We are back at the sea again 🙂 not sure we have ever been away from the sea so long before. Quick update – it’s Day 193, driven 8000 miles, stocks are low on Marmite and Tetley tea but other than that we are not wanting for anything. Our budget is holding out amazingly well – we have some expensive countries to come but we are massively under forecast so all looks good. The sink has not leaked a drop since the second fixing, all other running repairs are holding out. So over all – everything is very rosey in our garden :). Added to which photos of these little beauties appeared in our email inbox this week – loving the mini-me Baxterbus (thanks Rickster).
Despite agreeing to head for the Hill of Crosses we changed plan and went for Klaipeda so we could visit the Curonian Spit. Once a part of Germany and then incorporated into Lithuania by the Russians the city of Klaipeda is most famous for gigantic shipyards, dockyards and fishing ports. The docks were like something from 1950’s Britain, cranes working hard unloading dozens of container ships and warehouses all still in use. Most freight must move on railways as we have never seen so many lines all with train after train hauling massive lines of wagons – we counted 60-80 wagons behind most trains.
A big percentage of the city still speak Russian as a first language as the city was re-populated by Russians after the USSR took control and expelled the Germans. As the city is built along the coast it’s reasonably easy to negotiate – you can head either North or South – no arguments on navigation for us then! We didn’t go too far into the city centre but the bits we did see had lots of open spaces, parks and some very beautiful old buildings – added to which were some pretty gruesome 1950’s apartment blocks which kind of spoiled the aesthetics.
Lithuanian unification monument, 1923 – in the centre of Klaipeda
Our campsite was a good few miles out of the city, seemed good but we were unsure when Group 3 Security started patrolling on the hour every hour – maybe it was meant to make us feel secure, it didn’t it made us wonder why we needed a dedicated security vehicle! In the night we heard what sounded like gunshots! it was probably something to do with the freight train lines behind the site but late at night with shot after shot it was a little daunting to say the very least.
Rather than drive over to the Spit we planned to take the bikes, according to receptionist there was a cycle path along the coast to the city and down to the ferry. What she meant was there will be one day 😦 We followed the map and it actually had us carrying our bikes over railway line – no not on a crossing, just picking them up and crossing over four lines where massive freight trains were ambling along. Plenty of cyclists, walkers and joggers doing the same – seems to be the norm here to walk on the lines.
Checking the map before we risk life and limb on the tracks
The ferry over to the Curonian Spit took less than five minutes it was like a speedboat, bikes were free and we paid 40 cents each return – bit of a bargain. Once over there the best way to describe it was think Liverpool (Klaipeda) and the Wirral (Curonian Spit). Pathways galore through woods and along beautiful beaches, very old wooden houses and a fair few tourist attractions including the new Dolphinarium being built. Very scenic and incredibly windy, the wind whistles along there at a rapid rate of knots, great for riding with it, horrendous coming back.
The Curonian Spit from the ferry
Whilst the spit is over 98 km long – its ends back in Kaliningrad – we didn’t go that mad – just a few miles to the furthest point North on the spit we could go before it was fenced off for safety, possibly to prevent us being blown into the sea. Very mixed H&S here – risk of injury by a train deemed less than drowning falling off a 40 ft wide path into the sea. However, it may be that it’s less likely people will end up in the sea as there were several signs denoting “No falling into the sea”.
Whilst there is supposedly a very trendy and wealthy resort on the Spit at Nida, we instead went 50 km North to the resort of Sventoji, accordingly to local tourist information the ‘poor man’s resort’. If it is then it really is none the worse for it, very charming and old-fashioned resort being dragged kicking and screaming into the current century. Everywhere there are wooden holiday shacks, some must be over 60 years old and standing by the skin of their teeth, others slightly newer but all built in the style of your garden shed with a few extra windows. The beach is mile after mile of white sand stretching as far as we could see. Nothing on the beach in terms of tourist cafes, shops, parasols – oh except a wooden sauna, closed for the day but open for the summer season!
The only building on the beach for miles – The Sauna!
Hidden away in the sand dunes was a sculpture called the ‘Fisherman’s daughters’, unlike most of the many sculptures we have seen that are post 1989 this one was dated 1980. Awaiting the return of their father from a fishing trip they were joined by a tiny person (ok, the sculptures are 4 metres high). As with many sights in Lithuania there is nothing to point out they are there, you either come across them or you don’t. Tourist literature is very much aimed at locals as it is only in Lithuanian, then again we have seen a couple of German and Dutch registered vehicles and nothing else so possibly they don’t have a great number of foreign tourists here.
We are pitched up in someone’s back garden here for £8 a night, a few metres from the beach and have decided to stay a few days. Sventoji is at the end of the so-called “Amber Road” which runs up the coast from Klaipeda. The next resort back down the coast, Palanga, advertises a stack of amber shops and museums so weather permitting we are cycling there tomorrow to see if we can pick up an amber bargain or two.
Once we leave here it’s a week on Cold War attractions – Plokstine Nuclear Missile Base and the abandoned Russian secret military town of Karosta – thrilling stuff! However, our route has changed again and the Hill of Crosses is back on the itinerary so there is good to come too.
Sunny but windy on the beach at Sventoji
We left our mark