Klaipeda

Klaipeda was my first stop in Lithuania. It’s a seaside town most notable for the spit just across from the main port. The Curonian Spit was actually my sole reason for going to Klaipeda. That and the fact that I wanted to spend as much time near the ocean as I could before heading inland for2 months. Pending on your budget and how picky you are I would recommend staying at Klaipeda hostel. It is the only hostel in Klaipeda and it’s a good 10 minute walk from the old town (really not that far when you think on it). However, it is conveniently located right next door to the bus station and across the street from the train station. It says on directions of how to get there ’20 m from bus station’ and they were not joking. It was so close I actually passed by it the first time not expecting it!

Anyway, there really isn’t a lot to the Old Town. Personally, I wouldn’t go for the Old Town at all. There were a couple museums I would have really liked to check out, but I was there Monday and Tuesday and decided to do the town Monday (silly me) when all the museums are closed. Didn’t plan that one very well. Still it was nice to wander around and sit around and eat and drink tea and smoothies and maybe the odd glass of wine all day.

Anyway, Tuesday I rented a bike to ride down along the Curonian Spit. If you stay at Klaipeda hostel you can rent a bike from them, or you can rent from the bike shop that is just near the old ferry terminal and it costs exactly the same amount. Despite the fact that I hate riding bikes and haven’t been on one since I was 16 I had heard that the best way to see the island is by bike. I most wholeheartedly agree with this statement and despite my sore arse about halfway through, decided it was worth every penny and moment of soreness.

There is a most excellent bike path that one can ride up or down the spit (depending on where you start). I started in the ferry terminal “town” called Smiltynė and decided I would only go as far as Juodkrantė which is about halfway between Smiltynė and the popular summer resort town of Nida, as it was not really summer (definitely didn’t feel like it anyway) and there didn’t seem to be a lot to do in Nida. Pretty sure the ride there and back (didn’t want to pay for a bus back to the ferry) was a sufficient workout for the day. Riding there I decided to take the road and not the bike path (no idea why, it just worked out that way) but it was still a beautiful ride, if slightly more difficult because of the hills.

There are actually quite a few things to see in Juodkrantė. The first thing I did was stop for lunch and a drink. I feel like with all that exercise I need to cancel it out with something unhealthy. Had a delicious lunch and delicious melted chocolate with nuts for dessert. Yum Yum. After recharging my batteries I decided to ride about a kilometre south of the town to go see the nesting spot for the herons and cormorants, bird lover that I am. I rode down via a cycling path along the beach which allegedly held a sculpture park with over 100 sculptures, but most of them just looked like rocks on sticks. I was rewarded by the beautiful view (you could see over to the mainland) and the ridiculous number of swans hanging about in the lagoon. One was right up next to the embankment so I decided to use the opportunity for a photo op until it noticed me there and started to threaten me. Needless to say, after growing up with my dear friend Amy who had ducks and geese and being attacked by them I did not have any desire to repeat that experience.

Killer Swan!

So I continued on my merry way to find the herons and cormorants and you could actually smell them before you could hear them. Birds, as most of you probably are not aware, are very dirty creatures. They poo anywhere and many a car is evidence of this. If you own a bird and you don’t clean out it’s cage regularly, you smell it. So I was riding along and could smell the unmistakable stench of stale bird poo and noticed a lot of it on the ground. At this point I was slightly concerned about getting poo’d on, but managed to make it through unscathed. Eventually I heard the cacophony of hundreds of hatchlings and found the lookout point that I had been searching for! I’ve noticed in this part of the world that things are not well signposted so I’ve been having trouble finding places I want to see or things I want to do. It was pretty cool because during the spring hundreds of herons and cormorants come to this particular spot to nest. Herons on one side and cormorants on the other of course. Segregation is alive and well in the avian community. I happened to arrive at the right time of year (late spring/early summer) when the chicks have hatched and do not shut up. If I lived there it would drive me nuts, but as I don’t I stayed a little while and enjoyed the atmosphere. I highly recommend stopping by if you make it to the Spit.

On my way back I decided to go to the infamous Raganų Kalnas, also known as Witches’ Hill. It’s a nice little walking trail through forest with loads of wooden ‘witch’ sculptures. I wouldn’t say all of them are of witches, but they all definitely look like they could be creatures from a fairy tale. It was definitely worth a wander if for nothing other than the really cool sculptures littering the trail. The last thing on my list for Juodkrantė was to pick up some smoked eel at one of the wooden houses lining the main road. The town is famous for its smoked eel and it’s practically a requirement to try some when you visit the town. Unfortunately, when I went they were out of žuvis (smoked eel) but had other smoked creatures. I was annoyed by this, but didn’t feel like getting other smoked creatures so I didn’t bother. Guess I will have to go back to Lithuania. Oh darn.

Other than some rain on the bike trail back (which I nearly got lost on, don’t ask how because I don’t know) the ride back to Smiltynė was rather uneventful. I did scare the living daylights out of 3 moose, but they ran away before I could get my camera out. I was annoyed, but there’s not much you can do about wild animals. Maybe I shouldn’t have been singing out loud…

Anyway, really the only reason for heading to Klaipeda is to go to the Curonian Spit, and I highly recommend it. You can drive it, take a bus, etc, but I recommend doing the bike trail if you are up for it and just catching a bus back if you don’t want to ride all the way back to Smiltynė.

Šiauliai

So in Klaipeda I found myself a travel buddy who happened to be travelling in the same direction, who very conveniently spoke allegedly poor Lithuanian (still better than my Lithuanian) so we headed off to Šiauliai together. Šiauliai is Lithuania’s fourth largest city and only slightly larger than my hometown at 126,000-ish people. My sole reason for visiting Šiauliai (there’s a lot of sole reasons in Lithuania it seems) was to visit the Hill of Crosses. Talk about moving and memorable. This “hill” is sort of creepy but very touching at the same time. There must be hundreds of thousands of crosses on this hill. They range from excessively large to small little rosaries. They are meant to represent each Lithuanian, however, there are also crosses there from different countries. People who may be Lithuanian but dwell elsewhere, or the religious who were in Lithuania for whatever reason and added a cross. There were a lot of crosses with flags from different countries there and the crosses were extremely diverse in their design. There were crosses with evil eyes painted on them, mosaic crosses, ornate and simple wooden crosses, knitted crosses, etc.

The hill was bulldozed numerous times by the Soviets when it was under their occupation. However, people would still sneak to the hill at night to put crosses up again. That’s dedication, considering under Soviet rule, had they been caught they probably would have been sent to a Siberian gulag. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be so devoted and have so much faith in your religion that you would risk your life for it. There are quite a few things I would risk my life for, but they tend to be more tangible, or at least visible issues. I did take a lot of photos, but none of them can really do this haunting hill justice.

Hill of CrossesKaunas

My last stop in ‘rural’ Lithuania was Kaunas. This is actually the second largest city as far as I’m aware and isn’t really considered rural, but I consider the size of each city in Lithuania to be small enough to consider it rural as opposed to urban. My reason for going to Kaunas was to visit the Museum of Devils. There are over 2000 devil statues in this museum from different cultures, religions and mythologies, including satanic figures of Hitler and Stalin over Lithuania. I did not end up going to the museum because I had a ridiculously scary nightmare the night before (the first I’d had in about 3 weeks, a record for me) and couldn’t stomach going. One more reason to go back to Lithuania I suppose.

The night we arrived (my travel buddy and I) we decided to go get some dinner at a bar that looked alright. It was a surprisingly long walk, but had atmosphere and the beer was cold and delicious so we stayed and had some pizza. I was in the middle of watching a Chelsea match when these kids came in with an entire Guitar Hero band set. No joke, 2 guitars, a microphone and a drum set were in hand. I was frankly rather annoyed when they plugged it in and I could no longer watch Chelsea on the flat screen but as it turns out, Thursday night at BO is Guitar Hero night. Somehow or other we got roped in to playing with them. Needless to say, since my ex-flatmate Alex moved out 8 months ago I hadn’t played Rock Band/Guitar Hero at all so I was a bit rusty. I quickly got back into the swing of things though and kicked some ass and took some names. It was great fun.

Other than the Museum of Devils and Thursday night Guitar Hero I really don’t think there is much reason to go to Kaunas. Regardless of not going to Museum of Devils though, I did have a good time.

What I’m reading now: What happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What I’m listening to now: The Hunger Games: Book 1 Audiobook by Suzanne Collins

See pictures from “Rural” Lithuania here

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