Kaliningrad, Svetlogorsk and the Curonian Spit

Community Highlights Europe Kaliningrad, Svetlogorsk and the Curonian Spit

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Kaliningrad

Only, we weren't quite there yet. We stayed Thursday night at a little out of the way camp site that had seen better days just 17km from the Lithuanian-Russian border. The owner who only spoke Lithuanian quickly made friends with our dogs by feeding them cheese.
The next morning we went to the border in order to cross into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from Lithuania. The border crossing procedure had several steps. First, you have to wait in a staging area for your number plate to be displayed. Then you are allowed to drive to the Lithuanian border station. The Lithuanians had a look into our camper and checked our passports. Then we could move on to the Russian side. We had been warned that the procedure could take 4 to 5 hours, which is why we tried to get it over with in the morning when we still had lots of patience and weren't tired and grumpy.
At the Russian checkpoint we had to open and show the contents of every drawer, storage box and compartment. The border guard doing this was very friendly and even smiled when we were done. As I was lifting out the boxes Aurora was looking out the passenger side window. And all the border guards stood there making kissy noises at her! No picture, unfortunately, as you aren't allowed to take pictures at the border. The whole procedure of leaving the EU and entering Russia took under two hours. Although it should be mentioned that this was not a popular crossing point with little traffic.
We bought auto insurance to cover the truck in Russia some miles after the border, as recommended to us by our insurance agent back home. Once again, we got to play the whole your-car-brand-is-not-in-the-computer game. The lady was very helpful though and eventually she figured something out for us. Everything Max signed was in Russian, so we hope we won't ever really need the insurance.

After driving on a very straight road for two hours we finally arrived at the sign above: Kaliningrad. We stayed at the 'camp' site behind Hotel Baltica which has about room for 10 campers. This little detail is important: there was a Dutch group with at least 18 camper vans! They were quite stand-offish about having the whole campsite to themselves, so we decided to sleep in the hotel's car park instead. We planned our tour of the city centre for the next morning, leaving the dogs in the car in the shade of some big trees.

First stop: Friedland Gate Friedlandtor, former entry into the heavily fortified city. Now a museum for the history of Kaliningrad/Königsberg, they had a very neat show of old black and white photographs from around the 1900s to 1920s. We think Max's grandma would have enjoyed these. She was born in Königsberg and had to flee during the war after which Königsberg was in ruins and became Kaliningrad. By the way, Königsberg was also founded by the Teutonic Order. Remember Malbork castle? There is a method to our madness....

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Friedland gate from outside the city
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Synagogue on the way to our second stop
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Old houses along the Pregel river

Second stop: Kant island or Kneiphof. This island was once full of houses, little shops and criss-crossed by cobble stone alleys. Only the cathedral survived the heavy bombing during WWII. The city's most famous son is buried here: philosopher Immanuel Kant.
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All along the path around the island there are old pictures posted of what the city once looked like. Very interesting.

Third stop was the Museum of the World Ocean. That's what it's called. They had an impressive collection of ships out of doors and a huge aquarium indoors. For the latter time was too short. Here are some impressions:
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The old city of Königsberg/Kaliningrad is easily visited on foot, but by late afternoon we were in need of some relaxation. And the dogs were happy for us to return. Luckily when we returned to the hotel camping site, the Dutch group had left and we were able to move into the camp site and enjoy the nice lake there.
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Max liked this tapestry in the hotel's breakfast room.

The next morning (Sunday, with very little traffic) we drove through town to the opposite end and into the suburb formerly called Juditten where Max's grandma grew up at a house on Marienberg Street. Now, after the war Stalin had sent any remaining Germans off further afield (either Gulag or Siberia, or both) and instead re-settled Kaliningrad with Russians from all across the nation. And they renamed all the towns, suburbs, streets - everything. It took us a while and a lot of googling to figure out where that address is to be found in today's Kaliningrad. We came up with Otel'dnaya Ulitsa as the only street that was in the right place (Ulitsa meaning street). So we went and took some pictures of the houses around there in the hope that Grandma will recognise something. Chances are that those houses have been torn down and new houses built in their place.

Next, we left Kaliningrad and headed for the coast. Svetlogorsk (formerly known as Rauschen) was once a beach resort and spa town and a lot of the original German houses are still standing. On this beautiful warm summer day it was still very popular with Kaliningraders.
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We headed on to the next highlight - the Curonian Spit Kuhrische Nehrung. A sliver of land between the Baltic sea and a lagoon bigger and wider than lake Constance. Basically the whole 90km spit is a wandering dune that is heading out into the sea. Only in the 19th century German foresters started planting trees to hold the sands down and stop the dune from drowning in the Baltic. Now it is largely protected land and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is only really one road going along the spit, and about half way along lies the Russian-Lithuanian border. And because there is only one road and it was a nice summer day and a Sunday... don't drive the Curonian spit in August. Best advice we can give here. We did manage to take some pictures:
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The forest of dancing trees. The reason for that funny growth is not known.

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We had time for a brief walk along the beach.
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Water on the left: lagoon. Water on the right: Baltic sea. Big sandy place in between: Curonian Spit.

We intended to camp on the Russian side of the spit and to cross the border in the morning again, but the camp site was not really what we were looking for. Instead we had early dinner in the parking lot to Epha's Height (the dune where we took these pictures) and then went to the border. You wouldn't want to cross an international border with an empty stomach, now would you?
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We saw a couple foxes while we were waiting in line to cross the border. People were feeding this fox dog food. The dog in the car complained about such waste of delicious food and the crow on top of the roof was trying to figure out how to steal the whole bag of dog treats. Our entertainment in no-man's land.
The Russian border went pretty much the same on leaving as on entering. All in all it took about 2.5 hours and that's with waiting because we weren't exactly the only ones crossing. Aurora was a favourite again amongst border guards and our fellow border crossers. In fact she kissed a little Lithuanian boy all over the face after his dad lifted him up to see the doggy, much to the delight of everyone involved.

The Lithuanian adventure continues in the next blog. Next destination: Latvian coast.

This featured blog entry was written by maxari from the blog Adventures in Bruce.
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By maxari

Posted Tue, Aug 06, 2019 | Russia | Comments