donderdag 28 augustus 2014

SCA2014 Day 19 & 20: Valga & Bauska

After the harrowing encounter at the Russian border I just wanted to take things slow today. Normally I'm up before 7 am and riding starts at 8... but now, I stayed in the sack until 9 o'clock. The plan was to leave the camp site at 10, then see some of Estonia, and perhaps make it to the Latvian border already.

The Russia sticker meanwhile had found a new home, being the first new addition to the right pannier since a long time.

I noticed that during the night Paulien and Anna, my Dutch neighbors, had also left me another present besides the palm tree. I left it where it was, but I didn't know that it was a bad omen of things to come.

I couldn't help but notice it had rained during the night.

Hopefully, it would remain dry today.

First stop of the day would be the city of Tartu, about halfway through Estonia. I knew that the Latvian border wasn't all too far away, so I considered it to be a viable target.

I noticed that Estonians had the same swerve-policy as the Russians. The slow drivers made way so the faster ones could pass, after which the faster drivers (in this case me) would thank them.

Instead of using my hazards though, I just waved with my left hand.

The roads themselves were of quite good quality. There was even some brand new, unmarked tarmac to be ridden regularly.

It was just after 25 minutes' worth of riding though that this day unleashed its share of drama upon me... a share of drama which still angers me as I'm writing this (so in turn, forgive me if I lose my rag somewhat).

Before I tell you anything further though, please carefully study the oncoming traffic signs on the picture below.

As you can see, it has a sign stating the speed limit is 70 kph. In the distance (click this link for a closer view), you can just make out the city limit sign, which is made up out of a white rectangular shape with a black city silhouette.

Here, this is what I'm talking about. Please note the lack of any further speed limit signs.

As there wasn't another speed limit sign, I naturally assumed the limit to be 70 kph, and went through the town at said speed limit. These exceptions happen all the time, and the road being as it was (visible above) it was more than plausible this was one of those exceptions.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a police car in my rear view mirror upon exiting the town. All its lights were flashing, so I first assumed it was on its way to an emergency. When it stuck behind me though, I pulled over... still oblivious to what I had done.

Two cops got out, and approached me.

After introducing himself, Cop 1 told me I had committed 'a serious misdemeanour', and wanted to see my driver's license and registration. Apparently, I had just gone 73 kph in a 50 zone. Confused, I told the officers I had only seen a 70 kph sign, but not a 50 kph sign. Cop 1 then explained what the deal was.

Remember that sign I told you about? The white rectangular one?

Apparently that means in Estonia you have to go 50 kph. It doesn't matter that you've just seen a sign saying the limit is 70 kph, it doesn't matter you've not even been in Estonia for 24 hours and the rest of the European countries you've visited use speed limit signs at city limits with ACTUAL FRIGGING SPEED LIMITS ON THEM, you just have to sort of... know. 

I tried to explain it had been a misunderstanding (after all, I was right on the money for the 70kph limit), but it didn't matter - I was taken to the police car, where Cop 1 proceeded by telling me they could 'take my license for this'. Then, he went on with filling in a plethora of forms writing down every detail about me and The Beast. After completing the first form and explaining it to me, Cop 1 asked me whether I had any questions.

"Yeah... what's the fine going to be?" I tentatively inquired.

"Noo no... do you have any questions about this form?"

With several forms to be filled in, they were postponing judgment for as long as they could. At the end though, they finally put me out of my misery, telling me that if I had been an Estonian driver they would have taken my license and given me a 400 Euro fine.  In my case however, they gave me a 100 Euro fine.

I offered to pay it there and then, but Cop 1 quickly replied that wasn't how things worked in Estonia. I had to go to a bank with my ticket, and pay my fine there.

On the moment itself, I felt quite fortunate in the light of things... but upon walking back to the Beast I couldn't help but feeling I had severely been screwed over. As I had been getting out of the police car Cop 1 had wished me a pleasant stay in Estonia, but getting ready to go, I was quite finished with the country already. I had been on the move for less than half an hour, and the cops deemed it appropriate to give me a taste of their hospitality.

If you had asked me, they could've just given me a harsh warning - that would've been just as effective, specifically since I was an ignorant tourist of sorts. I guess though that the days of talking being more effective than writing are long gone.

My thoughts at this point could most aptly be characterized as:

"Screw this. Time to get to a bank, and then head for the border."

Tartu was the nearest city, hopefully harboring a bank. After that, it was time for Valga.

I kept my eye open for any other roadsigns though. It didn't matter there were no cops to be seen anywhere, they just wouldn't get a second chance at this.

In Tartu, I stopped at a post office to see where there were any banks nearby.

But thankfully, I could pay my fine in the post office, and the lovely assistant was more than willing to help me get to grips with this. Aita, Maris!

I then figured I could just go into the adjacent supermarket, and get some provisions whilst I was at it. I tried to find milk, but after some careful observation I came to learn why milk cartons were so hard to find.

This had one simple explanation:

They sell dairy fluids in bags. Coupled with the service in the post office, this surprise brightened up my day somewhat.

I even set out to find an Estonia sticker in the city centre... but whereas I found a souvenir shop which sold all kinds of stuff, they didn't have any stickers whatsoever.


Then, it was time to take out the Albanian toolkit again...

...and head for the border. Estonia is not a country with a great scenery of sorts, but then again, I wasn't really expecting it to be.

Just outside the town of Valga, I pulled in a petrol station...

...but sadly, this was the only sticker they had. I bought one anyhow, and kept it safe should I find a better one.

The city of Valga is quite a peculiar one - it's divided between Estonia and Latvia, who in turn call the city 'Valka'.

Before long, I found myself a place to stay, just metres away from the border.

I asked the owners whether I was in Estonia or Latvia, but I was still in Estonia.

Apparently, the building was a nightclub during winter, and I was the only guest for the night. I had an entire room to myself for 20 Euros, and even without me asking for it...

...they said I could park The Beast inside. 

I guess a behemoth tour is not complete without the motorbike being parked in a foyer.

All encounters since the pullover had dampened the blow of the fine somewhat, but as I woke up the following morning, I was still livid at the indifference of the Estonian traffic cops.

The next problem was already upon me though... and that was the simple question of getting the Beast out of its parking. I couldn't turn it around and ride it out, I had to push it whilst sitting on it, as there was nobody to help me... but the doorframe made that impossible.

With some ingenuity, I built a ramp... voila.

Now, it was time for Latvia.

I had heard plenty of stories from Paulien and Anna back in Estonia that the roads were not as good as in Estonia, and many of them had been opened up to be resurfaced.

I thought this wasn't too bad though.

But then, ofcourse, I came to realise I had spoken too soon.

This was going to be the first of many.

Afterwards, I had a few miles of freedom...

...and then, back at it.

Rinse and repeat, you know the drill.

The contrast with Estonia was quite funny in terms of driving style. Whilst in Estonia everyone remained vigilant thanks to ZE TRAFIKPOLIZEI, here in Latvia, people just gunned it through roadworks with 90 kph.

Despite the road signs saying there was a 50 kph limit.

It felt refreshing, I mst say. But still, I kept on the lookout.

Especially during my warp-speed left-lane lunacy.

By this point, it seemed fair to say that there indeed were quite alot of roadworks in Latvia.

But after this one...

..the road was finally free.

And upon reaching the dual carriageway to Riga, everyone who had been in the same train as me went mad with joy at the sight of that open road.

Bumpiness be damned.

At a petrol station just outside of Riga, I took a break, and had something to eat whilst I was at it.

Hopefully this day would redeem the Baltic states a bit further.

The dual carriageway leading into the city was a bit weird though. A 100 kph limit, but every so now and then there'd be a crossing like this.

A walking bridge wouldn't go amiss, I thought.

But then, it was time for Riga.

Apparently, in Riga they have a thing for Belgian pastries as a road surface. Which is fine... but it surely does require you to be alert.

The reason I was going down this road was simple: I wanted a Latvia sticker. Usually they can be found in city centres as those usually harbour souvenir shops. 
I figured that, this being the Lativian capital, I would soon trip over stalls selling stickers and the like. 

Thus far though, things remained quiet on the shop front.

But then, I entered Riga's old city... a place where surely I was to strike gold.

Time for a tour!

In the shop you see in the vid, they did sell all kinds of Latvia branded merchandise... but just like back in Estonia, the one thing that wasn't sold was the one thing I wanted. A sticker. I even had to navigate my way around someone who tried to sell me a phone, and who didn't understand what the hell I was on about (see the randomness vid for that).

Stickerless, I gave up, and set my sights for the city limits.

The Belgian pastries kept on coming then. It was almost an offroad training course in terms of bumpiness - the Beast's suspension proved its worth.

Outside the city, I knew I had to go South. As my compass had mysteriously disappeared somewhere on a Finnish highway, I was now using the sun as extra navigation. I knew that with the time being as it was, the Sun was now in the South - exactly the direction I wanted to go.

Currently, I was going East... so time to take a right turn somewhere.

And wouldn't you know it, I found the highway to Lithuania.

There we go, the sun exactly where it should be.

It didn't take long for me to reach my stop for the day, at a farm just North of Bauska. I could've ridden on, but I felt like a relaxing afternoon for once. For just 5 Euros, I could pitch my tent on a lovely field of freshly cut grass.

With all the drama of the past two days, it was exactly what I needed.

The chain was (almost literally) hanging in there. I tightened it a bit, careful not to tighten it too far again.

Tomorrow was to be another proper riding day, starting at my present location...

...ending up in Poland. But there was the matter of Lithuania inbetween... a country I wasn't sure of what to expect. 

Just as I had done a little nap though, neighbors had arrived. They were Alex and Jennifer, an Australian couple of pensioners who were doing a European tour in a German camper van owned by a Dutchman. Awesome.

We exchanged stories until late in the evening, all under the influence of beer and wine. Quite the good end to a day's worth of riding, which had brought me just another bit closer to home.

I didn't know the most surprising country of the trip was still to come though...