Day 13; Alytus – Vilkaviškis, 92 km

We left the Dzǖkija Hotel after a group photo with bicycles in front of the hotel now Kenneth was at hand as a photographer (see below). This morning was probably the coldest we have experienced so far and just after we left we also got a few showers.

We drove from Alytus to Vilkaviškis via Krosna and Marijampolé. The terrain until around five kilometres before Marijampolé was quite hilly until the landscape changed into flat farmland the remaining way to Vilkaviškis. My hope was to eat lunch at a café in Marijampolé, but the dream burst since they were renovating some parts of the road from Krosno which diverted us on to smaller and sometimes even gravel roads. This made us hungry long before Marijampolé and we thus stopped and ate lunch at a bus stop.

Soon after two local ladies and a guy came to the bus stop and looked quite puzzled about my bicycle. When I came closer they asked me something in Lithuanian – I replied in English which they did not understand a word of. We found common language in Russia and they were laughing a lot when they heard we were on way to Denmark by bicycle. As one of them said; ”She could not even go to the nearest city by bicycle”. Could have been fun if they also met the Dutch girl I met later at our hotel in Vilkaviškis – she was on her way by bicycle from Norway to Holland. What she was doing in Vilkaviškis puzzled me after we wished each other a nice trip.

Marijampolé really astonished us a lot, since everything was newly renovated or built; the main square, the biggest hotel, the police station (and the twenty cars on the parking lot were brand new) and the roads. The city like rest of Lithuania does not look like the Eastern Europe twenty years ago.

Vilkaviškis surprised us even more, since this small city with only thirteen thousand inhabitants had a lot of cafés and restaurants and more interestingly a bowling centre. All the restaurants (minimum 3 restaurants) were busy catering for banquets, so we were forced to dine in the local bowling centre. The food there was very good and inexpensive and the entertainment superb, since the ”whole” city gathered it seemed to us for watching the basketball match between Lithuania and Greece.

Who won I do not know, but I know that we felt like winners today.

Day 12; Vilnius – Alytus, 108 km

We were sitting at a crowded restaurant in Alytus when suddenly we her a Danish voice from behind. With surprised faces we turned our heads to realize that it was my old school friend Kenneth standing there. Okay to be honest it was not a sudden surprise since we actually agreed to meet since he was nearby in the Polish city of Goldap, however we kind of misunderstood each other so we were not expecting him this night. Anyway it was a great surprise.

Today’s journey started in heavy rain and on cobblestone roads. Not exactly things on the present list of touring cyclists. When we came out to the perimeter of the city the only outbound roads was something similar to highways which is the last thing a cyclist want to engage into. We hit the ”highway” head on and on one of the first on-ramps a big cargo truck carrying wood deliberately ignored his duty to give way and basically forced me further out into the traffic.

Anyway after twenty five kilometres, a lot of cursing about the traffic and seeing a Ford Sierra’s motor blowing up in smoke and subsequently going on fire we drove into the tourist magnet of Trakai. It seemed to us that it is every tourists duty to visit Trakai castle when visiting Lithuania, so – in fact we did not visit it we instead took pleasure in viewing it from the outside:-) Certainly a place worth visiting (see below).

From Trakai to Alytus the road became much less trafficked and climbed up on down beautiful hills, into forests and farmland. I think we both are quite impressed by Lithuania’s beautiful and in many places unspoiled nature.

The day ended with a visit with Kenneth to Alytus’ up-scale nightclub Chicago (spelled quite a bit different in Lithuanian however). As with many other Eastern European night club’s the girls were dressed to kill and the dance floor packed with dancing crowds from early on. We did however not stay long; Kenneth thought it was a lame and with one hundred kilometres in my legs I was kind of not fit for action.

Day 11; Day of rest – Vilnius

Today was our first day of resting our legs and back parts of our bodies. After sleeping marginal longer today our first visit was to the Genocide Victim’s Museum or the KGB-museum as it also is known as. Here the darkest history of twentieth century Europe was not only on display, but the cruelty was thought up and happened in the exact premises of the museum during Soviet and Nazi times.

Looking into the prison cells told the story by itself.

After leaving the grim history behind, we strolled around the old town which certainly is worth visiting. I cannot leave behind the tech geek within me so we also made a visit to the Lithuanian Energy and Technology Museum which was placed in Vilnius’ first power station. The station was beautifully restored and the turbine hall housed several smaller turbine / generator setups of old Siemens (see below) and Soviet produce. The only better thing would be if they were running. Nice!

Other than that they had some displays of equipment produced in Vilnius during primarily Soviet times. I was quite astonished that Vilnius is kind of a scientific laser hub producing high-end lasers and that Soviet tube computers were developed and produced here as well.

The day ended at the pub Universiteto with some nice beer, good food and a basketball match between Russia and Slovenia. Even though it was Thursday the pub was just before midnight almost filled with young students dressed up for some serious clubbing. My dad was already sleeping in the hotel and after a drink I also went home; we had some one hundred kilometres of biking the day after.

Above a picture of Vilnius’ best efforts at making the city bicycle friendly; they did not succeed.

Day 10; Ignalina – Vilnius, 118 km

Let me start with the annoying issues first; Vilnius is a labyrinth with a very strange system of bicycle lanes made directly on the pavement for pedestrians. While driving confused around in Vilnius’ old mess of streets I thus almost hit a girl who suddenly turned and walked onto the bicycle lane – a lane which was clearly marked for bicycles only. I luckily managed to brake and half a minute later I understood that this was a one-way bicycle lane and we were going in the wrong direction. The next thing was that I was working my gear shift so excessively that it did not change according to my wishes which made me understand that hard-core city biking requires a Shimano 7-shift internal gear – period.

In the end after 5 kilometres half-random driving in the centre of Vilnius we found Comfort Hotel which was a pleasant end to our longest distance so far and also the one with the worst headwind.

Following our nice stay in Ignalina city the first kilometres out of the city was very tough due to the unpleasant strong gusts of wind blowing now and then. Nonetheless we had a nice ride through hilly forests and farmland (most of which was not cultivated anymore). The most important thing was that the road was almost perfect, no potholes, no gravel only plain road almost all the way. The last fifteen kilometres before Vilnius was however really unpleasant since the road narrowed and carried a lot of traffic.

Below we stopped for lunch very close to the Belarussian border near some woods.

Below a church in Švenčionys.

Day 9; Daugavpils – Ignalina, 105 km

Today became the longest leg so far both in total and on gravel roads (9 kilometres) and the wettest, since we unfortunately got our first rain the first twenty kilometres toward the Lithuanian border. Fortunately it was only a few showers and in the end we got a lot of sunshine while driving through the pine forests in Lithuania towards Ignalina.

We crossed the border from Latvia to Lithuania (see above) only two kilometres from the Belarussian border so it would not be wrong to say that we were cornered. The reason for this is my addiction to strange tourists destinations; the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.

For those who are not familiar to nuclear power I will just sum up the important history of the Ignalina plant. It is of the same (unsafe) type as the Chernobyl reactor which blew up in Ukraine, the Ignalina version is just bigger by capacity and newer. The last reactor on the Ignalina plant was shut down on the 31.12.2009 as per agreement with the European Union, which did not like the safety issues regarding this particular reactor design. Currently the plants around two thousand employees are working to dismantle the plant and safely store the spent nuclear fuel.

From the outside and the surroundings everything reminded me of Chernobyl even though I have never sat my foot there. The reactor building design (see below) although a bit different reminded me of the pictures taken by helicopter short after the Chernobyl accident – it somehow gave me the shivers and yet again I knew the plant was taken out of operation but still not a toy.

We got the photographs and we hurried further towards the city of Visaginas, the Ignalina plant’s Pripyat, just ten kilometres away. Visaginas proved to be an interesting short visit since it was built totally from the ground together with the nuclear power plant, thus it was like going into a museum of the Soviet paradise and city planning. The city was indeed well-structured with a lot of pine trees around but with a total lack of family houses; only apartment buildings were to be seen.

Our final goal was the city of Ignalina some 36 kilometres south of Visaginas. I forgot to add 36 kilometres of pine forest with almost no human in sight and even the sign showing ”Ignalina 3 km” was kind of a joke, since it just turned right into more pine forest. Honestly speaking I began to doubt there would be a city of six and half thousand inhabitants.

At the last kilometre we found a very nice, clean and well-maintained city and even better a small three star hotel Žuvėdra overlooking a small lake. Here it is very important to add that the food and service in their restaurant was splendid (and very inexpensive).

Tomorrow there will be no horror-tourism, but instead we will have some 110 kilometres ahead of us to reach Lithuania’s capital.

Day 8; Krāslava – Daugavpils, 45 km

The road from Krāslava went up hill and down hill all the way to Daugavpils and we quickly biked the stretch and just before lunch found our hotel Duets squeezed in between a huge railway junction. After enjoying a hot and long shower we went site seeing.

So what is there to see in Daugavpils? In fact not much. After dinner we walked from the city centre and out to Daugavpils fortress. Our brochure claimed it to be one of the most well-preserved fortresses in Eastern Europe dating back to the eighteenth century. We did not want to see the state of the others – this one consisted of old buildings in total neglect (see below). Thunder and a heavy shower arrived at almost the same time as we entered the fortress so we took shelter in an open building entrance.

We quickly evaluated whether people actually lived in the building we just entered into and we agreed; no! Two minutes after a man passed us a went up the stairs; so yes. I certainly hope the apartments looks nicer inside than the building looks outside.

The rain continued so we just went back to the hotel with a taxi and became sitting ducks until the evening came and our hunger paid tribute to the top floor (10th floor) restaurant at Park Hotel Latgola. Our stomachs liked the food but our minds thought the restaurant was not cosy and seemed a bit too cold in its interior.

I had a lot of expectations regarding Daugavpils, but I have to admit that the city did not live up to them. However it one would be a goods railway freak (see above), then Daugavpils is the clearly the place to go:-)

See you on the border.

Day 7; Rēzekne – Krāslava, 96 km

Night life in Rēzekne was very quiet – the local nightclub Coco bar was closed of some reason and I could not locate other bars, although there was at least two places where parties (private ones) were taking place; at our hotel and at another local café. Admitted it is a bicycle trip and not a intercity pub crawl:-)

The weather did not look promising when looking out of the windows, but after double checking the weather report we should be home free, thus no rain! Our route took us through the Rāznas national park and even though this route was very hilly we had a good pace both up and down hill. On one of the hills I hit a maximum speed of 56 km/h.

For lunch we stopped in the small town of Ezermieki by a small lake (see above picture) which was very beautiful since the sky was clearing and the sun was saying hallo more and more often. The hills became longer and lower towards Krāslava which made it easier to keep pace. Even though the city has around seven or eight thousand inhabitants it was not exactly easy for find a hotel.

In the end we however found one, actually it looked more like a huge private villa with a few guest rooms, but that was good enough for us (the joke here is that anyway the name was: ”Hotel Priedaine”). The local and only pizzeria was closed so we instead enjoyed a beer on a bench overlooking the river at sunset. Magnificent.

We have now been a week on the road and status is that we have biked 623 kilometres with baggage averaging 19,9 kilometres an hour, but best of all we have had no rain at all!

Tomorrow we will have an easy day with only 45 kilometres to go leaving enough time for some sightseeing of Latvia’s second largest city Daugavpils.

Day 6; Balvi – Rēzekne, 84 km

The short summery is that the weather report did not look that promising, but we ended up having nice weather with back wind and a lot of sun – and not to forget good legs. Okay my dad had some problems with an itching ass. Other than that I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Just after entering Rēzekne we stopped at a crossroad to scratch our heads (we could not find the road). Immediately a taxi driver stopped and rolled his window down and ashed what we were looking for. A hotel I answered in him in Russian and he kindly showed us the way. Admitted we did not take his recommendation and went to Kolonna Hotel Rezekne which showed promising photos and review even before going there. Yet another total bargain – the hotel was recently renovated and our bikes could be left in one of the hotels small garages, not to mention the extremely kind receptionist.

We came so early (at 15.00 !!) to Rēzekne that we actually had time for some sightseeing. We understood that the city had several nice churches, a few remaining walls of an old castle, a city square undergoing grand recovery from years of neglect and a nice restaurant with the humble name ”little italy” where we dined.

Of the much sadder items we walked by a small monument in remembrance of 120 jews brutally killed during the Second World War by the Nazis.

Also locals had made a tribute outside the local sportsbar to the players and staff of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl killed in the airplane crash just a few days earlier.

It is Saturday, my dad is already sleeping, but I will go for pint at the local night club.

See you in the club.

Day 5; Ape (Latvia) – Balvi, 73 km

Today’s general theme; damn good trip.

We left the guesthouse (see above) near Ape late at around 10.30 since we had to wait for the morning fog to clear or to be more correct; because I was kind of slow:-) The 24 kilometre trip to Alūksne was near-perfect; the Sun was shinning, we had back-wind and my problems with my left leg was basically gone. Only the road could have been better paved, however the surrounding nature clearly compensated for that – great hilly nature here;-)

In Alūksne we found the local Tourist Information, which did neither have a map of the west part of Latvia or the whole part of Latvia, however the guy working there was very friendly and pointed towards a bookstore where we subsequently found the map. The guy also told us that Alūksne had Europe’s only Bible museum and pointed to the other part of the Tourist Information – a building approximately the size of a two 20” shipping containers (however much nicer). He was by the way also very interested in languages and told me that Latvian and Lithuanian can be traced back to Sanskrit, which is or was spoken in India (do not know much about it).

After chewing a bit on the language information we checked in to the café Pajumte for some tonics, beer and some local food, which was very tasty by the way. Next and final stop for today was the city of Balvi and the around 40 kilometres to there went as smoothly as coming to Alūksne. The only difference was that more nature was changed into farmland and that the terrain levelled out.

Note about the above picture: A could also be for “Anders”:-)

Upon reaching Balvi we almost biked through the city before realizing that finding a hotel was maybe more difficult than first imagined. I asked a random guy working on putting a fence up. First he could not understand why we did not want to continue further, the time was only around 16.30, it was still so early, however we wanted to relax. He did not want to tell us where the hotel was, he jumped into his minivan and showed us where the hotel was. We thanked him and stood a bit puzzled when he drove away again; damn such things just never happens at home (in Denmark I mean).

The hotel was upgraded-USSR. I asked the lady who was watching Russian television whether she spoke English or Russian; after a minute of thought from her side she said Russian would do. Next step; any available rooms. Yes. She showed me a room for 25 lats – nicely renovated. I said that would do and anyway asked whether they had anything more basic (= cheaper). No, those rooms where already taken. While walking down the stairs she said suddenly that they actually had a cheaper room for 20 lats. The difference was that that one was only half-upgraded from the USSR-style but it was a total bargain and took it. The bargain later became even better after I realized that the rooms had free WIFI.

After walking through most of the city in search of a restaurant we ended up eating some pizzas together with the local teenagers at a local pizzeria.

Tomorrow our goal is Rēzekne some 80 kilometres to the South. We wish ourselves good luck;-)

Day 4; Väiko-Härmä – Ape (Latvia), 84 km

A hot shower is a very nice thing especially if it is deserved. After 84 km I think it is. Today’s journey took us from the superior breakfast at Piusa Ürgoru, over tough hills near Rõuge to a long decline with good pace towards Mõniste, a small town near the Estonian-Latvian border.

I purchased my bicycle around half a year ago and have been riding it from time to time, however I never changed other than the 8 back gears. After 600 meter we faced harsh uphill (see below) and I began playing all the lower combinations of my gear shift and – the chain went off the gear wheel. I can just as well learn it the hard way I guess.

The weather was worse than the previous days however we managed to keep dry – even without praying to our respective Gods (we were under a lot of threat).

The Latvian-Estonian border was just as I like it, just a boundary post and a sign (see below); no border guards, no passport control, no Osama-control only worse road on the Latvian side. A few kilometres after we hit the city Ape (yes that is its name).

At first Ape looked a deserted and quiet, however a kilometre or so further we came to something like a square where all the roads met. On the one side there was a shop with everything from wheel barrows to milk, but unfortunately not the map of Latvia we so urgently needed. One of the customers there were helpful and directed us to the nearby Turist Information – to which my brain was repeating in itself Tourist Information HERE!!!

It was not a joke since the local library of this one thousand citizen city had a rather big office with a very friendly lady and a good stockpile of tourist maps and brochures. Experience tells me that it is often better to start the conversation in English, even though sometimes it is quite clear that Russian is the only way forward. I guess I was the only client today since she was very enthusiastic about all the sights of Ape (not a lot to be honest) and of Alūksne where we actually wanted to go. Most importantly we got the necessary maps.

At the cross road with the sign 24 kilometres to Alūksne we choosed the easy variant – the nearest place to stay for the night. The place was indeed difficult to find and several phone calls to the owner also showed that we were totally off track, however we finally found the several houses proving as a kind of guesthouse named ”Grūbe”.

We got the key to room number 4 which was a nice room with three big windows on the second floor. Soon after the owner arrived, who was a friendly half Estonian half Latvian man with the name Zintas who showed us the facilities.

Our bags left in our rooms we biked the five kilometres back to Ape in order to find an ATM and a place to dine. The dinning place was unfortunately closed and looked like it had been so for weeks, so we bought food from the local grocery store, biked the 5 clicks back and cooked some great spaghetti in the nice kitchen Zintas kindly told us to use.

As small bonus information the guesthouse was right next to a small hydroelectric station with a capacity of 250 kilowatts. Zintas told that originally 200 – 300 years ago the Swedes had built a water mill, which was later turned into a cellulose plant. This plant was destroyed during the Second World War and in Soviet times a hydroelectric turbine was installed. In 1975 it was considered too small and taken out of operation, but 12 years ago a new full automatic Austrian made turbine was put in its place. Nice:-)

See you on the road.