It was serendipitous that three months ago, when I began planning my trip to Europe, the euro had decided to plunge, almost equaling the American dollar. Couple this with the cheap cost of living in the Baltic states, and you have the makings of a great trip to see old Europe. Although it is nice to travel on the cheap–finding locations which make the thrifty traveler squeal with glee as they find the two euro beer or the ten euro nice hostel room–the best destination is somewhere wedged between inexpensive and entertaining. But this trip is for the adventurer, willing to travel and find the destinations, the sites hidden far in the woods, discovering the rare gems only few are privy to.
As we plied the countryside in our car through the picturesque nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, the verdant fields teemed with storks perched in the darkest soil I have ever seen and roosted in large nests elevated high above the ground on chimneys, rooftops, and poles. We spent the nights among the old cities of Vilnius, Kaunas, Parnu, Riga, and Liepaja, watching the warm sun set on their picturesque cityscapes, descending below the horizon much later in the night than we were used to. We drove through these four nations, winding our way through their immense amount of fecund farmland just ready for the plow. The fields–so dark they were almost black or a shade of purple–were just waiting in extreme anticipation for their first growth of the year. May was the perfect time to travel to the Baltic states, and we saw them all, along with Poland, putting almost five thousand kilometers on our rental car traveling all over these four nations.
Traveling to the Baltic states requires a few things of the adventurer. Like I said before, it is cheap to travel to these countries, and it does not require much money, but what is important, is having the ability to rent a car. These three nations are all small in comparison to areas like Poland, Germany, or France, but, to find locations and cities, you must have a car to travel to them, trust me, it wouldn’t work any other way. The cities of the Baltics are spread out, with little transportation that is direct. Renting a car is cheap though, and after only 160 euro with unlimited kilometers, we were well on our way to adventure. Since most cars in Europe are small, compact, and fuel efficient, we spent very little on gasoline. Overall, if you can rent a car, do so, it is the only way to see these the Baltics.
Driving in these nations requires a test of wills as you ply the rural roads and strange highways–many times little to no shoulder for one to pull over. The driving ability of people in these nations puts American drivers to shame, but with that said, it made me a little queasy at times, thinking I was about to witness a head on collision right in front of our car. Passing, no matter how long a line of cars or lacking visibility, is the norm, and squeezing between cars, with only inches between bumpers, as you speed down the interstate at 100 kilometers per hour, is so par for the course, you feel out of place if you don’t do it more than once. So driving through the Baltics, you must become a formula one racer, unafraid and confident in your abilities, or you will end up a cross on the roadside.
So 5000 kilometers, thirteen days, four countries, and many towns later, I find myself loving the Baltics, and am encouraged that I will visit again in the future. So next time you think of Europe for travel, consider the Baltic states, you won’t be disappointed, just learn to drive aggressively.