Day 52: Daugavpils, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania

Number of tie wraps: 49 (expect more tomorrow)

Countdown: 7174 miles down, 1411 to go

Quote of the day: “Oh, !@#$. We broke a shock.”

A little before noon today, as we crossed from Latvia into Lithuania, we ran into a construction zone with very bumpy dirt roads. A few minutes later, Luke called on the radio and said the Roadster needed to pull over so he and John could do a quick inspection. Just then, we had to stop for construction anyway, so John maneuvered the Roadster onto a wide spot on the opposite shoulder. Luke crawled under the car and cried out the quote of the day. Here’s a picture of what he saw:

The right rear shock absorber bites the dust

The right rear shock absorber bites the dust (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Luke decided it would be best to remove the shock, so the rest of us milled about and enjoyed the mild weather and clean Lithuanian air for ten minutes while he performed the operation. Since we have the day off in Vilnius tomorrow, we’ll have some time to check out the local auto parts stores and see if we can do any better than we did in Russia at finding some suitable rear shocks for the Roadster.

Emergency shock surgery

Emergency shock surgery (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Not long after removing the ruined shock absorber, we made our first fuel stop in Lithuania, and got our first taste of European gas prices — about $7 per gallon, double what we have been paying in Russia and China.

First fill-up in Europe

First fill-up in Europe (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Our new guide, Karen, had packed a picnic lunch of Latvian bread, cheese, and chocolates to eat during our trip today. However, it rained most of the afternoon and we couldn’t find a covered picnic area along the road, so we ate the picnic in the hotel parking lot once we arrived.

Tonight we had dinner at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant, where Karen ordered an appetizer with pig’s ear for the meat eaters to sample. John and Leo reported the dish as tasty but chewy.

Pig's ear appetizer

Pig’s ear appetizer (Eileen Bjorkman photo)


Senoji Trobele Restaurant

Senoji Trobele Restaurant (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow we have a walking tour of Vilnius, followed by a renewed hunt for shock absorbers.


Day 51: Pskov, Russia to Daugavpils, Latvia

Number of tie wraps: 49 (holding steady)

Countdown: 7067 miles down, 1518 to go

So far, all of our border crossings have been filled with angst, and today’s lived up to all expectations. We arrived at the border crossing by Grebneva, Latvia about 10:30, had cleared the Russian side by around noon, and thought we would surely be in Daugavpils by mid-afternoon to enjoy the sights. But the border gods had other ideas in mind.

First, one of the Latvian border guards pointed out that John had only a copy of his registration for the 1928 Roadster, and that copy wasn’t sufficient proof of ownership. The fact that John had used the copy to bring the Roadster in and out of Japan, China, and Russia twice didn’t seem to sway the guard’s opinion. While we were mulling what to do about this turn of events, the same border guard came back out and said that Leo’s Envoy also couldn’t enter Latvia (or anywhere in the European Union, for that matter) because it doesn’t have a front license plate. He was unpersuaded by the fact that the state of Florida doesn’t issue front license plates, so there is no way to legally obtain one. However, he said that we could bring Leo’s car across the border on a truck. Presumably, we would then be out of his hair and on our own to deal with no front license plate.

The border guard also suggested that we return to St. Petersburg to obtain convincing documentation. In addition to setting our itinerary back several days, the main problem with this approach was that it wasn’t entirely clear what documentation the customs folks wanted. John asked if a U.S. embassy or consulate could just fax the documentation and the guard said he would check and come back. He disappeared into another building and when he returned, the verdict was that John and Luke could drive the Roadster across (for reasons still not entirely clear), but the Envoy had been denied entry and would have to start the whole process over.

We waved goodbye to John and Luke at about 2:30, and then Cathy, Natalia and I climbed into the Envoy with Leo and drove about 200 yards back to the Russian border. After a bit of negotiation, we were able to turn around without reentering Russia and we drove back to the Latvian Customs line to wait for another turn. While we were waiting, Natalia had a brief conversation with the Latvian border guard who had denied our initial crossing, and he indicated that they had found a “solution.” We pulled back into the customs area about 4:45 and 15 minutes later, we were on our way. We still don’t know what the “solution” was, but we’ll take it!

After getting across the border, we met up with John and Luke and had a nice drive through the Latvian countryside, where we saw many houses and small farms with gardens and greenhouses.


Latvian countryside

Latvian countryside (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived at our hotel about 7:15. but we gained an hour, so it was only 6:15. We said our goodbyes to our Russian guide, Natalia, to whom we are eternally grateful, and our new guide, Karen Bradbury, greeted us with champagne and a new set of tie wraps for the Roadster! Karen will be with us until Paris.


Our new guide, Karen Bradbury, and a new set of Roadster tie wraps

Our new guide, Karen Bradbury, and a new set of Roadster tie wraps (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Alas, this is our only day in Latvia. Tomorrow, we head to Vilnius, Lithuania, 173 km. We’ll be staying there Monday for some sightseeing and then on to Kaunus.

Day 49: St. Petersburg

Number of tie wraps: 49 (20 added since last blog post, unconfirmed)

Countdown: 6693 miles down, 1892 to go

While Cathy and I were visiting the Hermitage, dining on vegetarian entrees, and hunting down Starbucks mugs this afternoon, Luke and John allegedly added 20 more tie wraps to the Roadster. This information was relayed to me by John at dinner tonight and is currently unconfirmed. I’ll investigate further and post additional details tomorrow after I obtain photographic evidence of said tie wraps, which are reported to be holding one of the front shock absorbers in place because a part from the front shock absorber had to be removed to shore up one of the rear shock absorbers which had some sort of failure involving a U-bolt … well, you get the picture. Stay tuned!

In addition to the beehive of tie wrap activity today, we had a relaxing tour of St. Petersburg, also known as “Venice of the North” due to its many rivers and canals. St. Petersburg was established in 1703 by Peter the Great, who wanted to create a new European city and, from what I saw today, I think most people would agree that his expectations have been exceeded.

In addition to stunning architecture, many of the city’s buildings hold world-class museums, with the crown jewel being the Hermitage, which contains over three million works of art and other cultural items. Our tour guide told us that if you viewed every item in the Hermitage inventory nonstop, with no breaks for food, sleeping, etc. it would take you seven years to complete your mission.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Most of the old cathedrals we visited today are restorations that now house museums, but the Church of St. Nicholas shown below is still an active Russian Orthodox Church.

Church of St. Nicholas

Church of St. Nicholas (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I’ll leave you with this message I spotted on a post outside the Church of St. Nicholas.

Message of peace/Mir

Message of peace/Mir (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow we drive to Pskov, 336 km, for our last full day in Russia until we go to Kaliningrad on July 2. Saturday we make our border crossing into Latvia.