Saturday, 21 July 2012

Lithuania – The first European sand dunes

July 2-3

Hello everyone!

Lithuania possesses many places of beauty within its relatively small borders. One such example is the home of some of the only sand dunes in Europe. Definitely worth a visit, don’t you think?

You have to be committed to a long journey in order to get from the capital, Vilnius, to the area known as the Curonian Spit. It involves multiple forms of transport – train, boat, bus and foot – and consumes much of a day. It is, however, worth the arduous journey.

The Spit is a very narrow peninsula to the west of Lithuania. The Curonian lagoon separates it from the mainland on the east, and the Baltic Sea crashes onto the western side. It is not solely Lithuanian territory, with Russia possessing the southern tip of the land mass. Yet, in spite of the influence of these two culturally rich nations, it reminded me more of Britain. This is possibly due to the overcast conditions that we ensured for most of the two days spent here, but it has a quiet atmosphere that resembled one associated with a quaint, peaceful British seaside village.

As mentioned, this stretch of roughly 50km is home to some precarious and fragile sand dunes. They are in fact so delicate that it is prohibited to walk along the sides of them, as each step pushes seven tonnes of sand down. The picture that we were shown, contrasting the height of the dunes in 1960 and 2002, was alarming. They have halved in stature. The locals are very proud of these natural wonders, and obviously keen to protect them.

The Curonian Spit is sensually very pleasing. This was the first time on this latest adventure that I genuinely felt like I was in Europe. The dampness of the fresh air. The dark green of the firs that swamped the forest. The peaceful tweeting of small birds that gave life to an otherwise silent woodland. It was very pleasant to be reminded of the beauty of nature, particularly as it is often difficult to find in Kazakhstan.

The most famed dunes are about halfway up the Spit, meaning that we had to cycle about 20km from our base in the south, a village called Nida, to reach them. Many of you are aware of my apathy about getting on a bike. Even cycling through this lovely scenery, I can’t say that this feeling towards these two-wheeled vehicles has changed just yet.

It has to be said that the view of the lagoon from atop the main ‘dead’ dune, after a significant hike up the sand, was worth getting on my bike for. It was particularly fascinating how some of the sand was shaped in a similar way to rocks.

There was more to see in and around Nida itself. Our hostel provided a free walking tour of these sights. It wasn’t until over halfway through the excursion that they told us it was their first ever tour, which made their knowledge all the more impressive.

They also included some interesting and funny anecdotes as we were walking towards the Russian border. One of them was the fate of people who illegally crossed the border during the Soviet occupation. The punishment was not death. It was not prison. It was not a fine. No, you were sentenced to…

Peeling potatoes for two days!

Myth or not, it was funny to hear. Something that did really happen was that the large obelisk standing proudly on one of the hills was blown over by a treacherous storm in the late 1990s. This is why there seem to be two different rock colours on the pillar. The timings of this are slightly off, but this is compensated for by the fact that the peak of this hill is the only place in Lithuania from which you can see both the sunrise and the sunset.

This is a great place to visit. You can be active by cycling or running around the island, or it is acceptable to turn into a sloth on the Blue Flag beach. Going in the sea may not be the finest of ideas, as it is a bit chilly.

It was refreshing to get out into nature after traversing around so many cities. The Curonian Spit is a rare gem, and should be an indispensible visit on any Baltic itinerary. Just visit before the dunes get too much lower, and don’t cross into Russia without a potato peeler…

Love you all


1 comment:

  1. "It was particularly fascinating how some of the sand was shaped in a similar way to rocks." Not a good sign mate ;) Geology will get you