Lockdown Week 10 – Places we’ve been (Part 3 – The Baltic States).

Nortia in her parking spot.

Still in Lockdown, in our parking spot! Reg has now had his vaccinations and is allowed to socialise. We have been on a few short walks already. Lockdown rules have enabled us to catch up with some family, at a distance and Reg has begun to meet people and dogs.

We wanted to continue our look back at places we’ve been and this time we’re looking at the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Estonia

  • Tallinn – we headed for the campsite in the city but weren’t impressed so headed out of town , slightly instead. We did stop at the Memorial to Communism, which is located next to the viewing platform for the Olympics. We returned to find the Baltic Chain Tile and had a quick tour of the city, but it was an incredibly busy, sunny Saturday.
  • Pirita Harbour – a stellplatz in the marina. The marina was where the Moscow Olympics 1980, held their sailing and rowing events. There are the Olympic Rings, the Olympic Flame cauldron and various other statues celebrating the Olympics.
  • Lake Peipsi – we stopped here at a campsite on the shores of the lake. The otherside of the lake is the edge of Russia! The campsite was lovely, small and quirky.
  • Pärnu – a traditional Estonian town on the edge of a river and on the Bay of Pärnu, in the Baltic Sea.
  • Hiiumaa and Saaremaa – two islands in the Baltic Sea, off the eastern coast. They are accessible by ferry and when we arrived the weather wasn’t playing ball! We were able to visit Hiiumaa, but not Saaremaa, as the ferry between the two was cancelled.

Latvia

  • Riga – our base for three nights and the location of our filming for Erwin Hymer and Etrusco. We stopped at the campsite in the city and wandered around with a film crew (Luke and Frank) for two days. We stumbled on the changing of the guard at the Freedom Monument, visited the Museum of Latvian National History – which told the story of the change from an independent country to a Soviet State and back to an independent country, and found our first tile of the Baltic Chain. We also first met up with Karen and Colin http://www.rewindthegap.co.uk, and their dogs Lily and Oakley, in their Burstner Motorhome, Billy. They are also bloggers for Erwin Hymer and Burstner.
  • Jurmala – the beach resort outside Riga, and where we continued our filming (we also stopped on the way back on a country road to be filmed driving). The beach was lovely and sandy.
  • Salaspils Concentration Camp Memorial – not far outside of Riga. It is a memorial to those who died in the work camps of the Russians, and also as a Nazi Concentration Camp.
  • Sigulda – one of the nicest and friendliest campsites we have stayed at. It is relatively new and on the edge of a lake. We also wanted to go to the Bobsleigh centre, but didn’t check the opening times. Camping “Lakeside” Sigulda, is also where we had to be towed off the grass.

Lithuania

  • Zarasai – our first port of call in Lithuania. Zarasai is surrounded by lakes. We stayed in a campsite by one and had visited the Observation Circle on our way into the town.
  • Geographical Centre of Europe – just north of Vilnius, near the village of Purnuškės.
  • Vilnius – the capital city and a completely different place to the rest of Lithuania (in our opinion)! The campsite on the edge of the centre, was a quirky place and had a lovely feel to it. We walked around the town and found our remaining Baltic Tile.
  • Ninth Fort – another monument to those killed by the Nazi regime.

As always, thank you for reading. We’ll continue our review of places we’ve been, next week. Stay safe.

Week 12: What a Week! Estonia to Slovakia.

You will see as you read this post, this week was one to try us! We set off from Estonia, having to change our plans as the weather had started to change in the Baltics. We headed south, going back through Estonia to a campsite in Sigulda, Latvia. On the way we had seen there was a bobsleigh run you could ride (the summer, slower track) and thought that sounded great. We turned up and it was closed. Obviously when we (I)’d checked the information it was Sunday and open but it closed Monday to Friday! Note to self….

The campsite at Sigulda, was so stunningly beautiful – its one you want to keep to yourself but that’s not fair on the owners. Its called Camping “Lakeside” Sigulda, the website is here if you’re interested, http://www.lakeside.lv/home/ and is on the edge of a lake as its name suggests. There are about four or five hard-standing pitches with electric and a lovely view of the lake. We arrived just as the sun had started to shine and it looked beautiful. The owner was so helpful, he gave us a map of the area and a quick guide to what attractions we should see and told us where to find him if needed. We had a quick tour of the facilities, there is a changing room for the lakeside activities and a shower block, with two male and two female toilets as well as a shower, but so well done it was lovely. It, then, started to rain again and it didn’t stop until morning.

We each had a shower and got ready for the journey to Lithuania, which included a fill up with water. Latvia had the equivalent of two and a half weeks rain in two days, so where best to decide to fill up our 70 litre water tank than on a slight incline on wet, wet grass. The lovely Nortia has a maximum payload of 3850 kilogrammes. I’m sure you know what is coming…. We got stuck. We have got tracks to put down to aid in such a situation but it was too much for them too, all we succeeded in doing was getting more stuck! It was a welcome sight to see the owner and his father coming down the track with a tractor. A few minutes later we were free and wet, but thankfully neither of us had managed to slip or fall in the mud, that would have been an even greater disaster. We headed off to Lithuania.

Just before we crossed the border we were stopped by the Immigration Police, who wanted to see our documents and the vehicle documents and also check for stowaways. We had everything except the V5, but luckily with a bit of blagging and the Policeman’s delight that he was the first to pull us over in 11 countries, we were able to pass through the border. We now have a copy of the V5 for future border crossings!

The first campsite in Lithuania was nice, it was again by a lake and in a lovely town with sculptures and a viewing point over the water, but there was a strange feel to Lithuania, neither of us quite knew what it was but we decided to give it a chance and carried on to Vilnius, via the Geographical Centre of Europe, as agreed by the Guinness Book of Records after the fall of the Eastern Bloc.

Vilnius was a different place altogether. There was a lovely feel to the campsite – The Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping https://downtownforest.lt/ It was quite a mission to get to as the road leading up to it was having major building works (as was the road out , which we only found by perseverance and gritted teeth, as well as a few choice words and U-Turns). The campsite is totally secure and right on the edge of the old town and the Independent Republic of Užupis, with its own Constitution on the walls. We found the magic tile, completing our trio of Baltic Chain commemorative plaques. Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping has a very different feel to a lot of campsites but its lovely and quirky with a slight bohemian hippy chic.

Leaving Vilnius, we headed back out through Lithuania. The drivers here are just as nuts as those in Latvia. They don’t like to sit behind you and don’t care about speed limits. We were quite happy to leave. After a quick visit to the Ninth Fort, http://www.9fortomuziejus.lt/?lang=en another spectacular monument to those who were killed by the Nazi Regime. The story is gruesome and it was the site of the largest mass execution in one day. We headed south to Poland.

Our first view of Poland, ticked all our boxes. We headed to a small campsite in Ryn, It’s called Camping Mazury and despite the Campercontact saying it was closed we had a lovely welcome. We were given a field to ourselves and the dog was allowed to roam free.

On our way to Ryn, we passed a massive (in our eyes) military exercise with tanks and vehicles and lots of personnel. It was just taking place by the side of the road! Later, that evening they all trundled past the campsite – the sound was eerie but better to be on the friendly side than the enemy! The next morning as we were getting ready to leave, there was the sounds of more military exercises, the distant sound of shells and explosives. Our host had hoped that the noise hadn’t awoken us, we thought he meant the night before but…

As we left and headed towards Warsaw, we passed the military exercise in another location and then the biggest garrison, we’ve seen. We also passed a Tesco – so we had to stop, hoping it might have English treats. I was able to buy Tetley Tea Bags and good old sliced bread but not much else (and Polish Tetley Tea is horrible – its kept for emergency use only!)

We reached the outskirts of Warsaw and had news that our friends and neighbours form last week Rewind the Gap had a very poorly dog and wouldn’t be posting for a while, until their dog was sorted – check their posts and blogs for up to date information! We’d looked at Campercontact and found a campsite on our route and settled in for the evening, when Rewind the Gap (Karen and Colin), pulled up alongside us! They filled us in with their news and us with ours,

On Saturday, we left after saying goodbye and wishing Colin and Karen well, we headed to Auschwitz. The roads in Poland seem to all be having a major upheaval and the main A1 autoroute was completely closed – it was the longest stretch of roadworks we have seen! By the side of the busy dual carriage way diversion were people just sitting and selling what appeared to be mushrooms! People did stop – literally pulling off on to the hard shoulder!

Auschwitz, is located in the town of Oswiecim, which looks a lovely place with lots of flowers and statues, but it is slightly overshadowed by Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. We pulled up alongside some other motorhomes and prepared to stay the night. The night passed better than we had thought, but there was a few eerie moments, especially when the trains ran by – reminding you what people incarcerated must have heard and how those new arrivals would have been transported.

The following morning, while taking Albi for a stroll, I noticed a queue for tickets at the Museum, so thought I would go and ask about details. I left with tickets for entry at 09:50 – a quick dash back to the MoHo and get ready! We were sorted and arrived at the Museum at about 09:10! There are security checks before entering – you’ll need ID, passport of photo driving license, then you go through security – like at the airport! All metal, phones and bags go into a tray and you walk through a scanner – as normal I set it off – I had removed my belt, earrings, sunglasses but not my bracelets (the other items I had had to remove one by one in Turkey years ago!) – once removed I was able to pass through! There is also a maximum size for bags – so please check this before you go or you’ll have to leave them in luggage check.

After 10:00 you can not enter the Museum, without a guide. We had bought the guide book and self escorted ourselves around. There were so many tours already in the Museum and it was very busy. It didn’t look too bad when I had got the tickets, so if you are planning a visit and you’re not part of a big group, we would recommend trying as early as possible. Tickets and information are on their website.

The Museum is laid out just as it was – the buildings still stand and the exhibitions are within several of them. There is a shuttle bus to Auschwitz II – Birkenau, but we chose to drive up and look but didn’t go in, the experience at Auschwitz I was poignant enough.

We headed away and drove towards Slovakia. We finally saw hills or mountains – it has been a while (Sweden) since we’d seen anything but flat roads and fields ( a few rises in Lithuania but nothing special!) these were proper hills! We found a campsite by a lake – it’s actually a reservoir but was very beautiful and the sun was shining, so we got out our chairs and chilled.

As always, thank you for reading. We’ll be back next week, with more journey details and tales of our adventure to tell you….

Week 11: Estonia to Latvia and Back.

This week we knew we had an appointment in Riga, Latvia so our arrangements were slightly obscure.

Having left our little harbour-side stellplatz at Pirita, Tallinn, we headed towards the east of Estonia towards the Russian border, First though we wanted to stop and see the Memorial to Communism, the Maarjamäe Memorial. It was up the road from the campsite and almost next t the concrete structure built for the 1980 Olympics. It was quite thought provoking.

We headed along Highway 1 towards Narva, but realising that this would mean us travelling for hours, we set off along the coast road and saw some beautiful coastal villages, instead. We, then headed south and along the shores of Lake Peipsi, whose opposite shoreline was in Russia so we hadn’t really missed the border! Our campsite was directly on the shore line so technically we stared at Russia all night!

Next we set off for Riga, Latvia, where we were due to meet the filming guys for Etrusco UK and Erwin Hymer to have our first film made for their websites. We arrived on Tuesday night having prebooked our pitch for 3 nights. We set about cleaning and tidying Nortia, putting things in boxes and hiding them away. Once complete and not wanting to make a mess we found a curry house on the Wolt app and proceeded to order – a lot cheaper than in Norway. The curry was so nice it was amazing.

Wednesday morning we met Luke and Frank from Juke Media and did some filming in Nortia, explaining who were were and why we were travelling and what having a motorhome like Nortia meant to us. It was a little strange to us and being cooped up inside due to the noise outside and the lighting made it very hot inside. Once complete we headed in to Riga Old Town for some more photos and filming opportunities. It was a long day and eventually we did start to enjoy it a little – its still not comfortable but…

Thursday morning, we had the filming to complete and we headed to the Museum of Latvian History. Having a large well-insulated motorhome meant we could leave Albi behind safely and not worry. We stumbled across the changing of the guard at the Freedom Monument and the Baltic Chain Tile.

We were back in a couple of hours and headed to the beach for more filming opportunities! Of course true to form, it started to rain and we had to wait a while before we walked up and down the lovely white sandy beach at Jurmala. Once that was completed, there was just some driving shots to take. We found a lovely deserted road and filming was completed. We said our goodbyes and thanks to Luke and Frank and headed back to the campsite.

On arrival, there was a familiar vehicle parked directly opposite our empty pitch. It was the Erwin Hymer Burstner Blogging Vehicle of Rewind the Gap http://www.rewindthegap.co.uk/ A.K.A. Karen and Colin, who had been loaned a vehicle the previous year by Burstner (Erwin Hymer) and they had come to see us! We spent a lovely evening discussing the motorhomes, the way of life and freedom you have in a motorhome etc. It was soon very late and we said our goodbyes and would meet up in the morning.

The following morning, we had our own photo shoot, we knew better than to let the opportunity of two Erwin Hymer Motorhomes and blogging teams leave without doing so! This time we said goodbye and headed off back towards Tallinn, first driving to the Concentration Camp Memorial at Salaspils.

Not quite knowing what to expect we were surprised and by the good design and poignancy of the memorial. It also has a slightly eerie feel with the sound of a heartbeat playing to symbolise the lives of those who died here.

We took the coast road up to Pärnu, which was known for its traditional wooden houses and spent the night at a campsite on the river. We were heading up to Tallinn to see the Freedom Square Monument and find the Baltic Chain Tile, having previously found the one in Riga, there are three to collect! The last one being in Vilnius, Lithuania – now there’s a challenge!

After Tallinn, we wanted to visit the Islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. We headed for the ferry to Hiiumaa, to find it had just left and the next one was too late for us to see the Island properly and find a campsite or somewhere to stop, so we headed to a campsite close by. We had previously seen a railway yard full of old engines and rolling stock so headed back to see that too. The trains did look a little sad, but they are in a Museum to show their history.

That night the weather changed, the wind picked up speed and the rain fell hard. We weren’t going to be put off and took our seasickness tablets before heading for the ferry. To our surprise it was still running, so off we went. To be honest, the water out of the harbour was a lot calmer! We went around the Island seeing the bits we wanted to before arriving at the ferry port for Saaremaa. No ferry – the weather at this point was too bad! So we went back to catch the ferry we’d come over on.

This weekend had told us a couple of things, the weather was changing up in the Baltics and we needed to head south. We have decided to head back down to Lithuania and then see where our journey takes us.

As always, thank you for reading. We’ll let you know what happens and where we get to next week. Stay safe and have a great week….