Nida beach car park, Curonian SpitMay 28 in Lithuania ⋅ 🌧 12 °C
Today's stopover is a bit special. Martha is parked 5.5km away from Russia, on a migrating line of sand in the Baltic Sea. Legend has it the sand was placed here by the giantess Neringa. The story goes that Neringa was wooed by a dragon, who began terrorising local fishing boats when she turned him down; dragons eh? To protect the fishers Neringa scooped up piles of sand in her apron, laying them down over a distance of 98km. This formed a barrier (the Curonian Spit) and created the calm waters of the Curonian Lagoon, where fishers could go about their business, safe from the marauding creature.
Today the Curonian Spit runs from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast in the south. 52km of its northern reach is owned by Lithuania and linked to the country's 3rd largest city Klaipėda, by a frequent ferry that transports passengers and vehicles over the narrow Klaipėda Straights. Its widest section is less than 4km, thinning to just 400m at one point in Russia. We weren't surprised to learn it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by the two countries and that each has designated it a National Park. The freshwater lagoon covers a vast 625 square miles (plenty of space for the boats to fish!)
Several centuries ago forests on the spit were felled and the land overgrazed. This accelerated the movement of the sands (the highest migrating dunes in Europe) and they swallowed 14 villages. When people realised the consequences of their actions, they began a mass reforestation project and now more than 70% of the area is covered in trees.
Setting off from our mainland overnight spot we entered the outskirts of Klaipėda. Glass fronted commercial centres and high rise apartment blocks lined the roadways. We managed to park up to visit an organic store and a Maxima supermarket within a large, modern retail centre, similar to Merry Hill or the Metro Centre on a smaller scale. Although there was nothing unusual about the majority of shops, we soon noticed that more than half the stands in the centre of the aisles were selling high end jewellery, with many rose gold rings shining under spotlights in the glass display cabinets. The organic produce in BioSala was ridiculously overpriced but a visit to a loose tea shop made up for the disappointment. Maxima proved worth the trip and we came out laden with Violife vegan cheeses, some organic half fat curd that seems very popular and a bottle of Gira, a fizzy drink made from fermented bread that many Lithuanians enjoy. Will took a liking to it, saying it tasted like alcohol free guiness, Vicky wasn't so keen, nor was she that keen on the live fish in aquariums at the fish counter.
Fully stocked we pulled up at the ferry port, made it clear we wanted to take the little ferry to the Curonian Spit, not one of the large ships travelling to Germany, Denmark or Sweden and before we knew it Martha was amongst 20 or so other vehicles sailing across the straights. One road runs the length of the spit with the occasional dead end side road branching off through the woods to a beach car park. The main route led us to an unexpected toll booth, charging €15 entry to the National Park. On top of €24.60 return for the ferry, the costs were mounting up, but we hoped to be able to stay for three days, so kept our fingers crossed the fees would be worth it.
To watch a 2 minute video of our crossing click here: https://youtu.be/zD9cG46xYLY
Our first stop was Heron Hill, the site of an incredible Cormorant Colony. Herons originally settled on the site but Cormorants moved in and took over their nests, pushing the Herons to the peripheral woodlands. More than 6500 now return to this spot each year! The weather was a steady grey drizzle but the experience of stepping out amidst the colony was still incredible. Walking the short distance from the van to the top of the wooden viewing platform, we could smell a pungent fishy aroma, hear a cacophony of squawks and see hundreds of nests, perched on top of guano burned trees, with the deep black figures of the birds protruding from within. The Cormorants were all around and we watched mesmerized as they fed their young and cleaned their feathers.
When reading about this amazing seabird population, Vicky found a note in the Lonely Planet saying not to park motorhomes overnight on the spit. We hadn't seen any signs and couldn't find any prohibitions elsewhere on the internet, but still it made us nervous, so we scouted out various parking options, deciding in the end on a late evening move to a paying beach car park near the spit's most southerly Lithuanian town of Nida. We reckoned that with a ticket from 8pm-9:30am we at least stood a slim chance of not being fined.
Our overnight spot gave good access to a gorgeous white sand beach backed by low dunes. Despite being the end of May we found that the geodesic dome and little wooden sauna hut were both closed, like many of the tourist attractions on the spit. All the better to enjoy the natural beauty of the sunset!Read more