Cycling in the Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – with UTracks
Now, I mentioned earlier about cycling in Europe. Now whether it’s a dedicated cycling tour, or you’re part of another kind of trip and you just decided to jump on a bike for a day or so believe me, even if you have reservations about cycling here you’re not a dedicated cyclist it’s something to do because they know how to do cycling in Europe. It’s part of the culture and it’s been in the heritage for a long, long time and I really suggest that even if it’s part of your to try and get on a bike in Europe because it’s not just a great experience it’s more comfortable and it’s a great way to see the place the sights, sounds, and smells, rolling hills, historic landmarks, just do it in your own time on the bike. How do you do it though? If you want to do it full time or even part-time what route do you choose how to your plan it. Andrew Bain recently returned from a bike tour of the Baltics and he knows the easiest places to cycle through Europe. G’day Andrew.
“Hey Bill, how you doing?” I’m well thanks. Now, tell us about the Baltic bike tour, what countries do you cycle through? “The three Baltic countries are Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, sort of the old Soviet over in the west there”. And that’s still kind of opening up really isnt it? to travelers like us anyway, even though, you know, the place has been open since the early nineties.
“Yeah i mean there are a lot of European and Russian tourists there but once you get out of the three main cities you’ve pretty much got the place to yourself.” And what are some of the best routes to cover? “For cycling, I mean, they’re all against the Baltic Sea so sticking to the coast is a beautiful way to go. Particularly in Lithuania, it’s got the the Curonian Spit which is in its own way a bit of a natural wonder. You’ve got essentially a 100 km line of sand dunes just hanging out to sea. And there is a bike path runs straight through the middle of it.” Your kidding? What’s it made of? Is it tarred? Is it just dirt or what?
“Yeah, it’s mostly tarred it’s part of, it’s the really the only formed bike route in the 3 countries is this seaside cycle route, which is 200km long 50k’s of that is on this spit.”
And what else is on the spit, like are there places to stop and any buildings or anything, or is it just one long stretch that you go out and back on? “No, it’s a bit of a holiday resort area, but it’s a curious place because half of it belongs to Lithuania and the bottom half belongs to a Russian enclave called Kaliningrad, so there’s a big 70m sand dune you can stand on top of, and you’re essentially on the border looking into Russia and you’ve got a big Russian watchtower looking back at you! And then there’s, there’s a whole lot of amber museums there. It’s kind of the heartland of amber mining.” Which is again something that ‘s kind of known but not one of your, uh, your high up commodities in terms of you know people taking tours and things like that but it’s all undiscovered country for a lot of people in the West particularly Australia anyway.
“Yeah, it’s not a place we we really think of when we think of Europe, but yeah, there is a lot to offer there, particularly on a bike because the 3 countries are so flat.”
And how do you form a tour? What is it made up of? How many people in the group and all those things? “Ah, there’s a trip I went on. I joined a trip run by UTracks, and there we had about 25 of us in the end because they combined a, there’s a German group came along and then there was an English-speaking group, and we just tootled along each day. At the end of the day we finish at a hotel or there would be a support bus, so they might throw all the bikes on the bus and drive through to the next spot then start peddling again the next day.” I presume they supply the bikes and all the gear or what?
“They do, and there’s the option even to get e-bikes if you…” I was going to ask you about that because you know some people might be put off, they might enjoy cycling but they might not be part of the lycra clad you know, enthusiasts so it wouldn’t deter them would it to go on a trip like this? “No, absolutely not. This is a trip you can do with no cycling experience. Each day you’re doing 25 to 50 kilometers only, and if you do hire an e-bike, anytime you hit one of the very few hills you press the button and away you go.” Yeah, and that’s a key thing I think for some people who are… you certainly don’t want to be inhibited by by the thought of, you know, a Tour de France sort of thing that’s a totally different kettle of fish. “Absolutely, this is kind of the polar opposite of a yeah the Tour de France push through the Alps or the Pyrenees. This is just travel for pleasure.” Yeah, and what’s the best time of year to go do you think?
“It’s a summer destination. Again, like most of Europe, if you were to get there on the cusp probably September, that’s a great time to be there, even into October that’s very good time.” Is it very exxy [expensive]?
“No, no it’s quite cheap countries. I mean Estonia is it’s pretty advanced because it’s on, it’s fairly Scandinavian and it’s always had Scandinavian ideas and prices, but once you get down towards Lithuania it’s a very cheap place to travel.” How do they find out more about this mate? “If they were go and look at UTracks, which I think is UTracks.com Just search through for either of those three countries, they’ll be able to find it.” And I really stress that you don’t have to be a cycling enthusiast I don’t know whether you were listening earlier but I mentioned that even as part of a bigger European tour to spend a day or two days on bicycles the, the Europeans know how to do it, they know the right bikes, the bikes have are usually beautifully looked after and actually are very comfortable to ride no matter what your level and it’s something you should be quite comfortable in doing if you want if you feel like doing it.
“For sure. I’ve cycled all over the world and Europe’s by far the easiest place to do it.”
Yeah, they get it don’t they? Well they’re good at and they’ve been doing it for a long time.
“Well, it’s kind their culture.” Yeah, yeah, I think that’s kind of hard here but that’s a story for another day to get people to understand that the whole bike/car thing can actually work if you just know how to do it, but unfortunately for us we’re trying to transplant it in a infrastructure that’s been decades anti-cycling which makes it very hard. Andrew, it’s been very interesting mate, and I really encourage anyone to take it on. Traveller.com.au is where they can find more from you. Thanks for joining us. “Cheers, thanks for that.” Andrew Bain, travel writer from Traveller.com.au