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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

17 September 2018

Flat Baltic

The Baltic is flat

The Baltic is flat

5 September 2018

In the fifteenth century, at the height of its power, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania held the largest territory in Europe. For a couple of hundred years this little country was one of the big players on the European stage. That’s good going. Our first couple of hours driving through the north of Lithuania suggests to me that the Grand Dukes may have simply felt the need to conquer some more interesting geography. Because Lithuania is flat. Flat and farmland. On and on. Even more so than the rest of the flat Baltic. Almost all the way to Vilnius.

Rundale Palace

Rundale Palace

Our first stop en route was still in Latvia, a huge country pile called Rundale Palace. Built by the architect of St Petersburg’s famous winter palace, it was very impressive even in the rain. But on balance we decided that a long ramble through rooms filled with over-the-top 18th century gilt and velvet wasn’t our desire.

Next stop was the very bonkers Hill of Crosses, which rather like Stonehenge is starting to develop tourist infrastructure disproportionate to its size. I surprised myself by finding the sheer profusion of crosses to be quite an atmospheric and moving experience, especially as it was easy to avoid the coach tour crowds by just walking a little bit further into the jumble.

Hill of Crosses

Hill of Crosses

Third stop was Kenarve, a UNESCO site due to the prehistoric hillfort remains present. To me it seems a bit of a stretch for UNESCO status, but no doubt it’s for very technical reasons. We arrived hungry but discovered that essentially there’s nothing here out of season, except for a perfectly ordinary village. Still, the little shop sold ice creams.

We hit Vilnius at four in the afternoon, the appointed hour at which our AirBnB owner showed up to hand over the key to our bomb shelter. Yes, our apartment in Vilnius is a bomb shelter. We had a mysterious message from Vytautas (the owner) last week explaining that the previous guests had broken the jacuzzi but we could have a free sauna to make up for it. Now that we’re in, it all makes sense. More details tomorrow…

After a long wander around town to discover that the highly regarded places in Vilnius really do need a booking in advance, we settled on the pretty splendid Kitchen. In the middle of town, and totally packed with locals, it was good, unfussy, modern cooking at a sensible price.

Our front door didn't inspire confidence

Our front door didn’t inspire confidence


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