Having previously admitted I have a very sketchy understanding of history, in contrast I have always considered geography was one of my stronger subjects. Although frustratingly it’s never been properly been tested in white heat of the local pub quiz, but I’m pretty sure if the question – ‘Which city is more northerly Oslo or Riga’ I would have answered Oslo.
Strange then after leaving Riga we headed for Sabile, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records is “the most northern open-air vineyard in the world”. But hang on a minute – Sabile is just outside Riga (latitude 56.93). Whereas the 15-acre Lerkekåsa Vineyard is located about 2 hours south of Oslo (latitude 59.95) and therefore a good bit further north!
Pedantry aside, the chance of an overnight spot on a vineyard sounded (at least to one of our crew) very acceptable, no matter how far north it is.
Ģirts, the owner is passionate about this recently created family business and welcomed us with a talk on the history of wine growing in the region and how they managed to ripen the grapes this far north due to Latvia’s long summer days, almost 20 hours of daylight at midsummer.
The operation is very much on a micro scale, producing wine from just 600 vines. The grapes are pressed and bottled in-house to make 500 bottles (so even when sold for €10 it’s not much of an income). However they do add to this very modest production, with a wide range of fruit wines produced from a variety of locally sourced berries.
Leaving the vineyard we drove through Sabile, where the people seem to have very pale skin probably as a result of spending the long dark winter days indoors. We snapped them topping up their vitamin D in the sunshine as we drove by.
People come to Kuldīga mainly to see the waterfall, but this pretty town has more going for it than the falls. Sometimes when arriving in a place you immediately get an impression, a feeling. We liked Kuldiga straightaway, and loved it even more once we’d sampled the cakes from The Marmalade cafe.
The ‘Ventas rumba’ claims to be Europe’s widest waterfall (a mighty 270m across), but as it’s only around 2 metres tall, it is wide but not really that impressive…..a bit like Danny De Vito.
Lesley is currently reading Tristan Gooley’s The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs: So whilst driving I have been benefitting from Lesley’s newly acquired knowledge. Today we had a practical demonstration. The book says, to see a rainbow you have to have the sun behind you; and in front of you, in this example a fountain (but water droplets from rain will do as well). So lining up the sun, us in the middle and the fountain and by jove, it works, damm it.
Intending to make our way down to the Curonian Spit we headed for Liepāja a port city on Latvia’s west coast. Known for its long beach which is backed by a park, featuring a concert stage and the Ghost Tree, a monument to the influential (in Latvia at least) Latvian rock band, Līvi.
It’s ages since I had the chance to take a bucket and spade to the beach and anyway, sand castles are so 1960!
As we cycled around the town we came upon this gathering outside Liepāja University. We didn’t see many of the assembled crowd wearing masks which isn’t surprising as they were anti-vaxxers protesting about the Latvian government’s vaccination programme. Moving swiftly on…
After our long ride around Liepāja we set off south to find a free spot by the coast identified on Park4night. This app is usually good for finding out of the way locations and suggested a spot at Bernāti. Choosing to ignore SAT NAV we narrowly avoided getting Margo stuck on a barely used forest track that got progressively sandier and softer. Sensibly, on this occasion we did as we were told, retracing our steps we eventually (after the day trippers had left) spent an undisturbed night at the beach car park, listening to the combined roar of the wind and the waves.
If hadn’t been for the dramatic increase in traffic on the Lithuanian side we might have crossed over the border without noticing it. 50 miles down the coast is Klaipėda, where the Danė River flows into the Baltic Sea and is the port city in Lithuania.
The old town features German-style architecture, but most of the buildings on the waterfront appear to be new builds designed to look like the half timbered originals. Walking around the town there are a smattering of 18th-century wood-framed buildings, but I suspect many were destroyed during WWII.
Aiming to park Margo close to the centre we drove down a narrow street by the side of the river. Shoehorning the van into the carpark at the end we set off for our wander. It was only when we came back we saw the chaos of the multi car stand-off as a driver blocked the road in both directions!
It was only later, after we escaped during a lull in the ‘who blinks first’ and reverses back battle, that we found out this road is the only access route onto the ferry to get to and from the Curonian Spit.
NB We were told later by a German couple in a camper, to travel the Curonian Spit as far as Nida (near the border to the Russian state of Kaliningrad), cost them €60 for the return ferry including €30 to enter Nida) plus fuel plus inflated overnight accommodation. So perhaps not.
Although in a nice location, the camp site at Kurtuvėnai was quite a strange place. Each pitch had a small fence around it, but there was nowhere to empty your grey water or an outside tap for fresh? On the other-hand there was EHU and a washing machine although with an ineffective dryer the volley ball net was the best place to peg your smalls out on…
The toilet and showers were accessed via a security key fob. However if you found yourself inside and the fob didn’t work and hubby does not respond after 10 minutes of shouting for help (I woz makin the tea). Then the only thing to do is climb out of the window and slide gracefully to the ground (photo withheld to save blushes).
Šiauliai and The Hill of Crosses
Before setting off to see the Hill of Crosses we had to do a repair job on the habitation door, which since leaving Latvia we hadn’t been able to open from the outside. Turning to the Carthago Owners Club FB page for help, Lesley found great advice with detailed pictures of the likely problem and how to fix it. We also needed to get a move on as the rain was coming.
The fix required replacing or repairing a broken casting. – A hole was drilled in the broken casting, to suit an ideally sized cap head screw which was then tapped in. Once cut to length, the screw connected nicely with the plastic lever. And Bob’s your Uncle (or Bob’s father Alf in my case).
The Hill of Crosses
What a crazy place – a collection of crosses erected on a small hill is one of the most bizarre sights in the Baltics. Stuck on it like a pin cushion are around 200,000 crosses. A mixture mostly made of wood, some metal. Some huge ornate crucifixes, but many are smaller simpler affairs.
The hill was bulldozed twice during the Russian occupation as religion was forbidden but Lithuanians continued to sneak to the hill and plant the crosses despite KGB agents patrolling the area. When Lithuania obtained its independence in 1991 the hill came to signify identity, religion and heritage for Lithuanians. Pilgrims continue to descend to plead with Jesus for miracles.
One legend describing the origin of the crosses relates to a Lithuanian farmer whose daughter was extremely ill. One night he had a dream in which a white clothed woman appeared and told him to make a wooden cross and place it on a nearby hill. If he followed her instructions his daughter would be cured. He did as he was told and returned home to find his daughter in good health. Others flocked to the hill to place crosses in the hope that similar miracles would be granted to them.
After a mad rush to take some images of the hill before the rains came, eventually the heavens opened up and we had a proper storm with thunder, lightening, hailstones and a double rainbow. Our man Tristan Gooley says that the colours in the second rainbow are inverted and paler, with a darker band between. When I was at school I’m sure we were taught, “red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue….