Day 12 – Kaunas, Lithuania

5 Oct
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Klaipeda hotel had a complicated lift system

Today started off easily.  Negotiated the lift to the lobby, and walked out of the hotel to get to breakfast.  This however proved just how cold it had become.  8°C today with a bitingly cold wind.  Met Tauno at breakfast and planted the seed that Steve was quite tired today (could have picked anyone).  So when we met for the bus, we had a day without any commentary.  I have to admit that I actually missed it.

Instead, Andreas drove us to Kaunas, the second biggest city of Lithuania, and former capital, in almost complete silence.  I got the backwards facing seat which made the whole thing feel a bit like a train journey.

Arriving in Kaunas, we drove straight to a hilltop viewpoint, overlooking the confluence of two rivers around which the city is based.  Their love of basketball was immediately apparent, as the symbol of a basketball was emblazoned on the river wall, next to “Lithuania”.  Apparently a lot of famous basketball players come from this town.  I’ll let you look them up yourself.

An early check in at the hotel allowed us to drop our bags.  The hotel is only for the one night.  I got the best room so far.  Steve got 5 rooms – a complete suite.  He’s already lost his own stuff in the rooms.  I’m having the same problem – too many surface to cope with.  Certainly a higher standard than we are used to with Explore. But, this hotel is only for the one night.

Tauno then led us through a brief city tour, taking in the ruins of Kaunas castle, St. George’s cathedral and seminary, the town hall (now the city museum), some wax smelters, St. Francis Cathedral (from the outside only), Perkunas House (an example of 15th century gothic brick architecture to the god of thunder), Ss. Peter & Paul’s cathedral, Freedom Avenue … and the shortest route back to the hotel.

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York Cathedral in Scotland?

Notably, outside the Ss. Peter & Paul Basilica was a sign stating that York Cathedral was in Scotland.  I know that Scottish Independence is something that Yorkshire was interested in, but this may be news to them.

Each of the churches was unique – all had some ongoing restoration work to either the inside, the outside or both.  Plain exteriors hid incredible detailed decoration inside – the result of the restoration will be outstanding.

With our free time, the fab 5 headed further out of the old town to find a coffee shop in the new town.  The server wouldn’t sell me a bacon pizza as she didn’t have any bacon, but was happy to give me two slices of a bacon pizza.  I still don’t quite understand the issue.  Anyway, a coffee, doughnut and pizza came to an astonishing €3.00.  Eating local is definitely better on the wallet.

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We passed a commemoration to Romas Kalanta who set himself on fire in Kaunas on 14th May 1972, aged 19, protesting against the Soviet regime.  No one seems to be really sure what he hoped to achieve.

Leaving the rest, I headed to the church of St. Michael the Archangel, which was surrounded by works laying paving on an industrial scale.  Eventually found the open side door (after walking around twice) and was rewarded with yet another surprising interior.  I’m not sure if it was the two sets of disco lights in the sanctuary or the artistically arranged Lithuanian flag hanging from the huge domed roof.  It used to be a Russian Orthodox cathedral, you know.

I then headed to one of two funicular railways, avoiding the 231 steps to the top of the hill.  Empty carriage and prompt timetable, and all for only €0.50.  Immediately in front of me at the top was a white concrete Church of Christ’s Resurrection.  Started in 1932 and finished in 2004, it was unlike any church I’ve ever seen.  Completely white inside and out, with long slender windows, it was like a huge warehouse or aircraft hangar space inside.  It’s 63m high.  (Presumably to the outside tower, which sticks up a bit beyond the roof.)  The main reason for visiting was the roof top observation terrace.  With the choice of paying to use the stairs or the lift, I raced to the top in the most inappropriate brand of elevator – Schindler’s Lift!

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Schindler’s Lift

The observation deck provided the promised fantastic views of the city, although the high winds meant that it wasn’t overly pleasant to stay there for too long.  Certainly a tent had been erected on the roof and was now on its side – it wasn’t planning to stay there too long either.  On the roof of the church, was another church.  Weird.

Back down the funicular, for another €0.50, I then headed to the Devil’s museum which unexpectedly had free entry today.  This houses a huge collection of thousands of wooden devil statues.  It keeps growing as people who visit can also donate.  The signature piece is one of Hitler and Stalin dancing over the bones of Lithuania.

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Hitler & Stalin fighting over the bones of Lithuania

Several exhibits explained the folklore around the devil, including such classics as “The Devil and Vodka” –

“Lucifer made alcohol from the she-goat’s urine.  God gave people a permission to drink only two goblets of alcohol, one to honour God and the second one to hail themselves, the third one thus being dedicated to the devil.  When a man drinks the third goblet his throat starts burning.  That is why vodka (degtine) in Lithuanian is called the thing that burns (degti).”

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How to get rid of the devil –

“… by mentioning saints, with a rosary or a cross.  He is afraid of the rowan, the bird cherry, the chestnut, flax, holy water, baptism clothes, a sack with bread, an inverted seam and the number one.”

“The Devil and a Woman”

“A young woman was sleeping in the barn.  The devil invited her for a dance.  The girl started telling about the sufferings of flax – how it is sown, how it lies in the ground, how it germinates and grows, then how it is pulled, thrashed, combed, woven and so on.  She talked and talked until the rooster crowed and the devil ran away.”

That woman needs to get out more.

And lastly for the devil museum stories … on Shrove Tuesday, there is a fight between “Mr Bacon” and “Mr Hemp”.  Mr Hemp always wins.

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Street Grafitti

On the way back to the hotel, the light rain had become a bit heavier, and I stopped off for some souvenir shopping.

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The hotel facilities were then enjoyed – felt I had to, as it was such a nice place, before meeting up with the rest of the group (minus Welsh Clive) to visit a very posh restaurant where the delicious food was served at very reasonable prices in a brick medieval style cellar.

We have an extra 15 minutes tomorrow – not leaving until 9:15am.  Whatever will I do with the extra time?

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