When we checked into our apartment on Tuesday afternoon, one of the first things we noticed was that there was a useful information booklet entitled "Travelling in Aukštaitija National Park". This seemed to be a booklet which had been financed by an EU investment fund and, luckily for us, it was written entirely in English. It contained maps and instructions for a number of walks in the national park, as well as some cycling and canoeing routes. One of the walking routes was the Botanical Trail which we had tried yesterday; having read the booklet more attentively now, it appears that it's called the Botanical Trail because there are some interesting swamp plants, lichens and forest funghi! Seeing as we already knew the way to Palūšė, we decided to try a longer 10km route today which would allow us to visit a number of different lakes.
The 5km or so to Palūšė seemed a lot quicker second time around and before long we were at the lakeside beach where we had started the Botanical Trail the day before.
Following the instructions in the booklet, we walked around the shores of the lake, passing a number of rather strange wooden carvings.
Apparently this was a sculpture park, with the carvings being made by artists from Ignalina and depicting characters from Lithuanian folk tales.
Some of them looked quite scary...
...but some of them were quite cute.
The sculpture trail took us from Palūšė to the neighbouring village of Meironys.
It looked like quite a substantial settlement on the map, but in reality it was just a handful of houses and it wasn't long until we were back in the forests again.
The forest road was taking us towards Gaveikenai. As we walked along it we assumed that the tyre tracks came from the odd forestry vehicle which passed along it, but when we reached the village of Gaveikenai we only just avoided being run down by the local bus as it proceeded to turn onto the track, having deposited two of the villagers and their shopping. It's not your typical bus route!
Gaveikenai was another tiny place, full of wooden houses. The booklet instructed us to walk through the village and turn off onto a gravel path by the water mill. It was as we approached the water mill that our previously peaceful walk suddenly became stressful, as the barking of a crazed dog filled the air. There was a beautiful lake in front of us, with a gravel path leading to it, but between us and the water there was a large and very angry Alsatian.
As the dog continued to bark furiously, we decided - more in a bout of wishful thinking than any geographical logic - that the booklet hadn't meant that gravel path and that instead we needed to continue walking on a smaller one back into the forest. We managed to entertain this illusion for a couple of minutes as the barking of the dog got fainter and fainter behind us, but as we failed to meet any of the upcoming specified landmarks in the rest of the route description, we were forced to the realisation that it had been that gravel path after all. Oh dear!
We spent a while flicking through the other routes in the book to see whether there was a detour we could make that would negate the need to walk past the dog, but unfortunately the maps weren't in sufficient detail for us to judge. There was nothing for it but to return to the water mill.
As soon as we approached, the dog started barking again. I personally thought that now might be a good time to turn around and walk back to Ignalina the way we had come, but Tim was feeling braver and went ahead to see what would happen as we got closer to the dog. I held my breath for a few minutes... but he returned with the good news that the dog was chained up!
It was still rather nerve-wracking to walk past it, as he growled and barked, jumping and straining on the chain to get at us, but luckily it was a very sturdy chain and we made it past in one piece. Phew.
The lake was beautiful when we were able to enjoy it in peace.
After a brief rest we continued on our way. The path led us up onto a main road, which we were supposed to cross, following a track on the left hand side which would lead us back into the woods. The directions were a bit confusing and it took us a while to find the track in question. When we eventually did find what we thought was the correct path and tried to follow it along the side of another lake, we quickly ran into difficulties. The view was beautiful but the vegetation was growing quite high and it didn't look as if anyone had been along here for a while.
We pushed through the long grass for a while, but eventually it became impossible to tell whether this was supposed to be a path or not. We turned around and retraced our steps to the main road. Luckily, the map indicated that it was possible to continue along the road and still end up in the next destination on the route, the little village of Strigailiškis. Although it was a road, there was hardly any traffic and we still had some really pretty views.
Before long we arrived in Strigailiškis, also home to some rather noisy German shepherds, and also featuring its own lake.
The thing which distinguished Strigailiškis from the other villages on the route, however, was the fact that it also had a restaurant. We were quite hot and tired by this point so we decided to stop for a drink at least and investigate the menu. The menu was fortunately translated into English and there was quite a wide selection. I had a margherita pizza, Tim went for beef stroganaff and managed to drink three beers. In addition to my Sprite and the jug of lemon water which we ordered, the entire meal cost us a mere €18. Wow. The only downside was that no one there spoke any English, but Tim managed to order everything with a mixture of Russian and hand gestures
Leaving Strigailiškis, we managed to intercept the cycle path between Ignalina and Palūšė and so take a short cut back to our apartment for a rest. We've had a wonderful time here in the Lithuanian wilderness and suspect that when we head back to Vilnius tomorrow it's going to feel like a great metropolis, despite previously tying with Ljubljana in the award for sleepiest capital city we have ever visited