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  • Day1090

    Midsummer at Šeirė Campground, Plateliai

    June 21 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We've returned to the beautiful Plateliai Lake. Previously we'd spent three wonderful days in the woodland grove we named Dragonfly Dell, but we're now here to join the midsummer celebrations and as such, have chosen Šeirė; a free campground close to Plateliai yacht club and about a kilometre away from the town centre.

    On our last visit we'd quized the tourist information officer and found out a midsummer event was taking place at the yacht club on Sunday 23rd of June. We couldn't quite believe it when Will found an overnight spot just a couple of hundred metres away! Arriving early afternoon on the summer solstice the long car park wasn't too busy, but it soon filled up. We had a view over the grassy hill leading down, through a border of trees to the water, where a dual plank pier led out through green reeds. What looked like a homemade pedalo was moored along with a few wooden rowing boats. Visitors could hire these from a character wearing a sailor hat that lived in a caravan on site.

    We took a walk down to the yacht club which had standup pedalboards for hire, something we've never seen before. There was a bar and café but for some reason neither of us felt it was our sort of place. White dinghies floated in line along a couple of jetties and beachgoers lined the narrow strip of sand where the cut grass ended.

    The weather was great throughout, with blue skies and temperatures averaging 25°C. Vicky's health wasn't good but Will canoed, fished, swam and took her for a short paddle around a nearby island. The water was incredibly clear; perhaps the cleanest we've ever seen. There is a cycle route all the way around Plateliai Lake, which we explored a short section of on foot, finding a viewpoint on a small rise. From here we could see islands and trace the line of the serated shore. The European Union had part funded the path, a couple of large, well used insect hotels and information boards showing some of the diverse wildlife living in Žemaitija National Park.

    Cars spilled in and out each day. Groups erected small tents and gathered around the many picnic tables with bbqs and fire pits they'd brought with them. Music blasted intermittently but we didn't mind. We'd come to experience midsummer in Lithuania and this was part of it!

    Lithuanian midsummer festivities have become somewhat mingled with St John's Day in the country's move from Paganism to Catholicism. While Christians celebrate Joninės, the whole community, regardless of faith, come together for midsummer, known as Rasa (Dew Holiday) or Kupolė (a name linked to the collection of herbs).

    It was extremely difficult to find any information about the event at Plateliai online. There were no specifics in English, but somehow Will came up with the timetable, so we knew roughly when to expect things on the evening of the 23rd, although much of the translation didn't make sense.

    Preparations took place during the day on Sunday. The long grass in the field between us and the yacht club had been cut and raked into hay stacks. Tree trunks wrapped in oak leaves formed an arch and two tall poles were erected, one with an oil can and wick on top and the other with sawn off branches sticking out in all directions. A pyramid of logs stood ready to be lit while a smaller assembly of branches stood atop a raised stone fire pit. A gazebo, bench seating, audio and light rig was arranged at one corner of the concrete platform that was a permanent fixture at the base of the hill.

    The festival began at 8pm with a troop of singers dressed in traditional clothes, leading the way through the Gates of Kupoles (the oak archway). Plenty of people were dressed normally, but a large number had handmade flower or wheat garlands on their heads and some men even wore large oak leaf garlands. As each person stepped under the arch they washed their hands and face with water poured from a earthenware jug. We think the water represented dew, which is believed to bring good health to humans, all animals and even gardens. It seemed anyone was welcome to join this ritual symbolising renewal, so we too passed through.

    By this time, hundreds of people had gathered. There were plenty to fill the concrete floor, joining those in costume in group dances accompanied by accordions, drum and singing. Will joined in with a few at this point too!

    After a while, 'Čerauninkė' signs on wooden stakes were driven into the hillside. We couldn't find a direct translation for this word but gather it meant some sort of fortune teller, as a wise looking person sat at each sign, while people lined up to present them with small bouquets of wildflowers and have 3 minutes of insight imparted.

    All the while the music and dancing continued. As the sun set, a party lead the way to the small fire, throwing grasses and flowers into it and singing. A torch was lit and carried in procession to the tall poles, where the flame was transferred to a long stick and used to light the wick. At the same time, the large pyre farther down the hill was ignited.

    Next, the singles of the party (mostly young women) faced away from the second pole and threw their garlands over their heads, hoping it would land over one of the branches sticking out.

    The merriment continued until dark, when a little girl was presented with a lantern, oak garlands were given to the organisers as signs of gratitude, then torches were set flaming and wooden crosses in the shape of an X were distributed with tea lights at their centre. People's garlands were placed around the candles and a torchlight procession wended its way to the water. Here, the offerings were placed into the lake and slowly floated away from shore. Traditionally the wreaths would be made by girls with 9 or 12 different herbs and the faster they floated away, the faster the girl would get married.

    After the torchlight ceremony we nipped back to Martha for some revitalizing coffee and hot chocolate, then rejoined the rather more sedate revellers. We mused to ourselves that in Germany, the event would be surrounded by beer and bratwürst stalls, in Italy there would probably be wine and pizza and in the UK, burger and icecream vans. Although there was a few people eating and drinking at the yacht club and a few that brought snacks and beverages from home, there was more of a focus on community and the event than spending money, eating and getting drunk. The lack of commercialism (and litter) made for a great atmosphere.

    Solar midnight passed at 1:35am and the sky began to get noticeably lighter. A waning gibbus moon rose behind the pines, its silver rays sparkling off the ripples on Plateliai Lake. Dancing continued until about 2am, after which a small group gathered to sing traditional songs while the floodlights, audio equipment and gazebo were packed away. About 30 people were left gathered around the warmth of the fire, dropping clumps of hay on to keep it flaming. The vibe was chilled, mordern music sounded from various dispersed groups and a tenting party continued their singing and accordion playing, becoming more raucus as the early morning wore on.

    Only ourselves and another two couples were left at the fire when park employees arrived at 4am to dismantle the oak gate and chuck it on the embers. Vicky had been looking forward to a ceremony where you cleansed your face and hands with the dew at sunrise, but the fiery glow rose above the horizon and nobody could be seen collecting any dew (well, except us!).

    Dawn was beautiful over the water. Will captured drone footage while Vicky went to the shore to take photographs. Here she discovered our canoe, tied neatly to the end of the jetty. A little confused, she mentioned it to Will. Why would he leave it this far away from the van? It turns out he didn't and there was no way it could have floated away from the reeds he'd beached it in. He reckons the 'captain' hiring out the rowing boats set it loose and someone must have brought it to the club. Whatever happened it gave us a wonderful opportunity for a dawn paddle a few hundred metres back to the sandy beach near the van. The view heading over the water towards the sunrise was incredibly beautiful.

    At around 5:30am we willed ourselves to bed after a night of new experiences. We felt very privileged to have been able to attend this amazing community celebration.

    To see an 8 minute video of the event, click this link to the VnW Travels You Tube channel: https://youtu.be/DeN-rx29fRI

    The following day must have been a bank holiday because the area was packed with people enjoying the long day's sunshine. We'd planned to move on but suspected that anywhere near water would be difficult to park so kept our spot for a fourth night and enjoyed a paddle on the lake, landing on one of the wooded islands then getting away from the crowds of rowing boats, pedalos and sailing dingies. Finding a deserted stretch of shore, we took a midsummer day wild swim together. A perfect end to our Baltic midsummer night.
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