We crossed over into Lithuania as easily as any other EU border and headed for the
"Hill of Crosses"
This is a small knoll where people have put up crosses for a several hundred years. During
the Soviet occupation time (1944-1991) it was bulldozed a couple of times (officially
no religion was allowed for Soviets [regardless of how they venerated Lenin]). But
the crosses would re-appear immediately.
Nothing could stop the people from putting up the crosses. Today the small crosses
from the souvenir shop dominate the top but there are handmade wood, steel, and stone
crosses that go outward from there.
We were not the first GoldWingers there. One of the crosses was for a member of
the GoldWing Club of Italy. The total number of crosses, each dedicated to an individual,
has to be well over a million now.
From there it was an easy, but not safe, ride to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The
road was in good condition but....
This is only one of the bridge construction sites along the main highway. You can
see the car ahead of me leaving the construction area and one of the oncoming cars
anxious to come at me down this lane. This is the only lane past the construction
and it is two-way, but there are NO FLAGMEN! Everyone is on their own to make it
past the construction! If the break in oncoming traffic is big enough you leap into
the lane and try to get through before the oncoming vehicle gets there. The white
stripe is the edge of the shoulder of my lane. Very exciting. The Lithuanians are
no better drivers than the Latvians! (No wonder there are so many crosses on the
We made it to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania without mishap and set up camp in
the city campground. Again it is a makeshift camp in a city Expo grounds, the RV's
are in the parking lot and tenters have their choice of grassy areas between the
buildings. The toilets/showers are in huge cargo boxes converted to toilets/showers.
The three Baltic countries have each had a capital with its own personality. Here
in Vilnius it is churches, our guide book lists 22 of various faiths. This picture
has two of them in it.
The three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania could be dropped into
the two US states of Washington and Oregon (we live on the border between the two)
and be lost. Although closer than the very similar primary cities of Seattle (Washington)
and Portland (Oregon) the primary cities of Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia) and
Vilnius (Lithuania) are very different. Tallinn is a party city, Riga has beautiful
Art Deco buildings and Vilnius has its churches.
The next day we took the bike and went to some outlying places, the center of Europe,
a sculpture park and a castle.
The first stop was at Europos Centras, the center of Europe as determined by a French
group of cartographers in 1989. It is about 25 km. (16 miles) north of Vilnius. There
is a monument there and a set of flagpoles with all the countries flags on them,
but one could not drive to there, we had to walk to it so this is the picture you
Then southeast about 25 km. to the Europas Centras Sculpture Park, no connection,
except name, to the site above. It is an open-air museum that covers over 150 acres
with trails through the woods to various sculptures.
This was a huge disappointment, it was developed about 20 years ago and is getting
very overgrown with brush and encroaching trees. And then the "art" left a lot to
be desired, this is "Birth of Wine" by Irakli Tsuladze, a Georgian, done in 2002. And
it was expensive too, they charged us for entry, the right to take pictures and parking
totaling about 25 US dollars. We felt ripped off!
Then we went 25 km. west of Vilnius to Trakai Castle. This rebuilt 14th century
castle was very interesting to tour and cost less than the park above. It sits on
an island in a lake and was in ruins until the 20th century when it was rebuilt in
the original pattern and style. In this way it is similar to the Almodóvar castle
in Spain that we visited a year and a half ago.
This castle had very good and interesting displays of armor, porcelain, beaded purses
and pipes, smoking pipes from the 17th to 20th centuries, in ivory, porcelain and
metal. The displays were well done and had descriptions in English as well as Lithuanian
After three days we left Vilnius and headed for Poland, but on the way we stopped
at Gruto Parkas. This is another open-air museum but of a different sort. A rich
local man noticed that the many statues, plaques, and other things of Soviet times
were being destroyed and lost. He felt that this time of their history should not
be ignored and lost, but remembered and learned from. He used a part of his property
in the very southeastern corner of Lithuania to display them. He has designed the
park as a Soviet prison camp.
All of the captions are in English, German and Latvian.
Inside are buildings, statues and plaques he has salvaged, using his own money, and
put them on display.
Here are larger-than-life Lenin (left) and Stalin (right) in all their glory. Lenin
started the Communist Revolution and Stalin carried it to an extreme of fear.
Many busts and statues of others had captions that listed their climb through the
party hierarchy until Stalin got upset with them and had them shot.
This park was no more expensive than Europas Centras Sculpture Park but was much
better maintained and much, much more interesting.
One of the buildings had a lot of posters, signs, leaflets, busts, flags and trophies
in it. Another was set up as a classroom where the young and old had been indoctrinated
with the party line, including an entire library of books and propaganda to support
how wonderful everything was in the "worker's paradise". This was a very interesting
look into the Soviet mindset and how fearful the leaders were that their people would
not support them in their beliefs. Life for the average person was no better, and
maybe worse, than it was before the revolution when they were ruled by the Tsars
instead of the Communists. As a strange accompaniment to this there was a large
children's playground and a mini-zoo with everything from a camel to parakeets, including
American turkeys and Vietnamese pigs.
From here we go to Polandand visit Hitler's headquarters for his war against the
Soviets as well as Warsaw and many other sights. Follow along.