A nasty surprise

Day 51 – Wednesday 14th of August – Tallinn to Riga (315km)

In more than a month and a half I had parked my bike in lots of different places, from car parks with 24h surveillance to alleys in Russia to the desert in Kazakhstan, and never had a single problem; it was back in the EU, and because of a stupid oversight, that I had something stolen for the first time. It had been raining, I was tired and looking forward to a warm, dry room… I could give lots of excuses, but there is no escaping that it was my fault that I put the padlocks on the panniers when we got to Tallinn but forgot to check whether they were locked, and they were not. When we walked out of the hostel with our bags today to get ready to get on the bike, someone had taken the inner bag from the right side pannier. It contained the toolkit, the air compressor for the tires, the 12v chargers for the laptop and the camera, the broken petrol stove, as well as assorted bits and pieces such as rags, plastic bags, some ROK straps… nothing that was not easily replaceable, but all the same annoying to have stolen.

We took it the best way possible, determined not to let it spoil our holidays, and on the way to Riga I bought some basic tools on a petrol station. The day was cloudy, and the rain came and went all the way to our hostel in Latvia’s capital, an old building near the train station on the limit of the old town that looked like a classic New York tenement building out of an old police thriller. Despite the looks of the place, there were several IT companies based on the building, and the car park in the inner court where we were told to park the bike had CCTV surveillance, which was reassuring after the events of the previous night.

IMG_0615

The impression I got from Riga when compared to Tallinn was a bit like comparing Brugge and Gant in Belgium. The former was a quaint place, all old streets and buildings, perfectly maintained or restored, spotlessly clean streets, almost as if it had been built as a tourist attraction, lacking a bit in real life in its streets, while the latter was a more lively place, also old and historical, but with real people and real life in it. We tried something called Black Balsam, a very strong herbal liquor, in a terrace where there was a swing band playing live, which later on gave way to a group playing jazz, pop and rock covers, with a singer who had a velvety voice that was perfect to make that place and moment one of those memories that you treasure back home, years later.

IMG_0601

Since replacing the tools had put a dent in my budget, that night we had a pizza back at the hostel and went to bed early. The following day we had a short ride to Vilnius, less than 300km, which would be a nice change from the long rides I had been doing for most of the summer.

Rain in the Baltic

Day 50 – Tuesday 13th of August – Helsinki to Tallinn (86km – by ferry)

This was going to be my girlfriend’s first long trip on the motorbike, or for that matter, her very first trip on a motorbike, and crossing Europe from north to south was quite a bit like throwing her at the deep end of the pool with no warning. It was going to be a make or break trip, so I was hoping for good weather, even though I was not exactly optimistic about the dark clouds we had seen the day before.

Sure enough, as we rode out of the hostel and into heavy traffic, it started to rain. There was a huge traffic jam on the way to the ferry terminal, and what had to be a ten-minute ride was taking so long that I was afraid we would miss the ferry. If I had been in Russia, I would just have ridden onto the pavement and to hell with it, but we were in law-abiding Finland and there was no space to filter between cars, so I just had to inch forward patiently just like everybody else. In the end we made it to the terminal just in time to board and park the bike in front of a lorry. The rain was getting heavier and this crossing was on open sea, unlike the one from Stockholm, so I asked for some straps and tied the bike down just in case.

IMG_0543

By the time we got to the top deck and the ferry was leaving, the rain was pouring down and there was a gale force wind. Fortunately, this ship had a bigger covered area on the top deck, so we were sheltered from the rain despite not having a cabin.

In less than three hours we were riding off the ferry in lighter rain and quickly found the hostel in Tallinn, right in front of one of the gates in the old town walls.There was parking space right on the door, and as it was just the bike, they did not charge us for it.

IMG_0554

We dropped our bags and just as the rain had stopped, went to explore the old town. Unlike other European cities which are popular tourist destinations, I did not know anybody who had been here before, so I did not know what to expect of the city nor the country. Being an ex-soviet republic, I was expecting something quite gray, Russian-style, but it turned out to be a beautiful, city – the old town was charming, narrow winding medieval streets on a hill with views to a nice, modern, taken care of city.

IMG_0576

We spent the afternoon walking around and then headed for a pub to have a pint of the local black beer, which was delicious.

IMG_0588

Before going back to the hostel, we did some shopping (including superglue to repair my sandals) and then looked for a cheap place to have dinner out. This was a luxury I had not been able to afford since Russia, since prices in Scandinavian countries were ridiculously high, so it was a pleasure to find a cozy place where we had dumplings, salad, chicken Kiev, a pint of beer and dessert for 7€. I love Eastern Europe.