Day 14 – Vilnius, Lithuania

7 Oct

This morning I managed to miss the breakfast queue.  No one believes that late breakfast is good.  Tauno joined me for the last time.  Can’t really believe that this is my last day here.  It feels like forever, but yet such a short time.  I can’t remember what we did at the start of this trip.

Anyway, we met Margherita, our Vilnius City guide in the foyer of the hotel.  As it was drizzling steadily, she decided that we should get the public bus into town and not walk from the hotel.  The local trolley bus was crowded and I’m sure an old lady’s hand went walkabout as they squeezed past me to get off.

We started in the Jewish Big Ghetto – as opposed to the Small Ghetto on the other side of German Street.  The Jews were mostly all originally German, but were hearded into ghettos by the Nazis.  There was a statue of a doctor here who had also turned his talents to killing animals.  The entire group heard the story like this.  Actually, it turned out that the doctor was good at healing animals!

Margherita warned us of stepping the bike lanes painted on the pavements/roads as cyclists sue the pedestrians if they step in front and cause them harm.  Quite right too.

Only 5 minutes into the tour and she was congratulating us on still listening.  She was really funny, but I’m sure she was carrying her knitting in her bag.

She did stop or point out a few shops that we should really investigate in our free time.  These included a cheese shop and a blown glass (ornaments) shop.  I’m not that old yet!

We headed past several churches as she spouted off many interesting facts – like 4% of the population are currently Russian Orthodox, but there are far too many Orthodox (and other) churches.  This is generally because rich people sponsored the building of a church with their name on it to ensure that they got to heaven.

At the Gates of Doom, she meant Dawn, we turned around and headed back again, passing through the Writer’s Street where art and objects are regularly added to the wall.  We also stopped off in a random shop to find something to do with winding wool.  Becky to answer for that one … Anyway, we found painted hollow eggs, Easter style.  Just a bit crushable for my liking, but several were bought for Australian Christmas trees.

Some random courtyards were also on the “must visit” list.  She obviously had pride in her city, but it was a bit tenuous at times as to the relevance to the group’s interest.  Some interesting art though.  They really like their wood carvings here.

When walking past some Italian branded clothes shops, she did comment that she didn’t know how they managed to survive as “no-one buys stuff there”.  I think she meant, “none of her friends at the local bridge club”.

I asked what “Gintaras” meant as many shops had it above the door.  It means “Amber”.   She managed to mention that her husband was actually called Gintaras – his mother though he might have had “amber” coloured hair (but he doesn’t).  She says that she has a 100kg lump of amber at home!

Amber and linen shops are very popular – the flax is grown locally.  Can’t imagine that linen outfits are totally suitable to the Baltic weather though.

We visited the outside of a gothic cathedral, together with the entire population of Japan and South Korea.  First time I really felt we might be on the tourist circuit.  Nearby was a tree covered in knitting.  She described it as “junk”, rather than art.  Each to their own.  To be honest, it was a bit soggy in the drizzle.

We walked through the University area, with a welcome break in the warm university bookshop.  This was worth a visit for the frescoes on the roof.  And the books were interesting as well.  She bought one.  I also finally found some stamps, and so the last of the postcards are now on their way.

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We did visit the university church of St. John.  Wow, what a sight.  Designed in a very unique way, the impression of depth was fantastic.  The colours were so vivid and the gold shone brightly.  The side chapels were just as impressive.

Further on was the President’s work place – no security in sight (and none needed).  That lass has done nae bad for hersel’.

Margherita finished the tour in the main square, outside the cathedral, reminding us that she wasn’t a tourist terrorist, and that she hadn’t been trying to torture us.  Thoroughly enjoyable, if slightly damp.

Tauno then led us into the cathedral which was quite plain in comparison to the university church, but did contain a chapel to the only Lithuanian saint – St. Casimir – which made up for it.

Heading off for a tuna crepe and coffee with Ruth, Karen, Yok Leng and Steve, we then headed our separate ways.

I tried a couple more churches – St. Casimir’s and St. Theresa’s before climbing the steps to see the icon of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, at the Gate of the Dawn.  Small space and no photos allowed.

Wandering back through different parts of the town, I ended up at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.  Wandering into the courtyard gave the impression of another museum, and I’m totally museumed out.  There were also far too many restrictions on getting in.

Trotted around the New Arsenal, which is now the national museum, and the Old Arsenal (an art gallery), to find the funicular up the castle hill was not in service.  The slippy stone path was the only option.  Barely pausing for breath, I scampered up the hill (honest), and wiped the rain from my brow to take a few photos of the outstanding views over the city.  One of the towers in the high castle had been restored and had some displays as well as the all important viewing platform.

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Vilnius Old Town, from the Higher Castle

One of the exhibitions was about the Baltic Way – I may have mentioned this before, but it really is a most important event in the history of the Baltic States – where 2 million peopled joined hands in a show of solidarity against the Soviet regime on 23rd August 1989.

Walking down, past the Hill of Three Crosses, I managed to find the post office – otherwise known as Paštas.  Think Sean Connery saying “pasta”.  The last of the postcards have now gone.  Good luck in the lottery.

Jacky’s recommendation of Pinavija, a well rated bakery and coffee shop, was top of the visit list.  Unfortunately my first choice of drink wasn’t available, so they forced me to drink cranberry kissel.  Nope, I’d never heard of it either.  Apparently a sour berry drink, thickened with some kind of starch.  It tasted … sour.  The cake with pink icing was going to make up for it, but it seemed slightly alcoholic.  Not how pink icing should taste.  Different, but nice!  Ish.

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Last stop of the day was to the former KGB building which is now home to the museum of genocide victims.  Nothing like a relaxing end to the day.  No really, it wasn’t.  If I had confined my visit to the exhibitions on two floors, I might have gone away wondering what all the fuss was about.  The subject matter was very similar to the stories I’d read in the other similar museums in Riga and Tallinn.  What made the difference here was the visit to the KGB prison underneath.

From the initial 0.6m² boxes where prisoners were held standing upright, to the 15-in-a-cell where one would now barely be allowed.  The pictures of the hangings carried out by the Nazis, and the solitary confinement by the Soviets.  The padded cells, the interrogation cells and the room where prisoners where held in solitary confinement on water – balancing on a small disc or fall into icy water.

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The partisans that were caught were executed and the bodies laid out in town squares, famers markets and anywhere that might frighten the locals.  The exercise yard and execution chamber were side-by-side.  Videos on loop showed prisoners being shot in the back of the head, body dumped and the blood washed away as the next one was led in.  1038 people died here.

I quickly left the museum and headed back to the hotel.

Freshening up, we headed out by taxi for the final group meal of the trip.  Lokys (the bear) had both wild boar and beaver on the menu.  Choices, choices.  Settled on the wild boar, although Steve was kind enough to share some of his beaver stew with me.  Both had a strong flavour.  Wild boar is to pig, as venison is to beef.  Beaver – tastes like rat.  But very nice, and very strong flavour.

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Tauno, our fantastic guide

We reminisced about the trip, I had the job of thanking Tauno for his help and support, before passing over his tip.  Waffling is my speciality, but I tried to keep it short.  Following that, I managed to persuade the bemused group to pose with my flags for my traditional group photo.

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Goodbyes were said and some took a taxi back to the hotel.  I remembered to request the 3:30am alarm call. OMG.

I can’t believe it’s all over.

Fantastic trip, with the weather only turning bad in the last few days.  Seen so many things, learnt so much and had a relaxing time on an unhurried trip.  Credit must go to Ruth, Karen, Steve, Yok Leng, Becky, Lindsay (finally figured out the spelling), Tauno and Clive for putting up with me.

All three are fantastic countries.  In order of recommendation – Lithuania, Estonia then Latvia.

Assuming there are no travel issues, this will be my last blog until 10th March 2017, when I’m off to Burma / Myanmar. See you then.

Thanks for reading.

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3 Responses to “Day 14 – Vilnius, Lithuania”

  1. amandalaneadventures October 7, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

    Constantly entertained by your observations!!! Can’t wait for your account of Burma and Myanmar as wanting to head there – you are always one step ahead of me!

  2. Steve October 8, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    Just wondering if anyone else read “The local trolley bus was crowded and I’m sure an old lady’s hand went walkabout as they squeezed past me to get off” as…

    The local trolley bus was crowded and I’m sure an old lady’s hand went walkabout as they squeezed past to get me off

    ???

    Glad you enjoyed Tony, will hear about it in person soon!

  3. kayeecee October 12, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    And I see the flag was finally crucified to fit into your bag….

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