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Published: March 16th 2011
9 hours pass and we're standing in the freezing cold of Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. The bus journey was OK but only for the boys as Faye and I gave up our seats and sat on the floor so that they could lie across them. Grumpy, tired adults are fine as they don't tend to be too vocal, kids on the other hand turn into absolute monsters if they don't get enough sleep, so it seemed the logical approach.
It did highlight a big difference between Nate and Gabe though. We didn't catch the bus till 8.30pm which is way past their bed time, Nate was fine with this, thriving on the chaos that surrounds organising oneself for a long journey, Gabe on the other hand was just getting more and more pissed off that he hadn't been bathed, pyjama'd and tucked up in bed already. Once moving though he did eventually settle down and fall asleep for the duration.
From the bus station we walked to our hostel in the old town, dumped our stuff and then headed out to find somewhere for a bite to eat. Now, no town looks it best at 7.30am on a Sunday morning,
everything and everyone is a bit rough after a night of partying on Saturday, but we didn't warm to Vilnius at all. It may have been that we had just come from Krakow which was so incredibly beautiful it’ll take some beating, but it was cold, we were tired and we couldn't find a single place open to get warm and fill up.
It didn't help that the city is well into the 'thaw', with huge piles of black dirty snow piled up on the pavement melting everywhere. I can forgive that though as that's a fact of life in these countries, when it snows, pile it up and get on with your day, unlike the UK where everyone panics and everything just comes to a standstill. What I couldn't overlook though was that these piles were covered in cigarette butts, litter and dog sh*t. Trying to manoeuvre a pushchair around all these potential land mines, coupled with the terrible pavements and cobbled streets required far more energy than I was willing to give it. I seriously pity any disabled people living here, they must find it seriously hard. Needless to say we didn't see any disabled people while
here, maybe they just sit it out till summer. The city is also seriously shabby looking which would be fine as that sometimes provides a little charm but there is graffiti everywhere, not the good artistic kind, just stupid tags adorning most surfaces... seriously depressing stuff.
Once we'd hung out in the hostel common area for a while we ventured back out to get a late breakfast and hopefully find something worthy in the city to see to lift our spirits, It was a little warmer, the streets were a bit busier and all the shops and arts and craft stalls had opened so it did manage to regain a little something back from our first impression, but certainly not enough for me to recommend it to anyone at this time of year.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city as at least it was bright and sunny and it did have some interesting architecture dotted about. It's UNESCO heritage listed and is littered with many old baroque style catholic and orthodox churches which are beautiful on their own. They're interspersed with a pretty average old town though so don't provide the visual impact
of other old towns we've visited already. We did scale Gediminas Hill which provided some fine views over the city, and went to a really nice restaurant to try out some traditional Lithuanian dishes which were really delicious.
We thought we might move on from Vilnius after one night but were still wiped out from the overnight bus so stayed another and took a day trip out to Trakai.
Trakai is a lakeside town and its main draw is a fairytale castle set out on a small island. It sounded beautiful and it's only 28km outside of Vilnius so not difficult to get to at all. We took a local bus to the town and then walked through to the castle. The town was nothing special as almost everything was shut due to being low season and the lake was frozen solid, but I can imagine in the summer it would be quite interesting. The castle itself was quite impressive, built with red brick it was quite a contrast to the frozen surroundings and was picturesque enough. We took a walk out to and around the castle and then headed back to the bus station as there wasn't
really a lot else to do.
Our final day in Lithuania we took a train 2.5hrs to the town of Siauliai, dropped our bags off at luggage storage and chartered a taxi to take us to the Hill of Crosses.
This is one of the more famous landmarks in Lithuania and is exactly what it says it is, a small hillock covered in thousands and thousands of crosses, big, small, intricately carved, simple, expensive and cheap. A cross of every imaginable type lies somewhere on this hill. From afar it doesn't look much, but up close it's really amazing, a hill literally dripping with crosses.
Crosses first started appearing here in the 14th century, and even during the soviet era when planting a cross became an arrestable offence, pilgrims still came here and planted crosses. The red army even went as far as to bulldoze the crosses and seal off the area yet still crosses appeared overnight creating a potent symbol of hope.
After the hill we went back to the bus station and were told there were no more buses to our next destination Riga, effectively leaving us stuck in Siauliai until the next morning.
I was sure I'd read online that there was an Ecoline bus leaving at 17.00 though and after looking around we managed to find an English speaking travel agent who knew about it and could book it for us.
So, our time was short in Lithuania but I don't feel sad about it, I really didn't think much to Vilnius at all, so definitely wouldn't come back for that. The Hill of Crosses was excellent but once you've seen it, you've seen it. I've heard good things about Riga though so let's hope it leaves a better impression on me.
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