Blat through the Baltics: Vilnius and the Curonian Spit.
So much can happen in one week. This is true of life in general, but travellers experience this in hyperdrive.
The myriad colours, locales, tastes, characters and sensations experienced between my arrival in Vilnius, Lithuanua and the first sighting of the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Spit are far too many to recite.
For that reason, why not follow the adventures in my first true Baltic country across 28 photos?
And why not listen to traditional Lithuanian multipart music at the same time?
The impressively-named ‘Gates of Dawn’ may not be so awe-inspiring in appearance, but are Vilnius’ number one pilgrimage point thanks to the Vilnius Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary above. This also happened to be just a few doors down from our hostel, so our alarm clock was often mellow bells or pipe organ music.
The neighbourhood of Uzupis (lit. translated ‘The other side of the river’) declared itself a republic back in 1997 and has a post-Soviet bohemian history leading to its current identity as an artists’ district, a parliament (sometimes) sitting in the cafe pictured and celebrates independence day on April 1.
Entrance to an old wooden house in Uzupis; many such buildings still remain here, and are dotted through the countryside.
The St. Anne and Bernadine churches – reputed to fascinate Napoleon due to their beauty, but according to our guide, most likely used to house his horses.
Lithuanian beer – something akin to a third religion in Lithuania, just behind basketball and I imagine only narrowly beating out fatty dishes made from potatoes. Like the intimidating meal above.
Around a third of Vilnius’ buildings were destroyed in WWII (the human cost, sadly, was much higher), so a fantastic array of architecture spanning many eras can be found.
Vilnius Old Town (Vilniaus Senamiestis)
Vilnius New Town (Vilniaus Naujamiestis)
Footprints before Gediminas Tower signifying more than one million people who on 23 August 1989, joined hands in a human chain all the way to Tallinn in a call for Baltic freedom.
When friends have good eatery recommendations, one should listen. This time, Varskes Spurgos (curd cheese doughnuts) were on the menu.
The playful frescoes of Vilnius University’s Littera bookstore are just one part of the grand features of the country’s oldest halls of learning, which were founded in 1579.
Chilling impressions in the Museum of Genocide Victims – the former Gestapo and later, KGB headquarters. While many things could be said about this museum, and the appalling number of Lithuanians killed under Nazi and Soviet occupations, I was particularly struck by learning of the fate and daily life of those sent to work camps across Soviet territories.
Across the lake to Trakai, the reconstructed 14th-15th Century summer residence of Lithuanian Dukes, who at the time ruled over the biggest country in Europe.
Inside Trakai Castle.
Great cheese. Greaterer Linglish.
I decided I needed to try more traditional Lithuanian dishes and I ended up at a pub called Snekutis, eating cold, creamed beetroot soup (Saltibarschiai), which was actually rather delicious.
But I did not quite imagine how big the servings were going to be, so I also ordered the national dish of Cepelinai (Zeppelins) – potato dumplings filled with pork mince, covered in a sour cream sauce with bacon, each the size of a small guinea pig.
And so, for a change, fish! Nida, a resort and fishing town found between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea was my first stop on the Curonian Spit.
The cheerily-painted houses bely periods of not-so-cheery history in the Neringa area.
Dunes on the Parnidis Cape, looking down over the Death valley and into the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave of Russia.
Another gorgeous Neringa house, with a distinctive weathercock traditionally used to identify fishing boats of the lagoon. This house just happens to be found next door to the summer residence of German Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann.
My trusty steed for around 60 kilometres of Curonian Spit exploring.
The Grey Dunes in the Nagliai Strict Nature Reserve Zone. The village of Nagliai remains buried deep under the dunes after it was swallowed by the drifting dunes hundreds of years ago.
The beautiful Baltic.
Racing against the light.
Sunshine and solitude. Tourist season was well over by the time I visited, the restaurants were closed and the beach empty, but the weather pulled through with a perfect, calm and balmy day.
The docks of Klaipeda Harbour – almost home.