Sun, sand, wind, and sea. And the wonderful company of a laid back Kiwi named Holly. I am deliciously content. Across the water from the seaport of Klaipeda looms the forested sliver of the Curonian Spit, beckoning with shimmering sea and salty breezes. For two days I have explored elsewhere, resisting her charms, encountering the early evening tide of families, prams, and bikes flooding off the ferry into the cafes of the Old Town. Everyone sun-kissed and relaxed, some broiled pink, most in breezy sun dresses, swimsuits, floppy hats, flip-flops, and board shorts. A relaxed holiday crowd of Lithuanian city folk come to the seashore.
Today I joined them, accompanied by Holly, a New Zealander I met at my hostel. We set out early to beat the punishing heat and crowded beaches, joining the local crowd commuting 5 minutes across the water, from soaring harbor cranes to stunted, cool trees.
The Curonian Spit is one long sandy spit, a barrier between Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, that stretches from Klaipeda all the way down into an orphaned chunk of Russia. If we ignored the signs and trekked south through the sand dunes from Nida, we would enter Kaliningrad. But neither of us desired a night in a Russian detention cell, so we abided by the signs and stuck to the wooden boardwalk paths.
But I’m already ahead of myself.
I could tell stories about the drunk Lithuanian doctor who once served in Afghanistan who boarded the bus with us at Smiltyne for the little fishing village of Nida further down the spit, but he took a fancy to Holly. It is her story to tell. Up all night at the casino, he wanted to talk and Holly would be his ear.
Eventually she broke away and we took in the simple pleasures of Nida. Which is lovely. A simple community of humble little timber houses overflowing with gardens, many with slightly Norse flourishes on the roof eaves. Tiny boats bob in the harbors. Carts sell smoked fish, heads and all. To the south, a path leads to the grand sand dunes that sift and move over time. Rising above me like a giant castle wall, the dunes are surprisingly green, with drifts of grass and tiny trees grasping tenaciously to the sand, a tempestuous relationship. There’s something to that saying not to build your house upon the sand.
You are no longer allowed to walk on the dunes, as the weight of thousands of summer holiday visitors have pushed down the dunes over time. That doesn’t stop the more adventurous, walking right past warning signs to trek across the shimmering haze of golden sea, a sort of mini Sahara desert scene, hugged between the sea. We climbed the wooden boardwalk path up o the top of the grandest sand dune and gazed across into Russia. A stunning vista.
On the opposite of the spit from Nida runs a thin, perfect ribbon of sand, lapped by a gentle sea and studded by umbrellas and blankets. We arrived before the crowds, spread a towel, and munched pea pods, licked ice cream, and savored berries as the waves and intense sun lulled us into the deepest relaxation of my trip. Loosened up, we began to share our lives, in windows and doorways, little glimpses that began to fit into a larger puzzle.
The people watching – superb. Children splashing and building sand castles. Little boys running around in hat and shirt, but bottomless – I cringe to think of a sunburned bum and hope they wore sunscreen! Women in little bikinis, sunbathing and wading. Beach volleyball. And the ubiquitous man speedos that terrorize European beaches.
It was a lovely day. I returned to the fumes and noise of Klaipeda reluctantly, but renewed. Tomorrow on to big city Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. My batteries are fully charged for the final leg.