Lithuania was always going to be hit or miss. I’d read that the locals don’t smile at strangers, and if you smile at them they’ll presume your laughing at them, which clearly doesn’t go down too well.
As we head south, the populations are growing country by country, and the sun is sinking quicker and quicker, it’s a tad depressing for two nature lovers. From it not setting at all in Norway, to pitch black at 8.30pm, and everyday it dips beneath the horizon earlier than the night before.
The first stop we made was to the Hill of Crosses. It’s literally a hill covered in thousands of crosses. They were planted by locals since the 14th century but bulldozed and burnt by the soviets. Every night people crept past soldiers to plant more and I think the last count was around 400,000 crosses. What a job to have to count them, there were so many, especially the small ones on necklaces wrapped around crosses. Huge Jesus statues were carved out of wood and a sea of wooden crosses wrapped around his feet. Some were elaborate, while others were just rolled up paper shaped like a cross.
We visited Kedainai and Kaunas which both had nice old towns…but we’re a bit over the cities now and feel rather drained. Kaunas had a long pedestrian street where we sipped a coffee and people watched. While we explored the area, we left Pablo with the nearby Nissan garage as she’s been making some clanky noises, it’s only a minor issue but the parts come from Poland so we’re going to wait till we head south to get them.
One perk of being told that a population is rather grumpy is that when their not, it really puts you in a good mood. The rare smile or helpful person gives you a spring in your step and can change how much you like a place. Not many people speak English here but we were pleasantly surprised when a bus driver tried his best to point on a map the route he was going. We even got a smile and wave.
Our final stop was Vilnuis, Lithuanias Capitol but by then we almost couldn’t be bothered to do the 90km detour. But, it’s Unesco listed city with the largest baroque old town in Europe…so off we went.
I also read that car theft is rife in the country so I was particularly nervous about taking dear Pablo into the city. As we drove in we came to a bustling market area and pulled up. We couldn’t see any parking signs so I asked a lady, she couldn’t speak English and just walked off. Another lady shooed me away like a fly. Geez! We spotted an undercover parking lot which was really cheap (€1.70 for 4 hours) so we drove in. The first floor was blocked so we drove up to the next level but noticed a 1.9m sign. We are 2.2m high, so we had to reverse back down where a man met us. He looked like Mario with blue dungarees and a moustache. He kept waving us along to the next level even though we were saying we were too high. Eventually, Craig reversed back even more and accidentally crashed into his barrier, ‘yeaaah, we mean business!!’. I had to write 2.2m on a scrap of paper and he gave in and opened up the gate for us to park in the lower section.
It was a 2km walk into the centre and our first stop was cathedral square. The huge, white, neoclassical, Vilnuis Cathedral took the centre stage with its grand pillars and hunky, Greek-God style carvings. The area had lots of churches, some were plain and in need of renovation while others were fancy with crown shaped adornments instead of spires.
We visited the Republic of Uzupis, a breakaway neighbourhood with its own president, anthem and flag. A wall was lined with the constitution rules in 9 different languages. I got the impression that after point 9 some people smoked a little too much weed. As number 10 was ‘Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat’ and number 12 was ‘A dog has the right to be a dog’. It wasn’t as excited as it sounded so we set off to see the ‘impressive’ view of the city from Gediminas castle. Another anti climax, it wasn’t quite like lonely planet described ‘It’s skyline, pierced by (almost) countless church steeples’…I suppose they did say ‘almost’, maybe a 2 year old couldn’t count them all.
So that’s it for the Baltic’s, to be honest we didn’t enjoy it much, being shunned by locals got us down and we miss the mountains. I think the highest mountain (hill) we’ve seen in about a month is 400m. Looking forward to travelling Eastern Poland now and then the Carpathian Mountains…time to get the hiking boots out again.