This narrow stretch of land, between the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon runs for 98 kilometers, divided almost equally between its northern portion, in Lithuania, and its southern half, which belongs to the Kaliningrad district of Russia. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of gentle beauty: wind-swept sand dunes, fragrant pine forests, and quaint, immaculate villages. We arrive in Smiltyne, the gateway to the Spit, via a five minute ferry ride across the Klaipeda harbor, then catch a bus that takes us an hour south to Nida.
Nida is an enchanting summer resort town. It looks far more German than Lithuanian, which is not surprising, given that for most of its history, it was part of Prussia. Most of the prim, lovely houses are painted in a rich chestnut brown, with cheerful blue shutters and trim, and flower boxes everywhere. We check into our bed and breakfast, then walk up and down the main street, stopping to window shop in the boutiques, which feature the usual beach souvenirs (tee-shirts, jewelry, mugs), Lithuanian linen and--everywhere--amber, which is native to the region. At lunch we run into our first group of Israeli tourists in Lithuania, here for a half day's stay on a cruise of the Baltics. Even though my Hebrew is terrible, I really enjoy speaking with them. After all of the history, monuments and memorials to Lithuania's Jewish past over the last month, it feels good to be in the presence of these scrappy living, breathing Jews from our national homeland. Still, I empathize with our waitress, who is not accustomed to serving a very large crowd of boisterous and demanding Israelis!
In the afternoon, we rent bicycles. First we ride across the width of the spit, a couple of miles through hilly coniferous forest to the Baltic Sea. This is truly land's end. The beach is wide and sandy, lined with volley ball nets and casually hip dining spots. We find a place with a sweet veranda and eat fresh roasted corn on the cob and spring rolls to the music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Then we ride up the spit, along the bay, to the villages of Preila and Pervalka, passing lighthouses, sand dunes, and old fisherman's homes, with their impressive sloping, heavily-thatched roofs. We end the evening with a walk up Parnadis Dune, the largest on the spit, where we get a spectacular view of the Curonian Lagoon.
The past month has been a pilgrimage: hard work, challenges, obstacles, endurance, connections, learning, growing.
Today was a vacation.