August 1, 2022
Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in the Baltic region of Europe. It lies on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Lithuania shares land borders with Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Russia to the southwest. It has a maritime border with Sweden to the west on the Baltic Sea. Lithuania has a population of 2.8 million. Its capital and largest city is Vilnius; other major cities are Kaunas and Klaipėda.
For millennia the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s, Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, becoming king and founding the Kingdom of Lithuania on 6 July 1253. In the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe encompassing present-day Lithuania, Belarus, most of Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. The Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was established by the Union of Lublin in July 1569. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighbouring countries dismantled it in 1772–1795, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania’s territory. As World War I ended, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, founding the modern Republic of Lithuania. In World War II, Lithuania was occupied first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. Towards the end of the war in 1944, when the Germans were retreating, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. Lithuanian armed resistance to the Soviet occupation lasted until the early 1950s. On 11 March 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania passed the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania, becoming the first Soviet republic to proclaim its independence.
Lithuania is a member of the EU, NATO and and other organizations.
The yellow in the flag is meant to symbolize the sun and prosperity, the green is for the forests, the countryside, liberty, and hope, and the red represents the blood and bravery of those who have died for Lithuania.
Diesel: 1.75 per litre – about $6.76 USD
EU License Plate Letter: LT
Beer: Svyturys – quite good too!
After crossing the border, the place had a soviet feel to it in the first small city we passed through with block style apartment units and very little colour. As we left that city and proceeded south west to Klaipeda, farm land took over and we hit a little road construction. Highways were good and the weather was clearing up. We were still seeing the storks and managed this time to get a shot of a nest above a power pole:
We pulled into the city around 1:30 after stopping at a highway rest stop to have brekkie. This is Lithuania’s main port and it’s a bustling city full of industry and warehouses. We drove to a parking lot near the Old Town to check it and didn’t have high hopes. It was not that impressive but had a canal passing through it with lots of boats docked, lots of sidewalk restaurants and bars along the water and the sunshine, of course, makes everything look better.
Along the main canal we saw a reconstruction of the Meridianas sailing ship. It was original built in 1948 and had an accident in 1968. It was docked in the harbour in Klaipeda and over the years used as a restaurant etc. before being restored in 2013.
There was no historic centre with old buildings that we could see and none of the architecture we saw in Estonia and Latvia. We made our way along the canal
to see the castle ruins and really there was not much but they are restoring some and the area is free to walk around.
We walked back to Minou and got parked for the night outside the Arena near the ferry terminal for tomorrow’s outing.
Unfortunately, for as empty as this parking lot started out to be, it turns out it’s used as a meeting place in the evenings. A group of people in about a dozen cars showed up after dinner and although they were not playing music, they were too close not to hear and disturb us so around 9:45 we decided to move a few more parking rows over. When backing out we both forgot about the tree right beside us and Doug knicked the corner of the rear bumper it and it pulled it off again! We pushed it back into place when we got reparked and he’ll take a closer look and try and repair it in the morning.
So, with this in the back of our minds, neither of us slept very well, and we could hear another albeit smaller group of people enjoying a different gathering. Hence we were up early on Tuesday, Doug tried to go for a run but his “butt” pain prevented that so he returned and after Fran cleaned off the bumper (it was quite dusty/sandy from the dirt roads we’d driven on yesterday), he managed to get it back on but the side pieces are not in great shape so we’ll have to look into a new bumper down the road before we sell Minou.
We drove the kilometre more or less to the ferry terminal, paid our €36 for a return trip and drove right on! The ferry left on time at 8am and we were on the Curonian Spit (a national park) in about five minutes as it crossed the waterway.
The Curonian Spit is a unique and vulnerable, sandy and wooded cultural landscape on a coastal spit which features small Curonian lagoon settlements. The Spit was formed by the sea, wind and human activity and continues to be shaped by them. Rich with an abundance of unique natural and cultural features, it has retained its social and cultural importance. Local communities adapted to the changes in the natural environment in order to survive. This interaction between humans and nature shaped the Curonian Spit cultural landscape.
The history of the Curonian Spit is dramatic: 5,000 years ago, a narrow peninsula (98 km in length and 0.4-3.8 km in width), the Great Dune Ridge separating the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon, was formed on moraine islands from sand transported by currents, and later covered by forest. After intensive logging in the 17th and 18th centuries, the dunes began moving towards the Curonian Lagoon, burying the oldest settlements. At the turn of the 19th century, it became evident that human habitation would no longer be possible in the area without immediate action. Dune stabilization work began, and has continued ever since. By the end of the 19th century, a protective dune ridge was formed along the seashore to prevent inland sand migration, and the Great Dune Ridge was reinforced using trees and brushwood hedges. Currently, forests and sands dominate the Curonian Spit. Urbanised areas (eight small settlements) cover just about 6% of the land.
The weather was overcast bur sun was forecast for the afternoon although the high today was only to be 20C /70 F but we’ll take that any day over rain! The plan was to drive down the main road as far as we were allowed (this spit has a Russian border on it!) and then work our way back up to find a camping spot.
Enroute we passed through the town of Juodkrante where we did the Hill of Witches hike. While walking we did encounter two small deer (no pics tho).
The Hill of Witches is located on a forested sand dune about 0.5 kilometer west of the Curonian Lagoon. Since it began in 1979, it has been expanded several times, and now contains about 80 wooden sculptures along with a series of trails. The artists drew on a long tradition of woodcarving, and on the equally long tradition of ancient celebrations on the hill. The pieces depict characters from Lithuanian folklore and pagan traditions.
Then after returning to the car stopped at the Acid Forest. Here you take a wooden staircase to a lookout to view the trees and birds. This area used to be pine trees but all the guano from the cormorants is too acidic and it has killed these trees.
We made it down the 167 highway about a km from the border (not that we wanted to cross, of course!) and found this:
No signs at all just a blockade.
The sun by now was really trying to come out and we wanted to see what is supposed to be an amazing beach along the Baltic Sea the full length of the spit. Before doing that we drove through the larger town on the spit, Nida, just to have a peak. We didn’t’ stop as all parking lots had fees and although there were some cute houses, the rest was really touristy. There are three places to catch a ferry to the spit and this one is the main passenger one so there were plenty of pedestrians, bikes and scooters moving around.
Upon leaving town we found a short road to a parking lot on the beach side and parked there. There were 3 other RV’s already there and about ten cars. We got out, used the facilities, and walked up the boardwalk to the beach.
Here’s the entrance at the top of the dunes:
We walked down to the water, felt that cold breeze like in Latvia and took a short walk. The sandy is quite lovely and the water is cleaner here but if, possible that breeze is colder! We don’t know how people are walking around in swimsuits, let alone going in to the water which also felt colder!
We decided the parking lot was not very nice to spend a night in and Fran new of a different place further norther back towards the ferry where others had stayed so we drove up there. Here we saw a few RV’s parked right along this side road that parallels the beach between the dunes and the highway and didn’t like the idea of parking like that so we moved up to an actual lot where we could park along the edge with the forest on one side of us. There are bathrooms nearby, a small shop that sells ice cream, a bar on the beach and we get a 4G signal here. We went to check out the bathrooms and the beach and then decided to stay. There’s no breeze at the parking lot so it’s warmer and the beach is very close when we want to head over. This will be the only beach we see in Lithuania so we’ll spend a night here while the weather is dry and mostly sunny.
After brekkie, Doug went for a walk and Fran went down to the beach with a chair and here kindle; Doug joined here later and after an hour or so the breeze was making us cool so we returned to Minou where instead feeling like 18C / 67F we had 27C / 82F but of course no view of the ocean.
Around 4:30 we took a couple of beers and had an early happy hour on the beach; the sun was shining on the water and it was lovely but there was still a strong cool wind.
We had a super quiet night which helped make up for the previous bad one but we both felt we could have slept longer. By 7am we were on the road and made it to the ferry again with no wait! Today we drove inland towards the city of Siauliai. Just north of the city is the Hill of Crosses.
The Hill of Crosses is situated in the middle of an arable land and is 60 meters long and 40-50 meters wide.
It is hard to imagine so many crosses in one place. The crosses on the Hill were first mentioned in written chronicles in 1850, but it is believed that the first crosses were put by the relatives of the victims of the rebellion in 1831 as the tsarist government did not allow the families to honor their dead properly.
The crosses were first counted in 1900 when there were 130; two years later there were already 155 crosses. After the Word War I, in 1922 there were 150 crosses but in 1938 – already over 400.
In 1961 the Soviet government demolished over 5000 crosses, by 1975 – 1200 crosses more. After the political change the crosses were counted by locals who found 14 387 big crosses (1 112 from them were 3-4 meters high, 130 even higher) and about 41 000 small crosses (smaller than 0.5 meters).
In 1994 during his visit to a Franciscan monastery of the mount of Verna (Italy), the Pope John Paul II encouraged the brothers to build a monastery by the Hill of Crosses. A hermit of the Franciscan Brothers was consecrated on July 7, 2000. It is built 300 meters away from the Hill and has sixteen cells and is also open to the pilgrims who look for silence and peace.
The Hill of Crosses became of special importance during Soviet times – this was the place of anonymous but surprising persistence to the regime. The Soviet government considered the crosses and the hill a hostile and harmful symbol. In 1961 wooden crosses were broken and burnt, metal ones used as scrap metal and stone and concrete crosses were broken and buried. The hill itself was many times destroyed with bulldozers. During the 1973–1975 period about half a thousand crosses used to be demolished each year without even trying to do this secretly. Later the tactics became more subtle: crosses were demolished as having no artistic value, different “epidemics” were announced forbidding people to come into the region or the roads were blocked by police. The Hill was guarded by both the Soviet army and KGB. In 1978 and 1979 there were some attempts to flood the territory. Despite all these endeavors to stop people from visiting the Hill, crosses would reappear after each night.
After the political change in 1988 the status of the Hill of Crosses changed completely – it became both a Lithuanian and a world phenomenon. It gained a world-wide fame after the visit of the Pope John Paul II on September 7, 1993.
You park across the road (and pay for it) but it’s free to go into the site. At first we thought, there’s no way is there over 15,000 crosses
but when you get up close you see the place has crosses on crosses on crosses!
We walked back along the road and drove to a campground we had in mind so we could get power, Wi-Fi and do laundry. Unfortunately, the place does not have Wi-Fi and the washing machine is the owners! Why people put stuff like that on the app, we don’t understand. She did say we could use her machine but she has no dryer and we could use her Wi-Fi but it did not reach the camp spot she put us (we were the only ones) and she said it was spotty at best. We decided to pass and move on.
As there are no other campgrounds around for about 100km we opted to get a wild camp and then do laundry in the next big city we will get to tomorrow. We did look at campgrounds in that city too but none had washers anyway and some only had pay showers. This country is not really set up for campers like back in Norway. We don’t like to pay for camping unless it has full facilities and we try and get a full 24 hours in them to make good use of our money. Finding a place to dump our cassette is much harder too and a couple of times we’ve used the porta potty’s at parking areas; even some campgrounds we’re seeing on the app, don’t show the icon for cassette dumping.
We are still detecting a Soviet feel to this country and there is definitely less English on signs and much fewer people seem to speak it (i.e. gas station attendants do not so far).
So enroute to the “big city” we found a small town called Baisogala on park4night where there was a small parking lot next to a park to wild camp so we pulled in there. Doug took a short walk into the village to see if perhaps there as a laundromat, but no luck. We had brekkie, showered and relaxed for the afternoon.
It’s getting warmer this week – up into the high 20’s C / 80’s F this week but cooling again by the weekend. At least there’s no humidity!
Thursday we visited the oldest town in the county – not all that impressed, didn’t see much evidence fo that.
Then it was on to the larger city of Kaunas where we visited :
The Devil’s Museum:
The Devils’ Museum, which is included in the list of the most unique museums worldwide, stores about 3000 horned exhibits from all over the world: pieces of visual arts and crafts, souvenirs, masks. It is an opportunity to take a closer look at the mysterious mythological creature and different forms of its depiction in as many as 70 countries of the world. The collection was started by Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, a famous Lithuanian artist, and there has been a nice tradition that every visitor may bring a devil as a gift to the museum.
Took the funicular (which we had to ourselves) up to a church with a rooftop terrace:
The House of Perkunas:
This house was built at the end of the 14th century and is considered one of he most precious buildings in the country. It is named so because during the restoration fo the building back in 1818 a statue of the deity Perkunas was found. In 1670 the house contained a chapel and in 1844 the first drama theatre in the city was housed here. It now belongs to the Jesuits and houses a museum dedicated to the Lithuanian poet Adam Mickiewica.
We decided to head out of the city to spend the night as the parking lots were on all busy streets and there are no campgrounds or ports to find a spot at. We found a small parking area in front of a museum in Rumsiskes and although there were a lot of “action” (bikes, kids, scooters and some cars and loud motor bikes) before ten, it wasn’t crazy and it was quiet over night.
Friday morning we were both up kinda early and made it into the capital city of Vilnius just after 9. Doug had made a free night reservation at a posh Marriott hotel in the old town for a change of “residence” for a night but it was far too early to check in It was already quite warm and very sunny out. AC tonight would be most welcome.
So to pass the time until check in we visited the sites we’d found and tried not to melt in the heat. It was to approach 30C today! We just wish we’d had more spring like temps for longer before hitting this type of weather but the good news was that the heat wave was ending on the weekend and temps would drop back to the low/mid 20’sC / 70’sF. Phew!
We wandered over to the area of the city known as Uzupis (a mostly Jewish area) and saw:
The Uzupis Little Mermaid:
A bridge of locks:
The Uzupis Constitution which includes things like: “everyone has the right to hot water”; everyone has the right to love”; “a dog has the right to be a dog” and many more:
Crossing back over the river, we saw St. Anne’s church which was established around 1495 and built in the style of Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic. This building helped the city of Vilnius to get UNESCO World Heritage status.
We walked over to what is left of the castle: one building and a tower:
and climbed up to the top of the hill for the views:
Next was the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania:
The church beside it and the bell tower:
The Baltic Coast is one of the few places in the world where amber is found and we saw evidence of this in Estonia and Latvia as well. Here in Vilnius there’s a free amber museum/gallery that we found on our map and we took a look inside.
They had some history and information and many samples of amber from around the world:
When they were building the building here they uncovered some kilns and these have been somewhat restored and are on display:
We took a walk along some very interesting streets:
And saw SO Many churches!
The Presidential Palace did not seem like a place to visit but by passing through a courtyard you can take a look inside the courtyard:
Upon arriving near the main square and Town Hall we saw our hotel in the late morning and Doug went into see when we could check in and we were told anytime now. We had one more stop before we returned to Minou to eat brekkie and get ourt things.
One of the oldest sites was the Gates of Dawn. It is a significant religious, historical and cultural monument. It was built in the early 16th century and is the only one of five gates around the city to still be standing and in use.
By 12:30 we were all checked in and the ac was running in the room. AAAAHH!
This hotel is part of the Marriott family but not fully so we were not able to get the included breakfast that that was okay. The building is a 1677 mansion that has been renovated but they left sections of the 2nd floor to view including a fresco!
We got on the fast Wi-Fi immediately after entering the cool room and spent some time online before Doug had a bath (the room had a soaker tub) and then Fran had a shower before we went for a short walk in the area to enjoy a beer and then get our country souvenir. We sat at a Georgian bar where Doug tried a Georgian beer and a sort of pizza like dish.
We returned to the room where we made popcorn (yes we brought our air popper to the room!) and watched a movie before hitting the hay.
When we got up Saturday Doug went for a run (still experiencing butt pain though) and when he returned he advised it was quite warm out again today. It’s supposed to rain this afternoon and cool things off.
Fran spent the morning online working on some things on the updated website that needed sorting (all should be working just fine now – hope you like the new clean look!). Doug took the popcorn popper back to Minou and came back with the toaster (and supplies) so we had breakfast before checking out at noon. It turned out to be the warmest night since we were in Stockholm so the air con in the rooms was much appreciated and it was the perfect night to do a hotel (and a free one at that!). We headed south out of the city stopping for groceries and it began to rain just after we got back on the road once again.
Total mileage in Lithuania: 866 km
Fun Facts about Lithuania:
- The first time mention is made of Lithuania in history was in 1009
- Lithuania is considered the centre of Europe
- The stork is the national bird
- It has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world (ranks 4th)
- Lithuanians were the first to make vodka from corn
- At the end of the fourteenth century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe
- Basketball is the favourite sport
- Hannibal Lector was born in Lithuania
- Pope John Paul II’s mother was of Lithuanian descent
- 190,000 or 91% of the Lithuanian Jews were killed, one of the highest total mortality rates of the holocaust.
- On May 1, 2004, Lithuania joined the European Union.
- Lithuania has 99 kilometers (61.5 mi) of sandy coastline.
- 6% of the Lithuanian population is ethnic Lithuanians who speak the Lithuanian language.
- Lithuania is about the same size as West Virginia.
- Lithuania was the last country in Europe to be converted to Christianity. Before Christianity, the country’s religion was ‘Romuva’.
- Juozapines Hill (294 m) forms the highest point in Lithuania, while the largest and longest river in the country is Nemunas.
- Lithuania had only one king during the royal times, King Mindaugas.
- The first publishing house in Lithuania was founded in Vilnius, in 1522, and the first Lithuanian Book was published in 1547.
- The mother of Pope John Paul II was of Lithuanian descent.
- Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence from the USSR.
Because I’m falling behind again, today there are two country posts this week.