Vilnius, Beauty and Horror
Trip Start Jul 06, 2008
69Trip End Oct 11, 2008
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From the hilltop we went down to the Old Town. We left the bus at the only remaining gate of the Old Town's wall. This bears the original coat of arms of the Dukes of Lithuania, supposedly the oldest in Europe. As we walked under the gate we could hear singing. Of course, being Sunday morning, mass was being held in the churches. The particular one from which the singing was coming was above the gates itself. This contains Lithuania's most famous icon, The Black Madonna. We could see this from the street through the open window.
As we walked along the street we passed many churches, both Catholic and Russian Orthodox
We had a short break to have a browse on our own. Not many shops were yet open but we found a shop which sold Amber items. This is the precious "stone" of this area. I bought a very nice bangle for myself and Fletcher chose a small amber sailing ship to go with his collection.
We were then shown the Presidential Palace and the University buildings, both in the old town.The group then walked down to Cathedral Square where the original settlement was made. The Cathedral is very NeoClassical in appearance but has been altered several times over the years. Above this on the hill is the original upper castle established by Duke Ganimedes.
We then drove out of the city to the town of Trekai. Here there is a reconstructed castle on an island in the lake. This is very imposing and though it can be seen to be fairly modern it has retained the old style. The castle dates from the 14th century but was a ruin for many years. In 1948 the Lithuanians set out to restore it and the full reconstruction has only recently been completed
We stopped here for lunch, a very pretty place, being enjoyed by many locals on this warm, but cloudy, Sunday afternoon. At 1-30 we headed back to the city, but a group of us were dropped off for our optional afternoon tour. This was where the Horror was evident.
We toured the Genocide Museum, the old KGB headquarters and prison in the cellars of a beautiful looking building, not far from the Old Town which is now a Music Conservatory. Descending into the dank underground passageways was immediately chilling and the musty smell added to the oppression. We were shown the very small holding cells which were like cupboards with no windows or light and only a narrow bench to sit on. We saw the interrogation rooms, the cold cells where prisoners were kept wet and cold, the library containing Communist propaganda for reeducation and finally the exercise yard (a small cage like structure only a few feet wide) and the execution room, complete with the bullet holes in the wall. Amelia was obviously very emotional about this horrific place and conveyed the tragedy that befell many who resisted during the Soviet years. We all contemplated the pain that humans can inflict on other humans and were fairly subdued as we emerged. We stopped at the shrine to the dead outside the building and also read the names carved on the walls of the building of over 700 whose bodies were discovered in a forest outside the city.
Tonight we are going to a Lithuanian Folkloric show and dinner which should be entertaining. Truly an interesting place beautiful but beastly at the same time!!