August 98, 30 days
ABOUT BALTIC REP.
A wholly independent travel
by train, by bus, and by taxi
on the bus and in cheap hostel/hotels
perfect climate to spend the summer (+10C/ +25C)
the pride, the quiteness, the strong tradition, the green landscapes
and the cute Vilnius
I spent a lot of time looking for the boat from Tallin or Klaipeda
to Gdansk, but although everybody was sure it existed, nobody knew
you do need:
curiosity for the history of such countries and love for the wildlife
my memories about such small hidden countries are one of the best
among my travels in Europe. I liked the atmosphere either I breathed
in the town like Vilnius and Riga, either the one of the countryside
like in the Aukstaitiia National Park or in Saaremma.
The pride and the humbleness are the characteristics of such
countries that after having fought hardly for their freedom, now,
that they have got it, they feel proud and work for their future.
In the country there's a sort of quietness: few cars in the streets,
trains at 30 km/h...it's
a pleasure to enjoy.
It also turned out to be safe; I traveled by night train or
night buses, I even hitch hiked in Saremmaa and I have never had
problems. I appreciated the variety of landscapes: from the sandy
coast of Klaipeda to the lakes and the woods of the inland areas
till the Estonian high coasts. And what you cannot miss is the train
travel from Suwalky to Sestokay crossing the Lithuanian border:
first of all the summer green landscape through the hill is wonderful
and further the cross of the barbed wired border, if still there,
A lot of things are changing; I hope it'll be an improvement
for those living there, and meanwhile not a loss for those hunters
of "diversities", that I call travelers.
"So far I have travelled
just only through the western Europe; but what there's eastward?".
So I decided to buy an inter rail ticket and leaving from Milan
headed north-east. An inter rail ticket is a special ticket that
lets you travel throughout Europe by train for one month without
any limit on the number of the travels; for sure it's the best way
to do a real (and cheap) travel in the old continent.
Frankly I had no idea about how far I could have got in one month, but I was very
attracted by the small unknown countries called the Baltic Republics, and I would have
done everything to get there.
[In Poland and Czech (Praha)]
The real part of the travel came when I reached the Lithuanian
border in Suwalky, eight hours from the polish capital: the desert
train slowed down till at walking pace when passed through a barbed
wired gate opened by some armed soldiers. It was the gate of running
along the border a long barbed wired fence. Not very far from the
border I arrived in at the Sestokay station where there the gauge
change. In fact the gauge (the distance between the rails) in the
Baltic republics and in Russia is larger than the European one,
hence you have to change train.
I felt definitely in the very east when I got on the Lithuanian
wooden train, and also when I realised the train travelled at 30
km/h!!!!!! It took a while but I arrived in the capital, Vilnius.
I liked the simplicity and the quietness of such green cute town.
While I was waiting for our visa at the Latvian embassy I decided
to hang around the country, and I ended up in Aukstaitija
National Park northward of Vilnius nearby Ignalina. From the
station I hitch hiked to reach a kind of cottage in the middle
of the park where I spent a bunch of wonderful days. This was,
and I hope still is, absolutely an uncontaminated huge labyrinth
of small river, swamps and lakes. I rented a kayak and tried to
have at least a taste of the wildness of the place. It's still perfectly
focused in my mind the image of the woman washing the dishes in
the river near the village, or of that pulling an old trailer loaded
with salad along the unpaved road.
Unfortunately I cannot say that much about Latvia, since I
just stayed half day in Riga. However in that clear sunny morning
I got a positive, even not very representative, impression of the
empty snoozing town. The nice and windy view from the high steeple
of the cathedral and the women at the market standing per hours
with just their hands as stall are my images of the Latvian capital.
Few hours by bus and finally I entered in Estonia!!!!!!!
I directly headed to the Estonian island of Saaremaa in the
Baltic sea and I spent some days having a deserved rest. I cannot
say such island to be an unmissable touristic highlight. In fact
other than the cute town of Kuressaare it's wood, wood and wood,
with same road snaking through. However it turned out to be an interesting
off the beaten track divert where I had fun moving around the island
hitch hiking and experiencing the Estonian kindness.
Retrieved the energies I got in the northmost point of the
travel: Tallinn. It's a cute town but the influence of the Ialthy
tourists coming from the near Finland was quite evident, that's
why I preferred the more typical Vilnius. Anyway it was extremely
nice wandering on the cobblestone streets of the old town inside
the walls, or looking the view of the red roofs from one of the
towers. You can spent a lot of time poking around the stalls that
sell craftsmanship and "matrioscas". Here I fell in love
of a huge one and I bought it, without really thinking how much
I would have cursed to carry it back home, but somehow I managed.From
Tallinn I had planned to reach Gdansk by boat, but despite Lonely
Planet suggested it, there was no boat connection between Estonia
Two hours westward of Tallinn I explored a former russian nuclear
submarine base placed on a peninsula called: Paldiski. The base
was closed to the civilians till 1994, and the last soldiers withdrew
in 1995. Just got off of the train I found abandoned and even burned
high buildings, I guess the old accommodations of the soldiers.
The area seemed quite desert, and further I was going wilder the
place got, till being in a kind of wood, where hidden by the trees
or by the high grass I glimpsed former checking turrets or entries
of underground passages. Then coming back I hanged out in a small
market near the station, where people were queuing to buy the bread;
the atmosphere in this area seemed one step back from the Estonia
I had seen since that moment. This my impression was confirmed
several years later while I was living in Sweden and I knew an Estonian
guy, who freaked out when I said him I had visited Paldiski. He
insisted Paldiski was not Estonia and I had to forget about it.
Returning to Poland I diverted to Klaipeda to visit the Curonian
spit (Neringa), a 100 km long thin strip of sand between the Baltic
sea and the Curonian Lagoon. It was extremely nice walking on this
big sand dunes till the russian border of the Kaliningrad region,
where signs in the middle of nothingness warn you can be shot in
case of proceeding. From Klaipeda I headed to Suwalky entering