Wendy R. London, HAL Mariner and corporate affairs manager/founder of CruiseBubble.com, is aboard Prinsendam and is letting us join in on her vacation.This post was missed and it’s too good not to share!
Anticipation was high as I knew we would cruise into Lithuania, totally not knowing what to expect. So, indeed, we docked at Klaipeda, a small port, also used for ferries, private boating and some naval vessels. To be honest, we were quite tired from our magnificent day in Gdansk the day before, so we were content just to wander through the street – nothing planned, nothing organised.
Off the ship for the easy walk into the town, but not without first encountering the hand-operated swing footbridge that would allow us to cross the narrow canal used by motor and sailboats to access the marina. At the top of each and every hour, the two men who have charge of the bridge cordon off the bridge, insert their capstan into its centre, and rotate the capstan to swing the bridge to allow boats to pass. Having reached the bridge at precisely 11:01am, we watched this hourly ritual – performed whether boats are present or not, and then had to wait until 11:15 for the bridge to be opened again to foot traffic. Waiting for 15 minutes each hour must certainly affect the rhythm of the town, but that 15 minutes also has its social benefits. Bridge voyagers stood and chatted, and it did not go unnoticed that there is a small hotel with a pub and restaurant on each side of the narrow channel. Once the bridge was back together, we continued on our way.
We first walked beyond the old town, along a main road which crosses the Dané River, into the more modern, commercial district of the city. It was a grey, humid day, so perhaps our perceptions of the city were a bit blunted, but we found that part of our walk a bit soulless. We came across some shops, but what struck us was the sheer number of opticians promoting their very modern diagnostic instruments who were located in that street. After walking some distance, we turned back, across the main bridge over the river and began our walk through the old town.
Both reasonably good navigators, both my husband and I found ourselves a bit confused by the streets, perhaps making our self-guided walking tour even more fascinating as we turned corners, often being surprised by what we found. At one point, thinking we had reached a non-descript part of the old town, we turned the corner and found ourselves in the town’s respectably large market square – with its indoor meat and fish stalls, covered fruit and vegetable stalls, and covered clothing stalls. Unfortunately, by time we got there the market was being packed up for the day, but there was still enough to see to appreciate the extent of the market. This market is clearly not geared to tourists, but our walk took us a bit further to a large square, with many amber jewelry stalls on its fringes, and in its centre, a group singing what we presume to be Lithuanian songs.
One of the memorable features of our walk through the old town is the difficulty of walking! Extremely pronounced cobblestones and narrow and uneven pavements would not have been kind on leather-soled shoes, but fortunately, we both had on our robust New Zealand sandals which made it possible for us to do our horizontal ‘rock climbing.’
So, we wandered through the narrow streets, often coming across modern businesses behind ancient facades. Rounding another corner, we found ourselves in what would be the main shopping street of the old town, with fashionable boutiques and that now omnipresent version of the suburban supermarket, the city ‘express.’ In this case, Iki Express. We came across the information centre, but alas, it was closed over lunch, so we kept on going.
Klaipeda’s quirky sense of humour came through in several ways. First, the whimsical pieces of public art which can be found throughout the city – including a pair of planter-sized ladybugs with their colourful flowers and the two tower blocks, sitting next to each other, but designed to look like they were once the same building, separated at some point. We also found a sign on a restaurant, showing us how far our favourite restaurants elsewhere in the world are from this one, in Klaipeda’s old town.
After several hours of roaming, we were ready to head back to the ship but alas, once more, our progress was halted by the swingbridge, once again having arrived at a minute or two past the hour. So, wait again we did, but on our way back to the ship some 12 or 13 minutes later.
I’m glad we called in at Klaipeda, but sandwiched between two of the most exciting ports on this itinerary (Gdansk and St. Petersburg), for us it would only ever be a day to take it easy – a day just to passively soak up this port city in this wee little Baltic country. Was our anticipation worth it? Yes – ours was an opportunity to visit a country we would probably not otherwise visit, but I must confess that it did not hold the same interest and excitement as the other ports on this extraordinary itinerary.