Category Archives: Lithuania

Vilnius to Siveri 24-29 June 2012

It’s so good to be back on the road!  Keith’s knee is not fully recovered so we’re taking it very easy and keeping a close watch on it, but knee worries notwithstanding it’s a delight to once again be pedalling past rustic wooden cottages, rolling meadowland and peaceful woods.

Keith outmanoeuvring Tamar…yet again.

We’ve slipped into a lazy routine of dozing in the tent until 11ish, then having a late breakfast and packing up in a leisurely fashion to be on the road for around 1pm.  We stop for a snack, supermarket shopping and a game or two of backgammon around 3 or 4pm and then do another hour or so of pedalling in the early evening, generally covering 50-60km a day.  Tailwinds most days have helped keep the pace up without straining Keith’s knee too badly.  Every day it seems a little less swollen and perhaps a little less hot to touch, but recovery feels very slow.

We almost didn’t leave Vilnius on the 24th as at lunchtime Keith noticed that not only was his knee swollen, but his ankle and shin had puffed up too, but there was no pain or heat in them so he decided to stick to plan A and start pedalling; and thankfully the swelling disappeared from his lower leg after a couple of days.

Our lazy schedule means that as well as time for some seriously competitive backgammon, I have amused myself by prettifying the Pino.  For some reason, our latest frame came without decals and I thought it looked terribly plain, and so just couldn’t resist the 3D butterfly stickers I spotted in the supermarket.  Keith remains unconvinced, but I think you’ll agree they make the Pino look quite beautiful.

Prettified Pino

Keith has put his time to a more practical application: stringing up a washing line in the large vestibule so that stinky socks can be dried outside the sleeping compartment.

I’ve also finished off all 24 Tarzan books.  My favourite line comes in the final book, which was written in 1944.  The eponymous hero is helping some Americans beat the Japanese in Sumatra (as you do) and the Americans are unaware of his true identity, knowing him only as Colonel Clayton.  Circumstances dictate that ‘the ape-man’ sheds his clothes and takes to the trees.  The Americans joke that he’s a ‘regular Tarzan’ but when he single-handedly slays a tiger armed with just his knife, one of them realises that he actually IS Tarzan.  His lower-ranking compatriot, who is not so quick on the uptake says “Wot, is he dat Johnny Weismuller?”  Well, it made me laugh anyway.

In our own little bit of wilderness, we may not have to build bomas or sleep wedged into the crotch of a tree to avoid marauding carnivores, but we do seem to spend a fair amount of time waging war against somewhat smaller combatants.  We’ve encountered far more ticks this year than last.  Keith’s had two and I’ve had three so far (one nestled into my belly button, which was particularly irksome to evict), and we’ve removed countless more from the tent before they could make a greater nuisance of themselves. We’re very grateful to Nina and Clive who bought us the tick-tweezers.  They’re brilliant!

I’ve also been bitten or stung by various unidentified creatures.  I’m pretty sure I’ve had three wasp stings (no sign of the perpetrator but they feel and look like wasp stings) and last night I hopped out of my wet cycling kit into some dry trousers only to have to hop out again a few minutes later as I became aware of a burning sensation on my thigh.  All I could find was a small black ant, the same as the ones which we’ve had running over us in the tent for weeks now with no ill-effect so I don’t think it was that, but nonetheless I have 3 itchy raised lumps on my leg.

Happiness is a bug-proof smock!

Our biggest triumph to date in the battle against the bugs has been the purchase of two mosquito-mesh smocks, which we picked up in the supermarket as we were leaving Vilnius.  They were less than half price (about £3.50 each) and definitely money well spent.  Combined with a mosquito-coil they make life outside the tent much more pleasant.  Oh, and by the way, citronella candles don’t work so don’t waste your money.

It took us three days of pedalling from Vilnius to reach the point at which we’d previously turned back due to Keith’s knee, and it was a good feeling to get past that and onto unfamiliar roads.  We have left Lithuania and are now in Latvia.  On our initial schedule Keith had anticipated being in Moscow by now, and indeed had emailed friends a few weeks ago to say ‘We’ll be in Moscow in 3 weeks’.  History has shown that men before him have had similar aspirations and seen them thwarted, so I’ve told him not to make such bold statements in future.   Don’t tempt fate and all that.

We stopped for lunch yesterday in the pretty town of Kraslava, on the Daugava river.  The river has played an important role in the development of the town, and its coat of arms is a silver boat on a blue background.  The boat has five oars to symbolise the five national roots of the town’s inhabitants: Latvians, Russians, Belorussians, Poles and Jews.  The leaflet we picked up from tourist info elaborated further on the crest’s meaning: “We are in the same boat, so we should row together.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all felt like that?

All rowing together in Kraslava.

Back in the Vilnius campsite we’d picked up a leaflet of Latvian campsites, predominantly because it contained a rough roadmap that would be sufficient to link the end of our Lithuania map (part way into Latvia) to the start of our Russian maps (a gap of about 100kms) and meant we wouldn’t need to buy a map for Latvia, however, we noticed there was a campsite marked on our route that was next to a lake and offered showers, toilets, sinks, a playground, football, swimming, boating, fishing and internet access.  Yay!  So, in the interests of resting Keith’s knee we decided to take a day out at the campsite.

After 4km of pedalling along a soggy dirt track we finally found it.  There’s a lovely lake, some rowing boats, a nice table and bench above which the campsite guys erected a gazebo to keep the rain off us, and only two other guests: a Swiss couple who are motorbiking around Europe for 4 months.

The facilities were not quite as advertised though.  There’s a single chemical toilet, no taps, no showers and no wifi.  We were told internet could be provided very slowly via a USB, but, as we were to discover the next day after preparing the blog entry, the USB connection was only available on the first evening we were there, as after that the USB had left the site with one of the guy’s sisters.

For drinking water we’ve been given a 5 litre bottle of water which we’ve been told is drinkable tap water brought in from off-site, but the green gunge on top when we opened it didn’t look too healthy so it went through our water filter before going anywhere near our lips, and when we asked about showers we were told that the lake is clean enough to wash in.  That’s as maybe, but it’s damn cold!

The shower and laundry facilities at Camping Siveri

Still, it’s lovely and peaceful, with no motor-homes, some frogs hopping about, dragonflies wheeling and diving, a small flock of goldfinches bouncing and chirruping in the trees and even the occasional snake swimming sinuously across the surface of the lake.  And, unexpectedly, the waste facilities comprise a row of four burgundy wheelie-bins courtesy of Chichester District Council.  We’d love to know the story behind that!

We took a boat out for a couple of hours on the lake this afternoon, and rowed out to an island and back, which was very relaxing and knee-friendly.

PS – This entry was written at the lakeside campsite in Latvia on 29 June, but is being posted from Russia on 2 July.  You’ll have to wait for the next blog instalment to hear about our border crossing and what we’ve been up to since leaving the campsite.  Keith’s knee continues to improve though, despite some longer days on the bike, so we’re very happy about that.

Kneeding to rest in Vilnius 14 – 24 June 2012

So we got back to the campsite in Vilnius Thursday 14th June – 10 days ago – and on route, we bought some good strong anti-inflammatory sweeties (Ibumax 600mg) and I started chewing on them just like sweeties as they were going to be good for me!  I took my first at about 3pm Thursday; my 2nd at about 8pm and my 3rd as I was settling down to go to sleep at about 1am.  Friday morning when I woke, I couldn’t tell which was swollen most, my duff knee, or my lower lip!

Picture of tent under the trees in the Vilnius campsite

Tent in the shade of the trees at the nice campsite in Vilnius

My body had reacted badly to the Ibumax and my lower lip was now badly ballooned.  So we decided that I ought to go see a doctor and we asked the campsite attendant if he knew where the local doctor was and he very kindly offered to give us a lift there in his car – as it happens it was only 3 or 4 kms away.  It was supremely handy to have a local with us as we went into the hospital, as not only did he speak the local lingo (as well as good English, Polish, Russian & German) but he also knew how to approach the right people in the hospital.  When we arrived there, we went to the reception desk and they just told us to take a seat, so myself & Tamar did just that.  Meanwhile Linus (the campsite attendant) sort of hovered by the reception desk, and when a chap looking like a doctor appeared, he collared him and asked him if he could help some hapless tourists.  So within the next 20 minutes, I’d had a quick blood-test done, and was on a trolley with a drip attached to my right arm and was getting a jab in my backside all to deal with the swollen lip and my allergic reaction to the Ibumax.  Then a 2nd doctor had a look at my swollen knee and confirmed the bursitis and told me that super-strong anti-inflammatories are the wrong treatment and that pain was good for me as it would stop me using the joint that my body wanted me to rest.  So he prescribed a gel for the knee (non Ibuprofen based) and told me to rest and listen to my body.  So we were leaving the hospital about 2 hours after we’d gone in which was pretty good – and I got to use my EHIC card for the first time.

So since then, I’ve been rubbing the gel into my knee about 3 times-a-day and lying around the tent not doing a great deal!

Picture of the TV Tower above the Vilnius campsite

The TV Tower above the campstie (nice at night when its all lit up)

On Saturday, the knee felt quite a bit better, and Vilnius was hosting a massive weekend of cultural events, but we decided that it might be better for my knee if we stayed put on the campsite, so we went nowhere.

Lithuania was one of the last European countries to convert to Christianity and as a result, it is said to have a closer link to its pagan past and so it celebrates things like the mid-summer solstice a little more fervently that many other nations … but we didn’t go anywhere as my knee was still quite tender and still swollen.

On Monday, it was feeling worse than it had over the weekend, and I really had been resting it a lot.  So I was feeling a little disheartened and was considering going back to the hospital, but after exchanging some emails with medically minded friends back in the UK (thanks Paul & Justin) we decided to leave any return journey until Tuesday.  Tuesday morning, the knee was a bit better than Monday, so we decided just to stay on the campsite and keep up the program of rest.

I think I’ve read more in the last week, than I have in the last 4 or 5 years put together!  I’ve finished, cover to cover, 4 magazines and my book about Martin Luther (a right riveting read)!  For me, that is unheard of.  Meanwhile however, during my period of incapacity, Tamar has gone and found herself a somewhat more active man, in the form of Tarzan!  Seems the chappy who wrote the Tarzan books, between 1912 and 1940, wrote 24 of them and as it happens, Tamar has all 24 of them on her e-reader and now she admits that he (Tarzan that is) was a childhood hero of hers and that she had hoped to marry him one day.  So in the last 10 days, she has demolished (at the last count) 19 of the Tarzan books.

Picture of crows at the campsite

Campsite wildlife

Since about Wednesday, the knee has been feeling better enough to walk on a little, so we’ve been trying to get other things done, like updating some other stuff on the review pages of the blog (read the updated tent review and Trangia stove & burners review if you’re really keen).  And we’ve been doing more research about where we’re likely (or hoping … knee & all things permitting … ) to be later in the year and what visas we’ll need to get and where we’ll get them.

We’ve met lots of nice people as well, from the orienteering couple from Minsk in Belarus who were in Lithuania to take part in a couple of orienteering events, and a handful of Polish cycle-tourists, to the German evangelist who very kindly left us with a couple of tracts to gently encourage us to turn from the evil in the world.  But interestingly, no other long-term travellers have come into the campsite – how unlike our first stop here 2 weeks ago.

Picture of the facilities at the campsite

Campsite facilities – basic, but clean and comfortable and the kitchen is handy for sitting in, in the evening to play cards and sip whisky

I made my first trip out though the gate of the campsite on Friday afternoon (22nd June).  That was a full 7 days of going nowhere other than the tent, to the toilet block, to the kitchen and back to the tent.  We took the bike out to give the knee a test ride and went to a camping shop about 8kms away.  The knee was … well it was okay, but it wasn’t great.  There’s still a lump below the kneecap, as though the bursa is still retaining some fluid.  We bought a few bits in the camping shop and then went into the nearby supermarket and treated ourselves to a (very cheap) bottle of whisky (and not bad for the price).  So it was good to get out.  I also got a support bandage for the knee and I’ve been wearing that now since Friday, and I think it is helping to bring down the size of the lump by way of a bit of massage as I walk and move the leg.  On Saturday (23rd June) we got a few more things done around the campsite – I mended some tiny punctures in Tamar’s sleeping mat and we ordered a new washing machine for our tenants – so all important stuff.

We are now hoping to get away from the campsite on Sunday (24th June) and maybe just do a number of shortish days and see how the knee copes.  The gel I was putting on my knee has caused some of the skin to peel and so I’ve since reverted to some normal strength ibuprofen – so that, together with the bandage and some short days, should be okay to let us keep moving.

Last year’s delays were due to bike and trailer problems, and they were quite frustrating at the time, but looking back and comparing it to this delay, I have to say it is preferable to be delayed and fully able-bodied than delayed and having to spend most of your time in a tent.  After last year, we both know Roscoff in France and Novi-Sad in Serbia very well after long stop offs in each town.  As yet, I barely know Vilnius city, as I’ve been stuck in the campsite every day.  Anyway, we will move on, and just take it gently.