Posted by Stuart
So after Poland, the trip northwards continues through the Baltics. Although the countryside remains virtually unchanged, Lithuania is indeed a very different country.
It feels like we have one foot in Scandinavia already and after nearly nine months on the road we have discovered people who actually love beer! It has been a hard week of research but I’ve struggled on (see the Beer Gallery page in due course)
Anyway, this week has been very different as Helen spent most of it back in Ireland with her mother where she was joined by her children Ciara, Conor and Regan. And swapping places in the passenger seat, my daughter Mary flew in to Kaunas to join me for a few days on the road.
Just before Helen went back, we kicked off our travels round Lithuania with a visit to a park that has gathered together memorabilia from Russian occupation times. Grutas Park has been dubbed ‘Stalinworld’ as it’s a bit like a theme park of all things Soviet.
It’s a controversial place as the Russians are not much loved here (to say the least) but the argument is that by preserving this stuff people don’t forget. The park is the brainchild of a local millionaire businessman known as The Mushroom King and it’s an impressive and fascinating place to spend a few hours.
Apparently he had wanted to use cattle trucks (the very ones used to deport people to Siberia) to transport tourists to the park from the local station. The Ministry of Culture put the kibosh on that idea – this one is for decoration only…
Throughout our travels so far in Lithuania we have had difficulty finding any buildings that are more than a few years old- the Germans and the Russians obliterated most Lithuanian towns during the war and what has come afterwards isn’t exactly easy on the eye.
This diversion to the quaint village of Ciziunai was worth it though…
According to all the guide books, the castle of Trakai is a “must see” in Lithuania- on an island in a truly beautiful location amidst a number of lakes but we were a little underwhelmed. Very touristy, expensive and actually largely re-built in the 60s and 70s. it didn’t help that it was pouring rain.
Anyway, after trying out Lithuania’s signature dish, potato cakes shaped like zeppelins…..
…a meal interrupted by a blast from the past….the jolly jingles of a Hare Krishna parade…….
..I dropped Helen off at the airport in Vilnius and set off to meet Mary off her plane flying into Kaunas.
Hello to Mary and hello to Lithuania’s second city.
Things were looking up ..sunshine, a beautiful old town at the junction of two large rivers, some interesting stuff to see and best of all lots of time with my daughter.
The exploits of Oscar Schindler in Krakow helping to save 1,200 Jews are world famous and rightly so. What is (a lot) less well known is the bravery of Chiune Sugihara, who was a Japanese civil servant in Kaunas. We visited his house to find out more.
Despite there being no instructions from his superiors, from 18 July to 28 August 1940, before he had to leave, he took it upon himself to issue visas to allow about 6,000 Jews to escape Lithuania to Japan via the Trans-Siberian express (the Russians charged five times the usual cost) – he was still signing visas as he left the city. These fortunate refugees then had to move on to other countries before Japan entered the war.
The Old Town was lovely and very relaxing.
Some interesting Art Deco buildings in the newer part of town,
Anyway, some more good food and an occasional beer and we were ready to crash this gig-I’m told that’s what young people say. Very enjoyable but decided to leave before the bouncers realised we didn’t have wristbands. (Anyway, last time I ‘crashed a gig’ was The Undertones in Aberdeen in 19-something)
FYI- Volfas Engelman is a beer not the band.
We really liked Kaunas.
From Kaunas we sped on to the Curorian Spit (otherwise called Neringa). It is a 60 mile long narrow strip of sand covered with pine forests- a larger version of the Hel Spit in Poland.
Slightly stung by the 30 euro ferry crossing – it took all of four minutes- we then had to smile and joke with the toll booth attendant on the other side to reduce our 20 euro charge to drive on their roads. Result = 5 euros- well done Mary.
Whilst there has been a heat wave back home, the weather here has been er…changeable.
Rain-and-cagoule weather unfortunately, so we drove down the length of it and stopped on the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. We thought better than snapping away at their border post.
A very careful U turn and then back across to the mainland and Klaipeda, the main port of Lithuania …
..where we enjoyed some R&R in the hotel health club followed by some ten pin bowling.
I show this photo as my scores were excellent. It all went horribly wrong later.
All this exercise was undone by some good Lithuanian food and beer.
Blood sausages and sauerkraut and a pint of Svyturys. Yum.
The weather improved so we headed further up the coast to the beach resort of Palanga.
Great place, great beach, great atmosphere.
We headed back to Kaunas and enjoyed the nearby Cade Valley Park- a beautiful place of lakes, woods and lots of happy Lithuanians enjoying their Sunday afternoon. Excellent.
Then to Vilnius which was lovely – the weather was again good to us and we had a good day wandering around.
The Museum of Illusions was entertaining and the staff there helped us to get the most of the exhibits.
And that was the week… quite a lot of miles, weather changing frequently, great beaches, excellent food and beer, some nice towns and then Mary back to England and Helen returning.
Normal service will be resumed next week.
That’s all folks.
Slainte Stuart – glad you had a great week with Mary. I had a great time with my three too! See you back in Lithuania.