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Archive for the ‘Lithuania’ Category

Kaunas 2

Tuesday afternoon, 22 June 2010

It’s mid-summer already, but the weather in Lithuania is still mild, even cool. I wonder what the temperature is in Berlin. I had a little walk around town, took a few pics. Now I think I’ll rest up the rest of the day. Got to get up early tomorrow morning for the flight. It’s so good travelling light. I think I’ll try to use public transport to get from the airport to central Berlin. My idea is to get to one of the main U-bahn or S-bahn stations, and find my way from there. I get in as early as about 8am, so I have all day to find the hostel. My plan is to first try to find Alexanderplatz and the Fehrnsehturm (TV Tower), and maybe go up it to get my bearings.

I have discovered that the river running through Kaunas is the Nemunas, the same one that flows 200km to the Curonian Lagoon that I took a boat cruise on. I also read that at one time  (around 1800) one side of the river belonged to Prussia and the otherside  to Russia. This meant the use of the Julian calendar versus the Gregorian, so crossing the bridge over the Nemunas at that time meant the short trip across took 12 days!

I also discovered my coffee haunt. Supremo Cafe, just off the main pedestrian drag.

My photos of Kaunas:

            

The 2nd last pic is a memorial with an eternal flame to the victims of “crimes made by communists, collaborators and the Red Army in Lithuania 1939 – June 20, 1941. 36,472 exiled, including 6,011 children, over 50,000 imprisoned.”

The last pic is the Freedom Monument in honour od the day, 16 February 1918 when Lithuania declared its independence. In Stalin’s time it was hidden away. I’m surprised he didn’t order it to be destroyed.

Next post from Berlin!

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Kaunas

Tuesday morning, 22 June 2010

Got into Kaunas yesterday afternoon. Rented an apartment for two nights on the main pedestrian street, Laisves aleja, almost 2km long. I’ll look around Kaunas today, but I am particularly excited and even a little nervous as I will (hopefully) be in Berlin tomorrow! I found a cheap (30 euro) flight departing at 6.30am. Germany will be the 11th country I’ve visited on this trip. Since I left Budapest 3 weeks ago I have done a zig-zag across Eastern Europe, inscribing a giant sideways “M” (or is it a “W”?) on the map.

I booked a dorm at the Sunflower Hostel in Friedrichsain for five nights. Friedrichsain (in the old East Berlin) is where my friend Andrew lived when he stayed in Berlin. I will be able to see his old apartment building and some of his favourite haunts, like the local cafe.

Now I need to go out and find a good place for a coffee in Kaunas.

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Nida 2

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Today I went on a 5 hour boat trip on the Curonian Lagoon. The boat, the “Nidas” was built in Norway in 1990, and had an enclosed lower deck and an open upper deck. We travelled the 14km  across the Lagoon to the delta of the Nemunas river, first visiting a 19th c. stone lighthouse, then to the little village of Minge, with the rier its only “street”, a bit like a mini-Venice. We had a nice seafood soup for lunch, with beer and vodka supplied.

Here are some pics.

                   

Tomorrow I go to Kaunas which was the capital of Lithuania from 1920-1939. After WW2 Lithuania was incorporated into the USSR until it regained its independence in 1990.

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Saturday, 19 June 2010

Nida is an hour by bus from Smiltyne, at the extreme end of Lithuanian territory, only about 3km up the road from Russia (Kaliningrad region). If I had gone to the bureaucratic hassle and expense of getting a Russian visa, I would have taken the bus from Nida to Kaliningrad, which I would like to visit one day. It was formerly known as Königsberg, and was the home of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who never travelled more than a hundred miles from there. Maybe on a future trip, including some more of Russia… 

The next pic is where I stayed in Nida (a nice private room), and some photos including a sand dune and a smashed (from a storm) granite sun-dial at the top of one of the largest dunes, Parnidis (60m high).

There are a lot of little nature trails across the short distance between the Curonian Lagoon side and the Baltic Sea side of the Curonian Spit, some with quirky wooden sculptures.

               

I went to the supermarket and bought these three beers (my room has a fridge). I drank them over a couple of days. The pick was the Vilniaus Alus Tamsusis swing-top dark ale (Alus means beer or ale in Lithuanian).  The Volfus Engelman was a straw coloured pale ale and the Švyturys (means lighthouse) Baltijos was a dark amber colour and tasted a bit like a Belgian strong ale.

Apart from drinking beer in Nida, another cultural activity I indulged in was a visit to “Thomas Mann Haus” where the author spent the summers from 1930-1932. The first pic is a view of the Curonian Lagoon from the window of his writing room. There were letters and old photographs from his time there on display.

   

Last of all a sunset over the Baltic Sea. 

The sun sets late, about 10pm, and rises early, about 4am now.

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Klaipeda

Friday, 18 June 2010

Arrived by train from Vilnius. Stayed Friday night in a dorm at a hostel near the train/bus station. It’s only a 15 minute walk down to the harbour and the Old Town.

   

The old 19th c. warehouses on the canal that leads to the harbour have been renovated and turned to other uses. The place on the far right in the last pic is the brewery-pub “Memelis” where I had one of their own beers (the unpasteurised, unstrained Juodasis “black beer”) and some fried bread (both very tasty), before catching the ferry to Smiltyne (next pic).

 

The ferry trip to Smiltyne is only 10 minutes. Smiltyne is on the far end of the Curonian Spit, a remarkable piece of geography. If you have a look at a map of this part of the world, you will notice a long slender piece of land, to the north and west of which is the Baltic Sea, and to the south and east is the Curonian Lagoon. This “magical pigtail” as LP calls it, is the Curonian Spit. It is 50 km. long (about 50% belongs to Russia, Kaliningrad district, and 50% to Lithuania). It is only about 2-3 km wide, and only 400m wide at its narrowest. It is covered by pine forests and sand dunes, and is home to a variety of animals (including elk, deer and wild boar) and birdlife including cormorants and herons. The Curonian Lagoon is freeshwater, fed by the Nemunas River whose source is in Belarus. First thing I did when I got off the ferry was take the short walk for my first glimpse of the Baltic Sea!

 

My third sea on this trip (after the Black Sea and the Adriatic). I took the ferry back to Klaipeda and stayed the night there. returning on Saturday to stay a couple of nights on the Curonian Spit itself.

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Vilnius 2

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Looking at my recent posts I seem to lean more to classic tourist things like castles and churches, and less on personal experiences like people I’ve met, meals I’ve eaten and beers I’ve drunk. But if you would like to take me out to dinner, say once or week, for, oh maybe the next year or so, I can tell you stories that didn’t make the cut for this blog for lack of space or time, or had to be censored 🙂

Before I get back to churches and castles, I’ll tell you about a few people I’ve met recently. On the train (and then the replacement bus) from Eger, Hungary to Kosice, Slovakia I met an Aussie couple about my age. They bought a yacht a few years ago and taught themselves how to sail it, off the coast of Queensland, and then to Vanuatu and Noumea. And then they sailed it from Australia to Turkey!!! Through the pirate infested waters off the Horn of Africa!! I was gobsmacked. A girl I met on the same train is a horse trainer and rode a horse across Kyrgyzstan. And she met a Japanese guy there who had walked clear across China with a metal trolley. She said he was quite timid, and was scared about entering Russia. His strategy in China was to try to blend in and pretend to be Chinese, despite not speaking the language at all…

Back to Vilnius, Lithuania. It’s a lovely place, small but perfectly formed. Here are photos of a meal I had in a suburb called Uzupio.

 

The pic on the left shows the national dish (or as the menu has it, the national “ditch”), a jelly-like potato dough, filled with meat or cheese or mushrooms, called cepelinai or “zeppelins”. My beer was a Svyturas Baltas, a wheat beer, accompanied by the ubiquitous bar snack kepta duona  or deep-fried black bread with garlic. Really more-ish. Mere chips and nuts will no longer do for me… Uzupio has (tongue-in-cheek I think but you never know in these parts) declared itself an independent republic, as the sign on the bridge across the river “border” says. Oh, and it’s another “love lock” bridge. Some excerpts from the Republic of Uzupis constitution: Article 8: Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance; Article 34: Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.

    

I’ll give a plug to another good coffee chain — Coffee Inn. Lithuanian owned. Good coffee, discount for a double espresso and a wicked cheesecake.

I walked up Gedeminas Hill (forgoing the funicular railway) to the Upper Castle.Built at the beginning of the 14th c., replacing an earlier wooden one, it withstood the attacks of the Crusaders. Lithuania converted to Christianity comparatively late, in the 14th c. After WW2 the best surviving tower was restored, with a viewing platform. Ruins of the ducal palace is nearby.

     

At the bottom of Gedeminas Hill lies Cathedral Square, with Vilnius Cathedral, the Bell Tower, the statue of Gedeminas and the Royal Palace behind.

   

I was walking through the square as a free concert was on, with an orchestra and a tenor. The audience was very relaxed, especially this gardener with a penchant for a pipe.

 

My hostel in Vilnius is near the16th c. “Gates of Dawn”, the only one of the original nine gates in the town wall left. The attached chapel holds a venerated black-and-gold Virgin Mary icon, a gift from Crimea in 1363.

    

I went for a day trip to Trakai. It is 40 minutes from Vilnius by train. Trakai has a late 14th c. castle on an island in a lake, accessible by foot bridge. First, a photo from above.

 

Now, my pics.

   

  

Trakai used to be one of the places in Lithuania where the Karaite people migrated to from Crimea. I mentioned these fascinating people in my post on Bakhchiserai in the Crimea. They originated n Baghdad, and are a Jewish sect that believes only in the Torah, not the Talmud. There are still a few dozen Karaim in Trakai and a few hundred in Lithuania. There is a restored prayer house and their distinctive wooden houses, usually side-on with three windows facing the street. There also used to be communties of Tatars who had emigrated from the Crimea at the invitation of the Dukes of Lithuania.

   

I’m leaving for Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea coast tomorrow. See you there!

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Vilnius

Monday, 14 June 2010

It’s 6.30 pm (after adjusting my clock forward one hour) and I just checked in to Old Town Hostel near the train station (and the Old Town). Vilnius only has a population of under 600,000 and Lithuania under 4 million. Lithuania is the 9th country I have visited on my trip so far, and another currency (the litas) and language to grapple with. I have booked for 3 nights, checking out on Thursday. I’ll probably try and go to the coast for a few days — the Baltic Sea, my third sea on this trip (along with the Black Sea and the Adriatic).

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