We crossed the border in the bus, from Latvia into Lithuania, without stopping again, in fact if not for Google Map, we had no idea we had crossed the border – I kind of miss the old passport check crossing borders excitement!
Our destination in Lithuania was the coastal town of Klaipeda. Klaipeda, strangely, sounds like something you need to use penicillin to fix!
Our apartment was an easy walk from the bus station and our host was waiting there for us there. Other than having to lug our bags up three flights of stairs the apartment was again very comfortable for our three night stay. The cost was AUD$54 per night.
Klaipeda is Lithuania’s third largest city – I was just about to call it a lovely little town, because that is how the city centre feels, just like a quaint country town, although a city. The population of Klaipeda is 150,000.
From our apartment we had a ten minute walk to the centre of town. There is an Old Town but that is basically a Square consisting of a few government buildings, restaurants and a church, it is nothing like the Old Town in Tallinn or Riga.
There is a terrific restaurant and bar area running along a canal near to the Old Town and this area, I imagine, would be very busy in the summer peak months. It was fairly quiet when we were there in late September. A walk along the canal and you pass by all the restaurants, hotels and bars leading you to the start of the Curonian Lagoon, this is a must walk.
Klaipeda is a port city, and it is surprising when you see just how big the port is – it is massive.
This is why Klaipeda is so important and has been fought over for many years, as it is situated at the mouth of the Curonian Spit and the Curonian Lagoon where it meets the Baltic Sea. You really need to view this on a map to see how this unique landmass is situated.
The Curonian Spit is a long strip of land that juts out from Kaliningrad (this is a Russian owned state, wedged between Poland and Lithuania – confusing I know). This strip of land is a 98 kilometre thin sand-dune spit that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon.
Klaipeda’s position at the mouth of the Lagoon has made it a very desirable area to possess and over the years has been in the hands of several different countries, including being part of Prussia, Germany, Russia, Poland – it was legally given to Lithuania after the First World War as part of the Treaty of Versailles – if you are interested in history the area has a very colourful history.
The Curonian Spit has several sea-side resort towns on it and it has the sand dunes. Di and I would spend a day exploring the Spit.
At the end of the canal mentioned above, a ferry leaves Klaipeda from the Old Terminal pretty much every half hour bound for the Spit near the town of Smiltyne. There is a new ferry terminal further into the Lagoon at Klaipeda where the car ferry leaves from bound for the Spit. The Old Terminal ferry is foot passengers only. The ferry literally takes five minutes to cross to the Spit, it is close; and let me tell you, the ferry is not super sleek, it is an old clunker that jerks along at a slow old pace. The mouth of the Lagoon is not very wide at all. The return ticket costs 0.80 Euros or AUD$1.10.
When the ferry arrived at the Spit there were two buses waiting. One bus is for locals who are heading into the town of Smiltyne. The other bus is for the tourists who are heading to the resort towns on the Spit, mainly the town of Nida (check the signs at the front of the bus).
Nida is nearly an hours’ bus ride away and the one way fare is 2.60 Euros. Now comes the frustrating thing about travel on the Curonian Spit – the buses are few and far between. On weekdays they operate every two hours, we were lucky the bus just happened to meet our ferry. On weekends there are two extra bus trips provided throughout the day. The bus stops are a long way apart – there are few bus stops, so finding them can be a challenge. Yes, all the main towns have bus stops.
Diane and I wanted to go to the ‘Grey Dunes’ (Pilkosios Kopos in Lithuanian) as this is where the highest dunes are and where villages were buried under the shifting sands in the 1800’s. The problem is the dunes are in the middle of the towns of Pervalka (5 km walk) and Joudkrante (8 km walk) and there is NO bus stop at the Grey Dunes – why!!!!!!! For goodness sake!
We asked the bus driver to drop us at ‘Nagliai’, which is what the buried town was called, and the bus driver said ‘sand dunes?’ and we said yes and he said he would stop there for us.
It took about 30 minutes to get to the dunes. The bus ride though was a beautiful trip through a very densely forested area. I had read that a good day trip from Klaipeda is to simply catch the ferry over to the Spit and walk the trails through the surrounding forests near Smiltyne.
The bus we were on was full of tourists and we were surprised we were the ONLY ones to get off the bus at the Grey Dunes – this had an ominous feel to it!!
From the road there is a path leading into the forest. After a ten minute walk the forest disappears and you walk out onto a sand dune. At the base of the sand dune is a wooden walk way taking you up and over the dunes. The dunes are protected and you are NOT supposed to stray from the path for environmental preservation reasons.
I also need to say, that on this September autumn day the sun was shining, but a bloody cold wind was blowing and it was freezing whilst we did the ‘Diane of Arabia’ thing, elegantly sauntering over the silky sand dunes.
Di was freezing and was covered up and her quivering good mood was dealt a serious blow when the wooden walkway ended. This meant she had to continue her sand dune conquering quest in soft sinking sand walking into a howling, frigid wind!
The walk is about 1.5 kilometres to the top of the dune. There is a wooden lookout at the top of the dune – Diane of Arabia claimed it for her throne and gazed out at the vast lagoon below her – but the wind was icy cold here and she soon relinquished her throne to get out of the wind.
The sand dunes here are the highest shifting sand dunes in Europe – the semantics of the biggest and the best are often confusing, as Marseille in France has the largest sand dunes in Europe – we always seem to want to label something the biggest or the smallest whatever – so these dunes are the ‘highest shifting sand dunes in Europe’.
From one side of the sand dunes you get amazing views back to the contrast of the sand, the forest, the dark blue ocean of the Baltic Sea and the blue sky.
Then on the other side you have the vast shifting sand and the Curonian Lagoon with the mainland off in the distance – and we had it all to ourselves. This also shows how narrow the Spit is in places.
You cannot see the town of Nagliai, it is buried under sand, there is a marker on a sign though showing you where it is. Actually, there are two markers for the town, you see the first town was swamped by sand so the inhabitants moved locations up and over to the other side of the dune. Mother Nature though followed and over time that town was devoured by sand too, so they moved and built a new town at Pervalka which is away from the encroaching sand dune – this occurred over a couple of hundred years so I guess you can excuse them one mistake.
We descended back to the road and we finally saw other people arriving by car and by bicycles. I enjoyed this sand dune experience and the views were magnificent – but it was a chilly old affair!
We now had to walk to a bus stop to catch the bus, we had heard online the bus will not pick you up from the road side, but later we saw people being picked up by the bus without a bus stop, so you may want to take your chance waving one down. We decided to walk to Pervalka, as it was the closest, but for your information Joudkrante is a lot larger and has far more facilities – like a shop. The walk to Pervalka was five kilometres and was a flat walk through the forest on an easy path – I enjoyed the walk. The problem was we missed the next bus to Nida by ten minutes. Pervalka is about a kilometre from the main road, so after missing the bus and the next one was NOT for another two hours, we thought our chances of getting a lift were better on the main road, so we walked to the main road. There is also a bus stop at the Pervalka cross road with the main road – we were getting fit doing all this lovely walking.
The traffic on the main road was sparse to say the least. After a wait of only ten minutes I saw a taxi approaching and waved it down. The taxi was a small minivan and it was full of passengers. The driver let us squash in and we paid only 2 Euros each for the 14 kilometre ride to Nida – a bargain and our luck was certainly in.
The town of Nida is very nice indeed, in fact, the word quaint comes to mind. Nida is built around a small harbour with luxury boats moored there.
Nida is a holiday town and has many small hotels, restaurants and cafes, and also has sand dunes and a sundial.
We checked the bus timetable (better late than never), a bus was leaving at 3pm and then the next at 5pm to Smiltyne, it was 2.30pm, so we had plenty of time before the 5pm bus left. We enquired with the taxi driver how much it would cost for just Di and I to go to Smiltyne and were surprised with the 30 Euro charge – we caught the 5pm bus for 2.60 Euros.
As you look at the Lagoon, the sand dunes are to the right, you just follow the path along the waterfront. Di and I went a slightly different way through the park on trails, but we soon met up with the wooden walkway – it is the sense of adventure in me that seeks the most difficult way, Di just rolls her eyes, gives a big sigh and follows along muttering to herself – but I kind of always get us there….., kind of!!!!!
If you just follow the easy path along the shoreline you will literally come to a wall of sand – it’s as if a very, very large truck had just dumped a few hundred truckloads of sand on the path – this is the Parnidis sand dune (Parnidis comes from the Lithuanian phrase ‘passed through Nida’ – clever!)
At the top of the sand dune there is a sundial. The sundial is modern and not some ancient Indiana Jones like relic and was built in 1995. The sundial is 13.8 metres high and has notches carved into it for one hour and 30 minute time slots. There are also notches for each month and four notches to cover the solstices and equinoxes. This is all designed in such a way that the notches represent the wind-blown layers of the sand dune – and it also tells the time, it was running 30 minutes late when we were there and needed winding up!!
From the lookouts near the sundial you can see where the Russian owned part of the Curonian Spit starts – it is only a few hundred metres away. There are no obvious borders, so technically, you could wander over to Russia and technically tick it off the old Bucket List as having visited the country, but if you get shot at don’t blame me!!!!
The Grey Dunes were a far more adventurous experience than the Parnidis Dunes and to be honest more interesting – but the Grey Dunes without your own transport are a bit difficult to get to. So if I was to do it again how would I do it??? I would catch the bus the whole way to Nida from Smiltyne. In Nida I would hire a bicycle and ride the coastal rode back to Pervalka (14kms) and then on to the Grey Dunes (5 kms). There I would trust no one would steal the bike, walk the dunes and then ride back to Nida via Pervalka on the coast road. Then see the Parnidis Dunes and catch the bus back to Smiltyne.
There is a second option to get from Klaipeda to Nida and that is by catamaran ferry. During the months May to August the catamaran ferry runs twice daily from Klaipeda to Nida and return. It takes over two hours each way. During the month of September it only makes one journey each way daily. It leaves Klaipeda at 10am and Nida at 5pm. In hindsight it would have been good to catch the catamaran in the morning and come back by bus in the afternoon. The journey does take over two hours whereas the bus and ferry only takes just over an hour. Di and I caught the 5pm bus and we were back in our apartment by 6.35pm, the catamaran was due back at the wharf (which is next to the Old Ferry Terminal) at 7.10pm – your choice.
I loved our little adventure on the Curonian Spit. I had never heard of the place until I Googled Lithuania, when we arrived in Estonia, and started planning the coming path of our journey. I am so glad I went to this unique little out of the way place.
We had one more day in Klaipeda and I spent the day typing on the blog, then a wander through the Old Town and then a few beers before dinner at the Nese Irish Pub, watching the English Football – cannot complain about that!
The next day we had a two hour bus trip to Kaunas for 10 Euros.
The Baltic adventure continues……………