I arrived on the Baltic Coast of Lithuania in the middle of a summer heat wave, the sizzling rays roasting my skin. I burned in places I forgot existed, even between my toes. My sunscreen bottle suffered hourly abuse as my sunglasses permanently fused to my head. I walked the streets of Klaipeda among the hordes of holidaymakers arrayed in tacky floral shirts and mismatched board shorts, skimpy little sundresses and thwacking flip-flops, always in constant search of the city’s dappled shade, havens of cool relief in the pockets of parks along the river.
This is a modern harbor city: noisy, dirty, concrete cookie-cutter Soviet apartment complexes and belching cars. A massive port, a forest of harbor cranes and ship masts. But this is also a breezy Baltic sea resort, just a 5 minute skip of a ferry ride (crammed with the well-oiled beach crowd) from the city to the languorous long stretch of the Curonian Spit. I spent my evenings in the cafes of Klaipeda’s small cobblestoned Old Town and my days lounging on the sparkling white sands of the Spit. It was like being sucked into a Virginia Woolf novel, a real-life To the Lighthouse. A postcard family beach scene, with perky striped umbrellas, vendors selling melting ice cream and sticky berries from rattling carts, and fathers dunking squealing sons into the gentle waves of the sea.
I ascended the huge sand dunes for soaring views. The Kaliningrad orphan of Russia lay to the south, a heavily forested chunk of the sea-embraced long line of sand. In the fishing village of Nida below, i sampled smoked fish among the bright blue and red timber houses, lush with kitchen gardens and Nordic roof flourishes.
For a break from the sand and sea, I headed inland, to the remote and once deeply hidden Plokstine Missile Base, an underground bunker orbited by four nuclear missile silos buried deep within the earth. Closed in 1978 and forgotten until recently, the base is now a national museum where small tour groups descend into the claustrophobic tunnels still plastered with Russian signs and ghostly flickering lights that cast a sickish tinge to even the healthiest face. I peered deep into a missile silo and pondered the absurdity of the moment. A child of the Cold War. Daring to thread where once I would have been arrested for being a spy, in the heart of humankinds’ suicidal tendencies.
It took the glistening, joyous sea and breezy cafes of Klaipeda to recover.
To enjoy my photo slide show, click on the link below.