I know I have not been diligent in writing which resulted in this website being off for quite some time. But this was due to the lack of traveling and enticing adventuring to write about on my part. However, the travel gods have struck lightning into me once again and I have started to rack up a lot of great times and adventures, the ever mind-expanding freedom with this trip taking me to Lithuania, one of the Baltic countries in Northeastern Europe. Westerners were not allowed to visit this country during the Soviet Union days so it’s relatively new on the tourist scene meaning it’s not tourist-spoiled as a lot of other countries.
So what is there to see in Lithuania which was at one time, the biggest country in Europe that spanned from the Baltics to Ukraine? And no, I don’t want to bore you what ails a lot of European countries with simplistic museums, castles, churches, etc. I present to you case #1 – The Hill of Crosses!
This place was started back in the 1700s and later evolved into some kind of pilgrimage site for Christians to plant their cross into and later into a site protesting the Soviets when Lithuania was forced into the USSR. The place is basically in the middle of nowhere and by traveling from south to north, it’s like a bus stop for tourists prior to going to Lithuania’s northern neighbor, Latvia. You can even place and install your cross there as well along as you follow the directions so the place is like a living historical site. You can visit it several times a year and something will be different with the site.
A local told me that someone (a Lithuanian) actually tried to burn the site down because he was pissed off at the Lithuanian government on some law. As a result, the local authorities have started to watch over the site more with guards and video cameras. I’m sure the place will get even more flooded with security when Pope Frances shows up in Fall 2018 which will make him the second Pope to visit the site.
Going to the Hill of Crosses is best by taking a tour bus or driving out to this location. There weren’t a lot of people here so driving makes sense.
A Fort turned into a prison known as Ninth Fort in Kaunas, a city famous for producing Lithuanian basketball players. This started out as a fort made in the 1800s that was later used by both the Germans in World War II to imprison and execute Jews and by the Russians during the Cold War to imprison and transport political prisoners.
The fort itself has been run down and there’s been a lot of changes to it because it’s been changed into a museum and although it doesn’t have the notoriety as Auschwitz does, the fact that it was used by two different warring nations as a processing center does not bode well for this place as many died in faraway places.
Museum of Genocide Victims (aka KGB Museum)
Next on the list is the KGB Museum. It might also be called Museum of Genocide Victims, a more gruesome name for such a place. I didn’t think much of the place after visiting Auschwitz Prison but there were two rooms that made this place really interesting.
One was the padded room where they’d put someone in a strait jacket so he/she could go mentally insane, bouncing all over the place without hurting himself/herself too badly.
The other room was kind of like a pool room where you can’t stop being wet unless you stand on this elevated stone with complete balance otherwise you fall into the water. The only other place where you don’t get wet is on the concrete by the door. Mind you during the harsh winter times, the water is very icy cold which would make you almost freeze to death. So where would inmates sleep? Probably on the cold concrete by the door. The KGB thought of this room extremely well considering that it used to be Lithuania’s KGB HQ building before the fall of the Soviet Union.
So what else is there in good ol’ Lithuania? Well, there is Trakai Castle. Yes, yes, yes, it’s another “castle” in Europe but I try to only showcase the unique ones like I did with Malbrok Castle.
Construction started back in the 1300s, this castle is unique in the sense that it was built on an island in the middle of the lake. It was built for the leader of Lithuania at the time, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. However, over time, due to wars and political squabbling, the place lost its importance and at one time was left in ruins.
Thanks to modern civilization, people were able to fix and restore the castle to somewhat of its former glory.
To me, it was like a tourist trap. Once you see one castle, you’ve seen them all. There are several ways to get to Trakai – bus, train, or drive a car. If you drive a car, ensure that you look for a big “P” sign with coins underneath it so you can park your car without getting ticketed or towed. Or you can look for people who will wave you down telling you to park in their private parking lot aka backyard. Driving into one, it was not a bad deal at all – 4 euros for all day.
If you really want to go to this castle, go as early as possible (10 am) during the summer. That way you will avoid the crowds that emerge at around 11 am. The area around the lake is actually quite pleasant with its souvenir shops and restaurants so by going early, you can enjoy the castle and then lunch.
Gate of Dawn
So what is else there in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius? Well, there are tons of restaurants, stores, museums, castles, and other interesting buildings. Probably the only thing that is interesting is the Gate of Dawn.
There are other interesting little places in Lithuania that be gems in their own right. For example, going into this Windmill was actually converted into a restaurant!
And so what’s the food like? Lots of meat and veggies. The soup is generally good. However, there is one food item that stands out as Lithuanian cuisine. It’s a potato dumpling generally filled with meat inside which is called cepelinai. There are variations of this food item which can be served with all kinds of sauces. It can be quite filling depending on the size of the cepelinai you get so drink caffeine or take a nap afterwards!