I can't believe it's been a year since I went on my grand adventure to the Baltic States with my favorite cousin. There he is at left, my hunky cousin Mike, dressed up in his racing gear. He's a well respected sprint car driver that suffered a pretty serious crash back in August. Ironic considering the fifth day of our trip one of his friends nearly died in a racing accident and is still in an institution getting treatment for his severe Traumatic Brain Injury. I thank my lucky stars that Mike was more fortunate than his friend.
In his last race of the season, my cousin crossed the finish line in first place and lost control of his steering. He hit the wall doing 100 miles per hour, and suffered a severe enough concussion that his vision is still impaired. The doctors expect it will be a few more months before the swelling in his brain reduces enough to restore the rest of his eyesight.
Anyway, thinking back on our trip I'd have to say my favorite parts were visiting Paris, and a little place in western Lithuania called the Curonian Spit. It's a narrow sand spit nestled between Klaipeda, Lithuania, and Kaliningrad, Russia. Baltic mythology claims a giantess named Naringa formed it by throwing sand out of her apron.
I've recently started my first paranormal series, and the books link the Curonian Spit and surrounding area with ancient legend and WWII history. I can't tell you how excited I am about the premise for this! Hope it turns out as well as it looks in my head :)
We were there in early October and the Baltic Sea was stormy and wild. Chunks of amber still regularly wash up on the beaches after storms.
The tiny resort town of Nida is nestled at the tip of the Spit, and it was absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me so much of the little village at Crescent Beach here at home that it made me even more homesick. Nida has the same feel to it; a summer seaside town with shops and restaurants, with breathtaking views from the sand dunes built up by the winds blowing off the Baltic. Each year the dunes lose approximately 10 meters of sand from the wind blowing it into the lagoon. Nida was where all the Soviet well-to-do spent their summers during the Communist era. Today it is the most expensive resort area in Lithuania.
Local legends and customs abound here, and they are evident in the traditional wooden flags still used in Nida today. Each color and image on the three-layered flags tells a story about the people they represent. For example, the black and white checkered square at the bottom symbolizes Nida, and the red and white symbolizes the Curonian Spit. Most traditional houses here are painted blue, brown and white, symbolic of the pagan tradition of the elements earth, water and air.
The entire area is magical. Mystical. When you have a chance to tour around, it's not hard to see why.
The cemeteries in this part of the world are in forests, due to pagan tradition. This particular cemetery has Curonian crosses from the 19th century. They were unpainted, weathered wood with different designs and shapes. "Male crosses were made from male trees such as oak, maple or birch. Female crosses were made from female trees such as pine, cherry and apple. The male cross would have a horse design on it because a man rode his horse in his next life. The female designs would be with birds because a woman would fly to the beyond. These crosses would be placed at the feet (not the head) of the burial site." (from my step mom's blog)
Pagan tradition is an essential part of the area's history and culture, and I've used it heavily in my new series. Folklore and legends of witchcraft abound, especially in what was our final stop in Nida last year.
The Hill of Witches stands on an ancient pagan ceremonial site, and is now covered with intricate wooden carvings depicting local folklore of magic, witches and devils. When you take the tour you begin in sunlight with the "good" figurines, and work your way up into the forested hill toward the shadows where the witches and devils play, waiting to lure unsuspecting mortals to their doom. This lit a fire under my muse that I haven't been able to extinguish, and so my paranormal series was born. I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say I'm using this site and the surrounding area for the books. There are so many amazing details and legends for me to intertwine with the plot threads and I can't wait to tell you more about it! Stay tuned :)