Tue, Jun 8 (Day 15): From Vilnius to Riga

After an early lunch we depart from Vilnius with our first stop being a visit to Siauliai and the Hill of Crosses – symbol of resistance against Soviet occupation. Later, we arrive at the Latvian border and ancient Riga, Latvia’s capital, made famous by the stories of Baron von Münchhausen. Dinner is at our hotel tonight.  (Buffet breakfast / Dinner)
Hotel: Reval Latvija

As we were leaving Vilnius, Linda took a quick photo of this statue on a bridge, dedicated to the workers of the city. There is another statue of Russian soldiers, which the people decided to keep after the breakup of the USSR, as a token of their "conquest" against an occupier.
We are on the bus toward Riga (Latvia), passing through beautiful countryside. The great thing is that these last Baltic countries have much easier borders to cross; no paperwork or stopping.
Linda found some nice Christmas tree ornaments in a shop, and took this picture to guide her in creating some of her own this year.
Most of this day is spent at Trakai Castle, near Siauliai, Lithuania. It was built in various stages between the 13th and 18th centuries.
This model gives you an idea of how this castle sits on an island in the middle of a lake.
The lake is a recreation and vacation attraction. Today, the weather is very nice, as you can see by this overloaded sailboat. Hard to believe that this lake freezes over during the winter, and they walk or ice skate across it to the castle.
Today, we will simply follow the wooden bridge to the castle.
This is the outside wall.
This is a shot of where the moat would be when the water in the lake was a few meters higher (like it was in the earlier centuries).
This is the entrance to the castle, iron gate and draw bridge.
The castle was used as the house for the Duke, but also as a prison to keep local criminals in the dungeon or out the yard (to be prodded and otherwise demeaned with rocks/dirt/etc. by the people).
Here's another mechanism that kept the criminals at bay. Click here to see a video overview of the courtyard.
This is the inner court, where the Duke & Co. would hold court and be taken care of by their servants.
This is one of the circular staircases (tennis shoes to demonstate use).
This is the heating system. The fire was placed in the bottom, which heated the rocks above, where they would pour water to create steam heat that dispursed throughout the building. Ingenious.
Many hidden pots of money were found in the walls of the castle, once sonar equipment was used (banks were a little less reliable in those days). We were really impressed until they told us that, in the day, this much money would onlypurchase two cows!
Along the way to Riga, we stopped at the Hill of Crosses. This is a far away picture, but the next ones will give you an idea of the density of crosses placed on this hill. Under the USSR, the crosses were constantly taken down, suppressing religious expression, but the people kept putting new ones up.
Here is a closer view.
And here is a closer view still, so you get an idea of how tightly the crosses are placed next to or on top of each other. There are over 200,000 crosses on this hill. Click here to see a video zoom of the crosses.