Bus trip with Scandorama in Poland, Baltic States, Russia and its enclave Kaliningrad.
15 to 29 June 2001
Friday 15th of June
Departure from Borås 16:00 with bus to Malmö, where we arrived 20:30 to hotel Garden. We just made a quick visit to a Chinese restaurant before bedtime.
Saturday 16th of June (730 km)
We got up at 6:30. It was a long queue to the breakfast. Departed just after 8:00. A quite small bus, as we only would be 24 in the group. That day there was some drizzle. We took a ferry from Gedster to Rostock and had some lunch on the 2 hours trip. We continued through a green landscape with a lot of fields along the highway. The weather changed a lot, with both sunshine and rain. We made a stop just after passing Berlin to rest and eat before we continued to the Polish border.
We passed Frankfurt an der Oder, over the border river Oder to the customs at Swiecko. There was a long queue of lorries, which we passed. After the border we did see several young women along the road. Their intention was too apparent! We also saw several shops along the road, which sold garden gnomes, but they were only on the northern part of the road, which made us suspect they mostly sold them to Germans returning home. We made a short stop before we arrived to Poznan at 21:00. Hotel Poznan is a 16 floor luxurious hotel. A 3-course dinner finished the day. We agreed upon coming to the Promised Land of cabbage, even though we didnt get any for dessert. Our last question was how you could be so tired of only sitting in a bus all the day?
Sunday 17th of June (300 km)
We slept well until 7:15 and had a large breakfast buffet. At 9:00 we did take the bus to the centre of Poznan. Our chauffeur parked by the national museum and we all went to Stary Rynek, which is an amazingly beautiful large square. A lot of painted narrow houses. Craftsmen houses in the middle of the square beside a lovely well preserved town hall. We went back to bus and left for Warsaw, when our good guide Lars Gjestland told us about the history of Poland. After some sun in Poznan it became cloudy again. We saw several signs, which said horses with wagons weren't allowed on the highway. About halfway did the highway end and we continued on a worse road, which sometimes was pretty jumpy. We stopped for lunch at McDonald in a small town. We arrived in Warsaw at 15:00.
Christina and I hurried to walk to a market nearby the "Culture Palace". We also strolled around elsewhere until the sightseeing tour started around the city at 17:00.
We started to drive on Nowy Swiat, one of the best-restored streets. Stopped near Sigismund's place, where we entered the church of St John. Then we did walk around the well-restored Old City, which was completely destroyed during World War II. The square Stare Miasto is really lovely. After a few minutes on our own we did continue with the bus.
We passed the museum of riot, which is recently built. Then stopped at the ghetto monument, which commemorate the near extinction of Jews in Warsaw. Most of them had been sent to Treblinka. The drizzle continued when we passed the national theatre and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The bus then passed the "Culture Palace", which dominates the city with its 233 metres.
The tour was near its end when passed the parliament and some of the embassies to the park of Lazienko, where we made the last stop at the Chopin monument.
Back for dinner at 20:00. Afterwards did we join a couple for a glass of very expensive wine before bedtime. This hotel was as luxurious as the previous, except that it only had half of the space in the room.
Monday 18th of June (460 km)
After another large breakfast buffet, did we depart at 8:30. After filling up gas, we drove Northwest towards Bialystok. Pine forests more and more replaced the open fields. The road was quite narrow, but had heavy traffic. We had to pass several tractors. In the village Ostrow Maz we did take a short break. We saw several storks nest on poles along the road. The cloudy morning turned to sunshine.
We saw more bad houses, but not really that much. We made a lunch stop in Augustow at the luxurious hotel Warszawa, which probably had been a sanatorium.
Then we went towards the border, where the queue was short. After less than an hour were we in Lithuania and changed money. We passed through a green and hilly agricultural landscape. We saw a lot of wooden houses with roofs in a strange angle. Many had a nice garden. The apartment houses mostly were in bad condition.
We arrived at hotel Artis, just beside the ministry of defence at 19:00. The hotel hadn't been used more than a week and everything looked very bright. After dinner did we walk around about an hour before we went to bed.
Tuesday 19th of June
After breakfast we did go for a city tour. First we took the bus to Peter Paul's church, which is richly decorated by white stucco work, then back to the Stanislav Cathedral, with a nice tower, which stood beside it. Except for the Casimir chapel, the Cathedral was less beautiful. There were several beggars outside the churches, which made us wonder how the social security system worked.
We passed the presidents palace and went into the university from 1579, the oldest in former Soviet Union. Then we came to the older parts of this wonderful city. The main street is Pilies Gatve (Castle Street). We visited an amber museum and then we passed a famous brick church called St Anna. A short bus trip to the Gate of Dawn, which had a chapel, which is consecrated to the "Grey Madonna", above the entrance. On the same street we did visit an Orthodox Church called the "church of Holy Spirit". The interior was colourful, mainly in green. We separated at the Town Hall Square to find a lunch restaurant. Christina and I found a nice one and ordered a lamb stew in a fry pan. It tasted very well.
After lunch did most of us join a tour outside Vilnius to the castle of Trakai, which was restored 1964. The lovely brick castle by a lake is used as a museum nowadays.
When we returned to the hotel we took a nap before our bus drove us outside the centre to a local restaurant called Marceliukes Kletis. We got some Lithuanian specialities, i.e. "zeppelins". The restaurant was decorated as a barn with several agricultural tools. We had some entertainment by a couple of elder men who played and sang. Afterwards did we take a short walk and noticed again that car alarms seemed to be very sensitive here.
Wednesday 20th of June (260 km)
We woke up early although we had plenty of time before departure. After breakfast, we did stroll around a while plus tasted cakes at a cafe. Christina bought some linen fabric and we went to the genocide museum, which unfortunately was closed today. We ate something before we left for Latvia.
It was a really sunny and warm day. At the border station Nikaja it took about half an hour, but it was slower at the Latvian border. About an hour including changing money. It was pretty quick according to our guide! A couple of funny things at one place is there a traffic light in a small crossing in the middle of nowhere plus that we went through several really large roundabouts.
We arrived in Rezeneke at 19:00 to hotel Latgale. The hotel was simple in a typical Soviet fashion. We made a quick walk to a park nearby before dinner. After we took a long one downtown. There are a lot of shabby apartment buildings, but we saw satellite antennas on the balconies, we heard someone playing Nintendo and most people were well dressed, so despite the high unemployment people tried to get some luxury. Another thing we noticed were all the food shops, of which many were opened all hours and days. It still was light, although more chilly when we returned around 22:00. The beds were less comfortable then we had been spoiled with before.
Thursday 21st of June (450 km)
We got up at 6:00 to take a shower in rust-smelling water. A good and rich breakfast, although not a buffet today. We departed 7:45 towards the Russian border at Grebneva on another sunny day.
When we arrived at 8:30 were there 34 cars before us in the queue. The queue was very slow, but worse we soon discovered that 4-5 people sold places in the queue for $50! They had put their cars in several places in the queue and either exchanged them or gave place in front of them. Apparently they must have bribed people at the customs as well! It took 8,5 hours before we had passed the Latvian customs.
The trouble hadn't finished because the Russian border was also chaotic, mostly because of a woman, who couldn't handle nagging from people who wanted to go first (we were less sure if she was bribed here). She told us that there was only one controller, so we had to wait until the night shift arrived, even though buses always have priority there! We came to the control more then 3 hours later and after 13 hours could we finally have "lunch" at 22:40! The best meal we all had since long! Just before midnight we did start towards St Petersburg.
Friday 22nd of June
It was still quite light when we started to drive on a really jumpy road, but it became better after 60 km, when we came out on the main road. Our chauffeur had to overtake a lot of big lorries, which was heavily loaded. It felt better with the safety belt strapped. When he needed to take a break during the night, he stopped beside a police station to be on the safe side. I fell asleep now and then. We passed through several small villages.
I happened to open my eyes just when we passed the sign to St Petersburg. It was a slightly misty and reddish morning. Christina had seen a lovely sunrise. We were really lucky to do this the shortest night during the year! We arrived at hotel Svetskaja at 5:00. We got breakfast packets before we went to bed in this enormous hotel.
We slept until 11:00, but we were really slow to come out for a walk in the nearby environments. The city is beautiful with its many channels and large avenues, but some of the tramways look really shabby.
At 14:30 did a Russian woman called Irina join us to guide us around the city. She talked with a mix between Norwegian and Swedish. We stopped by Nikolay church, by the sphinx statues beside the river Neva and at the Isaac cathedral, which we entered. My favourite church became "church of the blood", which is a really colourful Orthodox Church.
After dinner Christina and I went by taxi, with Anna-Stina and Hans, to Alexandriskij Theatre to see a ballet for the first time in our life. Hans had seen "Giselle" several times, so we got expert comments. We appreciated the ballet, although we wouldnt had minded softer benches! In the pause did we celebrate Midsummer Eve with a glass of champagne each!
Afterwards did we go along Nevskij prospekt to a cafe and then we took the underground back to the hotel. The stations were clean and nicely decorated. It still was quite light in the soft rain, although it was nearly midnight. It was midsummer!
Saturday 23rd of June
At 9:15 should we go to Peterhof, but our guide Lasse had a bad start and overslept and we was delayed. But who can blame him, as he had to keep awake all of the night drive to St Petersburg? Irina gave us a lot of facts about the city and Russia during the trip.
At Peterhof was there an enormous queue, so our 2 guides hold places, as we took a walk around the park. There are a lot of nicely painted fountains plus statues and some pavilions. The castle is mainly in baroque style and more or less completely restored after World War II. It had a lot of gold-plated walls and pillars, large halls and paintings, enormous light-crowns in crystal. Laid tables with beautiful porcelain and glasses.
After the tour did we eat a simple lunch nearby all of the souvenir stands. We bought a "political matrusjka" with the last most important Russian leaders as dolls to our "flower watering friend".
On the way back we did pass the green large port of Narva, which was built 1812.
We spent a few minutes at the hotel before we went to the Hermitage and the Winter Palace, which is a part of it. It's one of the largest art museums in the world. Though I found the building and halls more impressive than the exhibited art. Irina was again our guide. We finished the tour earlier then expected and Christina and I left the group, as we wanted to do some strolling in the centre on our own.
It was extremely lot of people in the centre. Among the many activities was there a city-race. Most shops seemed to be open. We looked around in some of them. There were several beggars, but the funniest were 4 dogs, which were strapped beside a begging sign! We also saw some ladies who tried to sell kittens.
A slight summer rain started, when we went to the underground. We went some extra stations to Avtovo, which is even more decorated then the others, with crystal crowns and glass decorated pillars.
Back at the hotel did we hear that the other had problems to find the bus in the crowd and Irina had panicked and put them all in taxis and our chauffeur and guide had been searching for them over an hour. After writing a few postcards, it was bedtime.
Sunday 24th of June (360 km)
We departed 8:45 on another clear day. Arriving at Ivangorod, we did have a nice view over the fort of Narva. It took "only" about 1:30 to pass the border to Estonia. They searched through the bus thoroughly, probably for smuggled antiquities. In Narva we did make a lunch stop at McDonalds, mostly because of lack of time. We also had time to change money.
We passed through a forest landscape with mostly birches and pines, which was quite similar to Swedish nature.
We arrived to hotel Central in Tallinn just after 15:00 and a guided tour around the city at 16:00. We started by driving through the city with some old wooden houses and parks on the way to an enormous outdoor choir platform. It can take 26.000 singers at the same time and up to 200.000 spectators on the grass slope! It's mainly used for the large choir festivals.
Then we went along a greenish landscape by the river of Pirita to the Olympic village, where they had the sailing during the Olympics of Moscow.
Then we went back to the centre and Toompea, the upper old town. We stopped outside the parliament and looked at the beautiful Alexander Nevskij, which is an Orthodox Church. We walked by a lot of old houses, but they looked very desolated with just a few souvenir shops. Its more popular to live in the lower town, except a quarter, where the houses had their own gardens. We had a nice view over the lower old town and the weathercock called "Old Thomas", which is a symbol of old Tallinn.
We took the "long leg" (name of a street) to the lower town. This part we did appreciate much more. It was more alive. After the tour it was soon time for dinner at the hotel. Afterwards Christina and I took a short walk in the new part, where we found our company's local branch.
Monday 25th of June (300 km)
We got up early to have time to stroll through the town on our own. Christina found some linen fabrics, which she bought. We also bought a couple of wooden cups.
At 11:15 we did depart. The landscape became more and more flat now. We made a lunch stop in Pärnu, the largest seaside resort in Estonia. We needed about an hour to get through the border to Latvia. Now we saw some lakes and a lot of pines. We made a break by the Baltic Sea, so whoever wanted go for a swim. Some of us went into the water to the knees, as the late summer still made the water quite cold.
We arrived in Riga at hotel Latgale around 19:00. Maj fainted in the reception, but we had 2 doctors in the group, who both reacted fast. Later we heard that it wasn't too serious, but only a reaction of sitting still a long time in a warm bus.
This was another luxurious hotel, which is very large. We had dinner an hour later. I felt in my nose that as I was going to catch a cold.
Tuesday 26th of June
I felt unusually tired, when our alarm clock rang. My nose was also a little worse. After breakfast was it time for a guided tour by feet in the old city. This is also a beautiful town, but we started to feel a bit overwhelmed of too many of its kind now. We saw several churches and other old buildings, which had been destroyed during the World War II. A lot of them where renovated after the liberation, with help of the Germans, as Riga traditionally has had good contact with them.
There are several traces of the Swedes since the city belonged to Sweden. For example is there a gate called "the Swedish gate". At every possible occasion I tried to rest as the muscles ached as well.
After the tour we bought a couple of amber necklaces as presents. Amber seemed to be sold everywhere. Afterwards we went to the market of Riga, which is the largest in the Baltic States. You seemed to be able to find anything you wanted there. The most fascinating were all the counters filled with meat, cheese, eggs, fruits etc. Outdoors could you buy clothes, flowers etc. The most remarkable things were all the old ladies, who sold plastic bags!
We went back to the centre and found a nice place for lunch. Although I had revived at the exciting market, I felt even more tired now, so after walking randomly a while, we went to a nice park in front of the hotel for a cup of coffee. After we went to our hotel room, where I went asleep.
Meanwhile Christina walked on the main shopping street in the new part of the city. The other had come back from the tour to the Latvian open-air Ethnography museum, with old buildings from all parts of Latvia. They were content with the tour.
Christina realised that I had fever, so I took some medicaments. I felt better at the delicious 3-course dinner, so afterwards we took the elevator to the bar at 26th floor, where we enjoyed the marvellous view over Riga.
Wednesday 27th of June (450 km)
I woke up sneezing several times during the night and worse that I kept Christina awake as well.
The sun was still with us today when we departed 7:45. It didn't take more than 1,5 hour at the border to Lithuania.
We arrived for an hour lunch break in Klaipeda at 13:00. We unfortunaltely had only a few minutes left in the centre before we had to depart. We drove out to the lively harbour where we took a 5 minutes ferry to Curonian Spit. Its about 100 km long and never more than 2 km from the mainland. This water is called the Curonian lagoon. Half of the spit is in Lithuania and the rest in Kaliningrad. All of the spit is National Park with wild boars, deers and elks in the pine forest, which is growing in the sandy earth. The spit is 1-4 km broad, so we seldom saw anything of the water. We passed a few small villages.
The border took only about an hour before we had entered the Russian enclave Kaliningrad. We saw several abandoned houses and farms plus fields that aren't used. In other fields there were cows or planted potatoes, crops etc. Upon a concrete monument we saw that a stork had built a nest! Most part of the road is going through an alley.
We arrived at hotel Kaliningrad at 18:30. There were a lot of beggars and unwanted helpers outside. The hotel is situated centrally opposite the Soviet House called "the monster" by the inhabitants. This ugly colossus replaced the 800-year Königsberg castle. The building was never completed and has never been used.
At 19:00 started a city tour with the local guide Maria. The rebuilding of the city after the World War II didn't start until 1960. Before that it was only a naval base. The city has several statues, otherwise Maria talked a lot of about how it was in old Königsberg. We had wanted more information about the situation in the new city. We made a stop at the Cathedral, which is undergoing a big renovation. Maria talked a lot about the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, who lived here all of his life. She told he well known for his punctuality. There are unfortunately very few beautiful buildings left in city.
At 21:00 we did have a quite tasteless dinner. Probably we have been too spoiled with the good food during the tour Another thing we noticed was that the toilets belonging to the restaurant, only were holes in the floor!
We went back to our room directly, as we were very tired.
Thursday 28th of June (500 km)
I started the day with a cold shower, as there still wasn't any warm water. The breakfast was chaotic as a hysteric German group tried to grasp both food and places before their turn. Haven't we seen that before?
At 8:15 we departed. The houses in the countryside are nicer and sometimes more colourful. The road is pretty bad. Our guide Lasse told us that several villages along the road have changed to Russian names after the World War II. They often had got names after Soviet celebrities. We passed military barracks.
The border at Mamonova only took about an hour. The first stop in Poland was at lunch in Malbork (also called Marienburg), which is one of the most visited places in Poland. We walked around this nice large brick castle before we ate a quick lunch and took a walk on the local market. We continued at 12:45 through an open agricultural landscape.
The weather was sunny and it was hot in the bus, before our chauffeur manages to start the air condition properly. We had two further stops before we arrived at hotel Neptun in Szczecin at 18:30. Dinner was at 20:00 and afterwards we were too tired to see something of the city. I still felt the cold in my body.
Friday 29th of June (680 km)
After breakfast we departed 8:00 to the border station at Lubieszyn. We came through in less than half an hour! When they heard which countries we had been in, they thought we were enough thoroughly searched...
We drove through a very prosperous agricultural landscape. A lot of fields also had a lot of colourful flowers like poppies.
At Neubrandenburg we made a 20 minutes stop and I managed to increase my collection of board games with "Lost City" and "MarraCash"
We made another quick stop by a food and liquor store outside Rostock before we boarded the ferry to Gedser. Half of the time aboard we spent at the lunch table in good company. We did some shopping and had coffee before we hit the Danish roads. We arrived at the terminal in Malmö at 18:30, where we said good bye to each other in the group.
We had to wait until another connection arrived, so we didn't depart before 19:20. Finally, we arrived in Borås just after 23:00.
This trip broke a lot of prejudges of Christina and me. It seems that a lot has been rebuilt in these countries, particularly in the main cities, where the western countries have interests. Still we cant forget that there are a lot of smaller cities, which none in the west really care for. Their development will take much longer time. The stop in the small town of Rezeneke plus the stop in Kaliningrad reminded us about this, although since Kaliningrad opened up, there are a lot of Germans who want to help to build it up, as its been a former German part.
Both we saw a lot of rich well-dressed people as well as beggars, but sometimes you doubted the need of some of the beggars, particularly among the children. Some of them were apparently drug-addicts as well. But most of the old ladies seemed to be in real need. Strangely we never saw any old men begging.
The border crossings took often 1-1.5 hours, but we made a record of 13 hours to enter Russia, but this was probably due to the Latvian customs and their co-operation with local entrepreneurs. Our guides previous "record" was "only" 5 hours to pass a border. This made it apparent that corruption still exists, although it has diminished in most of the countries. Normally you spend 25-30 hours at the borders at this trip, but our "record" probably increased it to about 40 hours!
Another tricky thing was keeping track of all of the currencies, when you just spend 1-2 days in each country. Our used rates were:
Poland 2.95 SEK/Zloty, Lithuania 2.75 SEK/Litas, Latvia 17.54 SEK/Lahts,
Russia 0.38 SEK/Rubel, Estonia 0.63 SEK/Kroon
We also used German DM (lunch on the ferry to/from Rostock) and Swedish Kronor (SEK) for soft drinks, coffe and cookies at the bus.
Personally I think the hotels were of an unnecessary high standard except the one in Rezeneke, but they gave good job opportunities to the people who live in the cities we visited.
accompanied by Christina Arrindell
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