While backpacking in Lithuania I decided to concentrate on just seeing five main places in my week in the country – Kaunas, Vilnius, Uzupis, Kryziu Kalnas and Siauliai. Kryziu Kalnas is known in English as the Hill of Crosses and is a stunning place in the middle of Lithuanian countryside about 12 kilometres outside the town of Siauliai. Siauliai is pronounced “Shauw Lay” by the way. Here I document my simply inspiring journey to Kryziu Kalnas, the Hill of Crosses. I almost struggle to put these memories into words, convinced people won’t believe me – if you’re in Lithuania EVER, this is the one sight you must see in my opinion!! To get to Kryziu Kalnas you should base yourself in the city of Siauliai, itself quite a perky place off the mundane backpacking pyramid. I stayed in the Hotel Siauliai.
Getting to Siauliai, Lithuania
Siauliai is well connected to every major town or city in Lithuania by bus. Trains also go from Vilnius the capital and there is also a regular bus run to Riga in Latvia (which I later took). I headed to Siauliai by bus and got my ticket in Vilnius. My bus took around 3 hours and cost 13.6 Euros.
Siauliai itself is a gorgeous city that doesn’t attract many backpackers, but it has some great sights, which I’ll cover in a separate post. It’s worth at least a night and I stayed at the Siauliai Hotel and had my own cosy room with wifi and a view – there’s also a cheap backpackers option for just 4.5 Euros a bit out of the city centre, but I stayed downtown. The views are tremendous. You see?
Getting from Siauliai to Kryziu Kalnas
Head to the main bus station in Siauliai and check the timetable for buses to Joniskis – all of these buses use the same road which has the stop for Kryziu Kalnas on it (Domantai). The writing is all in Lithuanian but ask at the desk and they have a mini paper guide to the Joniskis bus route due to its popularity with backpackers – that said I was there in January and was the only traveller I saw in Siauliai or at Kryziu Kalnas, or even crossing the border to Latvia.
Lithuania has recently converted its currency to the Euros, the bus to Kryziu Kalnas costs 86 cents. You can either pay the driver) who will give you a printed ticket) or buy a ticket from the desk in the bus station. I bought mine from the desk at the bus station as I was also enquiring about bus tickets to Latvia (which incidentally couldn’t be bought – you simply pay for them on the marshrutka/mini bus). Some photos of my bus which left from platform 12.
Getting off the Bus at Domantai for Kryziu Kalnas
When you board the bus tell the driver you are going to Kryziu Kalnas or Hill of Crosses. He will know the exact stop you need, which is called Domantai. Basically the bus leaves Siauliai, drives around 10 kilometres and then it will make a roadside stop for Domantai. I got the earliest bus in the morning out there in complete darkness for sunrise. You get off in pitch black on the right hand side of the main road. Head back in the direction of the bus to the previous junction turn off, I think itäs about 10 metres back and turn left. It was a dark lonely road at 7.45am believe me! I used my headlight to lead the way.
Walking to Kryziu Kalnas from Domantai
Continue straight along this lonely dark road (which is not well lit) and after about 2 kilometres you will see the visitor centre on the left hand side. Turn left, head through the car park and under the tunnel under the road and make the walk and pilgrimage along the path to this truly epic sight.
Touring Kryziu Kalnas (The Hill of Crosses)
Simply simply – Kryziu Kalnas is inspiring and outstanding. I was the only backpacker in sight – I was there in darkness around 8am before the sun came up and I had the place to myself.
I prayed, I admired, I took selfies and videos and I enjoyed the eerie ambience of it all. There are thousands of crosses here and the place has a truly incredible history. You’ll wonder WTF it’s all about. Here are some photos.
The Story of the Crosses
The reason for people leaving crosses on the hill here is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising (Polish – Russian War). Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by pilgrims, tourists and Northern Irish backpackers.
It’s a crazy place of uncountable crosses…the exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 55,000 in 1990 and 100,000 in 2006. Amazing eh?
Also during Soviet times, the Hill of Crosses was destroyed as religion was forbidden but every night more and more people would sneak back and place more and more crosses on the hill, so these days it is seen as much a pilgrimage as a homage to the people of Lithuania who objected to the Soviet regime.
It’s open 24 hours for everyone to visit and believe it or not, I was told it’s a MAJOR tourist attraction. For now though, I was the only one here, the information office and gift shop at the entrance were simply not open and after checking out the crosses, praying and enjoying the peace of it all, I was off on my merry way.
Getting back to Siauliai from the Hill of Crosses
Basically this is tough. There are no regular buses, taxis or even cars to hitch hike around, so you’ll have to walk the 2 kilometres back onto the main road to Siauliai and get the next bus back. I was there on a Saturday so I had to wait nearly an hour in the freezing cold by the roadside for the next bus and there was nothing to do! Still I had time to plan some of my trip and take some really remote backpacking photos! The bus from this stop called Domantai leaves from the opposite side of the road from where you arrived and has a timetable up beside it.
Then when the bus arrived, I got on and paid my 86 cents and breathed a sigh of relief that I was on my way back to Siauliai – you could easily get stranded here. The weirdest thing ever was that as I sat down on the bus a girl looks over at me and starts laughing!! It was a girl called Egle that I had met by pure chance on the Tuesday night that week while I was out checking out the bars in Kaunas! We had a chat and a photo and I got off in the city of Siauliai and my incredible adventure was over.
I can’t talk this place up enough. Put away your plans to backpack Bangkok, Venice and Paris and head to Siauliai and Kryziu Kalnas! Please please please!
“it’s a weird and wonderful world when you come from Wimbledon” – BBC football commentator, 1988
Here are my videos from the trip to Kryziu Kalnas:
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