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Trento Bike Pages
Around the Baltic Sea
A longer descriptive report is in preparation.
Copyright 1996 Catherine McCammon
I cycled around the Baltic Sea from mid-June to mid-July 1996, starting in
Stockholm and going clockwise, finishing in Stockholm a month later. It
was a great trip!
It took 4641 km to circumnavigate the Baltic Sea - 3051 km by bicycle, 900
km by train and 690 km by ferry. From Stockholm back to Stockholm took
one month, of which 21 days were spent cycling.
Finland: Karttakeskus Vgkarta 1:200 000
Russia: BKF Avtodorozhnaya Karta 1:500 000
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania: GeoCenter Euro-Roadatlas 1:300 000
Poland: PPWK Mapa Krajoznamcza 1:300 000
Germany: Falk-Verlag Touristenkarte 1:150 000
Denmark: Dansk Cyklist Forbund Cykelferiekortet 1:500 000
Norway, Sweden: RV Verlag Euro-Regionalkarte 1:300 000
I purchased most maps in petrol stations or shops just after entering the
country. Exceptions were the Russian map, which I purchased at a kiosk in
St. Petersburg, and the Baltic States Atlas, which I purchased at a bookstore
My tent provided accomodation most nights of the trip. In the Baltic States
there was little alternative - I encountered few hotels, guest houses or
even campgrounds along the route. Since cycling days ended late and
started early I put the tent up in isolated forests away from the main road.
In cities I stayed either in Youth Hostels (Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Riga),
cheap hotels (Tartu, Sczczecin) or private accomodation (Gdansk). I rarely
encountered anywhere that was full, even when I arrived late at night.
As a Canadian citizen I required a visa for Poland, Latvia and Russia.
Polish and Latvian visas were straightforward, required no official
invitation and could be obtained for a period up to three months. The
Russian visa was more problematic. After a few false starts I applied for a
double-entry business visa supported by an official invitation from the
Russian Academy of Science (I was giving a scientific lecture there
anyway). The St. Petersburg part went fine but I was refused entry to
Kaliningrad, requiring a 500 km detour through the Lithuanian-Polish
border but the chance to cycle through the stunning Masurian Lakes
region of Poland. Even with hindsight it's hard to see how to have done it
- a separate transit visa for Kaliningrad requires knowing exactly the 48
hour window that you will reach the area after cycling through the Baltic
States for more than a week.
Food and Water
I generally carried food supplies for 2-3 days since places to buy food were
not abundant in Russia or the Baltic States. Breakfast was always muesli
and powdered milk, supplemented by fruit if I could get it. Lunch and
dinner were bread (or dry biscuits), cheese and some veggies. I usually
splashed out for a hot meal every few days with the exception of Latvia
and Russia (where resturants were non-existent) and the Scandinavian
countries (where restaurants were too expensive). I drank the local water
everywhere but treated it in Russia, Poland and the Baltic States with
My funds were in Deutschmarks which I carried in pockets sewn into the
tongues of my cycling shoes. There was usually a place to change enough
money at border crossings to get by with, and I used banks when more
supplies were required. I also carried Eurocheques and two credit cards
(VISA and Eurocard), although there was little opportunity to use these.
Already fluent in English and German, I studied Russian in the
Volkshochschule for eight months before the trip to supplement my
arsenal. Russian was invaluable in Russia, and surprisingly also in Latvia
where nearly everyone I spoke with was Russian. Reading road signs in
Russia and deciphering the maps would have been difficult not knowing
the Cyrillic alphabet. With my Baltic States phrase book I could always start
a conversation in the Baltic States in the appropriate language, even if we
had to revert to Russian when things got too complex (nearly everyone
still speaks Russian in the Baltic States, but they are understandably
reluctant to use it). I rarely met anyone who spoke English or German in
the Baltic States, even in the "tourist" areas that I passed through. German
was useful in Poland, not because people still speak it from their
childhood but because they learned it for the German tourists. The same
applies to Jutland in Denmark where the most common language after
Danish was German. English was widely understood in Finland,
Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I learned the most important words in
each language for every country that I passed through, which usually
brought smiles to most faces.
The trip went from mid-June to mid-July, which is generally the wettest
time of the year for most of the area around the Baltic Sea. Summer came
late to Europe this year, so it was cooler than normal (the daily
temperature was usually around 15 deg C). The weather patterns provided
an exciting diversion from the otherwise flat and monotonous landscape,
particularly in Poland and Denmark where several thunderstorms went
through each day. The wind blew steadily from the southwest during the
ride through Russia, the Baltic States, Poland and Germany, but changed to
northwest when I turned the corner in Denmark, resulting in a headwind
on 17 consecutive cycling days. This was compensated, however, by a
strong west tailwind on the first day from Turku to Helsinki, and a strong
north wind on the three days from Oslo to Stockholm.
Finland: Highway E18 - in great condition but lots of traffic, especially
trucks. A substantial part of the route had high quality bicycle tracks
Russia: St. Petersburg - suicidal cycling. Motorway M11 (permitted for
bicycles) - excellent condition and very little traffic.
Estonia: Highway 3 - sealed but surface very rough. Very little traffic.
Latvia: Motorway A3 - poor condition but very little traffic. Divided
sections had good surface and wide shoulders. Motorway A8 - long,
straight, flat road.
Lithuania: Motorway A12 - more long, straight, flat road. Motorway A5
(Via Baltica, the main route to the Baltic States from Europe) - narrow
road with no shoulders and lots of traffic, especially trucks.
Poland: Regional roads (three-digit route numbers) - numerous potholes,
no shoulders, moderate amount of holiday traffic. Highway E77 - wide
shoulders and surface like glass.
Germany (former DDR): A nightmare! Regional roads (three-digit route
numbers) - narrow with no shoulders and lots of fast-moving traffic and
insane overtaking. Numerous cobblestone stretches. Main route to
Rostock ferry via autobahn (forbidden to bicycles).
Denmark: A paradise! National cycle track network, well marked. Nearly
all main roads (including many motorways) had bicycle tracks alongside.
All bicycle tracks in excellent condition.
Norway: Highway 2 and regional roads (three-digit route numbers) -
narrow with no shoulders but only light traffic. Sealed, but uneven road
Sweden: Regional roads (three-digit route numbers) - good surface with
generally wide shoulders. Moderate traffic.