We were heading up to Polish border to spend a last couple of days there but the worst happened – rain! No point hanging around to cycle in the wet so we agreed to move into Lithuania. Last stop before the border was Suwalki to stock up on food, we found plenty of other motorhomers doing the same. We had over exchanged into Zloty so did a massive shop to get rid of as many as possible, then diesel then LPG – still loads left – Poland was way cheaper than we had estimated.
The border crossing to Lithuania was one of the more spectacular to date, well it was in its day. Being the only main road crossing between USSR and Poland for the Baltic States it must have been incredibly busy. On both the Polish and Lithuanian sides enormous sheds, parking areas and office buildings along with miles of roads for Customs queues are still in place. There was still a lonesome Customs officer in his car, just the one, two army guards and one policeman – all of whom seemed fairly disinterested in who was coming or going. We drove through the border, realised we hadn’t exchanged our cash to Euro so turned around, drove back into Poland. Second attempt we were back in Lithuania – bemused officials watching our second arrival in less than 5 minutes!
The first and last houses in Lithuania – from the Russian border
The road both sides of the border was quite frankly scary. Single carriageway, no hard shoulder and truck after truck thundering along it in both directions. They still play chicken here with overtaking but in 40 ft arctics. In over 7700 miles it was our worst driving experience – even Bulgaria cannot throw anything at you that is a patch on it. We came off the main road as soon as we could and took the quiet country roads to Vistytus, right on the lake just a couple of km from the border. The guy who owned it has too much time on his hands, thousands of sculptures, everywhere you looked made of junk metal and wood carvings but the most wonderful views over the lake to Russia made up for it.
Vytautas the Great 1350-1430 ‘Guarding forever the place where Lithuanian begins’
Iain asked if we could use one of the pedalos (in his best Lithuanian) the owner said no, explaining the lake is mostly Russian water – obviously thought we could cause a diplomatic incident. Having spent an evening watching Russia, watching us there was no way we could pass up the opportunity of standing on Russian soil (I am a bit of a Russophile – everything about it enthralls me).
Sunset over Lithuania and Russia
Bikes out – looking less conspicuous than in a bloody great motorhome – we headed for the border which is in the centre of the village. Along the country lanes there were regular signs not to enter ‘no man’s land’ but not a sign of any guards or fences to stop you. In the village was a wacking great steel fence on the Russian side which just cut the road off. The actual border was alongside the fence where posts denoting Russia and Lithuania with the ‘no mans land’ bit in the middle. Absolutely we did !! both walked right on into Russia – complete with Russian guard watching us from his observation tower 🙂 .
Iain in ‘no man’s land’
Sure Russia wasn’t too worried by a couple of aging lycra clad cyclists as we hung around for a bit taking photos and stepping in and out of Russia. As well as the Russian guard there were a couple of local workmen but we can’t have been the first people they have seen stepping over the lines as they all pretty well ignored us. For us, both children of the Cold War era it was a little special – we care not for those that say it was one step – it was a step on Russian soil and get us, we didn’t even need a visa :). We do now have the mindset to take the motorhome to Russia – another trip, another time but it’s moved way up our ‘to do’ list.
Lithuania – (border markers) – Russia
Post border crossing celebrations
Onwards into Lithuania, avoiding the main road and it is really rather lovely. Two of it’s major claims to fame being the first country of the former USSR to declare it’s independence and the having the most Northern port that does not become ice-bound. It is very green, very quiet, villages are of the 10-20 house variety, mainly wooden dwellings all with a small arable land area and a cow chained up in the front garden. As well as the crop areas they generally have an area set aside for half a dozen fruit trees – which right now in mid spring are quite dazzling.
The people must be busy somewhere else because we have hardly seen a person in the last four days, we saw very few cars on the roads, those we did were probably 50% Russian. It seems very rural and under-populated, we were told that the Russians destroyed and removed buildings they felt were not necessary so maybe that’s why there are so few buildings. Lithuania does not however lack lakes or rivers, over 830 lakes and 22,000 rivers – at every turn we have come across a body of water and there is always a storks nest or two at each one, we love storks.
Our second stop has been Siline at a honey farm campsite. The rather wonderful and slightly eccentric host is Ovideus, entrepreneur, bee keeper, campsite owner and excellent self taught English speaker. Whilst we have been here there have been a couple of wedding parties come to take their photos, four bus loads of tourists for talks on bee keeping and for most of this afternoon the site has been buzzed at around 100 ft by 20-30 micro-light craft. The buildings around the site are all hand built and thatched by Ovideus and when he isn’t doing that or organising all the other activities he sells honey, which is pretty wonderful stuff. If there is a downside to the site it could be the lake where we are parked next to contains hundreds and hundreds of frogs – not so cute with the “croak croak” level rising throughout the night.
Beautiful Medau Slenis campsite
Just around the corner in the village is the 17th century Panemune castle, partly restored as a hotel and gallery with a small visitor section. you are allowed in the tower and down to the jail, so not much to see inside but only €1.20 each. The climb up the tower was over 140 steps, after the first 20 it was a steep wooden ladder in three sections, I made it up the first wooden section – then left Iain to do the rest for the views. Coming down is so much harder than going up, horrendous, we both had jelly legs for a fair while afterwards. The hotel and restaurant looked very pricey and somewhat out of our league, as we were leaving Iain went to have a look but the receptionist was quite firm that we couldn’t look in the hotel, we were looking at our usual scruffy best so understandable :).