Vilnius to Poland
Vilnius is beautiful. We arrived in the morning and went right to the square. It reminded me a little bit of the square in our city, Banska Bystrica, but more grandiose. At the top of the square there was a beautiful church from the 1200’s, but the inside was gutted. After World War II it operated as a museum of atheism until 1991. The rest of the city is covered in ornate churches; there seriously is a church on every corner. We saw as much as we could, but by 4pm we had to make our way to the next city. We had some difficulty navigating our way out, but finally we were on our way to Trakai. Trakai is a city surrounded by lakes known mostly for the island castle, and, as we found out, it is a HUGE weekend destination for locals.
Trakai didn’t disappoint. We didn’t actually go in the castle, but it was nice enough just to walk around (it really wasn’t the Mont St. Michel I’d imagined). We tried the dumpling famous in the area called cepelinai, a super oily cheese pastry (the meat version is more popular) and laughed over the Lithuanian word for thank you- “Achoo.” We left Trakai in the afternoon via the train station which told us to “Buy ticket the train,” but were quite happy when no one ever came to sell us a ticket. We rode southwest on the train for about an hour to avoid what was sure to be a long stretch of gravel roads, stopping only one stop before Belarus. The tracks don’t continue on anymore because Belarus is a very hard country to get into. So we rode from a little town called Marcinkonys with a couple younger than us that we met on the train named Karolos and Jogina. It was refreshing to speak with them because most cyclists we meet think we are bold for the few nights we slept in the open, but these people thought it was strange that we ever bothered to stay in campgrounds. They only went about 15 kilometers of the 45 to our destination Druskininkai so Burke and I rode on together through the beautifully wooded countryside.
Once while we were riding down a huge hill, one of Burke’s back panniers fell off and cartwheeled off the side of the road. Because I am perpetually riding behind him, I had a very good view of the whole thing and it was quite funny. So we had to stop and Burke climbed down the steep ditch to fetch his bag. I may or may not have been the responsible party for the bag’s rogue actions.
Arriving in Druskininkai, we met a Belgian couple at the campgrounds and they were shocked to not only see Americans traveling, but traveling by bicycle. They could hardly believe it. Also, the man was doing his touring on a recumbent bicycle. So when I told him that my parents own recumbent bicycles, I basically blew his mind. We were happy to help put an end to some of their “lazy American” stereotypes.
The next morning we went to Grutas Park. Now that is an interesting place. It is an outdoor museum housing all the old Baltic statues of former Communist leaders. My favorite part was that with every statue, there was also a photo of where the statue used to stand and sometimes a photo of the statue being torn down. Another strange thing we saw at the museum was a family of geese. Two parents and seven baby geese, but four of the seven had the same birth defect of their back right legs twisted behind their backs. It was sad, but made us realize it was the closest to Chernobyl we had ever been.
We tried to make it back to the campsite before it started to pour from what had turned into a black sky, but we didn’t and had to wait out the storm from half a mile away. Eventually we just rode through the rain to get back, realizing we wouldn’t be making it to Poland before the night after all. During the storm, Penny and Ian, two British tandem-cyclists we met earlier showed up. We spent some of the evening with them and agreed that we would ride to Poland together the next day.
The last thing Lithuania left us with was a taste for sesame seed cookies that we bought in a cafe. We liked them so much we bought a second helping the next morning before we rode to Poland.