with my free weekend here in Lithuania (usually something i don’t have when i workation, but thanks, Obama, for Memorial Day!), i’ve decided to rent a car and drive around to explore some abandoned Cold War sites the Soviet military left behind, via instructions left at Wikitravel.
i’m basing this weekend out of Kaunas and visited several SS-4 thermonuclear missile launch sites. there’s not much left now; the missiles were destroyed after a nuclear arms limitation treaty was signed by Reagan and Gorbachev. i’m old enough to remember those summits and the end of the Cold War and it amazes me that i was able to step inside missile hangars and bunkers that were so integral in the brinkmanship.
sidebar: lodging in Kaunas Kaunas City Hotel is relatively new and clean and incredibly cheap, with free parking and wifi. it’s located right on the main pedestrian street.
now, Mother Nature has taken over — and how, as you can see in the pictures below. these are all publicly-accessible sites, so anything of value is long gone, but you can explore crumbling buildings, walk through abandoned bunkers with peeling paint, and see where they kept the missiles. besides that, most of these locations are located in the middle of (gorgeous) forests, so if you’re an outdoors person, it’s a great excuse to get some fresh air. i couldn’t find anything very underground (except for bunkers that were made into hills) or any sort of control mechanisms (nor did i expect to), so temper your expectations. a few tips before some photos:
- you will need GPS. there’s no way you can follow written directions since many of them require (multiple) turns onto unnamed roads with very little to go on in terms of landmarks. while somewhat helpful, the descriptions in the Wikitravel post are definitely not enough. Google Maps worked the best; the Lithuanian GPS system i got from the car rental place wanted me to turn onto some really country roads at times, like two-tracks-through-a-field country. conditions of the roads you’ll need to take can get bad, but not that bad. also, read the section on the Lithuania Wikitravel on driving here.i’ve noticed people really do tend to stick to the speed limit, and there are many speed trap cameras. none of the speed limits are as fast as you think; note that in-town traffic (pretty much any town that has a sign saying you’re entering a town)issloooow. it’s up to you to remember to slow down within city limits; you won’t see a speed limit sign. here are the coordinates (and a link to Google Maps) of the fourplacesi visited today:
- Karmėlava South: 54.96040, 24.10495
- Karmėlava North: 55.022383, 24.24168
- Ukmergė South: 55.12739, 24.63759
- Ukmergė North: 55.18607, 24.70896
- for almost all of them, you will need to go onto unpaved roads. some of them are gravel, some of them are dirt. some of them are dirt with big ruts. beware. only Ukmergė North is fully accessible via paved roads. it was also the only place i saw other people today, a handful of youth smoking pot and racing their cars along the forest roads — be careful! i did see a group of bikers at Karmėlava South. if you’re a biker or ATVer, these places would be perfect for you.
- because of these dirt roads, you’ll need time to get from one place to another. just because two places are North/South related doesn’t mean they’re close. it may take an hour to get from one to the other.
- get a local SIM card so you can use Google Maps satellite view to help you figure out where you left your car and where there might be things to explore. the sites are quite spread out so you’ll likely park your car and trek around. while satellite view doesn’t have great resolution, at least you can see where there might be something around you based on clearings or paths. most of the places had decent to weak 3G on the Tele2 network, but always decent EDGE at worst.
- don’t forget either a car charger for your phone or a spare/external battery (but that goes without saying, right?)
- keep repeating to yourself, leaves of three, let it be. there were some locations that looked like fields of plants that would make you break out. take appropriate precautions and don’t press your luck.
- most gas stations you pass will have convenience stores. since these are out in the boonies you may or may not pass through towns large enough to have supermarkets (Iki and Maxima seem to be the biggest chains around here, though) or restaurants, so gas stations might just be your best bet to stay hydrated and fed on the go.
- you may want to bring a flashlight. some of the bunkers are pretty dark inside, and my phone’s flashlight was pretty wimpy. i did not see any animals inside nor did anyone jump out at me, in case you were wondering ;). but i figured if i could do the abandoned highway tunnel i could do a bunker. and i did, several times over — easy peasy!
and now, some pictures! more, of course, on Flickr.
my thoughts at this first stop were, ‘wow, they actually stored and probably prepped thermonuclear missiles here.’ crazy.
i went inside my first bunkers at this location. just buck up and do it! 😀 (you’ll regret it if you don’t!) also, any pictures that look like they were taken inside a bunker well, were. i’m amazed at how well my camera’s flash did, especially considering it was pitch black in there.
lots of goodies here if you do a bit of snooping around!
a pretty big site, most of which have unmaintained paved roads, so no need to park and hike. there seems to be more piles of wood here than at other locations; there must be some upkeep i guess? or industry?
here are Google translations of the Russian on the beams in the third picture: (creepy to see language like this in actual print/use.)
- Rational use of energy
- Repairman! Technology readiness depends on you
- Routine maintenance – to combat the problem (or “combat mission”)
- High quality of repair