The final leg of our Baltics trip was a last minute decision to drive to Warsaw. We left Riga, Latvia shortly after check out and drove seven hours of the nine hour journey. Upon entering Poland, we were stopped and our car was searched by police looking for cigarettes being smuggled from Russia. They take this very seriously so if you go to Kaliningrad, make sure you know how many cigarettes you are allowed to take into the EU.
When we booked our trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, our goal was to visit Riga Latvia and Kaliningrad Russia. Once we had taken in those sights, we had two nights left before returning to North America so we figured Warsaw was within driving distance. We drove late into the night down some dangerous roads. At one point, we passed a sign with a camera icon just before a bright flash filled the car. Apparently I was driving a bit too fast. I assume they planned to issue a ticket, but I doubt they will track me down. They haven’t yet. It was a good warning, though, because I was driving a bit more sedately when we encountered a police road block. The authorities were looking for people transporting illegal cigarettes. Once the police officer explained the purpose of the stop and reviewed our passports, she sent us on our way. We must not be the smugglers she was looking for.
As fatigue set in, it was time to find a place to stay. So I looked on my Priceline app for a hotel near our location and booked a room at the Motel Zacisze in Piątnica Poduchowna. I figured 30 bucks for a few hours–we had nothing to lose. We pulled into the unlit parking lot and entered the lobby lit by only a black and white television. The sound of a horror movie rang out in the background. When the bell sounded from the door closing, a man who apparently was sleeping behind the reception desk rose to greet us. There was no elevator and we had to lug our bags up four flights of unlit stairs. Upon entering the room, we walked into the biggest 1960s time warp I’ve ever seen. Everything in the room was brown with three walls sporting metallic wallpaper and the fourth decorated in a large, brown, damask pattern. To make matters worse, the drawers were filled with someone’s potato chip bag and a beer can filled with cigarette butts. To top it off, the room had an odd smell and lacked heat. Needless to say, we didn’t get the best night’s rest, but it was enough to get by. After a quick breakfast at a gas station, we were on the road for the two hour trip to Warsaw.
When we arrived in Warsaw, we found easy parking right in the heart of downtown and set off on a walking tour. I loved the city! Below are some pictures of the old town area that was reconstructed after it was destroyed during the war.
We were leaving out of Vilnius the next day, so it was back on the road. We programmed our GPS to our hotel in Vilnius and set out on our direct six and half hour drive. When we were halfway to our destination, we saw the unthinkable on our GPS: the Belarus border! We didn’t have visas to enter Belarus so there was only one way to get back to Vilnius in order to make our flight. Back from where we came. Lesson learned–we will never rely solely on GPS again without having a paper map as a reference point. We backtracked 40 minutes and picked up the highway to Vilnius via Poland.
We revisited Warsaw about a year later on a layover on our Trans-Siberian Railroad trip and Freddy wrote about it here.