Saturday, September 29, 2012

East Europe: Overland Germany - Poland - Lithuania - Latvia

Having been to the more popular cities of Europe last year, I wanted my trip this year to cover the commonly skipped countries. 

Normally, people who go to Europe, never pass up on Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Prague or Madrid. But honestly, I have been more intrigued by Lithuania, Latvia, or Pope John Paul II's home country, Poland. I was determined never to leave Europe without having seen these. Besides, many travelers have prodded that the eastern countries are a lot cheaper than their western counterparts. That being said, it was a no-brainer for me.

My journey started in Frankfurt, with no planned itinerary. My host who worked in Deutsche Bahn (German national railway company) got me a discounted ticket from Frankfurt to Berlin at €34 including seat reservation. *cough* I sometimes wonder whether Germany uses the same dictionary as us when they use the word "discount".   

I was utterly clueless where to go from there. But with diligent and last-minute research, I found that it was easy to cross the countries overland. Although not a popular option, taking a bus was a cinch for me. You're looking at a girl who takes the bus to and fro Manila - Vigan regularly (400km, 8-10hrs). I found that bus fares cost €14 (one-way) at the most. Reasonable enough, as it pretty much costs the same in the Philippines.

My route?

Berlin - Warsaw (10 hours overnight)
Warsaw - Vilnius (8hrs)
Vilnius - Riga (4hrs)

overland by bus : Berlin - Warsaw - Vilnius - Riga

How much does a bus ride cost? 

Less than €14 each leg. 
Berlin - Warsaw P779.09
Warsaw - Vilnius P841.39
Vilnius - Riga P678.10

©czycus Polski bus from Berlin to Warsaw has free WI-FI

Where I stayed?

As for the accommodation, I would normally couchsurf. But considering how affordable it is, this is the only part of Europe where I could afford not to couchsurf. Average cost is €10/night. While in Warsaw, I tried out airbnb, which is pretty similar to the concept of Couchsurfing, except here you'd have to pay. In Vilnius, I stayed in a hostel. And in Riga, I just spent the night at the, uhm, airport, waiting for my red-eye flight the following day. 

my room in Warsaw, a shared flat with my host Ela

common kitchen of Monk's Bunk hostel in Vilnius

the chapel in Riga's airport is the quitest place you can sleep in

Time Difference

You should note that when crossing to the Baltics, there is a time difference. Make sure you adjust your watch so you don't miss your trip!
Warsaw GMT +1
Vilnius GMT +2
Riga GMT +2

Change your money

Although part of the Schengen agreement, these Schengen member countries still carry their own currencies. Restaurants in touristy areas generally accept Euros and give back your change in local currency. Here are the rates as of this writing, September 2012.
Polish Zloty €1 = 4.12 PLN
Lithuanian Litas €1 = 3.45 LTL
Latvian Lat €1 = 0.69 LVL

So what is there to see in the East?

In Warsaw, you could easily take public bus 180 (also known us the sightseeing tour bus) for €0.50, get off at the Old Town, and walk your way around. What topped the charts for me was when I met my Polish host for dinner, and afterwards we enjoyed a lovely conversation over a pot of tea in one of the "underground" tea shops. 

dinner of Polish dumplings and non-alcoholic beer (hehe)
with my host Ana

warm up and life conversation
in an underground teahouse

Lithuania's treasure is in Vilnius, which was the European Capital of Culture in 2009. In 1994, the Old Town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. I didn't let the opportunity pass up to taste their local dishes, which are included into the FUND OF CULINARY HERITAGE. According to Forto Dvaras, the restaurant where I had lunch, their dishes are prepared according to the traditional production technologies. To fuel me up, I had the country-style sea pike with white sauce served with stewed carrots & onions, beetroot salad, pickles, & mashed potatoes. To finish the meal, I ordered a cup of acorn coffee.

Lithuanian fare: country-style sea pike and acorn coffee

Forto Dvaras restaurant appears to be tiny at the front,
but opens up to a maze of underground nooks

When in Riga, do not commit the mistake I did. I was advised not to miss the Central Market because it's an excellent place to sample local fare, and to buy souvenirs in a non-touristy price. But I did. By a few minutes. I totally got drawn to the Old Town and lost track of time wandering around. By the time I arrived, the market was closed at exactly 5pm. So make sure you go there early. On another note, make sure you wear comfy shoes when exploring. Riga's Old Town is for the most part covered in uneven cobblestones. 

The Central Market.
below: the market, free of people who have already gone home

uneven cobblestones in the streets
of Old Town, Riga

For what it's worth, I hope that when you plan your Dream Euro Trip, your interest was piqued to discover these gems in the Eastern part of Europe.


This is my entry for Carnival of Europe hosted by DJ Yabis at Dream Euro Trip.


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