Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Backpacking through the Baltics - Lithuania

This summer Rachel and I decided to take a week backpacking through the Baltic States from Lithuania to Finland.  We started our trip in Vilnius.  We flew on a Monday evening and arrived quite late (almost midnight - though only just getting dark), so set off the next day to explore the city.

We started at the Town Hall square where we had breakfast, and then wandered through the streets to the Vilnius Cathedral.  The Town Hall was built in 1799 and has remained unchanged since then - now it's used during state visits, for example when Queen Elizabeth and George Bush visited.

The Cathedral is the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania.  It's in the Old Town just off the Cathedral Square.  The coronations of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.   Inside the cathedral there are many works of art dating from 16th to 19th century.  During the Soviet era the cathedral was used as a warehouse.

In the cathedral square is also the monument to Gediminas, one of the first rulers of Lithuania.  Nearby is a small stone making the place where the human chain of the Baltic States was started linking Vilnius with Riga and Tallinn, an event that marked the beginning of the liberation of the Baltic States from Russia.  


We wandered through the Old Town which you get to through gates.  These one above are the Gates of Dawn.  As we went through we came across the Russian Orthodox church.  We went inside - it was really beautiful.  The church was built around 1750 when Vilnius was part of the Russian Empire.  It's built in Baroque style with a Roccoco interior.  In the church are the remains of saints Anthony, John and Eustathios.   

The Old Town was full of amazing buildings including the one below.  For our evening meal we sat in the cafe right next door to this!

We walked around several other parts of Vilnius including Uzupis.  This word means "the other side of the river" in Lithuania.  It's an area that has been popular with artists and in 1997 the district declared itself an independent republic.  In 2002 a statue of an angel blowing a trumpet was put in the main square.  This became the symbol of the revival of the area.  Before this a sculpture of an egg stood in its place.  The egg was sold at auction and now stands on another street.

After wandering through the streets of Uzupis, we walked through the Bernadine Gardens and then up the hill to the Three Crosses.  The original monument was torn down by the Soviets in 1950, but then a new monument was erected in 1989.

On the way back into Vilnius we climbed up to the Gediminas' Tower.  This gave us a good view of the Hill of Three Crosses as well as over Vilnius.  

Walking back into town again we passed the presidential palace.  The palace dates back to the 14th century.  In 1812, both the Russian Tsar Alexander I and the French Emperor Napoleon used the Palace as their residence.

The following morning, before setting off to catch the bus to Riga, Rachel and I wandered around looking at various sculptures and street art around Vilnius.  It really is a city rich with culture - including the monument to Frank Zappa.

Vilnius used to be known as the "Jerusalem of the North" as it had more than 100 synagogues.  The Jewish population was almost entirely eliminated during the Holocaust, and today there is just this one synagogue left.

After two days of exploring Vilnius, we were ready to set off north - to Riga in Latvia.

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