Vilnius, Lithuania

Sunday, 28 July 2013
James took me to Europe for part of my birthday pressie and we went to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Why the Baltic States you might ask? (Several people did ask that.) James' great, great grandfather came from Lithuania to the States so he wanted to see the mother land. Also, the weather there is glorious this time of year. It was sunny and low 70s the entire time. We received excellent service throughout the trip and never had to wait in line for an attraction. It seems that everyone visits the "ultra tourist" spots this time of year: Rome, Paris, London... Plus, the history and architecture are amazing. 14th century structures still stand in this part of the world.

We hired a guide for our first day in Lithuania. We walked only two blocks from our hotel in the Old Town to Vilnius University. It is Lithuania's largest university with more than 13 courtyards. Once our guide heard that I was pursuing my PhD, she took us to where other PhD students were studying for exams and working on dissertation defense. (See below - not a bad office!)

On our stop was also a visit to the Amber Museum. Amber is found in small amounts in Lithuania and we learned about how it forms and why certain types of amber are different colors. I even booked an amber massage where the massage is performed using unpolished amber stones. (Amber is really not a stone but a fossil, created by sap that oozes from trees). It was amazing and I felt energetic afterwards rather than sleepy. 

We took a 1/2 day trip and went to the Trakai Island Castle. It is about 20 minutes from Vilnius and I loved it. There's quite a bit of water in this area (several lakes) and we ate lunch on the terrace of one of the little bistros and watched the boats going in and out. The castle was first built in the 13th century, then destroyed in the 17th century, then restored in the 1980s. 

We especially enjoyed the lake side walk after the castle tour. You can get some excellent photos of the castle from that vantage point. 

Our most awe-inspired moment in Lithuania was at the Hill of Crosses in Western Lithuania. This is where hundreds and hundreds of crosses have been left by people from all over the world. 

People started leaving crosses here as a protest against Russian rule. Because the regime was atheist, rulers burned down the crosses. Stone crosses began to reappear, they were buried. People returned with more crosses, the regime flooded the area but again, the crosses appeared again. The Russians gave up and in 1993 even Pope John Paul II added a cross. 

It is difficult to really show the scope of the hill. We spent about an hour here walking through the paths, looking at the different crosses and taking pictures. 

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