It isn’t often that we chose to take a tour but this time it seemed like the right way to go and it was.
We had investigated traveling by bus (which we did from Tallinn to Riga) or train, which seemed like there would have to be too many changes.
This way we had read that we could get to see some towns and sights on the way and be in a small group in a small bus.
There were 6 others and the driver.
We had the front seats. Our journey took 12 hours and we had 5 stops.
The first stop left me feeling quite uncomfortable and in a very pensive mode.
The Holocaust memorial in Salaspils Latvia.
This memorial was built by the Russians in 1967 stating that it was commemorating victims of Nazism. It covers 25 hectares
From 1941 – 1944 20,200 people found them selves here. Because of the harsh conditions, the treatment and punishment 2,000 – 3,000. A lot of these were children.
At first the camp was built using Jewish labour from Germany. Because of the conditions, most of those people died. Then it was used as transit and labour camp, mostly for non jewish prisoners.
The entry to the area is a large oblong structure which you walk under to view the huge statues in the field. The writing on it translates as “Beyond this gate the earth is crying”
Once you have climbed inside this ‘bridge’ turn right and you see the dark side which shows videos and stories of those that were interred there. Turn left and at the other end it is light with a viewing tower showing the ‘way forward’ the light.
Outside a long granite slab carries with it the metronome sound of a heart beat. This can be heard all over the grounds. Almost bringing the place ‘alive’ (ironically)
Then you look out to the statues which are enormous and very soviet style.
Surrounding this site is a forest. So it is rather like a scar on the landscape.
On then we went to ‘the magestic Rundale Palace’
An interesting history turned the original old medieval castle into the palace in the first half of the 18th century.
During the French invasion of Russia (1812) it was used as a hospital for Napoleon’s army .
Again it was used as a hospital for the German army during WWI.
In the 20s and 30s it was a school.In. fact parts of it was still a school in 1978
Part of it was used for grain storage after WWII.
It is said that over 8 million euros have been spent on the restoration and is now used as accommodation for dignitaries as well as a tourist destination!
Certainly beautiful grounds and feel.
We were interested to note that all the steps are wooden along with the balustrades etc. But that is to be expected in this very wooded country of Latvia.
The next stop was the ‘Hill of Crosses pilgrimage site’
We are now in Lithuania.
The scenery has been green fields all the way. The odd band of fir and birch trees but then just wide open fields of newly planted crops.
This hill started having crosses put on it in the 1800s.
There is a belief that by putting a cross here will bring and strengthen faith.
Pope John Paul visited here in 1993 giving it even more credibility
It was interesting to read that during the soviet time it was banned but people found that they had one place to place something anonymously.
There is a monastery is near by and used by pilgrims for solace.
I’m a bit skeptical about it all but after reading that during the soviet times the hill was bulldozed, flooded and guarded by the KGB and soldiers. Yet the crosses continued which was suggested the strength of the Lithuanians to hold true to themselves.
There are lots of pagan symbols as well hanging there. The sun the moon. Lithuania was a pagan country. It is credited as the last European country to declare christianity!
We then called into the small towns of Trakai – now very much a place for water sports. It is known for the number of different ethnic backgrounds of its inhabitants including one group the Karaites who are considered Jewish but they wouldn’t agree. In fact they were given ‘non jewish’ status from the German authorities during the holocaust. They have really interesting houses as well.
We also walked around the castle.
the second largest city in Lithuania. It is a vibrant town with its own castle and seemingly great fun activities happening all the time.
The buildings are gothic in style and it was a great little stroll we had around the place. one to come back to I think!!
Pope Francis is going there in October!
So there we are. We arrived on time at 9 pm. Still light to walk to our accommodation in a soviet build apartment block. Dark concrete steps up to the 2nd floor but the interior is bright and light. These buildings all back on to big courtyards and play areas which is perfect for families.
After 3 days here in Vilnius we head to Warsaw by overnight bus, leaving at 9pm arriving at sunrise 4.14. am.