A lot of Russians go there and they obviously have a lot of money.



    Day 5, May 26<sup>th</sup>, Tuesday – J&#363;rmala to Daugavpils. Planned distance 265 km.

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    Next day the weather changed. It started to rain. The route should take us along the southern shore of river Daugava eastwards allt the way close to the Bealrus border. The main roads are on the north side of the river so this would be small roads and parts of the dirt roads. To our surprise a large parts of the road were newly built with excellent road surface. The map had indicated dirt roads so it must have been madu during the last year or so. It was only after Jekabpils that the dirt roads started. They were mainly good so it was no problem at all. It was raining more or less the whole day so they were “dust free” but we got quite dirty anyway.Here are some pictures of what the countryside looks like:


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    We stayed for luch at a restaurant called Pie Aigara on road P87 in the village of Jaunjelgava. It was a cosy restaurant with a very friendly lady who spoke only russian. It was no big problem, we all make ourselves understood by some kind of “european” (i.e. english/ german/ french/ arabic/ russian) so in some way we understood each other. In Sweden, Finland and obviously also the Baltic countries we eat a warm meal for lunch. This time a “hamburger” (the minced meat only), bolied potato, sauce and boiled vegetables. All for EUR 2.90. The nearby supermarket also was a pharmacy so we could get allergy medication for our pollen allergy. A bit further down the road at the intersection of P87 and P76 there was a petrol station. The BMW R850R only have an action radius of about 240 km so we have to fill that one up rather frequently.


    We tugged along and came to Daugavpils in the late afternoon dirty and wet due to th rain.


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    Daugavpils has a large railway yard. It seems to be a railway crossing with trains going in and out of Russia. The locomotives are impressive and the trains very, very long. We saw carriages loaded with coal and oil.

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    What a feeling of power when these brutes stood revving the engines.
    Our hotel was located just close to the trains. We had to pass on a footbridge over the railway yard to get to the city center.


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    This is our view from the hotel room.

    It did not bother us. The trains were very slow going and it was peaceful at night.


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    The hotel had a walled parking where we could put our bikes. Here you see me and my Triumph Tiger 800.



    Daugavpils is an interesting city. The second largest in Latvia located only about 30 kilometers from the Belarus border. The city center (Riiga street) is nice. Renovated houses and a lot of shops. The nearby streets are not that nice but it is clearly visible how the whole community is moving forwards and improving. The people seem to be proud of their town. At the hotel we got a lot of material from the Tourist office. They have an old unique fort from the 1800- hundreds. Unfortunately we did not have time to look at that.


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    There were a lot of young people around. Funny that they all look the same all over the western world. This could be from Stockholm, Helsinki or anywhere.


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    We looked for a restaurant but found out that what looked like the local sushi place had quite an extensive menu. We asked the waitress if she could serve us a local specialty and she brought us this. It´s minced meat covered in mashed potato, all boiled and served with melted butter and onion. It might look stange but this is a well-known dish in Sweden called “kroppkaka” (“dumpling”). Not my favorite but you don´t have to eat again for a long while.


    The next part will be from Daugavpils to Vilnius and onwards. I will post that in a day or two. See you!
    #2
  3. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

    Joined:
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    Thanks for sharing your ride, report and pics! Your first 10 posts will be approved and then you can post freely. This is to keep spammers out.

    :lurk
    #3
  4. steffa

    steffa n00b

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2013
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Hi again,
    I´m glad to share the ride because it was such a fantastic experience for us. It was not so very far away from our home country but it we went to places we never had been before.

    Day 6, May 26<sup>th</sup>, Wednesday – Daugavpils (Latvia) to Vilnius (Lithuania). Planned distance 200 km.




    When we woke up it was raining and cold (8 C (46F)). This was going to our toughest day, but we had a room booked in Vilnius and later on a ferry to Sweden so it was just to get going. We had planned a lot of dirt road driving and we also had planned to visit the nowadays closed nuclear power plant in Ignalina halfway.


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    Ignalina had two reactors with same construction as the failed one in Chernobyl. That´s why the EU wanted it closed. Wikipedia has a lot of information about it. Ignalina is much closer to Sweden than Chernobyl but the fallout from Chernobyl anyway caused some problems in Sweden. We are lucky that Ignalina did not fail. I am in favor of nuclear energy but I think we should use the best technology available. Using old and unsecure technology is irresponsible and the consequences can be devastating.

    We started off southeast out of Daugavpils and came quite soon onto dirt roads but soon got into trouble. Since was raining and had been raining the day before the dirt roads were very wet and soft. All of our bikes hade either road tyres (Pilor Road 3) or combi tyres (Anakee 3 or similar) so going on soft dirt or mud was not very fun. Our navigators do not discriminate between good dirt roads and dirt tracks so of course we ended up on a muddy track over a field. The BMW with Pilot Road tyres was really slipping around som my wife made a face plant in a pool of mud. The bike lay on its side motor still running and wheel spinning so I used the kill switch and then attended to her. The speed had been very very low so she had fortunaletly not hurt herself, she was just muddy from top to toe. My wife (63) is a tough breed, she just said “I have been riding horses and it´s just to go back in the saddle and continue if it has thrown you off”. My wife and I did not look forward to more tracks like this, our friends are more used to that, so we decided to turn back and split. Our friends wanted to continue on the dirt tracks while my wife and I wanted to find paved roads. We agreed to meet in the Ignalina village a few hours later. We turned but there was anyway a number of kilometers on dirt roads before we were on the big paved road to Ignalina. It was raining heavily all the time and we got more and more wet even though we haid rain gear on. Especially the gloves were soaking wet and it chills a bit. Luckily we have heated grips otherwise it would have been really cold.

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    This is the plan we followed from east of Zarasai.
    When we arrived in Ignalina we started to look for somewhere to eat. Since all places looks like they are closed it was not easy to find. We asked the locals and they recommended a restaurant by the lake but we did not find it. It was on the navigator but when we went there it looked like a school building or care home for elderly. Definitely not a nice restaurant like my mental picture. Finally we met our frindes in the village center. They had arrived at the same place we did when we reached the village. Ewa had seen someone coming out from a small house that looked like a closed down bar so she tried the door and – voila – it was open.
    There we got good food, soup and omelette followed by tea and coffe and we dried up enough to think about continuing. The original plan was to go by dirt roads close to the border but since it was raining even more and the first part had been slow we decided to take the main road down to Vilnius.

    Krister and Ewa had been able to follow the original plan rather well. At a few occasions they had had to chose other roads since they were muddy tracks but they also found very very good paved roads where the map indicated dirt roads.

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    This picture (taken by Krister) shows how wet it is. It is just where they passed the Latvia - Lithuania border.

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    This is the Ignalina nuclear power plant. (Photo by Krister). The rain seems to have stopped temporarily.
    The landscape here in eastern Latvia and Lithuania is very beautiful. It is not as flat as on the coastside and there are a lot of farms. I would love to go back to this area another time and with some better weather.

    The closer to Vilnius we got the more traffic it was. We had to be very careful since everyone wanted to overtake us. We go about 80 – 90 km/h but the lorries and cars go 100 – 110 som they overtake us whenever possible or impossible. We all communicate with each other so the last one could tell the others when we were being overtaken. We kept long separation so the trucks could come in between us but you have to be alert the whole time.

    The traffic into Vilnius was crowded, we arrived in the rush hour so the last kilometers were slow. The BMW has no radiator fan so it gets very hot when you have to idle or go slow but this time it worked fine and we had no problems at all.
    We arrived at our hotel in the center of Vilnius. This was the most “POSH” hotel during the trip so I felt a bit bad arriving with mud-covered bikes and very dirty panniers and clothes. We stripped out of our rain gear outside and then I asked the bellboy to clean up our panniers before we brought them into the hotel. He was glad to help – it think they were relieved not to get those dirty things into the nice rooms.


    I did not take any photos this day. It was so wet and cold and I would most likely have killed the camera if using it in the rain.



    Day 7, May 27<sup>th</sup>, Thursday – Vilnius (Lithuania) to Kaunas (Lithuania). Planned distance 100 km.


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    Next day the weather had improved. Blue skies and a bit warmer. The distance to Kaunas is just 100 km and there are no alternative roads so we had 100 km of motorway ahead of us. Open landscape, nice temperature and sunny weather made it a nice journey.


    Since it was such a short trip we decided to have a good look at Vilnuis city venter before we left. We didn not have to leave the rooms until noon so that gave us a few hours.

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    Vilnius city center is very beautiful with beautiful houses and a very nice “old town”.


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    This a picture from the main square in the city center.

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    This is the city hall.

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    On the city hall there is a plaque on the right side with a clear statement.


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    In the old town we found a nice confectionery.


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    We just could not refuse to enter and have a “fika”.

    Then it was time to gear up, mount our bikes and get rolling. The sun was shining, the engines humming and we soon got to Kaunas. Can it be better?


    Kanuas is a city full of young people. There are at least a University of Medicine and a University of Technology. I think there are even more schools. English is spoken between the students in the streets. The city center is down by the river, our hotel was on the top of the slope.


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    There was a never ending staircase, this is just the beginning of it.


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    Kaunas city center

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    Nice and warm in the sun!

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    Kaunas old town.

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    Kaunas also has an old fort, beautifully preserved.
    We had dinner in the old town and took a taxi back to the hotel. It cost EUR 3, back home it would have cost at least three or four times as much. I love the feeling in Kaunas and would very much like to go back there.


    Day 8, May 28<sup>th</sup>, Friday – Kaunas (Lithuania) to Klaipeda (Lithuania). Planned distance 260 km.

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    Kanuas to Klaipeda – one more adventurous day. This time we had planned to follow the south side of the river westwards, later we should go close to the Kaliningrad (Russian) border to the coast where Klaipeda is located. Then, as an extra bonus we would take a ferry and drive on the narrow neck of land Kursiu (Kurilska näset in Swedish) down to the Kaliningrad border and back.
    We started off on a paved nice road and after a few kilometers we turned right onto a dirt road going just beside the river. After a while we came into a fashionable area with very nice houses. Later on it again was dirt road and this time it got smaller and smaller and smaller. Suddenly, when we passed an open filed I saw my wife on the BWM R850R riding “off-track” in the field. She had hit a slippery spot and just had to drive into the grass the keep upright. A little while later she was back on the track but once again I saw that it had the wrong tires. Finally we had to stop because we came to a steep slope with deep wheel tracks and mud. Both ladies refused to drive up there but since we had a long way to go if we went back it ended up with Krister and me driving two bikes each up that slope. My Triumph Tiger behaved well, it was a bit challenging but not any problems. Then I took the BMW. It was not until then I really understood how unsuitable the tires was. Luckily the slope was dry most of the way. It had a dry ridge in the middle and as long as I stayed on that I had grip. At the top of the slope there were some small mud pools and it was when I hit one of those that I realized the bike did not steer at all. “Knob of butter in a frying pan” is a good comparison. I managed to stay upright, but it was close... We stopped to have a “fika” and discuss how to proceed. The track seemed to continue with risk of mud pools so we decided to take an alternative route and go on a little bigger roads. After that there was no problems.


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    We stayed for lunch in a small village - Šakiai. Kaviné-Picerija can be understood – Café and Pizzeria...


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    It´s a bit tricky to navigate the menu when it is not in English and the waitresses only speak the local language.

    Finally we came to Klaipeda. On the way there were black clouds but fortunally we did not get any rain. The rout took us just beside the Russian/ Kaliningrad border. At one place Russia was just on the other side of the river. Just forests and water.


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    As soon as we came to Klaipeda we went to the ferry to Kursiu (Road 167). It goes every 20 minutes. You buy a ticket onboard when you go from Klaipeda, the other way is free.


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    We were lucky, as soon as we had boarded the ferry went. It only takes a few minutes across.


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    Kursiu is a small neck of land (mainly a sand dune) going north – south. The road goes close to the water but mostly you cannot see the water because of a lot of trees. It is only halfway down, in Jodkrante you get close enough. There are several hotels and it is a kind of resort. Down at Nida you have the Russian/ Kaliningrad border where you can find hotels, restaurants and fuel.


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    The hotel was a pleasant surprise. It was very good and had a gated parking in the back where our bikes were perfectly safe.


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    That evening we went to the old city. The old town had obviously been rough in earlier times but now it was renovated and nice. This was our last evening in the Baltic states so we were happy to find that the restaurant also had music and dancing. It ws a really nice last evening before going home.


    Day 9, May 28<sup>th</sup>, Saturday – Klaipeda (Lithuania) to Venstpils (Latvia) and on to Nynäshamn (Sweden). Planned distance 216 km.

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    Final day before going home. We had a 200 km trip north to Ventspils. The ferry was leaving at 18.00 EET we had the whole day to get there. Ventspils is in Latvia so it meant one more border crossing – as easy as all the rest.
    There were not many alternative roads and we had a ferry to catch so we drove staright. We had got some “points of interest” from friends like the naval “graveyard” in Liepaja and some old abandoned ex Soviet airfield but we did not have time to look at anything of that. Large parts of the road was newly paved and very good but also straight and sometimes boring.


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    We stopped a few times along the way to stretch our legs.
    Here am I on one of those stops.


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    Finally we came to Ventspils. It´s a small town, basically just a harbor. The ferry is a freighter mostly carrying lorries. You see it in the background here.

    To get on board you have to show all your papers: A passport (or EU identification card) and your “technical” vehicle papers (registration paper part A). This was the first time I have ever had to show that when going on ferries to and from Sweden. Normally you only have to identify yourselves or just show your ticket to get onboard. I guess they want to be absolutely sure you are the owner of the vehicle.That´s good.
    Getting onboard was a little more complicated than usual. First you had to pass the “security” at the port gates and hand over a a part of your ticket. Then you had to wait together with lorries and and cars until a guy showed you could drive up the ramp but first he had to get the other part of your ticket.


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    Onboard they showed you where to put the bike and then they strapped it to a chain.


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    The cabins are good, basic standard. My bunk is on the left, could you guess that?


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    And dinner was basic food. 14 EUR. Quite OK. After that a beer and then to bed. Here you have Krister, Ewa and my wife Brith.

    Next stop Nynäshamn. 06.00 CET in the morning. From there we had only 45 kilometer by motorway to get home. You just drive off the ferry, no customs, no police just drive on. It took us les than an hour to get home.


    Finally, a summary of our trip.
    When I went there I had a lot of preconceptions of what it would be like. Not too positive to be honest. All of them were wrong. I found three very nice countries rapidly moving forward. Friendly, lovely people. Good accommodation and food at very good value for money. Nice landscapes. A fantastic coastline with unbelievable, sandy beaches for miles and miles. Forests, farms and lots of dirt roads in the east.
    The ferry between Nynäshamn and Ventspils makes all this available for us overnight.
    Now I have three more nearby countries to explore! We have only scratched a bit on the surface. We have n number of interesting waypoint we did not have time to go to. I will definitely go back!
    #4
  5. Blader54

    Blader54 Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2012
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    Very nice report about a part of the world that few reports cover! Thank you for posting!
    #5