Europe


Monday, August 30, 2004

 

Tallinn

We arrived in Tallinn Saturday afternoon. Short cycle in from a coastal village, we even got to check out the local bike shops in the Burbs (time for Inukshuk to get some new parts!). We checked out Tallinn... it is VERY cool, even after getting spoiled in Torun and Vilnius. The old town is very clean, but it IS old. A lot of the 15th century merchant houses still have their pulley systems for loading and unloading merchandise (and we learned ALL about Tallinn's history at the City Museum... HIGHLY recommended... lots of artefacts and detailed info on the city structure since the 13th century).

We also had loads of fun eating out, even though the prices are much more than we are used to after Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. The Olde Hansa, an Austrian style beerhall, and a very cool medieval cafe in the city hall are the highlights. Oh, and Sunday afternoon, they even had a symphonic retelling of the history of Tallinn in the main square... complete with flags of Sweden, Russia, and the Soviet Union being unfurled on the city hall.

We'll be sure to get some pics up soon, just having some 'technical difficulties' finding the right Internet location.

Tannan,
Brad






The view into the main Tallinn Old Town gate.







Tallinn Old Town from the Toompea castle walls.







The market on the inside of the walls.



Friday, August 27, 2004

 

Estonia!

Well in Valmiera (Latvia) Brad and I took a lovely walk to the local look out point (an astonishing 97m above sea level) and we started noticing fall. The leaves were changing and had already started falling. The prevalence of autumn has steadily increased as we go north and we are now cycling in full winter regalia as our daily highs only reach 12 C.

The following day we went to the sea side bordertown of Ainazhi. I have never seen such a gradual slope into the ocean. It is very flat! We then crossed over into Estonia and continued up the coast to Parnu. Parnu was very touristy, based on the ocean (brrr) and spas. The following day we continued along the coast to our goal, Virtsu. Upon reaching Virtsu we found that the local guest house was not open so we continued along for another 25 km to the next hotel (in the cold pouring rain). The hotel was in Lihula and was a tad bit over priced. But we met some other soggy cyclists (from Germany) and had a happy evening teaching Euchre. The next day we had a short cycle to Haapsalu. Haapsalu had a great castle ruin and the tiniest museum. However, I learned more from that one room museum about the history of Estonia than I know about most of the other countries I've been to yet! The castle was built for a roman catholic bishop who was appointed to rule the local area by the German roman rulers in 1285. It went into detail about the change of powers to the Danish and the Swedish. Today we have had a sunny cycle and are 40km from Tallinn in the town of Laulasmaa.

My general impressions of Estonia are positive. We are again on fully marked cycle routes, the terrain is pretty, but the towns are sparse, and may not have accomodations... Generally it is recommended that you travel in Estonia in May to July, as August is the rainy season. Ahh well, we only got a little soggy.

Cheers, Emillie

From Brad:
Just gotta add this little tidbit. In Haapsalu, we stayed in THE COOLEST place... it was a pub restaurant, with 3 rooms in the top floor (fairly posh rooms, but reasonably priced for Estonia). The whole thing was attached to the outside wall of the castle in the centre of the town! Primo... felt like a merchant prince or something.






Cycling in Estonia.







This was the view from the balcony of our hotel suite in Haapsalu... sweet AS.







This is the front view of the castle in Haapsalu.








Emillie in a salt-water swamp in Ainazhi.



Sunday, August 22, 2004

 

Gauja National Park

We went from the big city in Riga to the ultra rural in the Gauja National Park. Nice places; Sigulda, Cesis and now Valmeira, with LOADS of castles. Sigulda had about 5, and Cesis had an amazing medieval castle that was half destroyed in the 1500s, but with the rest standing (they gave us lanterns and hardhats so we could explore the ruin, and they are in the process of restoring it).

Some things of interest that we have noticed so far in the Baltic states...

- Pointy toed high heeled shoes are IN! And its fun to watch people wear them and navigate cobble-stone streets...

- The hot and cold taps are mis-marked most of the time... brrr....

- The non-paved roads are made of sand! Sucks for us cyclists, to be sure. We have found a few to be semi-navigable, but in our opinion, non-paved roads in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia (Estonia has to prove itself) are no-gos. Of course, this is all ok, since the non-major highways tend to be rather empty of cars.

- The food is good, and relatively inexpensive... much better than Poland. Riga was as expensive as we were led to believe (maybe 3 times as much as the countryside), but it had great selection (we ate in a completely vegetarian Indian restaurant!!! Nice....).

Do svidanya,
Brad & Emillie






Cycling in Latvia.







Exporing the castle ruins in Cesis.







Lenin laid to rest (in a coffin) in the back of the Cesis castle complex.







The outside of the castle ruins in Cesis.







Soviet era housing complexes predominate every town.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

 

Riga

Riga is a very urban city, reminiscent of Amsterdam. It has lots of old architecture and is known for the Art Noveau style buildings. It is also home to the first laundromat that we have seen in many, many days ;-). Our time in Riga has also been marked by very muggy and humid weather. Likely due to it's proximity to water. Its oldtown is not as old and impressive as the other cities we've been to. However, having been pre-warned of that by ABSOLUTELY everyone we've met, we are not disappointed and have enjoyed the city immensely for its modern urban style.

We've also posted some new photos... (and the heat in this internet cafe is getting to me!)

Cheers
Emillie






Old Town of Riga.







The Monument of Freedom in the centre of Riga... with bonus armed guards!!







An Art Noveau landmark in Old Town Riga.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

 

Touchdown in Latvia

Crossed the border this morning... no problems again, the guards were very lax about the whole thing. They get a kick out of our bike too. :)

Stayed in Siauliai, then Jonaskis last night, and Bauska tonight in Latvia. Currency change is very weird... from the Lithuanian Litas (1 Lita = 50cent Can) to Latvian Latis (1 Lati = $2 Can). So our buns in the grocery used to cost 35 cents, now they cost 7 cents!

And we saw the coolest Palace today. 18th Century, and they're restoring it... since the 1980's. So they've finished most of one wing, which we toured today. Gorgeous... I can hardly imagine the stinking, filthy rich people who lived there!

Oh, and a map of our trip through Lithuania is below...

K... now for cycling reviews of all the countries we've been through. We thought we'd do one country at a time over the next while to ensure that we don't forget any of the details. We'll start with the Netherlands...

The Netherlands

A cyclists paradise! There are routes everywhere, thoroughly mapped and signed on the roads. Plus, the whole country is super flat, with lots of interesting things to see. I've heard it's the densest in Europe, which accounts for seeing many sites in one day. Canals everywhere are nice, allowing for straight routes sometimes, and many villages for food and lodging. We cycled from hostel to hostel with little difficulty; about 70-90 km days. You could cut this less or more and still find good places to stay of course.

For maps, there are very detailed versions available for every route in Holland. But, if you're like us, we didn't really know where we wanted to go. So, we picked up a country-wide map that detailed all the routes in large scale. Was confusing once in a while, but it allowed us to plot what cities to visit... highly recommended, and we kept our copy for anyone who wants to borrow it.

Grocery stores were very well stocked, and easy to eat out of (which is what we did primarily). Most restaurants were very expensive (for us)... ie. $5 Euros for a salad that is only big enough for a snack.

Hostels (where we stayed) were about >20Euros per person. No idea about hotels... with hostels that expensive... yikes. The hostels were nice though, and usually had a cafe or pub attached. However, none of them had kitchens or laundry facilities.


Cheers,
Brad









Cycling in Lithuania (blue line for train ride).







The 'Hill of Crosses' near Siauliai.







Rundale Palace (with Emillie & Inukshuk).







This is a true to life, never been altered (or cleaned) pig roasted spit!! Hey Peter, cool or what?!







The ballroom (with adjoining porcelain gallery that the Duke was infatuated with) in Rundale.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

 

Kaunas

Slight detour for us, but we're still on track... my first time on a REAL train! Reason was that after our night in Trakai, Emillie came down with a stomach bug (or food poisoning). No worries, all is fine. Anyways, yesterday, to be in more comfortable surroundings, we did a short cycle to the nearest big rail line from Trakai (which is very small) to the nearest big city we haven't been to... namely, Kaunas. Nice place. A really nice, looong boulevard of expensive European clothing straight through the middle, with a cathedral at the end. Primo looking. Anyways, this post is mainly for the map readers. This map is up to the time of our last night in Poland; Sejny.

By the way, keep the family and friend contacts for Europe coming! We're building up our own list of people to visit from hostels and such too. Wroclaw has a slight chance of us visiting on our way down South from Sweden, but Transylvania (no matter HOW much I want to visit) is probably not gonna happen... cycling in those parts is, to put it lightly, vertical, and therefore slow.

Cpasiba i Do svidanya,
Vasya






Cycling from July 30th to August 10th.







Trakai Castle, from near the restaurant we ate at.







Sunday morning church procession through the middle of Kaunas.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

 

Vilnius

My first impression of Lithuania has been very positive. The roads are bigger, and built with shoulders, everything is cleaner. The people who don't speak English, speak Russian, so we are able to communicate.

Vilnius is a nice city with a large "old town". It is a surprisingly small city. It feels about the same size as Victoria! This is a good thing because we have criss-crossed the city looking at bikeshops! After over 4000 km (2300 on this trip) some things on the bike have started to wear out. I have gotten a new seat! The "gel" did not hold up very well. We also toured some nice churches, a hill top castle and have enjoyed a number of local vodkas!

Do cvidanya,
Emillie







Some of the local church ornamentation.







The ceiling of the same church.







From the castle hill... a view of Vilnius, and Emillies funny face.







This is the entrance to the artists ghetto. They had a 'revolution' a few years ago (in true Lithuanian style) and started their own 'Respublika'. It's all in fun, and they even have border guards sometimes.







Brad and the socialist workers.

Monday, August 09, 2004

 

Almost in Vilnius, Lithuania

I know, I know, no pictures yet... today or tomorrow fer sure! We have some good ones, I assure you...

We're doing well, aside from a few strains and pains that the next few days rest in Vilnius will take care of. I still can't believe how much we can eat! It's awesome! Decent breakfast, a quick lunch, but boy... dinner in a restaurant must really put a bad spin on us gluttonous Canadians.

Our last post was in Olecko. The next night we stayed in Sejay... a self-proclaimed border town. A real mix of Poland and Lithuania culture, and we met a bunch of fun people (one dude was trying out his half-decent english on us, while his buddy, knowing no english, laughed his ass off). Anyways, our hotel that night was also host to a wedding! A real, small, old-Polish wedding. Man can they drink! The whole crew went on partying until the light came up... their last final 'Hurrahs' woke me up.

So, then we did a short ride to the border, which was nothing special. Just a few guys in border uniforms passing the time. We got our stamps and tried to find our way to Druskininkai (I say 'tried' since our map is not quite as accurate right now as we hoped... we plan on getting a new one in Vilnius). Well, we made it to the famous Druskininkai, a spa town, to find that Sanitariums rule the area... about 20 of them. And a lot of hotels. A very quiet and peaceful sort of place... we were expected a den of hedonistic activity, kinda like Ainsworth, I think. But it turned out nice. We found the largest public Spa, and both got mud baths! Felt damn good, but that's the last time I take a mud bath before a 70km cycling day...

Ok... mud baths, and then we left on our way to Vilnius. It is 130km from Druskininkai to Vilnius, so we decided to split it up. Luckily, there is a village half-way in between with a hotel (a very nice one, but you have to have the locals phone the hotel keeper to let you in, cause we couldn't find the entrance!! One of the mushroom sellers gave us a hand... he was a Leafs fan...). Getting ahead of ourselves here... on our way to Varenai (the half-way point), it was very hot... so hot that I thought that we wouldn't have enough water to last us! Plus, the villages around us had NO amenities. So it was a direct ride from city to city. Now, the 'un'fortunate part... we saw this cloud in our path, towards the East. Turns out it was a storm system, something like that I've never imagined before. It poured REAL hard, and we got drenched, REAL drenched... the roads were so hot, and the rain so warm that the roads became a swirling mist. Very surreal! And after 1/2 hour of this torrential rain (which we decided to cycle through... cause there was no shelter), the sun came out. Full tilt. Amazing. Oh, and we didn't need to worry about water anymore...

Alright, off to Vilnius!

Do cvidanya,
Brad






Soviet spa architecture.







Lithuanian churches have domes. We could see this one from our hotel window in Druskininkai.







These birds (we think they are storks) are everywhere in Poland and the part of Lithuania we've been in so far. They are LARGE (compare their next to the power pole...).

Friday, August 06, 2004

 

Sun and beach fun

The weather has been gorgeous so we have been taking our time getting through the Great Mazurian Lakes district. We entered cottage country on Wednesday and spent one night in Ketrzyn, then Gizycko and we are currently in Olecko. The days have been spent relaxing on the beach. Today we rented a very special "double kayak" at the astounding price of 2$/hour. (the paddles were wooden doweling with plywood fins ;-)

Small dialogue on food in Poland...
One of the most interesting things about Poland is their restaurants (or lack there of!) They really only have pizzaria's. But "pizzas" are a flat bread with toppings and cheese, the ketchup sauce is optional. Some places also serve more traditional food, and we have been enjoying the perogies, nalesniki, etc. Coffee is Turkish in style with grinds floating in it. If you order a cappuccino you get regular coffee with milk, or whipping cream. The cost of buying food out is iffy. They have an unofficial tourist tax. When quizzed about the added costs of your food you'll find out that you paid for your fork, or sitting at the table or whatever... Things are better now though, I think ordering in Polish helps keep the tourist tax down!

Do Widzenia,
Emillie






Family of swans.







Hi tech kayak paddle.







At the beach in Gizycko.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

 

Szczytno

Only a few days left to the border... we're hoping that the weather improves before then, since we'll be cycling through some lakes that look prime for us swimming in.
We've come through Brodnica, Nidjica, and tonight Szczytno. Brodnica was interesting, with a decent Teutonic castle as a museum, and a very bustling square for such a small place. There also seemed to be some sort of official holiday or event, since there was loads of people milling around town in their finery (and some in military garb)... so many that many of the hotels were full. And we watched our first movie in English since getting of the airplane! With Polish subtitles, of course.

Oh yeah, we forgot to mention this (we thought it was so cool that I have to write after the fact...). On our way to Torun, we had a hugely windy day, sucking our energy and all. Then along came this tractor, empty except for the driver, chugging along our road. So we drafted him! The poor guy had no clue what the heck we were trying to do; he repeatedly tried to wave us by, but we just smiled and gave him thumbs up. Soooo nice...

Do widzenia,
Brad







Roadside worship is common in Germany, Poland, and Lithuania.







This castle overlooked the village it 'owned' from across a river.

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