An expedition to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (2)

Day 3 (22 July 2014)

At last, a decent breakfast at a reasonable time. The tourist brochure suggests that we might like to explore Kiel’s famous multicultural Turkish Town since we were so snotty about the shopping centre. Down the hill, back past the station, across the long bridge over the harbour neck (apparently this is the biggest folding bridge in European. Did you know that folding bridges existed? No me neither), and up the hill on the other side. It’s Monday morning, but it’s holiday time too, so everyone is outside sunning themselves and their kids.

The cycle path back from Turkish Town

Turkish Town is pleasingly similar to the Cowley Road, with a few minor adjustments, like the pound shop is a euro shop (which is a bargain) and there are people selling mysterious herbs and spices from baskets in the middle of the square.

There are also ladies in pink, implausibly luxurious golden bedding for sale, and adverts for a large variety of milk-derived products.

We have coffee, we watch the old ladies selling strange leaves, and relax till it’s time to head back and catch a taxi out to a suburb of Kiel, called Ostufer, where DFDS have had to build their nice new terminal, all the space in the existing one having been swallowed up by Stena Line.

The check in process is complicated, involving much waiting and paper work, but eventually we are cleared for departure in a little bus out to the ship herself: currently being loaded with assorted huge lorries, as well as a scattering of lightweight foot passengers like us. It’s a ship, people.

So that’s what the back end of a ship looks like

A great big floating metal object you can drive a dozen huge trucks onto, with four decks full of nice little cabins, a massive restaurant, a couple of bars, and a helicopter landing pad on top. There’s a strange mixture of passengers: Russian lorry drivers, who are already glugging down serious amounts of Lithuanian beer, German holiday-making families, and retired couples cruising the Baltic. We explore the corridors and public areas, testing the limits of where we are allowed to wander outside our nice little cabins. There’s a darkened mysterious room full of reclining chairs. There’s a few cyclists sitting out on deck. Everyone is enjoying the view as suddenly without fuss this enormous metal object starts moving out of the long narrow channel of Kiel harbour, past the unlovely tower and the nice beach which marks its entrance, and into the Baltic. Out on deck a few furtive smokers celebrate with smelly cigarettes in front of the No Smoking sign. The engine noise is detectable, but the boat moves serenely and smoothly, with none of the distressing friskiness underfoot of a cross channel ferry, and land remains reassuringly in sight for most of the journey. Plus, since we have tickets for the enormous buffet dinner now being served, it’s time to stuff our faces again. Which we do, before retiring to our nice little cabin for a good night’s sleep. All in all, very satisfying.

Day 4 (23 July 24)

We wake, still on the ocean wave, but now a lot further East. Otherwise, nothing much seems to have changed. The buffet for dinner is now a buffet for breakfast. The man who impressed Lilette by taking twelve biscuits with his dinner last night is taking another twelve with his breakfast. The Russian lorry drivers have now sobered up enough to start drinking beer again. The sea is, momentarily choppy enough to remind us we’re not on dry land, then calms down again as we skirt Kaliningrad, and start our approach to the Curonian Spit at the very end of which lies the narrow entrance into the enormous (Soviet-built) Klaipeda dockyards. Birds swirl about overhead and the sun continues to shine. Up on deck, as the ship proceeds inexorably, we can now see tankers, maritime buildings, other lesser craft, clear signs we are arriving.

Klaipeda dockside complete with serious crane

It all seems a little anti-climactic and too simple, after 21 hours, just to pick up our cases and trundle them off the ship the way we came, to an obscure corner of the dock, where we have to wait for a little bus to trundle us back to the terminal building. And here is my friend Tania come to whisk us away to our next hotel, in a taxi!

Tania is now head of conservation at the University Library in Vilnius, but she grew up in Klaipeda and says she’s grateful to us for giving her an excuse to return and guide us around its high spots. These include a range of nice old buildings, plenty of places to eat ice cream, some parks, and a lot of really rather strange public sculpture, including a red dragon which doubles as a drain pipe and apparently relates to one of the founding myths of the city, a rather winsome small boy waving his hat to greet arriving ships, and a decidedly spooky ghost hanging over the harbour wall.

“ A steel sculpture “Dragon” was created appealing to one of the legends retelling emergence of Klaipėda. One of them tells about two brothers who sought a place for a city; one of them disappeared, another found only a traces of the undone and a horrific foot. Author imagined that a terribly huge footmark could be only of a dragon. A 145 kg weight, over three meter long dragon hangs on the wall not without reason, but fulfills a function of a rain pipe. During rain, one may admire water splashing out of the jaws of the dragon. (Author Vytautas Karčiauskas).”

A sculpture design — little boy with a dog waving with his hat, emerged on the terminal in summer 2007. Sculpture mission is direct — “to meet and see off” the cruise ships which call in the terminal. And also, delight those walking the quay. In one word, nobody shall leave the terminal without escort. (Sculpture authors — Svajūnas Jurkus and Vytautas Paulionis).

Amongst other architectural pleasure, the old town of Klaipeda boats a fine 18th c Theatre and a remarkable (and still functioning) art nouveau post office from the 1920s. We dined at an Armenian restaurant, (good fish, good wine) and retired to sleep the sleep of the well-travelled.