Country: Lithuania, Poland
Distance travelled: 240km
Weather: Sunny and warm
The earlier nights must be having an effect on us, since we were up, breakfasted and on the road before 10am. Being below the Arctic Circle does have its advantages. Our first destination was a place called Grūtas Park I had read about on another blog.
According to Wikipedia:
Grūtas Park, unofficially known as Stalin’s World, is a sculpture garden of Soviet-era statues and an exposition of other Soviet ideological relics from the times of the Lithuanian SSR. Founded in 2001 by entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas, the park is located near Druskininkai, about 130 kilometres southwest of Vilnius, Lithuania. After Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, various Soviet statues were taken down and dumped in different places. Malinauskas requested the Lithuanian authorities to grant him the possession of the sculptures, so that he could build a privately financed museum. This Soviet-theme park was created in the wetlands of the Dzūkija National Park. Many of its features are re-creations of Soviet Gulag prison camps: wooden paths, guard towers, and barbed-wire fences.
Surprisingly, it was much more interesting than I expected since each statue had a information board in English regarding its previous location and a bit of history about the subject. Since many of them were Lenin and Stalin, it did get a little repetitive but I still learn much, particularly about Soviet Lithuanian history. We spent over two hours walking around and could have easily stayed longer. I had noted as we entered that there was an audio guide in English available which may have been useful too. There was also several buildings with displays on election voting under the soviet regime and a collection of memorabilia from the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Disconcertingly, scattered amongst the statues was a mini zoo and a cafe, the whole family could come along and enjoy themselves.
As we drove away, Mark commented that he was hoping for more of the stalwart worker type statues rather than the many heads we saw. A nice touch though was the atmospheric music playing from loud speakers mounted on guard towers scattered around. We dropped into a supermarket and spent the last of our Lithuanian litas and headed into Poland.
Our first stop in Poland, at Suwałki, was an auto teller since Poland meant yet another currency. Then we headed to a Lidl supermarket to get some much needed supplies we hadn’t had enough litas to purchase in Lithuania. From the north-east, where we crossed the border, the roads were not great and no wonder. I have never seen so many semi-trailers in my life. They thundered along every road, in sets of three, five, eight. They crowded out the rest stops, thirty or forty parked up in endless rows. We sang the words to “Convoy” by C. W. McCall, as much as we could remember anyway, every time we saw another cavalcade.
We drove around Wigierski National Park, hoping to find a quiet spot to park but without any idea of the Polish word for camp site, we couldn’t find anything we thought suitable. Since it was getting quite late in the evening, the decision was finally made to stop at Wigry Camp, a camp site adjacent to an impressive monastery. The nights’ stay cost us fifty Złoty (about $17 AUD) and a shower would have been extra. We declined, showering in the van since we would fill up the fresh water tank before we left. Mark warmed up some leftover spaghetti for dinner and we were serenaded with a trumpet solo from the monastery ramparts at 7pm as we sat down to eat.
Although the shower would have cost extra, the wifi was free and we spent the rest of the evening online researching the next few days travel. We have booked the van in for its’ 120,000 kilometer service in Krakow on Monday and need to fill in the days before then.