Wednesday, 12 October 2011

74 Leaving Lithuania and entering Poland-

Monday 10th continued.
Having arrived at the campsite early on we both grabbed a shower and got ourselves ready for our trip around Vilnius.  Unfortunately the showers left quite a lot to be desired and I had shower buddies, several spiders. Again we were the only ones daft enough to want to camp in this weather. Most of the campsites are gearing up to close for the season, so we were quite lucky to find this one.
The road to Vilnius was pretty straight forward. Our campsite is about 15k’s from it.  On route we went through a very pretty little town called Trakai. The claim to fame here is the rather magnificent castle.  
The castle at Trakai - we called it Takeshies castle

You could go inside the grounds and have a look but we decided to head on into Vilnius as we had picked out a couple of things we wanted to see. One of them being the KGB museum and the Victims of genocide museum, not that we are particularly morbid, they were just in the same building.  The building is steeped in history, it was occupied by the Germans, Third Reich as their head quarters during the Second World War, and then after the fall of the German Empire, the Russian Secret Service Agencies, including the KGB, ruled from there with an iron fist. All along the walls of the building were foundation stones now inscribed with the names of all the Lithuanian partisans killed by the Russians.  The basement was used as a prison by both the Germans and the Russians, the latter also using it as an execution chamber (hence the inscribed names).
The old KGB headquarters - now a government building and a museum

The Partizans names on the foundation stones - the death dates show who was realy fighting the cold war.

However our visit was not to be, it would appear that all museums are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Time for plan B.  We found the old town and walked around. I have never seen so many churches in such a small space.  They were everywhere and all different shapes and sizes and religions.

The place its self was very tired looking, graffiti and bits of building hanging off.  It was nowhere near as vibrant and exciting as Riga had been. There is obviously money about in the new town, and all the cars are new and expensive models, not on a Monte Carlo scale, but certainly far more than we expected considering the state of the town. We crossed a small river not realising we were entering another free state within a free state.
The Republic of Uzupio (about 6 or 7 streets in total)

We stopped for dinner in this crazy place and had to leave before the piano and its accompanying 2 foot square speakers broke into full swing. When Lithuania gained its independence, the crazy artists and misfits decided to declare their own independence on a small bow in the river, called Uzupio Gatve. Their independence day being April 1st ! In the centre of the small state was a statue of an egg. On the 1st of April 2002 the egg, having been covered up for some time was uncovered and the statue of an Angel was unveiled.  This state even has its own constitution, part of which allows a dog to be a dog !  
The Angel statue in Uzupio

After another walk around in search of some light entertainment, called it a day. If you are considering visiting Vilnius, don’t come on a Monday or Tuesday, carry lots of their little coins for the parking meters and watch out for the crazy drivers in their expensive cars.
Another church..

Statue of Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Said to be the founder of Vilnius. Ruled 1316 to 1341

Grand Palace of the Dukes of Lithuania

The presidential palace

Yet another church (and style - see below)

Remember the Dragon phonemenon !

And the churches were not just for show...

Tuesday 11th October.
We are off to Poland today. We saw the other side of Lithuania, the countryside, where they don’t have the expensive cars. The farmers here put in long, back breaking days, using the most basic equipment.  We saw horse and carts, old men in large fields with scythes, cutting grass, and an old woman walking around with huge hammers, (probably to persuade the old men they were late for dinner). Around a turn in the road, there were lots filled with brand new tractors and other farming implements, and you wonder who could afford to buy them. 
The poor side of Lithuania
Then we crossed into Poland..

 And then into Poland...

The roads here are very different, all single carriage way, no real verges to speak of and the Polish lorry drivers deserve their bad reputation. Road works are even scarier. We stopped at a red light as  there was only one lane open, and 4 cars just overtook us and went through, blatantly ignoring the lights.   The workmen do not have miles of unnecessary coned off lanes and then a second safety coned off area, they are in and out of cars, the diggers and cranes all turn, travel and spin round in the traffic, you really have to have your wits about you.  We travelled through several picturesque villages and towns and stopped in one for a much earned break. 

Wild deer at the road side

The church at Borwaskie
Lunch was very tasty but with lots of beetroot, not cabbage on this occasion.   
We finally arrived at our other last chance campsite, and for Ray, things looked up immediately as we saw a Land rover Defender with British plates.  The woman who dealt with us at reception was Polish, but stated the Landie belonged to her husband, a Glaswegian.  We were not alone this time, we had Germans for and company.  Anyway, Tom, (The Glaswegian), came down and introduced himself to us. He and Ray then got into it about our respective vehicles.  This leaves me with plenty of time to tell you about where we are. 
Pic of a postcard of the campsite. X marks the spot (under the "N") where we were.

We are just outside the town of Gizycko, (hereby known as Gismo, because we couldn’t pronounce it).  There is a lot of upgrading happening in the town, but the countryside is beautiful.  We were on a lake, but apparently there are 21 of them, all linked by canals, by which you could get to Warsaw,(probably safer than by road). Apparently there is an abundance of wildlife here as well.  Although it was cold, the evening was clear for a while and then just for a change, it rained.  Tom had explained that they were actually in the process of shutting down the camp for the winter. He said we were welcome to stay as long as we liked and opened up the bar so we could all sit and have a blether.  It turns out Tom was in the Royal Navy, and after 25 years service in the submarines, he lived in Acton where he met his Polish wife.  They left London in 2001 and bought the campsite, and although hard work, he loves it out here. We spent a couple of really interesting hours with him and it turns out in all this time, we are only the 3rd British couple to have visited the site. Most are Germans and Danes. His site is a work in progress and a labour of love. Apparently there are no skilled workers in Poland, because, and you’ve guessed it, they are all in Britain, Germany or Ireland. Those that have returned are demanding the kind of money they were earning abroad.  Red tape also has a slightly different meaning in that it is still very red from days gone by.   Bureaucrats still rule and have very strong opinions.   
When we left the bar, Ray and I walked down to the lake and saw more evidence of the damage that the beavers do, both they and Cormorants are protected species in Poland. The moon was almost full and it was a beautiful clear night, but by 4 o’clock this morning, there was a gale blowing and the rain was pouring down.  We had considered staying a bit longer, but this was no longer fun.
Wednesday 12th October
We got up and were very soggy before we’d even had a cup of coffee.  Tom came down to see what our plans were and after fond farewells and a few of his pears from his own trees, we hit the road to head for Warsaw.   
This was what the weather was like when we left.
Karen found this lovely spot for lunch.

We know there are no campsites open here so we are going to take three days out and stay in a hotel and do some sightseeing.
Our Hotel room is adjacent to a glass internal partition door and as we were taking the luggage in and out of our room, Karen backed out of the room locking the door as she did so and turned headlong into the glass door leaving a very good imprint of her forehead and nose on the glass. Once the stars had cleared she had a quick look around to confirm no one from “You’ve Been Framed” was about.  Retribution for laughing at other peoples misfortune. Gotcha.

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