Discover the World

The Bohemian Rhapsody- Lithuania

If you tell me you’ve always known that Lithuania was once the largest country in Europe, I would call you a dirty liar, or maybe I would feel extremely bitter because you might be smarter than me. Of course, back then in the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania also included Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Russia and Poland. Today, the Republic of Lithuania is only the size of West Virginia.

From one coastal city to another, I took a bus from Liepaja, Latvia to Klaipeda, Lithuania. I prioritized Klaipeda over Vilnius because I absolutely wanted to see the Curonian Spit (more on that.) I found the city itself a little sleepy and more family-oriented. The two ports, one for passenger transportation, the other for vehicles were pretty crowded. Klaipeda is also slightly closer to the Hill of Crosses; another must-see site, than Vilnius, making it a good stop for a few day trips.

Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses or Kyrziu Kalnas in Lithuanian, is a Christian pilgrimage site near the city of Siauliai. It is one of the biggest attractions of Lithuania. The practice of leaving crosses and religious symbols started in the 19th century by Catholic pilgrims and today the hill has over 300,000 crosses. Lithuania was the last country in Europe to accept Christianity and over 70 percent of the population today identify as Catholics, but Christians across the world of different denominations come and leave their crosses as well. This place really is something else and it is worth a day trip if you find yourself in Klaipeda, Vilnius or Riga. Just take a train to Siauliai and then a 20 minute bus dropping you just outside the hill, and if you’re a believer yourself, you can purchase a small cross, put your name and message on it and leave your mark.

 

Nida, Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit is a sand dune spit separating the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Coast. Just imagine a thin long island separating two bodies of water. Pictured is a sand dune in the town of Nida and its surroundings. My amateurish photo skills do not do this place justice, its beauty can only be fully absorbed being there in person. When you’re on top of the dunes and you see the vast sandy land ahead of you with open water, it makes you tear up.

 

Curonian Spit, Ship
Overlooking the western side of the spit, a ship sails on the Baltic Coast. The northern part of the spit lies in Lithuania while the south is part of the Russian exclave; Kaliningrad Oblast. Without a Russian visa i had no access to the south but I heard the northern part is better anyway.

It was in Lithuania that I engaged more with local food due to the larger availability of non-tourist traps. It was also here that I learnt Baltic people love potatoes. Potato pancakes, pudding, dumplings etc. are served almost anywhere that sells food and they’re always among the cheapest main courses. Prices have gone up in the Baltic states since they adopted the Euro (Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014, Lithuania in 2015) as their national currencies. Much like how some Singaporeans like spending in Malaysia, some Lithuanians are heading down south to Poland (where they still use the Polish Zloty) to do their shopping. With my journalist math, I believe a cheap meal at a restaurant without a drink costs approximately €8.00, so it’s still hardly the most expensive region in Europe.

smoked fish
Smoked fish in Nida. Very cheap and good with a pint. There are many joints in Nida that sells this. I took very few photos of food, this is 1 of 2.

 

Cepelinai
Cepelinai, or zeppelin in English (because of the shape) is a national dish. Simply put, they’re potato dumplings stuffed with meat (or anything else) eaten with sour cream and bacon bits. The first few bites were a little weird for me because of the texture but it grew on me. I still prefer blynai though, which are potato pancakes. No bullshit, just pancakes made of potatoes. This is 2 of 2.

I found Lithuania to be a little more bohemic and free-spirited than its Baltic neighbors, not least due to the young artists living in Vilnius, the establishment of the Republic of Uzupis neighborhood and the fanaticism revolving around their national basketball team. Yes, they are crazy about basketball, some people call it a religion. This is particularly notable considering Lithuania is surrounded by footballing nations.

Magical Mouse, Klaipeda
“The Magical Mouse” of Klaipeda. The words surrounding the band says “turn your ideas into words, words will become magic.” It is said that if you whisper your wishes into the ear of the mouse, they will come true.

 

Kaunas
A little tribute paid to Lithuanian basketball in Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania.

 

Republic of Uzupis
Have your heard of Freetown Christiana in Copenhagen? The Republic of Uzupis in Vilnius is of a similar concept but with less controversy. This “country” has its own constitution and parliament (a pub.) It is a popular neighborhood for young artists and some of their works can be seen along the river and on the walls making up the district. If you bring your passport to the tourist information centre, you can get an “official” stamp on it.

 

Street art, Vilnius
Street art in Vilnius, near the bus station. I’m sure you recognize the two subjects on the right, they’re good friends. Here they’re sharing a joint.

 

Uzupis egg
This colorful egg used to be erected in the centre of Uzupis, but it is now replaced by a statue of an angel blowing a horn. The egg now stands in another part of Vilnius.

Of course, being part of Eastern Europe, the country had seen its fair share of tragedies. It was the first nation to declare independence from the USSR; fifty years after its annexation. Like its neighbors, Nazis temporarily drove the Soviets away during World War II to impose their own brand of cruelty, culminating in the Paneriai massacre, where 100,000 people were killed in the span of 3 years.

Paneriai Memorial
Perhaps the most chilling place I visited. This pit was a mass grave in Paneriai, a site of 100,000 killings by the Nazis. Today it is part of the Paneriai Memorial Museum. Towards the end of WWII, Germany realized they were going to lose the war, and in a desperate attempt to hide their wartime atrocities, Hitler and other Nazi leaders called for the SS to dispose and burn all bodies at sites of mass murder. Slave workers were ordered to dig pits, pile up bodies of their peers and cremate them. The ladder was a tool used to slide bodies into the pit. I visited on a rainy day, there was hardly anybody else there, it was eerily quiet, but it allowed me to take in and imagine how the place felt like in 1942. It must have been similarly quiet except for the sounds of gunshots, dragging and burning. I could feel the sense of dread, I felt encapsulated by the forest, but it was nothing compared to what the victims felt back then, they must have knew they were never getting out alive. The museum is located 30 minutes outside Vilnius, I believe it’s just one of those places people should go to once in life to see for themselves, and to vow never to let something like this happen again.

 

Paneriai stone
A memorial stone at Paneriai. Flowers bloom around as if they’re signifying a new lease of life here. On the background, train tracks lead the way out of the Paneriai forest.

It is unavoidable that I would write about the Holocaust and WWII having visited this part of Europe. The Nazis left everlasting damage to these countries and the crimes they committed should never be forgotten, not only to prevent any future recurrences but also to remember how strong our powers of recovery can be. That being said, let’s end this post on a high note as I describe a couple of the better photos I took in Lithuania not already posted.

Trakai Castle
Trakai Island Castle, a 14th century castle 30 minutes away from Vilnius. Some parts fell into disrepair and were reconstructed in the 19th century. It is now a museum and a huge tourist attraction. I was very happy to be able to capture the blooming lotuses.

 

Ladybug in Vilnius
This ladybug caught my eye as I went for a panoramic view of Vilnius. It reminded me that summer had truly begun.

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About

Hoi Mun Yee in Prizren
I posed on the old bridge in Prizren, Kosovo.

Origin of my Interest

22 year-old journalism and anthropology graduate from Drake University, IA, USA. I dedicate this site to my travel experiences and photos as I begin my journey to become an expert globe trekker. My interest in travelling began with my family as I boarded a plane for the first time at the age of five, going to Bangkok, Thailand and later that year to Queensland, Australia.

Slowly Covering the Globe

As of right now, I have been to 34 countries throughout the world. Only recently have I discovered the joyous experience of travelling alone as I was away from my family in Malaysia. I solo traveled for the first time in the Summer of 2016 when I took a 36 hour bus ride to Boston and then a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. It was the experience of a lifetime and I decided to turn my travels into stories, writing journals about little anecdotes, people I met, food I ate, embarrassing things I did and much more. I acknowledge my privilege of being able to afford to travel and do what so many people cannot afford to, that is why I am keen to share my experiences with people.

I like telling stories through photos, but rarely with photos of myself. I don’t believe I should be an integral part of my stories, the experiences should be, the scenery should be, the locals should be. Carrying nothing but a backpack with me, hopping from bus to bus, hostel to hostel, I have many interesting and even scary moments from my travels I’d like to share, and of course tips of saving money, food, accommodation, and transportation with other travelers.

Personal Milestones

Since I was still a full-time student, I had not been able to plan super long trips from one part of the world to another. The most intense journey I did was spending six months in the poorest region of Europe, studying, working and exploring. I spent three months in Belgrade, Serbia as a foreign student studying the effects of modern-day war in the Balkans.

For another month, I lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina to document the underprivileged lives of the Roma people. I also worked as an intern for one of the most popular independent online media in the young nation of Kosovo, covering various issues and events as my job took me from one end of the small country to the other. In between, I explored Romania, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey. Expect stories from these places, and more!

In January 2018, to escape the bitter Iowan winter, I spent a long week in the island nation of Cuba. That was the most difficult trip I have made as a solo traveler because of the language barrier and also the low accessibility to technology.