Friday, 24 July 2009

In the Baltics

After leaving Belarus we had few plans. Our project we had lined up in India fell through and we were left with a blank page in the middle of summer! So we looked on the bright side and decided to head slowly north. We took a bus from Minsk to Vilnius in Lithuania. Borders can make quite a difference: we had become quite used to the way things worked in Belarus - there's a complex system and a lot of bureaucarcy involved in everything. Vilnius felt extremely laid-back in comparison, and there were tourists.... everywhere. So we ambled the streets and took a chance to relax a bit.

We had hatched a plot to go north through Finland and pick up some skills from working on organic farms in Scandinavia. We hoped to catch a boat from Klaipeda on the Lithuanian coast. Sadly the ferries don't run any more, but the Curonian spit, a long chain of sand-dunes running from Kaliningrad to Klaipeda, drew us in for a few days. Being coastal people, it was nice to see the sea again.

The Baltic sits on one side of the Spit with long white beaches.

In the middle there are big sand-dunes, rivalling even the dunes of Formby. These ones have been protected as a National Park though and access is pretty restricted as there is a lot of wildlife such as elk and wild boar inhabiting the woods.

On the other side is a big lagoon, very important to locals for fishing.
The view down towards town from near our campsite.
Wild strawberries were a good part of any bike ride.

One large part of the woods was completely bare. The largest colony of cormorants and herons in Europe had turned the trees white and if you stood still for too long, you would be too.

Wood warbler with food for its chicks.

Hooded crows in the lagoon.

Red-backed shrike.
So instead of an easy ferry to Finland, we had to take a few buses through the Baltics to Riga and then to Tallin. Unfortunately this was about all we saw of Estonia as the ferry took us across to Helsinki.

She likes to be beside the seaside.
Helsinki ws an impressive city to arrive in with small islands scattered everywhere. We were all too aware it was going to be a little pricey though. One 10 minute tram ride cost us 5 euros for a quick reminder, approximately 20 times more expensive than Minsk.
We thought summer was ending and geese were flying south but these seem to be popular pets.

Beware pickpockets.

Too many nights on buses means the site of a flat rock by the sea can't be resisted.
We also became aware that our standards had dropped a tad and Neil had to wave goodbye to some old friends.

Maybe we'd need some warmer clothes for futher north? These foxes and reindeer were pricey items - thankfully we found a good 2nd hand shop for some nearly new shoes. Helsinki seemed like a great place, but not to be a tourist. We booked ourselves an overnight train to Rovaniemi, right about on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, where we had organised to stay on a reindeer farm.

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