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Friday, August 12, 2016

Spitting from the window, Trečioji dalis

A glimpse of the sunset over the Baltic Sea

Saturday morning, on our last full day on the Curonian Spit, started off with rain...again. The main reason for traveling there from Vilnius in the first place was to take advantage of the sea and the sun before Lithuania's brief summer came to an end, but the window of opportunity (see blogpost title) was closing rapidly (as I write this, the weather forecast for this week is calling for temperatures to fall below ten degrees Celsius at early August). However, the rain eased up shortly after breakfast, and we decided to make a break for this case, renting bikes for a ride along the Curonian Lagoon:

We rode north along the bike path, avoiding roads for the most part and passing through green forests, though we weren't able to glimpse any of the deer or wild boars who call these woods home:

About eight kilometers (five miles) into the ride we reached the hamlet of Preila, and passed some colorful summer homes:

A few drops of rain fell from the sky, but the timing was good - it was almost lunchtime, so we pulled off the path at a restaurant, part of a hotel called Kuršmarių Vila. Like many establishments in Lithuania, the food wasn't bad and the prices were pretty reasonable. One of the advantages of being a diplomat here is that we get a partial refund of the national Value Added Tax, which is set at 21%. To get the refund, we have to request a special receipt from the business establishment, and the embassy provides us with slips of paper giving our refund codes and the embassy address. So, as usual, at the end of our meal at Kuršmarių Vila, we asked the waitperson for the VAT receipt. Soon, the excited owner of the restaurant came over to have a chat with us. She explained that every summer groups of American tourists visit her villa, where she entertains them with renditions of local folk songs (she proudly showed off a CD that she had recorded). As fate would have it, a tour bus of fifty Yanks was on its way soon, and would we like to stay for a while and meet them? I didn't have the heart to explain to her that the last group of people that I would want to meet while on vacation are fellow countrymen and women, so we politely demurred by explaining that we had to get back to Nida soon. Later, we passed by the restaurant on our way back to town. Sure enough, there was a large white tour bus parked outside, while the sound of singing could be heard coming from inside:

We first continued north after leaving Kuršmarių Vila, however, stopping off at a small cemetery where Amber practiced drawing water from a well:

Soon after the cemetery, my wife suggested we turn left onto a road that would take us west across the spit and to the Baltic Sea:

Reaching the beach and the water beyond:

Unfortunately, our plan to cycle back to Nida along the Baltic Sea side of the spit was complicated by the fact there wasn't a dedicated bike path heading in that direction, so crossed back over to the Curonian Lagoon side:

We made one stop on the return to Nida. Riding through the pine forests, and then walking up the path, we made our way to the top of the Vecekrugas Dune, at 67.2 meters (220 feet), the highest sand dune on the Curonian Spit. The viewing platform on the summit provides simultaneous views of the Baltic Sea to the west and the freshwater Curonian Lagoon to the east:

We returned to Nida in mid-afternoon. Still no sign of the sun:

At around 4:00, Amber and I decided to head for the beach, weather be damned. It was a half-hour walk across the spit to the Baltic Sea, but once we got there, the sun rewarded our effort by making a few appearances. My daughter was content to dig in the sun and play a little bit in the surf...:

...but I came to swim, and swim I did dammit! The sea was warmer than I'd expected, though the wind made getting out of the water a chilly experience (not to mention whipping up some choppy waves):

Who's a sex machine to all the chicks? Not this overweight middle-aged expat, that's for certain:

With a satisfactory sense of a mission finally accomplished, the two of us returned to our hotel, where Shu-E had been relaxing while we were frolicking in the sand and surf. We had a final dinner in town, topped off with an ear of corn for dessert:

While the girls returned to the room to get ready for the next day's departure, I took a walk in the hill immediately behind what passes for the downtown area, capped with the 29.3 meter (96 feet)-high Urbas Hill Lighthouse:

And on Sunday it rained. For almost the entire day. Still, on our way out of Nida and toward the ferry that would take us back to Klaipeda, and Vilnius beyond, we made a stop at a place called Witches' Hill (Raganų Kalnas). The hillside in question is a collection of devils, witches and figures from Lithuanian folklore set up along a wooden sculpture trail. The first sculptures were created in 1979 by local artists, and have been growing in number since then. Some of the sculptures are humorous, like this devil's tongue slide...:

...while others look straight out of fairy tales:

The stars of Witches' Hill, though, are the ones carved from darker imaginations. Walking this trail in the early evening, as the sunlight starts to dim and dusk sets in, must make for an unnervingly creepy experience:

Amber enjoys a momentary break from the rain, standing next to the Curonian Lagoon:

The rain was extremely heavy in places as we drove on the A1 highway, but we made it back to Vilnius without incident. We stopped for lunch at a roadside diner en route to home, where my daughter and I enjoyed the Lithuanian version of doughnuts for dessert (balls of fried dough, dusted in sugar):

This trip was most likely our last visit to the seaside this year. As I mentioned earlier, the weather is already starting to cool, and it won't be too long before the sunlight goes out for the winter. As for the Curonian Spit National Park, it should be on the itinerary of anyone visiting Lithuania, though it would be a shame if tourism was to overwhelm the fragile ecosystem. The owner of the hotel where we stayed (Miško Namas) suggested that September would be a better time to visit, once the students have all returned to school, but if this year has been any indication, June or early July would also seem like ideal months to go.

Until next year, summer?




  1. Jim, i never would have known about this place if you hadn't blogged on it. i would have enjoyed visiting too. wow, Amber is growing up so fast! i'm experiencing that amazement myself. thanks and take care.

    1. It's true what they say about kids growing up quickly - I see small children and can't believe Amber still isn't that age/size. Phoenix also seems to be growing up fast! The Curonian Spit is a really nice area - I'd like to go back again, hopefully when there's more sunshine!