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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 54.6892, 25.2798
When we met Jolita this morning, she actually thanked us for yesterday, sharing that it reminded her of her own family. The experience definitely created a bond with her that transcended tour guide and passengers and set the stage for today's tour.
We boarded the same 18 passenger bus and visited areas surrounding Old Town. There is an island outside the old city wall named Uzupis that is something like an artist's colony. Each year, on April 1, they pull a stunt such as declaring their independence, issuing passports, writing a constitution, etc. (April Fool's Day). These are the free thinkers of the city, who once erected a Frank Zappa statue to see just how far freedom would go in the newly independent Lithuania of the 1990s. We traveled along the Neris river. At one point, there was an embankment with a planting of flowers on one side that read "We Love You!" and across the river, on the other side, read "We Love You, Too!" Elsewhere, we saw a bridge from Soviet times that featured statues on each corner that are frequently painted in the colors of the Lithuanian flag on important holidays. This is one of the few
physical monuments left from Soviet times, as most have already been removed. Another custom we witnessed was that of newly married couples attaching padlocks to fences along the river and throwing the keys into the water, symbolizing "this is forever."
Along our route, Jolita pointed out a monument to the human chain that stretched from Talinn though Riga, and to Vilnius in 1989 in protest of the Soviet regime. She was really proud of this. Another event happening shortly is the European Basketball Championships that will be held here. She pointed out the TV tower, that will soon turn into the tallest basketball net in Europe. Lithuanians are fans of basketball, and have done quite well. In sharing this story, she broke into song--the new championship anthem--that she had heard that morning and couldn't get out of her head.
After this, we left the bus and started our walking tour of Vilnius. Surprise! We were at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, again. This one was so bright inside, with clear windows, chandeliers, and lots of baroque white plaster ornamentation. Sts. Barbara and Florian (saint of firefighters) were new finds for us.
We continued our walk through places like the Vilnius Cathedral, which had
Dome over Sts. Peter and Paul
Shows the "face of God" in the Baroque tradition, as spectating on the show belows.
a special chapel dedicated to St. Casimir. There, people left silver hearts to give offerings in thanks for various blessings and miracles. At one time, this chapel was connected to the royal palace. (Lithuania had a king once, for ten years.)
Other sites we visited included courtyards and side streets along the main road of Vilnius as well as the University and President's Palace. We explored ethnic areas, including the Jewish Quarter, which today is an area full of shops and restaurants. The basement of the Amber museum showed us the level of medieval Vilnius, several feet below current street level. We also visited a Russian Orthodox church, the only one in Vilnius. The smell of incense seemed vaguely familiar.
From there, it was time to pass through the Gates of Dawn, even though they face south. Here is a shrine to an icon of the Virgin Mary that draws people from far away, who also leave silver hearts. Many people genuflected in their own ways as they passed through this gate.
Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Jolita. We exchanged information and thanked her again, before returning to our hotel for a quick time of rejuvenation. After
that, it was time to spend a lida. (a little). We went back to the former Jewish quarter and did just that. Finally, it was time for dinner at St. Germain, also recommended (well) by Jolita. The restaurant was located on a street named Literatu, along the walls of which were placed an eclectic collection of art, including things like a propeller, etched circular saw blades, and dentures. Sitting in an outdoor cafe under an umbrella was a great way to say Viso gero to Lithuania.
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