Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Klaipeda Calls - Part 3 – Our New Best Friend!

After a good night sleep – we are back in the square looking for Jurgita. We have two large bags of gifts for her in the form of clothing to help round out her wardrobe. The plan is to meet her in the square – give her the bags and walk back to her apartment to drop them off and then start our day. Jurgita arrives promptly at 9:00 AM as promised – her bight face filled with smiles.

We thrust the bags at her and a shy smile passes her lips as she looks down. We quickly walk with her to drop off the bags and head back to “our place” to grab a bite of breakfast before heading on the ferry out to Smyltyne and the Baltic Sea. A couple of cheese omelets later and we are off to the dock to catch the ferry across the lagoon.

It is still early so we do not have much of a crowd to deal with. The round-trip ride on the ferry is a very cheap $1.50 and we have the entire rail to ourselves as we float gently down the river towards the lagoon. Crossing the lagoon we can see for miles down the pier. Cargo ships do the pier against a forest of cranes that haul cargo out from dark holds. Ships that hail from all over the world are hard at work here – farther down the docks are the cruise ships – most from Germany – that dock here for a day or two of vacation fun. The cruise across the lagoon is fairly short, almost 10 minutes, and we soon find ourselves at the edge of a large, lush forest – the sound of the breaking waves of the Baltic Sea well off in the distance.

Cabs, horse drawn cabs, buses and a motor train all wait for the visitors that will pile into this area throughout the day. This is the vacation spot of Lithuania along with Palanga. Hotels, shops and restaurants dot the length of the atoll. Here at the dock, small concession stands and souvenir stands pepper the length of the entrance of the forest. We enter on the first path to Smyltyne – the first beach at the furthest end of the atoll. At the entrance of this path vendors hawk their wares – from newspapers, to hot dogs, to ice cream to an old lady who is selling fried garlic bread sticks. The path is not very crowded as we head to the sea. The weather is warm, the sky is a bright blue – clear for miles and miles – the breeze is warm – in short a wonderful day to be at the Sea.

We emerge from the forest onto the white sands of the Baltic Sea. While it is a bit cooler – it is not like yesterday and we dump our shoes, roll up our pant legs and like children begin to splash around in the water – it is cool not too cold and fun to be in. We start to walk down the beach, headed south, collecting shells and searching for amber stopping for the occasional Kodak moment – chatting about this and that along the way. We enjoy each other’s company and we especially enjoy the bright sun!

We come up to the next path a mile or so down the beach and head back into the forest. Egi has plans to be back in Kaunas today – we only have until 2:00 PM and Jurgita wants to take us to a castle museum and a few other spots. By the time we get back to the dock the people are already pouring in for the day. Nearly twice as many people are on the dock as when we left. The next ferry comes in – packed from front to back and on the upper deck, we are all glad that we came early and had the beach to ourselves.
We return on the ferry with the majority of the boat to ourselves. This time we sit quietly on the benches taking in the sea breeze and watching the water float gently by ads the ferry cuts smoothly through the water. Soon we are back on dry-land again headed to the Pilies Muziejus (Castle Museum).

This is really a hidden treasure of Klaipeda! Buried deep behind shipping warehouses, unless you are directed there you would never be able to locate it. Apparently, while expanding the warehousing space, they stumbled upon the find. Now, cordoned off – the dig has been turned into a museum with a small portion of the castle recreated on the actual foundation in order to house the museum. Inside there is a treasure trove of information and display available to look at. At first – when you initially walk up to the museum, it does not look like much and we are hesitant to pay an admission price – but once inside – we quickly realize it is well worth the cost.

Inside the castle has been recreated in great detail. Displays of the artifacts recovered are interestingly put together to tell a provocative story. Computer generated displays reveal the history and growth of the castle and Klaipeda. The museum Director seems to take an interest in us and begins to give us a very informative personal tour. His English is good so we enjoy the tour very much. We spend much more time there than we thought we would and find ourselves rushing out in order to meet Egi on time to begin our trip back to Kaunas.

Our good-bye with Jurgita is tearful and heartfelt. We all like each other sincerely and realize that this maybe the last time we she each other for at least a couple of years. Jurgita hints at a possible visit to America, but we all know it is very difficult for a young person to get a Visa – in fact, it is nearly impossible as the government does not want to lose the younger generation to the lure of the West.

Egi is prompt and we bid farewell to Jurgita.

Once in the BMW as we begin to navigate the roads out of the city, Egi suggests that we take the scenic route home, a long and winding back-road that runs along the river all the way into Kaunas. Scenic cannot even begin to describe the beauty of this road. We travel through small villages and hamlets along single lane roads that are sometimes congested with horse drawn carts. We travel through wavy fields of hay and grain; pastures of cows that are staked to the ground to keep them from wandering; orchards and orchards of fruit trees as well as rolling hills of green forest. Dotted through-out are ancient castles that at one time provided and early warning system to the city of Kaunas. A threat from the sea would begin a chain of events that started with the castle in Klaipeda. A fire would be lit in the highest tower which would be seen by the next castle. The next castle would then light a fire in their highest tower signaling the next castle down the line; and so on and son all the way to the castle in Kaunas where preparations would begin to defend the city. We stop at a couple of castles to check things out and I marvel at the engineering might that built them.

We stop in a small village just outside of Kaunas at a turnout that looks out over the river – the view is breath taking and we spend a few moments drinking in the this natural masterpiece made by God. It is nearly 6:00 PM by the time we arrive at home – Egi has invited us back to his apartment to visit with his wife Ina and his two boys David & Ginas. It is not a long visit, just long enough to have a little fun with the kids and visit with Ina – Egi’s cute as a button wife. We are home fairly early by our standards – juts enough time to get ready for tomorrow and our visit with Vile and Milda – the perfect way to cap of the vacation!

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