April 29, 2006


The town of Siauliai was founded about 1230, and in the following century was occupied by Teutonic knights. Lithuanians started showing their resistance to these occupiers by planting crucifixes on this hill at Kryži Kalnas just outside the town and a tradition was started.

Later invaded by Russia and then divided up under a Poland partition the Hill of Crosses became an enduring place for Lithuanians to show their faith and their resistance.

From 1944 to 1991 Lituania was officially part of the USSR and local objections to such 'management' manifested themselves in the placing of more and more crucifixes at this site.

For 40years the Soviets tried to stop this practice. They broke stone crosses, burnt wooden ones, and melted down metal ones. But they could not break, burn or melt the people.

I am told by a local resident that people who removed crucifixes often died within a few months - almost as though their actions cursed them.

Today the hill has become filled with crucifixes, and several places around have had to be colonised with crucifixes. Every visitor can buy a crucifix and afix it to another to add to the millions that already stand against religious oppression.

Lithuanians also have a distinctive design of crucifix which often has a little figure below the cross beams who stands on each of the four sides of the cross - he is looking out for and keeping the owner of the cross safe from bad times.

April 28, 2006


I was a bit disappointed in Vilnius itself because it was undergoing a massive poshing-up programme with the aid of EU funding.

Around the outskirts of the Old City were several brand new 30storey glass towers of the kind you will see in Hong Kong, Bahrain, Shanghai etc - not very 'Baltic'

Parts of the Old City were quite pretty, but many of these were being 'renovated' which involved blowing up the middle of the buildings and just keeping the external walls on the outside of new structures. The original buildings had contained dwellings for ordinary people, or little family-run shops and businesses, the newly renovated contain offices for foreign companies, hotel space for foreign businessmen, or outlets for Gucci, Armani, Chanel. Nothing very Baltic here.

Juris wanted to visit a Russian period Power station on the banks of the river, and we found this but it was closed and being renovated.

Better, in my view, was the older capital of Lithuania, Kaunas. Lots of interest here, a lovely Old Town, a fabulous 1930s Cathedral and not much sign of EU poshing up. Also visited the even older capital of Trakai - a castle on a lake. We didnt have time to visit the Bronze Age capital.

Yes Lithuania is worth a visit - especially before the EU funds get spread too thickly.

April 26, 2006


In a forest just to east of the city limits of Riga, exists the Latvian Ethnic Open Air Museum. Take the A2 (E77) road ot of town and if you get to the crossroads of the E67 and A4 then you have gone too far, but dont worry, turn south on the A4 and after a little while turn west to double back towards Riga and on that road you should find ETHOGRAFISKAIS BRIVDABAS MUZEJS.

Laid out amongst the trees are about 50 wooden buildings that have been disassembled and then rebuilt here as examples of the heritage of Latvia. There are four regions to Latvia (Latgale, Zemgale, Kurzeme, the Liv land and Selija) and each had its own traditions and buildings styles, these are all represented here.

Over the last 50 years or so, real structures have been found across Latvia and removed to Brivdabas. Many of these buildings are about 200years old and were still in use until about 50years ago before being taken apart and moved to this Museum.

It is very pleasant to amble about through the trees and discover the many wooden structures full of character, tradition and history.

There are dwelling houses, farm buildings, windmills, barns, and churches. Our visit was in the evening (the park is open until dusk) so we could not enter any of the buildings, but in the main opening hours you will be able to inside. Demonstrations of Latvian crafts and of milling etc are given to visitors during the main opening periods.

Some catering is provided on site, and we enjoyed a good beer in a bar located within a large farmstead building, whilst a birthday party merrily tucked into a medieval style feast at long tables in an adjacent room.

April 25, 2006


Not a particularly stunning photo, I admit but it did get me into trouble.

Yes an official came across to me very upset about me taking this picture, and was threatening to confiscate the camera and all sorts.

In the end he fined me 100rubbles (about 2quid).

I am pleased to have contributed in such a major way to the security of the Russian state - how would you manage without such benefactors as me ???

April 24, 2006


Friday was grey and showery - not really a day for photography. We visited the KunstKammer (Arts Tower) where Peter the Great decided to collect a few things - such as thousands of examples of oriental culture from Eskimo aretefacts to tribal pieces from South America, Burma, the Indian sub-continent etc.

He also took a keen interest in the science of autopsy and collected many specimens of deformed foetuses such as cyclops babies, 2-headed foetus and other rather gruesome 'monsters'. These are pickled and on display in picling jars. A bit too queezy for me, but Juris is doing biology so he enjoyed it.

Afterwards we went to the Russia Museum which houses a fantastic exhibition of Russian Art from all periods (The Hermitage only holds non-Russian art). There was a temporary display of Icons of St Nicholas - quite fantastic.

The pictures are general views of SPB. The boat is the "Aurora", a shot fired on this ship started the 1917 Revolution and the first Communist state was established.


Catherine the Great decided she needed a quiet little place to be alone, so she added the Hermitage onto the end of the Winter Palace, There she could be alone - with 50 guests and 1.5million works of art !!

You can have conducted tours of the complex, and in the "out season" these will last one hour, but my tour was on the first day of the "in season" so you only get a half hour sprint. But, of course, you are free to roam around the Winter Palace, Hermitage and 'Little Hermitage' for much longer after the tour finishes. And I discovered the cheapest price of admission is to buy an excursion ticket - it is actually cheaper than buying just an admission ticket.

A word of warning though. The appeal of the Hermitage and Winter Palace is the things that line the walls and stand on exhibition, and the building itself is secondary.

In my opinion the building itself is shabby. However, I had already visited a number of other Palaces, and the Baroque Rococco styles are really not my thing; I can endure them for a little time before their gaudy excesses grate. Neo-classical is also not high on my list of things to admire because I have seen actual Classical and Italy does this kind of thing much better.

If the building is tatty, be warned that the toilets are even worse ! If you want a sit down toilet then go before you enter this museum, and if you have an upset tummy you would be better to go on a day when your constitution is robust !

My interest was in the impressionists and post-impressionists because I have hardly ever seen such works in the "real" Enjoy


Juris command of English is really very good.
But sometimes he gets things a little wrong.

I was trying to get him to remember that I was English and that all the Cyrillic notices in Russia were meaningless to me.

So I said to him "Juris, I cannot read any of these signs, please bear this in mind"

He must have misunderstood, because when I turned around this is what I saw !!!

Bad Joke.
Of course I do not condone such exploitation of young animals - and I have misgivings about what becomes of the Bear when it has outgrown its cute stage.
The Bear and handler were loitering at a well known photography point where newly wedded couples turn up with Champagne bottles for a quick photo in front of the Horseman statue.
Our 50rubbles (about 1GBP) was just one of many that the Bear "earned" in a few minutes.

April 22, 2006


The photos show the castle on the lake at Trakai.
Trakai was an old capital of Lithuania. The next capital of Lithuania was to be Kaunas.

The red brick is modern reconstruction to show how it would have looked at the time (though it would have been made of stone). It seems common to reconstruct such old buildings in this way - can you imagine rebuilding Fountains Abbey and putting a roof on it using modern red brick and red tiles. It would never be allowed here, but it does have some merit perhaps.

Juris is having a practice with a crossbow


The pictures shows the typical Wooden chalet style houses that exist in both country and town.

There is also a picture of 5-storey russian housing blocks which are universal across the Eastern Bloc. Russians built these as cheap housing because 5 floors meant that a Lift did not have to be put into the building.


We drove for 1100Km in Latvia and Lithuania.
The car was an Astra 1.6 (latest design) and I cannot fault this at all.
It was hired from Argus and booked through Car Trawler but the local Riga office were very helpful and met us in the centre of Riga with the vehicle and collected it the same way. Thanks.

I can, however, fault the roads.

In Riga centre most main roads are constructed of large stone cobbles. Usually the tram tracks are in the centre of the road where there is a pronounced crown. The road then slopes quite steeply to the kerbside and is often badly subsided. You overtake trams on the wrong side, but when they stop then you stop because passengers must cross from the pavement to the tram.

In the countryside, potholes predominate - even on main roads. Some roads are being reconstructed with EU funding, but whilst this happens you drive on the sub base !!!

Motorways only have 2lanes. There is a hard shoulder, but this doubles as entry and exit slip roads too and is used by people to undertake slower vehicles !!!. Oh and local vehicles can suddenly drive off the side of the motorway into their fields and presumably return the same way ! The central reservation is about 100feet wide and is not fitted with safety fencing at all - so nood good Shane applying for a job in the Baltic. I dont think that Jill or Derek would have much to do either !

The car is Russian (a Volga 3110) but is not typical of the country - it is CLEAN !!!

You cannot buy petrol in the Baltic, as all cars seem to run on some kind of liquid coal. But the fuel is 'Environmentally friendly' because it contains the same acrid noxious pollutants as already exsist in the atmosphere and is therefore friendly to those in the local environment. !!


Juris and I are staying at the Hotel Dostoevsky on Vladimir Prospekt just off Nevinsky Prospekt.

If you look at the pictures, the hotel seems to occupy just the final right hand 5th of the building, but in fact this is only the entrance. There are over 200 rooms on the 5th, 6th and 7th floors of this building, all looking onto an inner courtyard. In fact the floor of the courtyard is actually the roof of the 4th floor below.

The hotel opens onto the Atrium of a shopping centre containing 50 shops, several cafes and a large underground 24hour supermarket. The bar on the top floor has a glass roof giving superb views of the Vladimir church opposite.

Our hotel faces the Vladimir Metro station - so very handy.

It also faces the delightful Vladimir Church. We went to an amazing Easter (Orthodox) service at this church. In common with many churches in SPB there are no seats, there was also no music and yet a largely female managed exquisite and joyous singing to fill the vaults of this Russian-style church
Our service culminated in a candlelit procession out into the street and around the chuch - stopping traffic on this busy thoroughfare.

We booked our hotel through http://www.instantstpetersburg.com/index.xml and they also provided a full Visa service via their sister company http://www.asla.co.uk/index.shtml