Bus, Boat, Bike, Beach: Day Trip to Klaipeda

With extra days planned in Vilnius for no other reason than that Captain Ramius had spoken so highly of the city and a cheaper plane ticket to Poland if I waited, I had originally planned to spend five nights in the Lithuanian capital. While I absolutely enjoyed the city, a fellow traveler spoke highly of coastal Klaipeda and a tour guide said that I needed to spend some time in Kaunas, so I changed plans once I arrived. After a 3.5-hour bus ride to Klaipeda today, I’m absolutely glad I did as the city is charming, quirky, and beautiful. And I happened to arrive in town during a replacement for the Montana Folk Festival, which was a welcome surprise.

After checking in to my hotel, I’ve been on the go since, with a long bike ride on the lovely Curonian Spit, an almost 100 kilometer long thin stretch of sand dunes, beaches, and forest that separates the harbor of Klaipeda from the Baltic. It’s a marvel of a public park, with wide lanes for pedestrians and bikers crossing the island, half of which is under the control of Russia. Hundreds of walkers and bikers crowded onto the ferry, which cost $1 round trip, but once we arrived, the island had enough beaches, paths, and other areas that it didn’t feel crowded at all.

Back in town, the International Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival occupied the central town square and included acts from all over Europe, ranging from an all-female Latvian singing troupe to flamenco dancers from Spain. The idea of the festival is to help preserve traditions that are less well-known or in danger of dying as they are not transmitted from one generation to the next. The Montana Folk Festival would do well to book these Latvian women right away, and the Estonians absolutely killed their set.

The rest of the day has been filled with finding a great burger joint, eating some traditional Lithuanian desserts and wandering the city, a place where I randomly encountered people singing opera to a small crowd, more accordion players than I knew could gather in one place, and some very nude men sunbathing on the beach. After a brief break to recharge myself and my camera, I’m going to go watch the flamenco dancers close the evening at the festival.

Not bad for a one day trip made at random.

A day like today certainly puts to mind one of the thoughts I had before the trip: how to make the person back home do more of the things the person I am on the road does. There’s just not enough spending three consecutive hours reading a great novel, wandering into music festivals, and getting on bikes in my life in Helena. Some of that is certainly practical–a job gets in the way of some adventure, of course–but much of it is simply attitude. I want to walk 30,000 steps in Vilnius, rent a bike in Klaipeda, and read a novel in the white night of Helsinki, but all too often at home time gets spent in less productive, less purely joyous ways.

Today, a random day in a random city, should be a good reminder to make those choices far more often, even in humble Helena.