Barcelona to Helsinki overland

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Monday, August 22, 2005

After departure from Barcelona, the train picked up speed and only slowed down at the French border for the wheel gauges to be changed. Because of Franco's separatist policies, Spain has a different rail gauge to the rest of Europe, so this is necessary at the border. We promptly fell asleep, and woke up in a different world, meandering through the luscious green valley's of Switzerland.

Switzerland, as I remember it, was one of the cleanest countries that I had ever been to. So I was extremely surprised when we left the train in Zurich, to find the whole city smelling of urine, with drunks all over the place, and litter and empty beer botles everywhere. The reason for this however soon came to light. The night before had hosted the Zurich Summer Techno Festival and it had only finish 2 hours before our train arrived.

We left our luggage and made it over to Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world. There's not much to see or do in Liechtenstein, plus it was hammering down with rain, so we took some photos and headed back to Zurich. Zurich is a quaint but extremely expensive city.

The next day we took the train to Berlin, and stayed for two nights in the largest youth hostel in Europe with 600+ beds. It really is enormous but never felt crowded. The history in Berlin really fascinated us, and we spent hours looking around the Berlin wall Museum, learning about the horrors of the division of the city, and the happy and sad stories of escape attempts. Very little of the Berlin Wall remains, though outside of the centre of Berlin, the difference between East and West is still very much evident. From the housing, architecture and transport, to the general feeling of the place. This however just adds to the variety which makes Berlin a fascinating place to visit.

After Berlin we took the train to Warsaw. Warsaw was nothing like we expected. First of all the weather was really hot and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Secondly, we found an extensive outdoor cafe and bar culture that could rival that of Paris.

The next day we had a very long journey from Warsaw to Vilnius. After looking at the map we couldn't understand why it was going to take 11 hours to make this journey. However, as soon as the journey started it was quite evident. A ten minute break in almost every station so that the conductor could have a cigarette, and a train that travelled slower that I can ski uphill, were just two of the reasons. Everytime the conductor passed and checked our tickets he would yell something at us in Polish, which we eventually worked out meant that at some point the train would split into two trains and that only one part would carry on to the border. We were unfortunately in the the wrong part. However, there were no seats available in the correct part so we didn't want to move until we had to. So every time the train pulled into a station, we put on our rucksacks and Marc hung his head out of the window to check that the train wasn't being yanked apart. It make for a very stressful journey.

The Lithuanians are nicknamed the "Spanish of the Baltics", 2 minutes of being there and it's quite obvious why. They are open, warm and friendly people but also quite noisy and drive like maniacs. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Vilnius is still a very cheap city. It is also very pretty and not yet overrun by tourists. After Vilnius we headed to Riga where we met up with a friend from London, Christine. I first visited Riga a few years back and it is not nice to see the difference that having Easy Jet fly there has made. A few years back you could count the number of foreign tourist on one hand, but now there are lots of British lads on Stag weekends, and numerous other foreign tourists. Prices are higher but still reasonable. We didn't think Riga was as pretty as Vilnius or Tallin, but it had a great cafe/bar culture feel to the place which compensated.

After travelling up to Tallin the next day, it soon became clear that Tallin is the jewel in the crown of the Baltic cities. It is an extremely pretty city and very well preserved, but it is also the most expensive of the three Baltic capital cities.

The next day we caught the ferry over to Finland. We didn't think Helsinki was an especially interesting nor attractive city, so we spent the time shopping to stock up on supplies before heading across in to Russia.

Trip facts

Number of days travelling: 23
Number of countries visited: 12

Hottest Daytime Temperature: 35 degrees Barcelona
Coldest Daytime Temperature: 17 degrees Zurich
Hottest Nightime Temperature: 25 degrees Barcelona
Coldest Nightime Temperature: 11 degrees Vilnius

Total Distance travelled so far: 5650km
by train: 4500km
by coach: 1150km
by boat: 100km
by plane: 0km
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