11 Jul Bicycle touring Lithuania
Before we left the campground in Sulwaki, we met another bicycle tourist from Britain, who just made it to Poland from Sweden through Finland and down through Lithuania. He had no good new for us. According to him the weather was pretty nasty for the last few weeks and he had nothing good to say about bicycle touring on Lithuanian roads nor did he think the people were very open or friendly. Supposedly most everybody just showed him the cold shoulder, looked very stern and he never got a hello back…We hope that maybe, he just had a few bad days of cycling. Well, lets see what we’ll experience while bicycle touring Lithuania.
We had to ride about 30 miles of flat, busy road before reaching the border. Apparently, this is one of the major roads leading into the Baltic States, so there are a lot of trucks traveling on it. Needless to say, we were very happy to have a very nice wide shoulder to ride on, to have a little bit of distance from the loud trucks zinging by at high speed.
The border crossing was easy, since the Baltic states have become part of the Schengen zone. Actually if it wasn’t for the sign and an old abandoned border station, we probably would not have noticed that we even crossed a border.
Soon after crossing over though, we lost our nice big shoulder to cycle on. Also the traffic seemed to have picked up significantly and we had lots and lots of trucks zinging close by us. Many of them a little too close for our comfort. Luckily, after several miles, we did find another country road that was much more pleasant and made touring enjoyable again. There were hardly any trucks and the few car drivers were pretty courteous and left us plenty of room.
Once we made it about 20 miles into the country, we found a small campground, that was part of a little restaurant and shop. The lady was very friendly and surprised that we are coming all the way from Florida to bicycle through her country. It seems that we are the only campers on her little lot. She showed us where to get water and where to shower, she even offered that we could stay inside where there were tables and chairs and a small sauna and she even sold us a beer out of the small store, that was officially already closed.
The next morning we woke up early again..thanks to the unusual early sunrise…we packed up and rode toward Kaunas. We chose not to ride through Vilnius on our route through Lithuania because
1. it was a bit out of our way
2. we were told Kaunas was supposed to be prettier
3. we are trying to make it to Norway before midsummer-sun is over.
Since we have been continually traveling North, we are starting to have real difficulties telling what time it is anymore. It is starting to become daylight around 4 in the morning and it is still bright outside after 10 at night. No wonder, we ride forever and get to places when they are already closed in the evening.
Once in Kaunas, we looked around the oldest settlement and former capital of Lithuania. We checked out the supposedly longest pedestrian shopping street in the Baltics. We watched several newlyweds taking their pictures in front of some of the churches and in the market place, and we rode by the old fortress before continuing our bike ride toward northern Lithuania.
The people we met so far were smiling, very pleasant, and happy to say hello. There were many people riding their bikes through town and through the parks and everybody appeared cheery…not at all cold.
After leaving Kaunas, we headed toward Siauliai, where we planned on staying the night at another campsite before checking out the Hill of Crosses and riding into Latvia.
On our way to Siauliai, we rode through many little villages, which reminded us of the “Old West”. The wooden houses and churches looked a lot like they either just jumped right out of an old Western movie or like they were “Old Cracker Houses”, imported straight from Florida. We almost felt at home!
Since it was a long cycling day to Siauliai, where there was the only next campsite that we were aware of, we had no choice but try wild camping somewhere in between.
Unfortunately, most of the area along our route is very flat farmland. The only patches of woods that we spot are scattered between the fields and usually hide the farmhouses. So there was really nowhere for us to wild-camp.
Hungry and tired of looking for a place, we finally decide to ask at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, whether we could set up our tent behind the building.
The lady looked a little confused about our question. But finally told us it would be alright. She was only concerned that she would be off work at 10:00 pm (which was in 10 minutes…go figure it is still daylight outside!) and that nobody would be present.
We assured her, that would be alright with us; and after making sure that we would not have any trouble with the local police, we headed into the patch of woods behind the gas station to set up camp for the night.
The next morning we continued our uneventful, long ride to Siaulilai, where we discovered a Bike Museum. Unfortunately it was already closed for the day.
Again, this happens when it stays daylight forever and we have no clue what time it is!
Right outside the city, we reached a little campground, with a good business lady…maybe the man in Poland can lean a lesson from her.
The campground is fairly small and the price list hanging up at the reception is a little confusing at first. But it turns out that it is customary here for people to charge for the lot and the people extra and there is also a fee for bikes! Really?! We were never charged for bikes before!
We talked it over with the lady and told her that we were going to leave, because the price was a little too much for us. To put the price into perspective, she was asking for more than any place in all of Greece, including Athens that we have camped at. Instead of telling us off and sending us away, she simply asked us what we thought would be a fair price.
After agreeing on a suitable price, that made all of us happy, we got ready to set up our tent…just as it started to rain again.
The lady came back out and told us she has a small room with two beds for us, that we could use instead of sleeping outside in the rain…for no extra charge! Needless to say, we took her up on the offer, said thank you very much, and moved inside.
Very happy not having to pack up a soaked tent in the morning, we continued our bike tour through Lithuania. On our way to Latvia, we rode past another peculiar site: “The Hill of Crosses”.
It is said that 200,000 crosses and crucifixes have been brought here by mostly Lithuanians and it is quite a sight to see. There are very delicately carved wooden crosses, up to 3 meters high, and little tiny crosses hanging off of other crosses. We guess we will have to believe this number is correct because we stopped counting after 20 and it would be impossible to actually count them all.
The crosses are stacked and tangled up all over the hill in a chaotic but somewhat orderly fashion.
We walk through the sea of crucifixes to check many of them out before continuing our ride through the rain toward Latvia.
Despite of what we heard about Lithuania back in Poland, we really enjoyed our time cycling through Lithuania. We found the people to be friendly, the roads were good, and as long as we stayed off the main roads, the traffic was easy going as well.
Cycling in Lithuania was definitely another pleasant surprise and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as another cycling destination.