Lithuania is one of the three Baltic states, it is situated along the south eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russian exclave) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people and its capital and largest city is Vilnius.
Tuesday 1st August – Domantai, Lithuania.
(Campsite tonight: Parking Domantai – Hill of Crosses)
Left Riga, Latvia this morning.
Soon we reached the Lithuanian border and were asked to show our passports. No further checks were made and the guard wished us a good journey.
Arrived at the Hill of Crosses, Domantai and again the crowds were massive in this special holy place. At the entrance there were several stalls selling crosses in every shape and size and people were eagerly buying them and having names engraved on them.
One of Lithuania’s most awe inspiring sights. Quite a solemn walk towards the hill where there were over 100,000 crosses from metres high to inches high. The majority being memorial pieces for lost loved ones. Steps led the way up the middle of the hill and crosses and statues and rosary beads took up every available space – tons of crosses now buried deeply and overtaken by new ones on top. The sounds of the thousands of crosses tinkling in the breeze is quite eerie.
The parking area was a designated spot for motorhome overnight parking so along with several others we stayed for the night. We were surrounded by fields of crops which was just so peaceful and green. Not sure what was growing but it looked very healthy.
Woke up in the middle of the night by flashes of lightning and thunder and then massive wind which rocked poor Ziggy. Then the rain and hail started and we spent a couple of nervous hours waiting for it to stop. Back to sleep again and hoped we had no damage.
Wed 2nd – Thurs 3rd August 2017 – from Hill of Crosses to Kaunas to Vilnius
(Campsite for tonight: – Parking Vilnius)
Left Hill of Crosses.
Checked everything and all was okay after last nights storm – thank goodness.
The skies were still overcast with a drizzle of rain so happily we moved on.
Rain became quite heavy and again lightning and thunder all around us. Decided to pull over and have a cuppa at a motel site until the weather cleared again.
We arrived in Kaunas and stopped at the Museum of the 9th Fort about 7kms north of the town. This museum comprises an old WWI era fort and bunker like church of the damned.
Also at this location, a carved stone monument which stands about 15 storeys high is perched high on the hill and overlooks Kaunas. Engraved faces and fists stand at the top of stone pedestals of the monument and huge plaques on the ground tell of the gruesome atrocities of the Nazis and of the thousands upon thousands of bodies killed by the Nazis and buried here – 50,000 bodies are buried here in a mass grave.
Our timing for arrival in this huge city Vilnius was not desirable (5pm) and one wrong turn saw our sat nav take Ziggy through the narrowest streets, through car parks and sometimes with only an inch or two between us and the cars double and tripled parked on both sides of a narrow street. There does not seem to be any rules about parking in these Eastern European countries – wherever and whichever way you are facing is where you park – be it on a corner, half a car on the footpath – doesn’t seem to matter.
My navigator gave a wrong call and took us right bang smack into a massive traffic jam and with streets merging every 50 or so metres, we did not move more than a few inches in half an hour. My driver was very calm and this navigator remained very quiet and happy to make no further calls and allowed sat nav to give directions.
Arrived at Parking Vilnius just before 6pm which is only a couple of blocks from the start of Old Town. It caters for several motorhomes, buses and cars and at a cost of €6 per night was exceptional value as it so central.
After a soothing and nerve calming drink, we headed into Old Town to have some dinner. Again the streets were alive with tourists and every cafe with outdoor eating was already packed with queues waiting to get good seats where you could watch the passing crowds. We found a cafe claiming to have the best Lithuanian food so stood in the queue waiting our turn to nab a good seat.
Didn’t take long and soon we were presented with potato and bacon pancakes and stuffed potato dumplings. Not good for the waistline and very heavy but intended to walk it off before heading home. Spent the next two hours walking through the streets and getting our bearings for tomorrow.
A surprisingly quiet night given how close we were to everything. Most of the cars were gone when we came back leaving about 6 motorhomes and a couple of buses who had dropped off their tourists at hotels and parked here overnight.
We spent the whole day walking around Old Town which is spread over several hectares and I believe has 27 museums and 26 cathedrals.
Buskers were entertaining in some of the main streets, all hoping to get a share of the tourists hard earned dollars. Some were absolutely amazing. We again had to have lunch and chose another cafe and tried some more local food – this time a lighter meal for both of us. Along came a young boy, looked about 8 years carrying a piano accordion and a chair. He perched on the footpath between a few of the restaurants and with a massive smile on his face, began playing the piano accordion which looked so huge on his small frame. He swayed back and forth, tapping his feet to the tune. He made big bucks in the hour we were there – heaps more than the other buskers and really played the crowd (particularly the women) with his smile.
On the border of Old Town, we found the botanical gardens which followed the river. The gardens, flowers and fountains were just so inviting so we sat and watched the endless stream of mothers (and grandmothers) taking babies for a stroll.
Friday 4th August – Vilnius to Merkine, Lithuania
(Campsite for tonight: Parking Memel)
Travelled from the city back into the countryside. Lots more farmland now and richer soil and crops growing everywhere.
We are heading back to Poland now and there is only a small gap to get from Lithuania to Poland without going into Belarus or Russia so we headed south west to a really beautiful little town called Merkine.
The campsite is beneath a bridge and on the river and only has a couple of dedicated spots for motorhomes and is a free camp. There is a small sandy beach and lots of lovely green grass so was popular with the locals during the day.
As usual we put on our walking shoes and headed into town hopefully to get a coffee. We took the long way round through the natural park with streams and little rickety bridges crossing them and then to THE HILL – a challenge with 98 steps up and when we got to the top, the same number back down – ugh!! Don’t think we will come back this way. Closer to town, we passed cottages, each with fruit trees (mostly green and red apples). So many trees with fruit all over the ground – thought about picking up some for some stewed Apple – but didn’t have anything to carry them back with.
No coffee shops (or any cafe of any kind in town) so bought an ice cream (similar to a Magnum) for around $1.50 and headed back.
There was some activity under the bridge when we got back. There was quite a large boat in the water and a group of people were trying to get the boat onto a trailer. They struggled for some time and managed to not only get the trailer stuck in the mud but the car also now had its back wheels stuck. There was no concrete ramp so had no idea why they even tried to get the boat out here – only grass leading into the water and then mud- recipe for disaster.
Rob took his levelling ramps down and offered his help. Long story, but it took us and six other adults a couple of hours with a lot of rocks and sand and all of us assisting with ropes to get them out of trouble.
The families were Polish and we really enjoyed the couple of hours we spent helping them (they were just delightful). The boat owner invited us to visit him at his camping place in Poland and we exchanged contact information.