Touring the Curonian Peninsula
Today Suman, Brian, Erin and I took the 7 hour “Explore, hike, and lunch on the Curonian Peninsula” tour in Lithuania. The activity level was rated “strenuous”…perhaps for the average age of the cruise which is likely 65 years old.
Our boat arrived in Klaipeda, Lithuania’s only port at 8am, and after being greeted by music playing, we hopped on our bus to begin the tour. A ferry transported our bus across the Curonian Lagoon to the Curonian Peninsula, a 60 mile long spit which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hill of Witches
Our first stop was in Juodkrante, an old fishing village, where we walked up the Hill of Witches. Wow, I have never heard so many mythological stories from one country. The path beneath the conifers was lined with countless statues carved in oak depicting devils, witches and more. Each carving had a story to it. At first I was trying to remember all the folklore, but soon I had to give up…sons were being turned into birds, witches hid fern blossoms, devils pretended to be mushrooms. Occasionally a story had a happy ending…many times it did not. The Hill of Witches is where we dubbed one of the passengers from our boat picture lady…she never missed a photo or missed getting in other peoples.
At the bottom of the hill, some of the statues were carved into playground fun. There was a slide and a see-saw! We had a little fun bouncing on that before we returned to the bus to visit another amber shop. We learned basically the same thing as yesterday, though the shopkeeper said a mixture of only 10% salt water was necessary for the amber to float. It sinks in the Baltic Sea because the Baltic is only 3% salinity based. While Suman and others shopped, Brian, Erin, and I walked out to the boardwalk to enjoy a moment of the rare sun as the wind whipped along the shore.
We continued on to Nida, a little vacation village where we were to enjoy a three-course meal for lunch. It was a three-course meal, but I’m not sure enjoyable fit in the description. Fortunately I ordered the pork instead of the fish, and it wasn’t as bad! The windy harbor was home to the Kursiu Mariu Regata where we watched a variety of boats compete. It looked like they started with Sunfish and moved up the ladder. Thirty foot boats were headed out to the course as we were leaving.
The cottages in Nida were cute. Some sported thatched roofs, others tiled. A few had crossed horse heads which were to keep the evil spirits from entering the house. Instead, the spirits would just stay on the horses. Colorful weather vanes with figurines can be found in front of most homes. These were once used to indicate in which area of the lagoon the fishermen could fish. Each had a different spot. The figurines described each family’s personality…strength, perseverance, etc. The weather vanes obviously showed more than just the direction of the wind.
From Nida, our bus took us to the 171-foot high Great Dune. A brick path led us to the top which provided views of both the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Sea along with the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. The top of the dune was also home to a sundial that was built in honor of Lithuania’s second independence from Russia in 1990. Our tour guide showed us how we could tell time from the sundial by the shadows, though we had to imagine the shadows since the sun was hidden by clouds and wasn’t out while we were at the top of the dune.
At the end of our tour, we were afforded time to walk around Klaipeda, Lithuania’s oldest city and today is a fishing and manufacturing center. The port doesn’t freeze, which is important in the Baltic Sea. Much of Klaipeda’s architecture has been destroyed over the years, however, it has a distinctly Germanic look from its 700 years of Prussian rule.
The town was very quiet which may have been caused from the sudden downpour just before we arrived. It is known most for its Theater Square where Adolph Hitler addressed a crowd from the theater’s balcony. It is said that Hitler became annoyed with the statue depicting “Anike” of a Lithuanian folk tale because it wasn’t facing him, so he had it removed. A replica is now in its original place.
The small town has a few more statues in its few squares. It is also home to the largest shopping mall in the Baltic. It might be the best place to shop in the Baltic as our second lunch that we purchased at a restaurant on the water was super cheap. It was only 3.8 euro for fried potato dumplings stuffed with meat, a traditional Lithuanian dish which was quite tasty. Even adding a beer into the mix didn’t get our lunch to 5 euros. Gdansk, Poland was similarly inexpensive.
I’m glad we took a tour here in Lithuania, otherwise I think we would have finished walking around Klaipeda in 45 minutes at a slow crawl. ETB