Blogged by Anne
From Riga, we jumped onto a 5 hour bus to the Lithuanian town of Klaipeda. We were only there to catch a ferry, but there was a massive (possibly naval themed) festival on when we arrived and so we stopped to sample the local sausage and beer as well as a weird traditional malt drink. We weren’t brave enough for the fried pig ears. From there, it was a 2 hour ride on a small ferry to Nida, a tiny holiday village on the UNESCO listed Curonian spit.
The spit is a long (98km), narrow (400m – 4km) strip of land which separates the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic Sea. It is partly owned by Lithuania and partly by a small section of Russia which is cut off from the rest of the country. It is covered by dunes and forests and is a very popular holiday destination for Lithuanians who come to cycle, hike and lie on the beach (there are great beaches by European standards on the Baltic side). We stayed in a pleasant hostel which was quite good value https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Hotel_Review-g277800-d4696329-Reviews-Zunda-Nida_Klaipeda_County.html and spent our time exploring the area and enjoying the sun (we were very lucky – the name Lithuania comes from the word for rain!). Our hostel recommended a restaurant which sells only delicious smoked fish and beer – Tik Pas Jona. The fish is whole and is priced by weight. When we asked what time the restaurant was open until they told us ‘while there is fish, we are open.’
Rather than take take the long ferry back to Klaipeda, we caught a bus which travels all the way down the spit to Smiltyne from where the ferry ride back to Klaipeda is only a few minutes. Then we were off via train to Vilnius. For reasons I won’t bore you with, we had booked four nights in Vilnius and fortuitously it was our favourite of the Baltic capitals. We loved the fact that it feels like a real city, with tourists and locals mingling rather than concentrated in a Disneyesque tourist zone. We did an excellent free city tour, visited the artists ‘independent republic’ and there was much sampling of local craft beer and food. We particularly enjoyed Mano Guru which specializes in salad.
The independent republic of Užupis was set up as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek initiative by artists squatting in a run down area towards the end of communism. Now it’s a fairly gentrified area, but still has some artists in residence and is fully of public art, including the republic’s constitution.
From Vilnius we enjoyed a day trip to the excellent museum at Trakai castle, about 45 minute away by train. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe in the 14th century so Lithuania has a longer history as an independent country than the other Baltics. This makes for some interesting medieval history which is showcased in the castle including interesting artifacts and reconstructed rooms.
The Baltics have exceeded our expectations and proved to be fun and easy to travel around with Vilnius in Lithuania and Lahemaa in Estonia our top picks. People speak excellent English and infrastructure such as wifi is excellent. Next up we head further south to Poland and the Balkans!