“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Likewise, I never imagined that home might be something I would miss.”– Ransom Riggs
Nemunas Loops Regional Park is something that has been at my backyard for whole of my life. But as it often happens in life – first you have to witness what it means to miss your home, so you would start appreciating for what it is. Though it wasn’t my first time being here, but it was the first time I saw it the way I did. After 25 years and visiting 27 countries, I finally understood why in school there were so many poems and stories about how beautiful my motherland is.
Brief description of Nemunas Loops Regional Park
The park occupies 25,171 hectares and 69% of its area is beautiful forests. The main object of the park is the father of Lithuanian rivers – Nemunas and the way it meanders between the astonishing nature for 60 kilometers.
Nemunas, according to the official website of the park, is not only the biggest river in our country. During our history it was an important water road, food supplier and the protector of the nation. Nowadays – it’s the source for touristic resources, important Lithuania’s landscape’s element and the keeper of historical memory.
Nemunas Loops Regional Park lays in regions of Alytus, Birštonas and Prienai. In the park you can find 18 sanctuaries and 20 mounds from which you can adore the magnificent landscapes.
Back in 1929 professor Steponas Kolupaila1 said that Nemunas loops were always hard to comprehend, misleading, frightening to early time rafters. This area was always full of forests, so that while sailing through Nemunas a person appears in a recondite prison of the river.
This is why Nemunas is also very popular between kayak enthusiasts. Not only it’s a challenge, but it’s also an incredible chance to also witness the beauty of the Lithuanian nature.
Our afternoon in Nemunas Loops Regional Park
As it was one of the last days at home of our Christmas vacation, this time I decided to take my mom for a little trip. We had a few discussions of where to go and it was actually her idea to go to Nemunas Loops Regional Park. I was a bit skeptical, as I have been there a few times, but it never had struck me as a place worthy to take pictures2.
From our hometown Kaunas, it’s only 50 km to our first destination – Škėvonys Educational Tray, which leads to Škėvonys Exposure. Though this tray is not even considered as one of the best in the country, but it sure leads to a wonderful view.
The one problem with this tray is that, as it often happens in Lithuania, it’s not very well marked. We actually almost took a turn back, which would’ve lead to not even reaching the Exposure, where the wonderful view of river bending behind the forests opens.
As it was winter and few days ago the temperature in Lithuania had dropped to freezing minus 20 Celsius, the river was frozen to ice. You could also see that the trees in the forests had frost on them and there was a little fog over the tops. The view was absolutely incredible, but it was still far from the best we saw that day.
City of Birštonas
Birštonas is a balneological resort and a spa town in Lithuania situated right next to Škėvonys Educational tray, so it’s also only 50 km away from Kaunas. The city lays right next to the bank of the Nemunas River.
As it’s not as photogenic as the rest of the places we’ve visited, here you can enjoy a walk by the Nemunas and also spend time in beautiful Vytautas park.
The most interesting part of this city that there are natural mineral water resources. That’s why when the city was first mentioned in history back in fourteenth century it was called a homestead at salty water.
Birštonas was a vacation resort for Lithuanian dukes and other noblemen during 14th and 16th centuries. When you realize that in 15th century Lithuania was the BIGGEST3 country in Europe, it means that this place REALLY holds some significance.
For our purposes it was the place where we later stopped to had our lunch.
Our final destination was the Punios Mound in the place called Punia. According to Alytus tourism page, the mound is covered with legends about the duke Margiris who had his castle, called Pilėnai, built here. In Lithuanian history lessons we learned that in 1336 the heroic Pilėnai fight with crusades took place here. The heroic act was that our ancestors chose a tragic death in flames rather than being imprisoned by the crusaders.
As we came here the first thing that we were really surprised with was the beauty of Punia town’s church. As it was white all around us the church seemed as it was also built from snow. The whole view melted into one fabulous white image.
Walking towards the mound there actually is a very classy, Lithuanian-vintage-looking road sign leading towards it. It says Margiris Mound as a tribute to the legendary duke Margiris.
Finally, we approached the mound. As we started to climb up, I took a stop to take a few pictures. A few moments later I heard my mother screaming! Knowing my mom for quite some time, I knew that I should probably stop whatever I was doing and run towards the scream.
What she was shouting was come here quickly! I can’t believe how beautiful it is! And, my God, was she right, as always. The view was just jaw-dropping. I spent a lot of time trying to capture just a glimpse of the beauty that we were exposed to. But it was impossible.
The river was frozen and also flooded with pieces of ice, called floaters. The forest in front of us had this indescribable color combined of green, blue, grey, some highlights of violet and the top of the trees covered in snow white.
One word I think of is majestic. You can see forests spreading towards the horizon, and a little fog hanging just above the tops of the trees. It was so inspiring, that I immediately realized, as I mentioned in the beginning, WHY people in Lithuania wrote poems, drew paintings and tried to capture the beauty of our country in as many ways as possible.
I should say that I have to be as proud, as I have to be ashamed. Proud because of what I saw and how beautiful Lithuania is. Ashamed, because it took me so long to take a step outside my own yard, to see how magnificent and unremarkable it is.
Nemunas Loops Regional Park was different from beautiful nature destinations that I’ve seen in Germany or Portugal. But it was nonetheless as beautiful of a place that it can possibly be. Just that I had to see what the rest of the world has to offer, to understand that Lithuania is as wonderful country as any.