So many crosses to bear


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July 13th 2017
Published: July 13th 2017
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Our journey northwards through the Baltic states continues, travelling from Vilnius, Lithuania up to Riga, Latvia.

After the Manor House's interesting take on a set meal the previous evening - purple vegetable broth soup, sloppy creamy pike casserole on mash, coffee, then rubbery curd cheese with fruit jam & honey, we set off for Riga.

One stop on the way, The Hill Of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses is a site of pilgrimage, in northern Lithuania. The precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising. Over the generations, not only crosses and crucifixes, but statues of the Virgin Mary , carvings of Lithuanian patriots and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. During the Russian occupation the hill was guarded but still patriots were able to place crosses. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 200,000. There are several religious tat stalls at the entrance to the field which sell cheap plywood crosses, in many sizes and states of elaboration, so that visitors can continuously add to that number.

As non pilgrims the best we can describe it as is spooky - as if it has escaped from the set of a religio horror film such as The Exorcist. The enormous snails looked well at home though.

Riga, noticeably larger and busier than Vilnius, but with an old city at its heart on a defiantly non grid system. Just the sort of place to wander and get lost in. Plenty of old buildings again, many in Dutch and Hanseatic League style.

The following morning we were guided to Riga Market. Located in 5 relocated Zeppelin hangers - the top sections of the hangers were relocated onto new supporting structures in the 1920s - this is the largest market in Europe. The fruit, vegetable, flower and fish sections were particularly fine. Tonnes of fresh fruit perfuming the air, masses of foraged chanterelle mushrooms, bucketful of sweet peas and rack after rack of smoked and dried fish. But as markets go it was all pretty tame, and not crowded.

In the afternoon we took ourselves off to the Art Nouveau district, via the ornate Russian Orthodox church where the brass work was being polished to within an inch of its life.

Today we have travelled further north, into Estonia and Tallinn.


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