So again, Day 5 in Vilnius, Lithuania and I’m wondering how it compares to Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia…
Three Baltic cities linked close geographically and with similar stories of German and Russian occupations, but different. I’m feeling a difference but struggling to describe it.
After Rīga I took a bus to Siauliai to see the ‘Hill of Crosses’. It is evolving as old crosses crumble and new are added. The precise origin of leaving crosses on the hill is not known, but they believe it started after the 1831 uprising. The Soviets would bulldoze the site, but each night people would sneak past the barbed wire to plant more as a symbol of their national pride that was being repressed under Sovietization.
I arrived early enough to drop my bag off at my hotel and make it back for the local bus that dropped me off 2 km from the site. The challenge was getting back to the bus stop for the return trip, which was met with a minute to spare! Didn’t want to wait a hour for the next!
Most people don’t spend the night there, but it was a quiet night after the partiness of weekend Rīga.
The next morning I took a very pleasant train to Vilnius. It was a 30 minute walk from the train station to my hotel in the Old Town, but very scenic as it took me down the ‘main street’.
Many beautiful buildings, but there are 28 churches just in the Old Town! I thought it would be fun to try and see them all – like a scavenger hunt. Of course, then I would go back to try and photograph them with better light…I walked 13 km yesterday.
About 77% of the Lithuanian population are Catholic, so it is it not surprising the Pope is coming tomorrow. Since I’ve arrived it has been a frenzy of ‘Pope Preparation’
Cathedral Basilica that looks like a museum, with separate Bell Tower. There is a large stage set up in the square, and many, many barricades going up everywhere.
One of the main boulevards that the procession will go down has freshly planted ‘Pope Pansies’
There is new ‘Pope Paint’
And many ‘Pope Potties’
Gediminas Tower was built by Grand Duke Gediminas in the early 15th century. The funicular is is now closed as they try and stabilize the erosion. And the views were limited by their barricades.
Cobblestones AND uphill!
I found a better lookout by the Bastion of the Defensive Wall.
During the Soviet occupation, most of the churches were heavily damaged, ransacked or remodelled as warehouses or museums. This one has not been restored.
Saint Anne’s Church is a Gothic masterpiece that has survived 500 years without any alterations. Bernardine Church is right next door.
Saint Casimir. I loved the crown on the back, and spent a while trying to find a way to get a picture.
Church of Virgin Mary Ascension is slowly coming back from Soviet desecration.
Church of Saint Philip and Jacob
Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit
Gates of Dawn – only remaining portal from the Old Town wall and site of a chapel.
There were church spires down every street.
Wine bar on the corner
The Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fighters is housed in the old KGB building. It is a grim reminder of what Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, suffered through.
Names of the 1000 people shot to death in the basement’s ‘Execution Room’ are etched on the outside wall.
Yesterday I went to Trakai, a small town about 40 minutes away. It has a castle on a lovely lake, and seemed like a nice thing on a 27oC day.
I took the bus as there wasn’t a train for another two hours, but it was hot and crowded. Then it was a 2 km walk to the castle. So even though back to the train station was 2.6 km, I thought it was worth it for spacious air conditioned comfort! And the same €1.80 cost.
The town was settled by the Karaites at the end of the 14th century. Their houses were built with three windows facing the street
The town had also put many symbolic planters on the street.
Lithuanian food is for the hard workers, and not for a hot walker. But I ‘took one for the team’, and tried a few things.
Cepelinai (Zeppelin) may have the shape, but not even close to it’s lightness! It is thick potato dough filled with meat (or mushrooms), boiled or fried, and doused with ‘crackling sauce’ which was rendered bacon and fat. I found it quite gummy but no time to try it in another restaurant.
Then it was ‘bulviniai blynai’ or potato pancakes
The cold beet soup really hit the spot though for this hot weather. It had strips of crunchy cucumber and lots of dill. Of course it was served with fried potato.
My hotel serves a lovely a la carte breakfast. Nice change from the regular buffet. My favourite so far is the poached egg/avocado/rye bread and fruit salad, though the ricotta crepes were good too!
So tomorrow I’m off to the airport for Bucharest, Romania. And of course, the Pope is messing up my exit plan. I’m going to leave early and hopefully be out before the crowds start to gather as my route to the train station is down the main street. I’m going to take the train (7 minutes, €0.70) to the airport.