Sejny and the Suwalki region
I visited the tiny town of Sejny, named after the river Seine (population 6,000 to 6,500), or “little Lithuania” as I like to dub it onroute to Latvia via Lithuania.
Originally I had planned to go to Kaliningrad as a way of prolonging meeting with Valeria who ha already applied for a Schengen visa to start after my planned leaving date of Poland. There are 72 hour special visas to Kaliningrad especially to welcome more travel and tourism. Well supposedly. There is so much red tape and expense (I have to book a stay at an approved company which has only hotels which make the regular visa better value) and have to arrive in working hours.
Coupled with the fact no easy route between St Petersburg and the small port that goes to Kaliningrad we scrapped the idea. It allowed me however to meet a good friend of mine Paulina and her boyfriend, Jacek. They were both very kind to me, with Jacek driving us many places allowing me to see around Augustów and other places which would have been considerably difficult (and impossible in the time scale) with public transport.
The town Sejny has became a small provincial town but had more importance in its heyday being formed by Dominican monks, whose monastery minus the monks survives by the Basilica.
There are a lot of old wooden buildings in Sejny, some interesting monuments, an ex synagogue (The White Synagogue, apparently now used as a cultural centre).
The town is very close to the Lithuanian border, but it often gives the impression that it is a Lithuanian town (hence why I call it little Lithuania). Here the big restaurants are Lithuanian, the only that I noticed in fact, there is the Lithuanian House – Dom Litewwki which contains the Lithuanian Consulate as well as a hotel (where I stayed) and a nice Lithuanian restaurant on site.
There are Lithuanian supermarkets too. Apparently according to The Lithuanian House around 1/6 of the population are Lithuanian but you will have the impression of more. 40% of the county is Lithuanian however, and nearby Punsk being the location for many. Relations today are not as warm historically.
The Suwalki area is filled with lakes, greenery and has benefited a lot from European Union funding. There are wooden churches, a monument to the largest massacre of Poles carried out by the Soviets after World War II (The Polish underground resistance was strong here) as well as many canal locks as well as the only sea border crossing in the EU (with Belarus). For Roman Catholics there is a pilgrimage of the sites visited by Pope John Paul II the Polish Pope due to be canonised by them.
Also not to forget, in the small villages and towns some homes became restaurants and hotels where you can expeience home cooked meals at very reasonable prices.
By the Basilica is famed a statue of ex Roman Catholic Bishop of Sejny and famed Lithuanian poet (the same person not two) Anthony Baranauskas.
He is described (in Lithuanian) on the Lithuanian House website as creating an “immortal poem” about a forest that “the natural beauty of the forest history of human destiny and the Lithuanian national character.”
Despite being close to the border the connection to Vilnius was not as good or frequent as one may think. Not wanting to rely on a rather short connection using the train (to date the Polish train has only once arrived on time for me) Paula arranged for me to go with a tour group that were going to Vilnius and Trakai to let me off in Vilnius. And so began the next step in my journey