After our recent trip to England, we weren’t sure we’d get another chance to go anywhere this summer. Rasa certainly wanted to maybe take a day trip to the beach, or we could hit the labyrinth park again, or really, just anything to get out of the house. Thing is, with the economy the way it is, not to mention our work schedules, it just didn’t seem likely anything major would happen.
Salvation came in the form of a gift certificate from Rasa’s mom for a two-night stay at the Gradiali Hotel in Palanga, one of the most expensive resort areas in Lithuania. Rasa decided this was an omen and booked us in for a stay after a long, holiday weekend.
So, bright and early Monday morning, August 15th, we loaded up the car and headed out. The trip isn’t a long one, about two and a half hours, but it certainly felt like a world away. The hotel itself is about 4km away from the city center and all the really crowded beaches. In fact, behind the hotel, about 500m through a wooded path, is a relatively quiet beach, not only for hotel guests (there’s a whole little community in the area) but I’m sure hotel guests make up a fair number of the people hanging out on the sand.
And the beach was our first stop, too, since we were too early for check-in.
Rasa had made snacks and, with tremendous foresight, had packed all our beach clothes and Monki’s toys separately from the rest of our things. This made it incredibly easy to just grab a couple of bags from the trunk and head out. Now, when I say there was a wooded path, I mean the path was dirt, rocks and, as we got closer to the water, sand, and meandered its way through the forest. Yes, it was well marked, but still, it’s a bit wild to wander through a wilderness only to come out the other side with the wide, blue expanse of the Baltic Sea laid out before you.
We picked out a spot not far away from the surf and not too close to anyone else, set up our blanket and dug our swimsuits out of the travel bag. A quick change and we were ready to dive in. Okay…maybe not “dive.” The water here was incredibly shallow, allowing you to walk out a good fifty meters or more from shore and still only be up to your knees.
Of course, the water was really cold, but it was so nice to just be there, able to hang out on the sand and not worry about anything. Well…not much at least.
For Monki, the big worry was seaweed. She absolutely did not want to see it, step on it, have it underneath her when she was on her floatie ring. But aside from the few freakouts, it was all good… until I saw something I thought was pretty cool and thought I should point it out to Monki.
We were in the water, a decent way from shore, Rasa was on the banket, and I looked down and spotted a harmless moon jellyfish, just fluttering by. I thought it was neat and unique to see something like that in the wild, especially so close to us, so I said, “look at that!”
“Get me out of here!” she screamed back.
So back to the shore we went. Turns out it wasn’t a lone jellyfish. There were a few of them and this made Monki a bit nervous. We had a talk about fear, which was only partially received, but we were able to get back in the water. A little while later, I was able to catch a jellyfish in a small bucket so she could see it up close and that seemed to allay some of her fears. Stepping in seaweed was still a no go, but at least we could run and play in the water.
After a few hours of this (and getting randomly burned even though we’d liberally applied sun cream), we headed back to finally check in to the hotel and take quick showers before going out to town for food and exploration*.
The main drag of Palanga is Basanavičius Street, which can get very crowded, especially on a holiday, which it was. Since it was the end of a long weekend, though, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We decided that since it was getting to be around dinner time, we’d stop for a bite before continuing our exploring. After dinner, though, Monki had been hearing about the new Ferris Wheel so that was going to be our first stop. After finding a slushie place. Somewhere along the line, Monki has picked up a taste for slushies and we stopped at several places before we found one with the right flavors and that was also frozen. With slushy in hand, we headed for the Ferris Wheel.
She really liked the one we had been to in Bournemouth and while this one wasn’t as high, it still promised some pretty ocean views. Rasa came with us this time, too, which was nice (and rare, as she doesn’t particularly like heights but here we were completely enclosed, and that helped). From the top, though, you can see the famous pier which shoots out into the ocean and then doglegs off to the right. The pier (or some version of it) has been around for a while and we figured that would be our next stop.
Monki likes the idea of piers, and looking down through the wooden slates to see the water underneath us. As we were heading down towards the far end, though, Rasa noticed there were a couple of boats offering twenty-minute rides out into the ocean. We thought it might be fun to try and get one for sunset, except that was an hour or so away and we didn’t want to wait.
It worked out in our favor. We did take the boat, which was a small, diesel vehicle, and which, unfortunately, also caused a bit of “vomit feeling” in Monki (yeah, she’s graduated from “vah vay” feeling to vomit, although she pronounces it “womit” which is very Eastern European!). By the time the boat docked, and we got back on the pier, we were able to grab a great spot on the rail to watch the sunset from a stationary position!
I tried to convince Monki to listen for the hissing sound when the sun hit the water, but she completely schooled me that the sun was far away in space, and it was the Earth turning and that’s why the sun set. Not sure first grade is ready for her!
As it started to get dark, we headed back to the car, stopping for a chocolate and sprinkled cover waffle for dessert. Then it was back to the hotel and to bed. It had been a long day, with a lot packed into it.
Morning and we had a quick breakfast at the hotel, which, to be honest, wasn’t great. For me, the kicker was the deviled eggs, made by slicing a hard-boiled egg in half and then putting a swirl of mayonnaise on top of the yolk. Yuck! Anyway, we all had some sort of sustenance and headed back to town.
There was a new tourist attraction we had seen the night before in the form of a golf cart “train” set up to show you the “places to visit.” Our mistake was thinking it was like a “hop on/hop off” style bus. It wasn’t. Instead, it was like a mall train with a driver who couldn’t care less. While there was a map at the departure point, there were no stops, no guiding, nothing to let us know where we were or what we were seeing. There were places on the map which were so far off the path of the train that actually seeing them was never a viable option.
This is our cry whenever things go wrong (or, like in this case, we made a bad decision). This way, with the battle cry of “Adventure!” it’s all part of the plan and we can continue to have fun without giving it too much thought.
When the train returned to its departure point, some 15 minutes after starting off, we laughed at our gullibility and headed off to find the Amber Museum. Amber is a big thing here in Lithuania and the museum has an impressive collection of the stuff. The museum itself is housed in an old manor house surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens. Rasa wanted to see this outside stuff and not the museum proper so off we went to have a look. We wandered the grounds, found a pond to look at ducks (which tried to eat Monki’s toes that she kept dangling just above the water), and rubbed the statue of Eglė the Queen of Serpents for good luck.
Before lunch, we had one more stop to make. Rasa had read about an interactive children’s fairytale sculpture park and we thought Monki might enjoy seeing this. We were right. The way the park is set up, there are various representation sculptures to illustrate various folk and fairy tales. But don’t worry if you don’t know the tale in question, since there are bilingual plaques in front of each, telling the story in both Lithuanian and English. And if that wasn’t enough, there were also buttons to press where a young woman’s voice would read the tales in either language (her English was a bit meh, but the thought was there). Monki had a great time and made a friend and didn’t want to leave. But by the time we were finished there, it was well past lunch time so off we went to find food.
After lunch, we thought about hanging out in the city center, but realized we’d seen what we wanted to see and the beach was still there and it was hot out. So, back to the hotel to change into our swim togs and back to the surf and sand to frolic and build sandcastles for the remainder of the afternoon.
With the sun heading lower, the decision as to what to do for dinner loomed. We thought about going back into town, but honestly, it was a lot of location dining, over-priced based on the fact it was on the main street of a tourist town. We could have gone to the buffet where we had breakfast, but aside from the fact I didn’t have too much faith in their food preparations, by this time, 18:45, we only had about 15 minutes until they closed for the night. There was a more expensive restaurant at the hotel or there was one other option: the rooftop “Pineta” lounge. It was basically a wood-fired pizza bar but it was also the highest lounge in town and had great views out to see. Couldn’t be worse than the morning’s eggs, so we gave it a shot.
It was great! We decided on a pepperoni pizza to split and it was delicious, one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in Lithuania (and I’ve had a lot of pizza here). The pepperoni was spicy and plentiful (even more so for me since neither Monki or Rasa cared for it and gave me their extras), the crust was thick and chewy, and the wait staff incredibly attentive. It was, without a doubt, the best meal we had all vacation. And to top it off, we were up there to again have a great view of the setting sun!
After the sun went down, we took a little wander in the cooling darkness, trying out the hammocks which had been liberally set up on the grounds, before heading back in for the night. Day two was in the books and it was good.
Day three again started with the so-so breakfast buffet. While we ate, we thought about what to do. We had to check out soon so going to the beach or back to town would have to be done after that. What we realized is that we were good and didn’t need to do either of those things. We had had a great time and heading home, especially since it had started raining, was probably the best call we could make. We loaded up the car and headed out.
Before we got too far, though, Rasa remembered another place she had wanted to check out and asked me to see how far it was. Turns out the exit was only about 5km from where we were. Not out of the way at all. So we turned off and, after getting lost following the GPS, finally found the entrance to Olandu Kepure. This is a cliffside, one of the few (or only?) in Lithuania and someplace Rasa had always wanted to see.
We hiked to the lookout point and then Rasa said there must be a way down to the beach below, so off we went in search of a trail. Eventually, we found some stairs and made our way to the beach. We spent an hour or so wandering along, putting our feet in the cold water and just relaxing, before heading back up.
Now, our vacation in Palanga was truly over. It was time for the two-and-a-half-hour ride back, with Monki playing DJ from the backseat and all three of us singing along and laughing.
It was a great couple of days and just what we all needed before the rigors of fall kick in and we’re all back to work.
*We also had to retrieve Rasa’s phone from the bushes below our second-story balcony, where she had been shaking out our picnic basket to get rid of the accumulated sand, unaware I had placed her phone in the outer pocket to keep it from getting wet on the beach. It was fine.