Kaunas & Vilnius, Lithuania
We crossed into Lithuania without difficulty and headed straight for the Hill of Crosses. Reading about it in our guide books we thought it would be a huge mountain with large crosses placed sporadically over the surface, like a cemetery. We were completely wrong. The hill was tiny (maybe 20 steps to the top) and covering every blade of grass were literally thousands of crosses, of all shapes, sizes and colours. There were even smaller crosses hanging off larger ones, all crammed tightly together, most of them old and decrepit. Many contained dedications to people who had passed away but we read that some were placed for happy events too. Weird, but also pretty cool.
After the Hill it was on to Kaunas, stopping halfway for dinner. The roads were a thousand times better in Lithuania (i.e. they were all paved), making for a much faster journey. In Kaunas we managed to park right in the middle of the city, in a no through road leading out to the main pedestrianised street. We took a short stroll along the quiet road before collapsing into bed late at night.
Eight o'clock was wake up time the next morning, as we had to put money in the parking metre. Eight o'clock was far too early for us. Luckily for me Danny volunteered to do it, before getting dressed and walking to a cafe for a coffee while I laid in bed a little longer. I did eventually get up and join him. We took a proper walk along the pedestrian-only street up to a large, white church, then waited for the tourist office to open at 10 a.m. Usually we don't get up until 10 a.m.
Once we had procured our not-at-all-tourist-friendly map we rode a funicular up a teeny hill (we really could have walked it) to an uninteresting church. We expected fantastic views over the town but there was absolutely nothing to see. So we left not long after arriving and walked down the hill until we reached old town. We followed the unattractive river for a while and made our way to the centre square, dominated by the town hall. There was no one about, even though it was not a public holiday. The only highlights were a few decent-looking buildings and restaurants, one of which was even selling boar meat. We thought about coming back for lunch but decided we had parked too far away to be bothered to walk back in again at lunchtime. In our travels we also passed the Kaunas castle, which was small and underwhelming.
I decided I wanted to see the Devil Museum but Danny just wanted to hang out at a cafe, so we went our separate ways. The museum was not what I was expecting. I thought it would be a fun, light-hearted, interactive museum but no, it was as serious as it gets. All of their exhibits were behind glass and were obviously meant to be studied or admired as though they were centuries old and worth millions of dollars. There were devil figures made out of every material possible and it took every form imaginable. Apparently not all devils have horns, tails or pitchforks. The museum also displayed folktales about devils, which were quite amusing.
After lunch we drove to Vilnius, where it started raining. We stopped near a few sights we wanted to see and decided to wait for the rain to stop before getting out of the car. The rain didn't stop. In the end Danny sat in a bar around the corner, where I joined him for a while to watch a European women's basketball game (basketball is huge in Lithuania). It didn't take long for us to became bored of this, so we grabbed dinner at an Asian restaurant across the road. Danny couldn't resist ordering the pig's ear salad. The salad was nice but the pig's ears were far too chewy to be enjoyable. Not something I would ever order, and I wasn't sure if Danny would again either.
In the end we gave up on trying to sight-see and looked for a car park a little closer to town. Tomorrow is a public holiday (of course) and we knew the city would be dead, so we thought we could locate a car park easily. In the end the only free spot we found was just as far away from the city as our original car park. It happened to be close to some sort of festival, blasting loud music out of their speakers, which was less than ideal. Also, it was still raining.
The following day we walked into Vilnius down the main street, past a plain Lenin Square and up to the Genocide Victim's museum, which was closed for the holiday. From there we wandered over to the main square, which was bordered by a large, white Cathedral and white Belfry, behind which was the white Royal Palace (I guess it was a nice change from yellow). Today's public holiday was for the King's coronation or something like that and there was a huge line out the front of the royal palace, so we avoided going anywhere near there. Instead we searched for a funicular to the top of the hill to reach a lookout point. We couldn't find it, so ended up walking up the hill and then climbing the tower on top of the hill in the hot, humid, sticky rain (not the best day to be wearing jeans). At least the views were great.
Back at the bottom we walked down the main touristy, cafe-lined street and decided to stop for lunch to sample Lithuanian food. First, fried garlic bread. The bread was fried to within an inch of its life, then presented on the table with fresh cloves of garlic that we rubbed on the bread ourselves. Six slices was a bit of an overkill. Next, zeppelins. All we knew was that they were something like a dumpling with a meat filling. The meat was good. The dumpling was not. It looked like a blob of gelatin, or maybe a blob of fat, did not look doughy at all and tasted horrible. Definitely not going back for those. Lastly, potato pancakes, similar to Swiss roesti, with mushroom sauce. Another oily dish but undoubtedly the better one out of the three. I don't know how Lithuanians weren't heavily overweight with a diet like this.
After waiting out the rain inside the restaurant we walked to the Presidential Palace (white), the University (white) and dozens of churches (refreshingly, in a variety of colours). Vilnius really was the city of churches: there were at least 20 in central Vilnius alone. Many of the them were huge and heavily decorated. The city doesn't have the biggest population so I wasn't sure how these churches survived.
On our way back to the car we walked through the market (not great), past an egg statue (in major need of restoration) and a Frank Zappa memorial. No one could explain why there was a Frank Zappa memorial here. These sights were all outside the old town, which was much more dilapidated compared to the centre. This seemed to be a common theme in the Baltics.
We drove to the local caravan park, behind an industrial lot in a huge mud pit. I don't know how we didn't get bogged. There was no shade, no shop and only portable toilets. Eastern Europe definitely had a different standard of tourist accommodation to other parts we had travelled through. On a positive note, Lithuania's banknotes were the best we had come across. On one side there was a colourful, scenic picture of a town or tourist destination, which was way more interesting than seeing faces of people that meant nothing to us. We spent far too long staring at these notes during our time here.