I’m happy to present you the first guest article on Odysseys of a Nomad, written by my boyfriend and travel companion Pauli. He will tell you about our legendary Via Baltica Roadtrip through the beautiful Baltic countries…
In June 2013, I bought my first motorbike Suzuki SV 650. Carina was visiting me in Helsinki and when she was checking flights home to Germany it came to my mind that I have a motorbike and free time, why not drive her. I told her about Via Baltica Road and nice Baltic cities and she was pretty easily convinced.
Idea being so spontaneous I didn’t have time or money to start thinking largely about safety gear. I summarized that it is most important to have good helmets, so I went to the first motorbike gear shop and bought two of their best ones.
We took a Tallink Silja Lines ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. It departed at ten o’clock in the evening and arrived before midnight.
In Tallinn, we got some gasoline, drove out of the centrum and shortly disappeared into the dark motorway towards Pärnu. Tallinn centrum is not complicated and there are clear signs out of the city.
Pärnu – summer capital of Estonia
After a couple hours driving with a few necessary stops we reached the city of Pärnu. It was still dark but daylight started to appear already. Our first ride was boring and a bit painful. The only thing we saw was the road with our motorbike lights, trucks and mosquitoes hitting our helmet visors. Although there is not much to see in this road anyways, it is more relaxing to do it at daytime. We also realized that my motorbike in its all beauty is not the best for travel riding due to its hard, tough seats.
Pärnu, the summer capital of Estonia, is a lively little city with white sand beaches, rich culture and good nightlife. There are also plenty of cafeterias and good restaurants. A Local Estonian saying claims that if you didn’t meet your friends during the year, you will meet them all in the summer in Pärnu. I could continue by telling that if you didn’t meet enough Finns, you meet a lot of them drunk in Pärnu at midsummer.
We stayed in the legendary hotel for bikers; Aleksandri Guesthouse and Pub, the only accommodation we booked in advance on this trip since it is very popular and regularly booked out. In addition to rooms in the main building there are 15 wooden cottages available which are usually booked by bikers. The motorbikes parked in front of the cottages give the place a special atmosphere.
After a good sleep we woke up to the sunny weather of Pärnu. We had delicious breakfast in Aleksandri’s (which was included in the price) and went to the city to drive around. Pärnu nicely welcomed us, and we stayed for 5 days, just enjoying the sun, beach and good food with drinks.
From rainy Riga to sunny Jurmala
Eventually, it was time to hit the road again, heading towards Riga, the Capital of Latvia.
We started the Ride from Pärnu to Riga in the sunshine, enjoying the road with around 120km/h speed. It felt much better than our first section at night. With only a few short stops, we arrived in Latvia pretty quickly, passing old border offices which are not in use anymore. Soon the forests and fields started to change to houses, big flats and gray streets. We were arriving to Riga! I thought I knew the city pretty well, but it started to rain heavily, and one wrong turn somewhere got us little lost. It took a while but eventually I recognized the streets again and headed to the familiar hostel.
The hostel I used to stay before in the city centrum was fully booked when we arrived, so we decided to drive to Jurmala and stay there overnight. Jurmala, the “Riviera” of Latvia, is a small resort town in the outskirts of Riga. It has 30 km wide sand beaches and (expensive) luxury hotels. It turned out that most of them were fully booked, prices starting from 150e per night up which was an unpleasant surprise. The evening started to get dark, and with our clothes wet from earlier rain, we gave up in the Hotel Jurmala Spa. We made a deal for a room with 170e including breakfast and SPA. A short but pleasant stay at a Spa hotel was welcomed by tired travelers!
The next day, after driving back to the city and making a few rounds (sightseeing biker’s style), we found our road towards Kaunas in Lithuania.
Stuck in Lithuania
Lithuania, unknown by many, was once a biggest state in the continent of Europe. It is the oldest of the Baltic countries, going back to nearly a thousand years. The fight for its independence and survival has been dramatic. At the moment it is the largest and most populated of the Baltic countries.
Personally, I had never been to Lithuania. I didn’t have much expectations of it, good or bad. I knew that there are some skillful car thefts, and that, like in Finland, the suicide rate is pretty high. However, it turned out to be our favorite country during this trip! The border was also just pass-by, no custom. The ride to Kaunas was sunny and beautiful, a lot of green fields. I heard about a hotel on our way called Via Baltica Motel. We stayed there overnight (30e for a double room). The rooms were okay, the hotel is right next to the road baltica, our window was facing to the parking lot behind. The next day we rode to the city to see if we could find some hotel in the centrum. Via Baltica motel is around 15 min drive from the city center. Arriving to city we saw some old looking flats, and for me a very welcomed view: Hesburger (the Finnish version of McDonalds). Since our food on the road consisted mainly of triangle sandwiches from gas stations, I decided it was about time for some honest Finnish hamburger meals.
Soon after driving around a bit we realized that the city center is rather small. We parked the motorbike and started to walk around, checking out some hotels. Kaunas Hotel right at the city center with Finnish sauna, gym and swimming pool convinced us with 70e for a double room including breakfast. Later it appeared to be the top choice! Staff spoke good English and the service was great from the start to the end. For example, the air conditioning in the room made some weird little noise and we immediately could change to another one with a nice view on top of the main walking street.
Our highlight in Lithuania: my Lithuanian friend suddenly invited us into his family’s summer place in Elektranasi, a small village near the capital Vilnius. For a change we decided to rent a car and headed south, towards Elektranasi. There we got to enjoy Lithuanian hospitality, with sauna, and good Lithuanian barbecue food! This all continued into a drunken night out with Lithuanians, a trip to a castle in a lake by rowing boat, and visit of the beautiful capital Vilnius.
Two days later at midnight we returned to Kaunas hotel, completely tired, and decided to stay couple more days in Kaunas. Once again we stayed longer in one place than planned, which reminds me of my facebook status “stucked in Lithuania, which is great!”. The country positively surprised us with its good food, polite and friendly people, and nice cities. I don’t know yet when but for sure we will return. Eventually, we left towards our next destination, and country to ride trough: Poland
Poland – home of Pierogis and Zubrowka Vodka
Our next country to drive through was the biggest country in Europe with supposedly dangerous traffic. I heard stories from other bikers about 3 trucks speeding next to each other, and warnings of the reckless polish driving mentality. In Poland were supposed to be the most dangerous roads to drive in Europe. That was anyhow not my experience! Driving there was a bit more fast and improvised than in the Baltic countries but I didn’t have any serious situations. Maybe I prefer a little bit the more “improvised“ style of driving myself. I also didn’t see trucks having any kind of speeding competitions.
From Kaunas we drove to Warsaw (393 km) with one stop in Augustow, a small polish village shortly after the border. After a pleasant ride in sunny weather we reached Warsaw – and it was a mess! We arrived there without a plan (as always) and just kept driving around the roads between the skyscrapers. We ended up in Best Western hotel, just outside the city center. Hot Shower, new clothes on, and taxi back to the centrum. We headed to old town to have Pierogis, famous polish dumplings usually filled with meat or potatoes. Those were very good as polish food usually is. We were walking around the old town, taking pics, and had a chat with one waiter asking for a good bar to go to. He recommended one place near his restaurant where we later met him. Evening started to get dark, and the effect of Zubrowka started to darken the memories. I remember walking with some Finnish guys at random streets, drinking a bottle of Vodka bought from a supermarket in one pub, and waking up in the Best Western the next day. Unfortunately, that is all what I can tell from the big city of Warsaw (for more information please contact Carina, I’m sure she remembers more).
On the way out of Warsaw it was the first time we really got lost. After driving around without a clue for a while, I realized I’m not finding a way out, so I made my move and paid 10e for a taxi driver. We followed him from turn to another, and about 20 minutes later we were on a big motorway heading towards Poznan, fast!
This was also our first time to enter a real many-lane motorway during the trip. The road was big and new as we have been told. We could just drive straight. This time we left early in the morning, in our aim to directly head to Berlin (about 500 km). I put up some speed to catch time, and just after half an hour driving I thought this will be easy. Little did we know…
Suddenly the sunshine was gone, and dark clouds appeared. It started to rain, first in drops… and then more heavily. Soon the thunder was striking. It rained so hard that the street started to flood quickly. I couldn’t see anything anymore so I took the first exit out to look for some cover. The road outside the motorway was even worse and soon we were almost swimming in water covering half of the motorbike! I thought it would lose balance but somehow we got through the worst, drove to some housing area and coldly into the yard of some office in front of the doors. Everything was completely wet, and the streets were flooding. After a while, the rain calmed down a bit, and we got back onto the motorway again just to realize that this was not it yet. The rain came back, and started to poor down heavier than ever! Thunder stroked and the road started to flood so badly, even some cars stopped under the bridges. I made my move under a bridge shortly as well. Within 10 minutes 3 other motorbikes joined us. Nobody of the bikers, who normally are friendly towards each other never changed a word, it was funny to remember. The bridge didn’t really give much cover, and it started to wind sideways, which brought us the rain from every possible direction.
Standing there in the wind, with our clothes and shoes more wet than ever, I swore to myself to buy a better clothing for motorbiking before the next trip. I definitely learned my lesson there! After the 2 longest hours ever, the rain really settled down, and we could continue the ride. I went with around 140 km/h without stops. Huge walls on both sides of the straight road made it feel timeless. When we finally started to reach Poznan, the evening sun was already gently drying our clothes with the wind. It started to be late, and our clothes in our bags were completely wet. The decision of staying in Poznan overnight was easy.
The next day we shortly walked around Poznan and eventually started to drive the last section of our trip towards Berlin. On our way we saw the first car accident with 3 cars involved causing a traffic jam. After more than 2 weeks we finally reached the boarder of Germany where we were supposed to arrive long time ago. At the boarder an angry policeman welcomed us with a flash light. Somehow he was really surprised that I don’t speak German. How could he even expect that somebody suddenly comes over the border and doesn’t speak German?! I gave him my documents, and let Carina do the talking. After a while we were allowed to continue towards Berlin. In contrast to the fine brand new polish motorway, the road was in bad condition and had holes in it. I was disappointed of the famous German Autobahn! I also just realized that I had my first language problem during the trip!
Berlin is a beautiful city, especially with motorbike. We were driving around in shorts and t-shirt, visiting the historical sites in a sunny weather. From Berlin I drove to the coast town of Travemünde and took the Finnlines ship back east. Carina went home to South Germany by train.
Having my first motorbike and traveling with it from Finland to Germany was definitely a great experience which I can recommend to everybody. I had some very good driving moments. But to be honest I didn’t get the very special feeling of traveling with a motorbike and being “on the road”. Mainly it’s just hard, sometimes boring, and often gives you muscle cramps. A bigger, faster and more comfortable bike would of course be ease in the latter, but hey, I played with the cards I got. Compared to a road trip by car, motorbiking is also more dangerous, not to mention the weather dimension…
After saying all that, I have to admit that I have been searching for motorbikes on the internet daily lately (the motorbike season just starting in Finland) and I just have this strong feeling that I MUST buy a bike again… and I NEED to go for another road trip again, anybody know what I’m talking about ? 😉
If you want to see more pictures of our trip check out the picture gallery here.
Have you ever been traveling along Via Baltica or done any other road trip by motorbike through Europe? Leave a comment below and tell us about your trip!