Appreciate the tranquility of the 'Ula Eye' spring
One hears a lot about springs, but one seldom gets the chance to see one in real life, as they are usually located in inaccessible places. However, springs abound in the wetlands of the Dzukija National Park in South East Lithuania and one or two of them are easily accessible on foot.
The most famous spring in this region is the 'Ula Eye' which we found really interesting (but then I'm a hydrogeologist by training, so maybe you shouldn't trust my judgement on such matters...).
The spring sustains a perennial pool of water which then feeds a small stream. As you look carefully, it seems as though the base of the pool is gently boiling (you can see this in the photo if you use the 'eye of faith'). This is where the groundwater is pushing up from the aquifer below, and disturbing the organic matter that has settled out on the bottom of the pool. The woodland around is tranquil and it would be a lovely place to while away a few hours, especially on a hot day.
I would be intrigued to know why the word 'eye' is so commonly used in the context of a spring: the same term ('oog') is used in Afrikaans, and the link isn't immediately obvious to me.
Observe the gentle pace of village life
Southern Lithuania is lovely in the early summer: the sort of place best enjoyed when you drive around without a particular destination in mind at a fraction of the speed that you're used to in your daily life.
The landscape is rural and feels timeless - a region where the term 'horsepower' might quite literally mean that. Fields are still bordered by hedgerows and farming methods seem more reminiscent of the early 20th century than the 21st. Most of the agricultural activities are only semi-mechanised, and it's quite common to see burly men pitchforking cut grass into haycocks - a far cry from mechanical bailing.
Driving through the little wooden villages provides a peek into people's daily lives that seem to have changed little over decades. These settlements have an air of isolation and self-sufficiency that makes you acutely aware of the fact that you're an outsider. I would have loved to have stopped and explored further, but I felt conspicuous and didn't want the villagers to feel as though we were treating their home as some sort of living museum. I think that it would have been different had we been travelling under our own steam - hiking or cycling - but descending in a foreign-registered car and 'going walkabout' in someone's back yard somehow felt wrong, so we just drove as slowly as we could.
Look for carved wooden votive posts
I am fascinated when folk art is a visible part of a cultural landscape, and so one of the highlights of touring around Lithuania for me was the strong woodcarving tradition. At the entrance to virtually every village in Southern Lithuania, there are beautifully carved wooden crosses or votive poles, which are symbols of religious devotion, but, I suspect, also draw on symbolism that stretches back beyond the arrival of Christianity. Many of the poles are weatherbeaten and look as though they have witnessed the triumphs and tribulations of village life - if only they could speak, what interesting tales they'd have to tell!
Druskininkai - resort place
The name of Druskininkai has come from word "druskininkas", that means "salt-man". The name of this city was firstly mentioned in 1596. Before that time there was a medieval castle to fight against Teutonic Order. In 1837 Druskininkai got the name of the spa due to mineral waters.
Town centre is between Nemunas river and Druskonis lake, where nice biking routes are made. What is more, it is hard not to see that there ar so much parks and forests around and different looking sanatoriums - some left from Polish occupation time between First and Second World Wars, some from Soviet times and some are more modern, built recently.
Druskininkai is about 29 kilometers away from Merkine.
For further information watch my Druskininkai VirtualTourist page.
Liskiava - monastery and mounds
Liskiava is known already from year of 1044. At the 13th century the castle was constructed here, but lost its importance in 1410, after famous battle of Grunewald (Zalgiris). Liskiava was always a small town (or so called “village”), but known as significant defensive site in medieval times.
A few times Liskiava were spread by two different countries. First spread was made in 1795, when one part of Nemunas river was annexed by Prussia, other by Russia. Next spread was in 1920, with parts of Lithuania and Poland.
This site is one of main representative towns of Dzukija region (South Lithuania part). The place is known for beautiful monastery and historical mounds.
Liskiava is about 21 kilometers from Merkine.
For further information watch my Liskiava VirtualTourist page.
Marcinkonys - old big village
Marcinkonys, the village of Dzukija national parks, is one of the biggest in Lithuania. The first locals here were forest scouts. First time place was mentioned in 1637. Actually village spread mostly due to new Warsaw – St. Petersburg railroad that appeared here in second half of 19th century.
Village is famous for its still old one-hundred years atmosphere, two museums are located here – the museum of Dzukija national park ethnography and museum of Cepkeliai swamp reservoir. Also here is possible to stay for leisure time in Dzukija national park.
Marcinkonys is about 25 kilometers from Merkine.
For further information watch my Marcinkonys VirtualTourist page.