The Long, Long Road to Georgia

And I don’t mean the one next to Alabama.

Usually when I travel around Europe on weekend adventures or school breaks, I take my backpack and stuff it with all my goodies. That includes about 3 sets of clothes, an extra pair of pants, and all the doo-dads a wanderer requires for a max three-week adventure. This upcoming trip would need a bit more, however. In fact, I won’t be back to Denmark until the end of February. So where will I be? In short, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and America before spending my first semester of senior year abroad at Lingnan University in Hong-Kong. Not having much of anything back home in the United States, it means that everything I pack for this trip will be what I have to live with until February. That’s a sobering thought.

Whenever I go on longer trips, I bring my trusted black duffel bag. It squeezes perfectly into EU regulated carry on dimensions and can hold a surprisingly large amount. I was able to hold my clothes and two full-sized Albanian rugs on my last trip around the Balkans. But after walking miles upon painful miles around Tirana and other random Albanian cities, I decided I would need something to preserve my back on this next trip. Naturally, this brought me to my favorite store in the world: IKEA.

The centre for all my favorite design and homeware goods, IKEA now apparently sells bags as well. For me, a large backpack with waterproof skin and pockets galore…just small enough to fit the carry on requirements. And it has my favorite shade of bright orange!IMG_4266.jpgI couldn’t fit the guitar, but you can be sure I tried. This all set me back a good $40, but as I’ll be living out of this bag for more than six months I see it as a worthy investment. If you’re interested, you can check it out here: https://www.ikea.com/dk/da/catalog/products/40401878/

New bag ready, I packed up six sets of shirts, socks and undies, 2 shorts, jeans, and hiking pants and all my goodies for the road ahead. First stop: Gdańsk. The city in Northern Poland can be reached from Aarhus for a pretty extraordinary cost of $6…but the train 1:30 long train to the Aarhus airport will cost about $35 on a good day. Denmark always finds a way to get you. But as it’s so cheap, it’s probably worth it. I’m traveling with my lovely Slovakian lady friend Ivana, who has valiantly decided to put up with my nonsense for the next month and a half, and we start the nonsense off right. 36129552_10213963064449242_8786200621603618816_n.jpgNo trip to Eastern Europe can be complete without a Slav squat.

The flight hardly takes an hour, and we’re in the adorable Polish city to enjoy the afternoon. This is my second time in Gdańsk, but I’m just as impressed as the first time I came here. Designed in the same light and style as Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Copenhagen, Gdańsk easily rivals these cities architecture with a specific Polish charm. IMG_4278.jpgBuildings are beautiful, houses are cute, and it’s all reasonably affordable: as you’d expect from anywhere in the East. Honestly, Poland is one of my favorite countries in Europe. Every town I’ve visited is so charming, (relatively) non-touristy, and cheap. That’s the makeup for a great stop. 36270704_10213963063769225_3182053789712515072_nPhoto cred to Ivana. It’s extremely underrated and so beautiful. A perfect place to start a trip. We find a couchsurfer named Michal, who is an IT man by day and rescuer in his free time. And he has four cats (also rescues). You’d expect an apartment with four rescued cats to be like an episode of Planet Earth…and you’d be right. But in general, the cats were extremely loving and cuddly, and were more than willing to cover all of our clean clothes with their hair. Michal was extremely warm and welcoming, and we spend a few hours talking over a beer about music and life before grabbing some sleep for the next day’s adventures.

Today, the plan is to hitchhike to Vilnius. The next flight of our journey leaves from Vilnius, so we have to traverse the North Polish steppe to get to the city I only just left a few weeks ago. We get up early, and get to the site we decide will be the best place to hitch from. It’s raining…hard…and we spend two hours in the rain, getting flushed with street water from passing trucks as our painted ‘Vilnius’ sign gets soggy in limp. A little discouraged, we head to a gas station to dry off and check our options. After a little research, it becomes clear that there really isn’t a good way to get to Vilnius via public transport, and everything takes a good eighteen hours. Now we decide we need to get a ride. I paint on a new face, with a fresh American smile and put some music on my bluetooth speaker. At least now it’s not raining, and we’re waving and smiling to every car that passes by. This time, it only takes twenty minutes before a Hyundai picks us up. Inside is Matthew, a Polish man coming to Gdańsk to pick up some building supplies for a fireplace reconstruction he’s doing the next day. He’s extremely nice and tells us he’s picked us up to make up for all those that picked him up hitchhiking in his twenties. He offers us a stay with his wife and kids, but we only have one more day to get to Vilnius and decide it’s best we keep moving. He drops us off about a 1/3 of the way to Vilnius, in a town in the middle of nowhere called Olsztyn. There’s not a lot here, but there are 100,000 people calling it home. We quickly grab a bus to take us another 1/3 of the way, to a border town called Suwałki. It takes 4 hours, the bus is cramped and part of it we have to sit on the stairs in the back to let elderly members of Polish society sit in our seats. But we eventually make it at around 21:30, and are pretty tired from the trip. We miraculously find a brewery, ironically named ‘Midnight Brewery’ and have some fresh beers while researching the next leg of the journey. Somehow, there’s a bus going to Vilnius from this town at 1:25 in the morning, so we buckle in and get ready to wait. Ivana stays up writing and I take a little nap, and at midnight we’re kicked out and made to wander the wet streets until the bus comes. An hour and a half later, a bus strangely appears and we join the trip surprised that the internet was right about an Eastern European bus. We tuck in, and when I open my eyes its 6 am and we’re in Vilnius.

This is Ivana’s first time in Vilnius, so I do the good tour guide thing of taking her to my favorite cafe…where I take a nap. Not a very tour guide thing. Sorry, Ivana. Image-1Photo cred to Ivana. The Užupis angel, right across from the cafe. Now we have a day in Vilnius, before taking a 6 am flight to Kutaisi in Georgia. It’s not worth finding a place to sleep, so we’ll spend the night in the airport. I call upon a local to be our guide, and it happens to be my roommate’s boyfriend Lukas. We wander around, playing out of tune street pianos and engaging in aimless meandering. IMG_4287It’s the kind of walking that has no direction or purpose, yet makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something just from the sheer kilometers you rack up. After about 17 kilometers walked, we decide we’re hungry for that oh so famous Šaltibarščiai and Zeppelins. We sit down and let cold purple soup and bomb bursting Zeppelins take their toll. IMG_4291IMG_4292Yes, it hurts. But it’s that good kind of hurt that makes you want more. It’s that hurt that made me come back and get the exact same thing, and probably make me get it again next time I end up in Vilnius. I’m about to explode, so it’s time to relax and watch some dogs in a public park on a hillside. IMG_4294Ivana and I are pretty tired now, but we still want one more Lithuanian beer before heading out. We go to the popular bar Šnekutis and grab a list beer with Lukas. We’re all a little bit tired, and Ivana and I haven’t showered since we left Denmark. But in a way, that’s part of the fun. Being dirty and carrying an oversized backpack for 17 kilometers through a city isn’t everyone kind of vacation, but I’d say it’s a pretty good one for me. We finally get to the airport for a few hours of sleep. Now, we wait for our 6 am flight to Georgia, and who knows what awaits us there…

Winding Castles

After two days of Rīga, it’s feeling like a time to get out again. I have the same feeling every time I’m in a city for too long. At the end of the day, every city starts to look the same and I crave some nature. So we head out East, to Latvia’s first national park, Gauja. Covered in trees and castles, Gauja is a great nature break when spending time in Rīga. IMG_8923There’s a little ‘cave’ made of sandstone where people have been chipping away and signing their names for decades. And there’s a funky jazz saxophone man playing for change in the background. His toots echo off the cave wall, and Šarūnas strikes a pose.IMG_8931My ‘invisible selfie’

We spend the day wandering the forests, as castles seem to sprout up like the pines surrounding them.

IMG_8949The Baltics are more famous for brick castles, compared to the stone monoliths you see in Western Europe. The ochre mixed with evergreen make for a great palette. We walk around the castles and decide it’s time to head back home to Lithuania for the night. We pull the long haul drive of 3:30 hours back to Kaunas, where we buy a kebab before heading to Šarūnas’ dad’s sauna house. Kind of like a summer house, sauna houses get a lot more use (maybe because there isn’t much summer) up here in the north. It has the same basic amenities as a summer house, with bed and all. So we take a nighttime drive to the house, located out in the countryside next to where Šarūnas’ grandparents live. We open up some beers, light a mosquito candle, and watch the stars.

The next morning, we’re awoken by Šarūnas’ grandmother eagerly shouting “Labas!” (Hello), waiting for someone to respond. She doesn’t know who is staying at the sauna house yet, but she’s brought freshly picked strawberries regardless. We come down to say labas and eat some strawberries, and she’s so excited to meet an American that knows how to say hello in Lithuanian. She decides we need a salad, so we wander through her garden picking out onions and cucumbers and dill to mix with our tomatoes for a fresh morning breakfast salad. Again, I’m always amazed by the kindness of strangers. She hands us the vegetables to wash while she goes to the hives to collect some fresh honey. Ten minutes later, she comes back a bowl full of honey that must have used half of the hive. I’m not even sure what anyone is supposed to do with all this honey, but we try and eat as much as possible. Dipping fresh cucumbers into honey and enjoying our tomatoe-onion-and dill salad, we make a meal to start the day.

The plan is to drive to Vilnius. It’s only an hour away, and there’s a fair amount to see along the way. Specifically, we need to go see Trakai castle. An image of national pride for Lithuanians, Trakai castle sits on a tiny chain of islands within a system of lakes. Built to defend Vilnius during the times when Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe (I was surprised, too), Trakai features more of that ochre brick on evergreen that looked so perfect in Latvia.

IMG_4192This is by far the prettiest spot we’ve been to on the trip. The clouds are tempestuous, creating a combination of red, green, blue, and grey that come together in perfect harmony. IMG_4212The lake are so pristinely clear and serene, which is quickly ruined with the introduction of swarms of tourists. Trakai is most likely one of the most touristy places in the Baltic’s, and for good reason. It’s right next to Vilnius, and offers calm views mixed with interesting history. A ticket to see the castle will set you back 7 euros, but it’s pretty worth a visit. If you’re not into spending the money you’re allowed to walk around the outside of the castle which is equally gorgeous.

IMG_8945Šarūnas decides to try out some torture equipment.

After a walk with the tourists through the castle, we make the drive to Vilnius where we stay at the Downtown Forest Hostel. In a perfect relaxed part of town, and with really reasonably priced rooms, it’s a great place for a backpacker to stay. They also offer complimentary ear plugs, which I wish more hostels offered.

The next morning, Šarūnas has to spend some time working on an upcoming exam, so I’m left to my own devices. I always like to get a birds-eye view of a city if possible. You can easily point out where things are, and it really helps to get a good lay of the land. I head straight up the hill to the three crosses, a symbol of Vilnius. Built to honor a missionary who was killed by pagans, this monument offers some of the best views of the city. IMG_4216Walking back down the hill, I go through the ‘country’ of Užupis. A bunch of artists decided they wanted to make their neighborhood a country, so they typed up a constitution, printed their own faux Euro currency, and made themselves a Republic. It’s a hip part of town with a lot of graffiti and art installations and is definitely worth the wander. Afterwards, I walk around Vilnius a while, meeting up with Kotryna, another roommate living here, and her boyfriend. We go to the museum of genocide, built in the old KGB interrogation chambers. If I thought the 9th Fort back in Kaunas was depressing, this museum brought it to a new level. The center for mass interrogations and executions of political prisoners, this museum is located right across from a perfectly calm park with a public library in it. Quite the juxtaposition. Kotryna and her boyfriend Lukas are musicians, so we meet up with Šarūnas and head to a gig where some of Lukas’ friends are performing. Vilnius is a far more relaxed and underrated city than Rīga is. It offers great architecture, good prices, and a far more laid-back vibe than most other European capitals. It blends the cool vibe of Berlin with a more cute vibe of Prague, on a very walkable and enjoyable scale. But honestly, I think I like Vilnius because I had no expectations beforehand. I didn’t even research any sights before coming. I just let the locals steer me, and that gave me the best time possible.

Tomorrow, I would be leaving back to Denmark, and I wasn’t extremely happy about it. Lithuania has offered a lot of nature that I had missed being in Denmark for so long. It had given me a new sense of life, and a new perspective on the different rhythms of language that the 15-year-old me and been so intrigued about from the start. In a way, coming here gave me a sense of closure. Closure in the fact that I was right about Lithuania being an intriguing country. It’s a lot more interesting than a lot of other cities in Western Europe that receive a lot more notoriety. I’m not sure why, but that doesn’t seem right. Lithuania and Latvia are filled with wonderfully hospitable people with an incredible respect and appreciation of nature. Lithuania was a great experience, and I hope to be back as soon as possible.

Latvian Country

The chickens I had fed scraps to the night before had been working all hours to make breakfast for us. Fresh eggs are so extraordinarily underrated. How often do you get to hold a warm egg? These days there’s nothing that separates an egg in a supermarket from a packet of mushrooms, really. They both come in a box, and they’re both pretty lifeless by the time they make it to the aisles. So it’s nice to know where your eggs are coming from every once in a while and have them fresh as can be. Kal’s mother prepared some eggs, bread with jam, and reheated shashliks from last nights barbecue to fill our beer-soaked souls. I wish I could have spent more time learning some secret Latvian recipes from her, but it was time for everyone to get on the road. Our hosts were planning on biking around 6 hours north to the little town of Kuldīga… in humidity, through clouds of mosquitoes and without any water. It was nice knowing them.

We were planning on heading to Kuldīga too, although we were cheating by taking a mosquito free air-conditioned Ford. Perfect stop on route to the capital Rīga, Kuldīga offers a good look into smaller town Latvian life. Its patina-covered architecture and cute strolling streets make for a perfect road-weary stop. IMG_8904The town is famous in Latvia for having a waterfall, where people beat the heat and wet their feet. I’m not sure what I expected but it’s a pretty cute waterfall. Almost like a large scale version of those little water features they have at the doctor’s office. IMG_8910.jpgThat’s a bit harsh, but it’s definitely lovely and worth a visit. The town was hosting a skate park competition, with hipsters, roller-bladers, and skaters alike showing up to participate and show off their chops.

We get back in the car and keep heading north to Rīga, but make a quick stop in the town of Jūrmala to see Latvian beach culture. Just about 40 minutes from Rīga, the beach town is covered in Russians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, enjoying actual warm water and sun. Since it’s on the Bay of Rīga, the water heats up a lot quicker than the Baltic Sea it feeds into. The offset is that the water is a little murky and muddy. But hey, it’s warm. We challenge some Lithuanians to a game of beach volleyball and lose pretty quickly. I’m 197cm, and Šarūnas is only a bit shorter but height doesn’t transfer into skill in my case. The first game was pretty bad, but we make up for our loses and almost take the win on the second game. I decide I’ll never make the Olympic team, and that it’s time to get to Rīga soon so we make the drive and get to our hostel just set a 10-minute walk from old town.

Finally having worked off our fresh egg breakfast, we make for Latvia’s answer to Golden Coral, called Loto. They’re all over the city and have different names, but I’m pretty sure they’re all owned by the same company. Buffet style and filled with Latvian delicacies, Loto is actually pretty decent. It’s made to look like a little country home and everyone working is in traditional Latvian garb as they ring up the price of your potatoes. It’s kitschy but cute and a good way to taste Latvian food. Rīga is surprisingly more expensive than I had anticipated. A full meal at Loto will set you back a good $8-10, and Loto is at the cheaper side of restaurants in the center of down. But of course that’s better than most other Western European countries, I guess I just expect everywhere East of Berlin to be dirt cheap. Latvian food isn’t much different from Lithuanian to a foreign observer. The classics are still present: beets, potatoes, dill, and sour cream. Can’t go wrong with those ingredients, which will inevitably make you uncomfortably full. I never learn from my food mistakes and eat way too much beet soup covered in that sweet sweet gooey sour cream. It feels so wrong but oh so good.

Full and happy, we walk through the old town. Rīga’s cute, there’s no getting around that. But my expectations for the city were sent so extraordinarily high by other travelers. It was hailed to me as a ‘New Prague’.

Honey, please, Prague is Prague.

But its old town is filled with art-nouveau and cute little buildings that look straight out of a gingerbread house competition, definitely worth the exploration. It offers architecture similar to most other North European port cities, but Rīga has a much more sugar coated type of architecture compared to Amsterdam or Copenhagen. IMG_4076.jpgI have to apologize and say that I’m absolutely horrendous and taking photos in cities. The thought of it honestly makes me squirm a little bit. When I’m on a mountaintop, I feel like a National Geographic photographer about to see California Condor eggs miraculously hatch out of an Aztec ruin. Carrying a camera around a city makes me feel like another tourist photographing a building that’s had several thousand photos from every possible angle. Does that make me a bit of a snob? Perhaps. But if you’d like to see more photos of Rīga I may kindly direct you to Google images, for they have photos better than I could ever take.

Ramblings aside, Rīga is a cute town and if you are doing a trip around the Baltics it’s absolutely worth a visit. Couchsurfing is a great app for meeting up in the city, as you can just make a hangout and say you’re up for some beers on the app. Chances are, some other people also want some beers and you can start texting and pick a spot to hang out and share stores. We meet up with some couchsurfers from all over the world at a bar called ‘Lazy Fox’ (or something to do with an underperforming fox) which is apparently pretty big with tourists and courchsurfers as a hoard of drunk Brits talks football next to us. We get acquainted over some non-domestic markup beers (not my thing), and after a few we head down the street to a more local bar. Every level has a different kind of music, but it’s a wee bit too loud for conversation. So I grab a beer and make it back to the seat to yell a conversation at each other and hope its enough for them to hear me. I didn’t really know what beer I picked, I just pointed at a tap beer. I got about halfway through it before realizing it was a green beer…that tasted pretty damn good. Who knew?

I’ll be quick and give a few recommendations for Rīga. I’m the kind of city explorer that doesn’t like to have a direction and just gets lost or sits in parks and enjoys the vibe. There’s a street called ‘Miera iela’ that I had heard was a hipster dream. This was a little misleading, there’s not so much to do on the street. It’s nice, ya, you get out of the touristy old town and see something else. There’s a cute tea shop where you can pass the time with board games. My favorite bar and hang out spot is called ‘Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs’ or ‘Cannibis culture center’. I didn’t see much cannibis, but it is the local hang out for a lot of artists and weirdos. If you like cheap beer and artsy people smoking hand rolled cigarettes (that’s my kinda place), then add it to your to-do list, Martha. Other than that, if you’re in town wander and enjoy the candy coated buildings and Latvian people. They’re lovely.

 

The Tip

Look at a map of Lithuania. See that tiny tiny sliver of coast that looks like a land sized cheeto? That’s next. The Neringa Spit is a pretty unique little spot in Lithuania, and it’s definitely worth the trip. Starting from Klaipėda, you can take a ferry to the beginning of the spit and it’ll only take about 15 minutes if you catch them on a good day. It’s a relaxing way to start a morning. IMG_8846.jpgYou’ll likely be onboard with a hoard of German tourists and Lithuanian elementary students feeding seagulls, so take out some bread and enjoy. IMG_8854Once on the spit, you can either drive and stop in the picturesque villages on your way to Nida, or take the bus directly there. As we have a car, we decide to take the former and wind our way through artistic communities of small wooden houses. I wanted to stop into every little village but knew I had to stop myself somewhere. When we reach Nida, we indulge in some local smoked fish and dark bread. Lithuania has some of the best dark bread I’ve ever tried. Denmark and its dark rugbrød have sustained me through college, but Lithuanian dark bread is on another plane of existence. Sweeter and somehow darker than the Danish kind, it makes any health bread you buy at Whole Foods look like a piece of Wonder Bread. Probably for a fifth of the price, too.IMG_8857Happy with our lunch, we head to the ‘top’ of Nida where you can see the Russian border. It’s an expanse of sand as far as the eye can see, and apparently one of the more quickly moving dunes in Europe. They’ve got the kind of sand here that you would expect to find in a souvenir jar from Hawaii. White, and silky smooth. It’s the kind of sand you wish you could cover yourself in constantly or make a robe out of. I don’t think that can be said for most kinds of sand around the world.IMG_8863We consider making a dash for the Russian border, but I’m not interested in getting into prison on espionage charges. Call me old-fashioned. Next, we head to the hill of witches. Weaving through trees and clouds of mosquitoes, we find giant wooden totems appearing as we go. As the name suggests, witches live in this forest. I guess they turned a couple unsuspecting fishermen into carving as they were flicking off mosquitoes, as a lot of these sculptures just looked like trapped salty men. IMG_8876The silence is ever striking again, as leaves rustle and my stomach craves more smoked fish. I can’t help but wonder who built all of these, but all I can do is be happy someone did.IMG_8893IMG_8896This last one’s my favorite. It’s like the little guy was playing peek-a-boo when he suddenly felt his blood turn to sap.

The next few hours would be a bit tiring, as I found a couchsurfer willing to take us up in the forests of Latvia, and we were down on the beaches of Lithuania. After evading the witches, we make a hasty retreat back to the ferry for more seagull feeding frenzies before driving through acres upon acres of forests into the (even more) wooded Latvia. IMG_8898.jpgMost of any Lithuanian/Latvian road trip will look like this. Pastoral, and pine trees everywhere. We eventually get to our hosts, just thirty minutes North of Latvia’s coastal city Liepāja. I didn’t feel the need to stop in Liepāja, as I was so excited to meet some local Latvians. We arrive to Kal, our fantastic host who would take us in for the night. The couchsurfing network is always such an amazing way for me to reaffirm my faith in humanity. Strangers can give absolutely everything to each other. I always find my self in these situations with couchsurfer’s where they’re just a little too nice, and I feel utterly spoiled. But honestly, I try and spoil all of the couchsurfers I host so I guess it’s okay in the long run. We arrive to a barbecue, warming up and ready for some Georgian shashliks. If you don’t know what those are, you will soon. Georgia is going to be the next big thing, and so will their cuisine. But shashliks are pretty simple, just marinated beef, pork or chicken roasted slowly of freshly charcoaled wood. Put meat on a fire and it’ll taste good. Damn good. No need for potatoes or dill here, kids. Just a bit of natural seasoning from charcoaled pine. IMG_4067They’re not done until they’re pretty much blackened, so I head out for a wander while the shashliks brown and Šarūnas opens some beers. Having grown up on a farm his whole life, Kal lives with his wife and mother while studying at a University in nearby Liepāja. He’s 22 like me, but they keep a much more fit lifestyle than I ever could. He and his wife are preparing for a six-hour bike ride North the next day. It’s probably more like an eight-hour journey for a normal person, but Kal says “You have to go fast, or else the mosquitoes get you.” He’s a fascinating guy, and the fact that he has chickens makes me even happier. IMG_4060I feed the chickens some table scraps and keep wandering. I see that this is just a cozy, farming community. The kind we all occasionally wish we could quit our jobs and move to, but never do. IMG_4061The shashliks are getting ready, so I head back and help out cutting homemade pickles and other assorted tasty things before diving into charred meat served on a sword. Latvian beer flows just as smooth and uniquely as the kind from Lithuania, and is even cheaper. Saving ten cents makes a beer that much tastier. Beers are emptied, shashlik swords are stripped and stacked, and we share the evening together talking about travel and dreams. I’m never certain how to repay these amazing couchsurfing hosts, but usually being curious and curtious is enough to leave a great impression with the host. At the end of the day we all just want to put a smile on each others faces, and you don’t need much to do that. The night moves on, and we decide the best action to take is to walk through the village and explore. It’s getting late, but as with everywhere in Northern Europe in June the sun doesn’t go down until 11 or so. We have enough time to see the sites, and Kal’s wife takes us to her father’s secret beer garden. The combination of those three words are so rarely used, but so instantly gratifying. Once we arrive, the sun has finally gone down but we sit in the wooded secret garden eating the first strawberries picked ‘just over there’. We stargaze and talk, until our eyes can gaze no more. This is exactly the local experience every traveler dreams of. Warm, loving hosts that are just as curious about you as you are about them.

To the Coast

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.IMG_8808Now 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.

IMG_8810A 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. IMG_8827I’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. IMG_8831.jpgWild 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. IMG_8833.jpgRegardless 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.IMG_8838.jpg