Vilnius, Lithuania

Part of Vilnius - the river Nevis, a church, and the road along the river
as seen from near the top of Castle Hill

The tower on top of castle hill that has become Vilnius' trademark

I took a microautobus - microbuses here are bigger than the minibuses in Albania ;-} - to Vilnius this morning and a regular bus back to Alytus this evening. In a new country, even bus rides are interesting. The microbus was more comfortable and faster, but the regular bus gave me a better people watching experience. The most distinctive thing about riding buses in Lithuania: the lack of noise from the passengers. Everyone just sits there quietly and some talk on their phone when called. Even the ringtones on the phones are subdued;-}. This is not a boisterous culture!

When I got to Vilnius after about 1.5 hour on the microbus, I headed north, I thought, towards the old city. In reality, the road turned and I walked east for a km or so before turning north again - west I thought - toward the old city - for another three km. If I had really headed north, I would have reached the old city in a fraction of a km. Instead, I walked for at least five km before finding a place to buy a map. Then I walked back south about two km to get to the old city. Next time I'll take my compass!

The first interesting building I saw - an Orthodox church
If I had continued down the street it is on, I would have run into the old city

Another Orthodox Church on the north side of the river Nevis
As seen from the south side

Thanks to my directional confusion, I saw a lot of mundane stuff before I saw anything interesting. Not surprisingly, the first beautiful thing I saw was an Orthodox church. Riding to Alytus, the ONLY colorful thing I saw was a smaller Orthodox church in a country town. It was bright yellow with dark colored trim. Orthodox churches are supposed to be beautiful, inside and out, and all of them that I have seen here are. Most of the Roman churches - this is an area where there are both kinds of Catholics - are just pretty ;-}.

A closer view of that silver Orthodox Church

I finally found a sign for something that sounded like it would lead me to the old town, but it actually led me away from it. That wasn't all bad. I was hungry and I found a good place to eat and I spotted another neat church on down the road and across the river.

When I went across the river Nevis to look at that silver domed Orthodox church, I also found a kiosk which had a 'One day in Vilnius' booklet with a map, a panoramic drawing of the old town, and two walking tours, one with descriptions. and both marked on the panoramic view drawing. Then I had to figure out where I was on the map - I was almost off of it! - and how to get where I wanted to be. Basically, I just had to retrace my steps back to where I'd turned towards the river and continue straight on till I ran into the Archcathedral Basilica - damn that is a fancy church title. It implies that an archbishop is seated there in an architecturally unique building. I wasn't all that impressed. It is a big, pretty, cross shaped (;-}) white building. I couldn't see why it had been declared a Basilica. The neatest thing about it was the bell tower - which is supposed to be one of oldest buildings in Lithuania, but that was all covered up for reconstruction ;-{.

Following the suggestions in my booklet, I walked around the cathedral, past a monument to Duke Gediminas - he founded Vilnius in 1323 - through a park and climbed up the hill where the original castle was located. The bell tower at the cathedral was originally part of the defensive wall around the lower castle. The upper castle was on top of the hill - I've seen that setup before! - and the one remaining tower is now a museum. The top has a very nice panoramic viewpoint. The castle fortifications successfully held off the Crusaders when they tried to convert this, then pagan, area to Christianity.

The Church of Saints Francis and Bernard

Part of the campus of the University of Vilnius

The Church of Saint Casimir

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The views were really nice up there and, using the telephoto setting on my LZ2, I was able to photograph several churches and part of the University. It is hard to get good images of buildings in medieval towns because the tend to be surrounded by other stuff. If you are on the highest point around, then you can see the buildings, but, from the ground near the building, you can only see small parts at one time.

You can see most of one side of the Church of St. Anne
This was my favorite Roman church in Vilnius

My favorite church in Vilnius was the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit which I couldn't get a good shot of because it is surrounded by other buildings, including the only Orthodox monastery and Orthodox convent left in Lithuania. I got scolded by one of the brothers, who unfortunately did not speak English, for having my hands in my pockets while inside the sanctuary. It took two tries for me to figure out what he didn't want me to do. This church is beautiful, but strange, since it is in a cross shape like a Roman church rather than round like most Russian Orthodox churches.

The Chapel in the Dawn Gate

Another beautiful, but also strange, thing is the Chapel in the Dawn Gate. That gate is the only remaining gate of ten gates in the original town wall. The Chapel has renaissance painting of St. Mary and, as I walked up to and through the gate, I watched three people praying at that painting. A strangely public display of prayer.

The New Synagogue

Information, in Lithuanian and English about it
English is very much the second language here

My last stop - it was closest to the bus station - so close that I had passed with a few blocks of it on my way 'into' town - was the only remaining synagogue in Vilnius. Since this was once one of the major centers of Judaism and Jewish intellectual life in Europe, it is sad to see one synagogue left after WWII. I was also sad to discover that I had missed being able to go into the synagogue - it had hours from 9 till 2 and I got there at 2:30. While I was standing in front of the synagogue being sad, a young woman came up to me and spoke, almost as if she knew me, in Lithuanian. I have no no idea what she was saying since, when I told her I only spoke English and a little German, she walked away. Probably she was just asking me for directions ;-}.

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