As is typical of the nonchalance of an unplanned, meandering traveler such as myself, arriving at the Curonian spit I discovered that one must get a ferry across the narrow shipping channel that has been cut into its north end. As is also typical, I had not set aside enough cash to pay for this service and was forced to return to town to remedy this. Finally boarding the ferry, bumper to bumper with Russian SUVs I was not afforded the opportunity to leave the vehicle to take photos of the passing shipyards as my broken handbrake ensured that my foot stayed glued to the brake pedal for the duration of the journey, lest I roll into a stone-faced Russian as the ferry jolted across.
Having visited the Vistula Spit but two weeks before, I was immediately underwhelmed by its larger, more famous cousin. The Vistula had been only 400m across, therefore compounding the effect of the churning bleakness of the Baltic on one side, and the placid tranquility of the lagoon on the other. The Lithuanian Curonian is much nearer 4km wide and the effect is therefore not as prominent. As the Curonian is a specially protected World Heritage Site, it does not offer the same potential for carefree exploration. Finally, due to unseasonably strong winds coming from the land, both seas were equally calm and unimposing.
What I was not to know, was that the famed beauty of the Curonian national park lay not in its stark contrasts, but in its rolling dunes. Dunes that rolled 60m high from the sea and continued to roll on into the distance with an ominous serenity. With the sea fret blowing in, the scrub plants begging to be allowed life and an autumn dusk light that soaked everything with a dismal hue, standing atop that dune I had the feeling I was standing in a place where human life had ceased to exist. I was spellbound.
One night camping under the blanket of Baltic stars, and still in awe of the serene beauty of the spit and itching to explore it further, it was time to trade in four wheels for two and cycle as much of the sea and forest paths as one day would allow. It went something like this:
With the dog running happily alongside, we managed to cover a respectable 50km and were treated to a veritable selection of autumnal forest, fascinating coastline and deserted out-of-season tourist towns. For the first time I was thrilled that we had chosen Autumn to visit, apart from the serenity of seeing only 2 other cyclists all day, the damp october air and boarded up towns added a mystic, fantastical edge that furthered the sense of apocalypse that I had enjoyed on the dunes that day before.