Flames of Freedom

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June 23rd 2017
Published: July 6th 2017
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Hello my fellow travellers!

After an early start, that involved an unexpected radio interview about couch surfing and travelling, I fled the Swedish Midsummer's festivities in favour if the Lithuanian Summer Solstice festivities. I will be staying for two days in Kaunas with Paulius and Rūta whom stayed with me a couple of years ago. Unfortunately we only got to meet briefly as they are going to their home village 100 km away from here but they are kind enough to lend me their apartment while I'm here. From here I will continue to Vilnius where I will stay with a new girl but also meet up with Roberta who also stayed with me last year.

Today I mainly just walked around in central Kaunas with a short break together with Paulius, Rūta and Rūta's sister and her boyfriend, both of whom are visiting from the U.K. Rūta had her graduation today so we just met up afterwards to eat dinner together and square everything with the apartment before they left.

When I was in the centre I came upon a memorial of Romas Kalanta, the student who torched himself at this place in 1972 as a protest to the Soviet Union, yelling with his final breath "Freedom for Lithuania!" That's a rather epic Braveheart moment right there and his sacrifice inspired several others to also commit suicide through self immolation in protest of the tyrannical regime.

The Soviet regime tried to bury him at the wrong time so that people wouldn't attend but that backfired as it led to widespread riots and protests and the spreading flames of freedom would eventually lead to Lithuania gaining it's freedom from the tyrannical regime in 1990.

In the park is also a piece of the city walls which is gorgeous. In the park lies also the Kauno Valstybinis Muzikinis Teatras, a quite beautiful musical theatre, and across from it stands the Vytauto Didžiojo Paminklas, a monument to Vytautas the Great Duke of Lithuania, originally created in 1930 to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of his death. However, the Soviet regime disapproved of symbols of national pride and took it down so a reproduction of the statue had to be made in 1990 after Lithuania had gained it's independence. While you are there it's also work checking out Kauno Centrinis Paštas, the post office, which has a pretty distinct architectural feature.

After dinner Paulius and Rūta drove me back to the city centre and they dropped me by the Šv. Arkangelo Mykolo Bažnyčia which is the main church in Kaunas, built in 1895. It's a large and beautiful church, however, like so much else in Kaunas it is in dire need of restorations. It is a Catholic church these days but you can clearly see that it was built as an Orthodox church. Right next to it is a worn building which has the longest word in Lithuanian written on it, it's a word which I can't write and even less pronounce.

My main goal for the day was to walk through the old town and reach Kauno Pilis, the castle is located by the river and is one of the main attractions of Kaunas, so I set my steps in that direction, following Laisvės Alėja, the longest pedestrian street in Eastern Europe.

On the way there I of course passed several beautiful buildings such as Istorinė Prezidentūra which served as the presidential palace in Lithuania during the interwar years of 1918 to 1939. Today the palace serves as part of the M. K. Čiurlionio Dailės Muziejus, a national art museum, and in the garden stands three statues of interwar Lithuanian presidents.

Across the street from the palace stands the Švč. Sakramento Bažnyčia, a church dating from 1700 which has unfortunately been standing abandoned for long periods of time and because of that is in quite a state of neglect. It is currently in use as a chapel for the students of the Catholic school Šv. Ignaco Lojolos Kolegija which is located across the yard from the church.

In the centre of the old town stands the gorgeous Miesto Muziejus from the 16th century which used to be the town hall. Across from it stands the Saint Francis Xavier Church and Jesuit Monastery from 1759 and on the other side of the Town Hall lies Šv. Apaštalų Petro ir Povilo Arkikatedra Bazilika the main cathedral of Kaunas which took more than a century to build. Just a stones throw away is the Kauno Kunigų Seminarija which still educates the pastoral students in theology and has done so since 1622. In front of it stands a statue of Bishop Motiejus Valančius, one of Lithuania's most well known authors.

Finally I came upon Kauno Pilis, the main goal of my walk. There isn't much left of the fort itself but the remains that are there are quite beautiful. It dates all the way back to mid 14th century. It has changed hands many times through history, mainly between Lithuania and the Teutonic knights who fought several wars over the region during the 14th and 15th centuries. It was even used by the Swedish forces during the Polish-Swedish Wars. After that it became abandoned and suffered several floods and crumbled to it's current state. Today it's being restored and are used for public performances.

There are a lot of nice and interesting sights along the way such as the beautiful church Šv. Jurgio Kankinio Bažnyčia from 1487 and inside the church I got to listen to really beautiful live music. It is unfortunately also in dire need of restoration but it's understandable since it has had a rough ride being destroyed by the Russians and used as a warehouse by the French.

While I stood there by the castle I saw many people heading down towards the river and decided to follow suit and soon found myself at the point where the rivers melt together as one. According to local lore one of the rivers represents the male gender and the other one the female gender and this area stands for the union of the two. This makes it a magical place for couples to go to and I did indeed see many couples here holding hands and being very cuddly.

After admiring the beauty of the rivers for a while I decided to return the centre but while doing so I again noticed a stream of people and decided to follow them. This lead me to the 15th century Perkūno Namas, named after the pagan god Perkūnas who was the god of thunder. The reason for that naming is because a statue of the pagan deity was found here during repairs in 1818. It is currently owned by the Jesuits and houses as small chapel as well as a museum of the poet Adam Mickiewicz

Right below Perkūno Namas lies the 14th century Švč. Mergelės Marijos Ėmimo į Dangų Bažnyčia. It's one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in Lithuania and well worth a closer look at. Like the other churches in Kaunas it has had a rough history of floods and being burned and turned into a storage facility by various invading armies over the years. It's often called Vytauto Didžiojo Bažnyčia because it was founded by Vytautas the Great as a tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary for saving his life after a major defeat in the Battle of the Vorskla River.

Down by the river Neman I was fortunate enough to attend a Summer Solstice festival, it featured a live rock band that was really good and there was a large bonfire burning. It had a nice turn up of people and there was much dancing and people thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I saw nothing of the sexual harassment that have unfortunately become the standard of Swedish festivals of late, even causing some of them to permanently close down now. This festival was a perfect closure of my first day in Lithuania, I got to feel the flames of freedom of my own, feeling that my summer vacation had truly begun.

For tomorrow my plans are to follow in the footsteps of a genuine hero, a man here in Kaunas who saved thousands of lives and whom I expect many have never even heard of. I look forward to it with great anticipation!

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!

Additional photos below
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10th July 2017
Street Art

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
We have been thinking about travel through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Thanks for showing us some places outside of the capital to give us an idea what there is to see. Looking forward to take a look at the other blog posts you have from there. /Ake
10th July 2017
Street Art

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
The countries have so much to offer. I would say that my favourites for each country so far was Siauliai for Lithuania, Sigulda for Latvia and Tartu for Estonia. :) You should definitely go here again. :)

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