We have to admit that this part of the trip worried us the most. Would we get a visa? Would there be any issues at the border? Would it be dangerous? Would people in Russia be unfriendly, grumpy, closed?
To get a visa was easy as pie through an travel agent in Riga. At the Lithuanian-Russian border right after Nida, we went through a normal procedure, no questions asked. We had to take a bus, however, as crossing the border on foot is not part of the procedure. We got off in Rybachy, where we started the Russian part of our hiking adventure.
We have a habit of greeting people in the local language wherever we walk. In some places, they look at us in surprise or even turn away, but not in Kaliningrad. Our “dobryy den’ ” was always answered and in some cases, people started asking about our trip, and we tried to tell them as much as Moiken’s basic Russian allowed. On day 77, our first day of hiking in Kaliningrad, we had just walked through a field of wild plants, improvising our way to the road, when a lady from the farm we were passing stopped us. We thought she would scold us for crossing her field, but she asked if we wanted something to eat or drink and if we were tired. Then she offered us to rest on a bench at a small lake which belonged to the farm. Grumpy and unfriendly? Not even close! During our time in Kaliningrad Oblast (province), we felt as safe or unsafe as anywhere else.
The woods and beaches seemed to be much less explored, which we liked – except for the fact that there were no hiking trails. It was either beach walking or road hiking. Our first destination was Lesnoy, which we reached after hours of walking on soft sand. The sights at the beach were really beautiful, but they couldn’t compensate the great effort we had to make to get ahead.
The next day, we only had to cover 15 km until Zelenogradsk, a popular beach resort town. We tried walking on the beach again, but it was too difficult, so we changed back to the road. This is the only road on the Curonian Spit, so there was quite a lot of traffic. Without a side strip for pedestrians, hiking was not fun at all.
When we had reached Zelenogradsk, we decided to explore Kaliningrad and surroundings as much as possible in the coming days – but not on foot.
We took a train to Kaliningrad-City the next day, where we met our Couchsurfing hosts for days 79 to 81 of our trip.
Olga and Sergey were fantastic; they showed us around in the city, spent the whole Sunday with us and were extremely kind and helpful. Moiken needed to see a doctor (nothing serious, just an ear treatment) and Olga not only made a last-minute appointment for her, she also took a bus into town to help her communicate with the staff at the clinic.
The city of Kaliningrad is a fascinating mix of remnants of the Prussian city of Königsberg, Soviet urbanism and modern buildings.
Quite a number of green areas, rivers and lakes give the citizens and tourists some space to relax. The best place for that is the Kant Island, with the Königsberg Cathedral in its center.
This was were we had an amazing evening thanks to our hosts, two gifted musicians. They took us to the park to sit down and enjoy their music, as well as participate in it (pay attention to the percussion in the sample included in the Kaliningrad summary)
On Sunday, we went together to the coastal town of Yantarny, where a huge part of the world’s amber production is mined. We didn’t see the mines, but a very popular beach and a beautiful lake, which is a leftover from amber mining.
We had planned on cooking dinner when we returned from our trip, but heavy rain in the evening delayed our arrival at Olga’s and Sergey’s place by several hours. First, the bus back to Kaliningrad – incredibly packed – got stuck in the traffic jam, then we had to wait another hour or so in the city until we managed to find transportation to their neighborhood.
On Monday, we had lunch with Svetlana, a very nice and well-traveled couchsurfer from Kaliningrad, walked around in the city, bought our bus tickets to Poland, had medical treatment, enjoyed the sun on Kant Island and finally prepared dinner for our hosts and their friend. A perfect evening to finish a great time!
The following day, we would be crossing another border; stay tuned for more about our adventures in Poland in the upcoming post “Copernicus Trail”.