Parnidis Dune & Curonian beach car parkMay 29, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C
It's been a full and fun day today. We haven't travelled far but Lithuania's Curonian Spit has a lot to offer!
There was a bit of good(ish) news this morning. The good part is our replacement door handle has been delivered. The 'ish' part is that it arrived at our billing address in the UK, not our shipping address in Lithuania! Oh well, you can't have everything! Thanks to our niece Vicky for waiting in to sign for it and Will's sister Sue for checking it was the right handle.
We left our payed overnight parking before the charge period renewed at 9am and shuffled up the road to a free car park where we whiled away a leisurely morning. We'll often catch people peering at our registration plate as they go by, but two tourists seemed particularly interested and signalled they wanted to talk when they saw us sitting inside. It turned out they were on holiday from Israel and curious to know what 'GB' stood for. They asked about our route and told us that even though they didn't need a visa to visit nearby Russia, they wouldn't go because it would be dangerous for them, warning us that there were lots of criminals in the country. It's always interesting to hear the viewpoints of those from different backgrounds, although it is a shame that the most forcefully expressed opinions are often negative.
We might not be able to visit the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast without a visa but we wanted to drive up to its border all the same, so off we went. The main road grew quiet as we drove beyond the most southerly Lithuanian settlement and a sign in the native language warned of customs. Rounding a bend we saw the standard muted buildings, wire fence and barrier. One thing we didn't expect to see was a fox approaching the guard hut! They must feed it because it was obviously looking for something before it got scared off by a vehicle coming from Russia. We pulled over on the verge and got out. Vicky began snapping away excitedly (mostly at the fox) before Will read the English section of a sign prohibiting photography and filming- oops! Luckily no officials emerged with a reprimand so we turned Martha around and headed back up the spit. There wasn't much to see at the border but the travelling bug pushes us to explore our boundaries and we are glad we visited.
Next stop was the Parnidis Dune, a 52m high sand dune that was somewhat crowded (by Lithuanian standards). The Curonian Spit has the tallest drifting dunes in the whole of Europe, with an average height of 35m but with some that reach up to 60m! Depending on conditions, the sands drift between 0.5m and 10m eastwards each year. They are a fragile environment and the National Park has a difficult time balancing their preservation with access for tourists, whose footfall breaks down the unstable structure of these windblown hills.
The little parking area near the top of the dune was full of cars. Not wanting to take up any of the three coach bays, we found a pull in a few hundred metres back down the track and returned, walking past the icecream and coffee vendor and stalls selling amber trinkets. A wooden boardwalk led us to a granite obelisk reaching almost 14m into the sky, on a semicircular base of rune inscribed steps. The structure is a sundial and calendar, with each step representing an hour and special stones marking the equinoxes and solstices. Will was especially fascinated but soon we were both drawn to the wooden platform looking southwards over 'Death Valley', a desert like landscape of 'dead' dunes that, like a slow wave, had swallowed 14 villages over the centuries. It was an awe inspiring sight with the forests of Russia beyond, the shallow sandy waters Curonian Lagoon on the left and the deep blue Baltic Sea on the right.
In contrast to yesterday's constant drizzle, the sun was shining and the air warm, so after nipping back to the van for lunch we followed the board walk and steps down through intermittent woodland to the characterful seaside town of Nida. Brightly painted flapboard houses and wooden weather vanes were the standout features in this hub of activity. It was obvious that several coach loads of visitors had disembarked and it was strange to hear people talking English to one another, albeit in American and Australian accents.
Despite seeming like a small town, Nida absorbed the numbers well and didn't feel too crowded. We found ourselves passing the Ethnographic Fisherman's Homestead Museum and stepped through the burgundy picket fence into the grassy grounds. There was a couple of old wooden fishing boats, a selection of painted weather vanes and a few thatch roofed dwellings. For the very reasonable total of €2 we were granted entry to one, where we stepped into the past to see what it was like for fishing families living on the spit. There was very little written information, even less in English but it gave you a good idea through the displays of people mending nets or spinning wool.
Nida was such a tourist attraction it even had its own Tourist Information Office, where Will asked whether we were allowed to park overnight on the spit, to which the answer was yes! We'd been prepared to hot foot it back to the mainland but were really pleased to be able to stay another night. He also asked about a fishing licence and was told he could buy one from any supermarket if he showed his passport. A source on the internet says that over 65s don't need one, but at €15 for a year they are cheap and having one would save any confusion or the need to prove his age.
We stayed at a quiet and free beach car park that night and were joined by two little campervans, one German and the other French. Will went for a dip in the Baltic and we took a stroll just after sunset to the see the sky colours grade from blue to flame orange over the water. It had been an idyllic day.Read more