• Day10

    Cycling the Curonian

    June 12, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ 🌙 25 °C

    The Curonian Spit is a 100 km narrow strip of land that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon. It runs almost north-south and is shared between Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad). Because of the immense beaches along the coast, the Curonian spit is a very popular holiday location for Lithuanians in the short summer. Of course this year summer arrived early, seemingly catching everyone by surprise.

    Everyone loves a sea journey - fresh air, the smell of salt, that queasy feeling of impending seasickness. We had been promised an extended 50km sea voyage, however it turned out to be a 5 minute trip across the Curonian Lagoon on a car ferry. Oh well, that's the way it happens in the Baltics.

    The bus then drove us south down the Spit, almost to the Russian border at Nida. Any further and we might have ended up in a Russian prison. After unloading our bikes, our mission was simple - to ride back along the entire Lithuanian section of the Spit to Klaipeda.

    The previous evening I had promised the team that it would be "completely flat and very easy". In fact it was neither of these things. Even though the Spit is very narrow, it does have quite a few undulations and even contains a number of small but very steep sand dunes. These have now been grassed and treed over, so that they look like old volcanoes.

    The biggest challenge of all was the relentless heat. As we stopped in Nida for supplies, the young girl in the shop explained that July and August are the "hottest months". She assured us that this is very unusual at this time of the year.

    We lathered up with sunscreen and headed north for the 60 km ride. The first section was a lovely seaside path which followed the coast of the lagoon for a short distance,before heading inland. This was not as scenic, but the forest gave us shade from the burning sun.

    There were a number of riders riding in the opposite direction, so I decided to try taking a survey of Lithuanian friendliness. As each cyclist approached I greeted them with a smile and a friendly "Hello". I then noted their responses. I am sorry to report that the vast majority gave no acknowledgement at all. They completely ignored us. Only perhaps 20% gave a grudging reply. We could only come to the conclusion that Lithuanians are not the most friendly people on the planet.

    This observation was also noted by many of the others in our group who had experienced similar abruptness from hotel staff and shop assistants. When I bought some food from the supermarket in Nida, the lady snatched my money so abruptly that I felt like it must have been infected with something.

    When so few people responded to my greetings, I decided to try "Bonjour" instead. It always works a treat in France, so I thought it might work here to. It didn't. Same blank stare, same lack of reply. At least I tried.

    Because the bike path wandered away from the road, there were very few opportunities to purchase food or drink along the way. Just when we were desperate for something cool chanced upon an enterprising you lady who had set up an ice cream and drinks kiosk in the back of her car. She was a lifesaver. The ice creams and drinks were icy cold and just what we needed on such a hot day.

    After riding for about 45 km we finally found a lovely seaside eatery which gave us a perfect opportunity for a rest and refreshment stop. The food in Lithuania is very cheap- only 6 Euro for a chicken schnitzel and salad lunch. Coffees usually cost 1.9 Euro. Even the lovely iced coffee only cost 3 Euro. They might not know how to smile, but you can certainly travel cheaply here.

    We rode the last few km, eagerly looking forward to reaching the ferry that would take us back across the lagoon to our hotel. By this time the sun was scorching from a cloudless sky and the temperature was in the low 30s.

    When we finally rounded the final corner and saw a ferry terminal, we all gave a sigh of relief and charged to the ticket office to buy a 50 cent ticket. We didn't have to wait long for the ferry to arrive and quickly wheeled our bikes on board. No point in asking questions we thought.

    It was only when the ferry started to move that we realised to our horror that it was going in the wrong direction. It was not the right ferry after all. We could have panicked, but we didn't (not much anyway). We decided that many people pay a lot more than 50 cents for a European river cruise, so we might as well just enjoy the experience and see what happened.

    Fortunately the ferry did eventually stop at Klaipeda and we were able to get to our hotel. I immediately went to the bar and asked for a cold drink "with lots of ice". I was told "no ice today, the heat has made all our ice melt". It was that sort of day.

    At least the air conditioner in my room was still working.

    PS Sorry there are not many pictures, it was too hot to take many.
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