Musings - Day 3
Day 3 – 29th December 2019
Thanks guys who sent the messages – they are great - keep them coming… sadly though it is so difficult to reply to them all. Keep sending them, they really help.
I had the best nights sleep, feeling more relaxed than a jelly. Had a shower and clean clothes making note that there was a definite spring in my step. It was the same feeling I get at home on a non-ironing day. The winter morning in Kaunas was bleak. Sunday morning meant little traffic, just a few people on the streets going about their business. A cold frosty chill at minus two degrees with a light covering of overnight snow, as I ventured over the road to the central bus station. Today I am to journey to the 4th largest Lithuanian city, at the far eastern edge of the northern plateau, named Siauliai (Pronounced Show-ley – hmmnh … not 100% sure?) The bus is on time and I have the luxury of two seats to myself. There is a passenger bus seat belt rule in Lithuania so I draw your attention to the pic below.
The bus stopped for what I assumed in Lithuanian was a toilet break. For most people I thought that meant going to the toilet, but as I stared in disbelief, the driver is bringing a porcelain toilet to the bus. A lady has rushed out to hand him more bubble wrap as he stows it in the hold. I suppose it still is a toilet break? A few hours later we arrived in Siauliai.
Out of the bus station I knew that I would need to take a cab (about 7 miles) to the famous insubordinate pilgrimage site of “The Hill of Crosses.” The history of which is quite chequered with the Soviet regime levelling it many times, only for the crosses to start reappearing the next day. It was defiance, a revolt, if you like, a Lithuanian version of up yours, you won’t beat us! They have been left alone now for many years since its last destruction in 1961, and on the previous count in 2006, there were reportedly over 100,000 crosses on the hill. I am led to believe there are over a quarter of a million of them now that it has been given world heritage status. Sadly there isn’t enough time for me to count them all, so using the pictorial evidence, you can try, if you’re of a mind to. They symbolise the struggle against the Soviets, to all who lay, plant or construct them here. Very eerie, but equally profound, moving, compulsive, and scary at the same time. I’ve put a film of the scene below and I have to say that I struggled with the whole selfie video thing. I had a burning desire to talk like David Attenborough throughout the piece. Thankfully, I quelled the urge to impersonate, so it evolved without rehearsed narrative. I activated the newly repaired selfie stick camera. - Just so that you know this is as I type, the video I intended to place here will take over five and a half hours to upload so I have replaced this with three online pictures.
Sorry about the quality of the above
You get the feel though - It was an amazing place with not one grave!
Leaving the site early afternoon, I was forced to hitch hike the next leg to Riga. (around 85 miles - the buses from here were abysmal)
One car stopped after I’d been waiting about fifteen minutes in the cold, with extended thumb and destination sign. It was an old, dirty, fogged up right hand drive Skoda, which revealed a gypsy type character behind the wheel. “I English speak didn’t I good ” the driver said, bearing the kind of coloured teeth that you would expect of a person who’d just been grazing on soot. He quickly followed up with “Reeega yes go you? “ The fact that I held at chest height a very large sign that read “RIGA LATVIA” (see pic) wasn’t ever referred to during this short interview. After presumably ascertaining that I wasn’t your average common garden Skoda rustler, the driver accepted that we shared a mutual direction. At this juncture I mistakenly thought that he had merely seen an opportunity to brush up his language skills. He beckoned me around to the front seat of the small car, saying, “Forward chair sit – heed is Chor ” – I was so pleased to get out of the cold, at the very least, to move somewhere nearer Latvia. As I walked around the front of the car it struck me that I could hear violin music, and there seemed to be some kind of shuffling going on in the back of the car. I was so cold I had to check out the possibility of a ride, even if it was just a conduit to warm up. As I opened the car door to peer inside the driver said, “Sokay, sokay, Chor, Chor! ” So I get in the front seat, undeniably harbouring mild concern. What I am about to deliver is a sentence that I would have previously bet proper money, would never have found its way to my keyboard. In the car, seated directly behind me was a large gesticulating stork sat next to a traditionally dressed gypsy, playing a fiddle. This was where I embraced the knowledge that Chor in Romany means Stork! When I say three men and a Stork it sounds like I landed in a Jerome K Jerome novel. Now let’s discuss the aforementioned tall white flapping item in the rear seat. Who by the way, had just taken to resting his large red beak on my shoulder. As I continue with this account please allow me to paraphrase, because the whole story which took out an hour of my life, needs to be explained as simply as possible. Unwittingly I had found myself involved in a stork heist! I was picked up to assist with the pecking beast because the driver couldn’t do it, and the fiddler needed to play. The reason for the traditional folk musician going hell for leather in the back of a fogged up Skoda, was too appease the Stork, because it wasn’t a good traveller. Music evidently calms a flailing bird. Who on earth knows that? Who has ever gone out into their own garden with a trumpet expecting an audience of starlings to relax? Also who, in the history of mankind, has ever documented that storks get car sick? Well the three witnesses in the Skoda did, as it honked up another herring. The resulting smell was like an horrendous cod fart, causing the ludicrous collective of humans to universally gag . The violin ceased for a precious few minutes as the musician hunted for the ejaculated fish. The window winding operation seemed to take a decade, before the offending regurgitation had been removed. Wiping his hands on a handkerchief the musician quickly plucked his instrument as though retuning it, before whipping his bow across the tired strings. I remember at this point having a couple of questions racing through the empty space inside my head, trying to find a delivery format. As it pans out the stork is a portent of fertility all over the Baltics. The fiddlers wife, who was the sister of the driver, had so far in their four year marriage, remained barren. They had hoped that the bird would bring them luck in the baby making department. The driver told me in a patchwork of English, accompanied by much one handed gesturing, that they had hatched this plan, (please excuse the awful pun,) many months ago. - Was capturing a stork really going to escalate their family numbers? Well they certainly believed in its effectiveness. Apparently in the fiddlers back yard near the town of Jelgava, they had constructed over the preceding months, an aviary for the captured stork. Ever hopeful, as a result of its presence, for a fecundity of little gypsies. There were several opportunities for photographic evidence of the absurdity of the last hour, because trust me it needed it! However, I was told in no uncertain terms by the non-fiddling gypsy, that there was to be no record of their crime. They dropped me off by a bus stop that doubled as a taxi rank about eighteen miles from Riga. I was uncertain of the greater relief, that had swept over me momentarily. Was it the joy of survival? Or the open road not knowing what was going to be the next happenstance? Or more likely was it the pleasure of not having to listen to any more mind numbing gypsy fiddling? There were actually times when I thought his elbow would catch fire! I caught a taxi for the second time today, thinking to myself as a seasoned traveller, my entry into Latvia was the most bizarre border crossing that I had ever encountered.
Just a footnote - Riga is lovely - see pics below.
Position: 56°57¢04” N 24°06¢38”Position: – Miles completed: 01776
Location: Riga, Latvia 18:40 - 29th December 2019 - Journey 3 days 14 hours