June 27, 2019

The first day: After a harrowing morning of madly packing the van, an unplanned Skpe call and (stupidly) attempting to finish watching “Marcella” ( a Netflix Thriller Series), Elke skillfully got us on the road. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hour trip to the Ferry in Kiehl, Germany had suddenly become 4+ hours. (And no, we didn’t manage to finish watching season 1.) Only her fortitude got us there before final call for loading – just in the nick of time. While not the very last vehicle on the boat, we were the last for that level. It was all a bit confusing The workers were not so friendly, nor did they necessarily speak German (forget about English). Once on board, it didn’t get any better. However, one employee was kind enough to let us inspect a cabin before booking, a last minute decision after viewing the not-so-deluxe lounging chair room. (I ‘smell’ the amount of molds/perfumes/cleaners before making a decision.) The first one was a definite no. The second – success! With a window no less. Wahoo! $160 Euros later, we frozenly rocked to sleep (or not) in what we later figured out was the only handicapped accessible cabin on the ship. Nice big bathroom too. Typical S.N.O.T. good fortune.

We chose this years travel destination for a number of reasons. I said to Elke “Let’s go some place this time where we don’t speak the language”. She showed me an old tour book of the Baltic States. I said “Yes! I have always wondered about them.” Elke put the plan into action and our trip was born.

The final push (preparations) for ‘Baltikum 2019 Tour’ wasn’t easy. Elke’s body was in rough shape the week before. The campervan resides in Leonburg, Germany. We have to go get it and it is a long day’s drive. Our drive back to Hannover was also very long due to fluctuating road construction on one of the then hottest days of the year. It had no working A.C. We spent the night in a little town called Hammelburg, safely tucked away with a bunch of other campers in a municipal lot, after much searching spontaneously on the Internet. Then Elke couldn’t sleep. (We would get used to both the mattress and sleeping so close side by side later.) But as I walked to the public toilet in the middle of the night, the stars overhead moved me. Our trip had truly begun.

Now, 9 days into our trip, it finally happens; stomach trouble. Only not so bad. I awaken at 3 am and spend the next 3 hours disengaging every abdominal muscle from every other thus opening up the breathing cycle. Relief. It could have been a lot worse (and it was two weeks before. But fortunately we were in Hannover then.) But I begin to wonder if visiting the Baltikum for 3 weeks is really worth it. Living in a campervan has it merits and difficulties. It is not for the feint hearted. (Perhaps another post later.) Thus far, the local people are either shy or avoiding contact with strangers. Someone offered the theory of Latvia being occupied by foreign nations so many times that the last invasion by the Soviets left a mark. Fortunately, the younger generation learns mandatory English in school and do respond if spoken to first, although not always freely offering information. As for the drivers in Latvia, well, they leave a lot to be admired – their reckless driving skills and lack of road etiquette motly. So many big, expensive cars here too! And for what reason? No muddy ranches, no steep hills and no boulder-strewn paths. Granted, I don’t know what winter is like and most of the county’s roads are unpaved. (The ruts are horrendous and real car killers in my opinion. Maybe that is why we don’t see any old car, not even any rusting in backyards.)

Perhaps I will change my mind tomorrow. Today it is raining, a lot. It has been raining all night. It is also colder than we anticipated. While we did prepare for this possibility, it doesn’t negate the endless inland farmland, which is of no particular interest to either of us. I loved visiting the bog, the blueberries in the seemingly endless forest paths and the buildings and cafes of the big city of Riga. Climbing the old Soviet Radio Telescope tower and viewing the barracks was great fun too. Ports are always interesting and the coastline can be breathtaking albeit after a while a lighthouse is a lighthouse is a lighthouse with a few small boats thrown in for good measure. Today we plan to visit the ‘must see’ castle in Rundale. I’ll let you know how it went later.

A shout out to Eric B of Hartford and Amana S of Ashville!