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!
We are back home – adjusting… to the cold and the season. It was almost a shock to see all the decorations up here, the lights especially – entire apartment blocks lit up in red, blue, green, purple… and blinking too.
So far I have only managed to put up one ornament.
My first ever mistletoe. I don’t know why I’ve never had one before. This one I got at our local Christmas market.
We’ve also got our first gifts there – as we do every year, like those cute handmade tissue boxes.
The local distillery opens its doors on the day of the Christmas market putting all their delicious creations on sale.
So while on the one hand the season is taking over, on the other hand we are still holding on to the trip.
The snorkel gear is still soaking in the tub.
The water bottle is still deformed from the flight.
Oh, the flight was great by the way. The one time, when we didn’t try to change seats, to maybe sit at an exit, or in a window not an aisle seat, the one time we say nothing at all – we get seats in row 4 with extra leg space!
We’ll try to repeat that next year. There’s no question at all that we’ll go on this trip again.
As one of our waiters said on our last day:
Have you ever wondered how far across the ocean you can see standing on a beach?
Well, I just did. And I figured I could ask my tried and trusted search engine or the mathematican on the sun bed next to mine.
Old friend Pytagoras apparently provides the answer – as was demonstrated to me quite clearly from the next sun bed.
The exact distance seems to be 4.7 km (2.9 miles) – more if you are higher up standing on a cliff or in a ship’s look-out (thank you, www, for the exact numbers).
The first week of Advent people in Germany get their Christmas decorations from the attic or basement. Lights go up everywhere. Christmas markets open…
We on the other hand usually spend this week away at the beach in Egypt – filling up with sunshine for the long and dark winter in Berlin.
Nevertheless… catering to their mostly Christian guests the resort here also decorates the lobby and restaurants and I found this year that I am really missing something if they don’t. They’ve kept me waiting till Thursday until I had my tree and Santa.
And now I am even looking forward to getting home and putting up my own decorations… a little bit at least…
Apparently, last year I had decided at some point during our week at the beach in November that on our next trip here I would give the newly opened spa a try.
When the sales people approached us this year I had all but forgotten about that resolution – but I had it pointed out to me by my travel mate. And when I booked a facial and pedicure he decided to come along. No, not just to keep me company, but to get his feet done too – minus the nail polish…
… no, I will not do this again next year. For the simple reason that while I enjoyed the treatment it really stressed me out to have an appointment during this otherwise time-less week.
For weeks I have been feeling it already, the sunshine on my skin, the soft water surrounding me, the lightness, feeling free… It’s this time of year, it’s time to go snorkling again.