Written by michaelhudson on 14 May, 2009
Ninety-seven kilometres long by no more than four kilometres wide and split between two countries, Russia and Lithuania, the Curonian Spit is arguably the single most memorable landscape in the whole of the Baltic Republics.From Lithuania, the Spit is a ten-minute ferry journey from Klaipeda,…Read More
Ninety-seven kilometres long by no more than four kilometres wide and split between two countries, Russia and Lithuania, the Curonian Spit is arguably the single most memorable landscape in the whole of the Baltic Republics.From Lithuania, the Spit is a ten-minute ferry journey from Klaipeda, the country's third biggest city and well worth an overnight stay in its own right. The services depart from one of two ports, one for foot passengers and cyclists, the other capable of taking vehicles too. If you don't have your own transport, the ferry terminals are located on the river a couple of hundred metres from Klaipeda's Old Town and in Smilyne, close to the Sea Museum. Tickets cost two litas ninety for foot passengers.Aside from the Sea Museum and Dolphinarium there's no real reason to hang around in Smiltyne. Buses leave every two hours (10.15 / 12.15) for Juodkrante and Nida, the southernmost settlement on the Lithuanian side of the border. Tickets are nine litas each way; the journey takes approximately fifty minutes.If you're planning to visit the Dunes, a Unesco-listed living biosphere, Nida makes by far the most convenient base, with a range of accommodation from camping and guesthouses to luxury apartments. The Jurate, in the centre of the village at Pamario 3 is a good budget choice at 170 litas per night for twin or double rooms including a buffet breakfast. The rooms are simply furnished but clean and spacious and many have sea views.The easiest way to see the dunes from Nida is to hire a bike (around 30 litas per day). From the harbour, the 54-metre high Parnidis Dune is a five-minute ride south, providing views across a mini-Saharan landscape right down to the Russian border and taking in the Baltic Sea, the Curonian Lagoon and the coastline of mainland Lithuania. North of Nida, the remaining dunes can be seen along the sixteen-kilometre long cycle path to Pervalka. Don't miss the Baltic beaches either, a long sliver of white-sand framing the western shores of the Spit.Although Nida isn't the liveliest of places for a night out there are plenty of restaurants serving beer in the village, some of which stay open until around midnight in season. You won't need to bring supplies with you as there's a Maxima supermarket next to the tourist information office (which supplies basic maps of the area) in the centre of town.While it's possible to see Nida and the Spit in one long day from Klaipeda, I found it much better to stay overnight. The Curonian Spit is an ideal place to hire a bike, kick back, relax and enjoy nature. If you're in Lithuania, you really shouldn't miss it. Close
Written by Owen Lipsett on 02 Dec, 2004
Sprawling attractively along three kilometers of the Curonian Lagoon’s shoreline, Nida is the largest town and capital of the Curonian Spit. Although its permanent population numbers a mere 2,000, it apparently plays host to 50,000 tourists during its brief summer season. Consequently I…Read More
Sprawling attractively along three kilometers of the Curonian Lagoon’s shoreline, Nida is the largest town and capital of the Curonian Spit. Although its permanent population numbers a mere 2,000, it apparently plays host to 50,000 tourists during its brief summer season. Consequently I hope that this brief guide will assist you in navigating between both distances and crowds.
Nearly all of Nida’s sights are located along the main street, which is called Nagliu gatve south of the bus station and Pamario gatve north of the station. Despite its location near the southern edge of the town, the station, from which buses run hourly to Juodkrante and Smiltyne, actually forms part of the town’s commercial center. Nearly opposite the station, at Nagliu gatve 3, is the Ethnographic Museum, a somewhat optimistic title for the immaculately restored 19th-century fisherman’s cottage which is its sole exhibit. Although the artifacts on display are interesting, it unfortunately lacks explanatory information in any language. This may be a gesture toward historical sensitivity, as the Spit’s inhabitants were primarily German prior to the territory’s incorporation into the Soviet Union after the Second World War.
The harbor just to the south affords a fine view of the 52-meter-high Parnidis Dune (the largest and highest on the Spit). If this inspires you to climb it, simply follow the footpath that runs southward along the harbor and you’ll be rewarded with a similarly spectacular view of Nida. Most of the town’s restaurants are located between the harbor and bus station, as are quite a number of souvenir stalls, largely selling identical amber objects at fairly reasonable prices, although without certificates of authenticity. It’s possible to purchase meticulously documented (though rather more expensive) amber jewelry and objects at the Amber Gallery, located directly to the north at Pamario gatve 20. True to its name, the Gallery has a modest exhibition of artwork carved from the so-called "Baltic gold" as well as a glassed-in display of amber-cutting equipment visible from the street (thus alleviating the awkwardness of stepping inside if you aren’t inclined to purchase anything).
Further north is the Fisherman’s Museum, which in all honesty should exchanges names with the Ethnographic Museum as its own collections are significantly more extensive and varied. It’s located at Kuverto gatve 2, but is entered from Pamario gatve, which runs perpendicular to Kuverto gatve. Light and airy as a result of a recent (and extensive) refurbishment, it contains exhibitions presenting early human settlement on the Spit, amber harvesting, and fishing, as well as archival photographs of the early twentieth century when Nidden (as it was then known) gained a reputation as a somewhat bohemian resort. All are exhaustively labeled in Lithuanian, German, and English, but pale in comparison to a display on crow hunting – in times of poor harvests fisherman would hunt the birds with nets, dispatching them with a swift bite to the neck (preceded by an even swifter stiff drink!).
The Lutheran Parish Church, built between 1887 and 1888 in the same rustic German style that characterizes much of Klaipeda’s architecture, crowns a small hill just past the Ethnographic Exhibition. The interior has recently been restored to reflect the original furnishings (although, because a Lithuanian Catholic congregation that now Further north still, Pamario gatve turns to Skrudzynes gatve-–its name a relic of the village of Skrudzyne, which was incorporated into Nida. It contains Nida’s most famous sight, the summer home the German author Thomas Mann built in 1929 with the money he received for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature that year. The museum which it contains is a place of pilgrimage for the Germans who comprise the bulk of foreign visitors to Nida, but as it lacks labeling in any other language, is somewhat less interesting for others. Fortunately the traditionally built house’s beauty, including the seahorses on its roof which are intended to guard against evil spirits, like that of the Spit itself, transcends mere words.
Before visiting the Curonian Spit, I was aware that its scenery had the potential to shape minds and life views. A combination of travel book photographs and the knowledge that both Thomas Mann and Jean-Paul Sartre were awed by its dunes whetted my enthusiasm. Thus,…Read More
Before visiting the Curonian Spit, I was aware that its scenery had the potential to shape minds and life views. A combination of travel book photographs and the knowledge that both Thomas Mann and Jean-Paul Sartre were awed by its dunes whetted my enthusiasm. Thus, I easily could have been let down. Instead, what I experienced in a morning’s walk in the country between Nida and the Lithuanian/Russian border was so extraordinary that words and photographs will in no way do justice to it. Just recalling it makes me very happy and if you enjoy reading this, and better yet, decide to visit yourself, it will make me more so.
Near Thomas Mann’s house, on the northern edge of Nida, I saw a break in the forest that indicated one of the many unmarked trails that crisscross the Spit. I’m not blessed with a good sense of direction, but I knew that, given the Spit’s narrowness and topography, it would be very difficult to get lost. My eventual goal was the border (to be fully accurate, the border of a nature preserve that serves as a buffer zone between NATO-member Lithuania and its erstwhile colonial ruler), and I knew that if I continued to walk south, I would reach it. I also hoped to see the Baltic shore and therefore moved west as well, which meant uphill.
The first forest I entered was deciduous, and once I left the sound of the highway that runs the length of the Spit behind, a very quiet one. After a few minutes, I heard no sound save a repetitive one, not the hum that forests often seem to have in summer, but something with more of a beat. I stopped, started again, and understood that literally the only sound to be heard was my own footsteps. Soon after, the trail petered out. I retraced my steps to another one, which led almost due west. The woods were noisier here, and I even met a pair of fellow walkers. Soon, a dull and growing roar began to mitigate these sounds and finally overcome them. I had heard the Baltic long before I saw it.
Though it was late June, the day was cool and windy. Once I reached the shore of the Baltic and saw the force of the waves hitting the Spit (in sharp contrast to the lapping of the Curonian Lagoon I’d seen perhaps half an hour earlier), I understood both how it had formed and why early Lithuanians had believed it was designed by the goddess Neringa to protect their country. Trudging back uphill once again (the center of the Spit often resembles a ridge of sorts), I came upon pine forests, and at its crest, a lighthouse. I found it striking that the lighthouse was located so far inland and was equally pleased to be able to see both the Curonian Lagoon and Baltic Sea from this vantage point.
I also saw what appeared to be a stream or waterfall in the distance and followed the hill toward it, surprised that no guidebook had mentioned it. On closer inspection, I found that it was a trail where the vegetation had been burned and cleared, leaving only the underlying sand. The efforts to preserve the Spit came into clearer focus for me then, with the understanding that everything upon it is literally built on sand and the life that has managed to accrete upon that sand over time to form soil and, ultimately, forests.
Soon afterwards it began to rain, but, save for a slight annoyance that I might not be able to photograph the land to do it sufficient justice, I was not terribly worried, even though I was soaked to the bone. The rain had come at a particularly inopportune moment, however, since I reached what was largely open country. By this point, I was moving almost due south and came upon a small collection of crosses, a traditional Lithuanian monument. I later traveled quite a way to see the well known Hill of the Crosses outside Siauliai and can say that I found this collection of sticks, in the midst of a desert-like landscape, just as evocative of the determination and faith of the country's people.
The very emptiness of this land, scoured by wind, which I would later remember was the Parnidis Dune, seemed lunar, and I thought, seeing another walker perhaps 500 yards away and waving, that being in this landscape might be how the first or last human on earth might feel. I pressed on amid a purple-red shrub of some kind that surrounded the path, toward the border that was marked out with police tape. As I neared it, I saw a huge flock of birds pass over it, leading me to think the inevitable about wildlife not being governed by international boundaries. Holding my jacket over my camera (as I had throughout the journey), I took the obligatory picture and turned back to the edge of Parnidis Dune.
I saw Nida in the rain and distance and wished I could climb straight down the dune to it, but I dutifully marched along the tape, set up to protect the sand from erosion, to the steps. Within what seemed like only a few moments, I was rather anticlimactically walking along a flat paved path, straight back to it.