Hill of Three Crosses, Vilnius

Being Good Friday I thought it would be appropriate to write about the Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius, Lithuania.

IMG_1226

The hill is known locally as Plikasis kanas (Bleak Hill) is found in Kalnai Park.. Crosses have always been popular on this hill. Local legend states that this was the spot where seven Franciscan friars were beheaded. They had been guilty of preaching the bible and putting down the local gods.

In the 17th century to commemorate this wooden crosses were erected. It was soon to be visual highlight of Vilnius. The problem with wood is that it rots away in time and in 1869 the crosses collapsed. Eventually in 1916 they were replaced with a new monument made of concrete. It was designed by Antoni Wiwulski.

In 1950 the Soviet authorities torn down the monument much to the anger of the local residents. The monument was rebuilt during the period when Lithuania was looking for independence from the Soviet Union. The new monument was unveiled on 14 June 1989.

P1030863

The best reason I give to visit the monument is that you get great views of Vilnius. I would recommend that you visit as dusk starts to bring in nightfall. My visit was in September 2014. It is a climb but once you get to see the views it is well worth the effort.

P1030865

I would recommend a visit to the Hill of Three Crosses. It is a perfect place to come and reflect.

P1030858

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Coventry Cathedral (Cathedral Church of St. Michael)

On 14 November 1940 the launched 'Coventrate'. The target was to destroy the city of Coventry. As well as killing over 800 people it destroyed various areas of the city. The most famous building destroyed was the Cathedral Church of St. Michael. Dating from the 14th century all that remained was the shell of the cathedral.

The new cathedral was designed by Basil Spence. He decided against rebuilding the destroyed cathedral but build the new one along side. The new cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962.

Walking around the ruins on a cold Sunday morning gave off a eerie atmosphere. However, rather than left feeling sad I was left feeling hopeful. The theme of the ruins is reconciliation. Did you know that during World War II Coventry became a twin city with Stalingrad in solidarity with the Red Army defending the city. One of the items worth seeing inside the ruins is the wooden cross.

Originally constructed from two wooden beams that were found lying on the floor a replica is now on permanent display. There is another cross made from three nails from the original roof. Another cross of nails was sent to the Kaiser Wihelm Memorial Church in Berlin as a act of reconciliaton.

Overall the cathedral is worth spending time to visit. A good place to come and gather your thoughts.

For further details visit http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Day 11, 18 September – Everything Comes Together

This morning the weather looked more promising, time to explore Sarajevo properly. After a good breakfast in the hostel I made my way towards the historic centre.

My first stop was the Gallery 11/07/95. It is dedicated to Sebrenica massacre. I found this to me moving. The gallery tells the story of the events leading up to the massacre and why it happened. Watching the film I ended up feeling ashamed that the Western powers did not do more to stop this. It was clear what the Serbs wanted to do. Mladic even said that the Muslims were going to pay. The most heartbeaking moment was the scene where a woman was told that they were 99.994% sure they had found her husband's remains. A Japanese girl who was also watching just broke down in tears.

Moving on to the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque I needed to reflect on what I had seen. I could do with cheering up. At this point I bumped into Timo and Ahmed who I had met in Mostar. Ahmed is a bit of a legend as he had jumped the bridge in Mostar. He mentioned that others from the hostel had made their way to Sarajevo. Feeling somewhat better I decided to explore the city further by walking round in a circuit. I was not paying too much attention on where I was going. I was just happy to be ambling around.

Yesterday the bad weather had prevented me from joining the free walking tour. As the weather was better I thought I'd best check it out. As usual I was there too early but I did not mind. While waiting I saw a couple of familar looking figures. It was the German couple from Mostar. They introduced me to Ryan from Northern Ireland. While waiting more familar faces appeared. These were the girls from Ireland. We caught up with each other while we were on the tour. One of the girls had received some good about passing her law exams. So a night out was agreed.

Back at the hostel I bumped into another person I met in Mostar. She was from Korea. Today was getting better. While waiting to leave the hostel we starting talking to a couple of guys from France. We were getting on well and they started to share the red wine with us. It went down well so we asked them to join us on the night out and they accepted.

We all met up at the girl's hostel. It had a bar which we could use. Sadly, it had ran out of beer so we ended up drinking white wine and rakia. I am sure that this is not going to do me any good at all.

We made our way to the Hacienda Bar where we met up with Timo and Ahmed. It was too crowded so we went to the Blues Bar. This was more like it. Live music and a great atmosphere, what more could a man ask for in life? Drank too much and after a bite to eat staggered back to the hostel.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 7, 14 September – Time To Think About Pastures New

I decided that I should purchase my coach ticket to Mostar. It was going to be an early start tomorrow so it was best to prepare. It was another scorching day so it gave me the perfect excuse to walk into town.

What I like about Dubrovnik is the quietness. There was hardly a soul about but it did not bothered me. The walk to the coach station took me past the cruise ship port. Until you see one for real you do not realise the size of them. It is the cruise ships that keep Dubrovnik going.

Cruise ship making its way to port.

I purchased my coach ticket to Mostar and made my way back to the hostel. I wanted to avoid the old town on Saturday afternoon. It was full of the cruise ship crowd. So I decided to venture out of town in the other direction. Again I was away from the crowds. This was going to be a quiet day. Tomorrow was going to be an early start. It felt good to be away from the bustle of the old town. The further I walked the quieter everything became. This was the first time in a week that I could gather my thoughts.

Eventually I turned back and returned to the old town. As it was quieter than first thought I decided to take in some of the sights. Firstly I went inside an art gallery and museum. The gallery was nothing spectacular. Dedicated to a local artist it was more of a shop than gallery. More interesting was the exhibition that was dedicated to replicas of documents charting the history of Dubrovnik.

Next up was War Photo Limted. It was a photography exhibition. Not just dedicated to the conflict of 20 years ago, there were also photos from conflicts in Africa and Asia. It was thought provoking and it was the first time that I had been reminded of the conflict.

My final museum was the Memorial Room of the Defenders of Dubrovnik. While it was small I found it to be moving and humbling. I saw photos of those who died while defending the city. While reading the signs it became clear from the language used that it will take a long time before there will be any forgiveness.

Looking at the photos of the city after the siege and then walking out into the plaza you would not be able to tell that anything happened. This maybe the biggest tribute I can give the city.

As the sun started to go down I made my way up to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As I climbed the steps I could hear the sound of bagpipes. They get everywhere. As I reached the top I could see a wedding party coming out of the church. The men looked stylish and the women beautiful, not that I know anything about fashion. As I made my way back down I could hear singing and music. More guests were arriving for the celebrations. It was a beautiful sight to see. It is not something I would see in the UK. This is why I travel. Tomorrow Mostar beckons.

Ticket to Ride

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 4, 11 September – Wet, Wet, Wet.

An early start to the trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The highlight of this trip for me will be going under a waterfall. I am not sure about jumping into a pool. All of this I believe is strictly illegal. However, Josko knows a way of doing this without getting caught.

The weather looked beautiful as we pulled away from the hostel. The scenery looked stunning. I was looking forward to this despite worrying about the cost. To reach the park it will take about three hours so I took the opportunity to get forty winks.

As I woke up the van was about to enter a tunnel. Once we came out the other side the weather had changed. It looked colder and it was now raining. We were climbing into the mountains. Wearing a t-shirt and shorts does not seem a good idea anymore. Once we arrived it was obvious that the group were looking like a bunch of unprepared tourists. I was fortunate to purchase a waterproof poncho from Poundland before I left the UK. While it felt cold once we started to move it soon started to warm up.

Me & my poncho

The park itself is beautiful. With all the waterfalls and mountains it simply took my breath away. There were plenty of photo opportunities. Even if we looked a little foolish with our posing. The park itself was popular with visitors despite the weather. So progress along the paths was slow. There was a crossing of the lake by boat which gave us the chance to rest our legs.

Natural Posing

When we reached the other side Josko took us to one side. Our fun was about to start here. First stop was the waterfall. There were no park rangers around which Josko saw as a good sign. We then reached the waterfall. The instruction was to remove your shoes and run into the waterfall where Josko would take a photo and we would run straight out. It was too cold to remove the shirt. It was a experience to tick off the bucket list. Sadly, no photo ever turned up.

Next up was the jump into the lake. I declined due to not being a good enough swimmer. Last thing I wanted was to drown especially as we were technically breaking the law.

After everybody had dried off we took a bus that took us to the caves. Every time I have travelled I always pack a torch but never felt the need to use it. That is until now. The cave experience was good. We carried on walking where we had one last chance for a photo opportunity that took my breath away.

Inside the caves

We left the park in mid-afternoon. After a hearty weel deserved lunch we made our way to the town of Knin. The main sight is the castle which was held by the Serbs during the war. Josko's mood changed when we got there. He was not as jolly. It was the reminder I needed that while the war had finished nearly twenty years ago, the scars will take a long time to heal.

The walls of Knin Castle

We arrived back at the hostel at around 7pm. The weather had turned, you could feel the thunder and lightning in the air. A group of us wanted some beer and snacks to enjoy back at the hostel. As we were on our way to the store the heavens opened. It rained hard and I was soon looking like a drowned rat. The things I will do for a beer. Overall, it was an excellent final day in Split. Tomorrow I leave for Dubrovnik.

Beautiful. The backdrop, not me.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 2, 9 September – My Feet Are Not Touching The Ground

The coach pulled into Victoria Coach Station at around 1am. It was only an hour and ten minutes late. Still meant that I had missed my connecting coach to Gatwick Airport. There was another coach due to leave at 1:30. The driver said there was plenty of room but I had to get my ticket changed first. This was done easy enough and soon I was on my way to the airport. As much as I tried to get some sleep I was feeling too excited to settle down.

Arriving into the airport gave me the first chance to relax. Maybe arriving an hour later was a blessing in disguise as I spent less time waiting around in Gatwick. After drinking a cup of coffee to help keep me awake I checked in my rucksack. Typically it was classed as oversized. Time to wait for a member of staff to come and take it off me. After getting through check-in I was fighting to keep myself awake while I waited to board the flight. It was 4:00 and the duty free shops were opening. What a time to start work.

The flight to Split went smoothly. I must admit to not being one of the world's greatest flyers. Flew by Easyjet and it was not too bad considering it was my first experience with them. After collecting my rucksack Josko from the Split Guesthouse was there to take me to the hostel. Talking to him gave me the impression that he seemed a decent person bad I was going to enjoy my stay at the hostel.

Upon arriving Josko went out of his way to introduce me to everybody in the hostel. After a quick shower and change of clothes I was ready to hit the town. Charles from Canada suggested that I could tag along with him, Pavel, Manfred and Jeanette. Manfred was going home later that day so we wandered into the old town.

Pavel, Manfred, Charles & Jeanette
Pavel, Manfred, Charles & Jeanette

It was busy as it was lunchtime so we decided to climb the Bell Tower of St. Domnius. A tight climb but once at the top you are rewarded with excellent views of the city and harbour. Walking along the waterfront with Manfred we were stopped by reporters from RTL. They asked Manfred for his thoughts on Split. I was waiting for my turn but alas they ignored me. Another bid for stardom thwarted.

One of the many splendid views of Split.

Walking back towards the hostel it was suggested that we should hire bicycles for the afternoon. Somehow I agreed it was a good idea. So I paid 40kn for four hours. I had forgotten that I had not ridden a bike in over ten years. Yes, it is true you never forget how to ride one. Good job we were going downhill and the roads were quiet. Soon we were at the beach. A large beer was called for. Maybe this was not the greatest idea as I had not eaten since 1am. I was surprised that I could keep control of the bike.

Manfred suffered a problem when the chain on his bike snapped. Manfred, Charles and Pavel were looking for a cliff to jump off. There were plenty of them, the problem was how to climb back up. Manfred took his bike back while the rest of us went to find somewhere to eat. Josko had recommended the Fife as a popular and cheap place to eat. I ordered a local variation of Bangers and Mash. It tastes excellent and it had been well earnt.

Bangers & Mash - Croatian Style

The afternoon had been great fun but it was soon time to return the bikes. One tip when hiring a bicycle, make sure you know your route back. We ended up having carry the bikes up a load of stairs.

My Trusty Steed

Back at the hostel Josko treated everybody with a bottle of Absolute Vodka to share amongst us. Joined by a Australian and Welsh couple we were enjoying the vodka along with some beer. At 11pm it was decided we would venture into the old town to find some bars. It was a enjoyable night. The bars themselves were only a small room but the atmosphere was perfect. Even though I started to flag a little towards the end, it had been a great first day of my trip. Hopefully, the shape of things to come.

Thanks for a great night

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

I’m Back

I have been back from my Balkans trip for a few days. This has given me time to reflect on the effect it has had on me. My colleagues at work have all noticed that I could not wipe the smile off my face. It was down to having the greatest of times while travelling.

I was grateful to work for allowing me to take three weeks off in the first place. This allowed me for the first time to plan a multi-destination trip. I had always wanted to visit the old Yugoslavia.

The trip itself went better than I had expected. From day 1 I met some great people who took me for what I was. Indeed, there were some people who admired me for travelling solo at my age. During the whole trip I felt alive and stress free. It is definitely something I want to do more. It was the best of times. The only problem I encountered was financial. This is one of the things I can learn from for future travels.

How do I feel now the trip is over? Surprisingly better than I thought. Last year when I returned from Prague and Bratislava I found myself bursting into tears. Now, I feel different. Maybe it is because I am a more experienced travellers. Also I felt a sense of achievement with my latest trip. It is said if you can survive a three week journey then the next step will be to undertake a longer trip. My dream is to take a long time away from work and go on a trip lasting six months or longer.

I am feeling more confident. Solo travel gives you that feeling as you have to think a lot on your feet. Meeting new people is something I feel difficult at home, yet this is not problem when travelling. After all we have something in common. Travel is the glue that binds us together. I like to feel that I have gained a level of respect from my work colleagues. They cannot stop talking to me about my trip.

What have I learnt for my next trip? The main lesson will be to be more flexible with my itinerary. I will have a starting and finishing location. This will give me the freedom to plan my destinations. Also I lave learnt not to be in one place for too long. I averaged three nights in each location. In hind site it could have been two and I could have seen more. Allow time to write my journal, update the blog and catch up on my emails. I had been lazy so I am catching up with myself.

To finish I would like to thank everybody who I have met during the trip. It has made my time more special. I wish you all safe travels.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve