As a lover of all places weird, wacky and just plain ol’ unusual, the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania was one of the first places on my bucket list. I’ve talked about how disappointed I was last year when I didn’t get to visit the Hill of Crosses from Riga, but alas, from Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, I finally made it!
The internet scared me a little when planning the route. Vilnius to Siauliai by train takes three hours. Yep, when I heard that I was kicking myself even more that I had missed out on visiting from Riga. Oh, and the situation was made worse by the fact that we had decided to visit on Lithuania’s national day of independence. This meant many of the trains and other public transport weren’t running. Still, we woke up super early and managed to catch the 7am train and napped on the way.Something to be said about Lithuanian trains. They’re slow. There were times when I was watching the countryside go by and I wondered to myself, “I could definitely drive quicker than this train. I could even cycle as fast. Could I jog quicker? You know what? I think I probably could.” Okay, I exaggerate, but Lithuanian trains are seriously slow, guys.I googled all the best ways to get to the Hill of Crosses from Siauliai train station. Walking takes two hours, so that was out of the question. As much as I love a good walk, this was two hours there and back in the snow. Yeah, it wasn’t happening. The second option was to hire a bike and cycle. If it was the summer, this would have been perfect but, you know, snow. So we had to opt for the taxi and risk getting ripped off.Our taxi driver couldn’t speak a word of English or Russian (I tried both). I was about to whip out my terrible German and Mum was prepared to use her GCSE French skills, but we managed to communicate with Google. I showed him a picture of the Hill and he replied back ‘€30’ on his notes app. Maybe that was expensive, but the guy did take us there and back and waited for us at the hill for an hour. You couldn’t get that for £100 in London.An hour at the Hill might sound like a long time. It really was just a hill with a bunch of crosses on it at the end of the day, but when you’re there, you feel the lure that you felt trying to get there in the first place. The amount of crosses was surreal. Each giant cross must have had at least a hundred mini crosses hanging off it and the mini crosses had even smaller crosses on those in the form of rosaries and pictures.There were patches of the hill where the crosses were neatly distributed and other patches where there were piles upon piles of crucifix chaos. The whole thing looked like the aftermath of a religious hoarder’s dream. If this didn’t captivate me for an hour and make me forget that my hands were frozen because I forgotten my gloves, I don’t know what did.The Hill is home to crosses from across the globe. Catholics come from all over to add their own cross to the collection. There were some ‘in memoriam’ crosses, others with dates, places, names, etc. Some were just to show their appreciation for their faith. Whilst we were there, there were a couple other visitors but they seemed to all be local, sporting national independence day badges and flags.In my eyes, the hill could only be described as ‘strange’, but that’s exactly what I loved about it. It reminded me of a forest. Sometimes the crosses were so tall and wooden, they looked like trees, sometimes you couldn’t see passed the crosses for more crosses. Sometimes the trees and crosses combined and all you could see were crosses hanging from trees. Trees, crosses, crosses, trees. I’m confusing myself.How the Hill started is a mystery, but what we do know is that the Soviet army hated the hill and destroyed it. Then, every night, people planted more and more crosses on the hill, sneaking passed the Soviet soldiers and risking their freedom and lives by doing so. Nowadays it is a place of pilgrimage for many. On the 7th September 1993 (the day before my birthday – if anyone wants to get me presents, I like plane tickets) the Pope visited. Some people consider the Hill to be the equivalent of Mecca for Catholics, second only to the Vatican.Although I would have loved seeing the Hill the first time around in Riga and despite the struggle of getting there from Vilnius, it was quite a special experience visiting Lithuania’s most popular attraction on their national independence day. After all, what better place is there to celebrate Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union?