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July 6th 2011
Published: July 6th 2011
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Usual lunch fareUsual lunch fareUsual lunch fare

Potatoes all the way thanks. With lashings of sour cream please. And oh, maybe a couple of mushrooms too. For protein.
That when you want a haircut the hairdressers are always fully booked? And when you think you've found the perfect spot for a break (ie toilet stop) someone comes along either on a bicycle or on foot looking like they're in no real hurry (as opposed to me). And when you think you cannot stand another day of rain and call a rest day it's sunny? Why? Please explain.

And so it was today here in Liepaja back in Latvia. Couldn't manage to get my haircut here either because they're fully booked today. The sun is shining, not quite not-a-cloud-in-the-sky kind of weather but... And rest assured I have not tried to find a spot in the city to "break" - I leave that for the countryside.

it might not look like I've done a fair bit of moving since Kaunas if you drew a straight line from Kaunas to here but the itinerary has been far from straight. Overnight stays since Kaunas have been Kedainiai > Hill of Crosses near Siauliai > Kurtuvenai > Plateliai > Klaipeda > Sturmai (near Vente) > past Palanga near Sventoji > Liepaja. If you were to follow me on a map you would be right in thinking I'm going in circles. There's been a bit of that going on and if you thought there was any kind of plan you'd be wrong. No plan just a vague idea, more like a day's forethought - kind of. I mark out the route I've taken on my map at the end of the day along with how many kilometres I've done - the line does look a little zig zaggy and a bit roundy. I've never been a straight line kind of person... and then decide (after guidebook consultation where to next). But that doesn't stop the km's from accumulating. So far it stands at 2657.4km on the speedo + the 283km before speedo. Not long to go now to reach the 3,000km. But still a way to go to reach the $3,000 goal for the Mental Illness Fellowship but great effort to everyone who's contributed so far. And if you haven't there's still time.

Obviously, with so many days lapsing there's been a fair few experiences and many people met. I feel like Europe's on the move - or Germany at least. I've met many Germans over this past week. And whilst in Lithuania, I've finally met some locals as well. Yay! When I look at the place names I've visited (and all those in between) I can relive almost the whole day. Kedainiai? Oh yes, that was when I got lost riding out of Kaunas and ended up on the most gorgeous, quiet, asphalted road that followed the Nevezis River mostly through shady forest and lovely pastures before being spat out into a full-blown head wind. And the Hill of Crosses? Well, I hadn't planned to make it all the way there but I met German Klaus enroute (travelling in the opposite direction) who told me there was the possibility to camp nearby (I had planned to stay in Siauliai). What good fortune. I got to the Hill of Crosses as the skies cleared (yes it looked ominous) and the light was starting to soften and made everything look, well golden and so much better for photos. And I wasn't the only one at the campground. There were some German couples and a Dutch couple in camper vans too. It's nice not to be the only one at the end of the day. And the Dutch man reminded me that what I was doing is romantic. Unplanned, on a bicycle and camping. Yes, that is romantic.

I visited Siauliai the next day to go to the Bicycle Museum. It was small but what a great collection of exhibits. Siauliai, under Soviet times, used to employ 4,000 people in its bicycle manufacturing business. They still make bicycles there - I think. I also read about a Peace Ride in which some Lithuanians participated back in 1999 that, from memory, started in Seattle, went via South America and the Europe and Russia, Mongolia and ended up in Japan. It was really, really interesting. I'm glad I went. Plus, I got to sit on an exercise bike and see how many calories I'm burning. Hmmmm, I don't think enough...

That evening I spent in Kurtevenai, the only one at the camp ground... I didn't feel comfortable, nor have a good night's sleep. But, I did catch up with Luca, a volunteer I met earlier in Paluse. He was based in the hills, some 4km from the village, with a bunch of students who were there to learn how to ride horses. It was 'accessible' via dirt road. Not altogether accessible for my bicycle but we, ie me and my bicycle, tried. We got there. It was probably the most idyllic countryside I've seen on this trip. Hills, a couple of houses, flowers, birds, trees. I ached at the beauty of it all. I scratched the bites...

Plateliai? Oh yes, that was when I caught the train from some little dot on the map to Plunge. I had to wait about 2 hours for that privilege. Staff at the station looked quite flabbergasted to see a tourist there. Obviously it is not a regular pick-up point. More rain. Thank goodness for the rail workers (what are they doing by the way - every station I rock up to they are working on the tracks?) who manage to lift my bike on to the train. I couldn't do it without them. Stopovers at train stations are strictly for one minute. Get in and get out. No mucking around (and of me quite stressful). Thank goodness they served coffee on this train. At 12:45pm without a coffee it was no wonder I had managed to go to sleep - sitting up - whilst waiting for the train.

When I got to Plunge I was heading north to Zemaitija National Park. First stop, Zemaiciu Kalvarija, one of Lithuania's most important Catholic pilgrimage sites. I sat in the church for a while, resting. Churches are great for that. Outside there was a family from Vilnius. I seem to attract attention with my bicycle. Without it, no one really gives me a second glance. The first question is always where are you from. Which is what this man asked. The second is one I don't normally get asked. Do you need something? Uh, maybe a toilet, some energy and those dark clouds to go away? No. I don't need anything. (Did he think I went to the church to ask for help of some sort?)

Well, I got the energy via a coke (hey why have I waited until now to get that boost?), the dark clouds became darker and there was no place for me to pee (in private), and I had quite a bit of climbing on dirt roads and then, scarier still, descending on dirt roads. I was very happy to see asphalt again after about 7km. I was not so happy to see the sky becoming even darker (really I didn't think it was possible) and then the thunder and lightening started... Oh dear, still 4km to go to get to Plateliai. Faster Bern, faster. C'mon coke do your thing. Amazing thing, thunder, lightening and coke. It's a combination that can break records I think. Still, when I got to Plateliai, it had started to rain and I now REALLY needed the toilet. I saw a petrol station. Yay, salvation! I hadn't factored in a stand-off... What do you mean you don't have a toilet and I should go to the town centre? Are you for real? It's raining outside, it's thundering and the lightening is well, doing its thing!!!! He finally relented, showing me the "personnel" toilet. Honestly!! Lucky he did. Things could have gotten quite messy... Empty bladder, clear mind, stormy skies. Me and the bike "sheltered" under a tree. We both got very wet. I decided I should eat first and then look for a place to stay because, well, it's good to have an empty bladder and a full stomach. Thinking is really clear then. After a couple of days of camping I allowed myself to not feel guilty about wanting to be inside and so it was. I found a gorgeous guesthouse where the lady gave me a little attic room, complete with leopard print blankets on the beds, hot pink walls (no it was not a bordello) and my own bathroom. All for 50Lt which is about $25. Thank you lady. I had a lovely night's sleep and didn't feel disgruntled for having to pay for a double room - that's always a good thing. And I got to wash my clothes. Bonus.

Ride to Klapeida was uneventful. Rain is now uneventful. It seems to be a daily occurrence which I have somehow (?) managed to avoid getting desperately wet in by either having access to a bus shelter/petrol station/restaurant at the earliest onset of rain. Is this a talent I have inadvertently developed? Or did I always have it and was never aware of it because we had been experiencing drought for all those years back home?

Actually, it wasn't totally uneventful. In the morning, still in Plateliai, looking for tourist information which was closed - surprise, surprise - I had a very brief conversation with Gintas, a bicycle tour leader who was leading 4 Lithuanian ladies around western Lithuania. I met him again, and his "lazy" (their words not mine) ladies a little later on in Orvydas Sculpture Park. As it turned out, one of the ladies, Goda, had done the 1999 Peace Ride I had read about in Siauliai. Interesting people, small world.

The next morning I was heading off to cycle along the Curonian Spit, a sliver of land at most 4km wide comprising of mainly sand dunes and mainly covered by pine forest. I was cycling this with Berky, a woman from Hong Kong I met at the hostel. Berky set quite a pace. I thought I was fit but I was stuffed by the time we got to Nida. I guess it also shows the difference in travelling with gear as opposed to without... That's my excuse anyway. Berky headed back on the same path back to Klaipeda. Me, I waited for my ferry across to Minge. It arrived late, and when it eventually did set sail, turned around to pick up more passengers who could not move on with their ferry, took even more time to set off again and then ran out of fuel at our first stop. (!!!) The sun was quite low when we got there. I then had goodness knows how many km of dirt road (gggrrrrrr) and a mad dash (with tail wind the final 3km because I went the long way around as the roads weren't signed posted (double gggrrrr) to the campground where I literally dumped my bike to run down to the beach to take photos of the setting sun. I met a lovely Dutch couple who said they were also camping and that I should come and have a wine with them (I suggested tea). I didn't realise we were staying at different campgrounds...

I was the only one at mine. Not as refined as an ADAC approved campground (think maroon toilet bowl and lime green toilet seat), African (his words) look showers (!! - could he see me through the gaps ??) but a very warm welcome indeed. His wife offered to make me tea but came out with wine instead. Guess I wasn't meant to drink tea. It was 11:15 by the time I had put up my tent and showered. I didn't even have the energy to make dinner. That was a very looooooong day.

Do I need to say I was stuffed the following morning? Do I even need to say it rained overnight so my tent was wet - again? Do I even need to mention coffee? Actually, I got latter just a few km's down the road at the supermarket coffee machine. Anything will do. The road was lovely, and Kintai village was lovely too. And it had a bakery. Coffee and pastry (actually pastries). Bliss. And, this is how small Lithuania is... I ran into Gintas, and his ladies again in Preikule where I had stopped for a lunch of (meat filled) dumplings, salad, and coffee.

The ladies were using bike paths and dirt roads which I think is definitely not lazy. Me, I went back on the highway. The A111, back Klaipeda bound (the circle) and then heading towards Palanga. I would have liked to have gone to Latvia but couldn't really see how far I needed to go after the border to get to a campground. Plus I had a pretty strong headwind so no real compulsion to push. Before Palanga I kind of got a bit lost trying to find the bike path near Karkle. I did find it with help from a local and it was a really lovely ride to Palanga through forest and meadow on a much used, dedicated bike path. (I really need to find another word for lovely and nice.) It was quiet and peaceful so Palanga came as a bit of a shock. In Victoria at least, we don't really have these full on beach extravaganzas with rides, market stalls, tacky souvenirs, loud music, and that typical European summer gait - ie slow. It didn't come as a shock. I had read that Palanga is beacon for beach loving Lithuanians (and others) during summer but probably just reaffirmed for me that this is not my scene. Good for people watching. Not for much else.

Tourist information was closed (by 5 minutes) so I had no idea where this camping ground was. Still, I had the good fortune to ask a fellow geared up cyclist if he was camping and if he knew where it was. He said yes, but his wife knew and she was in the supermarket at the moment. He offered to wait for me while I went to the supermarket too. How nice (oh dear there's that word...)! When I came out (eventually after picking the longest queue (!!)), there was Andrius & Jolita, ever so patiently waiting for me. Actually, it was good timing being in such a long queue. It came bucketing down and we all sheltered under a shop's awnings. Had they moved on they would certainly have gotten drenched. (That's what I say anyway).

That night we all camped together. They cooked me a meal (just like I was their guest!), helped me with my tent drying and set up and the following morning offered me to join them for breakfast before escorting me to Sventoji. How hospitable. Thanks so much.

So now I'm in Liepaja in a fantastic hostel. I was going to head off today but I didn't sleep well last night thinking about what I should do. Should I go to Germany for 10 days of cycling starting the 18th or stay here in Latvia? If I go to Germany I need to organise things. I don't like to organise my holiday (as you can see). I'm running out of time. Why can't holidays just come to a natural end instead of a forced-you-need-to-be-back-at-work end? Oh yes I know why but you know...why?n And damnit! It means I have to make a decision beyond stay or go... So anyway, I decided to put off the bigger decision of should I end my Latvian trip prematurely to undertake another trip to just prolong the Liepaja experience. Plus get my bike sorted...plus get my photos burned on DVD...plus get my haircut. One out of three ain't bad.

Two English boys in this hostel have said I should go to Germany... Still not sure... Please let me sleep tonight. I'm happy to put the vote out there. Thoughts anyone? So, on that note, tomorrow it's Kuldiga bound.

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