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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 54.6896, 25.2799
Today was the first day we traveled between two countries by car. We left Riga this morning with our ultimate destination being Vilnius, Lithuania. On the way, along with our new driver and new guide, Olga, we made two stops. The first was at Rundale Palace. Though we had already tired of palace hopping, it was a nice rest stop, and relaxing nevertheless due to the lack of crowds and pleasant weather. Olga also paced our tour well, not dwelling too long on any one portrait or table setting. On one chimney, a stork had built quite a large nest. This stork flies home to Egypt during the winters. The stork is actually the national bird of Lithuania, though we hadn't gotten there yet. Swallows seemed to be overtaking the front of the palace, with nests above many of the windows. In the back were sprawling gardens, as usual for palaces.
Then, we hopped back into our Mercedes van and headed south for the the border. Yo quiero Lithuania. Surprisingly, the border was unpatrolled. We were kind of hoping for a passport stamp, but the EU is a more open alliance of states than things would have been a
decade ago. It was like going from Illinois to Indiana, but Lithuania is much nicer than Indiana. The terrain along our trip, aside from the abandoned collective farm buildings, was much like what we would see traveling through the midwest. A couple notable differences were the lack of fencing around livestock and cows wearing tethers, as well as the commercial deer farm. "What do they farm deer for?" Rich asked. "To eat!" answered Olga. Whoa baby.
Our next stop was at the Hill of Crosses. This mound dates back to pagan times, but in recent centuries, has been an expression of religious belief for Lithuanians. Some place crosses in honor of lives lost; others to celebrate blessings. This monument of the people did not bode well during the Soviet years. Twice it was bulldozed and once covered in sewage by the Soviets. The people who ordered its destruction both suffered untimely deaths, encouraging people to continue the tradition of placing crosses. As recently as the 1980s, the Soviets had plans to dig a moat around the area to keep people from expressing their faith, but this did not come to fruition before the fall of the USSR. In 1993, the site
was visited by Pope John Paul II. Pictures cannot do the site justice, though we took many.
Three more hours through the fields of barley, wheat, rye, and Khruschev's corn (he thought all Soviet republics should plant corn and so ordered it in the 1960s) and we found ourselves on the approach to Vilnius. Arriving in Vilnius we arrived at our hotel, perfectly located outside the gate leading into Old Town. We sought out an ATM to withdraw litas ($100 = 250 litas). Dinner followed, in celebration of Jeannette's birthday.
We are now back at the Hotel City Gate and have looked through the album Barb meticulously put together for her Lithuanian relatives. Tomorrow, we are up bright and early on a quest to reunite family.
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