The Hill Of Crosses

The Hill Of Crosses

 

After an eventful night and saying goodbye to Teresa and Vivian early this morning, we packed our bags and planned for our most ambitious day yet: Take an international bus from Riga, Latvia to Siauliai, Lithuania to visit the Hill Of Crosses, before heading onwards by train to Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius by nightfall.

Leaving the hostel at 11:45am, we walked about 10 minutes south from old city to Riga’s bus station for a 12:15pm Ollex Express Bus to Siauliai.

 

 

We arrived at around 2:45pm into Siauliai‘s bus station, which is conveniently attached to a high-end mall.

After orienting ourselves with the bus schedule, storing our left luggage for a cheap 0.60 euros at the bus station, and getting some food at the mall, we got on the public bus on Platform #12 (0.86 euros fare). We traveled about 12km north of Siauliai for about 15-20 minutes, before getting off at Domentai

From there we walked another 15 minutes towards the Hill Of Crosses.

 

The Hill Of Crosses in the distance on the right

 

After 15 minutes of walking down a dirt path, we finally came upon an incredible, awe-inspiring sight.

For the many of you unfamiliar with what this place is, the Hill Of Crosses is a pilgrimage site in Northern Lithuania famous for Lithuanians leaving crosses on a hill since the 1800s. Despite multiple attempts by the Soviet empire and other powers trying to bulldoze the site, Lithuanians have risked their life and limb to continuing the practice and going as far as planting the crosses in the cover of darkness as a demonstration of “peaceful rebellion.” 

The Hill Of Crosses remains to this day a beautiful testament of the will and faith of the Lithuanian people for their beliefs. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but it has been estimated that there have been about 100,000+ crosses placed on this hill.

 

 

Follow the path of crosses until you arrive upon the main, central clearing at the foot of the hill:

 

 

 From there you can walk up the stairs and lose yourself among a forest of crosses.

 

 

There are multiple paths around and through the sides of the hill you can take, all eventually leading back to the top.

 

 

A few panoramas of the hill:

 

 

You can either easily spend more than an hour here and not want to leave, or see everything in under 30 minutes.

 

 

Some crosses are not even planted into the ground, but simply placed in a pile of other crosses:

 

 

After about 45 minutes there, we all elected to take a cab back to Siauliai instead of waiting another hour to take the return bus back. A one way journey by cab should cost about 20 euros.

Seeing that we had already taken buses, cars, ships, ferries, and flights on this trip, the last mode of transportation left to experience was a train. So instead of taking an evening bus back to Vilnius, we picked up our bags at the left luggage station in the bus terminal and walked about 8 minutes towards the train station northwest of the city.

Lithuania has a funny system of not allowing tickets to be pre-purchased/reserved outside the country, so unlike the overnight buses and cruise ships we’ve been taking the past 2 weeks, we had to buy our train tickets on the spot (for those of you running large groups like us can rest easy, however, that it is very rare for these train tickets to get sold out).

 

A pretty church close to the train station

 

Unlike the bus terminal, the train station is spartan with not much availability for anything but a waiting area.

 

 

 We then got on the 6:15pm train for Vilnius.

 

 

… and we arrived into Vilnius at 8:30pm.

 

Vilnius train station

 

From the train station we walked about 9 minutes towards Vilnius’ Old Town, coming upon the Gate of Dawn:

 

The Gate of Dawn

 

Our hostel, Hostelgate, is located only a few steps from the Gate of Dawn inside Old Town. We checked in quickly, and then went out exploring the neighborhood at night.

 

 

 After a decent dinner at Atelier Grill, we turned in for an early night.

 

- At time of posting in Siauliai, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 82% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

Getting Real In Riga: Paris Of The North

Getting Real In Riga: Paris Of The North

The Latvian Academy of Sciences just got served

 

We enjoyed a lazy morning in beautiful Riga, as the group congregated late for a 1pm free walking tour of the capital city’s quaint little old town:

 

Original wall marking the limit of the original old town

 

We first tried to make wishes come true by touching the noses of all 4 animals at this stature:

 

 

We then walked to the center of old town, where you can see the Dome Cathedral on your left and the House of the Blackheads, a reconstruction of the old guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga from the 1500s.

 

Dome Cathedral; no building in old town is allowed to be taller than this structure to preserve its skyline

 

We walked around some more.

 

An underground themed medieval restaurant

 

At the edge of old town is its famous freedom monument with Lady Liberty at the top, honoring the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence.

 

 

We also were told that the McDonalds by Riga’s Freedom Monument is particularly special for being the very first one built in Latvia and the first mark of Western influence in the country.

 

 

However, Riga is most known for its scattered but comprehensive displays of art nouveau architecture, which can be found scattered on over 750 buildings in the city.

These are our favorites in old town:

 

 

After the walking tour, the group headed southeast where right past the bus station are 5 huge converted hangers that were originally used to construct zeppelins during World War 2. Now its Riga’s Central Market Place that sell pretty much every and all types of food and goods that Latvia has to offer:

 

Pure salmon goodness for under 2 euros

 

Then we walked southeast of the markets to reach the Latvian Academy of Sciences tower, famous for its elaborate Soviet-style architecture.

 

 

For 4 euros you can take its elevator up 15 floors and walk up 2 more flights of stairs for some nice panoramic views of the Riga. It’s the cheaper view in town, as the other option is the top of Dome Cathedral, which would cost you 7 euros.

 

 

A few more blocks southeast of the Latvian Academy of Sciences is the preserved remnants of the Jewish ‘ghetto’ from the days of World War 2:

 

 

Afterwards we took a quick cab ride northwest to see Riga’s ornate Orthodox Cathedral:

 

 

No photos are allowed inside (and they do get aggressive with that rule) but we did our best anyway:

 

 

Finally, to cap off our daytime tour of Riga, we walked northwest more to the Art Nouveau district of Riga, which boast even more perfect examples of the “Romantic” Art Nouveau designs from the 1910s for which Riga is famous.

 

 

Then we returned to the hostel to change and make our reservation for the most popular restaurant in old town (recommended by locals), Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs.

Despite its atmosphere and great food, the electricity cut out in the middle of our dinner for a good hour and a half, leading the restaurant to offer us free shots of black currant liqueur and 15% off the bill. We ended up paying no more than 10 euros per person that included an appetizer, entrée, and drinks.

 

 

After dinner, the group split up for a Girls’ Night Out and a Stag Party, where we competed over chat who was having a better time.

 

Photo Credit: Teresa Thong
Photo Credit: Emily Chen

 

The rest of the photos are too inappropriate to post on this blog, and might ruin careers…but suffice to say after 3 hours apart both groups reconvened at the McDonalds by the Freedom Monument to share stories and compare our nights.

 

 

After finishing up at McDonalds, we walked back to the hostel at 3am when 2 of our monsooners, Teresa and Vivian, ran into their friendly pedicab driver/bicyclist friend that had driven them home for free the night before. 

Since their last day on the trip was today and they were flying out tomorrow morning, they got back on his cab for one last free ride.

 

 

However, when we returned to the hostel, they were not there. About 15 minutes passed by when we decided to head back out to find out what was going on.

5 of us race-walked back to the same bar where we had ran into their pedicab friend. His friends, however, were unhelpful; they first seemed dismissive of our concerns, then scoffing and patronizing us on how we were overreacting. We stood our ground and they eventually relented, calling their friend to come back. After about 5-10 minutes, Teresa and Vivian returned safe and sound and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

All in all, we can say a day is good when it’s full of stories and empty of casualties. This was one of them.

 

- At time of posting in Riga, Latvia, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 60% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

From Tallinn To Riga By Bus

From Tallinn To Riga By Bus

 

After welcoming Josh last night to our gang of 15 as our better-late-than-never monsooner with late night drinks and showing off our shooting range videos, we headed out this morning to explore the local markets north of Tallinn’s Old Town.

This is a large area right by the train station. While nobody here speaks a lick of English, they sell extremely cheap food and coffee for less than 1 euro for an entire meal.

 

Amazing food for under 1 euro

 

We found amazing Estonian coffee for 50 cents and their version of “Char Siu Baos” — fried doughnuts filled with pork and beef for 60 cents each, one of which can easily fill you up for breakfast.

 

 

Their desserts, while pretty, are much less inspired:

 

 

Afterwards we did a last minute stroll through the western part of Old Town from the Train Station:

 

 

At 4pm the group reconvened at Red Emperor Hostel and took extremely cheap Uber taxis (3-4 euros for a 10-10min ride) to the Tallinn Coach Station to catch the 5pm LuxExpress Bus to Riga (4.5 hours). While boarding, 2 of us realized they had left their passports back in Tallinn so they had to move their reservations to the 6:30pm bus. No biggie.

 

Waiting for our bus

 

After 2 hours on the road, we parked at a rest stop where I then experienced the first ever instance of a bus driver chasing passengers down telling them not to take a bathroom break. He literally told us: “5 minutes, 5 minutes only!”

And true to his word he got back in his seat and started driving away 5 minutes on the dot, leaving 1 person behind (even with his luggage still on the bus!). Although other Good Samaritan passengers walked up to protest the newly self-proclaimed bus Nazi, he refused to budge and continued to drive onwards towards Riga…his fascist grip on our bus unshaken.

Another hour passed by before our driver randomly pulled to the side of the road for what seemed to be a cigarette break. Around 6 minutes later that very same passenger who was left behind got on the bus, cursing the driver under his breath. Since that passenger rushed to the back and didn’t want to talk to anyone, we never got to know how he was able to catch up to us so quickly.

On brighter note, the wifi on this LuxExpress bus is the fastest wifi I have ever used; it operates just as well as a hi-speed landline cable connection, even with all of us connected to it.

 

 

Because of roadwork, we arrived 30 minutes later than scheduled at 10pm. From the bus station we hiked about 10 minutes around a park to get to our hostels, Seagulls Garrett and Old Town, which are adjacent to each other.

 

 

After checking into our hostel, the group headed out for late night munchies at Russian “dumpling” bar Pelmeni XL. You can get an entire meal for less than 4 euros.

 

This meal cost 2 euros

 

We then wandered around Old Town a bit:

 

 

And then it was shots at Skyline Bar at the top of the Radisson Blu, the tallest building in Riga.

 

 

 

 

After a busted visit to the Olympic Casino (only one blackjack table, which was completely full) at the very same Radisson Blu, we headed to a local hookah bar/club for drinks…

 

 

 

…where I then passed out and ensuing open mutiny was committed by my monsooners.

 

 

Well played. I’m gonna miss you guys.

 

- At time of posting in Riga, Latvia, it was 20 °C - Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 9km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear