First 24 hours into the unknown – The Baltics

Posted by Kadri Uljas on  August 16, 2014 |
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What will you get when combining unquestionable love for Laima, humble hospitality and Via Baltica? A mix of countries that seem so familiar but yet keep you positively surprising each time you visit them. This a beginning of the quest to conquer the world starting from the Baltic States and Poland.

Our journey began on 15th of August from Tallinn Estonia, when we stood alongside the road, on the edge of our hometown, with a cardboard signed LV.  The way, Via Baltica, stretching from Helsinki to Prague and uniting 6 countries with 1505 km transit road, was our home to be for a short while. Being very popular among hitch-hikers, you could be able to see every now and then singles to groups of people waving their signs and using thumb to signal for the drivers. During the Soviet era, from 1958 till the beginning of 90’s, autostop was an official way of travelling to many of these countries.  Catching a lift with locals or long runs with truck drivers was easy to get. It is believed that many of the drivers, giving a lift, still remember their teen years when they were covering the road that way. Therefore it is believed that they are paying back their debt, they once owed. Now us, and many others, are in the loop again, hoping for the ride and promising to return the favor in the future.

Ironically enough our first wait to get out of town was the longest. It was a challenge to look after the passing cars. Stubbornly waiting, greeting and waving, 1 hour and 20 minutes in, we got lucky. We were on our way to Latvia with neighbors Valters and his driver, whose jobs took them to Tallinn each week after a week.

Catching our first ride

Catching our first ride

Even though it was in our plans to move on fast, we had a small chance to slip through the cobble stoned Old-Riga and linger at the nouveau hipster district at Miera Iela, as our companions had to make a quick stop in the sugary sweet Laima chocolate factory, for some birthday wishes. As Valters said, this was a place to be in Riga if we would ever return.

Short moments in Riga

Short moments in Riga

Promises given to do so, we were on our way and already waving down a truck towards Bauska. Alexander, Lithuanian driver, promised to give us a short lift of 70km to the LV-LT border. But short does not mean always fast. Half a dozen kilometers before the small border town, we could see the hauling long line of trucks as far as our eyes could reach. Bauska, the small city that welcomes trucks all day and night, being the passage way for the Via Baltica, had full length road works and that meant covering 6 km with 3 hours was the only way for these road kings. You could hear the sorrow from the voices of the tired men through the car radio, when they kept each other busy with roaring over the situation. “Home” was their only thought, when we kept thinking, where could we pass the night that was falling.

Endless traffic jam near Bauska

Endless traffic jam near Bauska

With the borders free for crossing due to Schengen Agreement, affective in Baltics since 2004, frontiers of the countries don’t have any more visual tell to them. Only a vague image of the once booming border motels and bars are now in a rundown shape. Change of the currency and road tax gives you now an idea of a new jurisdiction.

There we were at 10 PM in the dark, standing somewhere in Latvia or Lithuania and taking advantage of the lined up trucks slowly still rolling from the traffic jam. They all wanted to pay the road tax and move on as fast as they could. There he was; Tõnu, an Estonian truck driver, who had stopped his truck just in front of us and who was now in our siege. As for drivers, having more than one extra passenger, can mean a serious fine when caught. So understandably, he as well as the others, was not so fond about taking us both on. After some convincing arguments and conclusive declaim about our nationality and brotherhood, he did feel a bit sorry and took us with. That all, of course, in exchange of a good company over the next 5 hours of drive in the dark.

Andres hiding place for a ride

Andres hiding place for a ride

We could not tell you more about Lithuania than that the road tax is getting higher and over the New Year’s Eve they will be punished with Euro. During the time we passed through Lithuania, Andre had a good night sleep being hidden above in the truck bunk bed, and Tõnu explained his work and why he drinks minimum of 12 cups of coffee in a day.

And at last, there it was – land of Polans, was unfolding in front of us.  15 hours after the start, we had reached our first destination. Happy but exhausted, Tõnu parked the truck in the way we could have a safe area to put a tent up and with the encouraging nod from TIR stop conductor, we felt food over the place we picked. Before a good night wishes and lights out, we were invited to a mid-night dinner with first so modest Tõnu. He insisted to buy us his favorite Polish dish Goubašova soup, and how could we say no to that. Smacznego!

The morning was ominous – the sky has turned gray and it seemed the autumn weather has caught up with us. Also we learned that we have arrived over the weekend which has a strict “no trucks on the road during the day” policy for foreign trucks passing the country. The only way for us was forward, so we asked the all mighty: “Polish, show us your hospitality”. You can call it the answer of our cries or whatever, but there the hospitality was, embodied in Mirek and Kristof. These two Polish drivers were on their way home and therefore had a free pass to drive on the roads. Andre as a companion for Mirek and Kadri for Kristof, the next hours were filled with Polish-German-English-Estonian language courses, where remarkably enough all the topics from politics to family reunions were discussed and emotions were shared. Their kindness did not only stop there, but they found us also a next ride and exchanged gifts for a good luck before we got off. Only a bliss we received from that morning.

Truckstop picnic

Truckstop picnic

Kilometer after kilometer our next rides with Mateusz and Czarek, took us closer to Krakow, which was our first planned longer stop.

Pouring rain near Krakow

Pouring rain near Krakow

On the outskirts of the city, we had to give a hitch-hiking a last try before we could call it a day. We saw a car, shiny and white, standing in the parking lot. It looked so majestic and exactly a car that would suite for us. Also its license plate had promising KR (definition for Krakow region) written. We had to give it a try. We failed with the first attempt, when approaching him in English while he tried to enter McDonalds. At the second attempt, we were already out on the street, packed in raincoats as it was pouring, and waving him down.

He flashed his lights, opened the trunk and off we went. Like a boss.

Within the 24 hours we whizzed through the Baltic States that feels so homelike but yet so undiscovered. But we promised ourselves to return home one day and take on these neighboring countries for a longer road trip by car…

On the road:

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