Leipaja, Latvia to Klaipeda, Lithuania

29 06 2011


We arrived in Leipaja where it was fairly chilly and extremely quiet. Most of the town was still somewhere in the countryside jumping over campfires or recovering from a hangover from celebrating the Jani festival. We stayed at Traveller’s Beach hostel which was most conveniently situated between the beach and Old Town. A Riti grocery store was just around the corner and we visited it several times during our three night stay in the city. On our first full day in the city we went to the beach and wandered through several beautiful parks and discovered several public sculptures glorifying the rock music scene in Leipaja. Rock particularly enjoyed posing in front of an enormous drum set. Along our meandering, we discovered the European International Junior Tennis Tournament. Since Rock is into the sport (I however am fairly clueless) we watched several games. Afterwards, we headed to the dunes and beach where despite sunny skies the wind caused goose bumps on our skin. So we lingered between dunes and people watched several brave souls bare more than we dared with such wind. Then we walked through a mini carnival and some more art nouveau buildings. We ate a pasta and veggie dinner courtesy of the Rimi and leftovers in the hostel. Rock wanted to see the movie Super 8 and went out with a guy from Australia while I stayed in editing photos.

The following morning after a yummy omelet brunch, we went to the tourist information office. It was about a 10 minute walk from the hostel. For about 5 Lat (~$10) each, we rented a bike for 24 hrs and pedaled away towards Karosta, a former secret military town. The bikes were probably from the 1960s with heavy frames and wide handles bars with the rider having to pedal backwards in order to brake. And so we with a cycling map were off. We thought the route to Karosta was only a couple miles roundtrip but it turns out it was about 6 miles from the center of Leipaja. Along our journey, we stopped at a cemetary. It was interesting to see how others remember their deceased. Many plots and stones were covered in ivy or flowers in such a way that the mound looked more like a garden plot. As we left the shaded refuge, an old wirey lady with a head wrap walked towards the gate from where we were about to head out. She frowned and spoke something in Latvian and seemed to dismiss or curse us with her hand but was quickly off and so were we. After passing a few monotonous brick buildings and a couple food shops, apartment buildings and fields we came upon the Kalpaks bridge which is the only bridge in Lativa that can be rotated open on either end.

After the bridge, we finally started to see signs directing us towards the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Down a street that was lined with old apartment buildings, towered the cathedral with it golden cupolas. (Interesting note-at the end of WWII, Soviet used the cathedral for recreational activities including a “red room” :))…I didn’t take photos inside due to lack of sufficient light. Some of the cathedral was under construction as well. However, Rock saw a little girl with her parents who were talking to an orthodox priest. He decided to sneak a shot but was spotted by the priest who immediately waved at us and spoke angrilly. We looked at him and left calmly out of the church but he followed us out. As we descended the last step, he stood above with his black robe billowing and his mouth moving quickly; I bowed apologetically and Rock and I walked briskly back to our bikes. However we did not leave the grounds until we had explored the area around the church and took a few more shots. When we were about to leave and I was waiting for Rock to take a photo, a girl who was playing in the playground outside the church area suddenly stood up from her sandbox and ran over to near where I waited on my bike. She threw a glass bottle which shattered only inches away from where my bike and I stood. I was shocked. I heard giggling and when I looked at the group of kids who were probably around 8 or 9yrs old, they stared back. When I took my camera out to “document” their mischief they ran away towards the shade of a tree…I was furious!

We rode back and stopped for Rock’s sweet tooth and got some icecream from the grocery store. When we arrived back in Leipaja, we discovered freaking awesome Hotel Fontaine Royal, which we decided to visit later for dinner. We continued to bike along the canal. A path to a beach we had not visited before appeared and we decided to explore the area which was just past the military port zone. On our way towards the beach we encountered a towering windmill and more sand dunes. As we walked along the waters edge, we started to look for amber and sure enough we found some. It became a scavenger hunt. About 30 minutes later, we biked back to the hostel for a nap and meditation. Then we returned to Hotel Fontaine for dinner and an hour in their sauna/Turkish bath area.

Headed for Klaipeda
The next day we checked out of the hostel around noon. It was Monday so Rock was fasting and he stopped at the Rimi one last time to pick up some fruit. We returned our bikes and when we did, we were amazed at how bustling the streets, squares, and sidewalks had become. Mothers with their strollers, teens with their high fashion, and lovers with their limbs wound around each other seemed to fill the square. After figuring out when the next bus for Klaipeda was departing, we headed out to the bus stop. We had an hour or two before the bus arrived and so checked out the market and some more side streets along the way. Around 2:40 we paid a couple Lat and hopped on a small bus that went towards Palanga, Lithuania. The ride was about an hour or so. Once in Palanga, we dodged a hotel tout and exchanged some currency and caught another small bus towards Klaipeda, our final destination for the day. This ride was about 5 Litas and took around 30 minutes or so. At the Klaipeda bus station, we found an information desk and inquired about a map of the town and where the street on which our guestouse was located. The lady was friendly and helped point us in the right direction. After about 20 minutes of walking, we reached the Liternerp Gueshouse. As we were quite tired and Rock was fasting, we took a nap and meditated; then went out to their Riti grocery store a block away in which we picked up a microwavable pasta dinner and snacks for the next day.

On Tuesday morning in Klaipeda, breakfast (cheese, yoghurt, bread, jam, and juice) was delivered in a picnic basket outside our room…How cool! We made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch later and headed to the Baltic bike shop abut two blocks away where we rented bikes until 10pm (paid about 30 litas (~$13/each) for very excellent mountain bikes). It was now almost noon and so we cycled on over to the ferry port and paid for our roundtrip ticket (~$2/each) to Smiltne on the Curonian Spit. The ferry trip lasted no longer than 10 minutes and soon we were disembarked from the ferry . We didn’t know where we were going but followed some bike signs and were soon pedaling through rows of pines. We saw a path to the dunes and beach which we walked up (leaving our bikes below) and took some shots. We continued riding between the pine forest and dunes. We saw another path and took our bikes to another section of the beach where we road along the water for about 30 or 40 minutes occasionally pausing to take a photo or scavenge for washed up ocean treasures. We struggled to bring the bikes up the stairs and dry sand. Rock was my hero and lifted my bike through the sand and up the stairs☺ Soon we were riding along the forest path and came to a bar/conveinence store and bought an energy drink and bottle of water and rested. I asked the guy behind the counter to point to where we were on the map and we started to plan where we were going to head. At this time it was around 1:30 and we biked a bit further south and then hoped we were heading towards our ferry port but after walking/cycling up a hill we discovered it was unnecessary and we had arrived at a different ferry port—one in which cars were being ferried over and so we looked on the map to check the routes. After several long stretches of hilly paths we arrived at a wonderful vista from which you could see the Baltic Sea and the pine forests. Here we ate our peanut butter sandwiches and enjoyed the nice breezes and sun on our backs. Afterwards, we headed towards the correct ferry port. From there we were better oriented and biked north towards the tip of Smiltyne and hoped to see the Dolphinarioum but when we arrived we learned it was closed. We watched a couple seals show off their slothfulness and took some photos of horses and carriages against a background of rigs and industrial buildings along the coast.

Around 4:30, we caught the ferry back to the port of Klaipeda. We rode to the Old Castle Museum. Provide link. Then we went back to the guesthouse for a nap/meditation. It was now only 8pm and we rode around what remained of Old Town Klaipeda and saw the balcony where Hilter stood and a sculpture dedicated to the poetry of 17th century German Simon Dach. We found a nice restaurant facing a water way and sat outside. We shared a glass of red wine and “funghi “pizza before exploring some parks and side streets. Around 9:45pm, we returned the bikes (and I received my passport back—hooray—I’m always a little hesistant when places keep your “document” as insurance)☺.

On Wednesday morning around 11am, we checked out of the Litnerp Guesthouse and walked to a bus stop and caught bus 8 back to Klaipeda’s central bus station. There we bought two one way tickets (66 litas/person) for our 4 hour bus ride to Vilinus….and I’m too tired to continue typing:)…

Photos here!

And more shots…