Tag Archives: e.u.

The Great EU Quest: Latvia – Minus 9 and Feeling Fine

If it looks like I have been on a ridiculous amount of trips recently… it’s probably because I have. It’s currently December 1st and I am rounding off the year by crossing off another EU country by going on a long weekend to…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 21/28

I am getting so close to finishing off this ‘visit all the EU countries challenge’ that I have real ideas about the ways I want to cross off the remaining nations as they have entries in the Lonely Planet list. Unlike Latvia, which is the only EU country with nothing in that Top 500. But you know what, I travelled around long before this list help point me in interesting directions so I can just do it again.

Country: Latvia
Year first visited: 2018

The reason for coming to Latvia at this time of year is obvious: Christmas markets. Did I book this thinking that the weather we’d be getting would end up being -9 (-14 with windchill) on our first night? No, because who does that. Cue a bad night’s sleep before flying out and that would explain why I am so tired as I’m writing this.

Anyway, we arrived in Riga in the late afternoon after a surprisingly comfortable flight with Air Baltic (seriously, their legroom is unparalleled) and was presented with a carpet of almost fresh snow. At no point did we see in the forecast that we would be arriving to snow, which really is a tonic for many a cold weather blues. Unless you’re commuting to work, then snow is the work of the devil.

Our hotel for this short trip is in the Old Town and our room came with a pretty spectacular view of Riga Cathedral. Tomorrow will be the time for a proper exploration for this area, but as we hadn’t exactly had any lunch – an early dinner was imperative. I’d found a place in Riga called Zivju Lete that would net me a food item, so this felt like a good choice.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Lamprey
Progress: 767/1001

Right, so this wasn’t the food item I was talking about. When we got the menus, and had taken off three layers of clothing to prevent heat exhaustion, I noticed that this place offered lampreys as a starter. To be honest, as hungry as I was, I hadn’t come here with the intention of having a starter.

If you know what a lamprey is then you might have felt slightly apprehensive at trying out these blood sucking eel-like fish once favoured by British kings. I probably should have been more squeamish, but it’s amazing what some good dark rye bread can help with.

The lamprey, as presented in jelly, flaked really easily and had a spine that had become somewhat jellified in the preparation process. The taste was somewhere between freshwater eel and tinned salmon. Meaty and worked well with the dark rye bread. Makes me wonder what they’d be like in a Henry VIII style pie.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Sterlet
Progress: 768/1001

This impressive looking fish was what I was after. It’s a type of sturgeon and is on the smaller side, although try saying that to me after presenting me with this plate. It kinda feels like whole fish is how I’m going to be seeing a lot of the remaining fish from the food list – I guess it helps to ensure that I give it a proper try

So yea this fish was giant and had some impressively scales skin on its backbone. The flesh itself was plentiful and was a whole lot milder than I’d expected, with a mineral aftertaste which makes me wonder whether this was from the sea or had been seasoned well.

One issue with having a fish like this is the diminishing returns on the taste. Luckily this place put tomato, basil and lemon on the plate which meant I could play around with the flavour profile. I also had some of the sour cream that my mums herring, which went wonderfully – which I guess shows how flexible sterlet is.

The temperature had dropped by the time we left the restaurant to the point that I needed to put my hat on, but not to the point where I needed my gloves. Either I’ve become more robust, or I’ve dealt with worse temperatures in Vienna and not been aware of it. In any case the weather was cold and crisp, perfect for late night Christmas decoration explorations.

We first came to Esplanade Park, which features a small Christmas market… But that’s not why I was here. I was here for the bunny village. That right, there is a recent tradition in Riga that the Christmas market in this park set up a giant rabbit pen containing small lit buildings and a lot of rabbits. Sounds like something form a bad sitcom, but it’s one of the cutest things I’ve seen in a very long time. Rabbits were sleeping in the small churches, chasing each other around the replica castle and nibbling on carrots provided by onlookers. I circled the entire thing a few times, taking notes a lot of pictures, before heading off. So cute.

One block of walking away is Kronvalda Park, a large urban park centred on a (currently frozen) canal that has been impeccably decorated. There were moments walking through here where I felt so overcome with the magical Christmas feeling that I was awash with goosebumps. The star decorations in the trees, the blue lit up bridge, the volume of snow on the ground. It all adds up to something truly beautiful when seen at night.

We climbed up Bastion Hill to get a better view of the surrounding park and all the lights. It was a little bit icy, but if the locals can make it up with their fluffy Pomeranian dogs then you know it’s fine. It was lovely to look down and get a slightly better vantage point of the nearby buildings (more on those tomorrow – but Riga old town has some pretty dramatic looking buildings that look so cool lit up and surrounded by snow).

We finished the evening at the main Christmas market (of the advertised three) which happens to be just down the road from the hotel. Technically the markets are being properly opened tomorrow, making tonight a bit of a test run, but the main one near Riga Cathedral was already giving me the feels. Hopefully we can be there tomorrow when they turn their Christmas tree on and declare the markets properly open.

Walking around with a hot blackcurrant in my hands, I’m not sure if I can see much in the way of decorations or Christmas goods to buy… but that might be different tomorrow. There were, however, some nice looking pieces of food – so that’s dinner tomorrow sorted.

Not bad for a first evening with some pretty low temperatures. Its not set to climb out of the minuses tomorrow, but at least the sun will be on our side as its forecast to be clear for our walk around the old town. Ending this now as I am exhausted, see you tomorrow!

The Great EU Quest: Greece – The Acropolis!

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 20/28

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am finally crossing off Greece from the list of EU countries to visit. This really feels like the last truly major country to tick off the list and what a better way to cross it off officially than by visiting one of the major ancient wonders… more on that later.

Country: Greece
Year first visited: 2018

Getting to the apartment last night was a bit of a misadventure as a mixture of plane delays and broken ticket machines meant that we didn’t get in until gone 11. Thankfully the bed was comfortable and our temporary digs are exactly what we hoped for. It’s also cool that each apartment takes a name from a Greek god, ours being Dionysus.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t get up until about 9 (which for me on a holiday is rather late) and we made the decision to skip breakfast in order to get a start on the day. Of course the hundreds of local Athenians we came across doing a cancer run got a better start on the day than us. Oh well.

Since our apartment is about 30 minutes walk from the Acropolis we opted to walk there so that we could start to get to know Athens just that bit better. On the way we passed an interesting landmark: the stadium that hosted the visit modern Olympic Games in 1896. Pretty cool to come across this just as an extra site! I had to photograph it later in the evening due to the sun being right overhead.

A short hop from there was the first (of many) ancient sites of the day: the Olympieion. Back in the day this was a tall temple to Zeus, but now all that remains is 15 standing columns and 1 collapsed one. It really worked to see this first thing as we could still marvel at the height and not be spoilt by what is to come.

The Olympieion area also features Hadrian’s Gate which marks the then boundary between Ancient Greek Athens and Roman Athens. It’s amazing just how intact this particular gate. Also, if you stand in the right place, it provides a perfect frame for the Acropolis in the distance – our next destination.

We got a tip online that if you want shorter queues to get into the Acropolis area not only should you pre-buy your tickets online, but go to the South-Eastern entrance. Most people tend to go to the western entrance as it is the more direct route to the Acropolis itself, but with the entrance we chose there was plenty of shrines and other ruins to see on our way up.

The big one to see is the theatre of Dionysus, whose area spans a lot more than you would first think. The ruins of the theatre is a real mixed bag. Some of it is amazingly preserved whereas others are completely missing. Still, it gave us a cool chance to take a seat in a proper Ancient Greek theatre – something that we will be doing again in a few days time… where I hopefully won’t regret not packing a cushion.

After weaving in and around a number of ruins it was time for us to hit the big ticket item itself: the Acropolis itself.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 81/100Sight: Acropolis
Location: Athens, Greece
Position: #28

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Acropolis is the whole area at the top of rocky outcrop. The major part of this is the Parthenon, but other ruins (including the incredibly well preserved ‘Old Temple’ to Athena) can be found up here. Also feral cats, but those really are everywhere in Athens.

The weird thing about seeing the Parthenon for the first time is just how hard it is to process what you are being confronted with. Most of the times you see it in pictures you are seeing a zoom in from a nearby hill or the picture is being taken at a distance from a helicopter. Up close, it’s just difficult to parse the scale of the whole thing.

To allow the brain it’s time to process (and to get out of the way of some big tour groups) we went down to the ‘Old Temple’ to Athena (so-called because it predates he Parthenon as a place to worship Athena). It’s a bit of a marvel that is incredibly well preserved and has some interesting building quirks. This is a place that had to be built around a crack in the floor said to be where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, the original olive tree as planted by Athena, the burial place of a mythic king and a substantial slope.

After this we still couldn’t quite process the Parthenon… so we climbed up a platform on the eastern edge of the Acropolis to take in some great views of the city (including a bird’s eye view of the Olympieion). I think it was the point where we turned around to face the Parthenon once again that it really hit us that we were here.

The Parthenon itself is truly vast. I can only imagine how it would have been to see this before most of it was devoured by the explosion in the 1600s. It will also be interesting to see how it will end up looking after the restoration work has been completed – although this really does feel like a project that will never be truly finished.

We ended up walking around the Parthenon itself two times to try and soaking he ambience as well as we could. It also afforded me the perfect opportunity to take a bunch of photos before we made our way back down the slope. I cannot over emphasise the number of great views that you get from up in the Acropolis – I can only imagine what it must be like to be there when it’s all lit up at night.

After finishing our descent it really was time for some lunch, and what could be more Greek than gyros! I feel that there is this big list of Greek food that I want it try authentic versions of whilst I am here – gyros being the top of that list equal to some proper feta cheese. We appeared to be the only people eating a meal of this size, but then again we had missed breakfast and (more importantly) who cares.

Next to the Acropolis’ slopes is the Acropolis museum – a newly built museum that houses all the findings from the Acropolis area as well as a lot of the original sculptures. However, before getting into that, we went around a temporary exhibition about Emperor Qianlong from China. This did serve as a bit of a palate cleanser for what was to come.

Sadly there is no camera policy in the vast majority of the Acropolis museum, so I’ll be brief. The sheer number of recovered statues and relics is truly overwhelming. There is so much that it makes you wonder just how much did not survive. Some of the best pieces are actually pre-Parthenon pieces that survived a massive act of arson by the Persian army. Some of these pieces still have visible paint on them!

The elephant in the room if the Acropolis museum are the missing marble pieces that are currently sat in the British museum. Being a Brit, it’s interesting to hear the Greek side of the story – especially as they characterise Elgin as essentially being an upper class pirate. Who knows if this will ever be fully resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.

It was pretty late in the afternoon when we left the museum, so we had to prioritise some sites from our Archaeological Sites of Athens ticket (with the rest to be done in a few days). We made our way down a lovely promenade and some really touristy ships to the Roman Agora.

There isn’t too much to this as most of the area compared to everything we’d seen previously, but it still had some columns and a gate intact. Also, and most interesting of all, the old observatory is nearly perfectly preserved. It really does help if a building has been buried for a long time.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Salep Ice Cream
Progress: 753/1001

We had a bit of a walk between the Roman Agora and our final site of the day. A walk which took us down some busy shopping streets and gave us the chance to cross off some ice cream. Salep ice cream has a number of names, which has made the hunt confusing. The Turks call it dondurma and the Greeks call it kaimaki. If I did not know this piece of information, I would never have found it today. The key feature of this ice cream is texture, which is like regular ice cream infused with an almost marshmallow-like stretch and chew. I really did like this ice cream and it makes me want to see if they have different flavours elsewhere.

So we ended the day at the Lykeion, which was the most far flung of the sites on our ticket. It is also the flattest as pretty much nothing behind the foundations have survived to this day. We didn’t get a whole lot of time here as it was 20 minutes before closing, but we probably got as much out of it as we could. Still interesting to beamong history, even if it wasn’t entirely visible.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Loukanika
Progress: 754/1001

For dinner, I found a place just around the corner from the apartment called Katsourbos. It was pretty high on Tripadvisor and apparently specialised in Cretan food. I guess that this sausage, which is meant to found all over Greece, can also be found there. Now, I have had a lot of different sausages for this food list, but this Greek sausage (smoked and flavoured with honey, herbs and citrus) is truly something else. Sure is nicer than both of the sausages from the French box and it gives the Cumberland sausage a run for its money. Something tells me this will not be the only time I eat this before I leave Greece.

My main was liver with skin-on fries and a honey-balsamic sauce. I didn’t get this for the liver, I got this because the sauce sounded really interesting. Man, this really was a great sauce. I hope that I’ll find a recipe to replicate this as it feels like of those that could go well with a lot of different foods.

I probably should have finished writing up hours ago as it is an early start tomorrow. How early, well we need to incorporate a 5 hour train ride. Wish me luck!

The Great EU Quest: Poland – First Night in Kraków

Despite only being two months ago, it feels like forever since I last went away. So the anticipation in the build up to this trip to Kraków has been very high. However, before we get to that…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 19/28

Despite having some genealogical roots in Poland (more specifically the Silesia region in the South West) this is my first time visiting. This really has been a long time coming seeing how I enjoy eating Polish food, watching Polish movies and, more importantly, it’s a pretty cheap holiday. Then again, after my last new EU country (Sweden) anywhere is going to feel pretty cheap.

Country: Poland
Year first visited: 2018

The journey to Kraków itself was pretty uneventful, although we did have a fantastic breakfast where we polished off the extra Belgian waffles that I had in the freezer.

I know I have said it already, but it is worth repeating, as a Londoner I cannot get over how inexpensive everything is over here. We had some problems with getting an Uber to our hotel (turns out that it was because of our hotel’s proximity to the Old Town and Uber drivers are not allowed to operate there) and we just missed the train (the next was in 90 minutes) so were getting a bit annoyed because we ended up splashing 89 zloty in a cab. Please note – this is about £20 between three people, it’s just that 89 feels like such a high number.

Our hotel is in the perfect place. It’s like having our own little apartment 5 minutes walk away from the old town and we’re close enough to some small supermarkets that I am going to be able to make breakfasts with some local ingredients as I actually have a kitchen to play with!

At about 6 in the evening, we set out of the hotel to get a first impression of the nearby areas of Kraków. The first thing that really struck me was just how much greenery there is, in fact the entire central part of the old town is surrounded by a park that also happens to contain statues and a number of water features. It would have been rude if we hadn’t taken a slight detour to get to know this area a bit better before heading to the main attraction.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 76/100Sight: Rynek Główny
Location: Kraków, Poland
Position: #197

This main market square of Kraków is huge. It’s one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, to the point where the middle contains the large (and old) Cloth Hall, which now houses a small museum and a lot of small shops. Being so large and existing in 360 degrees, it is really hard to take pictures of the square at ground level that do it proper justice.

Size and impressive architecture aside, the energy you get from this square feels pretty unique. Its like a larger and less crowded version of Covent Garden that also has a lot of historical significance. It was the moment that I first stepped onto the square where I realised that Kraków feels like a special place. Also, this square is going to be one of those places that we keep finding our way back to during our stay.

Being out first night, it only made sense that we did the really touristy thing and had dinner on the square itself. So, we went to Restauracja Sukiennice which is actually attached to the Cloth Hall in the centre. Honestly, it was the pictures of the schnitzel on their menu that won me over.

In any other city, the mark up would be so horrendous that we’d have to get one of the cheaper things on the menu to prevent us from losing all our currency. However, this is Kraków where we ate like kings and it only cost £10-12 each. I mean we all had huge (and really well done) schnitzels, a few drinks and we shared this huge and amazing meat and sauerkraut thing that came in a huge bread bowl… and it was still so cheap. Part of me wished that we had room for dessert, but I don’t think we stood a chance after the sauerkraut bread bowl.

As the sun began to set, we started to walk off dinner with a bit of an explore of the southern parts of the old town. It really does feel like a less imposing version of Vienna, or at least a Vienna that never became an important imperial capital. There really is something about the architectural style and the ever present theme of classical music that makes Kraków feel grand and cultured, yet it feels remarkably young at times as well.

Already I can also see that we’re going to be having surprises around every corner. For example, on this walk, we randomly came across a small market (with many many food stalls selling everything from smoked cheese carvings to alligators made from nougat) that has been temporarily set up to celebrate a big football match (that Poland has no stakes in).

We headed back as the stag nights began to start. On the walk back to the hotel we began to get a lot of people coming up to us with the promise of cheap beer and attractive women. Seeing how I am gay and teetotal, they could not have picked a worse mark. We also began to see some of the stag and hen nights begin to drag themselves into town… to do whatever it is they do. It kinda sucks that, because we’re three guys and none of us look native, the assumption is that we’re here to get drunk and objectify women. Whatever, it’s Sunday tomorrow and that means we can be fresh for our first full day.

So that’s the end of the first day where, already, I have been able to tick off one of the four (yes, four) Lonely Planet suggested sites that I plan to visit whilst I am in Kraków. What are the other three? See you next time where I’ll be visiting the second of four.

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Exploring Stockholm

List Item: Visit all EU countriesProgress: 18/28

Välkommen till Sverige!

Country: Sweden
Year first visited: 2017

After my first full day in Stockholm I am just so full of excitement at what I am going to be seeing on my remaining time here. Looking back at my other travel posts, it feels like I fall for cities pretty easily. But hey, rather this than spend money to be disappointed.

So yes, this is the first full day in Stockholm. We only made it to the hotel at about 11pm local time because our easyJet flight was delayed by about an hour. The only thing worth reporting is that the announcement on the shuttle train between Arlanda Airport and Stockholm Central was done by Björn from ABBA. Ain’t that just the coolest!

Having arrived so late the previous day we both basically slept through our alarm and ended up waking around an hour later than we hoped. That made it a bit of a rush job getting ready in the morning as there was a 10am walking tour I wanted to do.

Here’s the thing. If you told me a few years ago that I would be doing walking tours around a city I was visiting… I’d probably think future me was a bit sad. Sod it though, I’m in a new place and I want to learn as much about it as I can. Did I overdo it today by doing two of these walking tours in one day? Obviously, but my head is full of new useless trivia and my feet are glowing – so that’s a day well spent.

Anyway, we started the day doing a 2 hour free walking tour of the city north of the old town with Free Tours Stockholm. It really is one thing to be walking around the city and another to know some of the stories that go along with it.

For example, we walked past the gym where Swedish Crown Princess Victoria met her commoner husband. We also walked past the former bank building (pictured) whose bungled robbing led to the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. What can I say, those two hours went by in a flash.

At the end of the tour we were deposited on the border of Gamla Stan (the old town) in time for the changing of the guard. We didn’t stick around for this as we’ve seen it happen once before in Copenhagen and I couldn’t image this one being all that different. Instead we made our way straight to Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral).

There’s been a church on this spot for ~700 years and it has been growing ever since. In the current incarnation the exposed brickwork of the vaults and columns make for a beautifully patterned interior. Unlike the rather sparse cathedral in Helsinki, there were some really notable pieces of ornamentation to see here.

Firstly there’s the alter which is a vision in ebony and silver. It’s very striking and unlike anything I’ve seen before in a church. The colours did make me think of the grim reaper, but I’m not sure that was intentional. You also have some extravagant royal pews and an insanely old statue made of elk antlers and oak which depicted the slaying of the dragon by St George.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 72/100Sight: Gamla Stan
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Position: #99

Much like with Tallinn, the Old Town of Stockholm is the big thing to see. The whole thing is on an island and it doesn’t take that long to navigate across. There’s a lot of little alleys and offshoots, which means multiple routes are necessary to appreciate it.

Before we explored, however, there was a desperate need for lunch since we skipped breakfast. Things being what they are with exchange rates (thanks again Brexit), Stockholm is a fairly expensive city. However, if you’re like me and are coming into this being used to prices in London… it isn’t too much of a shock. Also, it’s worth finding ways to make things cheaper. For example, look for lunch deals – some places offer substantially cheaper lunch options.

We found such a restaurant in Gamla Stan. Don’t get me wrong it still felt expensive, but everything is relative. Between us, my husband and I shared some Swedish meatballs and some elk meatloaf in a chanterelle sauce. I am happy that these were suitably Swedish food choices.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Gamla Stan. With the brightly coloured houses and the sheer sense of history, I can really see how this is the most popular part of Stockholm for tourists. I plan on returning here on later days for some souvenir shopping and maybe breakfast on our final day.

We mooched a bit at the waterfront watching German cruise passengers being ferried onto dry land and made friends with some oddly cute seagulls before looping back to start the next walking tour at 4.

Now, was it a bit weird to have the same tour guide for both tours? Yes. Didn’t it matter? No, because he’s really good at what he does and was fairly easy on the eyes. Two more hours of history and stories passed by in a flash. I still vividly remember how an event in Stockholm led to the coining of the term ‘bloodbath’ and how some of the Americans in the group were getting a bit rankled every time our guide talked about the benefits of living in Sweden (e.g. paternity leave, free university fees, universal healthcare etc).

After this tour broke we walked across to the Southern island to checkout a larger supermarket and to get some good views of the Old Town from a higher vantage point. I don’t know if I am high enough to do the city true justice, but I think it’s a nice enough picture.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food items: Limpa Bread and Kavring
Progress: 674/751

Coming to Sweden, there were three food items I wanted to look out for. Having read stories about the third I will not be trying surstromming here in Sweden. Instead, I will try this when I get home and can get some proper ventilation going. There would be a fourth if you count moose cheese… but I doubt I have enough in my bank account for some of that.

We did, however, find the other two items. Both of them are types of rye bread that can be found in Sweden. These formed our dinner tonight and breakfast for the next day. Trying to be Swedish we also bought some salami, cream cheesed infused with chanterelle mushrooms and a tub of shrimp salad with surimi and dill.

Starting off with the limpa bread. The name itself conjures up something a bit pappy to the point where I was expecting something akin to the Jamaican hardough. Instead think rye bread, then think malt loaf. Combine these flavours, give it a lighter texture and you have limpa.

It’s a rye bread with the hint of molasses and orange zest. It feels like it’s on the verge of being cakey, but the crumb texture isn’t right for that. We found this went really well with some chanterelle cream cheese. The woodiness of the mushroom really complimenting the bitterness of the zest and molasses.

The other bread from the list is called kavring. The initial whiff as you open the bag and the reassuring heft as you hold it definitely points to this as a rye bread. Darker than the limpa, but lighter and less dense than a lot of rye breads you can get. It’s like they remembered to add yeast to give it a bit of a rise.

Both of these are breads that I would happily buy if they were available in the UK. The fact that these both look near mass produced makes me weep when I think that, back at home, there’s no real equivalent widely available.

We finished off the evening with a cinnamon bun, because they are everywhere in Stockholm and they were on offer. Who can say no to a pastry swirl that moist with cinnamon sugar. I like these better than their American counterpart because they aren’t drowning in icing.

So yes, that’s he first day. Tomorrow will be my ticking off the other Lonely Planet site here in Stockholm: the Vasa Museum. Should be a special day.

The Great EU Quest: Finland – Helsinki!!!

The phrase “when in Tallinn” comes to mind:

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 17/28


Country: Finland
Year first visited: 2017

I mean, when you are able to get to another nation’s capital in under two hours it is rude to not pay a visit. So that’s what we did and we temporarily bid farewell to Tallinn and said hello to Helsinki.


We booked ourselves on the first and last boats of the day so we could make the best use of our time as possible. This, however, meant leaving the hotel just before 7 to walk across town to the pier. Whilst we were tired this did allow us to experience Tallinn Old Town in a different way: almost completely deserted. It made it feel like we were on an old film set, so it was both cool and a little bit eerie.

Now, whilst there are many different ways to get across the water to Helsinki we went for the Linda Line. It’s the fastest at about 1h 45m whilst also having the best times in order to have a full day excursion. It’s a bit no frills, but as someone who finds it easy to fall asleep in most moving vehicles I didn’t notice much about the boat before we docked in Helsinki.

To say I was ridiculously excited to be setting food in Finland would be an understatement. This is one of those countries that I’ve always wanted to pay a visit to and, like with Estonia, it’s because of the Finnish flag. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a flag with blue and white with no red.

Thanks to an excessive amount of Googling I managed to piece together a decent itinerary for a day in Helsinki – well it worked for me and has made me want more time in this city at some point in the future.


So from the boat we went through Market Square to the golden topped Upensky Church. In retrospect, I regret not having bought breakfast from one of the stalls in the square. I mean how often do you come across this many chances to eat reindeer for breakfast. Maybe next time eh?


Anyway, this church is the first time I have stepped into an Eastern Orthodox church that isn’t the Russian sect. The roof of the dome still had the starry sky quality and there was still a lot of gold on display, but there was still a different feel to it. For one thing the workers in the church felt a lot more accommodating and relaxed around tourists. Also, the moratorium on taking pictures wasn’t there, which is good for the sake of memories.


After this we made our way to the Helsinki Cathedral. This glistening white building truly dominates the skyline in this part of the city, which reminded me of the castle in Himeji. We clearly had the perfect weather to see this particular building. Just the contrast of the bright white with the pure blue sky made for some great picture taking.


The inside of this Lutheran cathedral was a massive contrast with the Orthodox church. A plain white interior with a few statues to key figures and a lot of smooth lines made this church feel beautiful in its own way despite being sparsely decorated.


By now we were getting hungry and, thanks for the need for brunch, we got a cruel awakening at how different the prices are between Finland and Estonia. These two sandwiches and the drinks cost us just over 20€. They were great sandwiches (one was avocado, tomato and cashew nut) but this was a lot of money.

On our way to see the key landmark of the day we came across the Parliament building, which was being restored, and an army marching band that were practising in a space nearby. It was fun to watch and there was a lot more moving and chanting than I would have first expected. It was also rather cute when the band leader saluted the crowd whenever we applauded.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 71/100Sight: Temppeliaukio Kirkko
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Position: #311

If you come to this church from the wrong angle you would be excused for wondering where the church actually is. The Rock Church (which is a much easier name to say than the Finnish one) has been carved right into the natural rock formations that pepper Helsinki. You can actually climb on top of the church since there is a path that helps you clamber up the rocks.

The inside of the church is something truly special. I have seen anything quite like it and if it was not for me seeing the Sagrada Familia two months ago to would be the best church that I had visited in years.

It’s really hard to get a good photograph of the Rock Church that shows off what makes it so special. For one thing the natural rock walls make this an acoustically special church. Plus all the natural light that is allowed to come in just helps to make this a very relaxing space. This really is a special place.

Time was marching on, so after a bit of light souvenir shopping we made our way back to Market Square to catch a waterbus to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortess. This means a 15-20 minute boat ride where you get a chance to see the Helsinki Islands whizz by. I cannot recommend doing this journey enough. It was a real eye opener to the number of islands around the city and their different sizes.


The Soumenlinna Fortress itself was extremely interesting to walk around and is something I would have thought of doing if it wasn’t for different people on the web. The idea that this fortress, in the space of 2-300 years has been used to defend Sweden, Finland and Russia (due to the many times Finland has changed hands over the years) makes this an interesting structure.

Add to that the different sorts of buildings including gardens, courtyards, barracks of differing building styles and a church then that’s a snapshot of what is at Soumenlinna. In warmer temperatures this would make for a great picnicking spot – for us we made use of one of the many cafes where hot chocolate and chocolate-almond torte helped replenish some energy supplies.

After a few hours on the fortress and a bit of wandering around Helsinki’s Design District it was time to be back on the ferry and head off to Tallinn. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 9 so we nipped out for a quick dinner at the nearby shopping centre.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Wild Raspberry
Progress: 648/751

So it appears that I could have crossed this off ages ago. When it said wild raspberry it pretty much covers most of what we in Europe would call raspberries. Therefore I decided that I would look for some sort of raspberry treat in order to cross this off. A chocolate raspberry cake seemed exactly right for this challenge. Lord knows I needed it after such a long day.

There you go. A day in Helsinki and I am still typing this up despite the fact it is gone midnight. Tomorrow will be another early start as we join a tour to Lahemaa Park and other surrounding areas. It’ll be good to get a chance to see more of Estonia.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Arrival

That’s right. It is two months after my trip to Barcelona and I am on my travels yet again. Another completely new country for me which means…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 16/28

Now this is one of those countries that I would have expected to have visited before Lithuania. I have always had a soft spot for Estonia for a particularly stupid reason – their flag. It’s weird I know, but I have always found Estonia to have the best looking national flag in Europe, which means that I will likely end up spending too much on souvenirs that make use of it.

Country: Estonia
Year first visited: 2017

Unlike a lot of other holidays this day of arrival was a true first day since the only flight between London and Tallinn required us to be at the airport by 5am. Honestly, I am shocked that I am at the end of the day and have yet to really feel the need to fall asleep.

Aside from crossing off another EU nation there is another reason for this visit Estonia: Tallinn’s Old Town. Therefore we went for a hotel that would allow us to make the best of it and I am able to take a picture like this:

So after a bit of light complaining about how tired and hungry we were it was time to venture forth into the Old Town itself. Since we are doing a proper explore of the Old Town tomorrow I won’t be crossing this off until then, still we were able to get a good feel for it.

The first thing that really grabbed me was just how well preserved so many of these old buildings are. You read, on conveniently located plaques, about how certain places date from several centuries ago and yet they look in better condition than most UK buildings from the 1960s.

Lunch was in a place called Olde Hansa – a restaurant I’ve seen mentioned in a bunch of guides about Tallinn. Why? Because the servers dress up in medieval garb and the foot is meant to somewhat resemble food of the time. This is a place that even serves bear meat! Tempting, but not 50€ tempting.

The food was hearty and reminded me a lot of food that I had in Bled a few years ago. I am under no illusion that most medieval serfs could have only dreamed of a plate like this, but it was fun to pretend.

After this it was a general explore of the area. We came across a large market selling flowers, giant tombstones, a huge variety of local handicrafts and many prospective places for future coffees and food. Like I said, there will be more of a proper explore tomorrow, but it was such a beautiful day that it would be a shame to let sleep deprivation get in the way.

One big thing we did see/do was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Its of the buildings that I can see from the hotel room and the onion domes are a really imposing presence at the top of the Toompea Hill. Whilst this is not the largest Russian Orthodox church I have seen, it is the one that has made the biggest impact.

Inside, this is far from the bare or nearly bare Orthodox churches that I saw in Vilnius. Aside from the abundance of iconography and the enforced near silence, this church really had more of a Catholic feel to it.

Fast forwarding quite a bit now to dinner. Since we wanted to catch up on sleep we grabbed some bread, cheese and ham from a nearby supermarket to have for dinner. Luckily for me I was able to find a list cheese.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Leipajuusto
Progress: 646/751

In Finnish the name basically means ‘bread cheese’, but in English speaking countries it’s called ‘Finnish squeaky cheese’. In Estonia, it would appear that they call it ‘Lapland Cheese’. Anyway, no matter what you call it this was an interesting cheese.

My god it doesn’t half squeak with every bite that you take. I knew that it would squeak, but not on every bite. It should be weird, but I think this might have been the most fun I have had with food since shabu shabu.

Tastewise it’s a bit like a creamy cottage cheese or a springy hard mozzarella. It has the texture of halloumi, but is unsalted so I can see how you might want to use it as a substitute for the Greek salad cheeses.

On its own the taste is milk, but it is lifted by the presence of other flavours like bacon and onion – I know this because some of the cheese had bacon pieces in it. Much like the smokey blue cheese, I am already sad that I won’t be able to get this in the UK as this would be perfect to have every now and then.

So there you go, the end of day one and as I finish writing this I can feel the lack of sleep catching up to me. Tomorrow will be a full day exploring the old town – who knows what we’ll find.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Arrival

There are times where it feels like you are not meant to reach your destination – this trip to Barcelona is just such an example.

Let’s just start off with a quick number crunch on the EU list:

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 15/28

I know that I am going to get to a point where I am still trying to complete the EU list after the UK has made its awkward departure, but for now I think I will just end up saying any country that has ever been part of the EU. That’ll cover me should another country make a similar decision or, for whatever reason, the EU ceases to exist.

Country: Spain
Year first visited: 2017

Anyway, back to more pleasant topics – the fact that we almost missed the plane thanks to train troubles. Oh yes, in order to get to Stansted Airport from South East London you only have two main options: train/tube or car. When you don’t drive that means a £50-60 trip in an Uber, so public transport it is.

Now imagine you get to the only station in London that goes to Stansted (aka Liverpool Street, try the cheese shop if you have time), here has been an issue with the line (that Google Maps is unaware of) and you have to make a 2-3 hour detour via Cambridge. Needless to say we just ran and ran once we got to the airport and just about made it. Not exactly the best way to start a holiday, but at least we managed to get to Barcelona!

I know it has only been 4-5 hours since landing, but I have already begun to fall for this city in a major way. It was amazing to see some of the snow capped mountains on the way in, as well as the towering presence of the Sagrada Familia during the plane’s descent.

As of the moment we haven’t explored too far, but we have had a good nose around the area near the hotel (where we managed to get a free room upgrade – which came with a balcony view and a free bottle of cava).

One of the places that we came across was Catalunya Square. We re-visited this square later in the evening because of the promise of dancing water fountains. We weren’t disappointed. They were very cute.

Of course the big question of the evening ended up being: “what will we have for dinner”. I think that during this visit to Barcelona there are two main dinners we want to have – paella and tapas/pintxos.

From the pictures you can see that we ended up going for tapas. A lot of them were things I have had before back in Britain, but being in the home of tapas everything did taste better. Especially the anchovies. They were ruddy gorgeous.

Being spring I also managed to get some calçots (which were deep-fried) and romesco sauce. I do love these giant spring onions very much and would highly recommend them once spring rolls around again.

A bit of a walk later and it was back to the hotel so hub could drain the cava as I write up the day. I have a feeling that I won’t be ticking off many food items during this holiday, but hey ho there’s so much to see anyway so any additional foods will be a bonus.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Vilnius Museums

Whilst I have always tried to pick up on some of the history of a country/city during a holiday I don’t think I have been as immersed in a country’s past as I have been in Lithuania. Maybe it is because today (June 15th) was another anniversary for them.

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It was because of this anniversary that the Museum of Genocide Victims (housed in the old KGB building) was free to enter. In Lithuania it appears that museums like this wave the entrance fee since it is a day that people should probably be educated on what happened on this day. I can’t imagine attractions like the Cabinet War Rooms of London doing something similar on the anniversary of the end of World War Two.

The anniversary in question was 76 years since Lithuania lost their independence to the Soviet Union and the process of integrating them as a Socialist State was begun. Walking through the museum and seeing all the faces of Lithuanians that had been executed firstly by the invading Nazi Germans and then the Stalinist forces was sobering.

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The museum is incredibly well put together and for the few Euros that is would normally cost you to enter it is well worth it. As interesting as the historical parts are it is the prison in the cellar that delivers the biggest punch. Especially the execution chamber as it is a plain room with bullet holes in the wall, a small drain for washing the blood from the floor and a small chute to deliver bodies up to ground level for disposing in a mass grave in the local forest.

Considering the number of citizens from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that were deported to the arse end of the Soviet Union for slave labour (something I never knew happened until visiting this country) I really can understand why the Ukrainian entry won Eurovision this year. That song would strike a chord with any community that had to deal with forced deportation at the hand of the Soviet government (and this includes native Russians too).

We needed a bit of a lift after that museum (where it is quite easy to lose a few hours). So instead of heading straight to the next one we stopped off for come cake in one of the many coffee shops on Pilies Street. We had great cake (especially the chocolate royal) and for the first time we’ve been in Lithuania we met a rather surly waitress (reminded me of home).
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Once we left the coffee shop what did we see? Only a large procession of Hare Krishnas! Not exactly the first thing I would have expected to see in Vilnius, but this does appear to be a nation that wears their religion (and their hope) on their sleeves. From what we have seen this city is incredibly tolerant of their population whether they be Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Jewish or even Hare Krishna. There was no laughing or pointing at this parade like there would be in London.

Another thing about Lithuania that really struck me was the amount and variation in their crafts. From what we later saw in the museum this is a nation of artisans. The majority of the crafts that appear to be going are the production of wooden crosses (which you will see pretty much everywhere in Lithuania whether you be walking along a road, through a forest or in a city).

However, there are so many other things like pottery, glassware, amber and wooden carvings of religious and non-religious imagery. If I had a way to transport all the things that I liked I would behave bought a lot of things, being practical I just bought a small mug with fish on for hub as a souvenir.

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After putting on a freshly bought Lithuania t-shirt in a pitch black bathroom (I couldn’t find the light switch) it was time to venture around their national museum.

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The first two rooms on the ground floor is a real mishmash of things which includes two items of Roman pottery and a random Egyptian sarcophagus. The best parts of this museum are the parts that focus on Lithuanian culture. Apparently you couldn’t find a decent portrait painter in 1700s Lithuania, but being a country of craftsmen you could find amazing toys like this wind-powered masterpiece.

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The section of the museum on local folk art (focused on religious iconography) was illuminating. We were laughing at some of the really bad items on display, but then watched a short film on the importance of cross making to Lithuanians. So important that people would be making loads of these during Soviet occupation under the cover of darkness. These wouldn’t all be professional craftsmen, most of these people were regular farmers who sought to protect their homestead.

Well, that shut us up. For a little while. Some were still incredibly odd.  Following this was another moving exhibition on the mass deportation of Lithuanians. Maybe if they want to win Eurovision next year they should enters a song called ‘1941’. For me the worst piece of information in this exhibit was that there were deportation quotas. That if the deportation officers couldn’t find the family of “political enemies” on the list then they would just seize a random family to make up numbers. Where are the reparations for this?

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It was still before five so we went into our third and final museum of the day: Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. This is clearly one of the newer museums, or at least very recently renovated, since you can still smell how freshly cut the wooden doors are.

Whilst the other two museums taught about the more recent history here it was all about the history of early Lithuania. The curious story of the politically motivated canonisation of St Casimir (Lithuania’s patron saint), how Lithuania used to extend all the way down to present-day Ukraine through Belarus and just how many royal houses in Europe (including the British Stuarts) ended up with blood ties to the Lithuanian line.

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It would have been nice to spend more time here, but there was some presidential function going on so there was security on our tail to make sure we were out of the museum by 10 minutes before closing. Still, we got a potted history that I am going to try and follow up on when I get back to the UK.

For dinner it was Bunte Gans, a German restaurant near the Gate of Dawn. We reserved a table here on our first night in Vilnius and 4 nights later she was able to call us by name without checking the book. She was possibly the nicest waitress I have had in any restaurant anywhere and there was no way (other than a very large tip) for us to thank her on places like TripAdvisor.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Carp

For starters it was deep fried carp strips with a chilli sauce. I have never had carp before, but I swear you can almost taste the freshness of the water it was swimming in. It’s not too fishy and almost a generic white fish taste mixed in with generic flatfish. It’s very nice though and hope to try some fillet of carp in the future.

Progress: 904/933

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For the main it was weißwurst with sauerkraut and potatoes fried with onion and bacon. I could bring myself to eat these the proper way by sucking the meat from the skin. Doing something SO phallic in public made me feel a bit too self aware.

We worked out at the end of the meal that all our food, train and bus tickets, museum entries and opera tickets cost just under 150€ for five nights. That’s without being too careful of money. It’s insane when you think about it.

When we left the restaurant the waitress came up to and asked “same time tomorrow?” to which we mournfully replied that We were travelling back to England in the morning.

“See you next year then, yes?” I hope so. It would be wonderful to be back for the Christmas markets in 2017. I can not overstate how amazing this country has been and how hard it is to leave.

Thank you Lithuania. It’s been great.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Trakai

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One of the big problems of writing this so far in advance of posting is that things tend to lose their timeliness. At the time for writing this in my hotel room it is June 14th 2016. For Brits this date means nothing, but for Lithuanians today marked the 75th anniversary of the first mass deportation of their citizens to Siberia by Soviet invaders. We only really took note of it because of a concert in the cathedral square where Lithuanian flags were on show alongside Ukrainian and EU flags.

On this day 35,000 people were sent to their death. This is 10% of all Lithuanian civilian casualties and 50% of the civilian casualties suffered by Britain and her colonies in the whole of World War Two.

We, as Brits, have no idea what things like this feels like. In fact, we must be one of the very few nations in Europe who do not have natives alive that know what it is like to be occupied by invading forces. All I know is that this country finds new ways to move me.

Anyway, back to less preachy blog content.

When I was looking into what to visit on this trip to Lithuania there were two definite things that I wanted to hit up: the Hill of Crosses and the Island Castle of Trakai. Thanks to the cheap and reliable transport system in Lithuania we were able to make today’s return bus trip between Vilnius and Trakai for just over 3€. I swear I pay this much for a one-way trip within Zone 1 on the London Underground.

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As if I didn’t need convincing about Lithuania being 30% forest, the bus station of Trakai is on a fucking lake. In fact the bulk of the town of Trakai is on a peninsular and surrounded by water and forest.

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It’s a bit of a walk from the bus stop to the bridge connecting the castle to the mainland. The signs say 1900m, but I swear it was a fair bit longer. Maybe that was because instead of taking the direct route we made a right turn so we could follow the waterline. Worth it for the views. Okay, it isn’t Bled (then again what else is) but the sheer amount of sky and the clearness of the lake still have to give you pause.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 56/100 IMG_1508Sight: Trakai Castle
Location: Trakai, Lithuania
Position: #463

That first view that you get of the Trakai Island Castle is special. It just feels like one of those impossible structures and it is so incredibly red. Turns out it is red because the original castle was pretty much destroyed after an invasion and then general falling into disrepair. The majority of what we see now is because of extensive renovation and reconstruction conducted in a joint effort by Lithuania and the Kremlin. The reconstruction was effectively finished in the mid-1980s.

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Yes there is a disconnect between then vibrant red bricks and the original grey stonework, but they have done an axing job of revitalising this castle. It raises the question of whether this is still Trakai Island Castle or if it is a modern construction. For me, I think that whatever helps the Lithuanian people is good with me. Since this castle is such a point of national pride and has helped generate income for the area then it can’t be a bad thing.

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After venturing around the castle we partook in some kibinai (a fist sized Cornish pasty like pastry filled with lightly spiced meat) at one of the restaurants sitting on the edge of the lake. We managed to get ourselves a perfect view of the castle and just wiled away a few hours before making our way back to Vilnius.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksIMG_3379Food item: Borscht

For dinner we headed to Bernelių Užeiga, a Lithuanian cuisine place next to the Opera House as recommended by the Vilnius In Your Pocket guide.

I have having serious issues with any menu that showcases Lithuanian cuisine. Like when I was Japan (especially that ramen place in Kyoto), I just want to eat everything on the menu. Having a food list on the blog actually becomes quite help there.

Cold beetroot and cream soup (aka borscht) it was and it was lovely. I think that was more down to the very generous dollops of cream in the soup rather than the beetroot itself. I can really see myself having this for dinner on a war summer day where I have no interest in going anywhere near a hot appliance. Not entirely sure about the roast potatoes given as a side dish… I just dipped them in the soup. Maybe this was a faux pas, but I don’t think anyone noticed.

IMG_3380Food item: Pike

There are two fish from the list that I have been trying to find from the food list whilst in Lithuania: carp and pike. Neither of these are fish that we tend to eat in the UK (not sure why as they can certainly be found in our waterways) but I know that pike at the very least is eaten in the Baltics (carp is more a polish thing, but I live in hope).

In this dish the pike fillet was fried and served with pickled carrot and beetroot, mashed potato and some kind of cream sauce with peas. I am not the biggest fan of pickled beetroot, but the pike itself went down a treat. It’s a bit like haddock, but there is this richer taste that I can’t  quite put my finger on. It might be the sort of taste you get with carnivorous fish as I recall having grouper when I went to Australia. I’d definitely eat is fish if I saw it on a menu in the UK.

Another advantage to eating pike? They are horrible fish known to eat ducklings. I have had some form of revenge on behalf of the lost ducklings.

Progress: 903/933

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A slice of honey cake later (delicious!) and we were on our way to Cathedral Square for some of the event in Cathedral Square before calling it a night.

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One more full day in Lithuania. Really should have done a full week here, but alas it was not to be.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Šiauliai

According to the Lonely Planet list there are two main sights to see in Lithuania. This is in comparison to neighbouring countries Latvia and Belarus, which have nothing in the book. Honestly, it is thanks to this book that I chose to go to Lithuania instead of fellow Baltic nation Estonia.

Today I chose to visit the first of these, which is 10km of the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai. Being based in Vilnius this means a literal cross country trip of over 200km. Whilst I know the bus would have been cheaper, there is something to be said for a country where return tickets for a 2½ hour trip are 18€. Putting that in perspective, in order to make a similar length trip from London to Cardiff for work can cost well over £150 depending on the time of day. Have I said how much I am loving the prices in this country?

I am aware that being based in Vilnius Old Town can give you a blinkered idea of what the average Lithuanian lives in. If every city was like Vilnius Old Town we would be living in a Disney movie sans dead parents (unless you’re Princess Aurora or Rapunzel, because why not).IMG_1483
Over the course of the train trip I was amazed at just how green Lithuania is. I mean sure there is the occasional lumber yard or factory as you get closer to the cities, but most of the trip is made up of farmland, forests or meadows. In many ways it makes this train trip very much like travelling through England. I guess I was expecting some example of harsh Soviet architecture as that is what movies from the 1980s thought us.

Now, if you are going to Šiauliai in order to visit the Hill of Crosses and you do NOT go with a guided group you pretty much have to fend for yourself. There are no real indications at the train station about where you need to go and, since the buses are hourly, you probably want to find the bus station sharpish.

We ended up stalking a few tourists as they walked on a dirt track on the side of a major road in order to make our way to the bus station. We probably could have used GPS to find our way… but that kept telling us to cross at weird junction points.

Actually, short note about Lithuanians that I have noticed: they are good and courteous drivers. Most of the crossings I have observed in Vilnius and Šiauliai are without lights and at no point have we had any people drive through it whilst we are standing there. In fact, some of the time they have seen us starting to meander in that direction and they start slowing down just in case. Italian and Egyptian drivers – please can you take note of this.

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78 cents later and we were at the bus stop for the Hill of Crosses. It’s a 2km walk from the bus stop and you have to back on yourself to find the turning point. It’s a lovely walk that just goes to show how much in the middle of nowhere this place actually is. The first sign that you are almost there is that rather than just a panorama of green there is a mass of brown and orange that is sparkling and shimmering in the distance.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 55/100
Sight: Hill of Crosses
Location: Jurgaičiai, Lithuania
Position: #387

The Hill of Crosses is one of those places that just feels distinctly Lithuanian. It’s the ultimate symbol of their humanity and their resilience despite constantly being destroyed or taken over. The hill (according to a nearby plaque) currently has over 200,000 crosses planted in it. Many of them are the small wooden ones that you can buy on your way in, but so many of them are completely unique.

Thanks to the Soviet Union’s move to destroy this most of the older crosses are no longer present. In fact, with the exception of one that could possibly have been from 1945 the vast majority are from the last 20 years. The newest I saw was only 10 days old – I may have shed a tear over that as the cross’s design looked like it could have been for a young child.

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Now I am not religious, but I could not help but feel moved by this site. To find the adjectives for it is difficult. I keep wanting to use phrases such as “bonkers, but beautiful” which don’t probably illustrate the sheer amount of respect I had for this place. It’s like a symbol for all the good there is in humanity.

Whilst this is a predominantly catholic site there were crosses from Protestants and Russian Orthodox faiths as well one or two Stars of David from Jewish citizens of Lithuania. People have travelled from all over Europe to leave crosses here, as have Christians from Korea, Canada, China and the USA.

With all this traveling and awe inspiration we both completely forgot about lunch. It also helps that we’re both in the throes of trying to lose weight and so were able to last most of the day on breakfast alone. By 4 I was a bit peckish so we went into the Rimi hypermarket attached to the bus terminal.

I swear that I have yet to visit a super/hypermarket in another country and think it is worse than the UK. In the deli section of a UK supermarket you probably get three types of ham and you have examples of this from more than one company. In Rimi they actually give space to a counter filled with cooked Silesian sausages, pork knuckle and a whole manner of deliciousness. The bread looks and smells amazing, also the sheer variety available puts British supermarkets to shame.

I know it is weird, but as a foodie I just have to see  the places abroad where people buy their food. It works against me as the sights and smells just depress me further when I have to turn off holiday mode and return to the UK. If a place like Rimi opened up in my home town there would be no question of where I did my grocery shopping, so long Tesco, bye bye Morrison’s, up yours Asda. Alas and alack.

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By the time we were back in Vilnius it was just after 8 and dinner was very much required. Since we were tired and feeling a bit lazy we went around the corner to the restaurant we visited on the first night. Instead of yet another Zeppelin I ordered what I thought would be pancakes wrapped around meat, but they turned out to be potato pancakes, which means this is the third night ins row with essentially the same meal.

We also ordered something that we thought would be breaded and deep fried spicey cheese… but it turned out to be this large lump of curd cheese with a thick layer of pepper on it. I felt so bad and embarrassed at neither of us liking it that I may have cut off half a chunk, wrapped it in tissue and stuffed it in my pocket. Now I have moist cheese pockets and my jacket has to dry out. If you saw the waiter you’d know why I did it. He’s basically the sweet shopkeeper from Frozen brought to life!

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At least mum’s meal of grandmother style mushroom soup in a bread bowl came out looking good.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books
IMG_3377Food item: Honey Cake

Speaking of good. We shared an order of honey cake for dessert (lovely Frozen waiter guy had to halved and served on two plates for us) and I was surprised at how nice it was. Honestly I was something a bit more saturated with honey or cloyingly sweet like baklava, but this was the right amount of density. They also chose to pair it with a strawberry coulis and that is a choice I am very happy with.

Progress: 901/933

Off to Trakai tomorrow. Halfway through this trip to Lithuania already. How has this happened!?