Lithuania back to Latvia Day 14-16

Day 14 & 15  On to the Sand Dunes – Nida, Lithuania:

Well Mike and I did as was strongly suggested and headed towards the sand dunes on the Curonian Spit.   We got a few surprises.  You had to take a very short 5 minute ferry to get here.  We drove up to the ferry gates and the barrier arms were up, they took our money and again we basically drove right on.  Later on in the day Mike and I went for a drive around Nida and came to more barrier arms at what we thought was the second ferry area.  Since we had just arrived and didn’t want to end up on this ferry we started to turn around.  Well it turns that that we weren’t at a ferry terminal at all – we were at the Lithuania and Russian border.  Russia still owns a piece of land that I didn’t know about until I started researching this trip.  The area is called Kalingrad which is between Lithuania and Poland.  The Curonian spit is actually connected to the Kalingrad area by land.  It is surprising that Russia doesn’t own the whole spit of land, instead Lithuania owns the far half that has no land connection.

I had expectations here very much like my expectations of the Sahara Desert and both were equally and similarly wrong.  All the “marketing” things that you read say that you have to go to the Curonian Spit.  The picture here is from the internet Top 10 things to see in Lithuania.   I expected the whole spit to be these sand dunes.  Well it isn’t.  It is a very attractive, heavily forested, piece of land that has some sand dunes between Lithuania and Russia.  You can stand on a viewing platform and see a sand dune but you walk through woods to get to the viewing area.  Even if it wasn’t what I expected it has been very pleasant and relaxing.

We stopped for lunch in a very small town enroute to Nida.  We saw a “miniatures museum” and went in.   When Mike and I were in Chicago  with my parents we went to the art museum and saw a lovely exhibit of miniature Victorian rooms.  Well I was expecting something like that.  I was wrong again.  This little museum had quite a few miniature paintings including one of Napoleon Bonaparte but no little statues or rooms.

Last night it started threatening rain after all these cloudless days and today it drizzled on and off.  Not heavy enough that you couldn’t get out and walk but no bright sunshine either.  One of the main items on the sand dunes viewing platform, besides the view, is an impressive granite sundial.  I thought that the write-up meant that you could tell both the time and the month by looking at the shadow falling on the dark and light granite steps.  I have no idea how one shadow would give you both pieces of information.  I am hoping that I will be able to see this tomorrow.  Mike says that you need to know one of the two to get the other – month or time.  I don’t know that I agree.  I will see what I can find on the internet.

We found as we drove through some of the small towns in Lithuania that as bad as cobblestones are on the feet and ankles they are worse on rattling RVs.

They have a word in Lithuania that is spelled exactly the same as what we saw in Istanbul earlier this year.  It is Taksi.  If you don’t know what it means say it out loud.

I meant to tell you about a little café that we saw while we were still in Vilnius.  It was part way down a narrow street.  At one point the street seemed to get even narrower and cars could go no further.  To make things worse the cafes had their tables and umbrellas set up on the edge of the road.  I think that people sit there and have their coffee just for the joy of watching cars get into trouble.  Most drivers aren’t like my husband who managed to back up on a narrow single lane road under construction in Estonia because a truck was coming towards us.  Having coffee and watching the cars is much like what Mike and I did once in Paris.  We sat outside in a café on the Champs-Élysées right next to the Arc de Triomphe with its huge roundabout.  We were waiting to see how long it would take for a fender bender to occur.  We had to wait about 15 minutes.

To my family – it might surprise you to hear that Mike and I have been in a shopping mall probably every second or third day on this trip.  What won’t surprise you is that we have only been in two stores Tele2 and Rimi.  Tele2 is like Bell and we go in to get our internet arranged or updated for the appropriate country.  Rimi is a large grocery store.  On the first day we went into a bedding store as well.  That is the sum total of our shopping on this trip.  Nearly all electronics come out first in Asia and Europe long before North America.  In some cases they never make it to us.  One item that is extremely common over here that I would dearly love is the capability for one phone to have two SIM cards.  This is great if you are going back and forth between two countries and you have a provider in each country.  I also read that sometimes you can use one for voice and one for data.  When I go to the US I continue to use Bell Canada for voice but I switch to T-Mobile on a separate device for my data.  Some phones/tablets in Asia have as many as 6 Sim cards.  I wish this stuff made it to North America.

Mike and I were very bad this trip and never properly looked up the meanings of various traffic signs.  You would think that they might be intuitive but they aren’t.  Today we saw a sign that we were positive meant “Don’t Enter” except that other vehicles were going down the road.  Now we don’t know what to do when we see this sign in future.

Going to bed now.  Mike is already there.  I will let you know tomorrow if I get to find out how the sun dial works.  I hope that I do.

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Well its tomorrow.  We went back to the sundial and there was no real shadow because of the cloud cover.  We would occasionally get a shadow for maybe a minute or less and then it would disappear.  I still don’t understand how this specific sundial works.  It is a lot fancier than any that I have seen before.  The day actually turned out to be beautiful, we were just a little early at the sundial.  On the way back off the island Mike missed the turning for the ferry and decided that we might as well explore the short extra distance to the end of the island which is where we discovered the Lithuanian Sea Museum.  This place was actually an old fort and they have combined a museum on maritime navigation and boats, information and demonstrations to do with the fort itself, anchors, cannons and some history and an excellent aquarium.  They have used various rooms in the fort, such as storage rooms and gunpowder depots, to show off the ships, canons, historical photos and documents etc.  They have a large area in the centre that is the aquarium and it is really well done.  They have a building for dolphins which we didn’t get in.  Apparently there was also an old fishing village site below the fort which we missed.  Some of this is quite new.  You could see some EU signs to do with construction on the dolphin building.  It seems to me that every large project in the Baltics was either funded by Russia in the past (the fort and original aquarium probably were) or are now funded with EU assistance.  Since the population in each of the three countries ranges between one and three million they can’t afford these mega projects themselves.

On the spit was a small town that has made art out of large boulders.  The have some on stilts looking like birds, others on four sticks that look like sheep and others that have actually been nicely carved or displayed.  Mike wandered down the entire park taking pictures and I will make a collage of them when I get home.

After we left the island we drove back towards Riga.  I am afraid that we have to turn in the RV tomorrow but at least they have let us have it until 5pm instead of the normal 10am.    We happened to find this little campground that is on a river (Mike says lake) and it is just lovely looking.  The whole setting here is lovely including the main chalet type building.

Have a look at this picture, as I mentioned in an earlier note we couldn’t get over the forests in Estonia with almost no underbrush.  Lithuania seems to be the same. It is great for walking around or just viewing the trees.  Everything, including the forests, has been so clean this whole trip, no garbage anywhere, almost no graffiti.   Bike trails are really common.  We saw many folks much older than Mike and I biking around.  It was nice to see.

We have to be at the airport at something like 4am on Sunday morning which is really 9pm Saturday night in Toronto.  I had asked the RV company about a hotel right next to the airport.  Well they booked a fairly inexpensive hotel for us but it is a 20 minute taxi ride away.  For that distance we could have spent our last night in Old Riga again.  I am disappointed but I don’t think that I can change it now.

Again Mike is in bed asleep so I need to head that way also.  Good night.

Day 16 Last Day  🙁 

On the way to Riga, Mike and I stopped in Jurmala.  Jurmala was a major Soviet Union beach resort and is still Latvia’s main resort and spa town.  Supposedly lots of Russian oligarchs have summer houses (as they call them) in Jurmala.  Jurmala was known for its wooden architecture.  Sad to say this history is all being torn down to make way for mansions which we haven’t seen anywhere else on our trip.  None of the homes are actually right on the water’s edge as the beach front, at least in this area, is public.  The gorgeous sandy beach extends for 33 km.  When Mike and I were walking on the beach we saw a sign pole with 2 signs.  The signs were both in Latvian and in English.  One read “Area of Active Recreation” and the other read “Area of Passive Recreation” pointing to different parts of the beach.  We left the beach and went into the tourist centre of Jurmala.  This consisted of a single pedestrian street with stores and restaurants on either side that went on and on for as far as you could see.  Mike and I walked a fair way down the street and it just appeared to keep going so we gave up.  We stopped at a restaurant for lunch and it was awful.  Actually the food tasted quite good but the quantity was literally sickening which was unusual.  I ordered veal chops and the waitress suggested a half portion because she said it was quite large.  Mike ordered pork.  Mike was basically served a full port roast and I had more veal chops than I could count.  I actually ended up eating less than normal because I couldn’t stand looking at it.  All you got was meat unless you separately ordered “garnishes” such as potatoes etc. The quantity was really off-putting.

Next we headed to Old Riga.  About one hour before we had to return the RV Mike, all of a sudden, stopped in the middle of the road.  I looked up and saw a bridge with 2.9 m written on it.  Luckily Mike had been paying attention.  We had just encountered the first bridge that our RV didn’t fit under.  It wouldn’t have been surprising for Mike to miss the implications of the sign since we hadn’t had any problems the entire trip.  Even though Mike had stopped in plenty of time and we were fine, my heart was racing.  To get out of the area we had to turn around and go through the edge of Old Riga where there were cars parked.  We saw a policeman who, for some reason, really didn’t like us being there and gave us a bit of a hassle.  Can you imagine if we had seen him when we drove through an entire historic town centre trying to find our way out!

I had my last cappuccino in one of the squares.  Even though it was a Saturday the music that was everywhere two weeks earlier in the summer was almost all gone.  It was still lovely but didn’t have the WOW factor it did the first time.  It was too bad that we saw Riga on the last weekend of the summer and we saw Vilnius and Tallin on business/school weekdays.  It makes it very hard to compare the cities.

Ivars, who had rented us the RV, very nicely drove us to the hotel after we returned the RV.  He came in to make sure that everything was OK.  For the entire trip all anyone had ever asked to see was Mike’s passport so I hadn’t taken mine out since we arrived.  This hotel was different.  While we were checking in they asked me as well as Mike to fill in a registration form that wanted my passport number.  I was about to complain that it was packed somewhere when I realized that I didn’t have it at all.  All my travel documents were back in the RV locked in a small hidden safe that we had totally forgotten about.   Did I want to panic!  Luckily Ivars was still there and offered to go back to the RV and pick up what was in the safe and drive it back to me.  It was a fair drive both ways.   If the hotel hadn’t asked for two forms to be filled in we would have found out at 4am at the airport the next morning that I had no passport.  I would have had no way to contact Ivars and it would have been just awful and Mike and I would still be in Riga.  Even though I knew everything was OK my heart still felt panicked.  What a last couple of hours.  Looking up and seeing a bridge that luckily Mike noticed the height of, because I wouldn’t have by that point of the trip and then almost having no access to my passport and travel documents, panic city.  Of course everything turned out fine and we are on our way home.

I am writing this from the first class section on the flight from London to Toronto while Mike is presumably sleeping somewhere in the back.  I was willing to pay extra to get the miles and the chance of using my upgrade coupons and he wasn’t.  Oh well – he sleeps the whole flight anyway.

Other than a future note on the Soviet days this is now THE END.     See everyone soon.

I fibbed, I really wanted to keep it to the four pages but I thought a little final summary was required.   Mike and I had a super time.  If we had to use one word to describe the two weeks it would be “interesting”.  That doesn’t sound glamorous but it was great.  The scenery was very pretty but it wasn’t majestic mountains and huge waves.  The old towns and the cobblestones and castles were superb but the best part was what we learned.  Hearing about living under the communist regime first hand, being in countries that had been occupied so many times in just the last hundred years, hearing about the drive for independence.  I don’t have my internet up at the moment but around 1990 the three countries got a few million people together to form a human chain from the north of Estonia through Latvia to the south of Lithuania to protest for independence.  I vaguely remember seeing that on the news.  When you realize the total population of the countries and see the pictures in the museums where it happened it is tear jerking.  Learning that when the Germans “invaded” many parts of the Baltic they were welcomed as heroes for kicking out the Soviets.  The fact that the history was so recent made it hit home even more.  Of course history without the cafes and music and narrow streets and castles and the Baltic Sea wouldn’t be much on its own but put together in one package it was excellent.  Going out with locals in each of the three major cities added tremendously to the visit.  I am so glad that I emailed the business partners that I work with in these countries.

My biggest disappointment is that I won’t see this type of history again for probably a couple of years.  Next year Mike and I are planning on a great 3 month vacation but it will be in North America which isn’t old enough to have this history.  With the new motorhome Mike is going to want to use that for a while.  Don’t get me wrong, that will be fun also but I do love Europe (of course I love Asia also).  One day we just might ship our motorhome to Europe for a year.  Wouldn’t that be great!

Anyway, enough, it is now really THE END.

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