Friday, 23 May 2014

Into Lithuania

EV 11 route
I had to choose a route to  get to the Polish-Lithuanian border crossing and that involved crossing the Polish Podlach province. I had several route choices and no guidebook for this stretch so I did not know what to expect. I opted for going through Suwalki. This led me to a very busy road with fast traffic which in turn made me go faster. While pedalling like hell it dawned on me that there is a Lidl in Suwalki and that I could just make it before Sunday closing time. I started to dream what I could buy for dinner and set my eyes on a Sushi box. With a little help from GPS routing I really arrived half an hour before closing time and was delighted that even some sushi was left. Little did I know how much I would need a quick cold dinner that night...

Leaving Suwalki I was scared to see how many trucks were going my way but luckily I soon turned off onto a quiet secondary road while hundreds of trucks continued on the Via Baltica highway into Lithuania. My GPS told me that I was already on the EV (Eurovelo) 11 but unfortunately it showed the wrong route. It led me straight into a forest recreation area where I realised for the hundredth time in my life that mountain biking is not for me. This was a hiking and not a biking trail but because it was such a popular recreation area I did not dare to camp there and pushed on. When I finally reached the real EV 11 route it was great cycling but now I urgently needed a campsite! The happy thought of eating crappy Lidl shushi kept me going until I finally could set up camp at dusk - and eat sushi for dinner in my tent in the Polish forests.

Seijni church
Next day I passed through Sejny which boasts a huge church, another big Polish pilgrimage site on the route of the Camino Polaco. And then, finally, I made it into Lithuania after some more brilliant cycling on the well marked EV 11. This crossing was very quiet with hardly any trucks, in fact with hardly any traffic. As both Poland and Lithuania are Schengen countries I could just cycle through and admire the now defunct customs buildings. And then I made a huge  mistake: Because the EV11 had been so nice and well marked I decided to continue on it - and ended up on a dirt trail to hell. All trail marking has disappeared. After 2 km I was fed up and just wanted to bail out to the next paved road. I succeeded with that project only to realise 10 minutes later that this wonderfully paved road turned into dirt as well. At least I made a bit better progress now and had learnt to read my GPS map better. Lesson learnt: Not all roads in Lithuania are paved.

Next day brought me to Druskininkai, a spa town which had a weird feeling. On one side it tried hard to be a mundane luxury spa with posh hotels but on the other side its communist remnants could not be overseen. Biggest attraction is a fountain that has hourly  choreographed water shows to tacky pop songs which were wildly popular with the mostly Russian tourists. The whole town is sparkling clean and you constantly see workers sweeping the streets or mowing the lawn.

I had a very pragmatic problem now: I urgently needed to clean up myself - but where? Plus I needed water and food. Looking for solutions for these problems I came across the public library where I could at least access the internet - after filling out endless forms and showing my ID card. I was now up to date with the news of the world but still dirty, hungry and thirsty. I was just sneaking around the official campground as unobtrusively as possible when some German tourists I had met earlier in town spotted me. Soon almost all my problems were solved. As their "guest" I could use the hot showers and refill my water bottles. I learnt that they were on an organised group campervan tour because it is too dangerous to travel alone in "these" countries. I could not quite share their view but still thanked them profusely.

I was so happy being clean again that I had a great supermarket picnic watching another fountain show. Unfortunately once on the road again I had another water fountain show that was not quite that enjoyable: it started to rain heavily. But once the sun came out again I had a beautiful ride through Dzukija National park with endless forests which of course provided perfect camping.

"Accident" site
After breaking camp in the morning I was just on my way out to the paved road again when disaster struck: I got stuck on a sandy dirt road, lost my balance and before I could get my feet on the ground I fell off my bike into a huge mud puddle. The good thing was that the water in the puddle was so deep that I didn't hurt myself at all. The bad thing was that I was completely soaking wet now and covered in mud. I looked like straight out of a slapstick  comedy. I had to do a quick striptease and change into my last clean clothes before I could continue. What a great start into the day. But an hour later I could rinse out my clothes in a river and once the sun came out they dried quickly. Now I laugh about my little morning mishap...

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