Sunday, 12 July 2015

Vilnius, baroque churches and tales of the occupations at the museum of genocide

Exploring Vilnius, Gediminas Tower, cathedral, KGB museum, Lithuania museum, food

Had a relaxed start to the morning planning my day in Vilnius, mainly visiting places that will be closed on Mon. Walked down through the streets, Vilnius is stuffed with large baroque churches, mostly in quite good repair externally. There are also endless amber shops; one can buy anything from jewels to pipes made of amber. The cathedral is vast and beside a large square, inside the church was full for a celebration of Mass. I walked up to the Gediminas tower which has fine views of the city with red tiled roofs, church spires. There was an interesting display about the protest movement in 1989 and the Balkan ring of people-running from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn in protest against the Soviet occupation. The Soviets then left quiet quickly in early 1990 and Lithuania declared independence.

My next stop was the Museum of Genocide in a large flat-fronted house in the new town. This museum recreated the several occupations that have occurred in Lithuania over the last 70 yrs. the first was the Russian occupation in 1939 when the Russian marched in at the start of the Second World War, then the Germans took Lithuania and occupied it until 1944 when the Russian came back. The second Russian occupation triggered a local partisan above mentioned comprised of ex-soldiers who fought from the woods but had links and support in the towns, even printing presses. They wanted an independent Lithuania and did not see that the West could not support them. These fighters carried on until the 1950s. Then the population suffered under Soviet rule, with thousands being deported to labour camps in Russia, the display also captured the listening and control that the KGB did on the local population. There was a board with the KGB structure with different divisions of tasks such as espionage and interrogation. With these displays I felt that I experienced what it was like to be a partisan in the woods or living under Soviet occupation. The museum used photos and captions exceptionally well; there were embroideries that the prisoners did to keep up their spirits.

I then went to the Lithuanian national museum, downstairs were rather dreary portraits and yet more flints but upstairs were displays about Lithuanian life which gave me a sense of the peasant economy here. There was also an excellent section on the local wood carvings which is where the local religion and material meet, there were crucifixes, religious statues but finest of all were the large selection of carved wooden bird boxes with birds, snakes on the fronts.

Later I walked out and browsed the local streets. I ate Lithuanian soup and pancakes in a small run-down bar. I saw the remaining synagogue and had a beer on a chilly terrace.

The weather is definitely Nordic with cool temperatures, sudden bursts of rain and then sunshine.

First impressions, nice people, not demonstrative, cheap food and drink, surprised at the number of churches. Surprised at the 3 occupations during the 1940s sad for the partisans fighting a losing battle.

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