Day Thirty-Seven (6th of September): Pärnu County (Estonia) – Riga (Latvia)
After a shaky nights sleep, due to the dripping of the rain on the forest floor sounding like footsteps, we awoke to beautiful sunshine once again. I woke up with some extra energy, so I decided to go for a run, and luckily for me, there was a trail all the way around the lake with the lovely soft ground underfoot. I only got some of the way around, but I felt so much better having actually done that.
I had a bit of article writing to do when I came back, so I got on with that on the chair outside, until I got too cold and decided it was time to get Reece up so we could move on to Riga, the capital of Latvia.
The drive there wasn’t the most pleasant, with the roads being unusually structured (sort of a huge hard shoulder on either side and then single lanes for each direction of traffic), which meant if you drive inside the actual lane – like most places – it is likely that you will be driven off the lane by overtaking oncoming traffic, or even bullied out the lane by those wanting to overtake behind us. So, the road etiquette seems to be to simply straddle the hard-shoulder and normal lane and hope that the lorries don’t scrape the side of the van! Though some came worryingly close… Once we arrived at the parking spot for the night, after getting slightly lost in the ridiculously trafficky city, we were pretty happy. There were a few other campers, and the restaurant we were parked next to had pleasant toilets and free hot showers!!!
Not wanting to wait around any longer, we wandered into the centre of Riga. After nearly getting run over a few times by the crazy drivers who seem to think it’s okay to drive through a red light when people are trying to cross over the pedestrian crossings, we found a lovely park, with a river running all the way through, quaint bridges and water features. We were pleasantly surprised and spent a while walking round in the gorgeous sunshine before heading into the old town.
The old town was lovely, with cobblestones and beautiful buildings stretching across a large plot of land. The best thing – there was no roads or crazy drivers! We found a bar to grab a pint and make plans for our next stretch towards Poland and also find somewhere to get some dinner.
By recommendation from the waitress, we went to a place called Ava for dinner. As we walked down into the basement with crates and beer barrels covering the stairs and hallway, we were a little apprehensive, but as we reached the actual restaurant, it exceeded our expectations. It turned out to be a super-cool underground place, lit by candles and some low lighting at the bar. Unusually for the Baltic countries, whose food generally consists of potatoes and meat, they had a good selection of vegetarian meals. I had a dish with pumpkin, pulses, veg, some gorgeous seasoning and lots and lots of garlic. I was very happy! Reece not so much with the amount of garlic my food consisted… But we both enjoyed the food and also the interesting beer they had on offer, ginger and hemp was the one I went for.
Feeling good after a great meal and nice walk, we watched some Netflix and were just about to fall asleep… that was when the club, well more a gazebo on a pier (no bricks and mortar to muffle the sound) began playing music. Very, very, very loud. And with an incredible amount of bass. So much bass the van shook. Oh, but this wasn’t the usual kind of club that closes at the acceptable hours of 3 am. Oh no, they went on blasting music out until 5.30 in the morning…
Day Twenty-Eight: Riga (Latvia) – Kurėnai (Lithuania)
Somehow, we managed to get some sleep through all the noise, but I can’t say either of us felt refreshed when we woke. However, I must say, having a hot shower in the morning made it worth the bad night’s sleep.
After our morning’s bowl of muesli with fruit, oat milk and soygurt, we went back into the old town for the 12 o’clock free walking tour, which took us away from the old town, which we were pretty disappointed about, but we still got to see some interesting parts of Riga, such as their huge marketplace, the science academy (originally built by the Soviet Union) and the suburb of Moscow, which is home to the memorials of all those who were victims of the ghettos and burnt synagogues of the second world war. It felt like a city still very much in mourning of their dark past.
After the tour, we got a snack, jumped in the van and left for Lithuania. Now, every time we pull up at traffic lights or services, the smell of fresh diesel is so strong and when we drive off, we always leave a puddle of diesel behind. So the diesel leak is definitely a problem that we need to get fixed sooner rather than later! It’s just a case of finding a garage who can understand the problem, understand the van (which is the Japanese import with a mid-engine) and not charge us a fortune for the work.
Since there were barely any places on park4night, we just slept in a restaurant car park opposite a service station.
Day Twenty-Nine: Kurėnai (Lithuania) – Vilnius (Lithuania)
Waking up after both having a good night’s sleep was a nice feeling, we had a pretty early start cleaning the van and eating muesli, then we left for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, which was just an hour’s drive away from where we had parked for the night.
The drive there was pretty frustrating as a lot of the roads around the city centre were closed, so we couldn’t get to the place we had wanted to park. This left us with little options – go back into the centre and face the crazy traffic and hope to find a space or park outside a funeral parlour which some people had recommended on park4night. As we were sick of the traffic, we chose the latter.
Walking into the centre was really nice, we had parked near a place called Užupio Res Publika, which, although we didn’t know it at the time, is classed as a different country. It is sort of like Christiana in Denmark, but more integrated and they do follow the law, but the area is very artistic and quirky, with prayer flags, sculptures, rustic grand pianos left outside and interesting rules for their republic.
As we continued into the centre, we could see the main square was bustling with people and tents, and we soon realised that we had just walked into the Vilnius marathon! Which also made sense of why all the roads were closed in the way in.
At half three, after having a fallafel wrap and watching the runners, we went on a walking tour around the city. It had quite a familiar history to the other Baltic cities we’d been to, and quite a sad one with the Soviet deportations and Nazi invasion. But the city had rebuilt itself, and it was beautiful!
After the tour, we went for a beer and dinner with a German lady called Christina who met on the tour. The dinner was unusual, consisting of a cold, creamy beetroot soup which you dip boiled potatoes in. Afterwards, Reece had a potato rottie with curd and I had potato pancakes with raspberry jam and curd. It was very tasty, but incredibly stodgy. Unfortunately for me, my stomach does not like stodge.
Day Thirty: Vilnius (Lithuania) – Varėna (Lithuania)
We had planned to stay another night in Vilnius, but I woke up feeling pretty terrible, incredibly weak, faint and dizzy with an awful burning feeling all the way across my ribs. It’s a feeling I often get after eating too much rich and stodgey foods, and it certainly isn’t a pleasant one.
Although it got slightly better throughout the day and another pleasant walk around the old town, it was the first time I really couldn’t bear the thought of putting in all the effort to cook in the van, or even sleep in the roasting heat with the pop-top down again, which makes it feel 100° warmer than it actually is. So instead, we looked for Airbnb’s around where we were and found a few that were actually the same prices as campsites in Lithuania, so I chose one that was around an hour closer to the Polish border (which is where we’re heading next) and had parking outside for Papaya to stay close to us as well!
The apartment was very homely, and nice and spacious with a hammock on the balcony. We spent the the rest of the evening relaxing, cooking and sleeping!
Day Thirty-One: Varėna (Lithuania)
In Varėna, we simply had a relaxing day. Enjoying the hammock, the huge squishy sofa and the Wi-Fi.
In the evening, we did go for a walk around the area which was noted for its beauty on the airbnb ad., and got lost in the pine forest for quite a while (thank goodness for phone GPS), but luckily we hadn’t wandered too far away.
I was so excited about having an oven for the evening, we made a huge lasagne with lots of roasted vegetables and garlic bread on the side.
Day Thirty-Two: Varėna (Lithuania) – Augustow (Poland)
Still not feeling great, we re-packed the van with all the fridge and cupboard stuff and the fresh laundry we had managed to do in the airbnb and set off to Poland. Interestingly, the van seems to have stopped leaking. It’s probably not a good thing, maybe some dirt got stuck in there, but it’s nice not to smell diesel all the time. We are still planning on getting it fixed when I’m better.
We had planned to drive a couple of hours, but the pain got too much and I just wanted to lie down, so I found a parking spot near a hotel and we went there so I could have a nap in the back of the van.
After the pain had eased a little, we went for a walk around the town, and it was gorgeous! It seemed like we had stumbled on a holiday town, just during the wrong season. There was a beautiful river with willow trees lining the sides, and cobbles all around the pretty little town.
After a walk, we went to find some dinner and, thanks to Google, found a cute little Italian restaurant just 10 minutes away from our van. I treated myself to some very plain garlic pasta and a half pint, whilst Reece had a creamy spinach pasta with two pints and the bill came to just £10 for everything!
Day Thirty-Three: Augustow- Mikolajki
We left Augustow, having had another walk around and a green tea and strange berry sorbet for breakfast, and we were aiming to get a little but closer to Gdańsk. After driving for about an hour and a half, I noticed that where we’d stopped for lunch (lovely boiled rice) was just 10 minutes away from a town that my lovely Polish friend, Natalia, had recommended to me. So we looked for a place to sleep and went there.
Again, it was a lovely little old town with just a few restaurants, but this place seemed a little more bustling, even at the start of Autumn.
We explored the town a little more and eventually went for some dinner overlooking the harbour and watched the sunset, which was really lovely.
Apologies for the late posting of this blog, the stomach thing has taken it out of me and I’m still struggling with it. Fingers crossed tomorrow will be the day it goes!
We’re currently in Gdańsk now and it’s lovely, such a grand city. We’ve been here two nights and tomorrow we’ll be leaving and driving to Hel! That is a place in Northern Poland, not the undrworld ruled by Satan… So on the next blog I will pick up from Gdańsk as it’s definitely a place worth writing about.