Since we last wrote to you we have travelled a further 1000 km up through the Baltic states and into Russia where the snow has started to fall and the temperature has dropped to -7 oC (quite warm really!).
Poland is a beautiful country that is desperately in need of investment on their roads that are pockmarked and dented. In Gdansk we tried to find a place that would supply a new tyre, rim and inner tubes? to no avail!! We headed down to Malbork, the castle town of the Teutonic Knights. They relocated their headquarters from Venice in order to have more control over the region. From Malbork we staggered out of bed at 5am to try and make it into Lithuania before sundown. On the way towards the border we were clipped by a fire engine that smashed the wing mirror? so now we were hunting for a mirror as well! We were warned about Lithuania and told that if we stopped anywhere we would be robbed and our vehicle stripped and stolen from us. Unfortunately we didn?t make it over the border before sundown so we stayed on the border and found some inner tubes, but no tyres!
The Baltic States
All of the Baltic states have received European Union money to finance the construction of the Baltic Highway. Our journey into Lithuania was a smooth ride in comparison to the Polish roads. The Baltic States are covered in forests with over 60% of the land sprouting trees.
We survived the trip into Lithuania with robbery or stripping?Our first impression of Lithuania was one of a country that respects the dead; the cemeteries were bursting to the brim with flowers and solar powered candle pots that lit up at night. We had arrived in the country a few days after the Day of the Dead. Not a horror movie but the Eastern European All Hallows Eve (Hallow?een), a festival of worship of the dead?
We arrived in Vilnius and went to the E-Guesthouse (free internet access). Vilnius is a city in the waiting ? to all you Ryanairers, get over there (www.airbaltic.com ? they also do it!!)
Vilnius is a practically unpopulated city (600,000) without the tourists of other Baltic states. It is a hyper trendy city in the waiting. We went to a bar with grass lining the wall, with red chandeliers dangling from the ceiling and gnomes hiding in every corner. Even the Lithuanian traditional food restaurant had a tree growing up through the bar, spiky clubs to hit your enemy with as well as the all essential snake pit and cockerels wandering around along with pig knuckles and pig hand gracing the menu!
After a few days in Vilnius we travelled into Latvia and up to the coast into Riga. The city is full of one ways signs and crazy divers. After and hour or two of driving the wrong way around the city we managed to crawl into our hotel room ? one between the four of us! We went for an Estonian (a pay per weight meal of cabbage, beef and potatoes), an Irish pub visit and then a visit to the hotel recommended nightclub. Roxys appeared to be a reputable place with the exception of the older single business men and lone women dancing provocatively on the dance floor. A young man?s paradise one would think.
Riga is a den of iniquity?as well as a beautiful city of history devastated by the Germans and the Russians. We visited castellated buildings, cat houses (see the photos), the presidential palace and the markets.
A further journey north up into Estonia. Tallinn is a small capital (population 415,000) that has exploded in popularity (some suspect due to the Eurovision song contest as well as the inundation of stag dos (as well as the stunning women (as in the other Baltic States)).
It is almost Disney in its cleanliness and pristine organisation. Cobbled streets, stunning buildings lining tiny roads leading to castles perched on top of hills staring down onto the city.
We definitely recommend that you visit the Baltic states? summer is probably the best time to visit and the people are so friendly (especially the ladies!).
We are presently in St Petersburg, the Venice of Russia, with waterways criss crossing the city. The towering buildings line the canals in a very Italian way! An it has just started snowing
Russia has been eventful already. We spent three hours at the border gesticulating and trying to sort out insurance (which we could only obtain for Greg as we could only get insurance for one person per vehicle!). The guy that helped us was Greg?s doppelganger and gave Greg a Russian Custom?s hat. We were so elated that when we travelled over the border we didn?t notice the STOP sign until the last minute, 50m from the border. We pulled in and Greg then spent the next half an hour negotiating with the police. They went through all of our documentation finding things that they could pull to bits until they just sat there. Greg sat there and went ?What can we do?????????. The POLICEMAN then typed into his phone (in order to not write anything down incriminating him) 500 rubles (#10). After a 500 ruble note was handed over and then hidden under the table, we were on our way, disgusted with the way that the Russian bureaucracy works. We staggered into St Petersburg at 6pm (not a nice thing driving on roads where you think you are going to be accosted by the police at every corner and potholes jump up at Greg (blind as a bat) in the dark!
We have graced the Borgas nightclub that lurks beneath our nightclub and were slightly perplexed by the nightly new year celebrations accompanied with sparklers and president on the tv announcing the new year?? then Father Christmas bounded accompanied by a bride and groom?.
St Petersburg is a very European city with stunning buildings and now it is snowing picture postcard sceneries. Gone are the days of bread queues, in are the days of Gucci, capitalism and an inundation of foreign investment, although the historical politics of the city are still ongoing with divisions between Moscow and St Petersburg creating large rifts in the country.