Day 21 – Vilnuis
This morning Jack and I were told to try some little cheese bars called surelis. What we didn’t quite realise is that these cheese bars aren’t quite what you would think. After taking one out of the fridge I opened it to find a bar of chocolate. I quickly checked the packet and then opened the fridge to check I had picked up what I was told to eat. They are a sweet cheese covered in chocolate and come in a whole range of different flavours from gooseberry, biscuit, pistachio, poppyseed raspberry and vanilla. Whatever you can think of, the Lithuanians have turned it into a cheese bar! Over the rest of the trip we tried as many different kinds as we could get our hands on.
Day 2 in Vilnuis was all about being one with nature. From our trip up to the tower and the hike up the hill we noticed how green Lithuania is; today was no exception. We had been joined today by Adas, his nephew Daniel and his mum who had kindly volunteered to be our chauffeur for the day. First up was a trip to the original capital city Kernave, which involved us climbing lots of mounds where the original fort was, and again, admiring the beautiful view. We made a little trip to the museum that explains the history and has lots of acheological findings from the area we visited. It included little videos on how different things were made, including jewellery, weaving, pottery and tools.
Up next, we visited one of the old Pagen forests, which is the largest natural oak forrest in Lithuania, and home to 7 species of endangered bats alongside numerous beetles. The forest was filled with large wooden carvings all of which were intricately finished and dedicated to the different Pagen Gods.
For dinner we were treated to a Lithuania soup, Saltibarsciai, which is served cold with boiled egg and hot boiled potatoes, and yes, it’s pink! On a side note, Tatjana cooks the nicest boiled potatoes ever.
After dinner we went to the TV tower. At the bottom is a little museum telling the story of the fight for independance. This, alongside the Government building, was guarded by the people of Lithuania in the 90’s, who were untrained and relying on their numbers to beat the Soviet army. The TV tower was of particular importance as it was the only way they could get honest commentary out to the rest of the world as to what was happening. On the 13th of January, 1991 it all came to a head and the Soviet Army brought in their tanks to trample their way through to take over both the Government building and the TV tower. Adas’s dad was part of the team guarding the Government building, and his mum made meals from their flat that was close by. Up until the moment the army reached the top of the tower, a radio presenter, (the son of whom Adas would later go to school with), was broadcasting the destruction below. At the bottom of the TV tower, there is a small memorial to the 13 people who died there that day along with the 140 who were injured.
The top of the tower has now been transformed into two restuarants which revolve so as give diners a full 360 degree view of Vilnuis in 40 minutes. Part of our discussions with Tatjana about Soviet Rule was surrounding the fact that they quickly built lots of blocks of flats so as to enable every person/family to own a flat. It was also illegal not to have a job, and anyone who refused to work was jailed. From the TV tower you could see just how many flats they had built and how blocky and regimented they were.
It was interesting to see the difference in perspective from Adas’s mum, whose parents were very pro Soviet, and grew up speaking Russian, and Adas’s dad who was against Soviet Rule. It’s also been amazing to live with the family in the city, eat proper Lithuanian food and hear stories of the history of the country from the people who lived through it. We have warned Tatjana that her cooking is too nice and that we might not leave!
Day 22 – Trakai and Vilnuis
This day was the turn of Adas’s dad, Eduardas, to be our chauffeur. He had promised to give us all the proper locals tour of the city of Trakai. First up on our tour was the castle which was on a small little island in the middle of a lake. Parts of it have been destroyed over the centuries since it was built; however, in the 50’s enough money had been raised to rebuild the castle. The museum within the castle holds lots of treasures that had been found throughout the area including lots of literally hidden treasure that had been buried – there’s hope for you yet Micheal!
Our second stop was the Lithuanian Olympic Sports Centre, which according to Eduardas also holds the best Kibinai restuarant. Kibinai’s are quite similar to pastys, with a pork filling and served with a thin soup with rice. After filling up on Kibinai we then headed to another restuarant which sold chocolates, coffee, ice cream and just about anything else sweet and rich! The chocolates were also made there and this particular brand are also sold in supermarkets they’ve become that popular. Everything in there was incredibly rich but we all managed to find some room to fill up our pudding stomachs before rolling back to the car.
Up next, we visited some of the prettiest churches we have ever been to, where we played the game ‘Is it prettier on the inside or outside?’. The pictures below are the Sventosios dvasios monarchy, Petro ir Pauliaus Church and Sv. Tereses Church
Yet again, Jack and I have managed to time our trip to Vilnuis perfectly to coincide with something we had no clue about. Culture Night which is an evening festival and celebration of the art, dance, music and culture of the city of Vilnuis. It was fascinating to be part of a local event that hadn’t become touristy and throughout the city there were events happening until 2am. Part of the Night was the free opening of the Valdovu Palace which was rebuilt over the original remains which you can see once inside. It talks you through the entire history of the rulers of Lithuania and they’ve recreated some of the original rooms of the palace as well.
We also visited the small little butterfly room where they had lots of pretty butterflys. One of them in particular really loved Adas.
We then had dinner in the park where some of childrens activities were happening. Jack and Daniel treated themselves to a giant game of chess and then we headed off for a wander around the city to see what other things we could find.
There were numerous light shows and performances and a living room set up that was a travelling pod. You could pick a phrase such as Home Sweet Home or equivalent common phrases in many European languages and then take a giant picture in the room set. They then posted them all on Facebook as well as printing you out a copy.
After wandering around the city for another couple of hours, at 2am we decided that we were going to have a look at some of the other citys sights. We started up at the Government building, where some of the barriers from the fight for freedom were still kept outside. It also had a small memorial for all of the other people who died on that same fateful night. We then wandered down the road where the memorial for all of the fallen of Lithuania is. Next to this was a display of childrens drawings of what the history of Lithuania meant to them. Drawings told the story of anything from WW2 to the Freedom battle in 1991. Just up from here was the old prison that was used by the KGB. Although we haven’t had the time to go in, you can still learn alot from the outside of the building. Each of the names of people murdered within the prison were written along the outside of the building. There was also a memorial plate to a man who while being interrogated had jumped out of the third story of the building to commit suicide.