August 21

My 4 hour bus ride from Riga to Vilnius. Even without views, it was comfortable anyway.

St Petersburg, Russia
Tallinn, Estonia
Riga, Latvia
Vilnius, Lithuania
Minsk, Belarus
Kiruna, Sweden..Lapland, above the Arctic Circle
Umea, Sweden..and travels along the High Coast
Eslov/Malmo, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark for my flight home
Just after I arrived Simona came out to meet me for the afternoon. Lucky dog me because she is leaving tomorrow and won't be in Vilnius for the rest of my stay so timing-wise it just worked out!

Simona is a friend of Barbara's and Barbara put us in touch a few months ago.
We went to a local traditional Lithuanian restaurant, Etno Dvaras, where we shared many tasty dishes. (I'll try to look it all up later..)

And then of course I asked what is the national drink of Lithuania and both Simona and the server replied in unison "kvass!". So I had one, of course.

Kvass is the word in Russian. They might have said gira which is the word in Lithuanian. Either way it was the same beverage, the slightly fizzy, slightly fermented, result of soaking old bread in water and sugar, with maybe some fruit, and waiting a few days.

I am very glad to have tried it and probably won't order it again.
We spent a nice hour trying to find a hammam that would take us. Simona knows about hammams! But unfortunately they were all full. I still have a chance in the next few days if I want to do it, and probably I do!
August 22

In the middle left is my hotel, Hotel Rinno, and in the foreground you can see the restaurant I've eaten at a couple times already. When I went there the second time the guy who runs the place said 'Welcome back!'.
On the way to meet The Alternative Tour I passed the only synagogue in Vilnius. Tallinn-Riga-Vilnius, all with one synagogue but unlike in the other cities, here in Vilnius the Jewish population was huge, about a third of the city before WWII. After the war, none, all murdered but for a very few escaped.
You can see the blue fence on the far left and the insert picture is from Wikipedia.
This sculpture was originally installed, in 2001, in another location and you'll see what replaced it later. In 2003 "Kiauðinis" was moved here, at the crossing of Ðv. Stepono, Pylimo and Raugyklos streets.
Church of All Saints was built between 1620 and 1630, it is of late Baroque style, the Carmelite Baroque.

In Soviet times the Church was made into a folk art museum. Currently the Church is again returned to the Catholic Church and is open to visitors.
It's pretty fancy inside.
They even have Mother Teressa.
Simona recommended this Italian restaurant her friend runs. I had a delicious salad and bread from the pizza oven. Light and lovely!
The Church of St. Casimir was completed in about 1616, the interior was finished in 1618 and it is one of the first Baroque churches in Vilnius.

It was modified many times over the years and survived Soviet times as a museum about atheism.
The interior struck me as something different.
A side chapel.
The Town Hall where it looks like there was a recent wedding.
MILLO, Pylimo g. 56

"The Italian artist Millo is said to usually depict urban scenes – cities and people within them. His work on the building opposite Halës Market is no exception. The town that sprung up on one of the neighbourhood’s most prominent walls is teeming with life."

OS GEMEOS, Pylimo g. 60

"The brothers from São Paulo are among the top names in street art. They dropped by during the Vilnius Street Art Festival in 2015 to pay respect to their Lithuanian grandfather, who’s pictured sitting in the palm of a giant in this mural."
The guide is holding a photo of the famous mural of Trump and Putin sharing a kiss..
..but it's been painted over by the new owner of the restaurant. He decided to be less confrontational and "Make empathy great again".

You have the opportunity to "Give Little Donald a Hug". No one in our group bothered to walk across the street, but these tours don't give you a lot of time so maybe that's why?
The Howling Wolf that greets you at the train station..

(("According to the legend, Grand Duke Gediminas (ca. 1275 – 1341) was hunting in the sacred forest near the Valley of Ðventaragis, near where Vilnia River flows into the Neris River.

"Tired after the successful hunt of a wisent, the Grand Duke settled in for the night. He fell soundly asleep and dreamed of a huge Iron Wolf standing on top a hill and howling as strong and loud as a hundred wolves.

"Upon awakening, the Duke asked the krivis (pagan priest) Lizdeika to interpret the dream. And the priest told him: "What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world." Therefore, Gediminas, obeying the will of gods, built the city, and gave it the name Vilnius – from the stream of the Vilnia River."))
..along with Tony Soprano who is there at the station too. The inset is from the internet.

Why Tony Soprano? Wow, I can't remember what the guide said. I can't remember a lot of what the guide said but in my mini-defense, it was very noisy. The internet is telling conflicting stories except that the artist created the sculpture in 2009.

Tony wasn't here first, he was in an art exhibit. They moved him to the train station to greet the arrivals, because he is tough on the outside but a good guy on the inside..something like that..
SEPE & CHAZME, Kauno g. 1

"The street artist duo from Warsaw created this painting on this empty Kauno Street wall – a firewall that was supposed to separate two adjacent buildings. The second building was never constructed, leaving a perfect canvas for street art.
"This sculpture was built to commemorate Fa-meows Lithuanian prose writer, essayist, playwright and painter – Jurga Ivanauskaitë (1961 -2007). Why the cat, you might ask… Well join our Alternative tour, and my colleagues will tell you!"

I did join the tour and the guide did tell about it but I forget the Exact reason they chose a cat as the commemoration, something about spinsters being associated with cats?
Art Factory LOFTAS, a community of artist loft-dwellers in an old manufacturing complex used as an event space and cultural center.

All participants are welcome to make anything they want but the theme is supposed to be Freedom.
Here's the mother of the community. And notice the figure above the guy in the red shirt, between the two buildings?
Here he is, another one of the many howling wolves prominently featured around Vilnius.

This mural looks like it will be a partnership between the woman on the ladder and the guy on the cherry picker.
Lookin' good guys.
Whenever I see lace curtains I find them so charming, in an Old World kind of way. And there should be a cat in the window.
Simona! I went to Angel Spa and it was something. In all my very long life I have not had an experience like this one. they did the hammam on that heated marble table in a steam room. It was pretty awesome!

It wasn't as scrubby as the Korean ladies, or as down-home as the Moroccan experience, but wow.
The massage was in a different room and very lovely and professional.
August 23

Breakfast in these Baltic hotels has been included, and dang but I can't say no. For like 5 days in a row I ate breakfast beans and fresh tomatoes until my digestive system rebelled. Now I've been eating a sandwich with a pile of cucumbers, tomatoes, and red peppers. There's cereal and plain yogurt too.

Today I had a short list of places I wanted to check out and I realized my preferred 'walking around' scheme. I like to have a destination in mind, map it out, head in that direction, and let myself be distracted.

Here is one such distraction. What is this place? And the doors are open so I'll check it out!

Copied from the plaque out front:

"A stone church stood here before the country's conversion to Christianity. The present Gothic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, often called the Franciscan Church, with three naves of the same height was built in its place in early 15th century..
"Rebuilt a number of times, it was reconstructed in Baroque style after the fire of the 18th century. This is when the façade got a new pediment with pilasters. The church was taken from the Franciscans several times, but in 1998, it was returned to them.

"During its last reconstruction, a lot of authentic Gothic details, frescoes and elements of Baroque architecture were unveiled in the church."

Obviously the plaque was made well before this current complete remodel! Check out those awesome rugs on the floor.
I think this is the Church of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic church, but those crosses don't look so Catholic?
I knew this existed and wondered if I'd run across it. Yes I did.

What is printed on the pedestal: Pasiek Zibintininka. Looking this up it talks about a Lamplighter, and shows a figure much like this one, but without the lamp.
Where did the lamp go? Why is it there now? I don't know!
I was heading to Cathedral Square to pick up a city tour. The tours in Vilnius are long and fast I suppose because the Old Town area is much bigger and the distances are longer than in Tallinn or Riga.
These are some of the sites and visiting them required a lot of zig-zagging through narrow, rock-paved streets that are not pedestrianized so there's a lot of noise and dodging of vehicles and people, which makes the tours a little difficult old-lady ears-wise.
There are many memorials and museums to the murdered Jews, and a 3 hour tour on the topic which I decided not to do. I hope it's suitably detailed and terrible and the young people go.

"Between June and December 1941 more than 95% of Lithuania's Jewish population was massacred over the three-year German occupation — a more complete destruction than befell any other country affected by the Holocaust.

"Historians attribute this to the massive collaboration in the genocide by the non-Jewish local paramilitaries, though the reasons for this collaboration are still debated. The Holocaust resulted in the largest-ever loss of life in so short a period of time in the history of Lithuania."
A restaurant street, and shops!

I wanted to mention about amber and linen, Baltic specialties. Amber and linen products did look especially appealing but there was so dang much of it. And I didn't get even one picture in a shop window.
Across this bridge we find: "In 1998, the residents of the area declared the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, unofficial currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution written by Romas Lileikis and Tomas Čepaitis, an anthem, and an army of approximately 11 men. The army has since been retired."
Crossing the bridge, this is pretty..
..and we find the traditional love-locks-on-a-bridge.
Remember that egg sculpture from earlier? It was here for a year or so while they built this Angel of Užupis. One idea was that the angel was going to emerge from the egg.
Here's the constitution written in 23 languages.
I like the people.
The river that winds around, but not entirely around Užupis making most access by bridge.
The Art Factory of Užupis. It was a good visit.
Look Lilly, a unirockingra!
The Church of St Anne and the Church of St Francis and St Bernadine.

St Anne: "The main façade, designed in the Flamboyant Gothic style, is its most striking feature. Traditional Gothic elements and shapes were used in unique ways; Gothic arches are framed by rectangular elements dominating a symmetrical and proportionate façade, creating an impression of dynamism. According to Lithuanian architect and art historian Vladas Drėma, patterns from the Pillars of Gediminas are echoed in the church's façade."

St Francis and St Bernadine: "In the 17th and 18th centuries the church acquired the Renaissance and Baroque features. Being much larger and more archaic than the St. Anne's Church, it forms an interesting and unique ensemble with the latter."
Interior from St Anne.
Interior from St Francis and St Bernadine.
Here's a close-up of the wire heart hung with origami birds.
August 24

Cathedral Square, I climbed that tower but you couldn't get close enough to the window for good view shots.

Time to tell about the Baltic Way, also called the Baltic Chain, and the 30th anniversary party held across the Baltic countries on the 23rd..

..and also it was an inspiration for Hong Kong to make a human chain on this 23rd.

These are Hong Kong demonstrators here in Vilnius some draped in the Lithuanian flag.
They set up that wall of old radios in commemoration of how the event thirty years ago was organized - by radio.

The Soviet Union was still firmly in control of the Baltic countries in 1989 but in a vivid and peaceful protest the people made a human chain, holding hands from the cathedral in Tallinn, through Riga, to the cathedral in Vilnius, 420 miles. Two million people participated and it changed the way the world thought about the Baltic countries.
A short review. Estonia and Latvia were not countries with borders until a brief independence from the Russian Empire in 1918 for Latvia and 1920 for Estonia.

Prior to this the area was occupied at one time or another by every one of their neighbors.

Lithuania on the other hand from 1253 had borders and was subsequently in the 1700s occupied by the Russian Empire and with Latvia broke away in 1918.
Border history: Estonia is related to Latvia.

Language: Estonian is related to Finnish, Latvian is related to Lithuania.

Religion: Estonia is predominantly non-religious, Latvia is Lutheran, Lithuanian is Catholic.

There are more similarities and differences all pointing to why it has/had been difficult for the Baltic countries to coordinate their efforts until the time of the Baltic Way.
That radio collection was awesome.
Here's the climb up the bell tower in Cathedral Square. There's no such view of the actual square and I couldn't get rid of the grid either.
The bells are cool..
..and so are the stairs, as I pull myself up by the rope.
A Cat Café! I was so looking forward to hanging out with CATS, but no, I was there around 2 and then next reservation wasn't available until 5.

What we need are more Cat Cafés.

Walking down the street, and this place was not deep into Old Town so it was mostly locals, I'm constantly reminded how tall people are around here.

From, and note how much the rankings changed!

The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (with their 1914 rankings given in brackets):

1-Netherlands (12); 2-Belgium (33); 3-Estonia (4); 4-Latvia (13); 5-Denmark (9); 6-Bosnia and Herzegovina (19); 7-Croatia (22); 8-Serbia (30); 9-Iceland (6); 10-Czech Republic (24)

The nations with the tallest women in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

1-Latvia (28); 2-Netherlands (38); 3-Estonia (16); 4-Czech Republic (69); 5-Serbia (93); 6-Slovakia (26); 7-Denmark (11); 8-Lithuania (41); 9-Belarus (42); 10-Ukraine (43)
Frank Zappa! Why?

In 1993: "Why should Vilnius have a statue of someone with no connection to the city, particularly someone with such antiestablishment messages? A member of the fan club pointed out that Zappa had vaguely Jewish features, and as the government was very big on promoting Jewish history at the time, that was reason enough."
I was in the mood for something different so I had dinner at an Indian place and ate four pieces of tandoori chicken and a basket of garlic naan. It totally hit the spot especially because one of the sauces was a little sweet and a lot spicy with pepper and clove.

All the other diners were outside, the most popular place on a sunny afternoon.
August 25

Trakai, the island, the town, the castle. It's a 30 minute bus ride from Vilnius and a bus runs every 10-15 minutes so locals often pop over on a weekend when the weather is welcoming. So did I.
You know it's locals mostly because of all the babies and all the dogs.
At the castle they were having a sweet, modest, Medieval/Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
Little girls love music and the Music Man.
They had plenty of crafts - here they're making paper, and there was a clay place, and jewelry, face painting, all the things you'd expect just on a more modest scale.
A view from the bridge.
From the plaque in front of a small museum:

"Karaites, a nation speaking Turkic, settled in Trakai in the end of the 14th century. The official date of Karaites migration to Trakai is 1397-1398. The name of the nation is derived from Karaites faith. The faith is based on the Old Testament and has Islamic elements. Kenessa (a temple) building of Karaites cult has remained in Trakai..
..The Karaites houses are easy to distinguish; mostly, they are standing endwise with three windows to the street's side."
"In the restaurants of Karaites dishes, one can partake of national Karaites meals, firstly "Kibinai", to taste traditional liqueur "Krupnikas", made according to a special recipe."
I didn't see this view, it's probably from one of the boat rides. But it must be super early because it's so quiet out there.

The castle is on an island just off a spit of land with lake on both sides. These piers are spaced around the waterways. I think they're public because various families of various configurations were there all apparently local, having set up picnics, and they all seemed in bathing wear, and even some swimmers!
There was a Georgian restaurant in town and my mouth started watering with the thought of a nice glass of Georgian wine.

I had a Georgian guy on one of the tours and I asked him why we don't get the good stuff in the US. He said the wineries are too small to interest exporters.

The eggplant dish I got was pretty good but the soup was delicious, so flavorful. I realized after the soup that the eggplant needed lemon.
Tomorrow I'm off to Minsk and will probably do nothing. The flight is late-afternoon and I want to finish all of Vilnius before I leave. Looks like I'm going to miss the Gates of Dawn.

This internet picture shows some of the Vilnius downtown. I saw none of it never having left the Old Town except to take the bus out to the country.

HomeBaltic and N&E Europe • Vilnius • '19 Aug: Vilnius, Lithuania

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