Saturday 15th July
We had one final mission to complete before we waved goodbye to the Baltic states; visit Grutas Park, known as “the graveyard of communism.” We have a poster of Lenin in our bathroom.* Of course we were going to the graveyard of communism.
* Full disclosure; we took bathroom-Lenin down so as not to scare the Airbnb guests. But as soon as we’re home, Lenin’s right back in there.
Grutas Park is a weird place. Unsure of how to brand itself, it features a herd of alpacas rolling around like puppies in the cold sand, right next to the first Soviet statues and an abandoned railway carriage.
Lex and the alpacas had a rather uneasy greeting, but luckily nobody spat on anybody else.
Likely because of the incongruent alpacas and other farmyard animals inside, dogs are not allowed into park. Which is absurd, because, you know, it’s a park. So, yet again, we found ourselves taking it in turns to do a tourist activity whilst the other one sat in the car park with Lex. Lex found the whole situation so daft, he literally fell asleep with his head inside his water bowl, then shook water all over me when he woke up.
Once I got inside the park, I was greeted with a children’s play area and a mob of emus (aka bushes with legs).
I have no idea what either of these things have to do with communism, and can only assume the park is going for the “family friendly day out” market. However, I was thoroughly confused as I walked deeper into the woods, much like the communists would generally have wanted.
Grutas Park is the resting place of the Soviet statues that previously resided in every town centre in Lithuania. All these statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin were torn down in protest in 1991, but many were restored and bought to live out the rest of their days as a family-friendly tourist attraction.
I adore Soviet propaganda, so I was in communist workers paradise as I explored the books, newspaper articles and “Hero of the Soviet Union” badges they had on display.
Amongst these giant stone figures, there was also a collection of strangely adorable Misha the Bear toys, a hugely popular character that started life as the symbol of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
And a couple of clearly not so pro-Soviet sculptures, such as this chunky humanoid figure with a vodka bucket for a head:
After visiting Grutas Park, Lithuania is now firmly one of my favourite countries in Europe, hitting the magical combination of weird communist hangovers, eerie religious sites, and creepy woodlands filled with pagan statues. I really don’t know what else you could want from one destination.
We left the Baltic states this afternoon, embarking on a new phase of our journey as we drove south into Poland. Pretty much as soon as we crossed the border I saw people swimming in a lake near the road, and immediately swung the car around to go join them.
My only complaint was the lake being too hot compared to Scandinavian standards.
After the swim stop, it was time to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Not seeing any good rest stops on our route, we (Morgan) decided to go off-roading, heading down a dirt track between fields. Bumping along the rocky track in the Volvo was moderately (okay, very) alarming, but we did find a rather pretty spot to spend the night, a pleasant distance away from the noisy roads.
We settled in for the evening, heating up some greyish baked beans for what is rapidly becoming our standard camping dinner. We have high hopes that the supermarkets in Poland will inject some new life into our diet, after our problems with Baltic supermarkets.
Still, we livened up dinner by having a little apple whisky in our brand new Soviet shot glasses. Because there was no way I could leave Grutas Park without adding something to my international communist memorabilia collection.
As the day turned to night, we came to the upsetting realisation that the sun sets around 9pm in Poland! This is an utter tragedy, created by driving south and changing time zone. Yesterday we were complaining when it got dark at 11pm, as we reminisced fondly about Sweden’s midnight sun. And now we’re plunged into darkness at 9pm! So it’s torches in the evenings then. Or, it would be if we didn’t spend the evenings primarily interacting with backlit items, such as phones, laptops and kindles. Thank God it’s 2017.
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