We, in the west, know so little about these tiny Baltic republics and the struggles they have been through. The most heart-rending visits of my stay in Vilnius have been to the Soviet KGB museum, housed in the very building where tens of thousands were tortured and shot, and the Jewish Holocaust museum. Lithuania had, before the last war, the largest population of Jews in Europe (over 200,000), and 95% of them were exterminated. Known as the Paneriai massacre, in the absence of extermination camps, they were simply taken to the forest and shot, and buried in a mass grave.
Since 1991 and the fall of Soviet communism, Lithuania has been reborn, it has regained its strong identity as a nation, switched its alphabet from the imposed cyrillic back to the roman, and made the Lithuanian language (related to Sanskrit) the only official language of state. Many victories in so short a time. And it has also joined NATO, the EU and Eurozone……a veritable ‘earthquake’ of change.
A very informative and entertaining guided tour of the city centre introduced us to a tiny ‘republic’ within a Republic…. grandiosely called the Republic of Uzipio,
which has its own written constitution stating things like “Everyone has the right to die….but it’s not obligatory”. And even has its own foreign ambassadors, like the ‘ambassador of the debatable land between Scotland and England’. They celebrate independence day on April 1st (April Fool’s Day, of course),
when this fountain runs with free beer for an hour on the day. I could tell you much much more, but you’ll have to come and see it for yourself. So there, get on yer bike….
Should you ever come to Lithuania (and I would heartily recommend it), you’ll find their two national dishes are Burokeliu Sriuba (cold beetroot soup), and not to be confused with Borscht (which is Russian)….
….and Cepelinai (Zeppelins), potato dumplings filled with pork, and dressed with a sour cream sauce. Both very filling and delicious. Yet another reason to come to Lithuania…..
Oh, and by the way, the occasional parliament that is held by the Republic of Uzipio takes place in a bar, now known as the ‘Barliament‘ …..and when the constitution is officially translated into yet another language (some 28 in total, including Gaelic) there is an official public celebration…..which, apparently, happened today.
If you measure distances in kilometres (as I do), does a ‘milestone’ become a ‘pierre de kilo’ or a ‘kilostone’? Whatever…. I just passed one anyway. Nothing momentous……piffling to be honest….hardly worth mentioning….but I’ll mention it anyway. Before the simple analogue computer on my handlebars reverts back to zero on my total distance so far on this ride, I captured the moment of being just 10 metres short of 1000km on this little jaunt across northern Europe. I hope you are suitably impressed…..
….but it is only the start. There’s a few more kilometres still to do. Not yet having a fixed destination, which could be Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, or some other, yet to be discovered, finishing point, plans can change. Unlike all my other jaunts around the world, when I’ve had a pre-booked return flight ticket in my pocket, I have no idea yet of how I will get back home….or from where. This is a bid to encourage my brain to develop new thinking patterns, and work with more open-ended possible outcomes.
Now, a question for you to consider: if you saw this road sign on your travels, what would you make of it?
Being a native English speaker, I immediately thought of ‘black spot’….but what do Lithuanians mean by it? Then I saw this explanation further along the road:
…I checked it on a translation app, and it came up with ‘accidental roses‘…close enough? Well, not quite, it turns out the app can’t handle the accent on the z so it changes the meaning completely….and yes, it does mean in Lithuanian ‘accident black spot’. So I was expecting to see little roadside memorials to people who have lost their lives in accidents….but not one.
I stopped for a rest by a bus shelter, and Gunteras came over to make conversation but we had little language in common.
His generation had been made to learn Russian under the Soviet occupation, but anyone born post-independence in 1991 would have learned English. So the moral of this little tale is, if you have a question, ask an under thirty year old….they all have an excellent level of English. So to make up for the lack of a common language, I showed him photos on my phone, and he produced a small bottle of vodka….I tried to tell him it was against my ‘religion’ but he wouldn’t have understood me.
So into Vilnius where I will be hosted for two nights by a Lithuanian family….again members of Warmshowers, the hospitality group run by cyclists for cyclists.
I was awoken by water fowl on the nearby pond at 6am and thought I could just hear the first spots of rain on the tent……this got me into action immediately, forlornly rushing to strike camp before it was too late. However, I did a pretty good job without getting too wet, then watched the rain teem from a nearby bus shelter. Watching heavy rain from a bus shelter at 6.30am is not everybody’s definition of fun…..but we adventure cyclists are built of strong stuff….er, aren’t we?
It then continued to rain gently for the rest of the morning….quite pleasant really, especially now the wind had dropped and my average speed had risen by at least 5km per hour. But it was one of those days when I looked for meaning in unusual signage by the road. Like this, for example……what do you think it represents? (No cheating with Google images now…)
…and this. The question I need answering is this: if traffic speed is being reduced to 110kph (70mph), then what is the normal maximum speed on a dual carriageway? It could of course, be unrestricted…
At 4pm, with a 101km on the clock, it was time to do a recce for another stealth pitch around the tiny village of Musninkai, about 40km to the north of Vilnius…..and I found this corner of their church yard….
…..but I checked on the church door beforehand for mass times and, with the help of my translation app, I worked out it’s 9am in the morning. I hope to be some 20km down the road when the opening prayer is recited.
But a word of warning if you like to stealth camp…..beware of choosing a spot with a life-size statue nearby….you see, when you get up for a pee in the night, you’ve forgotten it’s there…..in my comatose state, I saw this human outline in the dark and it scared me witless…so now, this morning, he’s very kindly helping to dry my tent.