|The Lithuanian legend
Then off to the North and through the border to Lithuania - minor formalities in that for the first time in 11 months we have been asked for the "Auto Documents" (in a Russian accent). Which prove satisfactory to the man in uniform!!
Then on through the countryside with a varying quality of road surfaces until we come across a diversion due to road works. THEN, oh No, we end up on a wide sandy dirt track, more akin to a forestry road in the Cairngorms!! But it is deeply rutted across our direction of travel and is more like driving across a washboard!!
This thankfully ends after about 4 kms and a nice blacktop runs through TRULY rural countryside. - Horse drawn ploughs and people working the soil with no sign of mechanisation. But before long we are back on the dirt track!!
Then by magic (and excellent navigation by Carolyn) we find the campsite - BUT here we have to thank the Dutch couple we met at Augustow - without their translated directions we COULD NOT have found this place!!
And it's FANTASTIC!
It's just a little place run by this extraordinary Dutch guy called Wim Brauns and his wife. He was the Lithuanian Olympic cycle team coach for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and settled here in 1990 and after the Olympics opened this campsite. He has also been an all round sportsman, a singer (with his own touring show) and still is a radio broadcaster (for Dutch Radio) and runs several businesses in Lithuania (such as Language Schools: Production of wooden furniture such as Bird Houses and Rabbit Hutches - which are exported. This gives employment to the young folk.
The campsite is situated in the middle of a forest and has as its focal point a small lake (about 25yds across) - there was only one (Dutch) caravan here when we arrived and our Dutch acquaintances from Augustow arrive tomorrow.
The place is utterly charming - nice touches of old wooden carts and sleighs lie around and there are nice wooden tables under a pitched roof with dried flowers hanging from the rafters - as a place to sit out of the rain/sun.
And as it's Dutch, there are - as you would expect - several small, and some not so small windmills around the site - pleasant though!!
The toilets are spotless - though only one for each sex. And one shower room - for one person, or you could shower a family - it's large!!
7th May Saturday
We get a run into the station at Rudiskes from Wim at 9.00am to catch the very old 9.35 train to the Capital Vilnius. It's a real slow train stopping at every station on the 25kms journey and it takes 55 mins. Interesting though - the general rural population live in shacks with limited facilities and till the soil with horse and plough - yes really- not a lot of mechanisation here at all!!
During the journey in on the train we read a travel publication that indicates that we might be able to get a Visa for Russia at the train station. So we ask- and sure enough - only need a passport and one photo, cost varies from £40.00 to £70.0, depending on how quickly you want it. So, unlike the UK, you do not need an "invitation/letter of introduction" or indeed a place to stay in Russia - before they grant you a Visa!
Sadly, it's raining when we walk through the streets but find a lovely coffee shop and try the local produce.
We need to phone the campsite to tell them that the train we were going to catch does not run on a weekend, but at the Tourist office they do not know of our campsite and we try a book shop to see if they have a camping guide for the country - No luck.
So, we go to the main post office and hope that they have a comprehensive phone book - but as we mill around this middle aged guy gets up off his seat and elbows Carolyn in the face cutting her lip. I'm some 15 feet away when this happens and shout after him as he dashes to the counter.
Now, neither of us are sure if this was deliberate or not. He's wearing dark glasses (but lowers them to fill out something - so he can see!). But we stand there for a minute while he ignores us - some of the staff saw what happened and are looking from us to him and talking behind their glass screens.
But he looks a little strange and rather than cause a scene and perhaps a fight, we continue to watch him closely as he moves to another counter with his belongings - still ignoring us - glaring at him - so we leave!
Carolyn has a little cut on the inside of her mouth which soon stops bleeding but has a little swelling - so we seek refuge in a nearby hostelry for succour and sustenance.
The rain stops and the train ride home is more interesting and thankfully when we arrive at our station the sun is peeking from the clouds for our 5 kms walk home along the dirt track road.
In the evening we go to the "family room" and meet with the two Dutch couples on the site - we exchange potted histories and find some common ground - ah, international relations!!
Sunday 8th May
Wim is after us to join his 11.00 am cycle ride - "Very easy" he says - "just 1 or 2 hours - some young girls come along - no problem".
So, like idiots we believe him - Now, in retrospect, why would an ex- Olympic cycling coach want to go for an "easy bike ride" with a couple of unfit Scots??
Well, to make them suffer - is the answer!!
Now, we set off at 11.00 on the dot - after being given helmets - and being offered one of the many bikes he had around (all with front and rear suspension!!) but we declined and used our old trusty bikes- (Did I ever tell you about the time I ended up at Glentress Forest mountain bike trails - thank you Sharon - and was given a bike which the chain kept coming off of? No, well I'll tell it some day.)
However, back to Lithuania - so we set off through the forest - pleasant for the first hour - pretty tracks, fairly level but a good pace was required. THEN, slightly more undulating AND actually through the forest (ducking branches, grass and moss tracks - GOD hard going) - some sandy patches - the guy in front of Neil fell off - then Neil did on an uphill section.
This is supposed to be an easy SUNDAY RIDE!!
However, 1hr 50 mins later we return to camp - Carolyn is OK, Neil is ****ed.
And the afternoon is spent recuperating.
But around 4.oopm, Carolyn decides Neil is fit enough to drive and we "go see the countryside". Visit a lovely little village called Trakai - and a fabulous Castle on an Island in the lake there - very pretty.
Monday 9th May
Cloudy day, so we set off for the coast. The campsite and the most direct route is discounted by our camp-site proprietor (the infamous bike riding Wim) - and we are given alternative directions.
These work out OK until we near out recommend camp-site, then we are back on the dirt "wash board" roads for 18 kms. I think my fillings have been shaken loose!!
But the camp site is fine - deserted, but open and the receptionist/barmaid is pleasant and takes our money up front for two nights - unusual, but we just pay up.
THEN, NINE German motor homes hove into view and park alongside us!!
Well, we are less than pleased, but thankfully (a) No one parked in front of us to spoil the view and (b) they are only here for one night.
The Bad news is that they are on the same route North as us as far as Tallinn in Estonia.
We ascertain that the 18 Germans are eating in the restaurant at 7.00pm so we go in at 8.00 and they are just about to leave. And we have a very pleasant and cheap meal looking out from the comfortable restaurant window over the lagoon to the Curonian Spit - If you want to know what that is look it up on the internet.
The Germans are away by 8.30 am, so we wait till they go before surfacing - any excuse to stay in bed.
Later in the morning we head off in the car to visit the sand spit over the lagoon.
Now, when you envisage a sand spit - you thing of something low lying and not that large - WRONG - this is 95 kms long and at the most 53 meters high.
Quite remarkable - though it's now fairly heavily forested (to try and stop the sand moving around) but the wind blown sand has covered three villages in the past - gone without trace!!
The Western Baltic facing side of the spit is where most of the worlds Amber is from. Haven't really worked that out yet - but we take a walk on the beach and come back with some of what we think is Amber (though not of sufficient quality to be Jewellery standard).
So, Latvia next.
Neil and Carolyn Tough