The Baltic States

The Baltic States:  hemmed in by Russia and Poland, finally achieved Independence in 1991.

Riga town monument


The 3 individual  States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been overrun by foreign Invaders  since the 2nd century B C.


In Riga this monument became a symbol of peace and freedom.


We were amazed at the countries  growing enthusiasm and independence in less than 25 years! Because of the travel fatigue, I had reserved the Hotel Jelgava, Latvia, and  basically head for Lithuania tomorrow.

Hotel Jelgava, Latvia


A beautiful site with river walking trails alongside…and we did. Our legs reviving, we walked through the reconstructed city center. A few of the bombed buildings (Germans) were strategically replaced with walking paths and much greenery. The riverside had coffee shops and rental boats.

Back to our hotel and the lovely bar for dinner.


And of course the bar is more comfortable than the dining room when you are sliding off your seat or nodding off! (It’s acceptable.)  The door to the outside patio opened to a tree loaded with multi colored birdhouses and many small “cheeps”.


The Germans had destroyed much of the city during WW II. The Hotel Jelgava had reorganized after the war: the first floor and top floor were rented to businesses, while the 2nd and 3rd  were hotel rooms.  And it all worked very smoothly.

The next morning on our drive to Vilnius, Lithuania, we spotted a sign for the Hill of Crosses.


We parked and approached the shrine. Later, from what we could find,  it was a pre-Christian site  in the 13th century and evolved as a place of worship.  The Russians saw it as a symbol of Lithuania’s Independence and destroyed it.

Hill of Crosses

The natives continued to add crosses to the hill—-and this is what we saw climbing the steps. There were many different religious symbols. What courage and tenacity these people had!

Pope John’s benediction of Lithuania and these sites in 1993 certainly strengthened their  power as both a destination for locals and pilgrims.

Continuing to Vilnius, Mike drove for 3 hours while I slept. We didn’t stop until the Island Castle of Trakai.


Coffee first then we walked the wooden bridge to the castle. This site, surrounded by water,  was a real detriment to the 13th and 14th century attackers, particularly in the Battle of Grunewald against the Teutonic Knights in 1410.



I took this blurry picture inside the castles original church, the only room that was unscathed in the many battles.


The entrance courtyard. The bottom half of the walls was the original.


Most castles have moats and this was the original with the bottom half composed of older stones and newer reconstruction above. They simply eliminated the wall between.  Ironically Trakai  was destroyed during the 1665 Russian invasion but the ruins attracted the attention of the many artists during the National Revival. Then in the 1950’s, the Soviets sanctioned the reconstruction of the Monument!

On through the maze of traffic in Vilines, Luthania, and finding our Hotel.  Mike finally called to a youth on a motorcycle stopped next to us. “Follow me” he said, “it’s just beyond the Cathedral.”

Vilnius Cathedral

Confusion as we approached the maze of pedestrian streets. The traffic stopped again and Mike called out to another youth about our Hotel Atrium’s location. The young man not only found the street but also where we could park!   (We are indebted to Luthania and the “toys” ….and English…of their youth that helped two old far… find their way.”

And we found our way to the hotel!


THE BALTIC STATES   part II next week


About carolinebotwin

Caroline Botwin and her husband Mike are retired educators who have always had a yen for travelling: he with a PH.D and teaching Architectural Engineering plus California wine education, and she having taught high school English, speech and drama. Both wanted to learn first hand about other cultures. While Mike predominately studied buildings and structures and met with winemakers, Caroline hunted for ancient sites and peoples. And kept journals of all their travels.
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