We’ve been having a good time, but were still enduring the cold up here! I told mom that I think were in the tundra! From the north of Estonia we headed down to tarty further south. Tartu is a cute university town and we were lucky enough to stumble upon some kind of festival so there were people out selling all kinds of local goodies and we were able to try some! We also headed to a museum that was actually in the basement of an apartment building and it was the old KGB cells and head quarters. Very interesting but sad to see these cells and how tiny they were. We then headed to a little town called viljandi that had lots of old wooden houses and an old castle overlooking a lake. It is actually really amazing how small these countries really are and how our longest drive never seems to be more than an hour or two! In viljandi we also found a bike race, so were able to enjoy watching a road race and the next day we watched the end of an off road race which turned out to be the Estonian cup. They actually won sone awesome prizes too… Computers, digital cameras, cell phones and of course champagne, I was impressed! We spent quite a bit of time relaxing as well since I had a pretty bad cold! After viljandi it was time to head into Latvia and we headed to Sigulda, a touristy area with lots to do. We got there and headed out to a castle that had been partially rebuilt. Then we headed to a neighboring town that had a castle that was still in ruins but they sent you around it with a candle burning in a lantern so that was very cool. We also tried looking for a few more places and got lost and enjoyed the countryside instead! The next morning we headed off to an old soviet bunker that was so top secret it’s location was only released in 1994! It is 9 m underground and is all original furnishings and everything. We were on tour with a large group of Danish people and they were pretty entertaining to go through the bunker with. From here we went into Lithuania and the city of siauliai. This is where the famous hill of crosses is located. This hill has had crosses on it since the 19th century and right now it has at least 200,000 crosses of all sizes all over it. The crosses were taken down, bulldozed, removed and forbidden by the soviets at least 4 times and they say that every time, overnight more crosses would show up. It was pretty interesting to see and you would never believe how there are crosses everywhere! From here it was time to head to Vilnius, the capital of lithuania. We arrived and proceeded to be lost in the traffic, confusing streets and one ways for at least an hour and a half looking for our hotel, so our first picture of Vilnius was not a great one! We visited the large cathedral, a bridge with locks all over it from the uzupis (ppl who used to be gypsies), they put a lock on the bridge when they get married to seal their marriage. We also wandered into the area of the city they claim to be their own country and looked at their very interesting constitution in several languages posted on a wall in the middle of the city! I had an afternoon at the US embassy where I had to have pages added to my passport and we saw two really interesting museums. One was the KGB museum, it had a lot of their old spy documents and equipment as well as the basement which was a prison. It was extremely sax to go down to the basement and see the cells, bathrooms, showers, and even pictures of beaten prisoners and the execution room. It is amazing people were still locked in this prison in the 80′s and 90′s. The other museum we saw was the holocaust museum. It was so interesting but also horrifying! They have very graphic pictures and some horrible accounts of events that happened in the Jewish ghettos that were set up in Vilnius and Kaunas.
We made a brief pitstop outside of Vilnius at the trakai castle, which has been almost completely restored. It’s amazing how small the rooms seem inside when the whole palace seems so big outside! After the castle we headed to Kaunas. In Kaunas we spent the night and in the morning headed to the sugihara house. It’s the house of a Japanese consulate who saved the lives of at least 3,00 Jews by issuing transit visas to them and allowing them to leave the horrors of the German invasion behind. From Kaunas we headed out to Nida on the curonian spit. This is a fairly large island made all from sand, though you wouldn’t guess it if you were on it. We spent two nights there and had our own little apartment. We hiked up one of the dunes and could look out over most the spit and over to the mainland. We also spent a day biking, and biked half the island! We probably biked about 35 miles but it was nice to get exercise, fresh air and see the pine forests. This morning we stopped to see the colony of cormorants and grey herons and watch them feed their young before heading for leipaja in Latvia. In leipaja we stopped briefly for a tour of the karosta prison. Karosta was and old naval base for the soviets so the prison was for punishing soldiers. No one was tortured or murdered here, they just had to face uncomfortable living conditions and hard work. We opted out of the option to stay the night at the prison as our tour guide seemed to think we wouldn’t make it as we already had a hard time with following directions and answering questions correctly on our 45 minute tour! From there we have stopped in a little town called kuldiga and we will explore the west side of Latvia for a day or two before heading into Riga. I am enjoying my time but I’m also very excited to get back home and get back intoa somewhat normal life again! Only a little over two weeks left!