Monday 10th July
We were awoken by a very heavy thunder storm in the early hours of this morning.
“Don’t be alarmed” said Morgan calmly, “but the tent is leaking.”
Sure enough, a little puddle had formed by the entrance, where the wet outer layer of the tent was pressing against the nice dry inner layer. Lightning flashed blindingly across the sky as we surveyed our new paddling pool.
“What’s the deal with being in a tent in a lightning storm anyway?” I asked Morgan. “Is it dangerous?”
“It’s fine” he replied dismissively, propping his sandals between the two layers to separate them.
We both curled up into balls on the opposite side of the tent and went back to sleep, whilst Lex pressed himself against the tent wall as if it was his duty to let in as much water as possible.
The storm had blown itself out by morning, so we packed up our slightly damp possessions and drove on to the Curonian Spit, a slither of land sticking out into the Baltic sea, creating a lagoon between it and the mainland. This national park is half owned by Lithuania and half by that funny little bit of Russian land in-between Lithuania and Poland. We were obviously avoiding the Russian half, for reasons explained in our Russia travel article.
The Hill of Witches was our first stop in the national park, a dark forest filled with grotesque carvings from Lithuanian folklore. Walking up the winding path into the woods, creepy wooden witches, devils and dragons greeted us at every twist and turn.
So far, Lithuania is fully living up to our creepiness expectations, and we lamented that our friends Bobbie & Steve couldn’t be here with us to enjoy such fantastically grotesque attractions that we knew would be right up their street.
Many of the carvings seemed to tell stories, such as “Don’t play cards with the devil, fool”
Lex was very interested in sniffing underneath one carving, until he suddenly yelped in pain and ran away. Turned out, he’d been sticking his nose into a wasp’s nest, and had been stung on the face! Poor little guy. Still, he appeared to forget about his traumatic experience after about 30 seconds, and wasted no time in sticking his nose into several other dark corners.
Our next stop on the Curonian Spit was the largest sand dune in Europe, the Parnidis Dune. This is rather grandly dubbed the “Sahara of Europe” by the Lithuanian tourist board, which may be a slight exaggeration.
I mean, it was a pretty cool view, but the pictures on postcards we’d seen in the lead-up to our visit suggested we were actually going to something that looked just like Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, not Northern Europe. This was one of the postcards of Parnidis, for example:
There are a few reasons for the big difference in what we saw on postcards there vs what it looks like there now:
- Human influence is shrinking the sand dune. People had been allowed to walk on the delicate sloping side until recently, which caused a lot of sand to fall down into the sea.
- Plants are now spreading across the dune very fast, making it less sandy and more shrubby.
Even just a few years ago, the dune was bigger, more angular, and did actually look a lot more impressive. Thirdly, remember that half of this national park is on Russian land? Untouched, more characteristically dune-looking slopes (eg the postcard image above) do still remain, but unfortunately over on the Russian side. It’s still the Parnidis Dune, so the Lithuanian tourist board predominantly uses pictures of that area, even if it’s not actually in their country!
We found that the Baltic states do all seem to enjoy a healthy bit of exaggeration in their tourist propaganda in general. We’ve visited both the “Switzerland of Estonia!” and the “Switzerland of Latvia!” in the last few weeks. In both cases, the area in question turned out to be a bog. Neither of us has visited Switzerland yet, but we’re pretty sure it isn’t famed for its bogs. We suspect it’s a confidence issue, and plan to write each of the Baltic states a letter, explaining they’re all fascinating travel destinations in their own rights and don’t need to bother with pretending to be Switzerland, Namibia, or even Russia.
Moving on! There was a very cool throne near the sand dune, which we used to survey the sea for secret Russian spies. We were only a few kilometres from said Russian border at this point, and all our experiences of Russia to date suggested that the area would be thick with undercover Russian agents.
Lex and I then frolicked in the sea, whilst Morgan muttered darkly about the horrors of having wet, sandy feet, and maintained a healthy distance from the water.
Lex didn’t seem to care about having a wet, sandy nose at least.
We settled in for the night in a pretty lay-by near the sand dune, but at around 10pm – just as we discussed getting some sleep – a police car rounded the corner and stopped right in front of us. We’d seen a few police cars around, presumably because we’re so near the border. Two police officers stepped out of the car and strode over to us.
“What are you doing here?” they asked us sternly.
“Well, we came here for hiking earlier and we just ate dinner…” I answered nervously.
They made no sign that they understood us, and instead silently prowled around the car inspecting our number-plates and I don’t know what else.
“Should we move?” I asked tentatively.
“Yes move, no parking here” they answered without a trace of a smile. Awkward, but at least it wasn’t the even more terrifying Russian border police.
We drove on to a more official looking parking area near the beach, which fortunately gave us a chance to catch this beautiful sunset:
The spot was only slightly spoiled by motorcyclists having drag races along the road next to us at midnight.
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