The next stop on this haphazard Eurotrip is Warsaw via my first overnight bus in Europe. I was eager to see what the conditions were like as the buses have been pretty amazing so far.
I’ve used a few different companies to get from point A to B over the past few weeks, and they all offer similar services for decent prices. They’re definitely cheaper than catching the train – with or without the expensive Eurail passes.
The buses are comfortable and usually not fully booked. Ingeniously, the aisle seats actually separate from the window seats and slide toward the aisle to create a bit more space between passengers. This is helpful as I found the seats were average in size but the occupants were larger (much taller and carrying more bulk than in southeast Asia). Many of the buses have wifi aboard, but so far this has been spotty for me. Still, the buses are new-ish and cleaner than their Asian counterparts by a long shot.
My bus departed from Vilnius at about 10:30 p.m. I’ve been warned about the sketchy nature of bus stations in general by European friends, but I haven’t had any problems so far (except for an interesting interaction with a drunk Estonian). Also, the sun doesn’t set till near 11 p.m. in these parts, so I wouldn’t have to wait in the dark.
Unfortunately, this overnight bus was pretty full and I wasn’t able to snag a lone seat. This made for an uncomfortable night as I couldn’t truly fall asleep with a stranger sitting next to me. I was still in my southeast Asian mindset and was very careful about having my backpack in my lap or resting my legs on it so it couldn’t be stolen. I didn’t expect any problems during this trip, but when you don’t acknowledge the possibility, that’s when opportunists strike.
The seven-hour bus ride from Vilnius to Warsaw was uneventful. We called on a few stations, but since it was night outside there wasn’t much to see. It would’ve been great to travel this route during the day and see out the window. In this respect, I’m very much still a kid who likes to watch the scenery go by.
Early the following morning, we pulled into Warsaw, and the enormity of the city and its buildings amazed me. Having come from Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, Warsaw seemed like a futuristic metropolis. Even though I hadn’t slept much all night, I was wide awake and ready to explore this shiny new city.
After an uneventful (the best kind) bus ride from Tallinn, I arrived in Riga before lunchtime. The bus station was located in an industrial-looking area, but just across the way I could see the beginnings of the Old Town. After crossing a huge boulevard using underground tunnels, I managed to blindly pick the right road and find my hostel.
Unlike the Estonian hostel, this one was modern with simple decor and an almost minimalist design. I liked it. It was also really clean, and the room was spacious. After settling in, I picked up a map from reception and got online to check out the town. As usual, I did just enough research to get from the bus station to my hostel. After that, I planned to wing it from there.
After about an hour, I decided to head out to see the city. With the sun shining and a brisk wind blowing, it was a perfect day to explore a new city on foot. As I wandered through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, I was amazed at how the old buildings towered above me, even after being bombed during World War II. The work to reconstruct the damaged buildings and keep the old style is incredible.
I also enjoyed the mix of green spaces throughout the city, which provided a nice retreat from the bustling tourist crowds. Although Riga is no London in terms of tourist foot traffic, it still seems to get its fair share of people around the shops. I have also heard that Riga is a mean place to party, if you’re into that kinda thing.
Taking a dining suggestion off my map, I had lunch at a small cafeteria-like restaurant serving authentic Latvian food. Don’t ask me what I ended up eating. It was one of those point and smile situations. I was charged by the amount of food selected so it was a pretty cheap meal in the end. The place seemed to be very local with lots of working people on their lunch breaks. I think I was just about the only foreigner in the place. Interestingly enough, practically everyone had a glass of milk with their lunch. Is this a thing in Latvia?
The bus ride from Tallinn to Riga on Lux Express was a quick four-and-a-half hour trip in a modern, air-conditioned bus. It was kitted out with power points to charge your electronics and even had free wifi, although it was spotty for me.
I was surprised at the high quality of the bus, because the fare was extremely cheap when compared to train prices. The bus driver made announcements in several languages, including English, making it easy to understand what was going on. Also, the roads were in really good condition so it was smooth riding all the way to Riga.
The only negative aspect about traveling this way was the fullness of the bus. However, who can really blame people for using this transportation to get from city to city? With these prices, it made travel between countries very easy and affordable.