Driving to China (ish) - Day 6

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May 6th 2015
Published: May 8th 2015
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Day 6 - Palanga to Rezekne

The aim was to drive through Lithuania into Latvia, ending at Rezekne close to the Russian border. There were two reasons however that we went out of our way to stay in Palanga in the first place; To swim in the Baltic Sea, and to explore a genuine decommissioned ICBM launch site at Dvina.

The first goal was accomplished in the morning before breakfast, and although the beach had soft yellow sand, the day was cold and damp and we all mumbled quiet goodbyes to parts of our bodies we didn't think we'd see again for a while. Following a brisk swim (me), paddle (John), and slight moistening of a big toe (Dave F), we had breakfast on the promenade. John and Dave's plates of ham, fried eggs and cold brown peas were an odd combination but were eaten all the same.

The Plokstine silo complex, about 80km east of Palanga, was the first to be built by the USSR as part of it's intercontinental ballistic missile nuclear deterrent, and could launch four R2 missiles capable of striking virtually any global target. Since decommissioned, it is now open to visitors.

We made it to the gates after about an hour on the road, having also taken a short deliberate excursion/wrong turn down a bumpy forest track. This had nothing to do with my first rate navigating skills.

On arrival, we found out at the small ticket office that tours were every hour, so we used the time to poke around in the nearby forest hoping to see an elk. We didnt.

Back at the office we were given our optional audio guide equipment, and set off towards the complex. As can be seen in one of the attached diagrams, there are four launch silos set out in a square. The command and control functions, together with the facilites to fuel and maintain the rockets were kept in a two storey bunker below the centre of the square.

Once underground our chaperone left us to explore. The place was amazing. Most rooms were filled with displays and superb information about the cold war and the events that led to the creation of such weaponry.

Numbers on the walls let you choose the correct segment of the audio commentary, which augmented the written information perfectly albeit in a cheesy US accent. Oddly, some additional audio segments had also been recorded in a thick Yorkshire accent, but the combination simply added to the arcane nature of the whole experience.

The complex cost as much to build as a small city, and a large storage facility for additional rockets was built nearby. The first tests however showed that the silos needed extensive repairs after a single launch. Taking the principle of M.A.D into account, here was little point in continuing to store spare 'ammunition' nearby, and that facility was quickly closed. Shortly after, the advent of spy satellites with high definition cameras made the concealment of such launch sites impossible to conceal from the US, and attention turned developing mobile platforms.

The Dvina base was finally decommisioned and all R2 rockets destroyed following deproliferation accords.

A lot of time, thought and money had gone into this museum. In my view, one shared by John and Dave F, this is one of the most extraordinary and fascinating museums in Europe, and would entirely justify a trip to Lithuania on its own. When you are standing just 6 feet away from where a warhead once stood, and knowing just how close we came at Cuba, it is amazing that we are still here at all........but therein lies hope too.

On leaving Dvina we had a 7 hour drive to Rezekne by the Latvian - Russian border. We stoped quickly to have a look at the hill of crosses just outside Šiauliai. The clue is in the name. A site of pilgrimage, the hill has been visited by Pope John Paul II. Some pics at the foot of the page.

As with Poland, both Lithuania and Latvia have been putting significant investment into their roads, upgrading bumpy, potholed carbreakers into smooth fast highways. There are lots of roadworks, but give it 3 or 4 years and all three countries could be traversed with minimum of fuss.

Latvia was however far less developed than Lithuania - the parts that we saw - making us wonder at the reasons; both have the Euro, and therefore access to finance for improvements, but Lithuania seemed to be streaking ahead. I'll try to find out more.

John took the last driving stint to Rezekne, doing a sterling job in the dark and the rain, with no streetlighting or roadmarkings to assist on those last country roads. It helped to be able to follow a white van for 2 hours, who sadly must have wondered who the hell was pursuing him.

With no time for golf on day 6, we crashed at the Latgale Hotel in town for night, with the first big border crossing to come the next day.


Ps/ There was a big red button on the wall at Plokstine. Do you think we pushed it?

Additional photos below
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8th May 2015

The blog is awesome man! Look forward to reading it every day

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