Baltic Republic
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Aukstaitija N.P.
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August 98,    30 days


Kind of travel:
A wholly independent travel

1998 summer

How I moved:
by train, by bus, and by taxi

Where I slept:
on the bus and in cheap hostel/hotels

Baking or freezing?:
perfect climate to spend the summer (+10C/ +25C)

no problems!

What I liked:
the pride, the quiteness, the strong tradition, the green landscapes and the cute Vilnius

What I disliked:
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 where

What you do need:
curiosity for the history of such countries and love for the wildlife


Definitely 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
/'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, is funny.
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 Hungary]
[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 and Poland.
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 in Poland.




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