My 5 Favorite Rivers and Lakes Around Lithuania
Alright, it's official: August is my favorite month here, without a doubt. At this point last year, we were just spreading our wings out into other parts of Lithuania beyond the city center - Trakai, the Vilnius University Botanical Gardens, etc. But it's the waterways I've been watching with the most interest for about a year - and mostly watching from a sad distance. Why?
Unlike Texas, the air here is much colder, making the water feel that much colder. (I'm not that acclimated!) But as the summer continues for a few more beautiful weeks, I've been ruminating on my favorite waterways here - with a few river-like twists and turns. Some of them involve friends, some involve running in and zipping out, and some have been more swimmable than others... but all the different little regions on the rivers and lakes are worth exploring here.
Žaliųjų ežerų paplūdimys (Green Lakes Beach) - This area provided our first foray into the lush Lithuanian forest, collecting mushrooms and all kinds of berries along the way. Sound idyllic? I won't lie to you - it felt idyllic. But then, we stumbled upon a few little lakes which felt incredibly private and remote, far away from the city center but just a bus away. And because this lake surrounded by the Verkių forest was our first jump into Lithuanian waters, this cozy little spot at Žaliųjų ežerų gets a top vote. But Žaliųjų ežerų actually consists of six lake branches or tributaries, the highlight for most people being Balsio ežeras, or Lake Balsys. I'm pretty sure this is where The Scientist and I adventured during the height of winter, entertained by some pretty aggressive geese who did not like our dog. (Some people were diving in for winter swims, but you'd have to get a few more Shehecheyanus in me for something like that.) I could definitely tell that this place would be crawling with humans and their dogs come summertime, but my favorite spots around here are the smaller lakes: less people, more privacy.
Tapelių ežeras - And speaking of smaller lakes, this spot verging right around some beautiful Lithuanian forests was a highlight of my most recent weekend, acting as fuel and inspiration for this very post. Tapelių seems popular with families - thankfully, very well-behaved families! - and it's a prime location for a morning or afternoon swim. Why do I like this one so much? It's a bit further from the Valakampai crowds - we'll get to that later! - plucked right out of the forest, but still easily accessible by car or bike. I had a really fun experience here the other day. An older woman saw me getting out of the water and said "Kaip vandua?" which I understood as "How's the water?" and I was so excited to have understood her that I just said, "Wonderful! I mean, Gerai! It's great!" (Gerai = good.) And then she asked me in Lithuanian if I was Ukranian, because my word fumbling made it extremely clear I'm not a native (well, kind of!), so I replied that I'm American and told her to have a good day. This small little interaction made my day. :)
Valakampių paplūdimys I ir II (Valakampai Beach 1 and 2) - These beaches towards the northern end of the city offer a lot of activity, from BBQ pits to picnic tables to fishing to swimming by the river that connects along the Neris River. Far more accessible than the other lakes above, Valakampai definitely sees more people, making it even more popular with Lithuanians. (Although as you now know, my favorites are the smaller ones!) We were actually just here the other day, due to my husband and our crazy friends floating down the river on tubes for a few hours. I didn't join them this time, although I have in the past, as a nod to a similar Texan tradition of floating down the river in tubes. But my favorite part is always seeing the looks on peoples' faces as they watch us get in the water: an equal mixture of amusement, confusion, and wistfulness - especially if they have kids. It's great, y'all. I'm a big fan of Valakampai's nude beach, a bit more secluded but offering entertainment by way of standup paddle boarders flying by - but all the spots along Valakampai are worth a check out.
Didžiulis ežeras - Literally translated to "huge lake," my next favorite lake is actually a little branch off of Didžiulis ežeras in Daugai, a town we passed through on an adventure with friends to Alytus. We got there at exactly the right time of day - a pink, orange, and purple sunset - and while we didn't get in, this lake has my heart because it houses one of the surprising number of Jewish cemeteries I've seen on a lake in Lithuania. I'd love to come back here at another time to swim and take more pictures, but there was just something beautiful about walking along an old Jewish cemetery during sunset, completely surrounded by this gorgeous lake. Like so many places in Europe and Eastern Europe, the contrast of the beautiful forests and lakes with horrifying stories of antisemitism and general otherisms is potent and tangible, but I honor these graves just the same. (That link is incredible!) I'd love to know even more about the people and families buried there, but for now, I'll just appreciate the lake for its merging of two of my favorite things: Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania and lakes.
Klykių ežeras - We spend a lot of time near water, so it's a good thing that there are countless lakes here, especially in eastern Lithuania. Some of the most famous ones are in Ignalia - and they're gorgeous! - but I spent time canoeing around Klykių ežeras with friends near Utena and Tauragnai, so I can't leave this list without mentioning how beautiful that experience was. We piled into two boats - five humans and two dogs - and circled our way around this calm lake before heading back to shore for some šašlyk, a Lithuanian BBQ pastime popular in Central Asia and, well, Eastern Europe. (I'd never had any before I moved here - I'd just called it kebab - but they take their šašlyk very seriously here!) Highly recommend canoeing or kayaking around a lake or river here, if you haven't done so already.
So inviting ;)
I love that I'm just getting to know the waterways of Lithuania, and we haven't even talked about the Nemunas river over near Druskininkai or the Baltic Sea's Curonian Spit. But I know that these waterways ground me and bring me a whole lot of peace, similar to the lakes and rivers in Texas and all the other places I've lived or visited. If you've been to Lithuania or live in Lithuania, do you have any other favorites? (Feel free to message me privately if you don't want to share it with everyone!) But let me know, because I come alive near water so I'm always searching for more opportunities to say a little Shehecheyanu.
Until next time, friends! Viso gero - see you soon. :)