I have a bad habit of not researching the places we go to (my dad told me to research our destinations once, but I only researched Ukraine in the end). A landmark is meaningless without knowing the story behind it. In Lithuania, I learned how interesting the backstories to some places can be.
Vilnius. That was what my brain was set on. We would go to Vilnius and sightsee. What I didn’t know until halfway through the journey was where we were actually going. The Hill of Crosses. I hadn’t heard of that place, but it’s a major tourist attraction in the north of Lithuania. I didn’t expect much. We drove on, passing mile after mile, the road going on. Then, in the middle of nowhere, we took an exit and a few turns, and ended up in a large parking lot. We parked and we entered the site. We passed a few gift shops, passed a field, and in front of us was the hill. My expectations were low – perhaps a few big crosses on a hill. No. This hill was different.
I could not help but gasp.
In front of me was an army of crosses. If one of those crosses set on fire, the whole forest would soon be ablaze. I struggled to see ground in the pile of sticks in front of me, and they weren’t just small, but also encompassed towering crosses from Pope John Paul II, from international organizations, and from tourists. Crosses. It was a mental overload. It looked unreal. The most intriguing aspect of the hill wasn’t the quantity of crosses, or the people who put them there. It was the backstory. It was the 1900s, and Lithuania was under the USSR, which wasn’t popular. To show resistance, the Lithuanians placed crosses on that hill (which is actually a pilgrimage site), and so the KGB burned them. The next day, the hill had more crosses than before. Learning about history in such a memorable way was beautiful. Never take a photo of the book without reading its story.
We weren’t done in Lithuania, however, as there were more hills to see. In fact, the Hill of Crosses was actually three separate hills, and we saw them all. I never got tired of the hill, yet the rest of our time there was quite monotonous: we took pictures, looked at crosses, planted one that we made, and repeated.
We ended up leaving after about two hours, and though it was a great day trip, I wish we did more in Lithuania, as it was such an amazing and wonderful nation. We returned to Latvia, and packed our bags, because we would have an interesting day ahead of us, just not in the Baltics. The Baltic are relaxing, yet informative, historical, yet modern. Our trip in these four nations could be described in three words: short but sweet.
- Make sure to visit the Hill of Crosses, an otherworldly wonder on earth.
- Another good place to visit is Klaipeda, which was a German holding until after World War One. It is a scenic city with cathedrals and German architecture.
- Lithuania has great strawberries, so make sure to buy some if you find someone selling them on the streetside.