Lithuania

I didn't spend much time in Lithuania nor did I get a chance to see the most interesting sites.  Most of my pictures were taken during a very cold, snowy October day. 

Lithuania is a country that has not been independent often in its history. From 1944 until 1989 is was part of Russia although not always a very cooperative part. The Soviet Union had to forcibly quell resistance that started during World War II to its occupation. After the war, tens of thousands of active partisans were tracked down and either sent to the gulag or executed by an active KGB office in the country. One of the more interesting museums is the Genocide Museum located in the former KGB building in Vilnius where tourists can see the torture chambers where many Lithuanians met their end. 

Unfortunately, the country is still run by ex-communists and ex-KGB officials. Corruption is rampant although not well known. Ties with the Russian mafia which includes many ex-KGB members run deep.  They still use the relationships formed in the informant network which consists of tens of thousands of Lithuanians who regularly ratted out their neighbors to the KGB. 

If the people in power don't destroy the economy, Lithuania is a charming country and Vilnius a beautiful capital with Europe's second largest old town (Prague is first), beautiful churches, warm people and worth the visit. 

Be aware that timing is important in a visit to Lithuania. It is about 55 degrees north putting it on the same latitude as southern Alaska and Hudson Bay. It has a short summer (June-August) and the rest of the year can be iffy as the pictures attest to (taken in mid-October). In winter, the sun doesn't rise until about 10 am and it sets at 4 pm. Consequently, winter is accompanied by the Scandinavian-style vodka quaffing and people hunker down in their homes to suicide filled evenings. 

View of old town Vilnius - as seen from the castle. Notice how may churches can be seen. The old town is full of them. While Lithuania is predominately catholic, there are many Russian Orthodox churches as well as Russia first took over Lithuania is 1822.  Gift stand featuring amber - Amber is a popular gift item and has been mined for hundreds of years. It was once used as a form of currency but now is mainly a form of tacky souvenirs -- especially the amber porcupines.
The streets of the old town St. Anne's Church - Napolean Bonaparte is alleged to have liked this church so much he wanted to take it back to Paris. Built in xxxx of red brick of varying colors, the church 
Town Hall Square - Vilnius - This area is still the hub of the city although the markets that once dominated the square are long gone.  St. Michael's behind St. Anne's 
God's Saturn 5 - Designed and built by the Papal Air and Space Administration (PASA). Actually, it is the bell tower of the Cathedral and dates to 1700s. See the model (below right) for its location in medieval Vilnius.  The Gates of Dawn - One of the main entrances to the walled old town. A church now resides above the archway. 
The Lower Castle - Built as a defense of the city, the castle has been rebuilt many times.  Derelict Church - This is one of derelict or unrepaired churches you will find in Vilnius. With so many churches in the old town and so many left abandoned during communism, some still have yet to be reconsecrated. There probably just isn't enough money. 
The Cult of Frank Zappa - Lithuanians have a strong affinity for Frank Zappa -- enough to goad the city into creating a memorial for the late singer. City founders were mystified (as am I) but they did it. This is graffiti on a high school wall.  Inside St. Michael's during mass - Notice the poor condition. However, Lithuanians are devout Catholics and the churches are often filled. 
Graffitti wars - Like many Eastern European capitals, graffiti is a problem. From Sarajevo to Vilnius  you will find the walls in many old towns scrawled with the angst of "misunderstood" teenagers.  Model of the Upper and Lower forts - These forts once guarded Vilnius. Notice the God's Saturn 5 is there along with the cathedral. Behind it is the old castle  -- now just archeological ruins. The city is constructing a replica of the castle at its former location.

 

All material Copyright 2003 Drew Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
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