On any visit to the wonderful world of Eastern Europe, the iconic Lada car is often a quintessential site wherever you go. Especially if you are traveling across the former Soviet Union or its former satellite states such as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. For many adventurous visitors, the chance to drive one of these Soviet workhorses is highly sought after. In this article, we’re going to show you just how to do it as we took a look at the ultimate Lada driving experience in Eastern Europe: The Lada Rally!
The Lada Driving Rally
From statues Lenin to the AK-47, the Soviet Union produced a variety of iconic symbols that remain well known to this day, even in the West. However, one of the most iconic of these symbols was Lada. First appearing in the early 1970s, the Lada soon gained a reputation for being tough, easy to maintain, and value for money. The brand is still running strong today, and for good reason.
Today, the vehicle is not just reserved for use by civilians. In various parts of Eastern Europe, Africa, and even Cuba, the trusty Lada can be seen utilized as taxis, police cars, and other public service vehicles. There is a range of opportunities to drive a Lada in Eastern Europe, but none are as awesome as the incredible Lada rally! This quirky event has only been running for three years but is just the kind of event the team at Eastern Europe Insight love.
The event begins in the capital of Estonia: Tallinn. The event starts with you and your teammates haggling to get your hands on a Lada for a bargain price. With your vehicle obtained, you then kick off a 7-day Lada driving experience through the wildlands of Eastern Europe taking whichever route you like that gets you to the Greek city of Thessaloniki first.
“8 teams set off, only 6 finished in cars. The inaugural Lada Rally saw plenty of dungarees, apologies to local police, awful diets, poorly executed GoPro footage, and teams traveling further off the beaten track than anyone had anticipated.”– The recap of the first Lada Rally in 2017.
After seven days of adventures, hair-raising stories, and stopping at multiple iconic Soviet sights in Eastern Europe, your car is donated to refugee charities working in Greece. This means that not only do you get a life changing adventure out of the race, but you’re also actively contributing to charity and potentially saving the lives of people fleeing warzones.
How does the Lada Rally work?
After crossing the starting line, the route each team takes to the final destination of Thessaloniki is up to them. Each team has their overall journey time reduced based on the number of countries they cross on the way, the challenges they manage to accomplish, and the sights (often Soviet-related) that they tick off. Each team’s car is proudly mapped by the event sponsor: Esplorio!
The winning team takes home the sought after Golden Lada! But even if you don’t win, the journey is worth it as a lifelong memory. In the last Lada Rally, some of the highlights for the teams included one who took their Lada on a boat and met one of the Gallagher brothers, another who ended up sneaking into Mother Russia without a Visa, and another whose trusty Lada, unfortunately, broke down just short of the finishing line.
How does the Lada driving experience help a charity?
The initial aim of starting the Lada Rally back in 2017 was in order to raise awareness of the plight of people at the forefront of the ongoing refugee crisis in Greece which stems largely as a result of the wars in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere. The various charities working to tackle the crisis are in dire need of vehicles to transport medical supplies, make emergency visits to hospitals, and rescue refugees landing on beaches after perilous boat crossings.
To assist these charities, the aim of the Lada rally is for each team’s car to be donated to one of the charities working in Greece. Previous Lada Rallies have seen a refugee camp on a Greek Island be given a Pontiac, a school for refugee kids given a Honda, and another given a Volkswagen.
Whilst the Lada Rally for 2020 was naturally cancelled due to the ongoing Cornoavirus situation, the official charity of the event for 2020 is the Open Cultural Centre. This recently formed charity was started in response to the widespread closure of refugee camps in Greece. This charity provides educational classes for refugees in order to provide them with better chances to rebuild their lives and allow them a space to express themselves.
So, how do I sign up for this epic Lada driving experience?
Well, we thought you’d never ask! To sign up for the Lada Rally, you can do so over at the official website. Gather a team, form a plan of action, and prepare yourself for one of the most epic adventures across Eastern Europe that you can possibly imagine! Davai! (All photos used in this article were provided by Lada Rally)