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Our route:

13.08.02 - 16.08.02:
  • Aukstaitijos park

    17.08.02 - 18.08.02:
  • Vilnius

    19.08.02:
  • Trakai

    20.08.02:
  • Kaunas
  • Druskininkai
  • Grutas

  •   Lithuania
    On this page, we (will) describe our experiences in Lithuania. Apart from the travelogue for this country you will also find a number of links to useful sites, ranging from general information to embassy homepages.

    Written by: Dorrit

    13.08.

    First impression of Lithuania: the roads are better than in Latvia and Estonia and there seem to be less Soviet-buildings. We drove to Paluse in the National park of Aukstaitijos, which was established in 1974 to prevent the Soviets from building a nuclear power station type Chernobyl. Unfortunately, the plan did not succeed, so now there is a small Chernobyl type power station right in the middle of the national park, about 5 km from Paluse.

    14.08.

    Trakai This morning we found a sort of camping between the trees at the lakeside where we even found some other campers (German)! We joined them and spent the whole day doing absolutely nothing. When we got too lazy from sitting and drinking beer, we had a swim in the lake and then did more nothing. After dinner we made a nice campfire and watched the camping getting filled with young people making fires and drinking till they dropped. Nice to look at, but you could forget about getting sleep that night, as they had brought their stereo installations with them.

    15.08.

    Woken up early by the heat and back on the camping chairs. Today was a repetition of yesterday in all aspects, incl. the evening/night programme.

    16.08.

    We actually planned to hire a boat and explore the lake today, but all boats were rented out by the time we got there. So we returned to our chairs to do nothing again, we are not tired of that yet. Around 3 pm we managed to get a boat after all and spent the next three hours rowing romantically on the lovely lake. Then our chairs and our beer called us back again.

    17.08.

    Vilnius Enough laziness! Time for some action; we are going to Vilnius, Lithuania's capital. After finding a guarded parking place we used by means of camping site we treated ourselves to a well deserved beer. Like Tallinn and Riga, the city centre of Vilnius is beautifully restored and looks fabulous. It must be a really religious (read Catholic) city: it probably has the most churches per square metre in all Europe. And because it is a warm Saturday in summer, nearly everyone seems to get married again, just like when we were in Helsinki. Everywhere you look you see white wedding dresses, wedding processions etc. On church steps and in the streets there are loads of beggars, a lot more than elsewhere in the Baltic's. Highlight of what we have seen today is the St Peter and Paul's church just outside the city centre, which was beautifully decorated with baroque sculptures inside. If you ever get to visit Vilnius, it is really worth going there. From the Gediminas-tower you had a splendid view over the city, but besides the beautiful sites it was mainly the contrast that was striking: to the south you could see the beautifully restored city centre with its old churches and parks, to the north however, you saw endless rows of grey Soviet-blocks. What a shame. We found a nice and affordable terrace to have dinner at, but as soon as the waitress went inside beggars were standing round your table, wanting money. Some of them, especially the old and invalid, are really poor: we heard in Kraslava that the old age pension in Latvia is only 70 EUR a month. This only allows you to pay the lowest rent, not even water or electricity. Thus you see old women begging on the street everywhere, a very sad sight. The pizza just didn't taste as good anymore after that.

    18.08.

    This morning we finally managed to have the pictures developed: 15 films of Scandinavia and the Baltic's. Also - just as much over time - we uploaded the website. Hurray! It cost us the whole morning, but it was worth the effort. Other than that we saw one beautiful church after another overwhelming church after another splendid ... etc. We also visited the only synagogue of 96 that survived WWII. Vilnius used to be called the Lithuanian Jerusalem, because there was such a big Jewish society. Nothing is left of that today. In the synagogue Coen had to wear a Jewish head cover, he looked very sweet in it. At 4 pm we could finally collect the pictures and the rest of the afternoon and evening we spent looking at and again looking at the over 500 pictures, from Heidelberg to Vilnius. It was great!

    19.08.

    Trakai We left Vilnius early and drove to Trakai, a lovely village in a splendid forest and lake area. Main attraction was the fantastic medieval castle, a beautifully restored fortress on a green island in the middle of one of the lakes. After having a look at this castle we spent the afternoon lazying in the area, as it was actually to hot to really do something. We just enjoyed the view of the castle and the lakes therefore.

    20.08.

    Already at 7:30 am it was too hot to stay in bed and thus we arrived early in Kaunas, the second city of Lithuania and once the capital. Nowadays it is mainly a student bulwark. We had quite a bit of trouble finding a guarded parking lot, but a couple of helpful police officers knew where to find one. So we drove with police-escort through town, even through a red light :o) The police drive like all the others here: like madmen. Overtake left and right, stop without indicating and on every lane of the road, even on the motorway. It takes some time to get used to. Kaunas was a bit of a disappointment: much 1950 building style and the really old centre (which is what us tourists are coming for) was only very small-sized: other than the town hall square there was not much to be seen. However, our impression of the city improved a lot when we found a lovely terrace with delicious pizzas and a good view of the parading shopping public. Towards 3 pm we stepped back into the car and continued to Druskininkai, a spa resort with salt springs near the White-Russian border. It was beautifully situated among woods, lakes and fields, but most of the sanatoria are in bad need of renovation.

    21.08.

    Kaunas We got up at 7:30 am again, another 25+ day. In Grutas, near Druskininkai, we visited the Soviet-sculpture park. A very smart person has collected all the old and hated Soviet sculptures here some 12 years ago and is now exposing them in a museum. Enormous sculptures of Lenin, Stalin and many Lithuanian (in)famous commies. Biographies next to the sculptures described the brutalities of these "heroes", as well as how most of them found an untimely death during the Stalinist purifications in the 50s. From Grutas it was only 40 km to the Lithuanian-Polish border, about which we had heard that you may well need half a day to pass it. The queues are supposedly very long and the checks extensive. Today must have been our birthday, because we passed the border within 5 minutes without anyone wanting to have so much as a single look inside the van. Unexpectedly we were in Poland as early as noon!

    Dorrit



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    Our top 5 Baltics:

    1. Tallinn (Estonia)

    2. Vilnius (Lithuania)

    3. Riga (Latvia)

    4. Trakai (Lithuania)

    5. Cesis (Latvia)