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Dear Diary:

30th July 2007  -  Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus

This portion of my trip was always scheduled as a quick stop The Roads could be better!and go to collect a few more National Flags. From Warsaw, I drove north to the Lithuanian border and then crossed the country and entered Latvia. In the end I made it all the way to Riga the capital of Me in Riga - derrr!Latvia in one hit. Based on this drive, I can say that Poland has the second worst roads in Europe! Where are the worst roads you may ask? Keep reading the diary entries to find out!

I arrived in Riga rather late on a Friday evening so all of the drunks were out in force! I had not booked any accommodation and annoyingly all the hostels were full, so I wandered about for an hour and then crashed in the car just near the river.

a 360 of RigaIn the morning, I parked the old car and hit the streets to check old Riga town out and of course collect my Latvian flag. The main Church’s spire next the river is a fantastic view point – I was told early on in my travels that the best thing to do in a new place, is get to the high ground and scope the place out and its true!

The marchers were out on this day in RigaThe Occupation Museum of LatviaCompared to Tallinn in Estonia, Riga is bigger and grubbier. That’s said it’s not without its charms. Perhaps one of its best points is the fact you’re unlikely to bump into to many other “foreigners”! I spotted a few in the history The Occupation Museum of Latvia, but hey that’s cool. The museum is a must do it you ask Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museumme as it bring you right up to date with this tiny counties history.

Any way, having wandered the streets, seen the sights and eventually found my Latvian flag, I headed to the outskirts of the city and the The Ethnographic Open Air Museum. Here on a lovely big green area, you can find an example of every style of building built in Latvia over the centuries. Getting a guide or the map in English is no drama and I reckon it’s a must if you’re in Riga for sure!

Kolka peninsulaG'Day from Kolka!After wandering the housing styles of Latvia, I decided to drive about 250km or so to the Kolka peninsula and camp. Sweden is directly north of this point in space and I understand the currents of the Baltic here are very dangerous in deed. I think I’ve actually spotted this place from a jet once, so I guess that’s as good as reason as any to visit.

The next day I headed south-east and back into Lithuania and on to Vilnius. I must say I was very impressed with Vilnius in deed. The traffic was a bit hectic, but arriving at peek hour does not help in Vilniusany capital of Europe.

I ended staying here for a couple of days as I had to get myself a visa for Belarus. I would have perhaps see more of the city if I had not had to stand in line at 4 hours later i made it to the gate!the embassy for about 3-4hours but hey, it does not matter where you come from and that’s just the way it is!

Any way, I had a good wander around the city and it’s lovely. It would have fascinating to see what it was like during the communist era, but now Lithuania is wanting in to the E.U. its cleaned its self up and worth a visit for sure. Having covered a ton on ground over the past few days, it was good to be some where for more than one night. I even made a few new mates and had a few beers…

So with my 24hour Belarusian transit visa in hand, as well about 50 other documents, I crossed into was the guide book describes as one of the last Communist strong holds still existing in Europe. Perhaps the strangest things I was confronted with was about 15min into Belarus, I turned on the radio to discover the BBC World Service crystal clear in English! Even worse/better they were talking to an Aussie Female Big Farmer! It’s a strange world some times!

As I only had a 24 hours visa, I decided to simply head to Minsk for a day trip then head across into The Ukraine in the evening. I can’t say the traffic in Minsk was very bad at all. In fact with its big Soviet boulevards it was a lovely place to drive. I parked with in about 10min walk of the centre of town, hit a travel agent my guide book said was near and then hit the town to get my flag and explore.

I wandered the street and again I was very impressed with what I found. I took the old Lonely Planets suggestion and checked out “quirky Minks” and wandered past the house that Lee Harvey Oswald lived in all those years ago. Hey it was something different.

Any way, one thing I would like to point out about this part of the world is the written language. Cyrillic is bloody hard to understand for this little chook. What’s that? Just think of written Russian and all of the characters that don’t make any sense to you and I! E.G. Moscow is spelt ??????? and so on. Any way, my VERY STRONG SUGGESTIONN is to ENSURE you have a map that has names in BOTH Cyrillic and written using the Latin alphabet. Navigation will be a whole lot easer as you can match actual street signs! It was perhaps not a big problem in Minsk, but in my next stop The Ukraine, it was!!!

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