Baltic Discovery Lithuania
The sun was waiting impatiently for us, when we landed with Ryanair in Vilnius airport. And she made friend with us for the whole week. In the small but fine airport we collected the rental car and started our journey.
Our primary plan was to stop and spent first night in Vilnius, as we had a very early start in Bremen this morning. But we felt very well and decided to change plan. We targeted Kaunas and made stop in Trakai. Just when we left the Vilnius airport area we passed the big Ikea shop. This seemed to be a good choice for a quick lunch and to also to see if there are differences between German and Lithuanian Ikea's. The setup of the shop and restaurant seemed to look similar. But they had an impressive salat-buffet, what we do not have in Hamburg. After this break we moved over to Trakai. It is a small village nearby to Vilnius and is popular because of its Trakai Island Castle. The village is nicely located at a lake-area with lots of good eateries. A bridge brings you to the castle, which is a truly touristic setup. This mix of small village at the lake with all the eateries, the leisure boats and the people around make this a nice place spend time to relax.
Later in the afternoon we arrived in Kaunas. The first leg of the trip to the Courland spit was done. After some time we found our Best Western Hotel which was located very near to the historic part of the city. Kaunas has about 300.000 inhabitants and is the second biggest city in Lithuania. We walked around the old city and listened to some concert in a church.
Next morning we took a walk through the shopping street. Lot of restauration is going on, heavily supported and funded by European Union. After this walk we started to drive to Palanga. Palanga is located a bit north from Klaipeda and is THE major coastal resort of Lithuania. Wonderful clean and wide beaches, nice pine forest, good hotels and restaurants. The pier is like in most Baltic sea resorts favorite for evening walks, the sunset is spectacular.
Before the last sunset-walk to the pier we wanted to take dinner. In google-maps we had seen a note of a place to eat named Zuvine and we were excited to see what was behind. Strike home!! The restaurant had been newly built in an old mansion. Thanks to the early season the place was not busy at all and the waiter could pay attention. Just the starter was stunning, i had ordered smoked eel with a firm cool bear. After this fantastic dinner we enjoyed a breath-taking sunset at the pier.
For this night we walked directly in the lobby of the biggest hotel in place and got a room at the same rate, we had discovered on booking.... It was the Viesbutis Hotel, probably the best place to get at this early season period. After the evening walk and the sunset-pier-session we took the night-cap at the bar of the hotel. The breakfast next morning was excellent. We have read later, that during this week the German minister for foreign affairs had stayed in this place for few hours to meet the Lithuanian president. Luckily he was not there during our stay. It might have become difficult to get a room there during his visit.
We decided to move directly after breakfast, as we had only 1 week available for the entire trip. The destination for today was finally the Courland spit. The mystic spot for most of German minds. The entire area is a world cultural heritage and protected by UNESCO since 2000. From Palanga it is a short ride to the ferry-port in Klaipeda. We could by the tickets (between 5 and 20 Euro depending on the season) direct at the gate and were one of few cars to take the ferry-shuttle to Smilty on this spit. After the arrival we made first turn to the right to look for the northern part of the spit. We passed by at a nice modern marina and an interesting open-air-museum about the fishing history in the area. Now we turned and went south towards THE destination in the shorter German History: Nidden or Nida in local language. Initially we found the idyllic located house of the famous German writer Thomas Mann. He had discovered this place and managed to build a house for his summer holidays. You can hardly describe the atmosphere. Because to the very low number of visitors we could spend time to "inhale" the house and the environment of the pine forest and the sea. This allowed us to discover the house and to stay in his writing room on the firts floor. One thing to consider: the entire house was destroyed after second world-war, but has been originally rebuilt in the old shape. Also his chair has been rebuild, but the desk and book-rack have been shaped with iron-wire. It does not matter at all, you can feel the spirit entirely.
After this intensive cultural event we thought about where to spend the night. Do we go back to Klaipeda, as we wanted to go to Riga next day? Or do we stay here? Finally we could not escape from the magic spirit of this place and we walked through the village to find a fish-bistro. They served a freshly smoked mackerel and we enjoyed this meal sitting in the bistro's garden looking on the marina and the sea of the spit. Simply unbelievable!! This village appeared like a living museum and all the imagination in our mind was in line with what we felt here.
During this lunch we continued to look for a room in this village but struggled to decide. We strolled through the village and at the end of the coastal road we reached an estate with a restaurant, hotel and beer garden. Our first approach to get a room resulted: fully booked. A further look at booking.com told us, that they have rooms still available. This made them now willing to offer us a room. We ended in an appartment on the first floor at this place in Nidden. And it was the right choice. Delicious dinner in the beer garden with my favorite: the red beetroot soup. I got nearly in love with this soup here in Lithuania. It is served cold, it is refreshing, and it is the taste i like.
After this dinner we closed the day with a walk for sunset at sea and the marina. The light and the silence of the spit's inland sea provide a mystic aura which is not comparable with anything else. We felt like on another planet. I got a deep understanding why Thomas Mann made this spot as his choice for the summer holidays. This village became awarded with our
Another popular miracle of nature on the Courland spit is the big sand dune, which starts at Nidden and continues with some interruptions down to the south connection to Kaliningrad in Russia. The border to Russia is splitting the spit appr. 5 km south of Nidden. There is frequent small border traffic, we could see several cars with Russian name plate, doing trips on the entire spit. We assume a stable and friendly collaboration between both nations. During summer season it must be very busy. They allow to walk on the dune.
Next morning we had to say bye bye to this inspiring place to start the trip to Riga. On this way we wanted to stop by at the hill of crosses. This is a catholic place of pilgrimage, which has been made quite touristic. Next village Siauliai is about 12 km away. It looks really bizarre, if you drive through the flat green country-side and suddenly a small hill rises like a phenomenon up to the sky. The walk through all the crosses is bizarre as well, nobody was talking.
We passed the border to Latvia, without knowing that we passed the border. Next stop was Rundale Palace. It is one of two baroque places established by the Duke of Courland during the 17th century. If you drive there you feel like being in the middle of nowhere. The whole estate with a very nice garden looks a bit misplaced and gives an idea about former noblemans-times. Everything is well maintained, probably there is high municipal interest to gain as much as possible cultural/touristic benefit from this property.
The remaining distance to Riga was short. During our drive we had booked a room in the Tallink-Hotel. The hotel is located close by the historical old city center in walking distance. The hotel belongs to the Tallink group which operates ferries in the Baltic sea. For my opinion it is a very busy but not convenient place. Rooms are fine. The access to the garage is challenging, as you need to maneuver the car in a small lift, which brings you down to the under-ground-parking-places. This garage is very narrow, you need to know your car very well. When we visited Riga 15 years ago, we stayed in the Radisson Daugava Hotel on the opposite side of the river. After check in we took the walk to the old city and we felt familiar even after 15 years.
Next we rediscovered Riga and visited nearly all churches and the dome. The face in stone has something to do with the Riga settlement history. A roundtrip with a small but very modern mini-train gave us good insight of the old city. In the afternoon we took a seat in a small posh passenger barge to take tour through the town canals and the river Daugava. This gave us a new point of view about the city. After this massive cultural inspiration we went back to the hotel, to give a rest to our feet. For dinner we pulled up again and walked back in the old city restaurant from the evening before to inhale the evening atmosphere. We ordered food and accompanying beverages.
Next and final destination was the city which we left of, when we arrived in Lithuania in the begin. This was the right choice, as we had at least 1,5 days left to discover this city. We left Riga short after breakfast and took the way to Vilnius. For lunch we stopped by one of the small restaurants directly at the road. We have made excellent experiences with these places, as they provide very good food at affordable prices. so the trip went on and we arrived Vilnius in the later afternoon. Changing to the city motorway pushed us into the Friday afternoon rush hour. Here has grown up a regular down town business district with all the big global enterprise offices or headquarters. Our impression: very busy, modern industry, hungry for growth and business development. We left the motorway and approached the old city district. The image changed and became more historical. One church after the other appeared and we slowly went into the old city searching for our hotel. It became more and more pretty passing slowly the old and well refurbished facades. A bit like driving through a historical museum. And just at the end of the road we discovered the entry gate: this time we had booked a room in a hotel in a former monastery directly in the historical city center at a reasonable price. We took the car virtually direct into the room. The advantage, we only had to pass the entry-gate of the monastery and stood directly in the old city. Lot of people movement between hotels, churches, chapels, restaurants, promenades and on top of that the cloudless blue sky.
Vilinius has a district named Uzupis with a bizarre history. Currently they believe they have their own constitution, being also part of state visits from foreign officials. It was an uncared and not very popular area, but therefore attractive for poor students to stay there. Over the time a recovery started and today it es a likely place to show as a district for alternative style of living. A couple of tours are offered for free, but donations for maintaining the website are very welcome. We enjoyed the tour with the young female student very much. They take always a group-image and send it by email afterwards (if you provide your email-address).
The historical district is in a permanent-refurbish-mode with an agile scene for nice hotels and restaurants for multiple standards. We enjoyed it, just sitting in front of a nice hotel and to look what was going around. And the audience looked very international. Leaving the old city, you arrive a big place which was used during former times probably for parades. Behind this place the shopping streets starts. This Saturday was a festival going on with lots of attractions and international food. This included also food from Bavaria and Romania.
On the street-map and in the travel guide there was an advice for another museum, which we wanted to visit. The Baltic states have a change full history, which includes the Russian occupation before and after second world war. From this time is a building which is now a museum. It is the former Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, shortly named the KGB Museum. This place was Russian prison from 1940 to 1941, from 1941 to 1944 is was "operated" by German Gestapo and from 1944 until independence in 1990 under Russian ownership again. We arrive a bit late but i could join a tour for American tourists. These small states did not operate a big organised army. It is impressive how energetic and smart they organized the partisan-style underground-resistance. And the partisans and their leaders were not treated very well in case of capture. My impression is that they still idolize the partisan troops as heroes.
After the visit of this historical site we went back the whole way passing the street festival, the place for parades and back to the old city to take seat again at the Radisson Blu Royal Astorija Hotel. And do people watching. With a light snack and appropriate beverages we finished this nice trip through Lithuania. We have seen a hospitably country with manifold nature and self-confident people. You need to make your point, and don't be shy to ask, if it does not happen in first instance. There is no bad feeling, but we think this is because of the changefull history of this small nation. They need to make their point as well. We will come back for sure and know our favorites.