A Day Trip From Vilnius to Kryžių Kalnas (Hill of Crosses)

One of Lithuania’s most famous and fascinating places to discover is in fact a site of pilgrimage. When I visited, as I approached the hill in a very eerie twist of events a burst of icy snow blasted my face before I was able to be awe-inspired and impressed by the sheer scale of crosses and monuments of Kryžių Kalnas.

I’m not a religious person in any way, but I can appreciate how this place is somewhere that people can receive comfort and even a sense of pride. This site has existed in various forms from approximately 1831 and was formed after the failed rebellion of the Russian Empire, as many people died relatives were unable to locate their bodies and instead started to put up crosses here in commemoration.

It has been destroyed several times during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, this was because they didn’t like that people were trying to showcase their heritage, religion and original Lithuanian identity.

Well that’s enough of a history lesson, how did I actually get there?

Here’s my exact itinerary from April 2017*

09:50 – Train from Vilnius

I must admit I was very impressed by the Lithuanian train system, it was fairly modern, clean and pretty efficient. After leaving a very snowy Vilnius I was pleased to see that this train appeared to be almost brand new and had free wi-fi!

Although scheduled to arrive at 12:01 we sadly crept in around 15 minutes late meaning I missed the earlier bus to Domantai, it was fine though because even on Easter Sunday the Rimi supermarket at the bus station was open for snacks.

13:10 – Bus from Siauliai Bus Station to Domantai

The bus station is an easy 10 minute walk from the train station, you don’t need to buy tickets beforehand but you can pick up a timetable from the one of the ladies in the ticket booths. When you arrive you’ll need to wait at platform 12, the bus driver we had was friendly and understood where we wanted to go. For the cheap price of €0.84 you can get to Domantai – the nearest bus stop to the Hill of Crosses.

Once you get off the bus you’ll need to start walking along a road called the 4033 for 2km and very soon see the magnificent and legendary Hill of Crosses in the distance.

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

15:02 – Bus from Domantai 

Although it might not sound very long to spend here you can catch the bus 2 hours later, there’s a bus stop on the opposite side to where you disembarked that’s clearly visible, once you get back to Siauliai you’ll have some free time to go and explore Lithuania’s fourth largest city. There’s a few cool sites to see including some funky street art…

Siualiai

17:25 – Train from Siauliai to Vilnius 

Sadly for me I didn’t realise I wouldn’t have the same brand spanking new train coming back, unfortunately it was a rickety old pile which was cramped and jam-packed with people heading home after the Easter holidays. There was another train soon after ours that left at 17:57 but I’m not sure if this uses the newer train, my advice would be to try that instead and stay a bit longer.

Oh…how the mighty have fallen :o(

How to Visit?

If you are travelling by train you can easily buy your train tickets on the day from Vilnius station, however during peak and holiday seasons these trains will get extremely busy. I was travelling to Trakai the day before and thankfully I booked all of my tickets together, most people speak some English in Lithuania but it’s always fun to make a fool of yourself by trying to local lingo.

The Lithuanian Railway website sadly doesn’t accept credit cards yet; however they do take some cards from several Baltic states and Scandinavian countries. A return second class ticket to Siauliai should cost just over €21, which given that it’s almost 200km I think it’s a bargain!

Driving here will likely take around three hours from the capital, there’s a brand new visitor centre and car park located opposite the site, although most people prefer to just park on the side of the road and avoid being charged. There’s no entry fee on to the site of the Hill of Crosses and you can freely roam around.

*Check local listings for updated train/bus times

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

Norwegian rail travel in winter

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This beautiful country is simply stunning, I visited in February 2013 to discover the last wilderness of Europe. Taking in Bergen, Oslo and the Svalbard archipelago, I was so excited to visit a place often depicted as the country “powered by nature”.

Firstly let me start by saying Norway is far from cheap, however the rewards of visiting greatly outweigh the monetary aspect. I had researched quite a lot online beforehand, this taught me that I needed to bring some snack type foods with me, however make sure you try out some of the local cuisine too.

Travelling by train in winter!

So what possessed me to visit a cold country in winter?

I’m originally from Northern England, which is usually relatively cold in winter, sometimes it snows, but nothing prepared me for the Arctic and how much it would snow in Norway. I was amazed when my flight from Oslo to Tromso, in the far north, took off in a blizzard!

I believe Norway should be seen in its true natural beauty, this is between November – March. This is the perfect opportunity as it’s not peak tourist season. This means you can find special offers and deals can be done.

Norway

Oslo to Bergen

Unfortunately I didn’t have time on this trip to explore Oslo, however I can’t wait to revisit Norway, so far it’s one of my favourite countries and is incredibly easy to get around.

Beware though, taking the train can be a long but rewarding journey. You can fly anywhere in the world, but where else would you see magnificent fjords or beautiful mountains with almost no people?

Norway in winter

There’s a house in there somewhere…

Taking the train from Oslo to Bergen takes approximately six and a half hours, it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and soak up the stunning Norwegian scenery. In winter it’s perfect as the train is warm whilst outside it could be -20!!

Along the route the train stops at several stations providing the quick opportunity to jump out and take some photos. For me it was amazing to see people living in the wilderness, houses almost disappeared from the amount of snow covering them.

Oslo to Bergen by Train

Oslo to Bergen by Train

When you get closer to Bergen be prepared for the many tunnels, you might not see much. Once in Bergen though you’ll find an exciting mix of old and new with an amazing port and historic Bryggen.

Beautiful Bergen

Beautiful Bergen

Flåm Railway

At just over 20km long, the journey is relatively short. However Lonely Planet listed it as the best train journey in the world in 2014 (Source: Lonely Planet). Flamsbana (as the journey is referred to) is unique due to 80% of the journey being at a gradient of 5.5%.

Flamsbana

Flamsbana

Obviously in summer you have the wonderful lush green valleys which are incredible, however in winter the train is certainly more memorable. I often wondered if the train would make it, but thankfully it did and was absolutely incredible.

Along the short route you’ll reach Finse, the highest station in Norway. At 1,222m above sea level, for me, this was an incredible experience as houses were completely covered in snow and either side of the railway tracks were packed so high with snow that you couldn’t see out of the window.

Traditional Norwegian Wooden Church, Flam

Traditional Norwegian Wooden Church, Flam

You can easily catch a train from Bergen to Myrdal and then catch the Flåm line. Once you arrive in Flåm it’s the perfect opportunity to do a fjord tour, although in winter make sure you take your hat, gloves, scarf and thermals, otherwise you’ll freeze your bits off!

To check out prices and more information about Flåm visit the website here.

In Norway they mean business

In Norway they mean business

There's a train station entrance somewhere...Myrdal Station, Norway

There’s a train station entrance somewhere…Myrdal Station, Norway

Further Information

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

The Andean Explorer: How much fun can a long train journey be?

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The Andean Explorer is one of the world’s most incredible train journeys. During the 10-hour trip you’ll be treated to stunning views with a first class service.

Although I’ve previously been on other long train journeys such as The Ghan in Australia and various overnight trains in Europe, The Andean Explorer is truly in a league of its own.

You can start the journey in either Cusco (tourist central) or Puno (Lake Titicaca), although you might think what on earth am I going to do for 10 hours, believe me you will not be bored!

Leaving Puno

Bye bye Puno…

 

When I first saw the train, due to the colours I felt like I was in Ukraine (due to the blue and yellow colours…check out my Ukraine article).

In the UK, if you travel first class you can expect to pay a fortune for the privilege, thankfully in Peru the Andean Explorer, although expensive, is well worth the outlay.

With a classic design, the Pullman carriages are spacious and incredibly clean. I loved how comfortable the seats were, on such a long journey it was a relief!

My favourite part in the design of the train was the outdoor observatory car with a bar in it, enabling you to get the best possible view of Peru from both sides and above your head. Simply stunning.
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There’s something rather romantic about a long journey (just don’t think about Murder on the Orient Express). However when you first leave Puno you’ll notice that even the tuk tuk’s on the street next to you are travelling faster than the train, but this is simply due to conditions of the rails.

During my trip to Peru I was travelling in an adventure tour group, I remember hearing a couple of them say they’d decided not to take the train because it was “10 hours and this is too long to be on a train, it’s also too expensive”.

True, the train isn’t cheap, however the experience is one of the best you can have as a tourist. You’ll meet people from all over the world, thankfully several of my group decided to take the train and we had a fantastic experience with a great bunch of newly made friends.

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Cheers to new friends in Peru (Photo: Susan Walker)

The Andean Explorer isn’t just any old normal train journey, it’s a First Class experience.

As you leave Puno, you’ll see markets lining the sides of the railways tracks, some of the sellers place their books on the track. It was amazing to watch from the end carriage once the train had passed, life returns to normal and sellers once again will take over the railway tracks with their items.

Puno Market…across the railway tracks!

Puno Market…across the railway tracks!

At roughly the halfway point of the journey you’ll be given half an hour to get off the train and go enjoy the market, make sure you use this opportunity to bargain for locally produced goods.

So far on my journey through Peru I hadn’t bought any souvenirs, so for me the La Raya stop enabled me to purchase a local product…an alpaca wool jumper (sweater for my U.S readers). I love it, it’s so soft, warm, comfy and reminds me of my travels to Peru.

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La Raya market stop

What’s a trip to South America without hearing some pan pipes! On the train you’ll be treated to a band playing traditional music accompanied by some funny dance moves, which later you may get dragged into joining…SO BEWARE!

Also if you do the journey, please make sure you check out the toilets (that's all I'll say…but it isn't bad)

Also if you do the journey, please make sure you check out the toilets (that’s all I’ll say…but it isn’t bad)

Trains don’t exactly have the best reputation for serving food, in the UK we often have to buy expensive tasteless rubbish from buffet cars. Not in Peru though, when I boarded the Andean Explorer we were offered a three course lunch with a variety of choices whilst later in the journey we were given afternoon tea.

The quality of the food however, for me was the best part.

I’m a fan of trying out local alcohol wherever I go, before I visited Peru I’d never heard of Pisco Sour. By the end of the trip I couldn’t get enough of them. It’s an unusual taste, but you soon get used to it and before you know it you’ll be a bit merry.

You’ll have plenty of time to try out some of the cocktails on the train and you may even be selected to take part in a cocktail making demonstration.

Machu Picchu cocktails

Machu Picchu cocktails…they weren’t all mine!

When I arrived in Cusco I was really sad because I realised that the train journey was over, it was so fun, relaxing and indulging. I just wanted to do it all over again, but it was then time to go explore Cusco!

The Andean Explorer

…time to go explore Cusco (Well in the morning)!

Further Information

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.