Thursday, October 13, 2005
(cruci) Fixing a Speeding Ticket
As I near 40 years old I realize how much "road trips" have changed. Gone are the days of road trips with friends to Lake Okoboji with a few "travelers" (my Canadian friends know what I mean here) along for the ride. Today my road trip was in a very safe, clean, and modern VOLVO with my Lithuanian tour guides Marcus and Elena (she is Russian actually) in the front seat and a client in the back seat with me.
Elena ( fluent in English, Lithuanian, and Russian) had lived in the USA for almost two years primarily in the Kansas City area. She did all the talking since Marcus was there to drive and make sure we paid for the trip I guess :) As we drove to our destination I had flashbacks to my time on the German autobahn in the Hamburg area -- the difference in Lithuania though is that there ARE posted speed limits and the police are not paid well. So Elena explained to us that the system for processing speeding tickets for most drivers is to simply negotiate a price to pay the police if you are stopped because the fines for speeding, both monetarily and via the classic "point system" which leads to your license being revoked, are so large and the police are so poorly paid drivers are better off (and the police!!) simply paying the police cash. Small bills are best since the police don't have change makers attached to their belts.
After nearly a 3 hour drive where we learned about Lithuanian history, Soviet occupation, and insights such as "Religion/attending church has become a fashion, social statement in Russia" we arrived at the rather remote, "Hill of the Crosses", where Pope John Paul II addressed an audience in 1993. The story of this hill; that has an estimated 100,000 plus crucifixes/crosses, Virgin Mary statues, etc., begins with the rural tradition in Lithuania where poor villages unable to afford building a church simply erected a large cross on the edge of town so local residents knew where to gather for worship. Apparently this tradition expanded into the current Hill of Crosses after some Soviet officials toppled this local village's cross which was repeatedly replaced by the local residents with additional crosses being added each time until the hill and now the flat land surrounding the hill evolved into the pilgrimage destination that it is today. Helpful hint -- the "Hill of Crosses" is NOT the same as the "Hill of Three Crosses" which is near the Cathedral in downtown Vilnius NOT the three hour ride our pilgrimage took today. The trip was well worth the money and time -- just over $125.00 per person.
On the return trip our merry band - if only I had developed our characters like Chaucer :) - enjoyed a very Lithuanian lunch at "Gubernijos alus" which is part of a local country retreat, recreational complex at; http://www.smuklezarija.it , where my starter was a black/red pepper beef (sorry vegans!!) soup which Marcus the native Lithuanian started tearing up from eating his bowl but I survived. For my main I went with the "pickled beef with fries/chips, peas, and coleslaw" backed up with one VERY heavy potato pancake my client could not eat as a precautionary measure against slipping into a "food coma" -- you better like potatoes if you plan a vacation here!!
The restaurant itself was designed like a Bavarian hunting lodge with numerous trophies mounted on the walls (sorry again vegans!!) as reminders of several successful hunting trips. The staff was very friendly and attentive but the "Lithuanian techno/disco music" in the background seemed mis-placed in our little hunting lodge but overall I have to give them a "4" rating for being a great overall experience (okay, the very tasty vanilla ice cream cone pushed them to a "3.5" and rounding got them to a "4").
After lunch Elena took us to a former 19th Century farming village museum complete with a set of restored, authentic homes and barns. I hope the statists out there don't get upset but this farm was privately owned by some greedy capitalists!!! We gladly paid the nominal entrance fee and thoroughly enjoyed the educational tour.
Overall a day well spent touring Lithuania's heritage where tourism is just developing since most tourist dollars went to Estonia first, then Latvia after the fall (thank God!!) of the Soviet Union so now is a great time to visit.