Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Journey to the Centre of the Earth... (II/IV)

Written 2nd July

... Well geographic centre of europe anyway but that's exciting enough!

An unexpected cardinal point treat on the way out of Vilnius and we didn't even know it was here!

Apparently, depending on where you count from, a lots of places make some claim to be the centre of europe - in fact we could have done a whole tour recently as most of them are in Slovakia, Hungary, Poland (even Torun!), Austria or roundabouts.

But, according to the french national geographic institute and taking account of the canary islands and the azores, this is the big one. And is even recognised in the Guiness Book of Records, so it must be right.

54°54' latitude and 25°19' longitude. To be precise.*

North-south I get - I mean I worked out we were about halfway there in terms of parallels the other day, but east-west? It just goes to show just how much east there is to go - I mean portugal was six months ago, and we didn't even get to the Azores!

But, given that this is about the furthest east we will get on this trip, the Geographical Centre of Europe is a pretty fine cardinal point substitute! I just didn't expect to find it...

So from here, the only way is North!

Onwards once more then, to our last stop in Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses.

No one really knows why it started, but some time in the 19th century, crosses started appearing on this two-humped hillock in the middle of nowhere, and kept appearing, possibly as a symbol of rebellion in 1863 against the Russian occupation (under the Tsars this time, not the communists). The Soviets tried to bulldoze the crosses but apparently people would sneak past the barbed wire fences and the guards each night to replant some and so it continued.

And today there are thousands of crosses, of all shapes and sizes, packed in togther, leaning against or hanging off one another. There are a lot of crucifixes as the place is a pilgrimage spot for catholics and a franciscan monastery recently opened up nearby, but apparently they are not all religious markers. Some are memorials for those who died during the occupation - especially those who died in exile and whose graves are unknown - and many different people come for different reasons, apparently leaving a cross as a symbol of their hopes and dreams.

And they still come in force today.

Even PJP2 has been here, and of course has left the biggest cross!

Just bizarre.

And so to the border already. Only a short visit but wow, what a lot learned! And what a lot of shocking yet previously unconsidered history crammed into a small place.

We have of course missed a lot, Herkus suggested a few places further along the road beyond the centre of europe - a wooden lithuanian castle, the spot where Mingaudas was crowned back in 1253 at Kernave, a Poet's Lighthouse and the memorial to the two lithuanian airmen who were among the first to fly over the Atlantic and Europe in a small plane but who got shot down by the Nazis as being an unidentified, and therefore presumed hostile, aircraft.

We also haven't got to the coast, especially the sand dunes of the Curonian Spit, a thin strip of sand dunes split equally between Lithuania and Kalingrad. But we have heard the Rafi and Meli are headed there, so they can tell us what it's like!

So, Latvia here we come then....

* fact fans will want to know that the cardinal points which produce this centre are as follows:

North: Spitsbergen 80°45'N, 20°35'E
South: Canary Islands 27°38'N, 17°58'W
East: Crest of the Urals 67°59'N, 66°10'E
West: Azores 39°27'N, 31°16'W

They didn't take account of Malta - don't know why - but this would only change the centre by 100m anyway and given the precision of their measurements, the area declared as the 'centre' is actually a quadrilateral 1,100m by 800m, so that's neither here nor there.

No comments:

Post a Comment