Road that stole my heart

VIA BALTICA ROAD TRIPPING + STUFF LIKE THAT

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Via Baltica and going to Baltics..
Almost everyone has an opinion about the road&these countries.
Opinions vary widely from love it to boring/interesting/dangerous to wanna go again & never again, at least not by a car.

I tried to count how many times I´ve been there & there are numerous times and from Tallinn to Riga there are many more, dozens of.. Cant say for sure.

Yes, am a road trip fan, Baltic & Balkan fan!
Latvia, especially the capital city, Riga is great and I call it my home-away from home Baltic and Serbia, esp. Beograd is my home-away from home Balkan..
You can just take a wild guess what might be my fave places to visit, along with Hungary!

Our first Via Baltica road trip was 2011, just 6 years ago (it feels more though).
Had a plan to visit Lake Garda and Hamburg.
Then came the Ehec-epidemic, people got sick and also died..
They didnt know yet what was causing all those and they told not to travel there (the cause was foreign cucumbers and sprouts probably watered by contaminated water).
So we didn´t go there.
We didn’t visit Italy either since we were thinking is it really worth to go there for a day or two & with mini budget. Just started working less than a month before.
Got a job from the Booking Agency I did my internship for school, so didnt have much money & had only two weeks off.
Still remember the night in Krakow when we decided to change our plans, sitting outside our hotel watching beautiful sunset, with cold beer.
Decided to stay few more days there, visit Oświęcimim (better know as Auschwitz) and drive back.

Of course felt little upset but afterwards this Tallinn-Jurmala-Kauna-Krakow was just perfect for first time. Visited also Vilnius but we had our hotel outside Old Town so didnt really walk there but visited Gediminas and KGB-museum. And then it was just raining so went to do some shopping and were just laying lazy at the hotel. Wasnt bad at all!

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Dont remember where this road trip idea came from.
Am glad we both are similar- ready to go almost when & where ever.

When people heard about our plans, they werent too excited.
Thought us crazy & that we were kidding 😀
They were warning about how dangerous it is there, we will get robbed, militias will take our money, roads are awful, car get stolen etc.
They were like go to Spain or some place normal.
What´s funniest that people who had never been there said these, they are usually the worse also. Just saying 😉
Jani´s parents were horrified by our plans but they said some nice things about Jurmala.
First we didnt think to visit there at all, thought it´s going to be place for oldies but it turned out to be great place to visit.
Amazing beach with white, soft sand as far as the eye can see. The sun’s shining & the sea is sparkling.

We happened to have great weather, even though it was just the beginning of June.
It was raining in Vilnius but other than that it was just perfect!
The rain didnt bother that much there, since we were bit tired of all the driving, excitement & new things plus there´s Akropolis, huge mall or shopping hell- depends on whom you talk to 😀

Via Baltica´s reputation really isnt the best. Some call it dangerous road.
Well, driving style is different than in Finland. It could be pretty wild!!
I have seen many close call situations and numerous vehicles in ditches.
Especially in Poland you can see also numerous crosses, flowers, figures of saints, statues and chapels on the sides of the roads: to commemorate a site where a person died.

Some say these roadside memorials are there to bring a good fortune and prevent accidents.
As mentioned the driving-style is different but in Poland it felt just little more crazy since some of them seems to have a thing what comes to overtaking.
They just need to pass your vehicle.
And they are pretty calm, there´s been many situations with approaching traffic that you notice there´s no room, even though you are on your lane but there´s two more cars coming side by side.. It´s been usually us to pull aside first..

They´ve made some parts of the road wider, so you can give some room easier but it´s still not really helping with 4 cars approaching you.. I saw an article that narrower streets would be actually safer cos wider lanes only encourage people to drive faster.
I dont think this person has driven on Via Baltica 😉
Jani is my trusted driver, very focused on the road, as you should there!
But still extra heart beats are something you get there every once in a while.
I dont have the license (yet!) but I dont think I ever want to drive there. Or could.
Jani wouldnt want that unless he has an alcohol level of 5 promille or above.
Half kidding!

Anyway, roads are better, of course there are still holes, pumps etc but there are a lot more those ”money was given by EU – signs” and comparing to 2011 some of the roads are like heaven on earth to drive (except the traffic). Just waiting when they will fix our roads in Finland!
Just 2015 we passed Estonian- Latvian border and it was awful!
We had our old car and that was really something! When we came back home, they had repaired it! Yippee!!
It feels like every other vehicle is a lorry so no wonder the tracks are like that!

Our old car had only 8cm ride height but we managed to pass those tracks, cobblestone streets and even the Tatra´s.. So if you wonder can your car make it there, just take a look at ours 😉
I think you´ll be just fine.

Even though there´s been huge improvement, you still got to stay focused!
Talking about those close call situations, saw a German camper got a hit by the truck.
They only lost their mirror and got some paint damage.
But I still remember the driver´s face, he was horrified.
There was one car in front of us & we had a safe distance, luckily!
I just saw some black pieces flying & then Jani hit the brake.
Nothing like that ever happened to us (knock, knock).

Of course a car low like that gets more damages than ”normal” ones, so after every trip we needed to fix/change some things.
Fuses got blown at Tatra´s when we drove away from the gypsy camp (one of my worst memories), got some speeding tickets and have got extra heart beats but other than those- we have been lucky!
Got some close call´s as well, on our way to Bratislava we had 130km/h, almost no traffic & suddenly the car in front of us did the panic brake because he almost passed his intersection.
Jani was able to switch the lane, if not we would have hit the other car bad cos there were no room&time to break..

Not only there´re crazy people, there might be some animals on the road or next to.
Not on highway though but am talking about those smaller villages.
There´s usually 30-50 km limit & there´s a reason for that; esp. in Poland you can find cows & chickens wandering around..

Latvia quickly became one of our favorite destinations. Only country we got speeding tickets & other fines (still knocking).
There´s been very nice cops so far- one came to shake Jani´s hand and was sorry about the fine and wishing great holiday despite that.
Visited Riga, the capital city first time on winter 2011, went to see hockey (KHL) and been back several times for mini/ long stay/ Easter break/ surprise-birthday holiday!
Went there for Easter also this year. Just thinking back how just a week ago was wandering there..
Oh am missing back!

Not only roads but countries has changed too!
There werent too many tourist back then, this Easter the city was packed, everywhere we went you heard finnish & saw other tourists as well.
But I think biggest change has been the currency. Most of them didnt want to let go of their Lats.
Latvia is still cheap for us to shop, eat, drink etc. but prices are rising, already did and they rise much faster than wages. I am little afraid what will the future be there.

Driving across Poland 2011 Jani said that he wont go back, ever. Period.
2012 we did just Latvia-Lithuania tour but 2013 we drove across Poland again & also 2015, 2016 as well & visited some new cities.
And now we have visited more Polish cities than cities in Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia or other countries we´ve been to, how funny is that 😀
So Poland isnt that bad after all! But there are dozens of road projects. I once started to calculate those, got way over twenty and then I couldnt anymore.. It´s just from one road work to another..

Of course you should reduce your speed so it takes more time.
For example Google Map tells it takes 5 hours from Suwalki to Lublin, but you should add 1-2 hrs more.
And good luck if you´re going to Warzaw. Once visited the centrum and it took 4 hrs to get out of there.
Dont know what was going on but the traffic was awful.
There´s ”new” road & you can avoid this centrum, as we do now.

Via Baltica, been there & done that several times, so I know what am talking about 😉

Via Baltica goes from Tallinn to Warzaw (not ending to Lithuanian border) and road E -67 actually continues all the way to Prague, Czech Rep.
That´s the part we´ve not driven yet.
Navigator is great there!
First time we had avoid road tolls cos thought those expensive, difficult and what ever.
Which amuses me now but I had old Nokia-phone + bad internet so didnt really want to use that..
Having iPhone makes everything so much easier!

What comes to those road tolls, they are not that bad!
Later we tried Katowice-Cracow road and it was less than few euros. Woow, what a smooth road!!
There are different charging – and collecting methods.
In my experience vehicles are charged per total distance driven in a defined area.
Tolls are usually collected at toll booths/gates after the journey, but you have to stop at one before you hit that smooth road, so dont worry, you shouldnt get there by accident.
And to make it a bit confusing, there are also vignettes in some countries and some countries use a combination.. But let´s get there later.

Few words about speed limits. There are cops running radars, a lot. But people warn about those usually. You cant do it in Finland (what a boring country) but if you see elsewhere somebody flashing their flights, you know there´s something going on. And it´s usually a radar.
Thanks to these people (esp. truck drivers) we have avoided some tickets..
Spasibo! Merci! Danke!

There are also radar speed signs, warning about the automat-control.
But the best has been other roadtrippers.
Am sure there´re ppl thinking ”that´s why there´re limits that you follow them” oh well good luck!
The traffic is really something else than for example in Finland.
And am not talking about those small roads.

I love those highways in Slovakia & also south Poland, where the roads are great and limits are 130-140 km and traffic is smooth. Some go there over 160 so that´s lil scary sometimes..
But also some funniest memories comes from there, if you happen to pass a local (esp. in Poland) they just need to overtake you once more, even though they´re driving an old, run-down car they just cant give up & when you let them pass – they have the best Gold medal face on 😀
This has happened cople of times- you just have to laugh at them but also give
a little respect 😉
But as I´ve mentioned you got to stay focused, keep calm & remember safe distance.

Couple more things: you dont have to pay road tolls if your vehicle is under 3500 kg and there are no vignettes on Via Baltica.
In Poland there are some road toll-roads, you can pay in zlotys, euros, pounds, dollars & some places accept also credit cards. My advice is to have small euro coins with you.
These roads in Poland are not the main roads. If you stay on Baltica you dont need to mind those.
If you continue from Warsaw to Slovakia like we did, you still avoid them.
You dont end up to those toll- roads by accident but if you somehow do, you´ll notice that since all those starts and end up from the booth.
So keep your eyes open, read the signs & keep some money with you 😉
(I couldnt find my zlotys so I have here a pic of Latvian lats)

I found this very useful list of paid roads in Poland.
I suggest you to double check the prices but at least you get a hunch how much are they.
These prices goes from few euros to almost twenty, it depends what´s the distance.
If you go by a motorcyckle (or bike as I prefer to say), the price is usually half except A1 and A2 Swiecko-Konin.

A1 Rusocin (Gdańsk) – Nowa Wieś (Toruń) 29,90 PLN
A2 Świecko (DE/PL) – Konin 75,00 PLN
A2 Konin – Stryków (Łódź) 9,90 PLN
A4 Bielany Wrocławskie (Wrocław) – Sośnica (Gliwice) 16,20 PLN
A4 Katowice – Kraków 20,00 PLN

Neighbouring countries, except Germany has vignettes.
I will make a new post about those.

Must have:
– First aid kit
– Fire extinguisher (not in Poland)
– reflective safety vests
– reflectorised triangle

Other things to check and good to have greencard, car insurance + insurance for yourself.
In some countries there´s double or even triple deductible in case of damage or theft.
If you dont own your car (family car, owned by financing company etc.) you also need some kinda export licence.

In Finland, Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania you can use both studded and non-studded tyres.
Winter tires are not required by law but it is highly recommended to use winter tires in Poland.
The studded tires are strictly forbidden.
It´s recommended to carry snow chains when driving in Poland in winter condition, especially in mountainous areas.
Remember, however, that the use of snow chains is restricted only to roads with snow and/or ice cover.
If you are going to travel there during the winter double check the rules & periods.

Few other things
– bigger gas-stations have free wifi
– toilets can be found as well, but they are not always free- there´s someone to collect the money or it´s automatic. Again have small coins with you (fee could be anything from 0,10€ to 1€).
– 112 works everywhere in the Eu.
– If you are on a motorway there are roadside phones + emergency exits with usually the roadside markers to tell you in which directions is the nearest one.

I use my mobile´s internet on the road if there´s no wifi available. Usullay my phobe bill has been quite reasonable.
Past years it was more expensive in Poland and once Jani ended up having 50-60€ extra billing cos got email, a newsletter (from record company who didnt choose them then :D) and we thought it might be hotel that we tried to find but it wasnt -luckily he has employer-paid phone (thanx for being so fair Jartsa!).
After that happened I started to shut down all the needles apps, now I only have Chrome, Bank, Maps, Booking.com and Facebook (and now Instagram). That´s all u need hahahhaha

There are quite many gas-stations & other resting place on a roadside, sometimes it feels there are just one after another and then none.
We have had few so called ”close call situations” with gas, taking small(er) roads and noticing the low fuel level warning light is on & noticing there´s nothing but field both sides, no houses, no gas station sign on navigator, getting darken & realizing you forgot to fill up the auxiliary fuel tank.. That was somewhere in the middle of Lithuania (and we didnt learn the first time..)
If you´re just taking VB- then you´ll be fine.

Gas stations near border are more expensive for sure but gas is still cheaper than in Finland, last time it was just about 1€.
You can find there many Neste/Hesbruger combos, and yes, even though Hesburger is Finnish, we´ve eaten Hese-food, cos they´ve better burgers, but also size and price is better 😉

Hope this wasnt too long (am working on it) and can give some help if you are planning a driving vacation through Baltic.
Dont be too scared to go. Just stay focused, keep calm, dont rush, sleep well.
After all road trips are the best, you get to see so much more, places you wouldnt get to visit otherwise.

And you have total freedom to choose where to go & when.
Plus you can buy as much as you want to – no need to weight your luggage the night before in panic!!

It feels like you would never get bored of this road, no matter how many times you go!
Just seeing those familiar places makes me smile!
I love going back to places where I have spent a lot of time in the past.
And I always find something new from each places.
Been to many cities and I have to make own posts about those- cos this one is super long already!!

PS
We´re planning to visit Lake Balaton this summer, we have already booked a place to stay for one week & those other 2 weeks- who knows!
Havent made any plans yet & that´s the best way to travel.
Last year we ended up to Maribor, Slovenia and that was amazing!
So I hope after September I get to tell you how are the roads & traffic there now, has there been many changes in one year?!

PPS
I will look for better traffic pics, these looks kinda lame 😀

PPS
Just a quick note:
I just want to make sure, we go there safely, we go along the traffic, sometimes might do little speeding but nothing much/bad, we might have helped some ppl as well but not those who go over speeding and can cause problems.
If you havent been there, keep your opinions till you´ve been where we´ve been 😉

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