For ten days, I’d be driving across Lithuania and Latvia with my local friend and roommate Šarūnas. Where to? Honestly, not sure. Not a lot of the Lithuanian countryside is advertised around me in everyday life. So where to go? I guess just trust the locals. First off: get out of Kaunas.
The destination: Klaipėda
About two hours driving from Kaunas, Klaipėda is a little beach town that is usually flocked with tourists from all over the Baltics. But no road trip is purely about reaching the destination, so it was time to find some nice pitstops along the way. First stop was the Ninth Fort just outside Kaunas. One of the many fortresses built during the numerous occupations of Lithuania in the late 19th century, the Ninth Fort has seen a lot of dark times in the past century. Originally built to protect Kaunas, the fortress has seen roughly 50,000 deaths before it was decommissioned in the fall of the Soviet Union. 50,000. Try and wrap your head around that.Now the facade is painted a bright pink, but the inside remains a giant cavernous fort with consistently wet floors and bad energy. A concentration camp for Jews, and as an interrogation and holding spot for Soviet prisoners before being sent to Siberia. So many lives have passed through these caverns, and you can really feel that people have suffered. Etchings from French Jews still exist across these damp walls.
A monument now stands to commemorate all of the souls that have passed through here. Covered in trees, like all of Lithuania, the fortress now feels like more of a park. It’s eerily quiet, all you can hear is the rustling of the leaves with the thought of 50,000 deaths below them. It’s a surreal feeling, to say the least.
The next two-hour drive past in somber reflection, letting my mind wander as I get lost in vast forests as everything blurs to green. We eventually make it to the coast and walk through clouds of mosquitoes to get my first views of the Baltic Sea. I’m surprised by how clear and blue the water is. It’s like something out of the Caribbean, but with a lot more ticks and mosquitoes. But beautiful none the less. Wild Lithuania, with surprisingly beautiful beaches and never-ending jungles. We decide it’s best to go for a dip, so we head North to the resort town of Palanga. Resort for Latvians, Lithuanians, and Russians, this place is usually packed with people in the summer. But as we’re here in early June, it’s not too crowded yet since the water still feels like its floating with ice cubes. Regardless of wading through ice cubes, we dip our feet in until they turn blue and try to get a bit of a tan before heading back to Klaipėda. As I’m learning, most Lithuanian towns are adorable. So take your time, and get lost aimlessly wandering for as long as possible. Even if it’s by the Baltic Sea, Klaipėda has the same good energy as any beach town in the world. Everyones a bit more relaxed by the sea, even if it’s filled with ice.