A Travellerspoint blog

Riga - Rundale - Siauliai - Vilnius - Friday, 12 Sept 2014

Visit the Hill of Crosses in Siauliai

Radisson Blu Astorija Hotel

We left Riga in the rain

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and after about two hours in the bus, we stopped at Rundale Palace and had a guided tour through this beautiful country summer house. The gardens were stunning with over 30,000 rose bushes planted on the property.

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We had a light early lunch at Rundale and then continued on.

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We crossed the border into Lithuania and not long past the border we visited the Hill of Crosses at Siauliai. This is the most amazing place I have ever seen. It is hard to find the words to describe it. Apparently, back in the 19th century, Lithuanian people started putting crosses there in memory of their menfolk lost in war, and who never returned home, but the origin of how it all started is not too clear. Suffice to say, the Russians didn't like this at all, and have bulldozed the site four times and poured manure on it once. They were also talking about building a dam in the area, so the site would be flooded. But after every attempt to destroy it, the people kept coming back with their crosses. There are millions and millions. It is just the most unbelievable place. The Pope recently visited the Hill of Crosses and blessed it so I guess it is here to stay. Thank goodness.

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We continued on to Vilnius, stopping once for a snack as a roadside place.

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The weather is now clear and warming up. The county side is very rural with farm houses and lots and lots of fields. You could be driving through western New South Wales.

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We arrived at Vilnius at about 6 pm and our hotel is quite lovely. It is very old and every room is different. Ours is quite big and we are happy. Quick change and down for dinner in the hotel. Gail, Clare and I sat together, while Owen, William and Phil sat with Tim, our guide.

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After dinner, the six of us went for a walk into the main square which is just outside our front door and withdrew some local money. The weather is a bit cool, 12 degrees tonight, but it's going to be 24 degrees tomorrow.

Posted by gaddingabout 23:50 Archived in Lithuania Comments (0)

Vilnuis - Saturday, 13 September 2014

Walking tour of the Old Town, including the University, the Gates of Dawn and Vilnius Cathedral. Afternoon visit to Trakai Island Castle, sometimes referred to as Little Marienburg

sunny 24 °C

We got up a bit later today and Phil was fiddling around with internet banking, hence we were down late for breakfast and everyone was worried about us because we are usually the first there and leaving as they are coming in.

We started our city tour at 9am, some of it on the bus and some of it walking.

This is where the human chain of freedom started. People from there, but states joined hands for 600 miles to protest about their freedom. It is quite amazing what these people have endured over their life times. It is so bad.

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The Museum to Genocide Victims in Vilnuis

Then we visited the KGB Museum. What a sobering place this is and what absolute bastards they were. They were so cruel. I just can't comprehend how one human can do such horrible things to another, in the name of religion or race. Horrible. We saw the dungeons, the water torture dungeon, the solitary confinement dungeon, the place where they were all shot, thinking they were going to be released but instead taken to the kitchen, shot and then loaded on a truck and then dumped in a mass grave. Disgusting!

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Bullet holes in the walls

Back to our hotel for a quick lunch before our afternoon excursion. We went to Charlies Pizza Place. What a joke! The 20 cm pizza was too big for me so I told Phil I would share his. So he ordered a 50cm one. It was huge when it finally arrived. Meanwhile, Warren and Deb were sitting outside, trying to order some food so we invited them to share our huge pizza. The waitress wouldn't let them cancel them order. They were really unhelpful and not very friendly at all. We quickly ate our pizza and raced to the bus. Warren and Deb took theirs in a box! What an experience that was!

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Back on the bus for the 27 km trip to Troika medieval castle. It is situated on an island and is just idyllic. The weather is wonderful, 24 degrees and warm and being Saturday, all the Lithuanians were there with their families as they all live in apartments and don't have houses with yards.

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We were on our own for dinner tonight so we went to an outdoor pizza place with Clare and William. We had a very pleasant evening and are now packing for our trip to Warsaw tomorrow. Did a couple of emails that didn't go and have disappeared. The internet is not very fabulous here!

Posted by gaddingabout 21:12 Archived in Lithuania Comments (0)

Warsaw - Monday, 15 September 2014

Visit the Jewish Ghetto, monument to the Ghetto heroes, the Palace of Culture and the Chopin Memorial. Evening piano concert of Chopin music in a Manor House, followed by dinner

sunny 23 °C

I was woken this morning at about 4.45 am with Phil scratching around and then he left the room at 5 am. He came down to the internet centre in the hotel to check our bank statements and pay our Mastercard bills. All completed successfully.

On the bus for our city tour. Firstly we visited the Presidential Palace

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and then we went to a park where the Chopin Memorial was. It is really stunning and a photographer was there waiting for us to take our group photo with the memorial in the background.

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These marble benches are all over the park and when you press the button, beautiful Chopin music is played.

We continued on with the tour and visited the outside of the museum to Jewish culture.

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We then walked through the old town for quite a while. There are hardly any original buildings left after the bombings of World War Two but the whole Old Town has being restored to how it was back then. It is lovely.

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We had some free time and Gail and Owen and Phil and I had Polish dumplings for lunch. Gail and Phil had savoury ones and Owen and I had blueberry and sour cream dumplings. They were quite nice but really filling.

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Back on the bus and off to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. It was good to see and we were given walkie talkie things and wandered around on our own. We were supposed to have a guide who didn't turn up and Tim was very cross, but it probably worked better doing it on our own. Their motto goes something like this - freedom, without having to thank anyone else for it.

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I went down to the sewers and walked through a bit and when I came out there was a local standing near our guide. When he heard me speaking, he asked if I was Australian and then said that he had been laughing with his friends recently about how Australia and New Zealand are so stupid because they send troops to all the wars, wherever they are in the world. I agreed and then he asked me to thank them all when I got home, starting back as far as Gallipoli. Later, when I was telling the gang, Owen said I should have replied that thanks to us, they are now a free nation. Yes, I was a bit slow off the mark there!

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We came back to the hotel and had 45 minutes to change for our dinner excursion. We travelled on the bus for an hour into the country side where we were met by Andre with cherry brandy. The Gang scrubs up pretty well.

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Then we attended a Chopin concert for about an hour. It was fantastic and most of us bought a CD.

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Then we went into the dining hall and had a lovely traditional Polish meal, with wine and vodka and then a shot of vodka with gold flakes in it. AND I CAN STILL TYPE! Back to the hotel to get ready to leave for Berlin tomorrow.

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Phil with the chef and the waitresses.

Posted by gaddingabout 20:17 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Warsaw to Berlin - Tuesday, 16 September 2014

First Class train journey from Warsaw to Berlin

sunny 26 °C

Ritz Carlton

Bags out at 7.00 am today as they were being driven to Berlin in a van. We left the hotel at 9.00 am for the very short journey to the railway station.

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We waited for about 40 minutes for the train to Berlin. We were all in the First Class carriage, 6 to a compartment. On the bus, Tim asked if anyone wanted to sit together and we put our hands up, along with Claire and William and Gail and Owen. No one else had a preference!

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Our carriage was lovely and the train trip took five and a half hours. It wasn't a very fast train but sped along quite quickly and smoothly. The time went really quickly and we chatted and laughed the whole time. The hostess on the train came along and gave us an apple for morning tea and a free cup of tea. Gail spilt her tea on her leg and scalded it a bit. I gave her some Savlon to rub on it. Then Tim came along and gave us a bottle of champagne to share. We thought we would have to go to the dining car for lunch but our waitress said we could order our food from her which we did. I had a salad and a latte and Phil had a hamburger and a beer.

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In no time at all we arrived in Berlin at the most magnificent railway station. It is new, huge and all glass and has trains and tracks on several different
levels that you can see through the glass.

We arrived at our hotel and much to Tim's dismay, some of the rooms weren't ready. Our room was for a disabled person, with no bath, but a huge shower that you could put a wheel chair in. Phil went down to get our room changed as he wanted a view of the square so we were moved from the fourth floor to the fifth. Now we have a bath, but still no view of the street.

Before Phil went down to request a room change, he went to the loo and couldn't find the obvious flushing button, so he pushed a red button! Duh! So, while he was down in reception, someone was banging on our door, saying an alarm was going off in the toilet. What! Of course it was the RED button that Phil has pressed. Some mothers do have them!

Phil spoke to the manager and when we returned from our walk, we were moved to room 947 with a bath AND a view of the square. Happy now.

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During our walk, Tim showed us where the Berlin Wall was. You can see it from our hotel. It is that close.

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We walked to the memorial to EVERYONE who was murdered by the Germans in World War Two, ie Jews, gypsies, gays, disabled people, etc, etc. There are 2911 cement blocks and that number is not significant, it's just the number that would fit in the area.

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Then we walked on to the Brandenberg Gate. What a magnificent structure this is. It is the old entry to the city. We will go back durimg free time to take a photo when thecsun is in the right position.

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Just time for a quick change and down for dinner in the hotel. We sat with Mavis and Peter and Helen and Neil.

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Big touring day tomorrow, so going to bed early tonight.

Posted by gaddingabout 03:54 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Berlin - Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Visit the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam. Afternoon tour of Berlin to the renovated parliamentary building. Visit the Brandenburg Gate, the State Opera house, Alexander Platz, drive 'Unter den Linden' and visit the former Checkpoint Charlie.

sunny 24 °C

Ritz Carlton, Berlin - Room 947
What a great day we've had! It all started with breakfast. This hotel has the best breakfast I have ever had, anywhere. First off, in the fresh fruit section they had passionfruit. Then in the crepe section, they had crepes, chocolate crepes, french toast and pancakes. Just as well we had to be on the bus at 8.30 am because I could have stayed there for hours, just grazing. As it was, I left with a handful of smarties! Bad girl!

I am looking forward to breakfast tomorrow as we have a bit more time to enjoy it.

This is where the Prime Minister works and a lot of formal ceremonial parades are held here.

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Today was a huge day sightseeing. I took over 250 photos. We drove to Potsdam and on the way called into Sanssouci Park. This was a beautiful area with a very grand palace that belonged to Frederick. The garden was lovely too.

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Mole damage to the lawn!

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This would be ideal for my bathing requirements.

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We then visited the Unity Bridge where the East and West used to exchange spies who had been captured. Very historic place. We had one foot in the East and one foot in the West.

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Then onto Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam where Stalin, Truman and Churchill met to decide what to do with Germany after World War Two. It was a most interesting place and hugely historic. Unfortunately, our guide said it wasn't worth paying to take photos inside so we didn't buy a permit. What dills we were. It was hugely historic and obviously meant more to our generation than younger ones.

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The weather is fabulous and we are loving Berlin. It is amazing.

We were driven back to the city and dropped off for lunch in front of a department store called KaDeWe. We went straight to the sixth floor where the food hall was to have our lunch. Just wow! You think the food hall in Harrods in London, well this is 10 times better than that. Everything is so fresh and shiney. We just wandered around with our jaws on the ground. We had lovely fresh rolls for lunch and then Phil found the meatball section and had a meatball and mustard on fresh bread.

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This guy gave us a free sample of the chocolates he was making, so we bought a small sample pack.

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Back on the bus to continue our city tour. We stopped at the only section of the Berlin Wall that is left. What a horrible time that was.

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On the way to the wall, we walked over this circle on the ground, and with the vibration of the feet, little bells rings intermittently. It is really quite fun.

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We then went to Parliament House, which just like ours, the security gaining entry was very strict. We all had to have our passports with us. We had to stay together in our group because we were given VIP entry privileges but jamming 20 of us in a tiny lift was a bit much, especially for Gail who suffers from claustrophobia. Anyway, we arrived at the restaurant at the top and proceeded to have afternoon tea, with tea and coffee and apple and cherry crumble. When are we ever going to stop eating?

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After that we had some free time to walk up the top of the glass dome. What an amazing engineering feat. These Germans sure know how to do things precisely. It was very hot up the top under the glass but we all took some amazing photos.

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Back to the hotel by 5pm, for a little rest and then to get ready for our Farewell Dinner at the Marriott Hotel, two minutes walk away. We quickly went across the road to see another amazing roof over an eating area which Phil had found the night before.

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This is the doorman at the Ritz Carlton in Berlin, John.

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After dinner, we all congregated on the footpath outside the Marriott and Phil made a little thank you speech to Tim for looking after us so well on our Baltic States tour. Then time to say goodbye to William and Claire who are leaving very early in the morning. They have been a great couple to travel with. We had a lot of laughs.

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This car is all electric and it doesn't cost anything to plug it in and charge it up. People "buy" a share in the car and are issued with a card that gives them entry to the car. Then, on their iphones, they can see where available cars are and to use them it costs 32 cents a minute.

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Posted by gaddingabout 01:10 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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