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You're talking about three beautiful but distinct countries (unless you also plan to get further afield -- Kaliningrad, St Petersburg, perhaps home via Finland and Scandinavia? Or Poland and Germany??) that have a lot to offer --
If you give us an idea of what you're interested in, maybe it would be easier to help. History? Culture? Off-roading? Beer? Football? Beaches? Hiking? Music? (All recommended, except perhaps the football.)
In total we'll be away about 5/6 weeks - going via Germany, Poland and returning through Sweden, Denmark. I'm guessing from the time available we'll spend 2/3 weeks in the Baltics.
I can find plenty to see/do for the rest of the route but anyone I speak to who have gone through the Baltics say that there's nothing but trees apart from the major towns - I don't believe them!!
Our main interests are: 'real' life not tourist life, walking, history, culture, music, natural environment, regional food etc. We prefer to avoid the main roads but as we're both on Triumph Tigers real off roading is a bit too much - gravel tracks/dirt roads are fine.
We're also planning on camping (as well as a mixture of B&B, hotels etc.) but like something in the way of facilities - ie. water, toilet! It sounds as though most camping in the Baltics is basically in a field!
Any help, suggestions etc. would be most appreciated.
...anyone I speak to who have gone through the Baltics say that there's nothing but trees apart from the major towns - I don't believe them!!
Of course don't believe this kind of BS as it is typical to people who just drive through countries via main transit routes. But we have lots of forest, though.
Actually it is very difficult to give exact suggestions about what to do here as people are all different and have different interests. I recommend to get a travel guidebook, read it to see what is available and then pick places that seem interesting to you. And as you say you like to travel small routes, there is plenty of small gravel roads in Estonia. Avoid main transit routes as these are really quite boring for adventure travel.
My quick suggestions would be old town in the capital Tallinn, island Saaremaa (quite touristic in summer) with its nice town Kuressaare. Also, very close to Tallinn is small Soviet chemical factory/mining town Maardu, this is a very strange town that partly feels more like long gone USSR. It is completely untouristic and many Estonians even don't know what is in there. There is more Russian influence in North-East, with abandoned Soviet industrial objects etc. Actually if you take small gravel backroads you can find abandoned houses and stuff like that all over Estonia -- something you don't often see in the West. We also have abandoned Soviet nuclear missile launch base and other military objets.
If you need good maps of Estonia, I strongly recommend this Regio road atlas (available in supermarkets for less than 20 EUR):
It basically has all roads you can drive and also you can easily find unpopulated places as housing is marked on the map. Just keep on small roads and I'm sure you can spend a month here.
Big trailies (like a Triumph Tiger) is an ideal bike here in Estonia, IMHO. If you like gravel roads then this will be your heaven, with decent mix of slow and fast curves, fast straights to get the best joy out of your bike that has both longer distance comfort, power and capability. 600cc or less bikes can a bit too "cramped" when loaded if you plan to ride a lot which you'll probably do.
Some good info already posted by Rebaseonu. I add that Hiiumaa (the second biggest island) is definately better choice than Saaremaa for you, especially in terms of it's having multiple times less tourists, more adventurous dirt/gravel roads and somewhat more unique scenery.
The best if you visit both Hiiumaa and Saaremaa, there's a daily ferry connection between the islands.
Some pics from Hiiumaa and Saaremaa just to get the idea:
In Tallinn "a must" is the old Medieval Town, the rest of the city is relatively similar to anything else you see in Europe.
There are dozens of good roads and destinations in the inland part. From the small village of Vask-Narva in the east to Häädemeeste in the west, from the beautiful banks of Paldiski to the hilly Haanja... Actually I mean the whole contry criss-crossed here. Whether you like to see a sunset on the Paldiski banks along with having a cooling estonian or have a swim in the lake Peipsi, visit the highest peak in the Baltic states in Haanja just to get that "ironic feeling" (you'll get it once you're there ) or just to ride 400+kms of gravel per day to enjoy the roadside scenery varying from the beutiful nature/forests to the artificial abondoned USSR buildings, ...or have it all mixed is up to you and your travelling style.
A good tip for Estonia: in Regio maps, gravel roads are usually marked with the yellow line: plot your destination(s) to get the most done on the gravel, avoid tar an affordable, slight de-tour compromise if needed. You'll do have some mixture with tar roads anyway (which are "bumpy" in most cases too btw), but the interesting phenomena here is that the scenery on gravel roads can be in 70-80% of cases marked as "beautiful", altough Regio maps mark "beautiful" roads with a green sideline, but only for tarmac roads. Thus the the principle is simple - follow the yellow line to enjoy your ride
Another good tip involves a bit more technical tracks which are marked "colourless" (just two parallel lines). in Regio maps. I highly recommend riding those very small roads in the national parks (only where vehicles are allowed), forest areas etc. You just need to check if it's "ridable" or not - some of them may be fully swamped by spring floods or after the rain, but there's no reason not to try - you can always turn around, it's a small country and you'll never get lost or lose too much time in any struggle. But if you find a nice ridable version of that road in a beautiful "environment" (i.e. like national parks), you'll enjoy it. Usually they are some small 4x4 tracks (you can ride them much faster with the bike of course), usually with the condition like these:
My tips pale in comparison to what's gone before, but...:
1. the border at German-Polish border at Swinoujscie is closed to motor vehicles -- swing down via Szczecin to avoid getting very angry with the jobsworth border guards.
2. the Polish-Roosian border at Gronowo is hell on earth if you're Polish or Roosian. But I was waved to the front by everyone in a queue of 400+ cars expecting to take three DAYS to cross the border.. and got through in 2 hours. Be very grateful that the locals are so friendly...
3. Kaliningrad is absolutely worth the hassle of visa, discomfort, dodgy police etc for its slightly alien feel. You won't meet many tourists, or find any tourist literature, or info... what stuff you will find will be cant about Kant.. but people are generally approachable and its a unique chance to get some impression of the Stalinist 'good old days' (mixed with very capitalist casinos.) I was there in November so elected to say in hotel rather than camping!
4. The Curonian Spit between Kaliningrad and Lithuania is gorgeous.. nature reserve, very quiet out of season, good camping, filthy drinking water, highly recommended.
4. In Lithuania, Klaipeda could make more of its incredible history. Good luck finding a museum that's open when you're there. That said, I managed a long night in some heavy nightclubs where you get frisked for guns before you get in.. unless you look like the type who actually carries a gun!.. which was a novel experience.
5. Latvia: Liepaja is a good little town.. Latvia's "summer city".. music festival in the summer.. stay at the Karosta Military Prison (now a B&B) for something different.. I didn't like Riga so much, though the snow may have been to blame. Too many Brit male tourists looking for strip clubs and hookers. The Old Town was less attractive than Tallinn's but perhaps that just means it's less chocolate-boxey. Recommended: the Museum of Occupations in both cities. There'll be more good camping at Saulkrasti, north of Riga.
6: Can't add anything to the great info you've alrady got on Estonia except to say the local bikers are as kind and helpful in the flesh as they are on this site. Was really grateful for their help and time. And for another sense of Soviet times, head up to Narva on the border heading to st Petersburg. It's a depressed, poor, very Roosian town, seems quite different from the rest of Estonia. With fascinating history too -- couple of castles.. centuries of being fought over.
That's fantastic - thanks for all your help and suggestions.
I've already downloaded the PDF travel guide which at an initial look through looks pretty helpful. I'll read it properly from a printed copy!
The photos are also useful - nice to see what we're letting ourselves in for on the roads and the scenery looks fantastic. (Great piccies by the way!)
The info on the border crossings is good to know in advance - should save alot of agro.
Looks like we'd better add a bit more time to our trip!
I have just come back from - Denmark,Poland, Kaliningrad, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, sweden and Norway. Absolutly fantastic trip and there is loads to see and do. Definatly take the time to see Belarus and Kaliningrad it's worth it just for the cultural diferences and neither are really touristy. In Kaliningrad I can really recommend a guesthouse called Hotel Paraiso as a good base, it's small and biker friendly and in a safe quiet suburb near the city centre. Watch out for the roads though - made of big cobbles with lots of wheel catching oblique tram lines and I'm sure they have secret diesel sprayers that go out at night!! With both of the border crossings allow 3 hours to get through the paper nightmare involved but we found the staff very helpfull once they find out you are a confused tourist. If you ask they will help you -but you have to ask. On the road from Vilnius to Belarus is a place called Grutus Park which is well worth a visit, it's full of CCCP memorabilia and explains much of the occupation history and why the Baltians hate the Soviets so much - a real eye opening but humbling experience. Norway is well worth a trip to, very expensive but the scenery is worth it. The youth Hostling organisation has places all over the country and you can get a great cabin sleeping up to 10 for about £60 if you want a break from camping. Food and drink are very pricey but if you are near the coast look out for fish and shellfish which you can easily catch and cook for yourself as we did!
We haven't set a date for leaving yet but it will be sometime in the last couple of weeks of July.
Would be fun to meet up for a somewhere as it seems quite likely we'll be in the same area at some time. What's the best way to sort it out?
Hi Margus and Others
Really good info, and I'm leaving on tuesday. I have a few last minute questions though. Are you allowed to camp wild in Estonia? Legally? Also what are the midges and mosquitoes like at this time of year. Hope you can help. Fancy a some time in the next few weeks Margus.
Hi I was in Estonia last July and got to see a great Hill Climb Competion I think its held every July at Kivioli where there is a big man made mountain made from ash.
Kivioli is in the North about 100 mile east of Tallain worth going to see if your in the area.
As has been said use the smaller roads, you can also ride through some of the national parks
I was literally rushing through the Baltics, 6 weeks ago, to get to St Peter within two and half days of London (did it!) and I did not stop at all other than hotels, but I was particularly impressed with the 'old world' countryside along the A3 road from Riga to Velga and on to Tartu in Estonia. This is not shown properly on my old maps or newer GPS but is well worth the effort for the scenery.
Although now in southern Russia, I plan to ride back the same way in a few weeks time, but taking more time to see what looks like a lovely area.
I might take the advice to visit Kallinningrad - I have no Visa problems (Multi Entry Business, by far the easiest in the long term). And Registration in Russia got a lot easier a few weeks ago.
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