Friday, October 3, 2008

Tourist Play

Day 206
My entire time on Lithuania has been a bit boring. Well, there was excitement yesterday, but not the kind I was really looking for. I really wanted to get out and see things in Vilnius, luckily I was able to wake up early enough to do that.

The first thing I checked out was the 17th century Gate of the Sun. It was pretty cool. I then walked into the Russian Orthodox Holy Spirit church. There was meant to be a few saints bodies here, unfortunately they were covered up by a blanket, all I could see were their slippered feet. How very disappointing.

I then found the church of St. Casimir. I didn't go in, but it had an interesting history. The baroque structure was built by the Jesuits in 1604. During the 18th century it was rebuilt, only to have Napoleon destroy it shortly afterwards. In 1868 it became a Russian Orthodox church. After WWII the building was turned into the Museum of Atheism. In 1991 it was returned to the Jesuits.

My first real site of the day was the Lithuanian History Museum. This had a wide range of objects, from Egyptian to loads of old nails. There was a large section on an 1830-31 uprising by the serfs. Apparently the Jesuits arrived in 1569 and brought the idea of higher education with them. Lithuania was converted to Christianity in 1387, years after the rest of Europe. I wasn't allowed to take pictures and that made it a bit less fun.

There is a huge hill with a fort looking thing on it behind the museum. I walked all the way around only to find out that it was closed. Bummer. After checking out the Parliament building I went to the Jewish Museum. It was closed, however, for technical reasons. I have no idea what that means.

I was a bit foot sore at this point and grabbed some pizza for lunch. It was ok, but it took ages to get the check.

Nearby was the Museum of Genocide Victims. This wasn't really what it was about though, it was an occupation museum. It was housed in the former KGB headquarters and prison. I wasn't allowed to take pictures, but I found some that people before me had snuck.

Lithuania's occupation story was much like Estonia and Latvia. One bit that is a bit different is that in 1939 Hitler occupied the Klaipeda area under the pretenses that it had belonged to Germany at some point. When the Soviet Union took over the rest of the country the newly appointed Russian government officials said that they were there to "bring back Stalin's sunshine." I somehow think that the Lithuanians disagreed. About 11,000 people were deported in one year alone, only have returned. Stalin had about 3 times as many people deported and or killed as Hitler did.

Tourists were allowed into parts of the country, but they were followed constantly. When the KGB occupied the building they had a place called the Room of Glories. This was meant to be a museum that depicted their greatest achievements. It was really disturbing.

The basement was a KGB prison and had been left as it was found. Most of the rooms had space for 4 prisoners. The padded cell was meant for those that wouldn't confess or for torture. The squalid solitary confinement room was not long enough for a person to lay down in. I really could hardly stand the place, it was so creepy.

On my way back to the hostel I found the Frank Zappa monument. I don't know why it was here, he never was. I guess that he had fans. Back at the hostel I ate dinner and spent quite a bit of time working on the blog. It's nice to finally get caught up!

Around 8 I started to get bored and managed to find a really laid back pub. I met several Americans who were in town for several months for some sort of construction thing. A couple of them were pretty drunk and left early. I spent most of the time talking with Chad. Around midnight we called it a night and I headed back to the hostel. I was happy to finally have had a busy day in Lithuania.

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