Lifestyle & Culture

Joanna Storie in Latvia: Comparing the alternatives to flying as I travel across the Baltics

(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 of a 2-part series comparing flying, which has a huge carbon footprint, with less polluting modes of public transportation. You can see Pt. 2 here.)

So, I open my mouth on a regular basis and state we have to change how we live for the sake of our children. Despite Richard Branson’s comment that flying will be carbon neutral before 2050, the fact is for now it is not and we have squandered too much of our children’s carbon inheritance as it is.

For the record, I also thought this before Greta burst on the scene with her refreshing honesty.

TALLINN FROM THE FERRY (Photo by Joanna Storie)

I had a heavy schedule of conferences and meetings this autumn and the rail infrastructure in the Baltic States is not conducive to long distance travel. Unfortunately, Rail Baltica is still some way from being built. So, train travel is slow and does not connect well across countries.

Upside, it is cheap and you get to see a lot of great countryside. However, that does not help my planning for longer journeys.

I have become quite adept at trawling the internet for different travel options but sometimes I’m left with little option but to fly. A meeting in Helsinki shortly after my husband’s return from the United Kingdom meant there was no time to take a bus and ferry no matter which permutations I tried, so I flew up but came back by ferry and bus.

It did mean I was able to compare the two alternatives:

• For example, I had to arrive at Riga airport two hours before my flight and the security for the airplane took 45 minutes.

• Ferry and bus security and ticket checks were about 15 minutes, if that. Of course, the plane took me all the way from Riga in Latvia to Helsinki in Finland. The ferry took a little longer just to get from Helsinki to Tallinn in Estonia.

• Disembarking again was quicker by ferry; about 10 minutes, but then I didn’t have a car.

So, door to door? I drove to the airport and set off at midday, so I could have lunch with my husband at the airport. We traded information before I handed him the keys to drive back home to our alpacas.

I was at my friend’s house in the centre of Helsinki by about 9 p.m.

On the way back I was up rather early as I was staying with another friend about half an hour’s drive outside of Helsinki so out of the house by 5:30 a.m. for the 7 a.m. ferry (the journey would have been longer during a week day, so we left more time than was needed), an overlay in Tallinn for a coffee with a friend, bus to Riga, a short stop in Riga for the loo, quick coffee
and to buy my ticket for the bus to our village and home by 8:30 p.m.

So an extra five-and-a-half hours, but not too bad for a journey of about 500 kilometers.

I have friends in many different cities around Europe and so I have been able to connect with a few of them on my travels, even if it was just for a coffee. I’m not a city person, so seeing the sights is not necessarily on my itinerary. But a chat with a friend makes a welcome break in a journey.

I took the advantage of my trip to Helsinki to visit other friends farther north in Finland in Mikkeli, as well as organise a meeting with someone in education.

The long-distance buses are surprisingly cheap and comfortable. The taxi to my friends from the centre of Mikkeli in contrast was eye-wateringly high. It cost more to take a 15-minute taxi ride than the three hour bus ride.

Public transport in Finland is definitely the way to go. I love the ease of working out train and bus travel around Helsinki with information in Finnish, Swedish and English. The staff with the yellow vests on the train station at the airport were very courteous and helpful and the zone tickets easy to understand for someone like me who used to live in Copenhagen.

This was all good practice for the big trip.

About the author:

Joanna Storie is a British emigrant and Ph.D. candidate living in Latvia.

You can read more of Joanna’s posts here.

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