• Day9

    In Which Storks Roost but Chaos Reigns

    June 11, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Our day began with a bus transfer along the Nemunas River from Kaunus to Vente on the Baltic Coast. This region is famous for being home to some impressive 16th and 17th century castles, but by far the most interesting feature of this region is its proximity to the Russian enclave of Kalinigrad.

    Kaliningrad is a small isolated part of Russia with a population of about half a million people. It is situated between Lithuania and Poland and obviously has huge strategic significance to the Russians. We passed by some heavily fortified border checkpoints and eventually took a tiny track down to the riverside where we had a unrestricted view across the river to this forgotten Russian enclave.

    Although we were observing it from a distance of a couple of hundred metres away, the decaying and dingy looking buildings did little to encourage a future visit. After taking a few pictures and trying to make fools of ourselves by waving to the non existent residents, we climbed back on the bus and continued on our way.

    This region is also home to thousands of storks and the local residents try hard to encourage storks to nest on their chimneys. Just about every house was equipped with a huge stork nest, many of which actually had storks in residence. Those residents with active storks were sure to attract good luck.

    Judging by this there must also be a lot of lucky lamp posts as numerous power poles were also topped with giant stork nests. I wondered how they avoided setting fire to themselves as they were perched in such a precarious location.

    After unloading the bikes we rode out to an Ornithological Museum on the coast, before heading off to find somewhere for lunch. Although we had been promised that a nearby village boasted a bakery, when we arrived we found (to our horror) that it was only open three days a week, neither of those days being today. That was a severe letdown, but we kept knocking on doors and managed to find a tiny general store that sold fruit and about three other items.

    I bought a bag of cherries and sat down to devour them. It was not exactly the lunch I had been looking for, but it was not all bad. It was only when it was time to head off that somehow chaos crept into our peloton. We rode a short distance to the turnoff and stopped to count our riders. Two were missing. But where were they ?

    Since no one had seen them leave early we assumed that they must be behind us. The group waited in the hot sunshine while Kirsten and Douglas volunteered to ride back and search for them. Fortunately I had brought the walkie talkies and was able to keep in touch while they searched back and forth for them in vain.

    After about an hour we were really starting to worry. It was at this point we were met by a jovial German with a hugely overloaded bike. He stopped to chat. We asked if he had seen two women riders. He had - about 10km further down the road ! They had obviously left early and were almost back to the waiting bus.

    In the meantime Douglas and Kirsten were each about 10 km in the opposite direction,still searching. It took about another hour to finally round up the rest of the peloton and continue on our way. When we arrived at the bus the two missing riders had been waiting there in the shade for a couple of hours.

    We all then climbed into the scorching bus and waited (and waited and waited) while the driver checked and packed the bikes. In case I haven't mentioned it enough times, we have arrived in the Baltics at the same time as a highly unseasonal burst of hot weather also chose to arrive. Every day so far has been in the 30s and the sun seems to really pack a particularly ferocious punch. We had not been expecting this (and neither had the locals).

    Hotels and homes here are built for the cold, not the heat. Someone will make a fortune selling ceiling fans throughout the region, but for the moment the people swelter. Fridges cannot cope and the few air conditioners really struggle to make any impact.

    In spite of this we were really (really and truly) glad to find that our rooms in the Old Mill Hotel were air conditioned and cool. It took some time to finally bring my body temperature down to a comfortable level. It had been a challenging day and the heat is predicted to continue unabated.

    After a lovely dinner, I finally collapsed into bed after 11 pm. Of course it was still bright daylight outside.
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