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There are only a handful of trains between Ignalina and Vilnius every day, with the first connection being at 12.48, so we were able to have a slow start to the morning in Ignalina. We decided to go for a walk around the lake at the bottom of our road, taking advantage of the fact that it was now daylight and there hopefully wouldn't be as many flies. The lake looked beautiful in the morning sunshine and we saw a heron, as well as a large congregation of ducks. It took us about an hour to walk a complete circuit around the lake. We made the most of our final walk through the forest, before heading back to the apartment to pack and catch the train back to Vilnius. The journey to Vilnius didn't seem quite as hot and sticky as it had on Tuesday, although it was still a very warm day overall. We arrived in the Lithuanian capital around 14.30 and had arranged to check into our apartment at 15.00. It wasn't a long way away from the station so it ought to have been easy to find, but the address details on the reservation were a little confusing. The address was given as "Šv. Stepono g. 8/11, Raugyklos g. 19/3" which was a rather baffling amount of numbers to work with. Šv. Stepono and Raugyklos were two small streets running roughly parallel to each other, so we decided to hang around the point at which they were intersected by a small side street and hope for the best. By 15.10 there was no sign of anyone waiting to check us in to an apartment on either street, so we decided we would have to contact the owner. We sent a text message to which we received an instant reply, saying that they were waiting for us on Šv. Stepono. We eventually found them... in a courtyard behind a locked gate, so it hadn't been immediately obvious that there was were we were supposed to be! It then turned out that the apartment we were staying in was actually on the other street anyway, so we had to trudge back to where we had started with the case. Once we eventually got inside, the apartment turned out to be nice, but definitely the smallest we have stayed in so far this holiday. It was mercifully cool though, which was a good start, and most importantly it had a working Wi-Fi connection We got to work posting blogs and photos from previous days, before going out for an evening walk in Vilnius. It didn't take us long to find our way into the old town. The pink town hall looked very familiar from Tuesday. We walked past the town hall and through the main square... ...passing this pretty church on our way towards the cathedral. We soon had a view of Gedminas tower... ...as well as the iconic white crosses in the background. We were fairly hungry at this point, having not had any lunch, so we walked back to a restaurant we remembered eating in last time we were in Vilnius. The service was a little slow - it seems to be acceptable in Lithuania to not serve everyone at the table at the same time - but the food was good, and cheap. Tomorrow we are hoping to visit the nearby town of Trakai
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
It was another beautiful sunny day when we opened the curtains this morning in Ignalina. Our plan for today was to travel to the nearby village of Palūšė, which is the gateway to the Aukštaitija national park. Although the village is quite close to Ignalina, there isn't a regular bus service there and so the guidebook recommended that the best solution was to walk there. The instructions said to walk in a southwesterly direction from the main train station, where we would find a footpath/cyclepath to follow, and so we set off in the direction of the train station. On the way, we found what we think might be Ignalina's main square. It has a rather odd fountain. We also found the bus station, where the buses made us feel rather glad that we'd opted to arrive by train yesterday! We arrived at the train station but were slightly unclear about which direction southwest would be. We saw some other people following a small path alongside the railway lines and wondered whether that might be the correct direction. We followed them for a while, but stopped after a couple of minutes when we came to a large sign we couldn't understand in Lithuanian. It might have said "This is the way to Palūšė" or it could quite equally have meant "Danger of death". We decided to turn round, which was a good decision because shortly afterwards we found the cyclepath we were looking for. The path led us alongside a road and then up through a meadow and into the beginnings of the forest. We hadn't walked far before we got our first glimpse of one of the numerous lakes that the national park is famous for. We walked for about three miles, through the forest... ...and alongside the lake... ...until we reached the outskirts of Palūšė, where there is a larger lake with a sandy beach. A small track led upwards from the side of the lake. This was the start of a walk called the Botanical Trail, which had been recommended in the Rough Guide. The route was well-marked with little green arrows so it was impossible to get lost, although we were a bit confused about why the route was supposed to be "botanical" because as we walked it over the course of the next couple of hours, we barely encountered a single flower. There were quite a lot of mushrooms though, and we did pass the odd person out with a basket to collect them. Otherwise we virtually had the forest to ourselves. At times the pathway was a little overgrown... ..although admittedly this bit did open up to a viewing platform across one of the lakes. After a few ascents and descents, the path flattened off and followed the edge of the lake. The water was a beautiful colour in the sunshine. We briefly came out onto a road and then proceeded to walk down through the forests on the opposite side of the lake, ultimately arriving a few hundred metres from where we had started in Palūšė. The woods seemed very reminiscent of our trip to Sweden earlier in the year. Palūšė itself is a tiny place, although we did find a small cafe where we were able to get a drink. It's most notable landmark is its wooden church and belltower, which used to feature on one of the Lita notes before Lithuania joined the Euro. It was definitely a unique church, and there were some unusual woodcarvings in the grounds, some of which looked more pagan than Christian. There was also a wonderful view back towards the lake. There is a national park centre in Palūšė but it looked less interesting even than the one in Zernez, so we decided to give it a miss! We began our walk back to Ignalina... ...and within an hour or so we were there. We went back to the apartment to cool down and write up the blog. Unfortunately, the one catch of this apartment is that the advertised "free wi-fi" actually translates to "2GB of wi-fi" which we appear to have accidentally used up already. We're not too confident of finding an internet cafe in Ignalina, so we may not be online again until Vilnius on Thursday! Deprived of internet, in the evening we went out for another walk around the lake we could see from our balcony. 8pm probably wasn't the best time to have chosen to go for a walk beside a lake, as there were rather a lot of flying insects also enjoying the surroundings. Within no time we were deep within the woods again... ...and had a beautiful view back towards the metropolis of Ignalina. It was tempting to try walking all the entire way around the lake, but we decided we had better turn back before it either got dark or we got eaten alive by mosquitos.
Today was a day of travelling. Our ultimate destination was Ignalina, a small town in northeastern Lithuania which is situated on the edge of the Aukštaitija National Park. It's about 100 miles from Kaunas, but our journey took most of the day because it's not possible to get there by train without going via Vilnius. Our train from Kaunas to Vilnius was at 11.00. We left the apartment with plenty of time to spare because, while we knew it was about a 45 minute walk to the train station, we didn't know how difficult it was going to be to purchase a ticket. It turned out to be remarkably easy; Kaunas station seemed bright and modern, there was hardly a queue at the ticket desk and the lady understood Tim's broken Lithuanian Best of all, the price of the journey to Vilnius was a mere €4 each! It remained to be seen, of course, what Lithuanian trains were going to be like. We knew from past experience that Latvian trains left a bit to be desired in terms of comfort, and so we were a bit apprehensive about what Lithuanian railways might have in store. We needn't have worried though, because the train to Vilnius surpassed all our expectations. Waiting on the platform was a modern, double-decker train of a standard that you would expect to find in Switzerland rather than Lithuania. The 90 minutes to Vilnius passed in a flash as we travelled across a flat, forested landscape, interrupted every now and again by small towns. We have been to Vilnius before, of course, and we're also spending the last three days of this holiday there, so when we arrived there around 12.30 our main priority was just to get some lunch, before catching our connecting train to Ignalina at 15.10. We had a rough idea of the direction of the old town, and assisted by some helpful signs we soon found our way to some places which looked very familiar. We remembered a lovely place where we'd sat outside and eaten pizza in 2013, so we headed in that general direction. We found it without too much difficulty, although it appeared to have changed hands and the menu was less pizza and more Eastern European variations on the theme of dough and pastry. I had something which was essentially a pizza-sized cheese burek, while Tim tried something which was a bit more doughy and involved meat and egg. Both meals were lovely, but extremely filling! After sitting in the sun for a while, we made our way back to the train station for our connection to Ignalina. This train was not quite as modern as the previous one and didn't benefit from any air-conditioning. This shouldn't theoretically have been a problem as it was possible to open the windows, so there should have been a nice breeze as the train sped through the countryside. Unfortunately, this wasn't a train which was going to do a whole lot of speeding. Vilnius to Ignalina is a distance of about 70 miles, which took the train the best part of two hours. It was a very hot two hours! The closer we got to Ignalina, the more forested the countryside became and we began to get some tantalising views of lakes and rivers. We arrived in Ignalina around 17.00 and made our way to the apartment we had booked, which was only a 10 minute walk away from the main train station. This one was a bit of a gamble when we booked it because it was a new listing without many reviews online. I don't normally go for anything that doesn't have a history of extremely good reviews, but Ignalina isn't exactly a tourist hotspot (although Lithuania is hoping it might become one) and so there wasn't a great deal of choice. It turned out to be an apartment in a rather dingy, Soviet-style tower block. The owner met us outside and let us up at least five flights of stairs at a swift pace. She didn't seem to speak any English at all, so as she showed us around the apartment we had to resort to communicating in Russian, an eventuality which we weren't really prepared for! We managed to grasp the basics; there was a lake down the road where we could go swimming, there were some teabags in the cupboard and she didn't need to see our passports. Phew. Luckily the apartment is really nice and spacious We've got two big rooms - a sitting room with two armchairs and a little conservatory/balcony.... ...and a larger kitchen/dining room with a bed at the far end. Somewhat bizarrely, we also have 11 potted plants! It's excellent value, at a mere €30/£21 per night and we even have a lakeview from our balcony. We had passed a supermarket on our way here, so we set out to explore Ignalina and buy some provisions. The supermarket was an interesting experience, with the food labels in a mixture of Lithuanian and Russian and far more jars of pickled things than seemed necessary. We managed to find some pasta and sauce, which was a relief Then we strolled down to the nearest lake to look at the view. It seems really pretty here and we're looking forward to exploring more and going for a walk in the forests tomorrow