Archive for the ‘Lithuania’ Category

On Our Way North

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Leaving Turkey we had quite a push ahead of us. We had to get to Riga, Latvia by Thursday so we would have enough time to sell our car, buy train tickets to Moscow (we had checked online while in Istanbul and found tickets for the equivalent of about $30 and were pleased with that price), and get everything repacked into our much smaller space for hoboing our way across Russia. Because of this we had only 4 days to make the 3000 kilometer drive from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. It was going to be our longest straight drive ever and we were doing it with only two drivers. So, we began.

We crossed into Bulgaria early Sunday (19/07) evening with no difficulties and headed North-West. It was a rather un-exciting evening and we passed it driving over relatively nice roads, listening to some NPR programs we had downloaded in Istanbul, and snacking every once in a while on some bread with Nutella or jam. We slept in the early morning south of the Romanian border in a rather muddy spot just off the road. The next morning, bright and early, we were off heading North. We entered Romania that morning, paid for a Vignette and drove off. We soon realised, however, that the cost of the vignette for Romania had not been worth it. In fact, the roads were terrible. Just a little after we passed the border we got on a road which was alright, but we did have to dodge a few potholes. Then… Matt, who was driving, didn’t manage to dodge one. It hit hard and as we citröened away from it, something was wrong. The car started wobbling a bit and jerking to the right as a loud thumping came from the right-hand rear wheel-well.

Matt held it together well and pulled us off to a good spot along the road. Our right-hand rear tyre had been going a bit bald because it was cambered in pretty badly, so we were rather expecting it to go at some point. When we got out to examine the situation, however, we discovered that the pothole had bent our rim at least an inch out of place at one point, which explained how quickly the air had gone out of the tyre.

We replaced the tyre with the spare (which had a slightly wobbly rim, but not bad), topped up on air at a nearby filling station and made our way up to Bucharest, drove through Bucharest rather quickly, and made the turn North-West and headed for the Carpathians. Driving through the Carpathian mountain range was beautiful. Winding mountain roads didn’t make for quick driving, but they made for many interesting sights. We drove through Transylvania, thankfully avoiding Vlad’s hot-spots especially that evening when we spent the night just outside his territory and departed the next morning, glad to not have been impaled.

Hungary was next on the list. We passed through yet another border, praised the Shengen agreement that allowed us to pass so easily between so many EU nations, bought a vignette and set off to explore Budapest. The twin cities of Buda and Pest and full of beautiful sights, not the least of which is Danube River spanned in several points by scenic bridges. Our first stop was the top of a mountain at the center of the city where a castle and Victory Monument stood guard over the city. We then made our way into the center of the city to a cathedral where the mummified hand of St. Stephen, first king of Hunagry who lived around the turn of the first century, was preserved in a gold and glass reliquary.

After exploring the rest of the city a bit, including the Hungarian parliament building, modeled after the British parliament building in London, we made our way back to the car and left. North again, toward Warsaw where we arrived the next morning, passing through Slovakia in the night (paying for yet another vignette). After just a few hours in Warsaw using the internets. We also had to try to get in touch with David so that he could transfer the rest of our money out of the group’s savings account to our checking account so that we could actually access it. We were unable to make contact with David, but succeeded, eventually, in getting in touch with David’s dad. Relieved, we made our way north yet again, drove through Lithuania, and arrived in Riga after long hours of uneventful travel on Thursday the 23rd, right on schedule.

Driving and Bread in Eastern Europe

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

We left Latvia and crossed into Lithuania early in the morning of June 1, and drove to southern Lithuania. I (david) was unable to observe much about Lithuanian culture or scenery due to the fact that I was sleeping the entire time (plus the wee hours of the morning are do not give good representations of either, even if I had been awake). Dan pulled into a rest stop at 3:30 and we stayed stationary until a little after 9:00, at which point I drove as the others continued to sleep. The new “major” roads in both Latvia and Lithuania (the “major” road in northern Latvia that I talked about in my last post was not new) are still only two-lane highways, but they are treated as three-lane highways. These new roads are built with extremely wide shoulders, and slow cars will pull over to the side of the shoulder—almost completely to the right of the outside line—but continue driving at the same speed. The faster car then moves slightly to the left—just hanging over the center line—and moves around the car. If there are any on-coming cars, then they move over the outside line on their side as well, just to give plenty of room. The system really worked quite well, and I think that the road was wide enough for four cars to travel on it abreast, but I never saw it attempted.

We crossed into Poland and the new, wide roads were replaced with curvy, semi-truck laden, town strewn roads. It took me almost five hours to progress 200 miles in Poland. This was the antithesis of traveling on Poland’s next door neighbor Germany’s roads: the autobahn allows you to cut through Germany quickly and cleanly, like a knife. Using this comparison, driving in Poland felt like we were bludgeoning our way through the country. Having a left-hand drive in right-hand drive Europe is most inconvenient when trying to pass another vehicle; you are unable to see if there is an oncoming car until you are well into the other lane. Therefore, the person sitting in the passenger seat needs to pay attention and tell you when it is ok to pass. Matt would give me a thumbs-up signal to let me know when it was safe to pass a semi.

We found a cheap supermarket (Tesco) on the outskirts of Warsaw, so we stopped to replenish our food supply. Upon entering the store, we quickly realized that food would be extremely cheap, and the best deals were to be had on bread. We picked up bunches of really cheap breads—three types of smaller “bun sized” items that we used for making sandwiches, a big piece of braided sweet bread that was absolutely fantastic, and two giant loaves of regular bread. We also loaded up on pasta and other useful, healthy foods before continuing on our way.

Although Warsaw is Poland’s capital, it apparently does not have any interstate (called motorways in Europe because they are not connecting states like back home) running either around or through the city, so we were forced to crawl through the entire length of the city. Finally south of Warsaw we got on a four lane highway and were able to make better time down to Oswiecim—the city that houses the Auschwitz death camps. Altogether it took almost 10½ hours of driving time to get from where we spent the night in southern Lithuania to Auschwitz in southern Poland.

We parked outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and walked to the gate through which the train passed—and was made famous by appearing in Schindler’s List. As we stood by the gate, a group of young Orthodox Jews passed out of the complex singing a melancholy song. I had to wonder what they thought and felt as they were inside knowing that over one million of their fellow people were slain at this site only sixty-five years ago.

We decided to sleep in the car in the parking lot directly across from the Birkenau camp and made supper which consisted of sticky noodles which were almost impossible to clean off of the pot, so we filled the pot with water and let it sit out overnight. We put it on the lid of a metal trash can so we would not forget it when we woke up the next morning…except the next morning the pot was gone. We had been warned that there were a lot of thieves in Poland, but a cooking pot? That seemed unlikely. We then noticed that there was a new trash bag in the can and suddenly we knew what happened. The person who cleans up the parking lot must have thought that we wanted to throw the pot away, but it wouldn’t fit into the trash can so we simply left it on top (she must have ignored the fact that it was filled with water). I had already looked in the dumpster that was in the parking lot and did not see it, but we then decided that the clean-up lady would have put it in the trash bag before throwing it away. Dan went to check the trash bags in the dumpster and about five minutes later came back triumphantly holding the pot like he had just won it as a prize. We were all so relieved. The pot expands our culinary options exponentially and I already can hardly imagine making meals without it. (Don’t worry we did give the pot a vigorous cleaning before we used it again).

david miller