Great Baltic Bike Adventure

This may have been the most active summer of my life. It kicked off with a two week road trip including plenty of long walks throughout Ireland and Scotland, then I walked Hadrian’s Wall Path for five days with my mom, and to top off the summer of exercise and sunshine I went on a two week bike trip through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with one of my best friends and her parents. It was magical. As a way of remembering the experience and sharing an off-the-wall vacation idea, here’s my synopsis of the trip, complete with the details regarding the state of my bum….I’m sorry and you’re welcome.

Day 1: We started the trip in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. My friend and her parents flew in from the states and I flew in from England. We met at the hotel just in time to go on a walking tour of the city. I honestly don’t remember much about the tour, other than the fact that it was raining and I was so excited to finally be catching up with my friend. The next morning was the first day of cycling!

bike-trip

Day 2: ~60km/37miles through Lahemaa National Park, Estonia

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Optimistic and excited to start biking!

The start of any new adventure is always so promising. The day was bright and blue, the bike was comfy and fun, the day held infinite potential….and then we got to mile 30ish and all I wanted was to be DONE. We powered through the last few miles and ended our bike loop at the hotel in time for me to literally collapse on the floor of our room until my muscles stopped screaming enough for me to shower and get ready for dinner. Needless to say, I slept like a rock that night.

Day 3: ~53km/33 miles along Lake Piepsi

img_6715Before biking we took a mini bus to our starting point in Mustvee. On the way we stopped by a medieval castle called Rakvere. By mid-morning we began biking along the shore of Lake Piepsi, one of the largest lakes in Europe. We biked on the Estonian side, and just across the lake is Russia. It was pretty foggy so we could barely make out the shore on the other side. Flat and peaceful, today was a great day for cycling, by mid-day we were ready for lunch and ended up eating at a beautiful old castle called Alatskivi. By the end of the afternoon we started getting rained on, but luckily it was only for the last few miles. We ended our day in a small fishing village and took the mini bus into Tartu, a large university town and our last overnight in Estonia.

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Lunch in Alatskivi Castle

Day 4: ~30km, 19 miles up to Harimägi Hill and down to Sangaste

We were SO excited when we read that today would only be ~30km. Then we realized why…HILLS. Today was a constant up and down. Just when we though we’d made it to the last possible hill that could exist, there was another one. There were two routes to choose from today, but we picked the one that would take us to Harimägi Hill where there is an overview tower we climbed up to see an amazing view of the surrounding area.

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View from Harimägi Hill

That view was worth all of the hills and the climb to the top of the tower. After leaving the tower the majority of the ride was downhill or flat. So while the morning was grueling, the afternoon was pure bliss. We ended the day at another castle, Sangaste Castle and had food before taking the mini bus into Sigulda, Latvia, stopping by Cesis to visit a medieval castle along the way.

Day 5: ~21km/13 miles

At this point in the trip, each morning is very similar. We wake up, moan and creak our way out of bed, into the shower, and back into biking attire. Scarf down as much coffee and breakfast as possible and head back to our trusty bicycles. After a solid 5-10 minutes of grunting and moaning about how much our butt’s hurt, we settle in for another day of biking. It’s a routine we feel pretty good about. The grunting definitely helps the pain…as does anti-chafing cream (PTL for that miracle goop).

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Sigulda Castle
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Oldest church in Latvia

We start the day directly from the hotel and today we cycle to Sigulda Castle and then through Guaja National Park with amazing views of the Guaja River valley. We stop by the oldest church in Latvia (built in 1205) and finish our day at Ragana Kekis to have lunch before a long mini bus trip into Riga, the capital city of Latvia. Today was the easiest day of cycling so far. We were done by lunchtime and all of us felt like the day had almost ended too soon! Our muscles seem to be adjusting well to the daily torture.

Day 6: ~60km/37 miles to the Jurmala/Majori beach towns

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Ice cream after beach time

Looking back, I think this was my favorite day of the trip. After a relaxing evening yesterday when we got to Riga (I even took a bath!), we were ready to set out this morning. The schedule had us staying in Riga two nights, so it was nice to know that we would be able to come back to the same place again instead of continuing to move on. The bike company gave us a route today that had us bike out to the Latvian coast where there are beaches up and down the Gulf of Riga (off the Baltic Sea). Once we got there and had lunch along the beach and stuck our toes in. We decided we weren’t tired enough to take the train back as the map suggested so we decided to cycle back to the hotel as well. It made this day a bit longer than intended, but it was glorious. The weather was perfect, the skies were blue, and it was a wonderful day of sunshine and relaxed cycling. We even found a sporting goods store and I was able to snag a pair of clearance bike shorts (and my bum sang a hallelujah chorus).

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Old Town Riga, Latvia

We got back to the hotel early evening, rested up a bit, and then explored old town Riga. I fell in love. It was so quaint and beautiful with the cobblestone streets and outdoor seating at every restaurant, pub, and cafe. We found a wonderful little medieval restaurant that had live music playing and we spent the evening drinking wine and enjoying the atmosphere of old town. Today was perfect.

Day 7: ~50km/31 miles the Lithuanian seaside along the Baltic Coast

Today we took the bus from Riga to the Hill of Crosses which is aptly named because it is, quite literally, a hill with crosses. It’s an incredibly unique area of Lithuania that is a place of pilgrimage in the Catholic church. We stopped by to read a bit about it and take some pictures before continuing on to Šventoji where we started our bike route down the Baltic Coast to Klaipėda. Today was another easy day with a quick pace because it was so flat. We arrived to our hotel in the afternoon and enjoyed a leisurely dinner in town.

Day 8: ~65km/40 miles along the Curonian Spit

img_6878Today was the day I’d been fearing since I first set my eyes on the itinerary. It is the day bike shorts were made for. It was the day requiring every single muscle to cooperate. After completing our morning routine, we made our way to the ferry where we crossed over the lagoon to a long spit of land sitting just off the coast in the Baltic Sea. This tiny sliver of land is called the Curonian Spit and we rode almost the full length of it in one day.

Along the way we stopped by Raganų Kalnas, which was a wooded path with hundreds of witches carved into the wood.

We also stopped by some of the dunes and saw a colony of grey herons and cormorants. By mid-afternoon a solid sprinkle of rain had started and my friend and I booked it to the hotel and arrived before the rest of our group. We watched the massive downpour from the comfort of warm rooms in dry clothes while we waited for everyone else to arrive. Needless to say, they were very wet, and not too pleased when they finally arrived. My friend’s mom had also gotten a flat tire, adding to the difficult afternoon. It was an early night and we were all happy to have survived the longest cycling day.

Day 9: ~40km/25 miles

img_6849This morning we took a boat back across to the mainland where our bus driver met us. He gave us directions for the day and we road through a few small fishing villages and stopped for lunch at a wonderful bakery in the small community of Kintai. We ended our ride in Šilutė and the bus took us into the large city of Kaunas. In Kaunas, my friend and her mom found a restaurant in Pažaislis monastery and church. It was a beautiful evening and we made our way to the old monastery where we ate a fantastic dinner under the stars.

Day 10: ~35km/22 miles

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DONE!

By now we have learned that a shorter day on the itinerary means hills. Today was our last day of cycling and we were riding through the Lake District and ending just outside of Vilnius at Trakai Castle. It was a beautiful, clear day, but almost too hot for the number of hills we had to ride. We were hot and sweaty by the time we reached the end, but it felt good to get off the bike and know that I wouldn’t have to be getting back on it the next morning. Once everyone made it to Trakai Castle, we loaded up the bikes one last time and took the bus into the capital city of Lithuania.

We did it! In ten days we managed to cycle just about 250 miles and experience the Baltic states in a way I never would have imagined. It was an incredible trip that I highly recommend if anyone is looking for a different way to vacation.

Day 11: Our final day together was spent enjoying Vilnius. My friend had been here before, so we went to the Museum of Genocide Victims together and then I did some exploring on my own. We live in a crazy small world and I managed to get in touch with a friend from high school that is Lithuanian and lives in Vilnius. We met up with her in the afternoon for drinks, a short walk around the area, and then she took us to a weekend music/food truck festival that happens each Friday night in Vilnius. It was so fun to see a friend from so long ago in a place that doesn’t typically attract a lot of tourists. She was surprised to see us!

The next morning we all flew out to our respective destinations having conquered one of the most fun trips I’ve ever taken. I’d do a bike holiday again in a heartbeat (…just bring those bike shorts and chaffing cream. For real, you’ll thank me later).

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