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Monday, 21 August 2017

Lithuania and Nida


Sitting in Charleroi Airport, I started to feel like an ant. I really did! This trip to the last Baltic state I hadn’t experienced had been on my heart’s wish list for many years… yet I was only now starting to get what I had to challenge. The height difference, for starters.
Then, I landed in Vilnius. The flight had been a pleasant one, with a clear and sensational view over the Curonian Spit. I was feeling very happy on the inside, knowing that I was about to be there in only a few days during my ins and outs of the countries I had set my eyes on, this time.
I realised I had forgotten that bright 9pm light at this latitude in May and was not even aware that Lithuania had become a Schengen state and had made the transition to the Euro. Ignorant me! Well, hunger won as dining started in the Old City over a glass of bubbly beer and a plate of the traditional, calorie-soaked, and decadent cheese bread.
In between the mushroom pancakes served for breakfast in Druskininkai right before the adventurous crossing into Belarus and the (again) traditional and delicious dinner enjoyed upon our return from Belarus alongside Romanian nationals in dusty Kaunas, dotted with a beautiful promenade by Neman River, there were some punctual and constant situations.
The occasional early wake-up. The unwelcoming faces in the bus station, which made me feel most of the times like I was simply disturbing the locals by trying to get to know them and their country [definitely not the reactions I was aiming and hoping for]. The old lady on the bus having complained to Marcel that my backpack straps might hang too low during the trip.

The road west included fields and forest and fields and forest and a ferry crossing from Klaipėda. On the other side, however, things were lively. A Neringa forest seemingly borrowed from fairy tales set in as our view until we finally made a left turn and saw the colourful wooden houses and the sea. On some alleys to the water, I struggled to wish on a dandelion and attracted the joyous laughter of some locals.   

The sun was shining but a cool breeze was all around. I had first heard of Nida five years before, after having rafted with four cheerful Lithuanians in northern Iceland. All I remembered about the place were wind gusts and blocks of ice. It was going to be a different late-springish experience. The delicate traditional items on sale had caught my attention and my heart, the lunch filled my stomach, and the visit to one of the supermarkets downtown filled my bags. A 3 km walk along the waterfront to our accommodation – and I was thrilled by the tranquillity of it all: the animals, the weathercocks, the lilacs and their scent.

The old boats guided us back to a part of Nida we had not yet discovered, strolling by the swans and the close-to-sunset fishermen.

An impressive outdoor library was on our way.

So was Milka, the cute dog encouraging us to play fetch with its plush sheep. 

Sand in and out of my boots on the shore, mosquitoes attacking on the steps up the dunes, slippery territory but a beautiful view for a barefoot picnic to be remembered. The dunes are very fragile and should be protected by all those enjoying them, as their lost in height over the years is obvious.

An early bedtime followed, as ever-surprising Russia was next, first thing in the morning.
Well, after Kaliningrad, I was again back to Vilnius. [I know, I know, I like closing circles when I travel.] Of course, a delicious and traditional dinner was the first item on the agenda with yet another treat, i.e. a lingonberry dessert. After all, it was June 1st – International Children’s Day!
The cold was getting into my bones, so I took my boyfriend’s hand, walked up to the castle and to the views of the city that does look impressive from above especially under pink skies, but lacks substance. We ended our evening with pictures from and on Mindaugas Bridge.

Our last day in Lithuania started with a wow breakfast at one of the most famous bakeries/sweet shops in the capital… and then there was the short ride to Trakai.

The place was so overcrowded that we didn’t even feel like visiting the castle, rather deciding to explore the nearby stalls of the locals selling interesting food products and beautiful handmade items I thought would make great souvenirs. It had gotten colder and colder and I was looking at the young woman in front of me in the bus station, shivering as we had been waiting for a bus to return to Vilnius for some time.

We finally got on and had only a few minutes to kill before boarding another bus, to take us back to the country we hadn’t seen in 7 years – Latvia. I took one last prolonged look over the endless green fields and realised that I had already reached the peak. Back in Nida.

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