Travelblog: The Baltic Countries
After having a great time in Helsinki, it was time to dive into Eastern Europe, starting with the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Although almost 25 years after their independence from Russia, I still felt I was going to ‘forbidden’ places. That’s my age, half my lifetime these countries were occupied by the Soviet Union, this was behind the iron curtain area and I couldn’t wait to find out more about them. Currently at the Polish border, I can honestly say I find them confusing, but before I go on, I want to emphasize that what I write is with the utmost respect, if only because my country hasn’t been run over so many times as these have so I have no idea what it does to a person.
First off, all the people I met through appointments were great and sincere in their friendliness! It was the overall impression of the countries, especially outside the cities, that confused me. There seemed to be no joy. The faces of the people were closed, almost averted, not only to me, but to the world. For instance, when I asked something in a shop about a product price to a young person, their unwillingness to help and just give me blunt ‘no’ and walk away was puzzling. On the other hand, when I was super broke and needed to charge my stuff, I could sit down in a bar for hours, spent 90 cents and feel welcome, it was no problem at all.
Also, when I had a flat tire and took out the spare wheel, within a minute this grandfather with his granddaughter stopped, completely took over the wheel changing and draw a map to the nearest garage. But not only that. When they took off on their bicycles and I started packing my car and went to the bakery for breakfast and only then (half an hour later) came to the point where I had to take a left, they were waiting for me at the corner, in the rain, to make sure I took the right turn. At the garage, the guy looked at me, took the tire, fixed it and other then the words: ‘2 euro’, nothing was said.
At the 90 cents bar I had a nice talk with a nice guy slightly older than me. I asked him why I’m getting this impression and if I’m doing something wrong. His answer was simple: their country has been occupied by so many countries for so long, all they expect when someone comes here, is that they want something of them, not in a positive way. He explained how hard life has been under the Russians and that it takes at least the death of the old generation and 2 new generations to change that feeling. The people are still introvert, even towards each other. Also, a lot of Russians still live in the countries and not only refuse to leave, but refuse to speak the language of the country they live in as well. They have a superior attitude (for instance raising the Russian flag in front of their house) that is not dealt with by the natives. I’ve heard this several times by old and young people always followed by the statement; ‘however, we don’t know how much longer we will accept this’. These countries still have a long way to go.
All in all, I didn’t take any wrong turns, there aren’t any mountains and it was simply a matter of just driving down to where I’m at now. Especially in Latvia, calling/texting while driving is not a point of interest, the same goes for overtaking left or right. The rule is basically: if there’s room somewhere to overtake, just go for it! Even when this man (there’s a female version too) is looking down at you every 200 mtrs or so. On the highway, be aware of cyclers. The emergency lane, small enough as it is, is being used by children, adults and tourists on bicycles to get where they want to be.
Also, something cool. After being warned since Denmark for deer and other animals crossing the road, I actually saw a mouse at the edge of the forest looking at the highway I was on. I wanted to take a picture of course, so backed up (you can do that in Lithuania) and the moment I got to him he disappeared back into the forest. Not a problem, I saw a small country road 20 mtrs ahead. Took it and saw, what I thought, was a small hunting stake out. Well, let’s take a picture of that! It turned out to be the best toilet I’d seen in my life.
Then I decided to do a tourist thing: visit the Hill of Crosses, a catholic pilgrimage and silent place of protest against domination for centuries. It’s a hill where there are around 200.000 crosses placed nowadays. It has been destroyed many times, but has always been built up again. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_of_Crosses) Evi and I walked up there and right in front of the hill, lots of people going up and down, Evi needs to poop. Thank God I had a plastic bag on me. We walked up, it was all beautiful and then I realized Evi really likes sticks and there’re a lot of small crosses made of wood. I got worried, turned around and left and on my way out I found the COOLEST JEZUS ever: GUITAR JEZUS! Thank you person for putting guitar jezus there, I hope it worked for whatever you needed it to work for. Just imagine it was David Gilmour or Mark Knopfler or Prince, Jimmy, Keith or Ron who did it, praying to please god, let me be the best guitar player on earth, how awesome that would be!
Anyway, it was a trip where almost nothing went wrong. I had some trouble entering the address of this camping, so took some extra miles there, but in the end, all went well. The girls of the route planner are becoming my best friends. Especially when it’s late at night when you arrive somewhere, it’s dark and raining and then one of the girls says: ‘you have reached your destination’. There are 3 girls. The google girl who does the English. The Waze app girl who does the eastern European languages, for some reason she suddenly appeared on my Dutch phone, and the Dutch girl who does all the Dutch talking, no matter where you’re on. Google girl is strict and gets angry sometimes. I can’t always hear if she says first or third on roundabouts. Some roundabouts here have 3 normal exits and then some exits that seem to end after 10 mtrs., really strange, a piece of road and then land. So you approach one of those, the map on the phone is confusing, I see 6 roads, but I can only take 3 and she says: ‘at the roundabout, take the third exit’. So I start counting, but it’s one of those 10 mtr roads, maybe she was saying ‘first exit’? It’s just better to make a whole round and hear what she means. Stupid decision over and over again, because I know the app can’t follow this fast, so when I’m at the roundabout starting point, my car on the app is still in the middle. Nowhere to stop, only option is to drive really slow, do another round and ignore the other cars and finally when the app catches up with me, google girl is super annoyed and says; take the T.H.I.R.D. exit! The Dutch girl is depressing. If you listen to her in a city where she needs to talk a lot, after half an hour, you think life sucks. She has probably been told to talk in a neutral voice without any emotion, but I’ve had many fantasies after having to listen to her of someone, man or woman, coming into her office while she’s recording, crawling under her desk, spreading her legs and making her come. Yes, left, turn left, Yes!