Baltic countries Kindness (Tallinn, Estonia to Warsaw, Poland)

We each woke in a single bed. Not the usual kind of bed we found ourselves in which involves a strangers house or couch. It was a bed, in a cabin, on a cruise ship, and we had slept like babies! We had not left our cabin on our 14€ each overnight cruise from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia, until the morning at 8am sharp, at the earliest we possible could. The 3 hour trip to cross the sea, was some strange one day holiday quite popular among Finnish people where patrons had a 4 hour period the next day to visit Tallinn, before returning to the ship to sail home. To us, it was the cheapest method to cross the baltic sea, and we had a bed and shower for the night. What a bargain!

We walked from the docks towards the historic old town of Tallinn with excitement flowing from each step. A new country (not that we wanted to leave Finland) and a new part of Europe! We strolled through a developed city centre, well dressed citizens walking to work around us. For some odd reason (lack of knowledge) we expected the baltic countries to be less civilised, rougher. Our impressions of places were forever developing. Before long we were passing the historic fortifications of the old towns wall. Inside the awakening city was full of emerging tourist shops, restaurants and cafes. We happily walked along lonely narrow lanes until reaching the other side, continuing another 5km to the outskirts of town. Without even trying, an extremely friendly uber driver pulled over to where we walked and offered to take us somewhere if it was close. Lost in translation, we agreed on the incorrect lake and found ourselves 10km down the road holding Estonian lollies and a bag of apples. Huh? What just happened. Well he was very nice.IMG_1722

We rerouted, found a hitchhiking spot and again attempted to reach a lake we had seen a photograph of. With a screen shot of it in our phone showing it was only 10km down the road, a younger guy driving a deliver van picked us up. Dropped at an intersection where a short walk would take us to the lake, we doubled checked the location and in poor english he laughingly told us we had the incorrect lake. Great! Fail number two and it was beginning to become unrealistic as we had a couchsurfer lined up 150km away. Thankfully there was a bus stop beside us because as a thunderstorm rolled by, devastating and flooding the entire road, we had some shelter, standing on the seat to avoid rising water. It quickly past and we decided depending on how quick our next lift came, we would continue the 40km in the opposite direction to visit this lake.

Blessed by our magical hitchhiking fairy again (or maybe hitchhiking just isn’t that hard and dangerous 😉 a young 23 year old guy driving a new Mercedes offered to take us to a town 20kms in the right direction. Upon reaching it he expressed his desire to help people more in life and drove us the entire way to the lake. We thanked him generously, stating we would not have visited this place, if if weren’t for him. As he drove away we had our next obstacle to jump over, literally. Our goal for the day was to visit an abandoned prison where high years of rainfall had created a lake among its abandoned building complexes. Finding a photograph of it online we felt it was well worth the trip, and apparently it was on the way to Parnu, where would stay the night. Before us stood two large rock walls, barbwire curled aggressively along much of the top. Many sections of the first wall were blown away however the second was intact and signs of people climbing over were dissuaded by thick coatings of grease and added barbwire. We walked along its perimeter until finding a manageable place to climb and threw ourselves over. Finding the lake inside, it was a well worth the effort and we relaxed and swam for the short hour we had spare before once again hitching.IMG_1741

Our next ride spoke no english however showing him a map we were dropped at a nearby town. We ate lunch then were quickly picked up again and dropped at the freeway which ran directly to Parnu. Apparently hitchhiking on major roadways was legal here, unlike most other European countries. Wishing we had a bigger sign we watched traffic pass at incredible speeds. Our doubts were lifted when a car had stopped 100m away. A couple heading to a small town before Parnu dropped us out of their way to the doorstep of our couchsurfers apartment. Despite the days struggles, we had made it only an hour late by 5pm.

Greeted by a lovely middle aged women, Kersti enthusiastically showed us to her apartment and was very bubbly and excited to hear our stories. She was so kind to have done some shopping throughout the day and together we cooked a typical Estonian dinner. Afterwards she gave us a plethora of information on her town and lent us her two bikes to explore it on. No packs and the ease of two wheels below us was a new satisfaction and it was not until 10:30pm when the sun began to set that we knocked on Kersti’s door again and fell asleep on her sofa bed. What a day!Photo 2-08-2016, 5 36 52 PM13932897_10205313950328816_3852917111984799673_nThe next morning we were once again greeted by happy Kersti as we ate cheese porridge and toast for breakfast together. We were enjoying our time so much we agreed to take another ride into town as Kersti insisted we must swim whilst in Estonia. Kayla sat on a towel at the back of my bike and together the three of us ventured in. With a much more informative ride, we were shown Kersti’s work (historic school), her favourite cafe, the beach (where we swam despite the strong winds) and found a shopping centre. Returning at 2pm we quickly ate lunch one last time together and sadly had to say our goodbye. Thank you Kersti you were an amazing host. See you in Australia!

Hearts warmed we walked the short distance to the highway leading south. We had rough plans to see a castle in a national park of Latvia, only 150km away. Having no luck in finding cardboard, we used a previously misspelt sign in half to create a one slightly bigger than our hand. It was poorly efficient towards the racing by cars however thankfully a set of lights before us slowed traffic. An hour and a half past before a young couple from Latvia were driving home to the capital Riga. They were happy to drop us at the intersection were we needed to change highways and before departing suggested we meet them in a bar at Riga the next night as we had a couchsurfer there. We really enjoyed our ride and happily agreed. Standing again on a highway we held a new sign made kindly by our previous lift and before long were picked up. Again, we were dropped directly to our destination, a campsite inside the national park, well out of our drivers way and as it was dusk, walked in, cooked dinner and fell asleep.

The next days weather was rainy. We had no option other than to pack up in it, eat breakfast undercover and walk with our umbrella the 5km to a castle we wanted to photograph. Our mood matched the continuous downpour and before long we were walking away hitching towards Riga. An easy lift to the highway brought us to a bus stop where a friendly German man travelling to Riga gave us a lift right into the centre. He was picking his wife and daughter up from the central fresh food market so we figured we may as well get some vegetable for dinner that night. For a mass total of 2€ we purchased a bag of local yellow mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, blue cheese, zucchinis, dill and spring onions to recreate the Estonian dinner we ate with Kersti. We had a quick walk through the old town before meeting our couchsurfer Arturs at his apartment.

After a text he met us at the outside door. Instantly we gathered a very relaxed and well experienced host vibe. His apartment equally matched this persona as upon entering we met Noemi, another couchsurfer he was having for the night. We all sat in his spacious living room and talked effortlessly about travels and couchsurfing, all agreeing it is an amazing place to meet good people. Soon after in the kitchen two Australians cooked Estonian in Latvia. Who would have thought! The night grew more interesting as Arturs ran out the front door to bring another two couchsurfers in. A Polish couple had been hitchhiking and a slow day had brought them in at 11pm. We talked, took turns showering and set our camping matts up to fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. Our days were feeling so long, crammed full with exciting and new experiences.

The next morning the six of us coordinated packing up and when Arturs left to work at 10am we all followed shortly behind however with his apartment key in hand. His trust in strangers was astonishing. We went to explore the old town more precisely with Noemi, loosing track of time and eating at a traditional Latvian restaurant for 14€. As a result, it was not until 4pm that we caught a bus out of the city and began hitchhiking. Our plans were to visit a historical architectural monument, the hill of crosses, 50km away and in Lithuania. From there we had little plans and after two lifts found ourselves starring at a hill, decorated with over 100,000 religious crosses and multiple Jesus statues. It was a dramatically sacred site, meant to showcase hope, peace and religion. An enormous thunder storm was moving quickly towards us and feeling quite safe where we were, decided to camp beside the crosses. Huddled in our tent by 8pm heavy rain began flooding the floor and we stayed up most of the night scooping formed puddles in our tent corners with a plastic bucket and tossing the water outside. We may as well of bought a boat..IMG_1855By morning the rain had cleared and we quickly packed before the rush of tourists came. Another couple did similar in the distance and before long we were on the highway again with our thumbs out. Our plan was to reach a castle near the capital Vilnius, then see what happens for accomodation. The usual outcome when we haven’t found a couchsurfer. We signed for a town only 20kms away where we needed to change directions. A friendly young dad picked us up and dropped us in a good location to continue. Our baltic luck continued when a 20 year old male drove us a further 70km to his home town and where we required to change highways again. Our new location was another bus stop however it was deserted. No cars drove by and after a an hour our days goals seemed hopeless. We smiled patiently as a couple cars finally passed. The third, a new sports BMW stopped and we were greeted by Evelina and Arvydas.Photo 6-08-2016, 11 00 19 AMMinutes into the lift, after being asked where we were staying and replying “no idea”, we were offer to stay at their apartment. With no hope of not sounding like a broken record we were left speechless. Hoping we did not sounds desperate we suggested it were fine but they insisted and an hour later we were in their 6th floor (no stairs) newly renovated flat. We were given the spare room and while they had to quickly duck out to see a friend, they were not phased in leaving two strangers alone in their home.

An hour later they returned with several full shopping bags, two of them containing Lithuanian traditional savoury potato pancakes! Some were filled with meat and all served with a garlic sour cream. Our taste buds exploded with flavour and we ate until our hearts felt content. Beers included! Once again we were speechless from their generosity and felt overwhelmed by how kind strangers could be! Apologetically they had to have a rest before a dinner party that night and we opted to go explore the capital city we were otherwise not going to see. Their apartment was only a kilometre from the centre and within a short stroll we found ourselves surrounded by countless historic churches and walking  narrow cobble stone alleys. Night soon set, around 9pm which felt extremely early having been up north for so long. Heavy rain began falling and with our trusty umbrella, we ran back to our friends apartment, letting ourselves in with the spare key. Shortly after we were asleep.

We woke earlier then our friends and packed our bags. They had offered the previous day that it would be their pleasure to take us to Trakia Castle, our intentional destination. Before we left Evelina cooked us omelette and we sat together having breakfast. Driving through Vilnius they drove to a lookout and showed us an amazing view over the city, further highlighting the dozens of old churches. 20kms later we walked around the outskirts of the beautiful Trakia Castle and were taken out for lunch to try the traditional pastries the area was known for. Miraculously we had been gifted to meet such kind people and as we stayed in Trakia and they departed, we felt like we had left family behind. Thank you Evelina and Arvydas for showing such trust in strangers and being beyond generous! This world is filled with amazing people. The rest of our afternoon involved walking 7km to the nearest campsite. Sadly we had to pay 17€ to camp there and the facilities were terrible. We decided we would rise for a sunrise photograph of the caste and were in bed well before dark.IMG_1930

Packing up to the dim light of our campground, we hurriedly left without breakfast as the sun was rising earlier than the internet had told. In an almost jog we reached the castle in sweat and were somewhat disappointed as the sky became overcast, hiding most signs of a sunrise. We sat on a wharf eating breakfast at 7am before slowly dragging ourselves to walk to the outskirts of the town, stocking up at a supermarket on the way, and beginning our hitch towards Poland. The days goal was one of our favourite; try and hitchhike as far as possible. It was 8:30pm and traffic quite frequent however because of getting little response, we decided to walk further to a bus stop. It was 10:30 when a friendly older couple who only spoke Lithuanian and German picked us up.

Just our luck, they were heading to the second town over the border to Poland. Dropped off and feeling enthusiastic, we waited another hour before being dropped 20km at the beginning of a larger town, right on the main highway. The poor location resulted in us standing in the blistering sun for a further hour and a half. A Polish solicitor, having been visiting a friend for advise due to going through a divorce, offered us to join him camping at a national park but our desire to head south was too strong. He dropped us on the other side of the large town and from there we only waited 10 minutes before a semitrailer truck squeezed into the turning lane we stood before. Although he spoke very little English, we managed to talk the entire 5hour journey to the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland’s capital, and somehow were left with hotdogs, chips and 6 beers. It was 8:30pm and we had no where to sleep.

The sun began disappearing behind the horizon of tall buildings, an all too familiar sight, although we had seen it raise only 14 hours ago. We walked to a McDonalds, discovering a camp sight 15km away in the city centre however decided to try free camp, despite the unsafe industrial area we were in. Walking to a small patch of forest we began exploring it as the sun was minutes from darkness. Signs of frequent human activity led us back to the highway and our thumbs outstretching. The third car, driven by a extremely helpful Polish man who empathised our hitchhiking situation, called some campsites, finding the cheapest one and drove us to its entrance. Thanking him, we gave away our gifted beers and walked past reception. Our dinner consisted of twiggy sticks on bread and by 11:30pm our 20 hour day was over…

(121km walked, 1195km hitchhiked)

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