Tuesday 4 August, We crossed the Latvia/Lithuania border (Lietuvos Republika in local language) on the A8/A12 road at about 12.30. The formal border crossing buildings have now been vacated as both countries are in the Schengen zone of the EU and without border controls.
A lot of flat farmland with grain crops and cattle. No fenced paddocks though.
alt Our first stop in Lithuania was the Hill of Crosses. It is indeed a strange sight..hundreds of thousands of crosses have been planted by pilgrims...crosses big and small, cheap plastic, wood, and metal..some with names, photos and carved art. It started in Soviet times, but in 1993 Pope John Paul visited and 100,000 people turned up for mass. Ever since, it’s been a major pilgrimage site for Lithuanians and Christians from many countries. Oddly enough, it's adjoined by the biggest onion paddock I've ever seen..running for 2 km beside the entry road, and as far as you can see in the distance. We escaped the rain again, and it was an enjoyable walk and a rather unusual place to visit.
alt Next, on to Klaipeda; 180km along rather slow roads in drizzle and several areas of major roadworks.
alt Klaipeda is about 190,000 population, and is on the Baltic Sea coast. It is Lithuania’s only port and cruise ship terminal. It is also the gateway to the Curonian Spit, which is a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. The southern part of the Spit is within Kaliningrad (the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania) and its northern part is in Lithuania. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by the two countries.
alt Friday 5 August, we took the car ferry across the Curonian lagoon on Friday, and drove 50km south along the Spit to Nida township and the Lithuanian/Russian Border.
The ferry cost €11.05 for a car including driver, and €0.80 for each passenger. This covers the return journey on the ferry as well which is basically mandatory unless you have the right documents to continue past Nida into Kaliningrad Russia.
alt We stopped at the Hill of Witches; large statues of characters in Lithuanian folk-lore. Very nice place to walk along the trails and among the trees & statues for an hour or so.
alt Unfortunately it then started to rain heavily. When we reached Nida it was quite chaotic; there was limited parking and tour buses were parked anywhere they could. After 30 minutes or so, we gave up and drove back north to the village of Preila..it was still raining heavily. So we took a few photos, and drove back north. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t helpful on our visit, as it does look a lovely area with nice water views, and forested areas. It would have been nice to explore the dunes and coast some more but it was not to be on this visit.
alt For dinner, we ate at a Lithuanian Cuisine restaurant "Forto Dvaras" in Klaipeda; we had a starter that included smoked Pigs Ear. It was rather nice with the local beer...and very similar to bacon rind. Which got me to thinking, what do they do with the Pigs Ears in NZ....I guess they end up in pork sausages and our various types of mystery meat?
alt Saturday 6th, we drove south east from Klaipeda to Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd largest city. We took the 141 road “scenic route” instead of the A1 motorway.
The road has plenty of rough spots, and the signs for "uneven road" really mean " a very uneven road". The 141 road follows closely by the Nemanus (Neman) River which is 900km long starting in Belarus. The river also forms the border between Lithuania and Russian Kaliningrad for much of the drive.
alt It was mostly rolling farmland country with cattle and grains. We saw several stork nests on top of power and telephone poles, and plenty of storks in the fields. Very elegant birds.

The towns and villages along the way were mostly quite small, and several retained much of the Soviet character. One in particular, Silute. looked quite grey and dismal.
alt Arriving at Kaunus, we decided to visit the IXth Fort. During the occupation of Kaunas and the rest of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, the fort was used as a prison and way-station for prisoners being transported to labour camps. After the occupation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany, the fort was used as a place of execution for Jews, captured Soviets, and others. There are monuments and memorials in several languages remembering the 50,000 people who were executed there. A sombre place for remembering the past.
alt We had intended to visit the Lithuanian ethnographic outdoor museum as it’s supposedly the #1 attraction, but it had been taken over for a music concert this weekend, and normal visits were suspended. Bugger....

Kaunas is a pretty city at the junction of 2 rivers; it was quite congested in the centre, and I managed to drive down a short one way street. ( followed by 2 cars so no problem!) Our hotel is adjacent to the Town Hall square, and this afternoon we saw 10 brides and weddings; it seems that the legal part of the ceremony is done at the town hall, then off to the church. The Square is also done up in support of the Lithuanian Olympic team, with a big screen, music and sponsors activities

Sunday 7th August was a short driving day; Kaunas to Trakai, about 120km, and then into Vilnius about another 25km.

alt We are quite close to Belarus (only 40km or so to the border) and Poland, so plenty of cars on the road with Belarus, Polish and Russian plates. Lithuania seems to still have a mix of the EU and the Russian style of road signs in some areas and of course the place names are not in English, so I’ve had do some Googling to find out what some of the more obscure ones mean.
alt Trakai is on a 2km peninsula between 2 lakes and we visited to go to its restored Gothic castle and Museum which dates from around 1400. Very pleasant place with very nice wooden homes around the lake ( and entrepreneurial pensioners encouraging you to pay to park in their driveway instead of feeding the parking meters.
alt alt Trakai is also home to the Karaites culture, people who originated in Baghdad (Iraq) and were brought to Trakai from Crimea in the 1400's as bodyguards for the dukes in the castle. 12 families still remain in Trakai, and there are only 300 in Lithuania. They also have a decent version of a Dumpling/Empanada/Samosa/Cornish Pastie, which is called a Kibinai. We had to try them so went to a place called Senoji Kibinine which is in a green wooden house where folks were crammed in rather tightly scoffing these things....at €1.50 each they are a bargain and very tasty. We also tried the Lithuanian potato dumplings didzkukulai (usually called Zeppelin as that’s what they look like) They are stuffed with mince meat and topped with small cubes of fried pork fat. The potato part was a bit average, but the stuffing was very nice. You just need a long walk after eating them...plus there was confusion when we asked for 2...we got 2 each, not 2 portions of 1 Zeppelin.
alt After recovering from too much lunch, it was a short 20km drive to our hotel in Vilnius. Then a 4km walk through the old town and a walk up the Gediminas Hill which is topped by a 13th century tower housing a Museum. Some really good views over the old town, and over the river to the new areas of the city.
alt alt

Monday 8th August; after breakfast at our hotel, we met up with Egidijus from 123baltic.travel. We used Egidijus services for our itinerary and to make our hotel reservations and rental car booking for our Baltic travels, so it was great that he came to our hotel to meet us. If you ever need to travel to Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, Egidijus and 123baltic are great and can help out with anything you require.

We then went to explore the old town some more..there is so much interesting architecture: churches, museums, the Presidential Palace, the town hall, in fact most any building is interesting in some way. There is a bit of graffiti around, which in some ways adds to the character of many of the buildings.
Our hotel was right nearby the south gate and tower entrance to the old town, called the Gates of Dawn. It is now mainly a religious site as there is a painting of the Virgin Mary, visible from the street below.
alt alt We also walked to the Uzupis part of town which is the arty area and where a group of dreamers set up their own “Republic” complete with a great constitution. Among other things it gives a dog the right to be a dog, the right of everyone to have no rights, and the right of everyone to remember their name. The Uzupis Constitution is on a street wall in numerous languages.
Its compulsory in Uzupis to smile, drive slowly, create masterpieces and be careful of the river.
All very cool...
alt alt We didn’t get the time to cross the river Neris and explore the “new” part of Vilnius, so maybe another time.

We really liked Lithuania. It has a great blend of friendly people, architecture, forests, coast, farmland, food, relics of the Soviet era, yet is also very modern Europe. Its a great pity Lithuania isn’t on more folks travel lists.

It is now time to return to London; Air Baltic from Vilnius to Riga, then on to London Gatwick.


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