Archive | August, 2011

12th August – last day in Latvia

12 Aug

We were hoping to walk around and get some nice photos of the campsite and the walking tracks around it, but this morning it was pouring with rain and we had to pack up without really getting out of the car. Just moved things around … like a Rubiks cube until everything was in the right place and we could drive off. It was a shame as the location was fantastic. This is the river that runs along the edge of the campsite.

The wood store where you pick up your free wood for the campfire.

Once we left the campsite we headed up towards the Estonian border, stopping only to pick up a bit of shopping in one of the well stocked supermarkets. There you can buy everything loose by weight, from the normal sweets, to rice, nuts, seeds, wheat and even biscuits. I remember places like that in Enland from way back, but have not seen it for a long time.

One of the things that we forgot to mention earlier was the fuel prices in Latvia.

Diesel costs around 89 Lat / Lt ( £1.10) and Petrol is around the same price.

We then continued on to Estonia, although it will be a short visit as we are due to arrive in Russia on Monday.

We had not realised it but Estonia joined the Euro in January. It is also the place where Skype was invented ….. It seems to be that Estonia is really into technology and they say that for every 100 Estonians there are 150 mobiles in use. Can’t quite see why you’d need 1.5 each …. but still!

On the other hand there are still many people that live in the countryside that lead a very traditional life. One of the guest houses where we looked at camping in the garden, was very rustic but had wifi signs all over it (the old meets the new)!

In the garden they had a really unusual boat. I’m not sure but it looks like it is made from an old float plane …. any thoughts?

Really hoping for sun tomorrow to dry us out, but the forecast is not so good!

11th August – Cesis

11 Aug

Last night we went over to eat stew with our Lithuanian neighbours. It was very kind of them to ask us over. The stew was delicious and was washed down with Lithuanian beer from a wooden tankard passed around the table in turn. It was interesting to talk to them and we learnt more about the Lithuanian people and their way of life. Thank you! It turned out that they were in Latvia to take part in a battle reenactment and were taking the opportunity of doing a days canoeing. They hoped to do 40 km on the Gauja the following day.

In the morning we exchanged contact details and took a few photos to remind us of the meeting.

Graham even got to try on one of the helmets while Marjool just giggled!!

Marjool was then given a gift by Egle (the pretty young lady!) which she had made herself including weaving the strap. It was lovely and so touching. We hope that they keep in touch and come and visit when we get home!

We were also sad to leave the campsite because the young lady (Lelde) who looked after us there was so nice too. We have invited her to visit us at home too. We hope she keeps in touch! Marjool forgot to spruce up her hair (no easy job!) before the photo … oh well you give up after a while don’t you?!

We finally left late after the goodbyes and headed onto the B roads towards Cesis. As soon as you get off the main trunk roads in Latvia, you are straight onto unmade roads. I wonder if they require less maintenance in the extreme cold. Lelde said that last winter it got down to -40c.

As we drove we saw so many nice old farms and buildings that we wanted to photograph …. far too many to put on the website.

Our next camping spot was again an empty campsite. It is right on the river again and has 5 volleyball courts on the sandy beach and you are provided with wood and free but slow wifi. This site was 10 Lat per night and has lots of lovely tracks along the river. One goes to an ox bow lake and is fed by a spring. We will go there tomorrow and fill some bottles of drinking water. It is nearly as good as Phil Harvey’s …. but not quite! After a walk we cooked dinner on the campfire … somehow it always tastes better!

10th August

10 Aug

We spent the first part of the morning reading through some of the notes that we had made on Russia before we left home. We had copied and printed some notes on the forms that we would need to complete at the border, but had not had a chance to look at them yet. We then tried to do a bit of Russian revision …. hoping to do a little every day before we arrive there!



After about half an hour Graham sneaked off to do a bit of fishing, mumbling something about doing more when we were not camped right next to a river. The rain, which has been the main feature of the weather over the last couple of days stopped for long enough for us to walk up towards Turaida Castle, which is only about 15 mins walk away. It is at the top of a hill looking right out over the river.



In the grounds of the castle there is a whole collection of granite sculptures.



As we got closer to them we realised how large they were! We just could not imagine how they were put there. There is only rolling grass lawns and these things (maybe 20) are huge!



As we continued walking through the castle grounds we arrived at one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia it was built in 1750 and although it has been renovated it is mostly original. The timber inside is painted in light colours, making the inside really light and airy and still has all the original markings on it from when it was cut from trees.



When the rain started we headed outside the castle grounds to a drab looking concrete building that had ‘Bistro’ in large letters on the windows. It turned out to be a soviet style public catering room. These were built in the soviet era when people were encouraged to eat in these establishments rather than cook at home. The shops had very little in and the kitchen space was tiny in the apartments and so it made sense at the time. This one has been kept as a reminder of those times.



We now have new neighbours! We are not the only ones on the site now! Not only that but they have  just knocked on the door of the camper and asked us to join them for a traditional Lithuanian (they are tourists in Latvia) spicy stew cooked on the camp fire. They say it will be ready in an hour …. its already 9.50pm. They asked so nicely that we couldn’t refuse. People are just so friendly!




9th August – Gauja National Park

9 Aug

Left the Riga campsite in heavy rain today, and after stocking up with essentials like cakes, fresh bread and chocolate (Marjool likes the Latvian supermarkets!), headed out to the Gauja  National Park. We also tried again in vain to stock up with methylated spirit (denatured alcohol) for our stove. It seems that it is just not available here …. we have tried all the big supermarkets and today went to a huge B&Q type store called Depo. Still no luck. We have enough to last us about another two weeks but need to make sure that we can get it in Russia, otherwise we may have to rethink our cooking set up.

We arrived in Gauja National Park at around 1.30 pm and found a really nice little campsite for 5 Lat, right by the river. It is small and we are the only ones staying there. If this is peak season I would like to see it outside the school holidays. I guess with a population of only 2.4 million people, and more than 500 km of coastline plus numerous lakes and rivers to choose from, it’s not that surprising.



Graham even managed a bit of fishing, one roach and a small perch. Massive splashes in the river so might try again tomorrow!


There are lots of canoes and rubber boats passing by as there is a 231 km 7 day canoe trip down the river, with campsites and little cafes dotted along the route.



As we are starting to think about conserving methylated spirit (just in case), we cooked dinner on the wood gas stove. Managed boiled potatoes, spicy chicken wings and coffee with about four twigs ….



Tomorrow we are going to stay here and sort out all the papers and forms that we need to enter Russia, plus start a bit of Russian revision. We may even read, as we now have some books again. Thanks Natalie and Stuart …. and thanks for taking our Poland guide book and maps back to England! : )


8th August – Riga

8 Aug

We stayed at a campsite outside Riga yesterday next to a small lake. The lake was great for a quick swim before dinner as it was a really sticky evening. Later another massive thunderstorm! It really seems to be the pattern, clear days then thunderstorms at night. In the morning we decided to let the sat nav guide us to the Riga campground. It took us on a shortcut around the airport which was just muddy tracks and eventually popped us out onto a major road into the city. The city camping at Riga is just behind the exhibition centre and is very good. You can easily walk the 2.5km into the old town.

The old town in Riga is very pretty and the streets outside the old part of town are all smart, clean and tidy. It is all very well maintained, roads are good and there is very little litter on the streets. In general there is less litter in Latvia and Lithuania than at home.

The buildings in the old town squares have been renovated to a high standard and are beautiful.








Walking around the town you see the normal stalls selling souvenirs, but sometimes the quirky ones catch you eye. This is an old traditional souvenir with a new slant!



Running along the edge of the old town is a canal which is surrounded by grassy areas where people just relax, sit and chat and eat lunch. You can also go on short boat trips in boats that look like they have been here for a while.




If you follow the canal it takes you to Central Market which is housed in four old Zeppelin hangers. Each hanger has a different type of product. Certainly worth wandering around for a while.



Having spent the last seven hours walking to Riga from the campsite, we decided to call it a day and walk back. On the way we saw a display of drawings by an artist called Bisofs. They were intended to give an insight into Latvians and the country. One was a useful reference to the different signs or symbols used to show male and female toilets. Once Marjool had to ask which one was the ladies as she was confused by the sign ….



Moving on from Riga tomorrow, but I am sure that we will come back. It is a great place for a city break!



7th August – last day in Lithuania

7 Aug

Our last evening in Lithuania was a memorable one.  We headed over to the festival at around 5pm to watch music and dancing by locals. When that finished a traditional Lithuanian band started playing. They were really good and the lead singer was really enthusiastic and lively. We enjoyed it even if we couldn’t understand the words.



Gradually the place filled up in anticipation of the fireworks and disco.




The fireworks were great and the atmosphere got more and more lively. We left them to it and headed back to the camper where we could still hear the music well enough (it was only 50 m from the stage!). The party carried on until around 6.00 am.

The next morning it was time to head off, and so we said goodbye to our host Venantas …… another really nice person that we have met on our travels! Thank you for your hospitality (and book).




The Hill of crosses was about 80km away, just north of Siauliai on the A12 to Riga. It is an amazing sight as you drive towards it, it is just so unusual. It has been a place of pilgrimage since 1863 and since this time Catholics and tourists have come here to place  crosses, rosaries, and other offerings to commemorate people’s suffering, hopes and gratitude. The hill is saddle shaped and has a walkway along the ridge and small paths in between the crosses. It is supposed to have over 100,000 crosses there.




Almost every space is taken up …..



A local lady helps look after the hill.




Every statue or cross is used as a support for more.




The walkway across the hill gives you a chance to take in the scale of this place of pilgrimage.




We could not leave without adding our own, with thoughts of all the good people that we had met so far on our trip and all our friends and family.




As we headed away from the hill of crosses towards the Latvian border we reflected on Lithuania and its people.

Lithuanians are rightly proud of their country and have a strong national identity. There are flags everywhere and tee shirts with the Lithuanian colours are very common. The countryside is lovely and is very sparsely populated with only 3.5 million people in a country twice the size of Belgium. The people seem really family orientated and love to spend time outside on the water or in the woods. In general they do not tend to open up to strangers very quickly, but as soon as you engage and make an effort they do open up and are very kind and helpful as we have seen over and over again. It is obviously only a snapshot of the country, but we love it!

Roads are great and we also like all the woodwork …. buildings and sculptures!

We’ve also decided that we would  like to have  our own cow.

Goodbye Lithuania.



And on into Latvia!



6th August – Alsedziai – Lithuania

6 Aug

We have not got to the hill of crosses yet as we stopped for lunch at a village called Alsedziai, in a sort of village green area. When we got there we could see them setting up for some sort of village event. We asked someone who spoke German and he said that it was a traditional Lithuanian village music festival and that we should stay to see it! He invited us to park in his garden which was next door.

It was only 2.00pm and the festival was not due to start until 5.00 so we walked around the village, which is almost all nice old wooden houses and small farms.

The program for the festival which starts at 5.00pm and finishes at 3.00am

The event started with games for the children, firstly a flipper race!

Time for us to go now, our host has just given us a reminder! Wonder what it will be like?

5th August

5 Aug

The final day at Sventoji was spent doing the washing, checking the fluids on the vehicle, crawling underneath to grease the propshaft and rearranging a few bags. I am sure that after seven months everything will be where we want it ….. maybe! Once the jobs were done we headed off to the beach for an hour. The weather is still great, with completely clear skies.

Before we leave the campsite we wanted to record a few of the bits that we like. Maybe one day Tom (our eldest son) will find a nice bit of land and build his own. I know he has lots of ideas already, but just in case!

The covered picnic areas worked really well so that people could still cook, eat and chat whatever the weather. They all have power and lights so that people could charge phones, cameras etc. There is a good sized kitchen as well that has cookers, tables and chairs, fridges, and washing up facilities.

There is also some little rocking horses for the children, a wooden play house, slide and a swing seat.

Thanks for looking after us we enjoyed our stay!


Around 8.30 we went out for a stroll on the beach to see if there was going to be a good sunset. As we walked along to the old pier (now derelict), we saw some really pretty sand sculptures, formed by letting the wet sand run through your fingers. Someone had been at the beach a long time!


On the other side of the pier we found people digging in the sand for amber. It is supposed to be really easy to find here.



As the sun went down, the pier looked totally different …



Planning to go to the ‘Hill of Crosses’ tomorrow, but who knows what we might find on the way …..

4th August – Still at Sventoji !!

4 Aug

We are still enjoying Sventoji and so we are not moving until Saturday! The campsite is a lovely relaxing place to stay and the owners take such a pride in the campsite, that we can’t drag ourselves away. It is actually really nice to spend a few days in one place without doing any driving … anyway, what’s the rush? This is not ‘The Long way round’!

This morning the owner had set up a stall with cakes and pastries on and so before we headed off to pick up the bikes we enjoyed apple turnovers and coffee.

We were tempted by the cakes that looked like Christmas trees, but they were far too large for just two of us! They are a Lithuanian specialty so it was a shame not to try them.

We then walked into town and tried to hire the bikes. The first place wanted either our passport or  800 Ltl deposit. We never let the passports out of our possession as the visas would be a nightmare to replace, and we were going into Latvia soon and so did not want to get more cash out. We tried the next place and a very friendly young lady who was keen to practice her english helped us resolve the issue by accepting our driving license as a deposit instead. I was also reluctant to let this out of my sight, but she promised to guard it with her life! The bikes were great and soon we were riding along Cycle Route 10 which runs right along the coast all the way up to Latvia. Not sure how much of it is traffic free, but certainly the section between Sventoji and Palanga is. It runs along smooth tarmac in the partial shade of the fir trees that grow on the dunes. What is lovely is that even though the two towns are developing fast, the strip of dunes (maybe 500m to 1km wide) cannot be developed.

As you cycle along the track, there are a series of paths through the woods to the sea. It is lovely!

When we first arrived at Palanga we cycled around the Botanical gardens past the Amber Museum. This area is famous for amber being washed up on the beach.

A shady spot was called for then as the sun was strong and we needed to top up with water and suntan lotion.

From the botanical gardens we cycled down the parade (Basanaviciaus) to the pier and the beach again for a quick look. We both love all the colours, and although it is really busy, there is a great atmosphere! On the way there we saw a busker playing the accordion. For a while we wondered if Mick M from Trusham had sneaked a quick fishing trip to the Baltic!


My favorite image was of a really relaxed man who was on his second beer, and looked like he was in heaven. Even with his eyes shut he was still smiling.

A gentle ride back and then it was time to cook dinner. A great day!!

3rd August – Sventoji

3 Aug

Woke up again to a clear blue sky. It seems that although we are a long way from home, the weather is just about the same! Spent the first part of the day finishing the awning ties and fixings to the car. We only got it made at the last minute and so did not really have time to do the little finishing jobs before we set off. We have also had a bit of a leak from the roof which sent drips of water onto the driver when negotiating tight right hand bends. Only happened after heavy rain but was annoying, so I wanted to put some sealant where I thought it was coming in.





I was pleased to be able to justify all the handy bits and bobs that I had brought with me …. well at least some of them!



It is always really difficult to know how many tools and spare bits to bring on a trip like this. I think I may have gone over the top ….. maybe not for the first time! In addition to the tools shown below, I have two socket sets (1/2 inch and 1/4 inch drive) a torque wrench, hi lift jack, ordinary bottle jack, a small axe, an army trench spade (full size) and a small folding spade …… yes well over the top!



Enough of that boring practical stuff ….. After the maintenance work and Marjool’s washing we headed down to the beach. We started to turn right but an older man on the nudist side of the invisible boundary was playing football a little too enthusiastically for Marjools liking … all those sudden changes in direction were a little off putting! So we headed off in the opposite direction for a pleasant stroll along the beach. Walked for about one and a half hours on a nearly empty beach. A little different from Palanga.



Hoping to rent bikes tomorrow to get a bit more exercise. Seems like we are sitting down a lot.