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Published: June 27th 2011
Sometimes I get to a blank computer screen and think, what on earth am I going to write about? Not because there's nothing to write about - there always is - but where to begin.
When I left Vilnius, or should I say when I tried to leave Vilnius, it was another late start. By the time I'd run around to get groceries and another piece of that pastry (!!) it was well past 10. Add to that getting my bearings completely wrong and cycling in the absolute opposite direction to my intended one (having dismissed the taxi driver's assistance with way-finding (shame on me) and not only was it a late start but it didn't put me in the best of moods. Trying to find the A16 amongst all the other signage seemed to be like finding a needle in a haystack. And Vilnius is hardly a city you would describe as a sprawling metropolis. But finally, there it was. Thank God! I could see and feel another roadside tanty coming up.
Trakai is only 25km from Vilnius. My speedometer at the end of the day read 42km. Hmmmm. That's a fair bit of getting lost.
Already in a dark mood, I wasn't impressed with the 'help' from tourist information once I got there. To be fair, was I feeling better I would not have taken her nonchalance (ie a little too much focus on what was happening on her computer screen and not enough on me) personally. But I wasn't so - it just fuelled my anger. So, in this mood I almost bowled over a man who walked in front of me when I was trying to pass. I was already cursing. And then it rained. I'd only gotten a few metres ahead of him when I stopped. He called me back, motioned to me to come to him and when I did, he picked up my bike (all 40+kg) and hauled it up some stairs so it too could be sheltered from the rain. I ate humble pie very quickly.
When the rain passed we went out separate ways. He to I don't know where. Me to the visit the island castle that makes this place one of the most visited in Lithuania. It looked quite impressing against a backdrop of extremely dark clouds... And then it came down again. I sheltered under a shop's awnings as did another woman. As it turned out, she was a tour guide for a German group she was leading. She seemed genuinely happy to seem me saying that I reminded her of her daughter who was living and studying in the States and then was determined to give me these little pasties (kibinai) she had bought (4!!). I relented but insisted on only one. I ate more humble pie.
So here I was in this town, the camping ground another 7km ride away, it was wet and well, I didn't like the idea of camping in the rain and riding another 7km for the privilige so I went in search of a place to stay. Why can't there ever be any accommodation for singles? Why is everything made for two? I ended up in a B&B which, in this country is private rooms in someone's house and well, breakfast is not really included (but if you want it you can pay extra). It was nice enough but I do begrudge having to pay the same price as a couple.
I left my stuff and went out exploring again. One thing with all this rain it creates these clouds which are HUGE and makes for really interesting light too. Not great for cycling and camping but great for photos. On my explorations, I saw a solar panel vehicle with Swiss number plates. I thought I had seen this car travelling in the opposite direction earlier on today and when I asked the guy, he said yes, it was him. We had a bit of a chat and agreed to meet up again for a bite to eat a little bit later on. As I continued, the rain came down again and I sheltered at a bus stop (do you see a pattern here?). This time my companion was a Polish Canadian here in Trakai on holidays with his Polish family. It was a nice way to spend 10-15 minutes while the rain did its thing. Before this trip I hadn't really appreciated the power of rain to get people together.
That evening I caught up with Marc and his beautiful dog Lupita (brought all the way from Columbia and only 9 months old) and capped off dinner with a trip around the island on a water paddle boat. I swear I was the only one doing the peddling... But it was fascinating hearing about where he'd been and for how long (North America, South America and now in Europe starting in Turkey and heading north, so far 15 months and finishing at 18 months) and who he'd met with (ambassadors and environmental ministers of different countries). All this at 30? Impressive.
The next day, a catch up for coffee, a goodbye pat to Lupita and it was off - to the train station. I could not be bothered with the rain and cycling so thought this could be an option. Four and a half hours later I was on the train to a tiny little dot on the map, Marcinkonys. Ofcourse by the time I got there tourist information was closed, another heavy downpour ensued and well, in times like this, eating is a good option so I thought I would go in search of this cafe that the guidebook said I could get snacks in. I walked in and, um, one look and smell of the joint told me that this was no place for a woman travelling alone. I hastened out and with that all thoughts of spending the night in Marcinkonys and doing a hike around the place in the morning and visiting the nearby Clepkeliu bog area disappeared.
By this time it was around 7. The shadows were getting long but the light was really beautiful and I have to say it felt really good to be on my bike and cycling on this quiet road lined on both sides with forest and creating distance between me and that village. But where to sleep? Actually, I was quite happily resigned to finding myself a place in the forest feeling a lot safer there than in a village like Marcinkonys. And then there was a sign with a tent on it. I followed it, assured by the woman in the shop that it was OK, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a large area occupied by, as I later found out, two separate slalom kayaking teams being, as it was, situated on a river. it was nice to be camping around people. And even nicer to be invited to drink tea and have breakfast with them the following morning. So, as you can see (and me too!), all worked itself out in the end.
A massive thunderstorm in the morning meant that I packed up my tent wet but, as the day wore on, it got warmer, and drier. I visited Grutas park, a sculpture park comprising old Soviet monuments salvaged from around the country and reassembled here. Yes, there were as many statues of Lenin as there are potato recipes, but regardless, the size and power of these monuments was impressive. Later I rode further to Druskininai, a spa town near the border with Belarus, determined to drink some of the famed mineral water... Ugh, it's disgusting. It was like copping a mouthful of Port Phillip Bay - salty. And that is where the town gets its name, druska meaning salt. Not quite what I was expecting.
I rode back along the same road I had travelled on earlier in the day, and then 3km on a dirt road to a village called Ziogeliai. I had met a lovely Lithuanian couple in Paluse who had invited me to stay at their sodyba (farmstay) there. What a welcome I received. I was sat down, fed and watered and at the end of it shown to my cottage. What a blissful night's sleep. Thank you Lolita and Raimundus!
Another late start the following morning (another pattern). I was seen off with a warning that the forecast for the afternoon was for thunder and even heavier rain. Great! And, just as I left the village and approached Grutas (yes again, the same stretch of road for the 3rd time!) it came down. And again a restaurant (an Armenian restaurant) was my salvation. Right coffee it is. More rain. Right, dumplings (very yummy) and ayran it is. Rain stops. Oh I get it, rain is a restaurant/hostel conspiracy. Start again. Nice cycle. Took the wrong road though... ended up on a dirt road for 14km which was pretty hard going because, well, after rain dirt becomes kind of mud which um, my road bike doesn't take to all that well. Not all that much fun. And then it rained again (surprise, surprise). No restaurant. Just trees and not much of a canopy to shelter beneath. But then it stopped. The sun came out and it was back on the bike. When I got to Merkine I was ready to call it a day and really I'd only done a half one. But as per usual, tourist information shut and so no possibility of even a private room. But, I'd already prepared myself for camping so I just wanted to know if there was a camping grond around or not. The map indicated one about 10km away. No problems. Easy. Only issue was my map didn't indicate this small place where it was meant to be and well, I think I missed the turn off. Although, I don't recall there being a road sign for this little place either. So, that night, I spent it freecamping just off the roadside. The only thing with this spot, fantastic as I thought it was, was that it was on a "road". By this I mean it was on a track but it didn't look like it had been used for some time (or so I hoped). In any case, I slept with all my clothes on lest I get woken by a farmer with a tractor needing me to move my tent out of his way. It didn't come to that. Thank goodness. I didn't have the best night's sleep but, it was some. The next morning it was up at 5:30 (!!) and off. But not before I made note of all the mosquitoes harbouring between the fly and tent. OMG! I thought the ones that got me in the evening were numerous enough let alone the ones that were just lurking and waiting...
I was Kaunas bound and made it (107km) and managed to squeeze in a 3-hour walk around the open air museum in Rumsiskes in between. The museum displays buildings representing the different ethnographic areas of Lithuania. It was interesting, but at around 7km walk around the place, I was really rather stuffed by the time I got to the hostel that night.
And here I am. Meaning to go today but with no motivation to do so. Am thinking I might get my haircut instead... wait for my washing to dry... maybe write some postcards. Speaking of writing, this is not so much as a plea, but I would really love to hear from my friends no matter how trivial you think your news is. Look at mine. I'm thinking of getting my haircut for crying out loud. Hardly riveting stuff. Until next time.
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