Jonava the beachside town, and Vilnius the capital of Lithuania, 3 September

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September 5th 2014
Published: September 5th 2014
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Jonava in central Lithuania, and Vilnius the capital of Lithuania, 3 September - Happy birthday to my 89 year old Dad xx

What a fantastic day we had - riding around the capital of Lithuania on a segway....please read on:

Leaving the west coast of Lithuania, we drove 220km east to the large industrial and cross-roads city of Kaunas but skirted its perimeter as we wanted to head north to Jonava.

This city, named after John, which makes St. John's Day, the biggest national holiday very special in Lithuania. A quirky town with vintage industrial buildings and structures, and a modern factory away from the city itself. It has a number of oblong lakes and the River Neris running through it which they have landscaped with beautiful walk ways and cycle paths. We went for a lovely walk.

There is another horrific story about the treatment of Jews in this city. They have left a number of old houses where the Jewish quarter was before the War. There is a Jewish cemetery and memorial in the town. 80% of the people in Jonava before WW1 were Jews, so a big target for the Nazis and Soviets.

We then headed further east to Vilnius with its more than 1/2million people. After finding Camping City Vilnius and getting a good map and advice from the park manager. We hopped on our bikes and found our way into the city via some of its parks. It is a city that is trying to facilitate travel by bikes but doesn't come anywhere near other European cities we have visited.

However.....this was not the city we wanted to ride our bikes through. This was the city we wanted to hire a segway and go to all the best sights. After finding out from the tourist info office where to hire them, we went straight there. What a lot of fun. The hour before we hired the segways, we walked around the old Jewish Gettos (no longer gettos but are being renewed) and the street where there are about 10 cathedrals, churches and historic buildings because we wanted to go into a few to get a feel of the city's history. All this was in the Old Town which is a city area which began to develop extensively since the Middle Ages and eventually has been surrounded by a defensive wall. The wall determined a firm area and its shape for a long period of time, this area now is called Old Town and has a separate status in Vilnius administrative division.

We had a cup of coffee and a lovely enclosed ham and cheese pizza and then hired the segways.

Gosh they are so much fun. They can turn on a 5 cent piece and are so responsive to your body pressure. For those who have never ridden one, the concept is once you stand on them, you lean forward onto the handlebars steering shaft to go faster and pull back on it to stop. You lean to the left if you want to turn left etc. The speed you can get up to is about 10kph.

We went up to see the castle and more historic buildings. Gediminas Castle, which is a red-brick tower, was restored from the Higher Castle erected in the 13th–14th centuries by Dukes of Lithuania.

Vilnius Cathedral in Cathedral Square is not the original cathedral was built here in 1251. In 1387 a Gothic style cathedral was built. Now it is a classical style cathedral.

We walked through the Uzupis District, a part of Old Town. A largely unrestored area primarily occupied by artists, dreamers, squatters, and drunks. In 1998, the residents unofficially declared the area to be an independent republic, with its own president, anthem, flag, and constitution. It looks a pretty sad part of town.

We saw all the other 'must-see' sights and parks on the segway in the hour we had them so it was a very effective way of seeing the city. It was exhilarating, particularly as we were feeling all castle- and cathedraled-out so the segway was something different. We had only been on them once before with our friends the Wolstenholms (for Chris' birthday) and Cathcarts.

By this time, it was 6.30pm so we hopped on our bikes and rode home. On the way, by back wheel of my bike started to wobble badly. I stopped to look and the side of the 18 month old tyre was opening up. The tube was intact so I deflated it a little and made it back to the Camping Park. I must had also inflated it too much but I think there were also cheap Macedonian tyres!! We will get a new tyre in Poland.

We had a lovely meal back at the motor home.

The next morning, just as we were finishing breakfast, we got a knock of tour van. It was a fellow camper who had seen our Australian sticker. He was from Tasmania and after a 30 minute chat before they caught a taxi into the city, we learned that they had done almost the same countries as us over the last 2 years. They bought their motor home from England and stored it over winter, on a farm there. It was fun talking to someone who has been to the same places.

Just before we left the camp site, we left our business card with our contact details. It was about 10.00am before we drove west towards Marijampole, our last very brief stop in Lithuania before turning south towards Warsaw in Poland.

The roads were again, fantastic. We camped the night in a forest just off the motorway south of Bialystok in Poland, about 145 km from Warsaw.

A bit about Vilnius:

It is the capital and largest city of Lithuania. It lies in the valley of the confluence of Neris and Vilnia rivers and has a population of 527,930. Along with Linz, Austria, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture in 2009.

Since 1652 Vilnius formally became one of the principal cities for Lithuanian Jews and became a symbolic capital of Jewish culture in 1661. Since 19th century the Jews of Vilnius became constantly increasing economical factor, it remained so until 22 Jun 1941. According to the data of Jewish Community of Lithuania, among the 100,000 victims murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators at the forest of Paneriai, some 70,000 Jews were from Vilnius and surrounding regions.

The huge fires ravaged Vilnius in 1513, 1610, 2 Jun 1737, 11 Jun 1748 and 1749. Therefore even buildings of 19th and 20th centuries may have Gothic and Renaissance cellars. One particular and one of nicest areas of artisan guilds is also notorious one because of its evil fate: 6 Sep 1941 the two Jewish ghetto, commonly known as Vilnius Ghetto, were established. The ghetto operated until 24 Sept 1943. In 1994, the Old Town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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