31st July – 3rd August
Another country ticked off the list as we cross into Lithuania past a very large unused border station. The scenery is all agriculture and is currently harvesting time with lots of tractors and grain trucks on the roads. 21 kms past the border we have arrived at our overnight spot, the Hill of Crosses which as the name suggests is a two hump hill covered in thousands of crosses. Legend says the planting of crosses began in the 14th century. Bulldozed by the soviets, every night people crept past the soldiers and barbed wire risking their lives or freedom to express their national and spiritual fervour. Some of the crosses are devotional, others are memorials, many for people deported to Siberia and some are folk-art pieces. It is an unusual place, obviously still a place of pilgrimage as there were hundreds of people here. Today was a special day, the only day of the year that Catholics celebrate mass at the Hill. Walking around the complex we saw crosses hanging from crosses and lots with rosary beads draped over them. Many stalls had been set up selling crosses, rosary beads and the odd toy stall added into the mix. We watched the service for a while before heading home.
The heavens opened up today with extremely heavy rain which made our 140km journey to Kernavė a bit scary. As with Latvia not a lot of money appears to be spent on the road system and while they are bitumen, they have very deep ruts from trucks which on a wet day are full of water. Still we made it in one piece. The plan was to visit the archeological museum today and walk around the remains of a medieval town tomorrow. Not going to happen unfortunately, the museum is closed until Wednesday so as not to waste the day, we got out the boots and umbrellas and took off for a walk in the rain around the reserve which is said to be the “Pompeii of Lithuania”. There are four old castle mounds as well as the remains of a burial ground and a reconstructed wooden road. We had a walk along the river before black clouds had us returning home and the rest of the day was spent relaxing.
Vilnius the capital of Lithuania was our destination today and after driving on a secondary road through lots of tidy small villages we arrived at our overnight spot just next to the Neris river. First stop was Gediminas hill with the defensive tower of the old castle and great views over both the old town and the very modern business district. We visited many churches, including the Vilnius cathedral whose exterior looked more like it belonged in Rome with huge white pillars and several statues towering over the square on the roof. In the cobbled streets were lots of stalls selling Amber, linen and babushka dolls. We stopped at a Lithuanian restaurant for lunch where I tried something called a Cepelinai, a Zeppelin shaped potato dumpling filled with savoury meat and a sour cream dip and pork crackling in some kind of sauce. It was extremely heavy and while I’m glad I tried it, wouldn’t have it again. Dave took the safe option of chicken Kiev which he said was very nice. We also had a nice Lithuanian lager each, all for €14. After lunch we walked to the 16th century Gates of Dawn which is the only one of nine original gates still intact. We finished our day with a nice stroll along the river through Vingus park where the two playgrounds were bursting with happy children.
At last, we finally located a self service laundry just outside of Vilnius after visiting numerous places both in Latvia and Lithuania where they would do it for you, at a price. I was in seventh heaven, finally getting all of our clothes, sheets and towels washed. Have I mentioned how much I hate HAND WASHING!!!! Anyway, that was our morning. From the laundry we headed to Trakai which houses a fairy-tale island castle. It has been restored, however the red brick gothic castle dates from the late 14th century. We had a look in the castle grounds but decided against paying the €6 each to visit the inside given the extent of the restoration work. We had a walk around the perimeter of the grounds and through the small souvenir area before heading back. On the road again for another 60 kms has us arriving at our overnight wild camp spot near the Nemunas Neman river just outside of Birštonas.