Day 13: Mezotne Palace – Lötzen/Giżycko

Thursday, March 8th, 2018
Distance covered: 572 km
Driving: 7 am – 6 pm
Weather: Grey day
Lowest temperature: -2C
Border crossing: 2, Latvia – Lithuania – Poland (no checkpoints)

We started the day with a healthy Latvian breakfast of eggs and bacon and visited some  perfectly renovated rooms and halls of the Mezotne Palace.

As bridges are scarce in the region, we had to start with some extra kilometres on our way to Lithuania and the Hill of the Crosses

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Crossing the border to the last Balic State was again smooth and without any checkpoint. We soon reached the Lithuanian national monument “Hill of Crosses“. It was destroyed several times by the Soviets, but got quickly rebuild every time and still collects new crosses every day from visitors from all over the world.

The landscape now changed from forests to fields and the colours from white to grey and brown. With no more snow and ice on the streets, we changed back to regular winter tires in Kaunas and continued further west. A bit later we crossed the small corridor between Russia (Königsberg / Kaliningrad) in the north and White Russia in the South to enter Poland.

In the afternoon, we reached the impressive ruins of the Wolfsschanze, one of the major Führerhauptquartiere and location of the failed “Operation Walküre” (assassination of Hitler).


We enjoyed being alone at this very special place. Especially, as the area is not run as a museum, but more as a theme park with fun rides, tank driving and very irritating offers in the souvenir shop. A “Wolfsschanze” towel and teddy bear, really?

It was getting dark, when we finally reached our hotel in Giżycko. The St. Bruno hotel is located in an old monastery, with nice rooms, a bar with bowling and a great restaurant, as we found.

Initially we had planned to have dinner in town, but Team 68 arrived a bit later at the hotel, saw our car and Isabelle knew where to find us: the hotel bar. The food in the hotel restaurant was really good. And later in the evening we met again “our” photographer David. His partner Debbie joined the rallye in Tallin and was riding with Team 68, while David was with the Drift Chicks, but couldn’t resist a fun night with vodka and bowling.


Day 12: Raudsilla – Mezotne Palace

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018
Distance covered: 490km
Driving: 9am – 7pm
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -7C
Border crossing: Estonia – Latvia (no checkpoints)

The night was short, sleep was light, but with a sunny and cold morning, we quickly got back to life and into the car, with a first stop only one kilometre away at the “Gut Kolga” manor house. This used to be the biggest noble property in Estonia, for centuries in the hands of the Stenbock family, but now got sold to a new owner.

Within an hour, we reached Talinn, had breakfast and did a walk through this beautiful medieval town towards the concrete socialistic ruin of the Linnahall.

The next stop was the task of the day: to find the ruins of former soviet prison and labor camp at a quarry. It was a great adventure to climb the wall, wander through abandoned buildings and across the frozen lake with houses standing in the ice. In summer, this is now a hotspot for swimming, beach parties and diving and throughout the year a great motive for photographers and even became the set of the apocalyptic movie “Beautiful Day“.

The location in summer:

As most of the other teams, we drove south along the shore of the frozen baltic sea and crossed the border from Estonia to Latvia without any controls: Europe is great!

As every day, we started to look for the hotel for the night during the afternoon. We initially planned to stay in Riga, but found a hotel in a great looking manor house, a bit smaller but definitely in better shape than “Gut Kolga” in the morning.

Mezotne Palace was formerly used as the state guest house of Latvia and only recently was turned into a private hotel. As usual, we called the hotel some hours before we got there, to check if there was a restaurant. “Hello?  …. Ah, you are the guests! … You want eat? Next restaurant is 30 km away. I will call kitchen master!” After driving the last 20 km on a dirt road, we got – as the only guests – to this remote and beautiful place. The receptionist was wearing joggers and informed us about the menu options: “You want pork or chicken or fish?” We chose pork, were invited to the dining room in an hour and moved into our nice rooms (the windows with lights on the second floor).

For dinner, the joggers got changed into black trousers and a white shirt and we enjoyed the easy but good food, alone in the large dining room. The rest of the evening we spent upstairs and posted a last call for donations for our charity project: drilling a well in Uganda. By now, we were quite close to make our initially stretched goal of 7.000,- €. Thanks to our great friends, the final gap of 324,- € got not only closed within minutes, but even more money was donated. This clearly asked for some celebration with Champagne and Oasis music.

Day 11: Petersburg – Raudsilla

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018
Distance covered: 354km
Driving: 10:30am – 5:30pm
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: Russia – Estonia (real border control)

We got up late and supported the Russian Highway Organization by some extra loops and associated payments at the toll booth. An hour later, we reached the Peterhof Palace, located at the shore of the baltic sea and enjoyed a walk in the beautiful snow covered gardens …

… and on the frozen Baltic Sea. At the horizon we saw big cargo ships, each following its Icebreaker towards Petersburg.

IMG_2333.jpgIMG_2334.jpgScreen Shot 2018-04-08 at 11.13.41.pngPalace and gardens were heavily destroyed during World War II, but are now in perfect condition again. 3821b9e6cba6210e7edbb9dc9564efe9.jpg

On our further drive towards the Russian-Estonian border in Narva, we got introduced to real Russia, which is quite different to the golden palaces, shiny Petersburg and our last hotel.

Crossing the border took again more than an hour, but this time we were luckily not forced to get anything out of the car. Singing “Ode an die Freude”, we were happy to be back in the good old European Union and even Euro Zone.

Final destination of the day was the second BSC Winter party in Raudsilla, a rural and beautiful location in an Estonian national park close to the Baltic Sea.

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Accommodation was offered in heated tents and wooden houses.

We all met in a huge wooden Tipi with a massive fire place in the middle for food, drinks and stories.

Additional attraction in this beautiful and remote spot was a Sauna and hot tub.


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Day 10: St. Petersburg

Monday, March 5th, 2018
Distance covered: 10 kilometres by foot
Driving: NO DRIVING, yeah!
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: none

Sunny day, cold, blue sky – let’s go. We walked along and on the frozen Newa to the Peter and Paul fortress and visited the Peter and Paul cathedral with the tombs of the former Russian Tsars the Romanovs.

The entire complex was in perfect condition and well maintained. Petersburg felt like just another western city: tickets could be paid by credit card, “uber” available, etc.

As museums are closed on Mondays in Russia too, our touristic program was somehow limited. Next to the fortress we could take a look at the vast collection of canons, tanks and rockets at the Russian Artillery Museum

… and walked up to the cruiser “Aurora”, that initiated the November Revolution in 1917.

An uber got us across the river to the Grand Hotel Belmond Europe, where we had an appointment with David de Vleeschauwer at 2pm. David is a Belgium travel photographer, who joined the Rallye with different teams and will cover it in one of his next books. As we believed (see day 12) we could not make space for him in our fully stuffed Touareg, we met him in the “Belmond” for a photo shoot in the Caviar Bar.


Unfortunately, or luckily (“travel budget”), the Caviar Bar is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we only had a Cappuccino and our first Vodka of the day in the hotel bar.


David joined us for the afternoon and we first visited the “Blood cathedral”, a beautiful Russian church, erected on the place of the murder of Tsar Alexander II.

To get some proper Caviar pictures of team Champagne Supernova for David, we now visited Eliseyev Emporium, THE St. Petersburg food hall.

Next to its shopping opportunities, the Eliseyev hosts a small café around a real and massive palm tree in the middle of this two floor art deco “jewel”. Here, we got our Caviar, enjoyed the atmosphere and the sun was glittering through the huge windows.

While we ignored most of the “daily tasks” of the Rallye so far, we didn’t mind the task to find Petersburg’s only beach bar: Dunes of Ligovsky. After a 30 minutes walk through the real Petersburg, we reached an interesting hipster quarter close to the rail tracks of the Moscow Station. Many parked BSC cars on the street proofed that we were at the right spot. Soon we were in the bar at the bar and had a great time with some of the other teams like Latscho Tschabos, Power of Adventure and Show & Schein. Russian craft beers, many stories, some vodka, a great afternoon.

For dinner we went back to Eliseyev to the Mezonin restaurant and ended a great day in style.

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Day 9: Nurmes – St. Petersburg

Sunday, March 4th, 2018
Distance covered: 329 km
Driving: 9:30am – 7pm (border delay)
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: Finland – Russia (real border control)

Another great sunny day. Listening to the SPD GroKo press conference, we drove to the frozen lake ice road, took a couple of pics and crossed the lake.

It feels scary at the beginning (I hate it to even walk on a frozen lake) but offers a great experience and special perspectives when driving close to some islands.

After some more hours of snowy forests and frozen lakes, we finally reached the Russian border. And yes, it feels different than driving to Italy or Austria or even Switzerland. The Finnish part of the border was friendly, professional and empty, but few hundred meter further we had to queue up in front of the Russian control post.


When reaching the post, you need to stop your car, walk to the booth, fill in some immigration card (next to the up-front Visa in your passport) and some customs forms for your car. As my Passport was brand new and in the latest format, obviously unknown yet to the Russian border officer, it got looked at again and again. 10 minutes and a phone call later, I finally got my stamps and was ready for the next step of the Russian welcome committee. We were ordered to get all suitcases, boxes as well as the two winter tires out of the car and open everything. Great fun with -7C and super dirty tires…

Anyhow, it took just a bit more than an hour and we were on the road again, heading towards St. Petersburg.

Being the second largest Russian city and a major location for the 2018 Football world championship, many highways are brand new. The stadium looked impressive and next to it a new skyscraper was still under construction.

In the dark we reached our hotel: Trezzini Palace, a 5-star boutique hotel, located directly at the Newa and offered for just 104,- € on in the morning. We were hoping for a really nice hotel, but what we got was just great.

After being introduced to my 3 room Suite, I was searching again and again for the mistake regarding the price (wrong Rubel conversion, etc.). But it was real and therefore even better that we stayed for 2 nights in Petersburg!

We had dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, hering as a starter and boeff stroganoff as main and made company with a nice Dutch couple, running an interesting charity project for the widows of Srbrenica. After some shared Vodka, we took a walk through beautiful Petersburg at night, enjoyed some more vodka in a student bar and finally went back to our very own palace…

… really looking forward to a day without driving!