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Published: August 11th 2006
The bus was actually on time, I couldn't believe it. I left Riga to the minute and was on my way to Šiauliai (Prenounced Shou-lay) in Lithuania. When we arrived at the border, we had to wait for 20 minutes while the passports were processed. This begun a theme for the day, waiting. Once at Šiauliai I headed to the Information Centre to find out ways to get to to my destination. I had to wait in line for 10 minutes while the only girl on the desk was finnished helping someone. She gave the details I was after and since I was only interested in doing a short trip I left my bag there. Another girl appeared and followed me around like a little dog begging for attention. She grasped a few sheets of paper and wanted me to fill out a questionaire about what I thought of Lithuania. I tried to explain that I had just arrived and I knew nothing but she didn't seem to understand.
After giving her the slip I headed for the bus station to wait for the bus. It finally came, I boarded and showed the driver the name of the place I
wanted to go and he freaked out. Waving his arms and shaking his head. I tried in loud slow english (because you know that sounds a lot like Lithuanian lol) if any other bus goes there. He huffed, charged me 3 Litas and I took a seat. A woman beside me said in remarkably good english that he doesn't go there but will drop me off up the road and I can walk the rest of the way. Her and I started to talk and she was fascinated as to why I was in Lithuania. To her Lithuania is a terrible country and wants to leave but can't. She couldn't imagine why anyone in the world would want to travel in Lithuania. She also warned me to be careful because travelling here, especially alone, was apparently somewhat dangerous with pickpocketing etc... I thought to back when I met two guys in Prague while waiting for concert tickets who were from Lithuania. When I said I might be going there towards the end of the year, one of the guys reply was simply "Why?"
"It is a horrible country that's why we live here now" claimed the other.
stop he banged on the seat and pointed out the door. The woman said "Yes you go up that road for 2km" I jumped out and away I went. I only had a little while there because the last bus back was to leave rather shortly.
I approached my destination. There was nothing out here, it was all farmland and had only one tarred road but there in the middle of a wide open field was the legendary Hill Of Crosses. It was the most extraordinary thing I had seen on the trip so far. As opposed to an actual hill it was more of two small bumps covered in thousands upon thousands upon thousands of crosses. Some made from metal, others from ceramic but most from wood. Some are simplistic put together crosses others are finely carved masterpieces. There are huge 10ft statement crosses and tiny personal crosses. They had been placed since the 14th century and are for various reasons. Devotions, remembrance, a lot for people who were deported to Siberia in soviet times. During those times the soviets bulldozed the whole hill yet some rebellious people crept past the guards to plant more. From a distance
There's just more and more the closer you look
the hill was an impressive sight yet as I got closer and started to walk amongst them I realised just how many crosses there are. No one knows how many but I would be willing to bet there could be at least a million but in all reality I think it would be literally uncountable.
I wandered around for a while then headed back down the 2km track to the bus stop. When I got there I read the timetable and to my dismay realised the woman at the info centre had got it wrong so I was to wait for an hour and a half for the next and final bus. Sitting on a solitary bus stop on a quiet rural road surrounded by fields, an hour and a half feels like half an entire day. I put on some tunes and read up some info in the bible. It seemed out of nowhere two old women appeared and sat next to me. The one closest to me just sat and stared at me, she didn't seemed perturbed by my looking back. I shifted uneasily and thought of how this could be the opening scene in a horror
film. Desperate to break the mood, I turned, smiled politely and said "labas" (Hello in Lithuanian) Straight away she smiled and started raving on in Lithuanian. I smiled back and when I could finally get a word in I said I couldn't speak Lithuanian and asked if she could english knowing the reply would be a negative one. She stopped her raves then yabbered on to the lady next to her while pointing at me then they fell silent and both stared at me. It was truely hell. After long last the bus arrives and back to Šiauliai I go.
I originally was going to stay in Šiauliai but thought best to head straight down the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. I waited for the bus of course and finally I was on my way. During the 3 hour journey a man sat near me who was obviously drunk and was invasively curious as to what the hell I was doing in Lithuania. When I told him I was just travelling through, he replied "Ah your crazy. This place is not safe you should be very careful." It was about this time I got the feeling that not many of
the locals like the country and say anything to frighten you even though I don't know why.
For my parents who I know are panicking right now, there is nothing to worry about. True it is that a little common sence is needed but I have found in Lithuania and in all the Baltics that it is rather safe with little cause of concern.
I arrived in Vilnius late at night which violates my personal rules for two reasons. One, It's usually harder to find accommodation that time of day and two, walking around by myself at night in a strange city looking for accommodation is generally just not a good idea. I aquired myself a taxi driver and although he didn't speak a word of english, he was brilliant. I showed him the place I wanted to go and away we went. There was no driving in circles running up the metre or any other shenanigans, just straight there. Even though he didn't know the hostels, he knew the address and he found them straight away.
Vilnius is a strange city. Nowhere else have I seen a goth (and I mean a full goth, painted face,
Me at the Hill Of Crosses
Yes I realise I have my eyes closed
leather, spikes and silver finger) walking a small poodle (or rather more akin to a lage rat) with pink bow ties down the street. Nowhere else I have I seen a memorial to the original strange man of rock, Frank Zappa. Nowhere else have I seen such beautiful buildings on one side of the street and such run down rubble that would barely pass as war torn on the other. There's a statue of an egg, streets barley big enough to fit a car down but people still drive down it and a whole other country. That's right just east of the cetre is the unofficial break away republic of Uzupis. It has it's own flag, it's own national anthem and it's own declaration of independence of sorts. What a place they have made for themselves, some of the most worn out buildings in Vilnius, walkways wasting away and the streets strewn with drunks, cafés with wannabe writers and thinkers.
Apart from all this wierdness is a unique city. Strange or not, it's still a decent place to wander and your never far from a great café or restaurant. One of the main sights here in Vilnius are churches
Not just christian
...But Jewish as well
and cathedrals. I've sorta stopped taking pictures of them because I have seen so many throughout europe.
I have been subjected to seeing the inside of many grocerie stores for meals. It's funny the little differences like having all your goods rung up then not given a plastic bag unless you pay for it. It also seems that there is much importing of food. I buy a few things like packs of noodles, rice, pasta etc... and it's of course in languages that I can't speak so trying to follow instructions can be well.. impossible. But it's funny that food I bought in Finland was written in Norwegian. Food in Sweden was in Finish, Latvian in Estonia, Russian in Latvia and German here in Lithuania. I have no idea what is going on with that but at least the German is half understandable.
The final day in Vilnius and I catch the bus out to the tiny laid back town of Trakai. It's only 40 minutes from Vilnius but seems a world away. I walk the track by the water that surrounds the town to the north end where the sight of The Salos Castle greets me. It's
There's a theme developing here
not huge nor is it one of those sights that makes you go "oh wow" but it's a great spot. It sits on an island just off the tiny peninsular that the town is on. There is no motorised boats or much traffic so it is very peaceful. I had a good look around the castle then sat and had a beer on the water overlooking the castle. It was a great way to finnish my trip to Lithuania.
That's it for me now, I've really enjoyed the Baltic region although I must admitt it's better the further north you go. I'm heading to Belarus tomorrow which should be very interesting indeed. Cheers once again for the comments, it's good to know people are reading these things.
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