** TRAVEL  TIPS  -  BALTIC STATES **

      Campsites in the Baltic States     Camping cards, Camping Gaz and Internet
      Guidebooks and maps for Baltics     Driving in the Baltic States    
      Supermarkets, credit cards and ATMs     Review of Baltic campsites

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ENTRY FORMALITIES
and
HEALTH MATTERS:







 

The Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been EU member states since 2004 and UK passport-holders may visit the countries without a visa for up to 3 months, and drive with a standard UK-EU driving licence.  But carry your passport at all times as identification.

For current Foreign and Commonwealth Office official advice on travelling to the Baltic Republics, consult:

     FCO advice on travelling to Lithuania
    
FCO advice on travelling to Latvia
    
FCO advice on travelling to Estonia

You should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK, and carry your EHIC with you at all times in case of emergency. The EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance, and only entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as local nationals. It does not cover you for medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature.  It is essential therefore also to have comprehensive travel insurance. Given the forested, low-lying topography of the countries, midges and other flying-insects are a menace during the summer months; you will therefore need good supplies of insect repellents. Tick-borne diseases, including tick-borne encephalitis, are endemic in the Baltic States; if you plan to spend time walking in forested areas during the summer months, it is essential to have immunisation before you travel. For details, visit the Masta web site:

    Masta Health Clinics

CAMPSITES in
THE BALTIC STATES:
             


 

 



 

 









 

 

 

 






 

 

 

 











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Campsites: there is a ready availability of campsites all across the Baltic States, ranging from western-style sites in popular tourist areas to charmingly straightforward rustic sites and garden camping in guest-houses. Many campsites also have hut-chalets, still used as low-priced accommodation; other campsites form an annexe to hotels, guest-houses or leisure complexes. Even in the less visited parts of the country, it is still possible to find places to camp, albeit of variable standards. We toured all 3 countries country in June~September 2011 and our experience of campsites is summarised in our Campsites Review which also includes campsite GPS coordinates to help with location:

    Review of Baltic campsites

We attach great significance to first impressions on arrival at a campsite created by attitudes shown, and our experience was that standards of hospitality were generally very welcoming in all 3 Baltic States. There is no national quality-assuring accreditation processes for campsites and despite the transition to market economy since 1991, commercial competitiveness seems to have made variable impact. Where campsites were private or family-run, owners generally were hospitably welcoming and helpful; at larger sites however, employed staff occasionally showed casual or perfunctory attitudes. Some of the sites we experienced had fairly basic or old-fashioned standards of facilities, but most generally were clean with hot water, and many had cooking facilities (common in Eastern Europe) with wash-ups. Another Baltic curiosity are the symbols commonly used to indicate ladies' and gents' toilets: upright triangle (female), inverted triangle (male) - make of that what you will! - see right.

Websites listing Baltic campsites: the most useful web sites we found to help with pre-trip planning were:

The Lithuanian and Latvian Camping Associations and Camping-Estonia each publish a map listing the location and details of their affiliated campsites in the 3 countries, which can be picked up free of charge at many campsites and TICs. The Latvian Camping Association operates a 10% discount scheme for its member campsites; pick up their campsite map at the first LCA site you stay at and have it stamped to obtain the discount at subsequent LCA sites.

The Dutch camping organisation ACSI web site selectively lists its favoured sites and includes the Google mapping facility as a helpful means of pinning down a campsite's location (NB not always reliably accurate). ACSI accreditation however does not guarantee acceptable standards: some of our lowest rated sites were ACSI recognised, which certainly says something about its dubious value. They also tend to attract hoards of noisy Dutch caravaners in August at larger sites - be warned.

Campsite opening dates: the summer camping season is quite short with campsites generally opening from April/May to September; there are a few sites open all-year-round.

Campsite prices: the cost of living in the Baltic States (reflecting much lower income levels) still represents remarkably good value by our inflated West European standards; expect to pay the equivalent of £10~£14 for a night's camp (2 adults, pitch for camper plus electricity). In our Campsites Review, we give the nightly charge we paid; prices may include a local tourist tax.

Wild-camping:  in the more remote and forest areas, with awareness of potential security issues and basic common sense and courtesy, wild-camping is certainly practicable though with the number of reasonably priced campsites, rarely necessary. In National Parks, camping is only permitted in designated camping areas.

CAMPING CARD INTERNATIONAL (CCI):

 

The Camping Card International (CCI - Camping Carnet) is a worthwhile small investment; it only costs £5.50, lasts for a year and, if you are an AA or RAC member, can be bought through Camping Organisations like the Caravan Club. It gives a degree of camping insurance, and since it also carries passport details, you can offer it to campsites in place of your passport during your stay. But on leaving, always ensure you have been given back the right card!

More importantly, many Baltic campsites are prepared to offer a discount on production of a CCI; always make sure you ask for a discount.

CAMPING GAZ IN THE BALTIC STATES: Simple answer - there is none! Camping Gaz is unavailable in the Baltic States and we failed to find any opportunity to exchange Camping Gaz 907 cylinders; there may be semi-legitimate sources of re-filling empty cylinders at gas supply outlets if you are really desperate. It is essential therefore to take sufficient for your planned period of stay in the countries. 
INTERNET IN THE BALTIC STATES:


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Coming late to internet technology, the Baltic States have caught up fast and now put Western Europe to shame in terms of public wi-fi internet access. In Lithuania and Latvia, many campsites and most cafés offer free wi-fi internet hotspots. In civilised Estonia, people have a statutory right of internet access, and wi-fi is an almost universal feature of life; every campsite here has a wi-fi network, though often signal range and strength is limited.

GUIDEBOOKS for THE BALTIC STATES:

 









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Guidebooks we found most helpful were:
 

    Rough Guide to        published by Rough Guides, 2nd edition Jan 2008
   
the Baltic States:  ISBN no: 978 1 84353  922 3   Price £13.99

   As always, Rough Guides impress us as the most reliable, detailed
                           and thoroughly researched guidebooks available


 
  Lonely Planet       published by Lonely Planet Guides, 5th edition May 2009
  Guide
to the           ISBN no: 978 1 74104 770 7  Price £14.99
  Baltic States
:                   
  

                     The Lonely Planet guide includes some features not mentioned in Rough Guide,
                     and the 2 complement one another well to give a thorough coverage
                        
MAPS for
THE BALTIC
STATES:


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For the soundest advice and supply of maps for the 3 Baltic States, as always we recommend consulting
The Map Shop, Upton upon Severn, Worcs:
       

    Map Shop, Upton for Baltic maps

For planning and 'big picture' general use, the most useful overall maps of the 3 Baltic States are those published by Michelin (sheets no 782, 783, 784 - 1:350k) - see right.
Details on The Map Shop web site.

Locally there is a ready availability of detailed and reasonably priced maps at regional or county level, obtainable in bookshops or Tourist Information Centres. TICs will also supply town and city plans, as well as glossy tourist brochures by the forest load.

DRIVING in
THE BALTIC
STATES:





 















 


 
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Driving standards: although, like the rest of Eastern Europe, younger males tend increasingly to equate machismo with fast driving, this is generally without the aggressive tail-gating that has become the bane of driving in Western Europe. By and large driving standards are still reasonably relaxing, apart inevitably from in the major cities.

Road standards: as with elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the 3 Baltic Republics have benefitted from huge amounts of EU infrastructure development investment since their accession in 2004; as a result road conditions and signposting are now generally good on both main and secondary roads.  Minor roads however, particularly in the rural parts of Latvia, are less well-surfaced and often degenerate to gravel or dirt-roads; the end of the tarmac surface is sometimes indicated by the road-sign shown right. Locals treat dirt-roads with indifference and their speeding raises clouds of dust and small stones when the weather is dry, and tends to make the surface corrugated resulting in a bumpy ride. Travelling for any distance on dry dirt-roads also tends to fill your vehicle with fine dust. Main cross-country trunk routes, particularly the Via Baltica, tend to be deeply rutted from the constant pounding by heavy goods vehicles.

Motorways: the only Western standard of long distance motorway in the 3 Baltic Republics is the A1 connecting Vilnius to Klaipėda via Kaunas in Lithuania; this road is toll-free. The first part of Route 1 in Estonia eastwards from Tallinn towards the Russian border at Narva is progressively being upgraded to good standard dual-carriageway.

Fuel:  fuel is readily available throughout the country and credit cards are accepted at garages. Fuel prices are marginally cheaper than in Western Europe with diesel priced at the equivalent of around £1.2/litre.

Speed limits:
      within built-up areas:     50 kph (30 mph)
                    open road and highways:     90 kph (55 mph)
                                      motorways:   110 kph (70 mph)

Drivers do seem consistently to observe speed limits when entering built-up areas; whether this is genuine respect for the law or fear of police speed checks is debatable. There are frequent speed cameras in Lithuania indicated by the advance warning sign as shown right, and you would be well-advised to reduce speed as on-the-spot fines for speeding are hefty.

Driving regulations:  The use of dipped headlights is compulsory at all times and on all roads.  In Lithuania the legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.04% and in Latvia 0.05%, compared to the UK limit of 0.08%; Estonia has a zero alcohol policy for drivers. Those found over the limit face a large fine and possible imprisonment.

SUPERMARKETS and
SHOPS:





CREDIT CARDS:

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Part of the experience of finding your way around a new country is doing your daily shopping, and the cost of foodstuffs is comparatively cheap in the Baltics reflecting lower income levels. The 3 regular supermarket chains in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are Maxima, Iki and Rimi; all offer a good range of choice with local produce, but are becoming increasingly westernised.

Most villages have a small shop, and some towns have a vegetable market usually still held in the town's market square.



There was no difficulty anywhere in the Baltics with supermarkets or garages refusing to accept payment by credit card. Similarly you trip over ATMs every few paces in every town, city or supermarket foyer, so obtaining cash is problem-free.

 
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