Monday, September 30, 2013

Family vacations

Between my return from the bike journey and my family's arrival, I had one day to settle down and rest. My mother and my brother arrived on Thursday afternoon, and I accompanied them to Ginučiai Wartermill, at their accomodation. Unfortunately my father was still very busy at work, so he couldn't come with them. On the first evening they were very tired from the travel, so we just had dinner at a restaurant in Ignalina and went back home.
On Friday I showed them the park; they had rented a car, so we could easily move wherever we wanted. We went to the Visitor Centre first, then we had lunch in Strigailiškis and stopped to feed the swans in the lake by the restaurant.

Then we went to a place near Šakarva to see a herd of deers which are kept in a large fenced area, but as soon as we got closer, one of them screamed an alarm signal, and they all ran away.

We went also to visit Cijonai, the "village of birds", where I could even feed a family of ostriches by hand!

After that, we headed to the Beekeeping Museum, then to Ladakalnis and we finished the tour with the view tower, just before it began to rain!

On Saturday, we planned to go to the International Fireworks Festival in Vilnius, but we left in the morning so we could make other stops on the way. We didn't notice it was a special day, the first one of Autumn, until we had some surprises on the road. First in Palūšė, where people were celebrating the opening of a new handicraft club, then in Molėtai, where there was a big fair to celebrate Autumn, and we stopped there for a while, enjoying the stands and some songs and dances.

Before stopping in Vilnius, we went to Trakai, where, despite the bad weather, we had a walk by the lake and to the castle, and we stayed for lunch.

We then reached the hotel in Vilnius and, after leaving our staff and having some rest, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the old town. We went to the main square and climbed the fort hill to enjoy the panorama, and then headed to the park where the festival would have took place. It was very cloudy, but luckily it didn't rain, so we could enjoy the show. It was a competition between four teams, one from Lithuania, one from Latvia and two from Poland; each of them had to perform three rounds, showing their fireworks with: 1) the William Tell Overture; 2) a song representing their country; 3) any song of their choice. They were all nice, but I think only one of the Polish teams was very good, and in fact they won the competition. But the best show was the one for the ending, made by professionals out of the contest, which you can watch here:

For Sunday, the choice was between two destinations: we could head either to Nida or Riga. We went for the latter, as it was also closer. We made a short stop in Kernavė to see its landscapes and then, after a few hours of driving, we crossed the border and reached the Latvian capital.

The first thing we tried to do was to see the sea, so we looked for the closest point to the coast on the GPS and tryed to reach it but, once near the place, we couldn't find any access to the shore, as it looked like some industrial harbor with no entry for tourists, so we had to go back to the old town. It was late and we didn't have lunch yet, so we stopped in an Italian restaurant we found on the main street. As any Italian abroad, we were very skeptical about how "Italian" could be the food we would find, but we were surprised by some delicious pizzas made with real Italian ingredients and recipe, and even in a wood oven! The restaurant was "Il Patio"; it's not cheap, but if you are around, it's totally worth a stop there for a pizza. We asked for directions and tried our way to the seaside again; this time we headed to Jūrmala as they suggested us. The weather was very bad and it rained all day, so we just spent a few minutes on the beach, and then went back to visit the old town.

It was still raining and already dark, so we couldn't enjoy that much, but we could see some of the main monuments.

Later, my brother wanted to see a game of his beloved Italian football team, Napoli, and luckily we found an English pub screening it. I could try a tasty vegetarian burger while watching the game, and in the end our team won the game 2-1.

Monday was our last day; we headed back to Ignalina, this time passing by Biržai, where we went to see its castle and a very long pedestrian bridge over a lake, which I had missed during my journey. I could even say hi to Tilda, but we left very soon.

We took a longer way back to pass Anykščiai, a Regional Park I was supposed to pass to during the bike trip, because Marta, from Spain, was volunteering there; but she had left after a few months, so I discarded it from my route and now I could use the chance to check out what I missed. There were very nice roads to cycle on around there, actually!
We went back through the North part of the park, by Tauragnai, but we couldn't stop to Taurapilis because of the heavy rain. But when we passed Trainiškis, it stopped raining for a while, so I could show them the old oak.
We went back home in Ignalina, and my mother cooked me some risotto with mushrooms; Blagovesta was just back from Kurtuvėnai, so she joined us for dinner.
Next morning we said goodbye in the Visitor Centre, and they left, just like my holidays; time to go back to the office life now!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How two days turned into two weeks

As the summer is over and the tourist streams decreased, it got quite boring at the office. I was even alone after Daniele left for his bike trip around Lithuania, and I hate staying alone for a long time, so I decided to spend a couple of days of my holidays and to visit my fellow-volunteers in Kurtuvenai Regional Park - Silvia from Spain and Perica from Croatia. But first I had to go to Vilnius to buy some presents for my friends and family as I am going to leave next month, and also to say "Goodbye" to the sweet Adrian who is also leaving earlier to begin his studies. Luckily, there were other volunteers in Vilnius, also staying with Lenka and Adri, so after I spent the afternoon exploring the shops and spending a fortune on useless stuff, we all went out together for some nightlife. We were going from club to club and it was impossible to like any place due to the shitty music they were playing or to the big amount of money they wanted from us to just enter the club. So finally we went back home early, which was a good opportunity for me to take the early train to Šiauliai, where Silvia would come to pick me up.

I was quite excited because this was the furthest I would have gone in Lithuania, and I also wanted to see Silvia very much, as I haven't seen her since the mid-term training. I also knew that Daniele would be there and would continue his trip on the next day, and I really wanted to check up if he was still alive and in one piece.. So after picking me up from the bus station in Šiauliai, Silvia, Daniele (who was with her) and I went to the Hill of Crosses - one of the biggest places of interest in that area. There are thousands of crosses there, but frankly speaking I  expected a bit more. Anyway things always look more impressive on pictures, don't they? But still we managed to make our own cross and to place it on one of the side hills.


After a quick look of all weird crosses and sculptures of Jesus, we went to Maxima to do the shopping for the pizza Daniele was going to prepare in the evening. I also did some shopping as I wanted to prepare my special Banana-triple-chocolate cake. With full bags and a lot of excitement we finally set off to Kurtuvenai. It is a very small, but a very beautiful village. As all small villages in Lithuania it also has a huge church which you can see from far away. And the autumn has come for sure - it has colored the landscape in warm and pleasant colors and has put a beautiful carpet of leaves on the ground.

Kurtuvenai doesn't have volunteers only to the EVS programme, but also to some German programme which they work for more than 10 years with. As Laura had left, the new ones have come recently - they have spent only a couple of weeks in Lithuania before I arrived. I met them, we had some coffee and lunch and then went around the park - they showed us the campsite, the stables, the lake. The best part was when Daniele and I got to ride horses, but before that I trained a little..

We caught the owner of the stables in a very good mood due to some drinks so we didn't have to pay anything for the riding. God bless the liquid fire! And then the pizza time came - we went to the campsite and started preparing it. I even persuaded Daniele to make a video of him making the pizza in "Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time" style, but I promised him not to upload it on the internet, but you can write me a private message and we can make a deal :D Later in the evening we enjoyed a movie, actually I enjoyed just a half of it as I went to sleep quite early.

Daniele left on the next day early in the morning and I had a couple of more days to spend in Kurtuvenai. As a matter of fact I didn't have a clear plan how long to stay, but I was thinking about spending the first half of the week there and then go to the seaside and to be back by Sunday. But we all know what usually happens with plans - they fail! So instead of two days, I spent two weeks in Kurtuvenai! Well, I went to the seaside and the best thing is that everybody joined me!

So the whole week we were enjoying the sun by the lake ( the weather happened to be so great - almost like summer), having cinema nights in the evening with a lot of beer and popcorn, I made my banana-triple-chocolate cake and it was over within one day (of course, with all that chocolate!)! And on Saturday morning we set off to the seaside. According to my experience so far with the Lithuanian weather I wasn't surprised but I was truly pissed off - after a weak of very high temperatures, the weekend was cloudy and quite cold. Anyway - we couldn't wait to go and see the Curonian Spit as everybody was talking of this place as some kind of a nature miracle! And it was really REALLY nice - the sea on the one side, a very beautiful forest on the other, small villages with colorful houses, yep - this is definitely the most beautiful part of Lithuania!

Before Nida we stopped at Juodkrante where we visited the Hill of Witches where you can see lots of wooden sculptures of scary creatures:

Once we arrived in Nida we couldn't wait to go and see the beach and the sea. The boys even swam in the watter no matter that it was freezing (even though I swam too, but on the next day when there was a little sun!). After seeing the small city, we went to the dunes, where everybody enjoyed the sand hills and we spent some time just relaxing. The view of the forest turning into sand is just magnificent! We enjoyed the evening on the beach, but the honey vodka I drank occurred not to be a very good idea, so instead of sleeping with everybody else on the beach, I spent the night in the car!

I was supposed to go back to Ignalina after Nida, but I decided to stay two more days which turned into another week, but I had apologetic reasons for that: 1st - there was a meeting with Deineta and other volunteers in Kurtuvenai and I wanted to see them, 2nd - there was a festival in  Šiauliai at the end of the week, and 3rd - there was a special pagan celebration on Sunday night, so how could I go?! And so I stayed. This time it was raining the whole week without stopping - we all thought it would never stop, so we spent our time indoors, watching movies and cooking. It was quite overcrowded in the house in the end of the week as Giovanni stayed with us for two nights, and other 3 German girls came for the weekend - but as I like to say - the more the better!

The festival in Šiauliai  was quite nice, even though we went only for one evening, but we enjoyed a concert with very nice medieval music and fireworks. After that we were quite hungry so we went to a restaurant to eat some pizza and drink a "bear" and then we went to one club which was a DISASTER.. So we went back home, had enough rest and on the next day we took part in the pagan celebration in the forest, which, despite the bad weather, turned out to be very nice! The rain didn't scare us and once we helped "the earth to turn over", we went to the pub to watch the final match between Lithuania and France for the European basketball Cup with some local people. Unfortunately, Lithuania lost, but we had great time!

And this is how my two or three days of holidays turned into two weeks. But you cannot help it when you have such a great time! I was sure I was going to miss them all, but it was good for my liver to take some rest :D

Thanks to Silvia, who shared her room with me for two weeks and also gave me a very nice present which I adore! Thanks also to Kim and Malte, the German volunteers, for the trip to Nida, the crazy jumping in the lake in the middle of the night and for the cinema nights! And thanks to Perica for the speakers and the projector most of the time :)

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Journey around Lithuania

With the end of August and the beginning of schools, also the busy tourist season was over. In September the work in the park suddenly decreases, and it's still not too cold, so it was just the right timing to use my remaining holidays.
I guess my concept of vacations is a bit far from the ordinary one, since taking some rest and relaxing at home, by a lake or in a forest, or comfortably travelling by public transportation to safely visit some popular places is just not enough for me; so, after my pre-summer holiday, busy with Aikido practice, IT studying and exams, during this summer-end holiday I decided to fulfill a wish I've been having in my mind since I came to Lithuania: to go on an adventurous journey around the country, alone with my trusted and beloved bike!
My idea was to go all around Lithuania, making stops in each of the parks hosting volunteers from our project. Later, I thought it was worth it to extend the route to the seaside, which I didn't have the chance to visit yet, so, from the initial 900+ km planned, it went up to 1100/1200, and I also had time restraints because of my family coming to visit me from the 19th. Would I have been able to cover such a long distance in a short time? I had been riding quite a bit during the summer, but I didn't train so hard like in previous years, and this would have been my longest trip so far, so I wasn't really sure. The longest distance I cycled in one day this year was 100 km, and I would have had to ride for even longer distances on many days according to the plans. And what about the unpredictable weather? I could try and plan my days as much as I wanted, but on heavy rain days or any other unexpected I should have stopped. But, eventually, although I had hard times, I ended up following my schedule flawlessly while riding even more km than predicted!

Tuesday, 3rd September 2013: Ignalina - Salakas
Start: 13:15; Riding time: 2°04'; Distance: 29,25 km; Avg speed: 15,5 km/h; Avg cadence: 47 rpm;
Max incline: 10%; Ascent: 170 m; Descent: 190 m; Temperature: 15-22 °C (Avg: 17 °C).

The beginning wasn't promising at all. I had to leave on the 3rd, and on the 2nd I was sick and it was raining a lot! My original plan was to make the tour going clockwise but, due to some other issues, on the day before leaving I decided to go in the opposite direction and I had to rearrange everything in the evening! My first destination switched so from Vilnius (~100 km) to Salakas (~30 km). That was a lucky choice, as on the first day I was still weak after being sick, and it rained the whole morning. In the afternoon the weather got better, so after lunch I could finally leave for this first short trip. It wasn't a new road, as I had cycled my way to Gražutės Regional Park already, so this day was just a warm up for me, and in a couple of hours I reached the destination. It was nice to meet again Olesya and Marion, the volunteers from Russia and France. Marion was quite busy as she had to go picking up some people at the station and at the airport in Vilnius, so I spent the evening with Olesya. We went for a walk by the lake in Salakas and the nearby forest, then we cooked some tasty rice with vegetables. After that, I just had to go bed, as I wasn't still completely recovered, I had a very strong headache and, on next day, I had to ride the longest distance of the tour: ~125 km… According to papers, at least…!

Wednesday, 4th September 2013: Salakas - Medeikiai
Start: 9:21; Riding time: 8°20'; Distance: 140,34 km; Avg speed: 17,9 km/h; Avg cadence: 49 rpm;
Max incline: 10%; Ascent: 455 m; Descent: 565 m; Temperature: 12-28 °C (Avg: 18 °C).

So, on the next morning, I was ready to take the challenge… The destination was Medeikiai, a small village near Biržai. Tilda, a girl from Sweden we have known on the Midterm Training, is volunteering in an orphanage there. After her coming to our park for a kayak trip with the children, now it was my turn to go visit them at their place!
The headache had decreased but it was still there. The weather was better but still cloudy. But now I had begun, so there was no turning back! After the first few tens of kilometers, the sun started to show up, increasing the temperature, and I was starting to feel better. The first half of the road was quite good, I saw some nice churches, windmills and monuments on the way.

I also crossed another Regional Park, Sartai, but I didn't have time to stop visiting it. Rokiškis city was halfway, it was quite late already and I didn't have lunch yet, so I treated myself to a delicious meal at a restaurant. The fried mushrooms with cheese and potato pancakes gave me back some energy to resume, but I was getting tired already and the road started to get worse. After all that nice asphalt, gravel roads surprised me, and in the latter part of the route I found many long sections like that, including some quite bad ones. I still wasn't in my best shape, and after 100 km I was exausted already; every single kilometer was getting harder and harder, with gravels making it worse, and at the 120th km I still wasn't anywhere close, according to my GPS… I guess I got some wrong turn or route, because it ended up being more than 140 km… It was a real endurance test, good thing I have a good resistance! Dogs didn't help; it seems they really hate cyclists for some reason! On the way, I had a few of them chasing me and, with such fatigued legs and a slight slope ahead, it wasn't a nice feeling seeing two fierce beasts coming out from nowhere in the woods and rushing at me at full speed, which I had no chance to outrun. Luckily, I found out that just braking all of a sudden was enough to take them by surprise, quell their chasing instincts and scare them away! At around 19 in the evening, I finally reached the orphanage and met Tilda and the children! I was completely worn out after more than 8 hours riding but, after a shower, I found some energy to play a little with the children, who remembered me from the kayak trip in our park.

When they went to bed, I had some dinner, then we shortly followed.

Thursday, 5th September 2013: Medeikiai - Biržai
After such a harsh beginning, I already needed one day off to rest. My headache was gone, and I felt healthy again, but now my legs were already tired and a strong ankle pain showed up in the morning because of yesterday's stress.
Tilda and I spent the day at the orphanage; in the morning, most of the children went to school, so we stayed with the youngest, but for lunch time they were all back. We played till the late afternoon and enjoyed the weather, now quite warm and pleasant.

Later, we went by bike to Biržai; I would have spent the night at a church's lodging there. Since there was also a kitchen available, we decided to cook something; we enjoyed cooking pasta with cherry tomatoes, rucola and parmesan, an Italian recipe with its flag's colors, and french fries.

Tilda and I had a nice dinner together, while sharing knowledge about our cultures… Turns out there was a lot I knew about Sweden that I wasn't even aware of!

Friday, 6th September 2013: Biržai - Žagarė
Start: 9:45; Riding time: 6°37'; Distance: 111,01 km; Avg speed: 17,7 km/h; Avg cadence: 48 rpm;
Max incline: 8%; Ascent: 95 m; Descent: 60 m; Temperature: 15-39 °C (Avg: 21 °C).

Next morning I met with Tilda at a valgykla, some kind of self service restaurant, where we had breakfast. After that, she joined me for a part of the trip!

The day got wery warm, and my winter suit soon became too hot! I was still a bit tired, not so much, but besides of the ankle pain still hurting, I was fine.
We passed by a point of interest of the Regional Park (yes, I found out that Biržai is also in an homonymous park!), the sink holes. These pits were made by plots of land which suddenly collapsed because of the underground waters. One of these is called the "Cow Hole", because of legends saying about a cow that was quietly there minding her own business, when she suddenly sunk with the formation of the sink hole.
After the first 35 km, we had to stop and say goodbye. Tilda had to ride back home, and 70 km would already be quite a long distance when you're not used to, especially considering the gravel roads we also had to cross! So I wished her good luck and I went ahead on my own again.

I stopped in Žeimelis for some fast snack, and some drunk Russian men joined me. They were nice and funny and, despite the language barrier, I managed to tell them about my route, and they were surprised. They took fun of my vegetarian food and analcoholic drink and offered me meat and beer to get strenght, but I had to decline their offer! One of them was trying to help me with directions but, oddly, he pointed to me the road to Latvia instead… Luckily, I knew the right way having a map and a GPS but, when I tryed to go in that direction, the guy stopped me and sent me to the way to Latvia again, saying I was going wrong… I had to find a way around to get past him!
I was getting exhausted again while getting closer to Žagarė; the last kilometers were again harsh, also because in the last part I didn't cross any village and couldn't find any water for a while.
Finally, I reached the place and met Orce, the Macedonian volunteer in that park, who was waiting for me. He took me for a tour around the town to show me its interesting places, including a house decorated with pots by its weird owner!

We walked for a few kilometers but, even if I was too tired for a stroll, it was worth it, since I was going to leave in the morning and that was my only chance to visit the place; we even reached and crossed the Latvian border nearby! After some dinner and a shower, we went to the local bar for a drink. Luckily for my body, there wasn't many people that night, so we went home early and I could get some craved rest!

Saturday, 7th September 2013: Žagarė - Kurtuvėnai
Start: 9:57; Riding time: 4°49'; Distance: 80,85 km; Avg speed: 17,4 km/h; Avg cadence: 44 rpm;
Max incline: 8%; Ascent: 155 m; Descent: 110 m; Temperature: 14-32 °C (Avg: 23 °C).

Finally it was time for an easy trip. In fact, it was just ~80 km to Kurtuvėnai; it was also quite boring, though, as after some gravel road in the beginning, it was just one long main road all the way to Šiaulai.

After the city, I saw a very nice windmill; then, my GPS took me on some shitty secondary road to Kurtuvėnai, on which I was almost getting lost. I would then discover, on the next day, that there was some cozy bicycle path at a side of the main road!
I reached the park and met its volunteers, Silvia from Spain and Perica from Croatia, from our project, and the newcomers Malte and Kim from Germany. This time I wasn't even tired, and we enjoyed the sun at a camping while celebrating Perica's birthday (it was just a coincidence I got there on that day, as I didn't even know about the birthday!).

Sunday, 8th September 2013: Kurtuvėnai
I spent my second rest day in Kurtuvėnai because I also wanted to go horseriding and to meet Blagovesta, who was coming to spend her holidays here as well. I also got the chance to do the laundry, which I really needed by now! So, in the morning, Silvia and I went by car to pick her up at the train station in Šiaulai. Then we went together to visit the Hill of Crosses nearby, a hill filled with thousands of crosses of any size… We even added our humble handmade cross!

On the way back we stopped for some shopping, as I was going to make pizza for dinner! I prepared it with Italian recipe and ingredients, but in "Swedish Style" (check out "SwedishMealTime" on YouTube if you don't know what I mean!)…

While the dough leavened, we went to check out the park's horse stable to ask if we could horseride. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to go out cantering or galloping in the forest as I wished, because it was quite expensive and they also required an experienced guide, but at least they let us do some walking and trotting in the fence for free.

For Blagovesta it was the first time on a horse, while for me it was a reminder of why the trot isn't nearly as good as the gallop!
After some other relaxing at the camping, it was time to start cooking. With the help of the others, we made an, a bit overgrown, but tasty, Margherita and Ortolana (with vegetables). Later we went to Perica's room for a movie.

Monday, 9th September 2013: Kurtuvėnai - Platėliai
Start: 10:29; Riding time: 5°52'; Distance: 108,68 km; Avg speed: 19,2 km/h; Avg cad.: 46 rpm;
Max incline: 17%; Ascent: 500 m; Descent: 440 m; Temperature: 16-27 °C (Avg: 22 °C).

In the morning, I was ready to leave again. Now I had to ride for five days in a row before I could rest again, and I had more than 100 km daily! The weather was still perfect: I couldn't spot a cloud on those days, and it was warm, not too much though, and pleasantly windy. The route to Platėliai was one of the most enjoyables of my journey; I can't tell exactly why, maybe because of the good quality roads, of the landscapes, or because I was finaly well rested and healthy! I crossed Varniai Regional Park, and this time I settled for a short detour to visit a fort hill, Šatrijos kalnas. It was totally worth it, as it was one of the highest points I saw in Lithuania, with a beautiful landscape all around, just a perfect place to stop for lunch.

Later I passed through Telšiai, a city by a lake that I really liked, which had some seaside feeling to it.

After almost 110 km, I reached Žemaitija National Park, where Nataliya and Oleksii, volunteers from Ukraine, were waiting for me. This time I wasn't even tired, I guess I was getting used to ride such a distance, so we went together for a walk to visit the town. Platėliai was clearly a touristic place, you could tell by its many cafes and restaurants. We went to see a fort hill with a view on a big lake with many islands.

One one peninsula there used to be the village in ancient times, but later it moved to the mainland and people abandoned the old location, in which there are still findings nowadays. On the way we saw a "hotel" for birds; looks like it was closed for the season, though, as it was empty!

Then we walked by the lake, passing by a yacht club, and we headed to a view tower to see the landscape.

When we went back home, Nataliya and Oleksii treated me with a delicious vegetable based dinner, just what I needed before going to bed!

Tuesday, 10th September 2013: Platėliai - Klaipėda
Start: 9:46; Riding time: 6°16'; Distance: 121,11 km; Avg speed: 20,0 km/h; Avg cadence: 46 rpm;
Max incline: 11%; Ascent: 235 m; Descent: 405 m; Temperature: 14-21 °C (Avg: 16 °C).

It was time to finally head to the seaside! The forecasts announced some rain in the afternoon and, even if you couldn't tell by looking at the sky in the morning, the short term forecasts were usually accurate, so I put on some suitable clothing.
Before leaving Platėliai I went to visit the park's museum and the masks museum, where Nataliya works, and she led me through the exposures while telling interesting facts. I could even wear one of the masks!

After that I went to visit the cold war museum, where Oleksii works. I had to take a 10+10 km detour to reach it and go back, but it was worth it, as it was very interesting and, led by Oleksii, I could walk inside the underground base discovering how a secret base with missile silos looked like.

Visiting the museums took quite a long time, so I left quite late, and the day wasn't very promising.
For my next stops there wouldn't be any volunteers I know, in such places, who could host me. In Klaipėda, the city in the middle of Lithuanian coastline, I found an accomodation thanks to Warmshowers, a hosting community similar to Couchsurfing, but based on bike travelers. Instead of taking the shortest way, I went to Šventoji first, the last town at North of the coast, before Latvian border, so I could ride all the way South following the coastline.
On the way, the GPS sensor of my cyclocomputer (the one which saves a gpx track of the covered road) stopped working and, no matter how much I tried, I could'n fix it, and it didn't work on next two days as well. I was very upset about this as I really wanted to save a record of the whole journey, but I ended up having to manually create the track for the latter part of this day and the next two, once I got back, trying to remember which routes I took, so they may not be as accurate as the others.
As predicted from the forecasts, the weather was worsening, and by the time I reached the sea it was all covered with clouds. As I reached Šventoji, I just went for the first beach I could find to see the shore.

As I crossed the town, I noticed how it was a touristic place, which reminded me of similar towns on Northen Italy's coast, but all shops were already closed, as I guess tourist season was over here too. I had to leave in a hurry, as it was quite late, I still had quite a long way to ride, and it was starting to rain. The road to Klaipėda was a bit disappointing for me, as you couldn't see the sea from the road as I thought and, after Palanga, I must have missed some hidden turn, and I found myself on a short section of highway. It was probably one of the worst parts of my journey, having to ride on the highway, late in the afternoon, under the rain, tired after more than 100 km and, on top of that, with my bike making strange noises. As soon as I could, I run out of the highway taking the first road on the right, only to find out, after a couple of km on a very bad ground, that it was just a dead end to some farmsteads… I had to ride back to the highway; my mood was terrible, but I took next turn out to a secondary road and rode my last kilometers to destination, passing through part of Pajūrio Regional Park. Gvidas, the guy hosting me, welcomed me to his place. After a refreshing shower, I joined him and his lovely family for dinner, before going to finally take some rest.

Wednesday, 11th September 2013: Klaipėda - Nida - Klaipėda
Start: 10:07; Riding time: 7°10'; Distance: 124,85 km; Avg speed: 18,4 km/h; Avg cad.: 40 rpm;
Max incline: 13%; Ascent: 195 m; Descent: 225 m; Temperature: 16-24 °C (Avg: 18 °C).

Next on the list was riding along the Curonian Spit to Nida and back to Klaipėda. First of all, I needed to have my bike checked, so I found a bicycle workshop nearby. Turns out my rear brake pads were completely worn out, hence the noise, so I had to replace them; I was ready to hit the road again, but first I had to catch the ferry!

Luckily there was no rain anymore, only a few clouds, so I could enjoy the most pleasant route of the trip. Again, it wasn't possible to look at the sea while riding, but this time it was because of the high dune dividing the mainland from the shore.

I went along the bicycle path, first by the dune, then further inland, through the forest. The scenery was quite unique because, even if you can only see forest which covers the sea, you could somehow feel that it was there. The nature was pristine and untouched as well, protected being part of Kuršių Nerija National Park, and along the path I could see and smell hundreds of mushrooms of many kinds.

Once in Nida, I followed a path by the sea, which led me to the big sand dunes. On the way, I made a very nice encounter with a friendly stork, which was posing in a garden for an artist painting it, and it didn't mind people getting close!

I went on by the path and I had to carry my bike up a long stairway to make it to the top of the dunes, from where I could enjoy that magnificent and unique scenery.

The very top was garrisoned by a huge sundial.

I avoided the steps and went down on a road on the other side of the hill: I headed for the Russian border, which was 2 km far, to check how it looked like, before heading back to Klaipėda.

This time I tried to follow the road for cars, to shorten the way back and avoid repeating the same route, but I soon found out that it was expressly forbidden by signs to cycle on it. On the way back, I had to detour to another village, Pervalka, because I didn't have the chance to refill my bottle yet since I left, in the morning. Some fresh juice gave me the energy to go on for all the way back and, maybe because of the enjoyable road, maybe because of the hurry, as I was trying to catch the next ferry to avoid waiting for another hour, maybe because I was without luggage on my bike, having left it at Gvidas' home, I kept on riding very fast till the end without even feeling tired. I made one last stop midway to look at the sea once again.

In the evening, Gvidas invited me to join them again for dinner. While speaking, it came out that I hadn't seen Klaipėda's beach and seaside yet (aside from the harbor), and he invited me to join him on his daily jogging session. Some running in the middle of such a bike journey didn't sound like a great idea but… well… how could I decline such an offer? So, at 10 in the evening, after almost 125 km of cycling that day, and many others coming on next ones, I found myself running additional ~8 kilometers! It was crazy, but worth it, as I could have a glimpse of the city by night, and see its beautiful beach before leaving. During the jogging we were also speaking about his past achievements: he once ran all the coastline from the Russian border to the Latvian one, ~100 km in total and, on top of all, he put a Guinness Record by cycling around Lithuania in 3 days and a half…! He made more or less my same journey, ~1200 km, in less than 4 days, riding for almost 20 hours and ~350 km a day! Hearing of such a feat made my trip sound like a trifle, but it was great to meet a guy who did such a thing, hopefully one day I will be able to measure up with him!

Thursday, 12th September 2013: Klaipėda - Dunokai
Start: 10:15; Riding time: 6°57'; Distance: 117,92 km; Avg speed: 17,8 km/h; Avg cad.: 41 rpm;
Max incline: 9%; Ascent: 265 m; Descent: 215 m; Temperature: 14-22 °C (Avg: 18 °C).

Next day I was heading to Kaunas. The distance was too long, so I had to split it in two days. Luckily Linas, my mentor, had a friend near Tauragė, halfway, who could host me overnight in his forestry office. The day was rainy and unpleasant, and the way was quite flat and boring, so I didn't enjoy the trip so much. On the way I found "my" river, Aisė (Aise is my nickname), so I had to take a picture!

Other interesting things I saw were the church in Švėkšna, a cozy town where I also took a lunch break, and a watermill on the road.

On the last part I had some troubles: my cellphone had not charged properly, so the battery was very low, and without its GPS I wouldn't have been able to reach the place I needed to, because it was out of town and I had no addresses or names, but only its coordinates! So, I had to run as much as I could, and I made it right on time: a few minutes more using the GPS and the battery would have died, leaving me without directions! In the hurry, I didn't mind stopping to buy some food; the forestry was quite isolated, it was quite late and I didn't have any energy left to go looking for a shop around so, after a shower and some snacks I had left, I just went to sleep early, exhausted and without dinner.

Friday, 13th September 2013: Dunokai - Kaunas
Start: 8:25; Riding time: 7°27'; Distance: 125,48 km; Avg speed: 17,3 km/h; Avg cadence: 41 rpm;
Max incline: 15%; Ascent: 295 m; Descent: 275 m; Temperature: 13-27 °C (Avg: 19 °C).

I woke up early this time, as I intended to put an end to these 5 days of no-stop cycling and reach Kaunas, where I planned to have another day off. Manuel from Spain is volunteering in the Botanical Garden in Kaunas, but he was back to his country for the whole month long for his holidays, so I couldn't meet him. But I had other friends from this city: some girls I have known in Amalfi, my hometown, while they were having holidays there. It's funny how I could meet people in their hometown after randomly meeting them in mine, months ago, during some boring evening, but I'm so glad we've been keeping in touch! Audronė, one of them, was so kind to host me for two nights at her place.
Finally, the GPS sensor started to work again somehow, so I could begin again saving my route! Today's road was much more enjoyable, as most of it ran along river Nemunas.

I went through all Paneminiai Regional Park, but I was so eager to reach Kaunas that I didn't stop sightseeing, and I left behind many short detours I could have made to the left side, climbing some hills facing the river.

I probably missed something nice, but the steep slopes were too scary for me at that point that even the need to climb them to reach the villages on the tops and have lunch didn't push me enough. I had to wait for a shop on my same altitude in order to have a snack, and the first one I had found was like a mirage, a gas station with a tempting "parduotuvė" (shop) sign which only deceived me as it was by long time abandoned; the second one came later, but at least it was working!
Once in Kaunas, I had to use my GPS again to reach Audronė's place. Setting it to pededestrian mode to have the shortest way was rash, as it drove me to some forest paths in the suburbs!

But I eventually made it, and at quite an early hour, as she was still at work, but her parents greeted me at their place. After a shower, taking care of the laundry, some rest and a delicious dinner, we went downtown for some nightlife, but I was so worn out that I couldn't be lively. Unfortunately Eglė, another friend, was sick, and I wasn't able to meet her during my stay, but I enjoyed the time with Audronė even if we couldn't stay late, as we were both very tired.

Saturday, 14th September 2013: Kaunas
We woke up late and had breakfast, after which we went for shopping, as I was going to make pizza again! After buying the ingredients, we prepared the dough, and while it was leavening we went to the mall in the city centre, as she had to take care of some chores. Then we went back and started cooking, and this time I almost done it, I was going to burn down the kitchen! I don't know how I did, but suddenly some oil in the pan burst with flames up to the ceiling! Luckily it was just a second, and nothing happened, but I wish I could take a picture or video of it, as it was amazing… it looked like professional chefs, just… unintentional! Despite the explosive recipe, the pizzas turned out tasty; this time it was one Ortolana again, and another with potatoes and mushrooms. We enjoyed it while watching movies with another friend of her who joined us. In the evening, we went downtown again and met other friends of her, but I was still dead… I wasn't used to stay up late anymore and had some worries about next day, as I had again a very long way to ride!

Sunday, 15th September 2013: Kaunas - Marcinkonys
Start: 11:01; Riding time: 7°15'; Distance: 132,17 km; Avg speed: 19,1 km/h; Avg cad.: 44 rpm;
Max incline: 21%; Ascent: 535 m; Descent: 480 m; Temperature: 15-21 °C (Avg: 16 °C).

After breakfast, I had to say goodbye to Audronė and her friend and to go back on my way. Before heading back home, I had one last detour to make, to Dzūkija National Park, where Giovanni, my compatriot, and Mariia, from Russia, are volunteering. Unfortunately, I found out that she was on holidays as well, so I could only meet Giovanni.
This would have been the second longest trip after the one to Biržai, and I would have soon passed the 1000 km milestone! It was cloudy, but forecasts said it was gonna be sunny soon, so I opted for the short sleeved suit, but I didn't consider temperatures, which by now had decreased already. So, although I was good while riding and keeping warmed up, I got too cold when I stopped.
My cellphone started having some issues, and again it didn't charge properly. The GPS had problems too, and sometimes it couldn't boot; after barely driving me out of Kaunas, making me almost get lost in the suburbs, I had to turn it off to save battery, but once was out from the city on the right direction it was easy to follow the way just using the map.
In Prienai there was a nice sight by a bridge crossing Nemunas river and, according to a sign, a watermill, but I couldn't find it.

Then I went to Birštonas, another nice town, from which I hardly found my way out, and nobody around could give me directions in English. My map suggested me to take a route passing Punia, a town marked as place of interest, but without the help of the GPS I got lost in the countryside looking for it, and then I just had to settle down to the main road not to lose more time.

I had some other boring riding on a long, flat, busy road, until I reached Dzūkija National Park, where the landscape became much more pleasant.

This park is well-known for its mushrooms and, in fact, I could already see plenty of them at the side of the road, even some good edible ones, which I took with me! I still had some way to reach Marcinkonys and, once there, and after some troubles finding Giovanni's house, as I had wrong coordinates saved, I finally reached him. It was already late and quite cold and I wasn't dressed appropriately, so I soon I started to get sick, feeling a very bad sore throat. Luckily, next day I had planned to use my last resting day to visit the park, so I didn't have to ride in those conditions and I could try to rest and heal. After a shower and dinner, we watched a movie and went to bed.

Monday, 16th September 2013: Marcinkonys
In the morning I was a bit better, but not good yet. I should have stayed home, but I really wanted to visit the park, so I went anyway. On that day, the staff of the park was meeting together to celebrate their employees, so we joined them and went together for an excursion around, showing their newest facilities, like the underconstruction new visitor centre and hotel, some rental accomodations, and some brand new work vehicles.

We also visited a small marsh, then we had some delitious mushroom based lunch together.

In the afternoon I went with Giovanni to visit Čepkeliai Strict Nature Reserve. It's a unique huge swamp which covers many hectares near Belarussian border.

We went there by bike and walked a bit along its edge. That was the last day on which it was allowed to gather berries and mushrooms there, from the next day it would have been forbidden but, although there were hundreds and hundreds of mushrooms of so many different species, we couldn't find any good edible ones… I guess other people collected them already!

After that we went back home, had dinner and watched another movie. I was better, but forecasts were very bad for next days: I was gonna meet the rain again! So I was sick, tired and rain and cold were coming… I was almost thinking to give up and catch some train back home, but I had done so much already and I just couldn't stop now, I was going to close my loop, no matter what!

Tuesday, 17th September 2013: Marcinkonys - Vilnius
Start: 10:28; Riding time: 5°52'; Distance: 109,07 km; Avg speed: 19,1 km/h; Avg cad.: 46 rpm;
Max incline: 8%; Ascent: 275 m; Descent: 295 m; Temperature: 14-17 °C (Avg: 15 °C).

So I left, this time in my winter suit and rain coat, under some light rain which kept on falling for most of the way. It was again a boring day on some uninteresting road, and the weather didn't help me to enjoy that, but I just wanted to reach Vilnius, my penultimate stop, where Lenka, the Slovakian girl volunteering in Neris Regional Park, would have hosted me. Unfortunately Adrian, a volunteer from Spain staying with her, had to quit the project a couple of weeks earlier and left a few days before I got there, so I didn't have the chance to say goodbye to him.
Weary and annoyed by raindrops on my glasses, I just rode fast without distractions and got there quite early. By the end, my cyclocomputer warned me that the memory was almost full; by putting the highest recording rate and ditching the altimeter data, I barely managed to record the last track to Ignalina.
In the evening Giovanni also came to Vilnius, as he had to go to Kurtuvėnai on the next day, for a meeting. Together with Lenka, we watched a movie, and then went to sleep.

Wednesday, 18th September 2013: Vilnius - Ignalina
Start: 9:04; Riding time: 5°18'; Distance: 110,54 km; Avg speed: 21,1 km/h;
Avg cadence: 50 rpm; Temperature: 15-20 °C (Avg: 17 °C).

I left early for the last part of the journey, heading back to Ignalina! After some troubles with an old lady in Lenka's apartment block, who was threatening me with a pepper spray and calling police, while I was quietly minding my own business and getting my bike ready before leaving (I still don't understand what she wanted from me!), I just left before the police came, as I had no time to lose, and they probably would have not understanded English. On the way back home, I would understand why the region is called Aukštaitija (highlands): I would soon face endless short but steep slopes, which normally wouldn't be a big deal for me, as I'm used to much longer and steeper slopes back in my country, but at the end of such a journey I wish there weren't!

But I didn't care; I was almost over, so I could use all my energy left, and I went on as fast as I could. I just stopped for a fast lunch in Sariai, a nice village.

The weather was merciful this time and, aside from a few drops in the morning, it was just cloudy all day. On the way, I overtook a wacky guy slowly riding on a squeaky bike; after a while, I could hear some noises getting closer from behind: it was that guy, who eventually pushed hard and overtook me again. He didn't look like a professional at all, and his bike was far from a good one, so I thought I would show him who he was dealing with, and I pushed harder, leaving him behind. In a couple of minutes, while I was still going full speed, I could hear those noises slowly approaching again! I couldn't believe it when he passed me again and, after trying to talk with me but couldn't, as he didn't speak English, he went on at a speed I just couldn't match at my current conditions, disappearing ahead! This distraction pushed me up and made me ride even faster in the last part, and I could reach the end in a very good time, considering the circumstances! The landscapes started becoming familiar and I got finally to Ignalina and home, I had made it!

Riding time: 75°27'; Distance: 1341,77 km; Avg speed: 17,73 km/h;
Days: 16 (12 riding, 4 resting); Avg km/day: 109,27 (83,86 incl. rest days).

I've been living in Lithuania for over six months, but only after these two weeks I really got to know it better. I think travelling by bike is the best way to discover a place: unlike going by car or other motor vehicles, the speed limit allows you fully enjoy the surroundings, and not just to glance at it while passing through. You can notice many more details, smell the scents, hear the sounds, feel the air on your skin, the road under your wheels and the slopes in your legs; you can actually Live the place! At the same time, you don't have the distance restraints you would have going on foot: it's a just a perfect balance within. Of course it's not for everybody, and it has its downsides too, but I'm sure the rewards you get are totally worth the efforts.
This was my second bike travel, after a first 500 km one in Italy. Unlike this one, on my first one I had no schedules and I was just going wherever I wished, riding as much as wanted a day and just looking for an accomodation before it got dark, or just camping somewhere. It was much shorter distance wise, but it took almost the same days as I challenged several mountains and climbed and descended over 1000 m altitudes many times. This time, instead, the challenge was not with the road itself, but with the very tight schedule. I could say that having an exact plan had detracted a bit from the feeling of freedom, but on the bright side, this time I could meet friends everyday, whose support was crucial and pushed me forward. Aside from discovering the country, I could spend some great time with new and old friends, making this journey the best memories of my EVS time.

It was now time for me to rest, while hosting my mother and brother, who would come to visit me on next day and stay for almost a week, before going back to the project, which was now slowly coming to an end.