Vilnius – act three

I spent the better part of today in the New Town.

I started off by walking down the length of Gedimino Prospektas. I cut over as things caught my eye like St. Phillip and St. Jacob. If I read correctly, the church has the oldest icon of Mary in Lithuania.

The Museum of Genocide Victims was closed. I would have had to gone Saturday. Saw the Parliament House. The Lithuanian National Drama Theater is undergoing renovations, so I was unable to see the Three Muses.

A little south of Gedimino is Vingis Park, which I walked through a little. I also went to the Romanov Church, which was known as the Orthodox Church of St. Michael and St. Constantine. It was built to mark 300 years of the Romanov dynasty. This was within four years of the dynasty ending. I also saw the Flower Market, which I could have missed but the guidebook mentioned it and it was close to the church. They did have tons of lovely roses. I also saw Kenessa, which is a traditional Karaite prayer house that was built in 1911.

I then went to the Snipiskes district, which is where Soviet concrete building blocks have been replaced with skyscrapers. The business district is called “Sunrise Valley.” I also saw St. Raphael’s Church.

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Then I did some wandering around the Old Town again.

I did a lot of walking. 33,381 steps according to my phone.

Edits when I get home!

Vilnius – act two

Today, I started off in the Cathedral Square again. I wanted to make sure I got a picture of the statue of Gediminas. It is built on an old pagan site. I also wanted to get a picture of the tile that has the word stebuklas, which means miracle. It marks the spot where the human chain formed between Tallinn and Vilnius ended. More than two million people formed the chain to protest the Soviet occupation. You are supposed to do a clockwise 360-degree turn on the tile.

I forgot to mention that last night I saw the Palace of the Grand Dukes. I passed it again on my way into the Old Town. The site has been settled on since at least 4th century AD.

Vilnius’ Old Town is Eastern Europe’s largest.

My first stop was St. Anne’s Church. This is the church I randomly went in to last night, but I left because they were having mass. Well it’s Sunday, so they were having mass again. I stayed for part of it. While I was there, the father came by with oil. He dipped a brush or something and went around waving it toward all of us as a blessing, I think? The church is late 15th-century Gothic and has 33 different kinds of bricks. Legion has it that Napoleon wanted to relocate the church to Paris because he was charmed by it. The church still has its original altar.

The next stop was Bernadine Church and Monastery. I was able to take communion there based on the timing of my arrival. The Bernadine monks have been in Vilnius since the 15th century when they established a wooden house of worship. Now its brick.

As I was walking, I heard someone say, “Hi.” I looked up, and it was the woman from Malaysia again! Like me, she arrived in Vilnius yesterday. She is going to Krakow, Poland, tomorrow. Her name is Chin Lin. It totally made my day.

One thing I noticed in all three countries is the number of people asking for alms outside of the church. A few times, I have seen them chased away by people from the church.

Then to the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel. It was built in the 17th century. Saw the Presidential Palace and parts of Vilnius University, which was founded in 1579.

Went to St. John’s Church, which is the first parish church in the city. Christianity was introduced to the city in 1387 and the church opened in 1426. Saw the nearby House of Signatories. Lithuania’s Declaration of Independence was signed there in 1918.

Then to what may now be my favorite church in the world. I love the Church of Our Lady in Bruges a lot too. This church is called Shrine of Divine Mercy. It doesn’t have much decoration, but what is there is so perfect. I found it to be peaceful. Above the altar it says, “Jesu, in te confido.” Which translates, “Jesus, I trust you.” Then there is artwork that says it in different languages. I arrived just as it was the “May God be with you,” part, which is my favorite part of the service.

Then to the Church of our Lady of the Assumption. Then to the Church of St. Nicholas, which is the city’s oldest church. It was built by German Christians in 1320. From 1901 to 1939, it was the only church in Lithuania that held mass.

Went in the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. It was smoky. It was built in the 16th century then restored 300 years later. Went to Evangelical Lutheran Church. It dates back to 1555. Went to where the Great Synagogue of Vilnius was before it was destroyed. It was the largest synagogue in Eastern Europe.

Then to the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Comforter and St. Casimir’s Church, which was closed. Passed by the Lithuanian National Philharmonic on my way to see Church of Holy Trinity, Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, Church of Saint Teresa of Avila, Gates of Dawn and the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn. The Gates of Dawn is the southern border of the Old Town.

After that I saw two more churches, the Church of the Lord’s Ascension to Heaven and the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Both which are closed.

At some point, I also saw the Town Hall and the square. I also saw St. Catherine’s Church, which is now a musical venue. Went to the Church of Holy Spirit, which has green interior.

At some point, I realized I was walking up hill, and stopped by the Subacius Observation Area before walking down. I endued up in Uzupio, so I wandered around there again. I did some random walking through the Old Town on my way home.

 

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Basically, I spent a lot of times visiting tons of churches today, many of which were having service. There are a lot of churches in the Old Town. Even I was getting “churched out” toward the end!

I spent some time in the Bernardine Gardens yesterday. Quite lovely! I also saw the Cathedral of Theotkos, but I didn’t know what it was called until today. I saw it when I was leaving the Uzupio district.

Edits when I get home!

Vilnius – act one

One stage of your journey is over, another begins,” Gandalf the Grey.

Today, I departed Riga, Latvia, and took a bus to Vilnius, Lithuania.

I have to say that I loved the hotel I stayed at in Riga. It’s called Hotel Justus. Check out their webpage. The décor in my room and around the hotel are pieces I would love to have in my home.  It’s in a great location. It is minutes from the Riga Cathedral on the left and House of Blackheads on the right. Great filling breakfast. I was able to walk to the sites I wanted to get to. And the staff, one woman in particular, were very friendly and helpful. I meant to get her name, but when I got back my last night, she was gone.

I took a 9:30 bus and arrived at the Vilnius bus depot at 1:30ish.

Got to my hotel, checked in, dumped my stuff and headed out. Since I’ve been back at the hotel, I have organized my stuff.

My first stop was the Cathedral Square. It was the place of markets and fairs in the 19th century. I visited the Vilnius Cathedral. The spot of the church was, once upon a time, a site that was used to worship the thunder god. I saw the Cathedral Belfry and debated whether to walk up the tower. I decided not to.

Part of the reason is because I was going to go up Gediminas Hill, and I thought that would give a better view. I debated whether to take the funicular or walk. I decided to walk because it wasn’t that far up. This hill is where Vilnius was founded. The castle is up there. There have been buildings there since Neolithic times. The current castle dates back to the 15th century. Its walls were damaged but restored. It offered lovely views of the city and Old Town.

I was going to head to Old Town, but I saw a sign pointing to St. Peter and St. Paul Church. Let me say, “Amazing.” It has a baroque interior with 2,000 stuccoes created by Italian sculptors between 1675 and 1704. I am so amazed at all the detail. It’s a bit of walk, but definitely worth it. Since I was there, I continued on to Antakainis Cemetery. It’s supposed to be one of Europe’s most beautiful graveyards (not sure how that’s measured). There is a place where those killed by Soviet special forces January 19, 1991, are buried. There is a pieta of Madonna cradling Jesus there. I did enjoy my walk through it.

On a side note, when I lived in Northgate, I lived across from a cemetery. I used to walk in it all the time.

I then walked up to Three Crosses. They were first erected in the 17th century in memory of monks who were martyred by pagans three centuries earlier. The originals were bulldozed by the Soviets. Sigh.

I had seen a sign pointing to Uzupis, so I kept going. What a fun neighborhood. It’s called the “Republic of Uzupis.” Complete with own flags and president. There is a 41-point constitution engraved in many different languages outlining its citizens’ rights. Like hot water, to be unique, to be free, to be happy, etc. There is also the Uzupis Angel. It’s kind of old school Capitol Hill before gentrification meets Fremont.

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At that point, it was starting to get dark, and I wanted to make sure I could find my way back to the hotel. I will hit up Old Town in its fullest tomorrow.

Oh. Remember that Soviet style building I mentioned that reminded me of one I saw in Poland? Will apparently there is one more of them (I forget where). In Riga, the locals call it “Stalin’s wedding cake.”

I learned from Tom, that you can go to St. Petersburg from Helsinki for up to 72 hours without a visa. I need to do some research into that because that could be a future trip.

Tomorrow, Europe falls back. An extra hour of sleep. Hallelujah!

Edits when I get home.

Riga take two

My focus today was central Riga.

My first stop was the exquisite Nativity of Christ Cathedral. The church is a Byzantine-styled orthodox cathedral. It’s quite lovely. My senses were on overload taking in all the beautiful imagery and the magnificent dome. This time I asked about a scarf, but I was fine because I was wearing my hat. During the Soviet occupation, it was turned into a planetarium. Jeez.

My next move was walking about 20 minutes to get to Miera Iela. It’s a district that is popular with young, hipster crowds. The woman at the front desk was saying the country is very conservative, but the district is more alternative (my word choice). It’s an industrial district that is turning over though there is a chocolate maker up there. There are cafes, craft shops and bookstores. It had a nice vibe to it. I kept walking and saw two more orthodox churches and a cemetery.

Next stop was St. Gertrude Church, which has beautiful stain-glass windows. Its red-brick and Neo-Gothic. I learned today that Gertrude is the patron saint for travelers or those on the road. Once upon a time, the location was the edge of the city.

I tried to go to Jews in Latvia, but it was closed because it’s Friday. The place recounts the history of Jewish life until 1945. There are artifacts and photos.

Then off to the Quiet Center. Riga has 750 Art Nouveau buildings. In truth, the city is a museum because there are so many lovely buildings. My eyes were drawn to the soft pastels. There were some that were pointed out along Alberta Iela, so I went to check them out first. So much detail. The craftsmen who did the carvings were very skilled. I spent some time walking around the Art Nouveau District, focusing on streets off of Elizabetes Iela.

I saw the Corner House. This is a place where the Soviet secret police arrested, tortured and killed people. I wasn’t able to go inside, but it has an exhibit dedicated to the victims of the 1940-41 political repression.

I walked down the Esplanade, which is park. It was a lovely fall day, and I ended at the flower market (Vermanes Garden).

After a quick stop at the hotel, I crossed over the bridge to go to the Latvia National Library. It’s quite massive and there was an event going on, so it had a party vibe happening. The locals call the building the sandwich and don’t like it. The architect wanted to mimic the spires in the old town.

On the way home, I ran into a fellow American. His name is Tom, and he is from Ohio. He’s traveling for two months doing English as a second language as part of the trip. He’s done quite a bit of traveling, and I want to be him when I grow up. Always nice to see people who love to travel and keep doing so.

My phone says I walked 30,793 steps. That doesn’t seem right (seems high), but I’ll go with it.

Edits when I get home.

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Riga take one

I was able to get a lot accomplished today.

The first place I went was the Riga Cathedral. The church, which once Catholic but is now Lutheran, was founded in 1211 as the seat of the Riga diocese. It is the largest medieval church in the Baltic. The oldest portion of the church has Romanesque features; the tower is 18th century baroque and the rest, dating back to the 15th century, is Gothic. During Soviet times, services were not allowed.

I went into Our Ladies of Sorrow Church and saw St. Savior’s Church. I would also go into St. Mary Magdalene’s Church later.

The next stop was Three Brothers, which are three old stone homes. One is 600 years old and the oldest dwelling in town. The other two are 17th century. Then to St. James Cathedral, which was built in 1225. The church has switched between Catholic and Protestant. It is currently a Catholic Church. Then to see the Riga Castle, which is the official residence of the president.

From here, I took the Torna Iela to see the Swedish Gate, which were medieval walls built in 1698 by the Swedes. It is the largest surviving section of the town wall. Saw the Latvian War Museum, Jacob’s Barracks, which is the longest building in Old Riga, and the Power Tower, which dates back to the 14th century. It’s the only of the 18 original towers that survived.

I then did a quick beeline to Central Riga and walked along the city canal. There is a nice park around it. I went up Bastion Hill and went to the Freedom Monument. The Freedom Monument was off limits during Soviet occupation. Placing flowers on it was a crime with the punishment of being sent to Siberia. It is around this time I ran into the Malaysian woman from my bus tour here, and I laughed because I bemoaned yesterday how I would never see any of them again. I saw the National Opera.

I went back into the Old Town and saw St. Peter’s Church. It is thought to be 800 years old, thus one of the oldest medieval buildings in the Baltic. Then saw St. John’s Church, which is a mixture of 13th to 19th century Gothic and baroque styles.

This is when I did a beeline and saw somethings I meant to see tomorrow. I saw the Central Market, and so I went there. It is wonderful! The market is housed in a series of five WWI Zeppelin hangers and has outdoor markets as well. You name it, it’s there. I read that it has space for 1,000 sellers. It’s one of the largest markets in Europe.

I explored the Maskava Forstate, which is Riga’s “Moscow Suburb.” It was once the site of the Jewish ghetto when the Nazi’s occupied Latvia. There are parts that are still in recovery.

I saw a building I walked to because it reminded me of a very Russian like building I saw in Poland. There is an orthodox church near it that I went to. It was magnificent. It was adorned to the highest degree. When I first walked in, the father gave me a second look and walked out. I looked around and then went to buy a candle to pray for my sister/friend’s aunt who lost her husband. While I was in line, the father came up to me with a big smile. Gave me a piece of candy and shook my hand. It made me smile. It was only after I was leaving the church that I saw a sign asking women to borrow a scarf from the church when they entered. I felt bad because I feel it’s so important to respect sacred spaces in the manner of their beliefs. I know to cover my hair in a mosque and to take off my shoes (and leave them outside) before going into a Hindu Temple.

I then went to the Riga Ghetto & Latvia Holocaust Museum. There are some moving pieces. I think it’s always so powerful when faces and stories are connected. The people who were murdered in the Holocaust are not nameless. They have stories and histories that were wiped out too soon because of hate and supremacy. I also went to a Holocaust Memorial near there. It’s the site where a large synagogue was burned to the ground during WWII. The congregation was trapped inside the church when it happened. None survived. What do you do with such senseless hate?

Then I saw the Jezus Baznica (Jesus Evangelical Lutheran). It took me a minute to find it even though it was right in my face. It said it was a church made up entirely of wood, so I assumed it would be brown. It was grey and soft blue.

Next I went to Spikeri. It is an area of brick warehouses, which used to be filled with slabs of hanger meat. The warehouses are now being converted into stores and companies. It made me think of gentrification, which can be good if you take areas that were not developed and repurpose buildings that are falling down. The other side is when people who historically lived in the neighborhood are forced out because they can no longer afford to live there. It’s happening all over the world, including my neighborhood at home, and is unfortunate.

Then back to the Old Town. I went to the Cat House. I wanted to see it because of the backstory. “What had happened was” according to legend, a man was rejected from the Great Guild. For revenge, he turned the cats’ butts toward the hall. Of course, the guild was outraged. There was a court battle and the merchant was let in the club, but he had to turn the cats in the other direction. High drama!

I saw the Mentzendorff’s House, which was built in 1695 as the home of a German glazier.

I went to the Riga Synagogue. It was built in 1905. It only survived because setting it on fire would have put other buildings at risk. After the Soviet occupation ended, it was reopened for service. Then in 1995 and 1998, there were bomb attacks by neo-Nazis. In 2009, it was restored with funds from the EU.

Finally, to Ratslaukums where I saw the Blackheads House, which was originally called the New House. The house was for unmarried German merchants. It was built in 1344 but decimated in 1941 and flattened seven years later. It was rebuilt in 2001 based on the original blueprints. Saw the Town Hall. The original was destroyed during WWII. It was rebuilt in 2003. Lastly saw the Latvian Riflemen Monument. It’s controversial because it honors Latvia’s Riflemen, who were the core of the Red Army in 1918. Some served as Lenin’s personal guards.

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Today has been the warmest day. No hat and scarf needed for me. It’s supposed to be 60 tomorrow. Late next week, snow is in the forecast.

Today’s step count equals 24,738 for 9.2 miles.

I will edit when I get home.

The road to Riga

One stage of your journey is over, another begins,” Gandalf the Grey.

Today, I departed Tallinn, and I made my way to Riga, Latvia, via a sightseeing bus. The journey took 11 hours, and we made stops along the way. We left at 9:00 a.m. and arrived at 8:00 p.m. If you have the time, I would totally recommend this tour. It’s a long day, but you see so much along the way. They also have a bus that goes from Riga to Vilnius.

Before we begin, let’s talk about where I stayed in Tallinn. It’s called Hotel Bern, and its minutes from the Old Town. Basically, one street over from Viru Gates. My main needs are a good shower, comfortable bed and reliable wifi. They did marvelous on all three. The room was neat and clean. When I looked out my hotel window, I saw Hotel Viru. Oh, and the breakfast was good.

This bus was a good option because it allowed me to see some of Estonia and Latvia outside of their capital cities. Our guide, Daumants, was engaging and knowledgeable. There were eight of us. Three Americans (me plus a couple from North Carolina), two Indians, one Malaysian and two Canadians (Toronto and Victoria). The woman from Toronto is heading to Egypt after visiting Riga and Vilnius. Sign me up please!

On the Estonian side, we stopped at two places: Viljandi and Valga.

Viljandi is definitely a place I would like to spend more time visiting. It would be a good day trip from Tallinn if you leave early enough. Our guide said the population is 20K. It was very charming, to use the word the guidebook used to describe it. There is a valley and lake, which was very nice on a beautiful fall day. We started at St. John’s Lutheran Church. The church was originally a 15th-century Franciscan abbey. We swung by the Kondas Center, which has works by Paul Kondas. Then we went to the ruins of the Viljandi Castle. The castle was built in 1224 by German Knights of the Sword. There is a stone maze that was built behind it recently. It looked like a symbol from Game of Thrones. Walking through it and back is supposed to bring you luck/happiness. We also walked across this suspension bridge. I loved walking by Viljandi jarv, the lake. Gorgeous! Between the nature and water, Viljandi is simply enchanting.

The next stop was Valga. We ate lunch there and went to a war museum. Valga is a border town. You can see the old border buildings. Right next to it is Valka, Latvia, which ironically is where the driver who took me to my hotel is from.

On the Latvian side, we stopped at Cesis, Gauja National Park and Sigulda.

In Cesis, we stopped by the castle. The old side of the castle has a sad history. The castle was sacked by Ivan the Terrible in 1577. But rather than be captured around 300 people blew themselves up with gunpowder. We saw St. John’s Church, which was closed for renovation, from the outside. The guide said the church is over 700 years old. It overlooks their main square, Rose Square. We had some free time to wander. Then we went on a walk and saw the Russian Orthodox Church of Transfiguration. There was also a pond by the castle park. It’s another spot I would not mind revisiting.

In the national park, we took a nice hike. It was so beautiful and peaceful. The pine trees were nice and tall and the water flowing below was beautiful. I need to get more hiking in, and I would love to back there.

The final stop was Sigulda where we went to the Bobsled Track. Although we missed seeing people actually go down, there were certainly people suited up to do so. The track was built for the Soviet team and people still use it today.

 

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I checked into my hotel, and I got organized. Let me say, “OMG. I love my room.” This furniture belongs in my house!

Operation Riga will commence tomorrow.

Marmelade Gypsy, thanks so much for your comment. I so enjoy meeting other travel bloggers. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year!

P.S. On the ride to Riga, we passed people who I have never seen and will never see again. I know nothing about them: name, age, marital status, how many siblings do they have, how many children do they have, etc. Then there are people I met on the tour, who I will probably never see again, but our worlds collided for 11 hours.

P.S. We learned that when the Russians occupied, they did not want anyone speaking their local language. If you were caught, you had to wear a tablet saying you had been speaking your language. The only way to get rid of it was to tell one someone else, so of course it bred mistrust. Sigh.

Edits when I get home.

Tallinn take two

I definitely did not log as many steps today, though my phone says 23,042 steps and 8.6 miles.

I forgot to mention that yesterday I spent time in the City Center and Roterman Quarter.

Today I walked through the Old Town to get to the Kalamaja area. I started off walking through the neighborhood area where people lived. I was almost at the water, when I met a much older gentleman named Leonard who came up to me beaming asking me where I was from. We had a long conversation, and he gave me some pointers on getting places quicker. He asked me about Donald Trump, and we had a long conversation. He was a very happy, friendly person. He told me not to worry about Trump because in 4 to 10 years, things will settle back how they are supposed to be. He talked about something big putting on its breaks. It takes a while to come to a full stop, and we have a long history outside of the current administration. He also told me to focus on being happy. He was like don’t let outside influences impact your happiness. He also suggested I start my own business. That way, I would have multiple income sources and weather any storm. He encouraged me to come in June when the weather is warmer and there are concerts outside or in December if there is snow. I really enjoyed talking to him. My guidebook said most Estonians are very reserved, so be cautious when someone comes up to you being friendly. And even more cautious if they invite you to a club or a drink. But I didn’t get any weird vibes from him. Plus he was much older, so I felt more like he liked talking to people. He reminded me of the man I met on the light rail Saturday. He has never met a stranger.

After we said our goodbye, I walked to the waterfront and took a stroll down the water area. I walked toward the cruise terminal. I was close to it when a ship left, but I was not at an angle to get a good shot. I then backtracked and went to Telliskivi Creative Center. I would love to stay closer to that neighborhood next time I come. It’s still very close to Old Town, though not as close as I am now.

When I was walking around, I saw a guy spraying art on a wall, so I asked him if I could take his picture. We started talking. He moved here from the Netherlands (Holland) seven years ago. He said when he moved here, the neighborhood was not like this. There was one restaurant, but over the past six years, the rest of it was built up. We exchanged business cards because we both write. He does graphic design and street art. He said he has more opportunity to explore that here than back home.

But the area was pretty cool. What were abandoned factory buildings have been converted into shopping areas. You name it, it’s there. Food. Cafes. Bars. Artist studies. Clothes. There was actually a restaurant I wanted to try there, but I was still pretty full from breakfast. There were a lot of stores and restaurants. It would be cool to explore them building by building, one by one.

I then made my way back to the Old Town and wandered on some of the side streets. It’s basically a maze. My approach to travel is pretty basic. I study a map, and I head in that general direction I should be going. Then it all works itself out. I can’t do that here because the streets cut off and verge in unexpected directions. Like when I did the guidebook walk yesterday, I had to pay attention to the street names. It’s been a different experience.

I sense a life lesson. My life has always just come together. My believe has always been things will work themselves out, and I will end up where I am supposed to at the right time. I was chuckling thinking maybe I need to plan and focus more. I have been trying more visualization.

As always, I will edit when I get home!

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