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Author Topic: Baltic States Road Trip Observations  (Read 1665 times)

coatimundi

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Baltic States Road Trip Observations
« on: June 13, 2016, 08:20:32 PM »

I spent a little over a week in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, traveling Tallinn - Riga - Kaunas by bus. I also rented a car in Riga for two days, and drove it around town, east to Cesis, and around some random villages in the Latvian countryside. I wish I had spent more time in the Latvian countryside, but I was a bit worried about the cost of gas (obviously much more than I'm used to) and getting lost. It was gorgeous out there though. I really enjoyed having the car in Latvia, and had no issues with it.

A few observations:
  • I was surprised by the differences in highways and even driving styles just between the Baltic States. Although, overall, the countries were much more individually different than I had previously realized. Specifically, Lithuania seems to have a lot of divided roads around intersections with crosswalks on their major highways (example), but Latvia does not. Both Latvia and Lithuania had signalized crosswalks at bus stops on their freeways/motorways, which was definitely novel to me.
  • In Latvia, at least, there was a significant difference between the primary and secondary roads. For one, the secondary roads were generally in terrible shape: potholed and patched to the point that I was afraid drive them at more than about 60. The secondary roads would also randomly become gravel. The primary roads were excellent though: consistently striped, good condition, and generally well-signed. For example, I was on the A3 and chose to reach Cesis by the P14. It was really rough. Then I ended up in Nitaure. I had seen the P3 on the map and thought it would be interesting to take back toward Riga. Even though it's shown as a secondary road equivalent to P32, it becomes dirt as soon as you leave town, so I just turned around. What didn't seem to be a signage priority was construction closures, which I came across a couple of times without warning.
  • Officially, an IDP is required in Latvia. I rented from Hertz at Riga Airport, and they didn't ask for one. If I had been stopped by the police, they may have hassled me for it. The CDW was included in my rental rate. I paid something like 8 Euros per day, but it ended up being about 43 total with all the fees and extra insurance (I got liability since my personal insurance wouldn't cover me).
  • I had heard a lot of bad things about Latvian drivers, but I didn't think they were that bad, even in Riga. The expecting oncoming traffic to move when you pass thing was the most concerning, and it seemed like that was the practice only in Latvia. I thankfully never had to do it. But traffic lights and speed limits were more respected than I had thought they might be. And I found the parking in Riga pretty easy. Signage was always clear, and I stayed out of Old Town. In fact, not staying in Old Town I think actually made the trip a bit better.
  • It doesn't seem possible to pay for gas by American credit card in Latvia (and probably elsewhere) because of the lack of a PIN on our cards. I tried to go into the store, and was told "I can't help you" when I tried to give her my card. Apparently the gas payment is totally separate from the store. I just paid by cash. All over Europe, I had a lot of confused people when they saw I needed to sign for the purchase. In Sweden, they would always want my ID to enter or write on the receipt.
  • American gas station stores are woefully pathetic in comparison to what's available in the Baltics. In Tallinn, I got a really good breakfast at a little gas station by my hotel for about 4 Euros, and ate it out by the water.
  • The gas in all of the Baltics was more expensive than in Copenhagen, and I found that strange. Maybe it's just that Denmark has oil refineries? Or it's less taxed?

If I could do it again, I would probably spend more time in Latvia and keep the car for a bit longer. It was so pretty out there in the random little villages, and that's more what I was looking for from the trip. Not that I didn't enjoy Riga (that's a really dynamic and interesting city), but I've gotten more into seeking open landscapes since I've been living a somewhat more bucolic life the last few years. I had the option to drive a rental car from Riga to Kaunas, but that would have cost about 100 Euros instead of the 20 Euro bus ride I found. But it would have given me the chance to check out more of those two countries. I really wish I could have gotten to Liepaja.
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Chris

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Re: Baltic States Road Trip Observations
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2016, 11:57:40 AM »

Latvia has a lot more unpaved / gravel roads than most other eastern EU countries (for example Poland or the Czech Republic).

I'm surprised that gas is more expensive in the Baltics than Denmark. Denmark has some of the highest gas prices in Europe. Are you sure about that?

It wasn't too long ago in Europe when you could pay with credit card and a signature, but most, if not all have switched to PIN codes. In some parts of Europe the credit card is not accepted widely, for instance in the Netherlands debit cards are much more common and a credit card is often not accepted in supermarkets and stores.

The Baltics are indeed not as heterogenous as many people think. From a road perspective, Estonia has a far lower traffic fatality rate than Latvia and Lithuania. It also dates back to the Soviet times, back in the 1970s each constituent republic could ask for industries to be developed. Latvia wanted factories. Lithuania wanted roads. Lithuania has long had the most developed road system in the Baltics with a motorway from Vilnius to the coast and several high-standard two-lane roads. Latvia has always lagged in that aspect, but traffic volumes are low outside the Riga region, where most of the population lives.

coatimundi

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Re: Baltic States Road Trip Observations
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2016, 05:07:55 PM »

I'm surprised that gas is more expensive in the Baltics than Denmark. Denmark has some of the highest gas prices in Europe. Are you sure about that?
No, and I realized what I did. I was so used to looking at the prices in Euros that what I paid, 1.06, seemed higher than what I thought I saw in Copenhagen, 1.03. But, of course, I actually saw 10.3, which is a lot more than 1.06 Euros.
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