Wednesday, May 30

A week touring Lithuania

It's nearly a month since we got back from this trip and I am finally updating the blog with the details! Our friends Bob and Zydre, who have now, sadly for us, left Geneva to go back to live in Australia, invited us to join them on their holiday in Lithuania. Zydre is Lithuanian/ Australian, so we leaped at the chance to see a new country with a native who can speak the language.

Lithuania is one of the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia). It is located on the Baltic Sea (funnily enough), sharing borders with Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. It declared independence from the Soviet Union in March 1990 (recognized in 1991) and is now part of the European Union. The population is about 3.5 million people (half that of Switzerland) and it has a surface area slightly smaller that Tasmania, which means you can see a lot in a week!

Vilnius Cathedral SquareNow you have the vital statistics, let me tell you that Lithuania is a lovely country. It has a keen sense of identity and culture, made all the more real for us by our fantastic guide Zydre. The country is fairly flat, and not gorgeous, but the people are friendly, the food is good (albeit a bit stodgy at times) and there are some beautiful cities and places by the sea. We had a great time and saw many things. Here's a summary of our trip, complete with photos:

Peter and I arrived in the capital, Vilnius, on the Saturday afternoon. We found our way to our hotel in the city, only getting lost briefly, and did a bit of sightseeing. Here's Peter in the main city square with the clock tower and cathedral in the background.

Wooden carvings in a park near the highwayWe caught up with B & Z on Sunday morning, picked up the hire car, and hit the road. Here you can see Zydre and I checking out some wooden carved poles in a park alongside the motorway.

You may be able to tell from our stance that it was */&%*!!! freezing. This was the only downside of the trip. Temperatures were around 10 degrees with a wind chill factor of about -10! We weren't well prepared for this after experiencing 20 degree days in Geneva immediately before.
Ferry crossing at Klaipeda
Next stop was the Curonian Spit, a 98 kilometre sand dune, half being Lithuania and the other half Russia (Kaliningrad). Here we are crossing the lagoon on the ferry.

View to RussiaThis is the view to Russia from the top of the dunes above Nida, the town we called home for the next two nights.

Peter contemplates a swim

Braving gale force winds, we put our fingers in the Baltic Sea. The beach was nice and the seas choppy. Reminded me a bit of Middleton.

Back on the mainland we briefly visited Klaipeda, Lithuania's third largest city and only seaport. Klaipeda, LithuaniaIt used to be part of the German empire (then called Memel), which is evident from the style of some of the older buildings.

Across in the North Eastern part of the country, we visited the incredible Hill of Crosses. Placing crosses in the ground began as a show of faith and resistance to occupation. Hill of CrossesIn Soviet times, the Russians would remove the crosses, but they would 'mysteriously' reappear every morning. Now there are about 50,000 crosses and crucifixes there. Really an amazing sight to see.

In Kaunas, the second biggest city in Lithuania, we stayed in an apartment in the suburbs. Entrance to our apartment in KaunasIt was really nicely renovated, and a great spot, but as you can see from the photo of Peter at the entrance, it was typical a "Soviet-style" apartment block. We were glad for an authentic experience.

We visited the open air museum to learn about country life and see tradition Lithuanian housing. From the inside of an actual Jurta (hut made of tundra), originally built in Siberia, Telling us about the 1941 deportations to Siberiathis lady told us of the 1941 deportation of about 35,000 Lithuanians to Siberia, the northern coast of Russia. They lived in camps doing hard labour in freezing temperatures. This lady survived the ordeal.

Last stop before returning to Vilnius, was the resort town of Trakai. Here there is a beautifully restored castle.Trakai Island Castle

So that's it! If you want to see all the photos, and there's only 176 of them, check out the set on Flickr.


kilabyte said...

Great update guys ..... and the photos are awesome. Glad you're not letting work get in the way of enjoying life.

Batreg said...

Sounds like a fabulous adventure. Nothing like touring with locals, makes a country far more accessible. Will stay tuned for the next country to face the Gardner onslaught - Tally Ho!!