Is there anything better than waking up in the wee hours of the morning? Actually no, especially when you know it is time for another one of your trips! The plan today is to take a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, spend some time there before turning the nose of the car towards Kaunas in Lithuania, which will be our first stop on this roadtrip.
HELSINKI – TALLINN
As you can see from the map, it is nigh impossible to get anywhere from Helsinki without taking a ferry first. So, our first leg is from Helsinki to Tallinn with Tallink shuttle ferry, as Tallink does offer much more versatility when it comes to the sailing times compared to any other ferry companies operating between Helsinki and Tallinn. And as an added bonus for us – pets travel for free when they are left in the vehicle for the duration of the trip (2 hours).
Looking at the photo above of the ship in the morning sun, I really have to say that I’d love to have a proper camera to take photos. You know, one of those cameras with a proper zoom instead of cell phone digital zoom, which really doesn’t work under any conditions, even in 2017. But, as we are armed with iPhone 6+, that is what we are going to use! But it shall not dampen the mood of our trip!
Like mentioned before, if your pet travels in your car – they travel for free. With Tallink, you can also prebook a pet kennel for your pet. At first we thought of not leaving Mika, our puppy, to the car for the two hour crossing as he has a habit of getting bored and, well, come up with a multitude of his own activities… But as we didn’t prebook the said kennel for him prior to the departure, we had to return him to the car.
So we shall see how Mika the Puppy behaves – and if need be, we can still book him the kennel for the return trip. So, now he has the whole car to himself… a thought that both Mummy and Daddy are a bit cautious about. In case you are wondering: it’s the same kind of nagging thought that parents have when their teenager says: “It’s ok, I can manage by myself for the weekend – I’ll be good.”
As we have made the crossing many times in the past, we already know the drill: 10
minutes before arrival to Tallinn, the drivers should be making their way to the car decks and their vehicles. As this is the first time that our little Poodle Boy, Mika, is travelling with us in the car, we anxiously wait what he has been up to.
But to our relief, apart from turning the blinkers on, he seems to have behaved himself like any other proper little Poodle Boy would – by making himself cozy on the front seat with his head on a pillow that we hoomins use for our back. Perhaps this is his way of saying that he misses Mummy and Daddy and likes to have something that reminds him of us there in the car (when he is not playing that he was driving himself).
Anyway, welcome to Tallinn or Tere tulemast Tallinnasse, as the Estonians say. Slowly, along other drivers, we make our way out of the ship, and set the navigator (which kindly reminds us that we are no longer in Kansas.. erm, Finland) to Rimi Supermarket in Lasnamäe Centrum.
Pit Stop In Tallinn
When coming from Finland to Estonia, it is always a good idea to stop in Tallinn before heading onwards. As we have lived in Estonia before, back in 2011, we found out that stopping near the harbour or the city centre would be slightly more expensive when it comes to commodities such as fuel, so we always tend to head out to Lasnamäe area to refuel.
Also, stopping to stock up the car, serves other purposes as well:
- One must always have munchies and something to drink in the car for a road trip. It is a must. It minimises the stops along the way, and also helps to cut down the cost of stopping at the expensive roadside service stations.
- When you have started your drive just before 6 am, it is good to have some breakfast.
Even though the prices of everything have gone up since 2012 when we said good-bye to Tallinn as residents, grocery shopping is still clearly cheaper than in Finland. The same applies to petrol prices; after shopping at Rimi Supermarket, we make a quick fuel (and Mika needs to mark his territory) stop at the nearby Neste fuel station.
If you are heading from Finland to Tallinn,or Estonia in general, don’t refuel in Finland: at the moment (10.12.17) the 95E10 fuel costs roughly 20 cents less per litre in Tallinn than in Helsinki! (HEL: 1,44€/l, TLL: 1,23€/l)
When we used to live here in Estonia, it was in a small place called Loo (haha you
English speakers), which is a small village, just outside of the city limits of Tallinn. So of course, the first part of our trip is filled with the mandatory “ooh, this never used to be here!”, “Remember this?”, and all other necessary comments – and off we go!
Quite surprisingly our GPS wants us to head first towards Loo, even though we are heading west, but soon afterwards it becomes apparent: it doesn’t want us to drive through Tallinn city center! Instead, the lady GPS wisely wants us to take the new motorways (they used to be more countryside roads back in the day) and go around the city centre. It suits us just fine!
Poland, but first Kaunas in Lithuania, here we come!
From Tallinn to Kaunas
Our plan is to drive onward from Tallinn, via the Baltic countries, all the way to Poland and Gdansk. For most of this drive we plan to follow the Via Baltica (E67) route to border of Poland before heading towards Gdansk.
Sadly the weather forecast for the week doesn’t exactly spell out white Christmas and snowy December. Instead, the weatherman smiles to those who happen to like a bit of rain, overcast skies, and temperatures of around +5°C! But, as it is always with our trips: it’s not about the weather, but about the company and the idea of travelling to see new countries and Christmas Markets!
When you are planning a road trip, let us give at least one advice to you: driving roughly 600km in one day is an undertaking. And when it is midwinter, remember that the amount of daylight is very limited indeed!
Luckily there are two of us, so we can share the burden. But sitting at the front seat isn’t easy either, so be prepared to have something to do, unless you are like me – falling asleep as soon as there is a long stretch of motorway. I have always had this uncanny knack of falling asleep in a moving car, and I have been doing it even since I was a small kid. Also, having just changed my jobs might have something to do with it as there always is a small amount of de-stressing to do in the first days of the holidays.
The road takes us first from Tallinn towards Pärnu, a quaint seaside town famous for the spa culture. The first spa in this 4th largest town in Estonia was erected in 1837, but at the time it wasn’t very popular destination. But ever since the early 1900’s, Pärnu has been “the place to be seen at”. Also, the local mud is said to be really good for your skin and skin ailments, and many of the local spas offer mud treatments even today.
However, as the daylight is waning and Pärnu is the summer capital of Estonia, we have to pass the place and head onwards towards the border between Estonia and Latvia.
The change between Estonia and Latvia was quite striking and sudden: the road itself turned better, but some of the roadside houses became shabbier. Naturewise there wasn’t any difference, or at least anything that one could perceive from the car.
When I was small, which was a Long Time Ago, my parents thought of doing a road trip through the Via Baltica, but at that time the roads were in really poor condition, and it was generally deemed a bit unsafe. Plus, at that time there wasn’t such thing as Google and Internet to check out the route; they were planning this using normal maps and trying to find out where to overnight and everything like that. The things have definitely improved since the late 1980’s. Now, the roads are mostly in good or excellent condition (in fact I would love some of the Finnish roads to be in this good condition!) and as our drive progresses, we see constant roadworks, which is turning the whole E67 to a good, European standard.
We are definitely not interested in the motorways. Ever since our first roadtrip together, which was back in 2010 in Ireland, we have always wanted to stick with smaller roads, as there usually is so much more to see and experience, compared to the motorways. But, here we are and are getting bored as we drive. So we have to amuse ourselves with a few facts:
- All Latvians have Louis Vuitton cars – very posh (haha), and
- There doesn’t seem to be too many hills in the country – at least not on the road we are using.
And then, when the sunset is just about to happen, somewhere behind the grey clouds, we finally manage to get our first glimpse of the Baltic Sea!
The Baltic Sea (C) Two Queens Travel Blog, 2017
As we mentioned before, one thing that people really need to remember when doing road trips in Northern Europe in wintertime is that the sun sets very early, giving you a much more limited amount of daylight hours, so make the best of them! When we planned this trip, we knew that the sunset would be early, but still it caught us by surprise.
Arriving to Kaunas
As a Finn coming from a country with long distances anyway, I perceive a 600 km drive as somewhat easy, yet boring, task. As the distances in my native country are long between the towns and cities, the road network is in good shape and the speed limits on motorways are usually 100km/h in wintertime (and 120km/h in summertime). And during the winter season, there are hardly any roadworks slowing you down on the long stretches of E4 or other major roads.
This, as you can count by yourself, translates to roughly 6 hours of driving. In Finland.
…But then we came to the Baltic countries, where the speed limits are lower and we actually had to drive on a road that was undergoing massive roadworks! So massive, in fact, that we manage to hit the first bump on the tarmac with reduced speed limit (50km/h) and it really hits us bad! Thankfully we have a new car with mint condition shock absorbers in place. Only after the bump, the speed limit goes down to 30km/h through the roadwork area, slowing our drive in the process. Luckily nothing happens to the car! This, combined with first the gloom of the sunset and then the wintertime darkness, makes driving the 600 kilometres a bit more daunting task than we anticipated.
But, in the end, at around 8 pm, we finally arrive to Kaunas in Lithuania and our rented AirBnB apartment! One would hope for quiet streets after a long day’s drive, but no. Kaunas, even at this time of the evening, is definitely a bustling city with drivers that seem to practise for the Formula 1 or rally world championships. In my opinion they should do their practise during the day, or go already to Monaco where the F1 is driven within city limits.
One of the perks we both are really happy about is the GPS Lady in the Toyota. Her maps seem to work really well even in Kaunas, and we have no trouble at all finding the address. After a quick toilet walk with Mika, we are sitting on a sofa, watching some Lithuanian drama (called “Partisan” or something like that), and enjoying the local Subway before hitting the sack! Hopefully tomorrow, before another 7 hour drive, we can get some nice photos of Kaunas!