Doing the visa run

So it turns out I need a transit visa to get through Romania on our train to Varna. What a pain in the arse! So we're off to Warsaw again to get this stupid visa for a country I'm not even visiting.

Yesterday we went to Auschwitz which was very moving. It's incredible that human beings can be so crap to each other. I half expected the site to be a blasted wasteland, the evil of what had taken place there stopping the grass growing and warning off birds. Of course it's actually quite green and has birds twittering, but otherwise it's eerie and sinister.

It really is important that we make sure nothing of the sort happens again. The inaction of the world in subsequent genocides like Rwanda and Bosnia is depressing.

The day before we went to the Salt Mines South of Krakow. It's pretty amazing: enormous chambers carved out of rock salt including an amazing church.

Euro beach bums

We're in Warsaw to meet my old colleague Robert and pick up our repaired camera. It's damn hot, with tomorrow forecast to hit 33. Phew!

This morning we booked our mad dash to the coast. It's too hot to be stuck in landlocked Central Europe, so we're making a beeline to the Black Sea. Our 35 hour (!!!) sleeper train leaves Krakow on 4th August at 22:30 and arrives in Varna, Bulgaria at 10:30 on 6th August.

We'll spend at least a week on the coast before visiting Sofia and then heading South through Macedonia and Albania to reach the Adriatic, then head North to visit Europe's newest country, Montenegro. By then it might not be quite so hot, so we'll head inland to see Bosnia and Serbia and keep going North to see all the countries we bypassed.

So this 35 hour train trip should be, erm, interesting! We'll have to stock up on books, snacks and new card games I think. I just hope it's air conditioned, but wouldn't bet on it.

Trakai, photos and off to Warsaw

Today we went to the lovely town of Trakai with its beautiful castle. Really nice weather, though I think Lithuanian buses need to discover the joys of air conditioning or at least have windows that open!

I've uploaded a bunch of photos now, including our time on the coast and Vilnius.

We've booked our bus out of Vilnius for tomorrow night. We're heading to Warsaw. We weren't originally planning on visiting Warsaw--it was pretty much levelled during the War--but we need to get our camera posted to us from Scott in London, and I have a former colleague in London who fits the bill. Thanks Robert!

So we're off to Warsaw tomorrow afternoon, arriving there around midnight. Plan is to get to Krakow and then take the 35 hour direct train to Varna on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. Still keen to get some beach time in!

Vilnius, trying to get to Varna

We're still in Vilnius. Switched to the youth hostel after Hannah and Des left. Quite a cheap place, which is good. We're trying to work out our next step. Ideally we'd fly straight to Varna in Bulgaria, but there's no scheduled flights. We're investigating charter flights that seem to be going. Otherwise it's a bus to Krakow and then some kind of transport there.

Yesterday I talked about lousy food here in Vilnius. You might be wondering why we haven't been eating Lithuanian food. Well we've tried a fair bit of it, and much of it is stodge. Great in winter but pretty heavy in this heat.

One of my favourite things about this country is that every menu has a "Snacks for Beer" section, with a range of yummy snacks designed to munch on with a beer. The best is the fried bread with garlic, where they fry up black bread to crispiness and smother it in fresh garlic. Fantastic! Other options include fried bread with cheese (too greasy) and fried pigs' ears (chewy, would be better if they were crispy fried). What a great idea though, having tailor-made snacks for beer!

I've been getting into the Baltic soups though. In Tallinn I had a cold cucumber and yoghurt soup which was lovely and refreshing. In Lithuania evey menu has a cold borscht, beetroot soup, which is also delicious. I like the idea of cold soup on a hot day.

The classic Lithuanian dish is the Cepelinai or Zeppelin, a grated potato pocket filled with meat. These things are huge and insanely filling. Would be great with snow on the ground, but pretty stodgy for summer. I quite like them though.

Last night we found good food too. A Mexican place across the road from the hotel had quite passable Mexican fare. A nice change.

Vilnius: not a food capital

Hi folks. We're currently in Vilnius after driving across from Nida on the Baltic coast with Hannah and Des. Staying here a few days before heading down to Poland.

The Curonian Spit is this amazing finger of sand stretching across an enormous lagoon. We were camping in probably the best camp site in Lithuania, meaning it had toilets and hot showers.

Spent quite a bit of time swimming at the beach and on one particularly windy day I even managed to catch a (very small) wave. So I've now body surfed in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. Impressive eh?

So anyway, we went out for dinner last night for my birthday and had a fairly comical experience. In the first restaurant, we were handed a full menu and made our selections, then when the waitress came to take our order we were told the kitchen was closed and they could only do pizzas. Considering the "Pepperoni" pizza had tinned peaches and apricots, and no pepperoni, we left.

Second place was a Greek restaurant. The girls ordered a chicken with aubergine dish. An hour later it finally arrived and seemed to be some kind of Greek chicken curry. Strange. Des and I ordered moussaka, which turned up a full ten minutes after the girls' meal, despite clearly being microwave cuisine. Moussaka is layered potato, aubergine and meat with cheese on top, kind of like lasagne. This wasn't. It had a layer of potato, then some kind of meat/aubergine mash and was topped with a very appetising whole tinned tomato. I sent it back -- first time I've done that in a long but it was ridiculous.

Finally Des and I ended up at a kebabariam, because how can you fuck up a kebab, right? Wrong. They managed it. Dried out, no chilli (despite our explicit request) and really flavourless. Incredible!

So we think Vilnius isn't a town for the foodie. Somewhat redeemed today by a wonderful breakfast in our hotel and lovely lunch in Uzupis, a separatist suburb with its own constitution.

We're planning a rerun of the birthday dinner tonight, and we'll use the guidebook to choose somewhere to eat I think.

Anyway, we're having a good time. It's bloody hot here, which is typically what happens whenever we're away from the beach. Loads of weddings seem to be going on, I guess it's Saturday and Summer.

Our plan from here is to try and get to the Black Sea coast as fast as possible, to take advantage of the heat. That could be a dash to Krakow and then a ludicrously long train to Varna in Bulgaria. Or we might be able to find cheap flights. We'll see.

Liepaja and Palanga

We're currently in Palanga on Lithuania's Baltic coast. It's a tourist resort kinda town and quite nice.

After three sweltering days in Riga with temperatures above 35 degrees, we were in need of a beach. The water in the Gulf of Riga is very shallow, as we found in Parnu, and the water temperature was around 25 degrees, so we decided to hit the Baltic coast in search of cooler water, and maybe even waves.

So we headed to Jurkalne on Latvia's Baltic coast. Of course the weather changed on our way and it was quite chilly by the time we arrived. The place was tiny, with our little campsite serviced only by pit toilets adn ample firewood. The location was beautiful, just back from the beach behind steep dunes. The water was indeed cold, and pretty decent waves, but it was too cold to swim.

At the campsite we met a group of three scouts who were spending three weeks travelling around the Baltics by foot or hitch hiking. Couldn't imagine that being sanctioned behaviour for scouts in Australia! Anyway, we cooked up a big campfire feast of sausages, baked potatoes and salad and chatted into the night with the scouts. Lots of fun.

Heading down the coast we arrived quite late in Liepaja, a large seaside resort town and port. The tourist information office was closed for the day, so we had to wing it somewhat. We waylaid some French tourists who let us look at their guidebook, more detailed than our's, until we found the cheapest accomodation in town, the 38th Liepaja Technical School's Hostel. Interesting place to stay, to say the least. I can confirm that Latvian students certainly don't stay in the lap of luxury, though the town's beach is stunning.

We crossed the border the following morning into Lithuania and where we're currently based, Palanga. We're staying in a pretty ratty campsite 3km outside town, but it's a lot cheaper than all the other places. Nice town too, with lots of seaside activities. In the high winds yesterday we watched some very skillful kite surfers bouncing around the waves.

Tomorrow we're heading futher South, to Klaipeda, at the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon. This lagoon is created by a 52 km spit of land stretching out from Russia's Kaliningrad enclave into Lithuanian territory. It's supposed to be amazing. The following day we're off to Nida further down the spit towards Kaliningrad. We'll be meeting up with Hannah and Des down there and spend a couple of days before heading towards Vilnius. Better yet, Hannah and Des have a car!

So far Lithuania's accomodation has been a lot pricier than Latvia and Lithuania. Cheapest in Nida seems to be €40 a night! Fortunately there's a modern campground a couple of kilometres out. Lucky we've got our tent!

Quite enjoying the Eastern European experience. Lots of new things to eat. I've been particularly enjoying kvass which is a refreshing soft drink made from fermented black bread.


We've been in Riga for a few days now. It's been insanely hot around these parts the last week, so we've been spending quite a bit of time lazing as well as sightseeing.

We've seen a few things including a stunning Stalinist skyscraper which you can go up in. It's very similar to the Moscow skyscrapers built around the same time.

There's a bunch of new photos up including Latvia and our time in Southern Estonia including the lovely Finns we met in the camp site in Parnu.

Tomorrow we're off to Western Latvia. We want to swim in the Baltic again, because it's so damn hot! Des and Hannah are driving down from Tallinn and we should meet up with them in Lithuania next week.

Tallinn beer festival

We went out to the Tallinn Beer Festival last night. Lots of fun and we had some interesting beers. My favourite was the incredibly cloudy one from Saareema. It makes Coopers look clear!

It's been really hot here in Tallinn. 33 degrees today and 34 forecast for tomorrow. It's been great staying in Olga's flat though, able to spend lots of time relaxing and doing bugger all.

Tomorrow we're off to Parnu down in the South of Estonia. Apparently it's something of an Ibiza on the Baltic. Should be fun, though staying in a tent when it's forecast to be 34 degrees could be interesting.

I've uploaded a bunch of new photos. Our camera broke when we were in Berlin, so we used a disposable film camera for Germany. I've had one of those developed and you can see those photos. We bought a new digital camera yesterday. Our budget was limited but it seems to be okay. You can see the results in the Estonia folder. Photos are here.


We're currently in Tallinn, Estonia, staying in our friend Olga's flat about ten minutes' walk from the old city. It's a lovely city which retains its timbered old houses and towering church spires. Having a flat to ourselves is particularly nice after all this time on the road, and a high-speed Internet connection to boot.

Olga's parents took us around the city for some sightseeing, to see the beaches and an old convent as well as spectacular views of the old city. We spent a day at home doing bugger all, which was necessary to help us recover from the last month of madness.

Today we're going to the beer festival, billed as Scandinavia's biggest. Should be loads of fun!

On Sunday we're heading off to the island of Saaremaa for a couple of days' camping before heading South into Latvia.

Great music, sun and pee

So Roskilde finished last Sunday and what a great festival! We saw some amazing bands and the weather was fantastic. Hot and sunny the whole weekend. It was great to catch up with Justine, Jenny and Beth; and we met a lovely German lad called Tobi who ended up camping with us.

Sigur Ros played their usual dreamy, ecstatic music. Radio Soulwax mixed newer techno with old classics in their inimitable style. Axl Rose's Guns n Roses cover band (innacurately billed as "Guns N Roses") was crap: coming out one hour late doesn't cut it at a festival where there are ample other attractions. We gave up and went to see Sigur Ros instead.

New Zealand's Fat Freddys Drop was fantastic, getting the crowd moving with their funked up reggae stylings. Bob Dylan was worth seeing, though the guy is getting a little old for this kind of thing.

Bellowhead played excellent, crowd-friendly British folk music. Orange Blossom is a French band playing hip hop infused North African music, and were loads of fun in the midday heat. Two Gallants were really amazing, with incredibly powerful vocals telling dark stories in like Johnny Cash with rockier tempo. George Clinton was amazing, with at least 25 people in his entourage tearing the roof off the sucker.

On the final day, Wolfmother jammed one of the smaller tents with their Ozzy Osbourne styles. Goldfrapp disappointed by cancelling at the last moment. Franz Ferdinand, as expected, played a storming, ridiculously tight set filling the main stage with their slick sound. Roger Waters playing Dark Side of the Moon was a great nostalgia trip, though sitting through his solo work was a bit tedious.

One feature of Roskilde that I could live without was the toilet facilities. Toilets are never a high point at an outdoor festival, but these Scandinavians seem to think pissing anywhere is normal. The main feature of the festival was the smell off piss. Could definitely improve here!