Still an undiscovered spot of nature
Frank Wurft, Vilnius
Still an undiscovered spot of nature
how the Baltic States invite for cycling
Some know Riga as a big city with an old history of mercantry and culture. But for the most the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are same to Russia.
The reasons to leave Your opinions behind are many: For ones it is the savage nature with its huge forests, the different shapes of the east coast of the Baltic Sea and the numerous rivers, for others the villages and towns where time stood still. Everything seems to breathe the medieval past.
And the last enjoy the cheap prices. There is one "but": "but how does it work in this totally unknown country"? The answer gives "BaltiCCycle"; an organisation of Cyclists' in the Baltic, which tries to help you to discover this region in the most relaxed way: by bicycle.
How it all began...
"Here we sit with our wealth of nature. Our ancestors hold the nature to be holy. And plans for nature destruction were one of the reasons to rebel against Moscow and become independent. Nowadays Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians travel to Western Europe. But as it concerns our countries, they are still a kind of secret." Who says it, is Saulius Ruzinskas, President of the Lithuanian Cyclists' Community. The young man, father of two children, is an exhausted cyclist. Each year he moves hundreds of Lithuanians for his bike tours. Together they discover the unknown nature beauty of their country - rivers, lakes, forest, castle ramparts - on the traces of their ancestors. "The relations to our Baltic neighbours are good, but few 'Westerns' find their way to us" he continuous. Though it is not very difficult to arrive here. So it was a time for a change: Together with his colleagues, cyclists from Estonia, Latvia and Russia they founded a project in order to help the bicycle as a manner of transport.
One thing you have say: What you don't find in the Baltic States is - high mountains. They are hilly countries with small white clouds painted on a blue sky. And a variety of nature, which you can find rarely in Europe: The dark needle woods of Estonia become lighter in the South, the once rough and otherwise sandy sea shore looks like Scandinavia. It changes to huge dark forests and rivers in the east with a lot of already "Russian mood".
Still car traffic out of the cities is few, though to believe: Perfect terrain for cyclists! Because the tourist infrastructure on the countryside is still rudimentary, you get the possibility to join the "BaltiCCycle", and nature's lovers from east and west join together for a special expedition.
Estonia has a national bicycle plan since over one year and Latvians and Lithuanians followed them in 2001 with cycle maps. Together the three cyclists' organisations made up some routes for almost each cyclist's wish: the hills of the Estonian route meet the wings of seaside paths, or the winds along meadows and forests.
Land of storks
"Westeners" - as they use to call them here - take a picture of the stork they see. Maybe the second and the third. Then, they give up. The rivers here are not straighten, socialistic farm factories went bankrupt - nature may spread again. By it's variety you can see that it is between middle and nothern Europe. Besides the well known white storks you may find black storks, sea eagles, cranes and many western european rarity.
On the storks there is the history of a swedish guy who once came for birdwatch to Lithuania. Well, with Lithuanians he drang till dawn, went outside and came back really irritated. Why? There was a container where fish rests were collected and in the sunrise he counted 16 (!) storks there. Obviously to many for him.
Recently an unknown spot of nature, already difficult choice: Where to go? Soon you realise the different cultural influence, and to choose is difficult, because "BaltiCCycle" offers you four main routes: along the rough coast of Estonia, through the hills of Latvia, through the lithuanian forests and rivers or over sand dunes and through the wilderness of the russian region of Kaliningrad, the former eastern Prussia.
Departure: Middle Age ???
Why not to start in the Middle Age? It's the old town of Tallinn, the former "Revall", with it's medieaval city wall it lets You make a huge jump in time. From there You cycle through the dark needle woods of Estononia with their small almost hidden villages.
Ancient small cities with old wooden houses gather around old castle constructions or churches. Often You can find german and scandinavian heritage: Names, buidling styles, stories of the german nobility. Because geman knights conquered this region – as well as Latvia – during the 13th century and here they ruled for centuries. You feel close to the holy nature of the Estonian ancestors. Hard cuts the unknown baltic sea shore into the water, rough is the nature, sure the relation to the finnish relatives. The landscape of Estonia’s stony shore is likely to resemble Finland or Sweden indicating a tight bond between the spirits of these northern courtiers. Thick forests with plenty of junipers invite you to step into these nature’s sacred places and meet their ghosts and trolls typical to the culture of the northern countries.
The trace of the Hanse
Travelling southwards the typical northern landscape stones disappear and the seaside becomes sandy. You start forgetting to be in the north. Then you'll see Riga. The skyline of Riga's old town always again looks amazing: Is it really a city of almost a million or a small medeaval city somewhere in central europe? While traffic roars around the city's centre and business is booming, in the restaured old town with its small lanes and alleys and its street cafes You find relaxing silence. Aside of the old town proudly stand the ornamated buildings of the "Jugendstil"/"Nouvells Epoque". Therefor Riga is still one of the few big cities not discovered by mass tourism.
By bike our way leads westwards to the biggest sea bath in Latvia, Jurmala, which once has been one of the biggest in the whole Soviet Union. Wooden houses mass in the forest at the seaside, as in former times they remain places of recreation. Nice sandy beaches and old-time seamen villages throughout Latvia still carry the spirit of the past centuries. The bicycle tour turns right through the highlands of Curonia (Kurland) to the water falls of Kuldiga. Near Kuldiga, you will visit one of the most famous places in Latvia: more than 100 meters long caves under the ground. There are of the pure white sand, with the blue-red clay if enlightened by candles, and an incredible silence. Everything in this region seems as if the speed of the modern life full of stress didn’t have any effect here yet. Our way passes these old small cities, estates and castles, in which – like in Estonia – once ruled German noblemen. That's where the amber path starts. It's is the Baltic seashore, according to the Latvians. Give it a try, everyone can find an own dream piece of amber.
This pictures carries on on the way to the West: In the towns the time seems to stay still since centuries. Who cycled through the hills of the "latvian Switzerland" sees the sea again and a special beautiful place: The fishermens' village Pavilosta. In Museums is kept the history of the people which died out bu gave to this region its name: the Curonians. Now there are only you, the sea, the sun, the wind, and the birds.
Latvia, just like Lithuania, is the country of the Balts, where during the pagan times, oaks were considered sacred trees. For that reason, it is no wonder to come across a multitude of them. For instance, the trunk size of one of the especially huge one, Kaive, is more than 10 meters.
In the country of rivers
How does it look in Lithuania? High above the cathedral guard the tower of the old castles. This is the picture of the starting point of the tour through the country of rivers: The lithuanina capital Vilnius, a city full of Barock-style churches with their heavy gold decoration. And aside the onion-shaped towers of russian orthodox churches. They show that this city always has been a mixture of peoples: Polish, Jews, Lithuanians, Russians, Belorussians ...
The cycle way leads deep through the lithuanian nature: diciduous trees, rivers and lakes shape the picture in Your mind. Along one of the oldest borders in Europe: Once it seperated the country of Prussia from the Lithuanians. Again and again they fought on this border, and today the river Neman (lithuanian: Nemunas) separates Lithuania from the russian Region of Kaliningrad, the former city of Königsberg. Still many castles are a silent testimony of the history of this border.
Sad & beautiful
Without any doubt the "wildest" tour is the way by bike through the Russian extraterritorial region of Kaliningrad and the former Northeast of Prussia.
First you will visit the regional park of the Nemunas(Neman)- delta, a bird’s paradise. Before you enter Russia, the mythical wilderness of this sad reality. You will see the unique landscape of the Neringa: A small peninsula around 80 km long and just few kilometres large, divided between Lithuania and Russia. During centuries accumulated by wind and whether it now builds of a big natural lagoon. Huge sand dunes stretch on many kilometres. And if already on the Lithuanian side there is few going on – in Russia You will be all alone with sand and beach.
The whole region of Kaliningrad is for foreigners hard to travel (e. g. You need a visa, which we can organise in Lithuania for 50-90 Euro p. P.). Once the "corn chamber of the German Reich" is the region today covered by wilderness. Churches and castles fall into pieces. Since 10 years the people "recover" the history of this place – but in each town you still find a statue of Lenin and monuments remember each glory victory of the soviet Red Army.
Where to sleep? Nature or farmstead!
Don't try your (western) standards for this adventure! Instead of searching for official campsites you just shall ask a farmer in a mixture of Russian, English, German and your hands. A meadow for a tent, a barn or a guest's room is somehow always found. The most useful information you nevertheless don't find in tourist's guidebooks but talking to the local people. And therefore the "BaltiCCycle" is the best way to come close and solve these problems - all places for the evenings' camp are prepared, and we even can offer on some routes sleeping places in hotels or farmsteads.
Sea or Festival - the Cyclists' camp at the end of the "BaltiCCycle"
At the end all cyclists from all four tours come together in Karkle in the regional nature park Baltic Sea Coast near Klaipeda. You will be able to take part the sea festival with its over 500000 participants, as well as the bicyclists’ parade. We will be living in the regional park of Pajuris, in the beautiful place on the seashore, the camping place. Nearby, right on the seashore there is a 24-meter hill, the perfect place to meet sunset. In the park of Pajuris, local amber craftsmen still gather amber by the old method. With the special scoop, they walk into the stormy sea and wait for the waves to spit the Baltic jewel, amber, out. According to legends, these are the parts of the sea goddess Jurate’s castle.
The pleasant acquaintance with the participants and the sharing of impressions will continue around the huge fire that we will make on the beach. Meanwhile, a huge festival, the sea festival, will take place in the downtown. There you will be able to visit a number of concerts, jazz, rock, and techno clubs. If you want you can go to national park of the Curonian Spit. Then, having visited ancient crusader’s castles and the delta of Nemunas full of birds, you can come back to the Sea festival.
The Balts with all their love to nature and silence can do different! Numerous festivals during the short summer prove it: Jazzfestivals, celebrations of blues- and rockmusic. With around half a million of visitors supposed to be the biggest once is the sea festival at the harbor city of Klaipeda – alias "Memel", which once belonged to Germany. And 2002 there is a special reason of commemoration and celebration: The 750th birthday of the city!
* Klaipeda 750 Years. Anniversary program
THE CITY IN WHICH I WANT TO LIVE / MIESTAS, KURIAME AŠ NORIU GYVENTI http://www.klaipeda.lt/naujienos4.htm
Info on the Sea festival in Klaipeda: www.klaipeda.lt/jurossvente.html
Short & Practical Information
Time to travel
Best time for travelling the Baltic States is from may to august. Temperature is in average little bit lower as in Central Europe but the weather is less changing (almost continental), bad weather is just short time.
What a variety of potatoes, wheat, pees! That traditional “Baltic Cuisine”. Mostly together with meat, that makes it more difficult for vegetarians. In summertime you’ll find plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits on the markets. Don’t miss to go and collect berries or mushrooms by your own in late summer!
Most citizens of Western and Central Europe do not need a visa anymore since several years (some guide books give different information). For Kaliningrad which belongs to Russia, the organizing team can organise quite uncomplicated visa (if we have your personal data four weeks before the tour).
How to get there
Best way together with your bicycle is by ferry: From Denmark, from Sweden, and Germany to Klaipeda (Lithuania), and to Riga and Liepaja in Latvia. The Estonian capital Tallinn can be reached easily from Helsinki.
There is only one direct train connection from Warsaw to Vilnius via the train border stations of Szestokai resp. Mockava. All other trains pass Byelorussia and require a visa!
Many buses of the “Eurolines”-network go to the Baltic States. They may take 1-3 packed bicycles if you anounce it in advance.
For the international bicycle tour “BaltiCCycle” a bus with trailer for bicycles will pass cities in Northern Germany (Bremen, Hannover, Berlin)
Many small airlines fly to the Baltics
For arrival, special desires for accomoadation or nutration or other tourist services you may ask the local travel agencies:
(Lithuania)- ”Krantas Travel”, tel: +370 6 395233, Fax: +370 6 395241, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Estonia)- ”Estair Reisibüroo”, tel. +372 6610 510, faks: +372 6610508, E-mail email@example.com
The bicycle Tour ”BaltiCCycle”– new & old friends, adventure and nature!
The International Bicycle Tour "BaltiCCycle 2002" gives you the following opportunities:
meet the untouched landscapes of the Baltic rim, meet the birds and wildlife animals;
cycle independently on defined routes (~ 50 – 70 km/day);
find new friends from different countries when you meet in the evening at the fire place.
Start of the International Bicycle Tour "BaltiCCycle 2002":
Haapsalu (Estonia) – 19th of July, 2002. 12:00;
Riga (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania), Klaipeda (Lithuania) – 26th of July, 2002. 12:00, each;
End of the International Bicycle Tour "BaltiCCycle 2002"
During the Sea festival in Klaipeda, 2nd of August, 2002
Cyclists' camp as common end
At the seaside in the naturepark "Baltic Seaside" close to Klaipeda: 2nd – 4th of August, 2002
Routes of the International Bicycle Tour "BaltiCCycle 2002"
(Routes  and  can be combined):
 ESTONIA - "The coastal route": Haapsalu – Isles of Hiuumaa and Saaremaa– Pärnu – Riga;
 LATVIA - "The route of castles": Riga – Jurmala – Kuldiga – Liepaja – Palanga – Klaipeda;
 LITHUANIA - "The route of rivers": Vilnius – Trakai – Kaunas – Jurbarkas – Silute – Klaipeda;
 RUSSIA - "The only-nature-route": Klaipeda – Silute – Sovjetsk (Tilsit) – Kaliningrad (former Königsberg) – Nida – Klaipeda.
Conditions for participants
Age: mininum 18, under 18: with parents or notarially attested supervisor
for entering the Baltic States You need a Passport, Identity cards do not fit for the Baltic States!
What a participant NEEDS:
A fixed bike with wider tires - for asphalt and gravel roads, sporting bicycles do not fit! ;
Passport (ID cards are nor enough! Youth untill 18: written confirmation of the parents
"Turist's inventory": Sleeping bag & mat, tent, petrol or gas stove;
Money for the participation fee, food, museums and special program;
Travel insurance & raincoat (hopefully never to be used);
And most important - A sense of adventure.
What a participant GETS:
A place for Your tent in the campsites of the tour and in the cyclists' camp near Klaipeda;
drinking water, petrol for a tourist stove and wood for the common bonfire;
The tour book, which provides you with all neccessary information on the routes, sightseeing, as well as on accomodation, food, bicycle repair and other services;
The tour flag and the tour sticker;
Cycle map of the country Yor're travelling (Lithuania & Kaliningrad District or Latvia or Estonia, scale M1: 500.000-650.000);
Organisators' consultations on route, cultural program, accommodation and catering services;
Accompying transport along the route;
Police Security accompying in big cities;
First aid and technical support (bicycle parts and repairing services for extra charge)
Other Service for Tourparticipants (Extra-fee)
Bicycle rent (9 Euro/day)
Inner-baltic transport of participants from Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipëda (18/7 and 25/7) to Kaunas and Vilnius
Transport of inventory (tent, sleeping bag et al.)
Detailed maps and travel literature
Bike repair and parts
Participation fee per route (week):
from 30 Euro / 25 USD (payment by 2002.07.01)
discounts: 10 % families, students, pupils, pensioners; 50 % participants from Central and Eastern Europe
All Information on Cycling the Baltics:
Pictures, registration, articles on the our Homepage: www.bicycle.lt or write to:
”BaltiCCycle” - Lithuanian Cyclists' Community
Mail: c/o Frankas Wurft
A/d 190, LT-5800 Klaipeda Fax: +370-6-412483
Voices of Cyclists on the Baltics
"I was lucky enough to take part in the '99 Ecological Bike Tour, was a wonderful experience. The country is one of the best I've ridden in, the people very friendly & helpful. I look forward to the 2000 tour. Wonderful Lithuania!" GEORGE GILDER from ENGLAND, firstname.lastname@example.org
"First of all, Effie and I (Alexios) would like to tell you that the cycling tour of Lithuania was one of the BEST TRIPS WE EVER MADE!! We will certainly try to be there next year as well to meet all our Lithuanian and Latvian friends once more. Hopefully we will come with more Greek cycling friends who are already interested in coming to Lithuania after our description of the trip." ALEXIOS HADJIALEXIOU from GREECE, email@example.com
"Thanks one more time for great time what we spent in Lithuania trying SAMANE, TREJOS DEVYNERIOS, songs and dances near fireplaces! Yesterday we [Latvian cyclists] met all together again, saw photos from this excellent time ... Seems that in next year there will be more Latvians than Lithuanians in this tour because everybody delighted about it." DACE DRAVNIECE from LATVIA, RASA@varam.gov.lv