Euro Love Train part 7 19th July 2018: Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius

Well, I was going to write this while I was at least somewhat comfortable and sober but hey, Polish mobile and wifi signals are all terrible. So now I'm writing this rubbish open paragraph as we're approaching the suburbs of Warsaw where I need to get off this train. I estimate I'll get to the end of this and then have to pack up and stop.


Ah bollocks. I'm not in any fitter state, I'm in a much worse state to write this than I was before. But on the other hand, what does it matter? I'm trying to portray exactly what it's like to be on this trip and what it's like, in case you haven't noticed, is to travel like maniacs while drinking along the way. So, right, here goes my attempt to describe what yesterday, Thursday 19th July 2018, was like aboard the Euro Love Train.

First things first, an early start in the centre of Tallinn. Unlike on day 6, today we were actually going to catch a train... at 0742. Eek. I rose at 0545 and had significant trauma trying to figure out how the shower-with-a-million-controls works, despite visual and written instructions. Even when I finally made water come out of the ceiling it was way too hot for me to comfortably stand under. But at least I hadn't had to ascend the spiral stairs of doom. I did have to swap out my old paper notebook for a new one though. There's been a lot of note-taking on this trip.

Being so early, Tallinn was dead, but gorgeous. Time for yet another panorama of our temporary front yard before the walk up cobbled streets and through the park to the station.

En route I enquired as to the retrospective wisdom of two shots of salmahyek from Mark's point of view. Apparently it was a mistake. Also en route was some bonus tourism.

Like, y'know, this fountain and stuff

The station is called Balti Jaam, and doesn't seem to have a main entrance. Rather, past the (already open) Jehovah's Witnesses shack we go into the Circle K, outside of which strange things are afoot, and purchase chocolates and caffeine and the like. After not long our platform is allocated and we pile onto the first class carriage of the train to Pärnu.

Had I been using puns for the blog post titles on this trip I totally would be saying "My Dad Wrote A Pärnu" around about here, but I'm not so I won't. Anyway, it's only, like, 45 minutes or so until the 4th(?) biggest city in Estonia and the weather is dull and scenery nondescript, thus saving you all from any attempts to describe it.

The Estonian railway company is called "Elron", leading me to refer to our train as the Scientology Express, calling at Thetan, Xenu, etc. Some cubed cheese is distributed, mostly to me, and Ed spots a real life elk out the window. I wander through the carriages just to stretch my legs and there's, like, only about 8 people on this train. We're all startled by a tannoy advert which starts with a loud cockerel sound.

There are two Pärnu stations so I ask which we're meant to be getting off at. According to Google translate, they are called "Pärnu Commodity Station" and "Pärnu Fertile". We want Fertile, a single platform next to a motorway, where you descend a wobbly ramp onto a gravel track next to a field and some trees. Just up the way there's a subway under both track and road to a small car park and maybe a bus stop and, oh, hello, there's a 12 year old boy in the front of a Mercedes Sprinter. Hello mate, is your dad the guy here to drive us to Riga?

Oh, fucking hell, this boy is our driver. Huh. Well, OK, whatever. Our bags pile up in the back and our bodies are distributed amongst the seats and off we go, stopping very shortly in a service station for loo, snacks, and liquids. Then away we go, along a very boring long straight EU-funded well-paved motorway. It's a "coast" road in so far as it's about 500m from the sea permanently, but there are trees in the way so we have no view of the Baltic.

Actually, we get one view when we stop at a car park next to a beach just over the border into Latvia, solely so we can stand in said car park and drink shots of whatever spirit it was, I forget. Something Andrew and I bought on the boat as we were coming into Helsinki. I do remember not liking it. We are sharing the place with numerous other internationally registered vehicles including one with Korean plates. Shit, that takes some dedication.

Eventually, after coming off the long boring motorway to take a long boring straight road into the drab city, we're at Riga train station. Unike Tallinn it has a building, but fuck me it's brutal(ist). The city is much much larger than Tallinn to, much to my ignorant surprise. An understandably miserable woman behind a window charges several of us €0,30 to use the loo and then we're ready to go. Andrew requires some alone time, Mark wants to pop his head into the old town, I mostly just want to make sure I get a local beer.

Despite splitting into groups, it turns out most of us are going the same way anyway. Coffees are purchased, and we walk around the local town moat to the bridge into the old town.

One order of business is that some Riga Black Balsam is required for our forthcoming border crossing toast. Mark and Andrei pop into an off licence who say no, we've got everything else but have sold out of that. Using my hyper-observancy superpower I subsequently spot a shop called "Latvia Balzams" which seems to sell fuck all but Riga Black Balsam, and all is right with the world again.

The old town is kinda pretty but done no favours by the grey skies and modern shops and that. Mark fucks off to "the zeppelins", a set of giant ex-zeppelin hangars which are now bazaars. John, Andrei and I go in search of brief photography opportunities and slightly less brief drinking opportunities.

Thinking that spires poking their heads above everything else are likely to be near the good stuff, we skirt round and are rewarded with some decent old architecture.

On the way back after a beer in the town square, there's this fuck-off giant statue of something or other. Very few people are taking pics, presumably because it's Thursday afternoon in a not-very-touristy grey city.

There's a fountain, but, like, fountains aren't that special are they.

Oh, wait, I know what else happened. At the square where we had a beer there were hundreds of UN "peacemaker buddy bears", i.e. loads of bears each representing one country each but joined in their stance to commemorate the peaceful, non-adversarial times we live in. Hopefully Brexit will fix that.

On the other hand, maybe all these bears were just there to glorify the glorious Bobby Roode. Fuck yeah.

In a tunnel on the way back we stop at the fantastically fortunate kiosk specialising in fixing watch straps. The guy speaks perfect English and is totally able to fit the two pieces required such that I am no longer paranoid about my Garmin dropping off. One of the most excellent random wins on this or any other holiday.

At Riga station, past the shop in the tunnel linking platforms that only sells printers ink, we're ready to go to platform 5 track 7. Wait, what? Hang on, no, seriously, what? It turns out that Lithuanians manage platforms and tracks separately: the platform refers literally to the chunk of concrete, even if you can board either side from it, and the track refers literally to the track the train will be on, even if you can board it from either side. So when the doors open either side, platform 5 track 7 is also platform 4 track 6. Obvious no?

No. No. It's crazy. But we figure it out, with a good 60 seconds to spare, and lo and behold we're all off to Jelgava. It's a 45 minute local train ride which is comfortable enough and goes via a wrestling themed station. Obviousy that pleases me a great deal.


At Jelgava our 12yr old minibus driver is waiting for us. Better yet, he even still has our bags.

So we pile in and head out of Latvia and towards Vilnius, Lithuania. All Baltics in one day, that's right. The border behind us is disappoiintingly blurry.

We're heading to Sheila, by which I mean Šiauliai, 90 minutes away on the train but with plenty of leeway enabling us to take a small detour to some genuine tourism.

This is the Hill of Crosses. It is a hill with a lot of crosses on it.

And I mean a lot of crosses. Over 100,000 of them.

It's a fairly sombre but fascinating place. I'm kinda disgusted by the one cross that was placed just two days before we were there, dedicated not to the memory of anyone's loved one who has passed away but just a "Busabout Freestyle Europe" we-woz-here cross covered in permanent marker felt tip pen of people's names and social media profile names.

Back at the van and before we all get in it's time to salute the recent border crossing, with the Riga black balsam. It is utterly foul, by far the worst drink we've had yet.

20 minutes or so later we're at Šiauliai station and saying our goodbyes to the driver. It's about an hour until our train, giving ample opportunity to climb the bridge and look at the tracks.

On the platform is a small statue of a man who worked the railways for years and also displayed great feats of strength, despite losing his legs in an accident at a young age. His existence was almost airbrushed from history when the Soviets came along and decided that there was no such thing as disabled people in the CCCP.

At the other end of the station building there's a shack. Hang on, that door is open. On the side it says "Dubijos" which is pronounced "dubious" and it's a pub. Anyone want a beer? Andrew and I go in to buy some, but the woman – who speaks as much English as we do Lithuanian – enlists the help of a local shell suit to tell us that we're not allowed to drink outside the shack let alone buy takeouts. So hey, everyone, pile in here for a drink.

It is easily the most hilarious drink of our trip yet, possibly even my entire life. The shack is terrifying. It's very dark, the woman at the counter gives off the impression that she's lived there all her life, and the two shell suits are able to speak Russian, English, Spanish and Lithuanian. They're knocking back shorts, we all have horrifically nasty cans of cheap lager except for John, who gets a vodka and coke measured at 5 parts vodka 1 part coke.

Half an hour later we're on our train to Vilnius, and after figuring out where it is we're meant to be sitting, Andrew is making sandwiches. They are delicious.

Lithuanian countryside is doing not much for me. I spend most of the journey dozing, interrupted regularly by John foisting cubed cheese and sweaty meat into my face. Mark and Stoy are having an online row with the proprietors of their Airbnb accommodation for the evening, who have decided to demand an extra €37 or cancel the booking. This shouldn't be happening and they're going back and forth in ever more acrimony about terms and conditions etc, until eventually they just cancel and book a hotel near the station.

We were always staying in two groups tonight anyway. At Vilnius station, around 10pm, frayed tempers overflow into a brief shouting match about arrangements for the morning. The groups then splinter into the cheapest Uber rides any of us have ever taken, a full €1.55 to reach the Airbnb in which I'm staying with Ed, Andrew, Andrei, and all the cooler bags because we know we'll have a fridge freezer. Only a mere 4 flights of stairs to climb.

Inside we decant what needs to be decanted into fridge, freezer, washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher. There's also aircon, glorious glorious aircon, which is stunningly welcome given how sweltering it is. With all that sorted and rooms allocated we go out to grab a drink and see what's happening in Vilnius. It's late but some small food and a beer would not go amiss, especially as we're meant to be right next door to some craft beer hall.

Walking around our block we're stepping past crowded bars with lots of clientele wearing football shirts, and walking along ultra-cobbled streets. It opens out onto a large main square, next to the edge of what was the Vilnius ghetto back in world war 2.

Up the way we get 4 seats and 4 beers. They're cold and wet which is good enough. I'm confused by the .fo domain on the back of one of the football fans' shirts and look up what's going on; turns out tonight there had been a Europa League qualifying match between a Faroe Islands league club and the local club in Vilnius. That is one hell of an away day those folk were on!

Following directions on his phone Andrei leads us through a dim back street and the car park of a large block of flats, eventually emerging onto a main-ish road where Andrew and Ed can buy falafel. Me and Andrei head back towards the flat, attempting to find the craft beer place that's shutting in half an hour or so. It's through an unlabelled large wooden door, past a common seating area for about 4 establishments at once.

Craft beer is purchased and enjoyed. Hurrah! Having two keys we're able to split up again, this time Andrei and I go for falafel while the others go back – except, barely 200 metres away, Andrew is phoning to say there's no power in the flat. Er, what?

Yeah. No power. Everything's off. Oops. Andrei gets on the blower, at gone midnight, to the Airbnb host who tells us where the fuse box is in the stairwell and with help from a phone light we see the ones that have gone and flick them. Power returns. Apparently it wasn't so good an idea to turn on 3 aircon units, the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer at once. Um, yes. Perhaps some more thought could've gone into that.

Having climbed the stairs and with no mood to do so again falafel is abandoned. The aircon works and the bed is comfortable. G'night.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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