We had a very pleasant leisurely drive through the lakes district which continued into Lithuania and we chose some picturesque places to stop for coffee and lunch along the way. The disused border buildings were still in evidence and we noticed immediate differences crossing from Poland to Lithuania with many wooden houses and many carved wooden totem poles dotted around the towns and near the lakes.

A bright red squirrel ran onto the road in front of us and luckily ducked back in time into the forest.  The storks were out in force with their amazing large nests atop power poles, houses and street lights and many had babies in their nests.

There was little traffic on the roads (there are only three million people in all of Lithuania) and most of the population live in a few large cities as the rest of the countryside was dotted with  small villages or farmlets.

We had planned our route so that we crossed into Lithuania from a corridor (only about 50 kilometres long) otherwise we would have struck Belarus on one side and the small Russian pocket on the other side for which we had no visas or insurance coverage for the van.

By the time we reached Vilnius and our camping site 5 kilometres from town it was sunny and 23 degrees. Lithuania was one hour ahead of Poland so by the time we had plugged in it was after 6pm but still bright sunlight so we decided to head by trolley bus into town. We received a few directions once there to a restaurant (which had been recommended)in the old town where mainly locals were eating. The food was tasty and we had a very good value meal with drinks.

There was no pedestrian area in the old town but little traffic so many people walked on the wide roads and in a large square Asian dancers were performing on a stage and stalls from India, Indonesia and various parts of Asia were selling their food.

There was some confusion catching the trolley bus back to the campsite as it was not clear as to where to catch it.
We decided to ask only younger people who we found all spoke some English and were very friendly with it. By the time we did get the trolley bus it was 11pm and still fairly light which was an advantage with finding our stop.
The weather continued to be changeable with a lot of rain the next morning so we decided to have a housekeeping/cooking day and although it was not cold and the sun came out again in the afternoon. Maurice had a slight mishap and was walking briskly when he ran  into the corner of the side van window (which is at a bad angle when fully open) and split his head open and fell on the ground. He didn’t pass out or have concussion so nurse Teresa washed the cut, removed a bit of hair and dressed the wound.
Luckily he enough hair to do a combover!   A day later a piece of his tooth fell out which had been damaged by his plate when he ran into the window. A visit to the dentist we felt may be on the cards!

A good sleep and a sunny the following day made Maurice feel better so we headed back to the old town to do some more exploring.  We came upon a special service at an Orthodox church (they follow the Russian Orthodox rite)with many priests and a head honcho in gold robes. The whole congregation stood and all the local women had their heads covered. The choir was excellent and we stood and listened until the end of the service.

We sat and had our packed lunch on a greened strip which went the length of a street with cafes and benches down the centre.
We then wound our way through squares and parks to Vilnius castle where we afforded ourselves the luxury of the funicular up to the top instead of walking!   There was little left of the castle however it was a good vantage point to see the panorama of the city.
There were few tourists and the only groups we saw were local ones. We crossed the river and walked to the modern Europa shopping centre for a look around and then had a lengthy walk back to the central station where we caught the bus and staggered back to Vilnius City camping.

The roads were good overall (not as bad as we had anticipated but still needed a lot of work) when drove on the back road to Kaunas passing many beautiful lakes along the way. By the time we got to the excellent camping site in Kaunas located on a large lake, it had reached 25degrees and the lakeside “beach” was littered with many people sunbaking and enjoying the COLD water.

We left the van and caught the ancient trolley bus into the old town. Maurice had left an adapter plug for our electrical van connection at the previous campsite so we walked a long distance down a lovely long avenue to a shopping centre where we had been told we could buy a new plug – no such luck! We had met a lovely young Lithuanian girl who walked with us to show us where the shops were and she also gave us a brief overview of the city which was very sweet of her.  We walked for a few hours and got back to the van plugless but having seen a lot of the old town.

We saw a postcard showing the castle of Trakai and as it was on the way to our next stop Kaunas we decided to have a look.
The castle from the 14th century in the middle of a lake had been lovingly restored over many years and held thousands of artifacts from all over Europe.  It was the only place in Lithuania where we encountered a couple of large tour groups from France.

Lithuania was the last of the Baltic countries to join the EU and it was evident. Many of the buildings in the old towns had been restored and many new appartment buildings had been built however a lot more work was needed with their public transport,  secondary roads and general building maintenance.

It was a country of great contrasts. The remnants of the old system were evident with the occasional horse and cart on the road, the abandoned and partly destroyed houses and factories, rusted  trolley buses and broken pavements everywhere.  There were still many grey looking unpainted tall appartment blocks, some with bricked in windows and there were also still many dirt roads leading to small villages.

It was sunny and 22 degrees leaving Kaunas the next day and within half an hour of going towards Siauliai (pronounced showlay) it had turned cloudy and dropped to 16 degrees so we changed from shorts and short sleeves to long sleeves, windcheater and long pants.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant/cafe for coffee. Most of these highway establishments are beautifully appointed places and have outdoor settings
complete with rugs to keep you warm.

On the outskirts of Kaunas there were a lot of factories and vast logistic buildings and then wide open plains full of green grain crops. There were quite a number of trucks on the road.

I learnt a few words of Lithuanian and thank you was easy to remember. It was Aciu pronounced (a-chew)as though you have sneezed.
We missed the turnoff to the hill of crosses north of Siauliai and I  found a nice helpful man repairing a car in a shed.
I tried the “do you speak any English, German, Italian, French” and he answered with “Ruski” so when we discovered we had no common language he had a good idea and drew a straight road on the sand and roads off it and crissed crossed a road so I said “choo choo” and he nodded and with that we found the place shortly afterwards.

I had read about the “Hill of Crosses” but was not prepared for the small hillocks with literally millions of wooden crosses covering them. Many people came by the busload on pilgrimmages to the site. They gathered up their crosses which were then added to a larger cross and placed on the hills. There were some interesting crosses – one from the French airforce who were supporting the Baltic states to a greater independence and a row of ten white crosses which represented the ten districts created to fight for the freedom of Lithuania. They were in memory of over 20,000 partisans who died in various gunfights with the  Soviet Union in their struggle for independence in the years from 1944-1953.

It was a strange looking pilgrimmage site but it was amazing to see how many people had been there and deposited their crosses in memory of someone or  as a religious gesture.

We both found the older Lithuanian people to have quite expressionless faces and to be non- smiling and thought this must have come from years of suppression or as Maurice had once read from lack of sunshine!  An English lady we met described them as “grim and grimmer”. The younger generation most of whom spoke some English were much more relaxed with more carefree dispositions.

We made our way out of Lithuania and drove the forty odd kilometres to Latvia.

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