It seems like most trips we are taking this year take us to the Baltic Sea. This weekend we returned once again to our favorite island Usedom. We often visit the same old places, but they are always different, mostly depending on the time of year we are there. It’s high season now and it was busy, but with a not so great weather forecast for the weekend it was not overcrowded at all – and the weather was fabulous!
The hotel was not right at the beach, but at Lake Gothen.
Just as well hanging out and enjoying the view.
The beach at the German side of the island.
The beach at the Polish side of the island.
Watching the sunset over the lake.
Helping a friend on his apartment hunt brought me to a part of Germany I didn’t really know before. Around the towns of Braunschweig, Salzgitter and Wolfenbuettel in Lower Saxony in the center of Germany, there is a lot of open country side with rolling fields, the Harz mountains are close by, but there is also a lot of heavy (mainly steel) industry.
And there is this charming little town that I completey fell in love with. It actually dates all the way back to the 10th century. The old town, that is many of the old buildings there, are from about the 16th century.
What we didn’t really think about is that this is exactly the area that is currently threatened to be flooded. There has been a lot (!) of rain lately in Germany and many towns have had problems with flooding, trees being uprooted etc.
The first time we drove through town you could already tell that the waters of the river Oker were high and almost up to bridge level. There was one street that had just been blocked off and the police were going around asking people to remove their cars.
The next day we were back and the bridge was closed and the blocked off street completely under water. There were pumps working all around the old town and a lot of people around too looking, watching…
Who would,have thought that hunting for apartments (successfully I might add) could turn into such an adventure – and the best part: I will be back – hopefully in bright sunshine!
After walking back into Lithuania, our first stop was a place that had been top secret for twenty years: an ex-Soviet missile launch site, which is now a Cold War Museum. It’s creepy to say the least and we were happy to come back into the warm sunshine after visiting the exhibition and peeking down the missile silo.
Stopping for gas in Palanga was a good choice as we discovered what a nice little seaside town it is, but we had a room booked further down the coast in Klaipėda, where we arrived with plenty of time to explore the pretty old town.
The Curonian Spit was next on the agenda – an absolute highlight. The Baltic spit coast is very special and this is one of the finest examples – so much sand, such high dunes, such extraordinary landscapes, such cozy little villages – and the border to Kaliningrad, Russia. Strange again to see a marine vessel in the lagoon guarding the border on the water.
The next day we went down the coast of the lagoon an enjoyed it just as much as the spit.
And then it was time to turn East again and South eventually: home.
One last stop in Kaunas showed another thriving city with a lovely old town.
We’ll be back!
Spending each night in a different place can be quite tiring, so we took a break from the road when reaching Latvia and spent a few days at the beach in Jūrmala.
When I first walked up on the beach there were people in bathing suits to one side and people with coats and hats to the other. 10 minutes later I was wishing for a hat too – it was quite windy.
But it got nicer and warmer every day and we were able to fully enjoy and appreciate the Latvian beach culture with the cafes/bars in the tents along the beach.
And the sometimes quite impressive new and old buildings along the beautiful tree-lined roads.
Of course we also spent time in Rīga – a beautiful city, full of history and wonderful (art nouveau) architecture. Also full of tourists, mostly in groups… and you can tell at every corner that the city lives off those tourists. I found it a little overwhelming at times.
Next stop: Kuldīga, a small city (ca 12,000 inhabitants) in Western Latvia: very charming.
They also feature two prominent waterfalls and quite impressive sandstone caves in a village nearby. And yes, in case you were wondering, we did do the walk across the river just above the falls.
Just as nice as staying at the beach and visiting the cities was driving through the country side on small roads.
Finally crossing back into Lithuania… I walked…
The little town of Kuldīga in Western Latvia offers several superlatives (according to our guidebooks – and they look “impressive” in real life too).
There’s the brick-lined bridge over the river Venta – it was built wide enough for two carriages to pass each other easily in 1874. Not sure what the superlative is exactly, but I read something about one – somewhere…
The waterfalls Ventas Rumba right next to the bridge are the widest in all of Latvia: 275m across (300 yards). They are only about 1m high (3 ft), but who cares about that.
Just beyond the bridge the little creek Alekšupīte empties into the Venta – forming Latvia’s highest falls right there: 4m (4.4 yd)
What can I say, it’s a small country too… but charming…
There’s also an medieval square somewhere in town where the first potatoes were sold in all of Latvia – yet to be discovered by us.
Crossing from Poland into Lithuania was clearly not a big deal. It seems so different, almost exotic, so far away, but really is just another EU country and not even that far away from Berlin – although it used to be a republic of the USSR not too long ago, which I can still not get my head around.
Our first stop was Druskininkai, a spa town in the South known for it’s fresh and healthy air (better than in Davos, Switzerland they say…) and mineral springs. We went more for the scenery: dark woods and clear lakes.
The sights on our first day included a “Devil’s stone”; the Lithuanian-Belarus border (or a rest area about two kilometers from the border as we didn’t dare to get closer as that is a serious border!); Grūto parkas, an exhibition of old Soviet monuments (apparently it’s some millionaire’s hobby to collect them and put them in his backyard – a little creepy to have dozens of Lenins and Stalins in the woods there); and an old monastery high above the Nemunas river.
And on to our next stop: Vilnius. Certainly a city with a history and fine barock architecture, but the Soviet history (and architecture) is also still quite visible, maybe even dominant and the weather – unfortunately – didn’t do much to add charm either.
The Geographical Center of Europe was just a quick stop on our way to Ignalina in the Northeast and the Aukštaiktijos National Park: more woods and lakes and beauty (and rain, which meant no hikes, but taking the car for a tour).
And the last stop on the first leg of this trip: the Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai in the center of the country. Over 200,000 crosses in all forms, shapes and sizes have been put on this hill plus many, many rosaries. As much a display of faith as a symbol of protest during the Soviet rule it has become a major tourist attraction. Fortunately one that does not charge admission – and parking was only 90 cents.
We’ll be back in a few days. Now we are off to Latvia.
My major at uni was Geography, so when I read in our guide book that the geographical center of Europe was in Lithuania I knew we had to go.
Conveniently located about 40km (25 miles) from Vilnius, the capital, it is easy to reach. When arriving it felt like we needed to get out of the car at a golf course (which indeed surrounds the site), but a few discreet signs showed the right way to walk. Otherwise the whole thing would be difficult to find as it is hidden amongst the only trees around (maybe that’s more obvious than I first thought since it really is on the golf course…).
There’s a stele with a crown on the exact spot, also a rock with the coordinates (54*54′ N, 25*19′ E), all the EU flags are flying (the site was opened in 2004 when Lithuania joined the EU – even though this spot is the center of the continent of Europe and by no means that of the EU).
And that’s basically it – there is a visitor center, where supposedly you can get certificates saying that “I was here”, but it is closed on Mondays.
Anyway, it was an important site for me and definitely a fun stop on our trip – and another place on the world map I can tick off my personal travel agenda.
The big trip to Lithuania and Latvia has started. From Berlin that means driving all the way across Poland first. We had almost made it when we were stopped by a tree.
No, no idea how it got there, but the fire department was already at the scene.
We needed a break anyway.
There was also quite a line on the other side.
We were rolling again in about 20 minutes. Good work!
One of my all time favorites spots in the whole wide world is in a little Polish town called Lubin.
They excavated remains of a church and parts of a graveyard there from the 15th century. So it is a historic site – but I must admit that’s not why I love it so much.
It is also a vantage point high above the lagoon or backwater of Stettin. The view is amazing!
The Oder river, which forms the border between Poland and Germany, flows into the lagoon. And that itself is connected to the Baltic by the Swine waterway.
The site also has a little cafe. When I said that I wanted to spend a few hours here, I got a really shocked expression from my favorite travel companion. But in the end we really spent about three hours there. I – for my part – mainly enjoying that stunning view. Him making use of the German data service we were able to pick up (probably because we were so high up).
It’s a place I want to come back to whenever I have the chance. Someone there called it magical – and it really is!
We went hiking in Wolin National Park today.
Once we passed the European bison park we saw less and less people – only a few cyclists as we were following a long distance bike route in the beginning.
The woods are beautiful!
The path we took suddenly turned into a paved street. The Romans? Germans? Or Soviets? Who ever did it: thanks. It made for an interesting feature.
The wildlife was also amazing!
We heard so many different bird songs. We saw beetles. Even two of them obviously fighting (I would have loved to stay and watch the outcome, but as soon as we stood still, the mosquitos were having a feast).
There were different kinds of frogs (and yes, it is a challenge to locate them in the pics even when you know where to look).
Several very busy ant hills lined the path.
And we saw deer! Two of them! They crossed the path not very far from us at all. I have not ever (even as a kid when we went hiking in the woods a lot) seen deer out in the wild like that, so close, so… natural… so special.
Reminder for the up-coming trip: Bring tweezers and a lighter (to remove ticks) – or even better: bring insect repellent (and use it)!