Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Sep 15, 2008

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So much for me not writing about places I visit! I couldn't let this one go by without a little more detail than the photos can provide.

First of all, Palanga is the most gorgeous beach town I have ever visited! It is simply perfect (assuming you replace the Baltic with the Adriatic). The town is spotlessly clean, incredibly well-designed, full of art and flowers, has a long and wide sandy beach backed by millions of pine trees and plenty to do for every age and interest. There is not one oceanfront hotel. There is simply a beautiful sandy beach with nothing but pine trees to be seen for miles. A network of bike paths and trails is used to access the long stretch of beach. There are few hotels of any size so there are no big tour groups. People mainly stay in private homes or condos in the small town or camp on the outskirts.

Palanga is principally a Lithuanian beach resort and I don't recall hearing another American during my entire stay. The only time English was spoken was when people from different countries needed a common language in order to communicate. I never could have imagined such an amazing beach in Lithuania of all places!

I arrived in town without a place to stay. At the bus station there was a travelers info center where I made an inquiry and was given an address to visit that wasn't too far. The house was attractive and thankfully there was a teenage daughter that spoke enough English to where details could get communicated. It wasn't the cleanest house and the shared bathroom was upstairs through the kitchen and down the hall. I wanted to get to the beach so I took it since single rooms are often tough to find.

After the cool rain of Vilnius I was glad to at least see peeks of sunshine in Palanga. It was still a bit nippy and quite windy as I walked through town. There were plenty of people out and about but most were wearing heavy coats rather than swimwear. I walked out on the famous Palanga pier which is mainly for meeting and people-watching. There were some brave souls in the water (wetsuits would have definitely been legal) and others laying on the sand but most were curled up behind the sand dunes seeking shelter from the wind. I guess for Lithuanians they come to the beach to vacation, good weather or not. Even I had a hard time withstanding the frigid conditions that first day. Fortunately the other 2 days were warm with a gentle breeze; just perfect.

I met two guys at the beach the next day who thought they knew of a cheap place I could stay for an extra week. I wanted to extend my visit but not stay where I was currently staying since it wasn't very good. I went with them to dinner one night where they had a Lithuanian specialty that was some kind of ground meat (they thought it was pig) inside a boiled potato with sour cream sauce. I had a taste and it was OK but I'd rather have Mini-Wheats instead. The next morning I saw people ordering them for breakfast too!

I met the two guys the next morning for a long walk to this house a friend of theirs recommended that was only about $10 a night (instead of the $30 I was paying). Along the way the guys inquired about rates at different places. All of the owners only spoke Lithuanian so I had no way to even ask about vacancies so the guys were a big help. Many were already booked and those that weren't were very expensive. Eventually we reached our destination and the old lady that owned the place showed us a charming room that was decorated with garage sale rejects. She was chatty with the guys but I have no idea what was discussed. When they asked where the bathroom was she took us outside and opened the door to this small shack (aka outhouse!). Inside I saw a sink and outdoor shower. From the get go I knew I wasn't staying at this place but one of the Lithuanian guys was looking for a better place to stay as well. The woman then went on to show us an even cheaper room (I didn't think it possible). It was the storage room where she kept bikes and outdoor stuff. I didn't even see a bed! I guess some people are pretty desperate. On the walk back to town I asked the guys where the toilet was and they explained that it was where the sink and shower were. I said I didn't see any toilet there and they replied that the large drain hole for the shower also served as the toilet!!! OMG that is sooo gross!!!

I was starting to think my place wasn't that bad after all. We inquired at several more places without any success before heading back to town for early morning drinks. I had my usual while they had green tea. I got a lecture about soda not being good for you but I countered with the benefits of smoking so we quickly moved on to other topics. I knew that my best shot at finding a deal in town was with these guys since Lithuanians get prices about 50% less than other tourists and they could communicate and get information that I couldn't. We walked around some more before they mentioned something about breakfast.

I tagged along as we went into this hotel where the guys made some inquiries before we headed up to the fourth floor. We entered this conference room where there were a dozen or so other people. A few chairs were added for us but I wasn't sure what was going on. I then realized that it was some timeshare-type sales presentation but I was reluctant to lose my interpreters so I decided to stick it out. Sure enough we were supplied with beer, champagne and mango juice. Some prizes were given out like beach towels and umbrellas. Of course, this is being done in Lithuanian so I had no clue what was being said! I pretended to look interested and prayed that he wouldn't call on me for some reason.

Eventually the guy got into his sales pitch which it turns out was for some type of body massager. The machine looked quite cheap and impractical. It was large and made entirely of plastic and I couldn't help wondering where someone would store something so big in the typically small homes here. The salesman had one audience member stick his foot in a tub while the gizmo was bubbling and two ladies stick their forearms in another tub to get treated. There were different scents you could add as well. He collected rings from people that he placed in the tub which came out very clean. This confused me since I wasn't sure if the device was an expensive ring cleaner or an expensive machine that bubbled water. I don't think it was a very hard sell since we were able to leave as a group when he finished speaking. I asked the guys afterwards how much he wanted for the contraption and they said about 1000 Euros ($1650!!!). It was ironic to think that in Lithuania they have sales scams just like we do.

After that episode the guys decided they really wanted to have breakfast so we split since I was still interested in finding a place to stay before making my way to the beach. I did a lot more walking but never did find a place to stay so resigned myself to leaving as originally scheduled. I sure enjoyed my two gorgeous days (I'll forget the first day with bad weather) in Palanga soaking up the rays on a beach that puts American beaches to shame. Maybe it was good that I didn't stay an extra week since I'll always remember Palanga as the most amazingly beautiful beach town.

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