Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where NOT to go if you're ever in Lithuania

“Lithuania’s most incredible, awe inspiring sight is the legendary Hill of Crosses” according to that old travel bible, Lonely Planet.  Based on this rave review I set out from Riga in Latvia for the city of Sauli in Lithuania.  Once there I took a local bus 10 kilometres down the highway into what could only be described as the middle of nowhere.  The apparently “indescribably and unmissable” Hill of Crosses is two kilometres off the main road, so I hopped off the bus, the temperature hovering somewhere around 10 degrees, not counting the wind-chill factor, and began trudging up the road, following the signs to the “Tourist Information”.

Every now and again when I’m travelling I have a “what the hell am I doing here?” moment.  And walking down a deserted road flanked by paddocks, in the middle of Lithuania, fingers and toes feeling mildly frostbitten, I had one of those moments.  I reached the “Tourist Information” centre, only to find a souvenier shop.  The sole piece of information in the vicinity was a small plaque outside the shop.

The Hill of Crosses is exactly that, two small hills with about 200-thousand crosses planted on them.  There are pretty much crosses in every shape and size, with various engravings and religious sayings.  What initially drew me to the site was its significance as a sign of the Lithuanian people’s resistance to the Soviet regime.  The crosses were bulldozed by the Soviets numerous times during the occupation but as the story goes, the defiant Lithuanian’s would creep past the soldiers during the night to plant more, risking their lives and freedom.  Great story, it’s just unfortunate it doesn’t make for a more exciting tourist attraction!

 I probably spent a grand total of about 30 minutes wandering around the little paths trodden by pilgrims (or tourists who didn’t know better) between the crosses and I only really spent that long because I thought it would be a cop-out if I’d caught a bus two hours out of my way to spend 10 minutes at the “attraction”.  So I spent most of the half hour I was there wondering if I’d appreciate the place more if I was religious and felt any sort of connection with Christ or the church.  Check out the photos and please tell me if I’m missing something here?  I reasoned that maybe I would, however I walked away feeling cold rather than enlightened and a bit peeved rather than at peace with the world!

So, I’m seriously considering parting with my 1044 page edition of the Eastern Europe Lonely Planet.  It pretty much accounts for my entire hand luggage allowance and we clearly don’t have the same ideas about exciting places for the religiously apathetic tourist.  It failed to mention anything about the Anatomical Museum I went to in Tartu, Estonia, which has displays of two-headed foetuses in formaldehyde and pretty much every other disease-ridden body part you can think of.  Now there was a tourist attraction I found utterly fascinating and it didn’t even rate a mention but I’ll have to save that for another instalment!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bec,

    I saw this pop up in my Facebook feed and thought I would check it out... I did the lengthy, convoluted trek to the Hill of Crosses back in 2006, and my journey was also a pain in the butt that involved getting rained on, almost getting stranded is Siauliai with no accommodation, etc. But it was all very quirky and oddball, and that's what I liked about it. There needs to be something else out there though, like a museum or something, to give the hill more context, definitely. And Siauliai is very boring, especially on weekends.

    In 2006 the Lonely Planet for Eastern Europe was not very good at all... the maps had so many errors on them. Whoever did the research in Lithuania and Latvia I think seriously cut some corners. It sounds like it is no better? In Siauliai I trekked out to this alleged backpacker hostel that was about 4km out of town only to get there and be screamed at by a woman in Lithuanian who pushed me out the gates back to town! I ended up having to walk back and then ended up getting a room in a college with a group of 50 Russian school children? It was all very weird lol.