Via Rundale and Hill of Crosses
Rather than going straight to Vilnius (an approx 4.5 hour drive/bus journey) we made a full day of it, stopping first at Rundale Palace, built for the Dukes of Courland by the Italian-born architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (whose works include the Winter Palace in St Petersburg) in his trademark late Baroque style. Last time I was here we only had enough time to take a walk around the gardens, this time, we took the long route tour inside. Pro tip – choose the short route, there’s nothing much additional of interest to be seen on the long route, save the €2 and 20 minutes. If you’ve been to Schoenbrunn in Vienna, you’re unlikely to be blown away. If not, then it’s worth a look. The gardens are very pleasant, not quite in bloom enough as it was early May but still worth a 20-30 minute meander to stretch your legs.
Back in the van, our driver got us mildly lost by following his incorrectly set GPS after we crossed into Lithuania on the way to Hill of Crosses, which everyone judged a must-see. An estimated 400,000 crosses (add your own from as little as €1) atop a mound in the middle of a field. Told like that it doesn’t sound so impressive but the tradition started in the 1800s and in Soviet times when religion was oppressed, this is a poignant reminder of the ways the Lithuanians quietly rebelled against their occupiers.
With everyone bordering on hangry, I improvised a food stop – there’s not much around and we wanted to get to Vilnius quickly so a lengthy sit-down meal was out of the question – we scored by far the cheapest meal of the trip. Close by, just on the edge of the town of Siaulai Google Maps showed me a Hesburger (Finnish burger chain that serves burgers that bear an uncanny resemblance to those served up by the scary clown guy’s empire) located in a shopping mall. The mall was an experience in itself. The ‘no photography’ signs at the entrance should have tipped us off really. It was a mostly furniture mall, with some serious 80s/90s retro pieces. One day this will be cool like the 50s-70s is. Not yet though. Anyway back to the Hesburger. I usually can’t resist having one at least once per trip to the Baltics. They must have been running some kind of two-for-one offer as meal combos for all 7 of us added up to less €15.96. Bargain!