Archive | July, 2011

31st July – Vilnius

31 Jul

We had a fairly disturbed night at our picnic spot, as just as we got into bed a load of local youngsters arrived for a Saturday night of music and socialising (and who can blame them!). In a way it was quite funny as we were smugly saying only moments ago how lovely and quiet it was by the lake. It all went quiet at about 12.30am and so we got in a few hours sleep before the local ‘recycle team’ came from one of the small villages nearby to sort through all the bins looking for aluminium tins and bottles. They started at about 4.30am. Again you have to laugh…. On the plus side it was free, had a portaloo and lots of bins!

The coordinates for a city camping site were then put into the sat nav and we made the short journey (about 27km) to Vilnius (capital city). It has a population of only half a million, and although lovely in the centre, the outskirts have many old Soviet era concrete tower blocks which are not particularly pretty. I am sure that gradually over time these will be improved as the rest of the city has been. This is not really any different from the outskirts of most east european cities.

We took the trolley bus from just outside the campsite to the central station (2.5ltl). Then as we got further into the centre we started to see why people are so enthusiastic about Vilnius. Both the new business and shopping areas and the old town are certainly worth visiting. There are lots of buildings in the old part of the town which have been renovated and now look beautiful.

In order to get an overall view of the city we wandered up to the top of Castle Hill, where there has been a castle since 1316. It has been destroyed and rebuild many times over the years, but always on the same site. There is a great view from the top.

The cathedral in cathedral square.

As you walk out of the square into Gedimino prospektas, which is the road with all the high street stores (even has M&S!), you pass the National Drama Theatre and walk under three figures symbolising Drama, Tragedy and Comedy.

We headed back to the campsite and cooked up chicken in a satay sauce with garlic and onion. Fresh new potatoes out of Marjool’s parents back garden. Desert was rice pudding (made from yesterday’s left over rice) with fruit yogurt and a sprinkle of sugar….mmmm we know how to live it up!

We are leaving for the Baltic coast in the morning, feeling guilty that we have not spent enough time in Vilnius. It is obviously a city with so much to look at and we have given it barely one day. It deserves more but when we only have a week to spend in Lithuania you have to make some compromises.

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30th July

30 Jul

We started the drive north from our abandoned school towards Vilnius past more lakes and through beautiful rolling hills and rural countryside. Just before we left we watched a lady milking her cow. A nice start to the day! The roads are much better than Polish roads with far less bumps and potholes. There are also lots of stopping places for a quick drink or picnic and the other drivers do not tend to overtake in quite the same enthusiastic way! The roads are also very quiet and in the area south of Vilnius and the side roads to the small villages are often unpaved. There are a lot less new houses than Poland in this area.

Just off the the A16 we saw a brown sign for a monument. It turned out to be a hill that used to have a fort on. Once on top of the hill there was a nice view of the river below, winding its way through pine woods. We had just stopped along the road to take yet another nice house picture and a man stopped next to us to ask if we needed help. We explained that we had just stopped for coffee and he insisted on escorting us to a good spot. Just goes to show that the Lithuanians are just as friendly as the Polish … great start!

We had seen a photograph in a guide book of a nice looking castle at Trakai about 27km west of Vilnius, and as we had had a special request from John FL in Bridford Devon for a castle with round towers, we thought we ought to get a couple of pictures! It turned out to be a lovely place with a great atmosphere. The castle is on a little island and on a sunny Saturday it was a popular place for locals to visit.

There were lots of weddings and hen parties everywhere. Everyone was smiling and laughing and it was great just to sit and watch people go by.

Walking along through the stalls on the side of the road were all the normal tourist bits, but one was a bit more unusual. It was just filled with ex military uniform hats and gas masks. Not sure where from, but it made a change!

Black clouds started to roll in in the evening, which has been a bit of a pattern over the last couple of weeks, so we headed off to a picnic area by the lake where Marjool cooked a tasty rice dish (Nasi Goreng). Another day gone already!

29th July – Lithuania!

29 Jul

Diesel Price 4.33 Ltl (£1.11) / Litre and Petrol 4.66Ltl (£1.19) / Litre

Spent some time drinking coffee and using McDonalds free wifi this morning. Nice to chat to Tom and our China travelling companions on Skype (currently in Budapest), and catching up with a few e-mails. We then headed on to the Lithuanian border, which again was completely open and pretty much deserted.

After crossing the border the gentle rolling hills start to become a little higher, but the scenery is still very similar to north east Poland (not surprisingly). There are still lone cows, wooden houses, but the fields are already a different shape. There is also a lot of storks nesting on the top of powerline poles.

We headed south east to the lake area near a town called Veisiejai looking for a place to stop. Firstly we looked in a little campsite that had lovely rustic covered picnic areas and an unusual toilet block.

We decided not to stay at the campsite as lots of people were due to turn up for Friday night and so decided to carry on to the lakes. Just outside the campsite we found a good spot to stop for tea and would have stayed there but someone came and told us that we could not free camp that close to the water.

Our overnight spot tonight is the playground of an abandoned school. While eating an evening snack, a group of young girls from one of the houses nearby asked us in perfect english if we needed anything. They offered us the use of their toilet and fresh water supply (really friendly and made us think that we are in right spot for the night).

As we arrived in Lithuania we had to change our watches 1 hour forward. The nice thing about travelling overland by vehicle is that you don’t get jetlag! Travelled west to east for 3 weeks and still only 2 hours time difference from home.

28th July

28 Jul

Still at the lake today, catching up with the washing and other jobs. Picked out a few pictures that we did not have the chance to include earlier. One is really a reminder to us to look up an explanation as to why Poland has thousands of small fields and very few large ones. They seem to typically 200m long and about 20m wide. They often have a different use/crop to the land next to them, sometimes they have just one lone cow. Try looking at google earth and compare the fields in Poland with the fields in say England or Holland. Maybe the land has just been shared out?

Nice houses.


Once the jobs were done, the rest of the day was spent reading Lithuania guide book, rowing, fishing, playing boules and badminton with the others on the campsite. On the move again tomorrow morning … rain forecast!

27th July – Lake near Giby

27 Jul

Today we carried on driving north towards Giby. We had planned to camp near a lake and so turned off the main road and found a small farm campsite (24 zl) per night and we could put the camper right by the water.

 

 

Graham spotted a rowing boat at the farm which was available for hire for 7 zl per hour (about £1.50) and so decided to book it for an hour in the evening and a few hours in the morning. When he got back (without any fish!) we were invited by the other campers to join them at the campfire to share their fried fish, sausage, bread and Polish Vodka. They were really friendly people and they made us really welcome.

26th July – J.Siemianowskie (lake)

26 Jul

On the way to the village that we stayed in, we stopped briefly in another village just down the road to make a cup of tea. There were people sitting on benches on the roadside, who looked amazed to see an english car (and an odd one at that!) roll up and stop. Soon a group of really friendly but inquisitive men surrounded the car and asked lots of questions that we did not understand. They were so frustrated that they could not communicate and we were sad that we could not understand them either. The best that we could do was to show them how the bits that they pointed to worked. The elevating roof was the most popular.

 

 

 

We also stopped at some roadside stalls where people sold off their surplus fruit.

 

 

While we were staying at the house we walked down the road to stretch our legs, as we had spent a lot of time sitting down driving over the last couple of weeks. A nice old man wanted to show us inside his house, and in particular his family photos of his wife who had sadly passed away, his children and grandchildren. It was very touching and although we did not speak his language, there was no need. He proudly showed us his wood fired kitchen range which also provides the heat in the cold winter weather.

 

 

This morning we were invited into the hosts kitchen for local delicacy of potato pancakes and then taken outside for a quick lesson in goat milking. Its not as easy as it looks, I think that I did not squeeze hard enough as nothing came out!

 

 

Our host was obviously amused and came to the rescue with some expert ‘ squeeze and pull’!

 

 

Sadly it was time to leave, but not before we had a glass of fresh goats milk and a bag of  fresh vegetables from the garden plot. We hope that we have made friends that we will see again some time. We have the address and so will keep in touch. Tom the grandson and his favourite auntie may even want to come and see us at home!

 

 

People like this make you realise how kind and friendly the Polish people are. You can turn into a random street in a tiny village and meet people who open their homes to strangers, look after and feed them. We were touched by their generosity and kindness!

25th July – Grabowiec

25 Jul

Spent the day driving through some beautiful Polish countryside getting closer to the border with Belarus. The villages still have a mixture of new and old houses , but here the older ones are in the majority.

As you drive through the villages the older locals are all sitting outside their houses or someone else’s house chatting and watching the world go by.

In the next village, Grabowiec, we were passing a family sitting outside their house and we waved and smiled as we passed. A few meters down the road there was a good place to stop for the night so we pulled in. Moments later the lady that we had passed was coming over to talk to us in Polish. We understood that she wanted us to come and stay at her house! We ended up parked in their back garden, being spoilt with polish sausage and bread, fruit tea, soup and dinner. They are lovely people!

Another heavy thunderstorm tonight.