Archive for the ‘Lithuania’ Category

Klaipeda and the Curonian Spit

27 August 2018

Klaipeda to Nida, Lithuania

We went out for an early morning exploration before breakfast.

Klaipeda was controlled by successive German states until the Treaty of Versailles on 1919. Its Germanic heritage is immediately apparent in the buildings, squares and town layout. The old town has survived (or recovered from) the privations of the 20th century. So too have many cobblestone streets which shook us awake.

The Soviet Boroughs looked shabby but not as bleak as we expected. They stretch for kilometres in repetitive blocks south of the centre. We visited the brutalist St Joseph’s Catholic Church. Finished in the 1990s, it is a massive concrete structure that resembles an ugly power station. Perhaps the architects were unable to throw off the Soviet yoke. Sunday Mass was underway so we discreetly peeked inside and went on our way. Under a leaden sky, St Joseph’s was scowling across the road at a more conventional Orthodox Church.

After dodging some heavy rain showers by taking refuge in bus shelters, we sped back to the hotel for breakfast.

We took the pedestrian/cyclist ferry across the lagoon and headed south on pleasant bike paths along the Curonian Spit towards Russia. This slender, sandy, forested peninsula stretches for 100km separating the huge Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. It is a popular holiday destination but the high season is over now and the crowds have thinned.

On the way we were befriended by a young Lithuanian cyclist, Marius, aged 17 from Kaunas, who rode with us for awhile. He was curious about us and said that old people (ha ha) in Lithuania don’t do sports like we were doing. He is in year 11 at gymnasium and plans to study IT at university. He told us that he broke both his legs in a skiing accident in Norway a few years ago and that since his recovery he has taken up cycling and is now a serious road rider. We formed a peloton for awhile with Marius ‘making a tunnel in the air’, as he described it, but eventually we released him from this responsibility and he soon vanished ahead of us.


About 20km north of Nida we took a break from the bikes and a board-walk to the top of a high but eroding dune for a spectacular view of the lagoon, spit and Baltic Sea.

We are staying in Nida on the shores of the lagoon just shy of the Russian border. This is place is popular with local tourists. The houses are well designed and maintained and brightly painted in a blue, white and Swedish red colour scheme. There are few cars driving around the village which is thronging with pedestrians and cyclists.

Unscheduled day in Siauliai

26 August 2018

Mazeikiai to Siauliai to Klaipeda by train

Today’s plans fell apart! We left Mazeikiai early to take a train to Siauliai, thereby foregoing breakfast at the hotel. That part went OK (except for no breakfast). And seen from the train: a woman hand milking a cow in a field while nearby a man was scything the grass.

At Siauliai we intended to take the morning train to Klaipeda but, based on prior experience, we counted on the train not being booked out. It was! The next train at midday wasn’t booked out but the bicycle spaces were. Therefore we bought tickets for the 5.09pm train and came to terms with the necessity to spend the day in Siauliai.


This is Lithuania’s 4th biggest city, probably best known for a nearby tourist attraction, the Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site since the 1830s. We could not bring ourselves to go there so concentrated on other local features of which there were plenty. Siauliai (pr. Shooly) has more museums than you’d expect including the Cat Museum, the Angel Museum, the Railway Museum (closed on weekends), the Photography Museum and the Bicycle Museum. We started with the latter which was good value for 2 Euros entry – and they also let us park our bikes inside. It displayed bikes from various eras and of a range of styles accompanied by photos and information highlighting the local factory where bikes continue to be manufactured.

Siauliai the city has more than its share of decrepitude, but it is making progress with the renovation of the central pedestrianised area where one half is newly paved. The other half is in a state of apparently long-term disrepair with much of the paving dug up and left in piles. It is well served with better cafes and bakeries than we have seen for awhile.


The local park by a lake has an iron fox, a labyrinth and water sports. There are interesting sculptures, monuments, murals, a university and a cathedral. Preparations were taking place for an outdoor concert in the city centre. The overcast sky turned to drizzle and rain in the late afternoon.

Eventually it was time to catch the train – we had precisely one minute to locate the correct carriage, unload the bikes, lift them up three steep steps into the train and get our panniers inside. About 20 seconds of this time were taken up by a woman in front of us who struggled to climb in with her heavy bags. Luckily for us, a security guard came to our assistance and we made it!


The train was slow and noisy and stopped at every station, making it a 3 hour trip to cover about 130km to Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea. On the way we counted over 20 stork nests and also saw cows, goats, vegetable gardens, abandoned industrial sites and many small villages. At one station, the train conductor alighted to collect windfall apples from a heavily laden tree near the platform.

Tomorrow morning we will explore Klaipeda.

Gravel road to Lithuania

25 August 2018

Riga to Jelgava by train – Jelgava to Mazeikiai by bike

We took an early morning train from Riga to Jelgava, 50km south, to give us a head start on a long day to Lithuania. Jelgava impressed us with its orthodox church, fine historic buildings and attractive public areas along the river and in the city centre.

Latvia is about to celebrate 100 years of nationhood and this is commemorated in Jelgava by an unusual public sculpture.

Our route commenced on a busy road but traffic lessened as we turned off on to secondary roads. Three storks were spotted early and, after that, many nests, but none occupied – either abandoned (indoor plants taking over) or maybe just vacated until next year. What did storks do before people were around to provide them with poles for their nests?

We had a good opportunity to observe Latvian farms. There was crop reaping occurring on several but otherwise pretty quiet. At a roadside shop we spoke to a Latvian tradie in his hi-viz gear who enthusiastically told us about his 2 month trip around Australia. At Auce, our halfway point, we had black bread, cheese and sausage bought at the Riga market, but only unchilled drinks could be found in the shop.

Soon after this the bitumen ran out and we were obliged to endure 30 km on loose gravel with clouds of dust covering us each time a vehicle passed.

At one stage I looked back to see if Ian was in sight and saw instead a man in black. He was an toothless Latvian man on a single speed clunker with a metal jerry can on his carrier. He had cruised past Ian and caught up to me. He stopped for a brief conversation in which we agreed, with no language in common, that the gravel road was bad, then he rode off.

The temperature was too warm (high 20s) for dusty riding but we slogged it out and reached the bitumen just before the border into Lithuania. Big road works were underway to improve a badly worn out road and these gave us the chance to test out new stretches of smooth hot mix that were inaccessible to cars.

On the approach into our destination, Mazeikiai, a Volvo had run off the road and got bogged in soft sand. We watched as some blokes in an Audi tried to tow it back on to the road with tyres spinning and smoking until the tow rope broke! Our hotel, located in an industrial area overlooking a truck depot, was both cheap and good and provided delicious Lithuanian food. However they had the underfloor heating going which made the room uncomfortably warm, so we opened up the windows and got both fresh air and high volume live music from the bar below.