26th July – 2nd August 2013
A lot happens on our travels and after our Wedding in Lituania the next week took us from Lithuania, to Latvia and back again.
The Lithuanian distilled vodka had worked its magic and we felt unjustly poisoned for the whole day after the wedding.
We had to stir ourselves as we had a couple of press interviews that afternoon and we had planned to leave Lithuania the same day. We still had a lot to see in Europe and our time was running thin!
We drank coffee, told our story to the reporters and typically at rush hour we left the city of Vilnius. That afternoon we drove to Siauliai to visit the Hill of Crosses and arrived as the sun began to set behind the spooky memorial.
More than 100,000 crosses have been placed on the hill, some dating back as far as the 1800’s when it is said that the first crosses were erected to commemorate those lost in the 1831 rebellion against the Polish – Russian War.
We strolled along the footpaths weaving through the assortment of crucifixes, some beautifully carved, others were just crudely tapped together sticks. Beads, rosary and flowers were draped everywhere and small statues prayed, knelt and wept on the ground beneath them and in some places small battery run candles flickered relentlessly. It was a peaceful place and provoked thoughts about each person that every single cross represented, and of course the people close to me that I have lost or may lose in the future.
The light soon faded to a chilly dusk and we still had to find a place to camp. We had considered camping at the very site but decided it was a little TOO eerie and as we left we happened upon a small campsite filled with dahlias, wicker angels in the trees and a small pond. This shook our melancholy mood and we settled in for the night.
Before long we were laid in bed making plans for our next adventure and watching Deep Blue Sea about the backwards swimming sharks when I found a tick burrowing into my tummy!!!!!!!!
I thought it was a spot for a moment and then realised it was only attached in one place and the realisation hit me like a spade! I shouted “Piggy I’ve got a Tick” and Alex jumped out of bed and turned on the lights and I was right. It was a tiny little creature sucking my blood and showing no sign of leaving anytime soon.
I could see its little legs wiggling as Alex poked it with tweezers and it made me feel dizzy it was just so disgusting! Alex wanted to burn it off with a lighter but I just daren’t let him near the tender skin on my tummy with a naked flame. Instead I made him get it with the tweezers and then kill it with a match.
It was of course an ordeal with Alex pulling disgusted faces the entire time and faking being sick in his mouth while I checked the rest of me for more living things! We guessed it must have been from wandering around in the long grass at the wedding and hoped never to find another one again!
After the excitement of that night and getting very little sleep due to our overactive imaginations (backwards swimming sharks are common in Lithuania), we spent the day driving north into Latvia, another country neither of us had ever visited. We drove up to the most northern point -Kolka, a national park, and then hit the coastline and drove all the way around it, stopping now and then to enjoy the rugged beaches and the rushing surf.
The sand was warm and powder fine but the beaches were busy so we didn’t hang around for long. The drive was through forest that lined the sandy shores and we looked for a spot to wild camp for the night. All of the camping sites we had seen were full to the brim, it seemed we had arrived in the middle of the school holidays!
We completed our circuit of Latvian coastline and crossed to border once more into Lithuania. We had hoped to drive into Belarus on our route but after enquiring about visas decided it was just too expensive and instead we opted to drive along the spit of land that belongs half to Lithuania and half to Russia’s Kaliningrad.
We thought we might be able to sneak over the line in the sand and put our toes on to Russian soil but sadly it wasn’t an option.
The Curonian Spit starts in Klaipedia and the Lithuanian owned half ends in Nida and the whole thing turned into a nightmare! We got double dipped on the entry fee, it was packed to the hilt with tourists and cost us a fortune BUT we were there and that was that.
We paid our 110litas ($45) for the 2 minute ferry crossing which seemed a little steep but we decided if that was the only cost it wouldn’t be so bad. We chatted with a couple of guys that had spotted Peggy’s Canadian plates and they were from a town not far away from where we had bought the van. As we got off the ferry there was a toll booth and we paid ANOTHER 110litas to get onto the island!
I was furious, I had only wanted to go really to see the birds but there we were. We didn’t have much choice. We followed the hoards of traffic along the only road on the 58km island joined with Russia.
We had picked up a map of things to see along the spit and decided to do them the following day on our way BACK along the one road and made our way to a campsite right on the border with Russia. It was illegal to wild camp (it bloody would be) and cost us another 70 litas to camp.
We were in foul moods and it seemed nothing could snap us out of it until Alex suggested that we had already blown the budget, why not really blow it and go out for dinner as well! We got showered and walked the 2km into the nearest town, strolled on the beach and saw a few birds just as the sky started to blacken with the promise of rain.
We ate in a little restaurant, Alex ordered the BBQ eel which was just as horrendous as it sounds and my fish wasn’t much more inspiring but the wine washed it down well. When a storm cracked the sky open and poured rain of biblical proportions we doubly decided to sod it and ran into a pub nearby to watch the lightening and cower from the thunder with a couple of pints.
We nibbled on peas and crackling (a local dish) and were eventually moved inside as the garden umbrellas could no longer hold off the amount of rain that was coming down. We drank as much as we could hold while we waited for the storm to pass but before too long it was no good. We were blind drunk and unable to stay any longer so we braved it and ran out into the torrential storm. Of course we were wet within seconds and gave up on running after a few meters and just splashed our way back to Peggy for the night.
Even Peggy had had enough of the storm and the following morning she refused to start at all. It turned out she couldn’t really be blamed as Alex had a new habit of leaving the keys in the ignition with the battery engaged.
This new habit was driving me barmy and to teach Alex a lesson I refused to help him ask for help. Luckily, as she generally does, Peggy had drawn some attention from other campers at the site and a group of friends came over and offered to help. They spoke very little English and we spoke absolutely NO Czech but we managed to communicate enough and they got us going in the end.
We stopped off at the main attractions, a cormorant nesting site which looked like a scene from Fern Gully. With over 2000 nests in the area it is the largest colony of the bird in Lithuania and accounts for more than 90% of the birds in the country. The waste from the birds HUGE nests kills off the trees after time and the leaves wither and fall away and the branches strut naked into the burning sun. The nests are exposed as a result and it was amazing to see acres and acres of naked trees all topped with enormous nests.
We drove by the wooden figurines on Witches hill and looked for the sand dunes that we couldn’t see due to the trees and then we happily got back on the ferry to take us back to the mainland.
It was so disappointing, so expensive and not even all it had promised to be. It was a tourist trap and even after 2 years on the road we fell right in!