Riding south from St. Petersburg forced a decision: namely which direction to go: further south in Russia towards Georgia and then into Turkey or giving Turkey a amiss and instead turning west towards the Baltic countries and Germany?
I opted for the latter as the word re Turkey was not positive and the situation there volatile. With many police and large chunks of the judiciary taken into custody all kinds of things could happen. Writing these lines now weeks later has eased my concern re Turkey. The western media may not like the developments there, however a great part of the Turkish population seems in favour. Time will tell.
So I had one more – final – stop in Russia. My next stop would be the Baltics, as Berlin was much too long to do it in one day avoiding ze Autobahnz, as these are boring to ride with luggage.
Almost 420kms down from St Petersburg the small city of Opochka awaited. The solo-ride felt good and I made good progress. The weather had changed, some light rain, constant overcast and heavy clouds were threatening more unpleasant weather. I booked myself a warm room close to the road, outside this small city of Opochka, allowing an early off next morning. With an early start I should make Berlin the next day.
My choice of accommodation turned out positive. (Again, sorry but I ‘lost’ this photo) A roomy pension-come-restaurant place with friendly staff and good Polish food. My room was out towards the back, so I could hardly hear the noisy road carrying the St. Petersburg – Baltic states and beyond traffic. I enjoyed a decent meal (deer) and a large beer. Hmmmh “deer and beer” go well together. Watching a Quentin Tarratino movie on the big screen in my room (download from the web, transfer to USB stick, stick into TV) rounded up the evening. This Quentin bloke certainly has something wrong with his head! what a violent movie it was, typical for his style, the only one I could find to download for free, therein lies the reason.
Off to Latvia the next day, a typical movement at the Russian border to make it to the front of the queue worked once more and the Latvian border post were cheerful and friendly. The crossing was relatively fast ~ 1.5 hours and off I went into Latvia. I noticed the change of the landscape immediately. All a little bit more ‘cultivated’, perhaps organised (aufgeraeumt) compared to Russia. So, rather soon I had passed through Latvia and into the next Baltic state: Lithuania. From now on I didn’t see any border posts at all. Some deserted-looking buildings appeared to be the remains of a previous border, but nobody inside, some even a little derelict looking.
Lithuania had Vilnius, it’s capital was my target.
The coordinates in my bike for my accommodation led me to somewhere else in Vilnius. So, once again, I was lost. A feeling I have come accustomed to. I must look it, as another local biker saw me and offered help. He guided me to my place where the key=person had been waiting and I was ‘saved’ again by a local biker.
I offered to buy him a beer to show my gratitude, something we would do the next day.
I had booked myself into a little under-the-roof flat, fully furnished, very new and ideal for a solo traveller. Ideally located in the Old City and fully equipped, but a washing machine was missing and I had so much washing to do …. BTW Vilnius has no laundrettes (a business opportunity no doubt!) But since I had a contact in Vilnius, a woman from previously Melbourne, who had returned to her home town seeking a better life and new partnership. I ask her to came to my rescue.
The city is compact, a little quaint and also has 34 churches and chapels or thereabouts, also plenty! I did the now almost obligatory city-bus tour, walked into a Lithuanian-America friendship celebration, watched some beach-volleyball on a man-made filed close to the Vilnia river, did a push-bike tour through the city and a forest close by, walked a lot and sampled the Lithuanian food.
I caught up with the friendly biker, and to my great shame I cannot recall his name. Truth to be told, I never was able to pronounce his name and was to embarrassed to ask again. Now I am even more ashamed but I wear it with a great sense of regret – should have asked! he and I met at a Harley Davidson test ride day and then had a snack above Vilinius.
He also showed me some nice spots in the town. We had some food in the market hall and I do like places like this. reminds me of the Vic market and back further to Frankfurt’s Kleinmarkthalle. Finally he took me to his motorcycle club-house: a house boat on the Vilnia river! Well, here’s a thought for my club, Prez listen up! This club indeed goes for little journeys on the river, a very shallow one, fortunately this boat has a low draft, even if several heavy bikes had been riding the plank making it on board! Now, its weight has further increased sporting a BMV Vic MC-club sticker in the club room.
Vilnius struck me as another rather pleasant town with its own fair share of history. It was summer, people were out and about, many street cafes were open and busy with tourists as well as locals – a buzzy vibe around the city. Most of the time I moved around the old city and learnt a lot through the tours by my friend and also did a guided city walking tour.
I made one attempt to visit Vilnius’ university located in the old city. Trying to enter I was stopped by a woman, some official living in a small gate house demanding an entry fee pf me, for just walking in a taking a look. ‘Hallo…” not for me. I trued to reason about the purpose of universities vis-a-vis society and education at large but gave up. This was just too petty for me. I hope is does not represent access to uni in Lithuania …
Another day Joana and her friend took me to Trakai, only a little outside Vilnius and something like a ‘Sommerfrische’ for locals and tourists. It is a peninsula or is it a proper island – not sure as there is a land connection. Lots of water, several islands and the largest one is dominated by a castle. A great place to be and relax, eating ice cream and enjoying the slower pace. One of its trademarks is that the housed have always three same-sized windows in the front – so I was told.
Here are some views of the castle standing in the middle of the water in Trakai lake:
Another highlight was a food-tour. Yes, you read correctly – a food tour done by a group of young locals who saw a market niche in showing off their home and its culinary delights. We walked into six (or was it seven?) different establishments sampling a range of locally made food and drink. So a most pleasant couple of hours spent. My tour guide was well versed in all aspects of food and how it relates to the Vilnius/Lithuanian eating culture and history. Unfortunately I was the only participant, which allowed me to completely exhaust my question repertoire, but I had hoped for a larger turn-out. Still a most enjoyable way to explore a place: food.
My stay in Vilnius gave me plenty of time to consider my – again revised – travel plan. Now I will adapt to the Turkey events by not going there 😦
Bike is re-packed and ready to cross Poland into Berlin tomorrow.
Go west old man.