Home Up


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Thursday, 30 August:  We once again enjoyed a great breakfast on our final morning at the Hotel Valdemars.  Then, we walked a familiar route to reach the Central Bus Terminal.  We decided it was easier to walk rather than to try to get our luggage on/off public transport.  We arrived at the Station at about 11:00AM and waited until 12:30PM to board the luxurious LuxExpress Bus to Vilnius. 

We arrived at the Panorama Shopping Center in Vilnius a bit earlier than scheduled  – 4:40PM – and then we had a long walk to the Holiday Inn.  The hotel personnel previously had sent us a map with walking directions.  Most of it was pretty straight-forward but we didn’t enjoy the stairs up/down which we had to use to go underneath a traffic circle.  However, we survived and got to the Holiday Inn by about 5:30PM.

We checked into the hotel and learned that we would be upgraded to the Executive Floor the following day; thank you!  So, we didn’t totally unpack knowing that we would have to do it again. We briefly settled into the room and then walked a block to a nearby market.  We purchased a cold beer and some chips and took those back to the hotel.  There we enjoyed those as well as a loaf of Estonian bread that we had carried with us from Tallinn but hadn’t eaten due to having dinner each night in Riga as part of our hotel stay.  Anyway, it was a great picnic and a nice close to our first night in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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The former border crossing
between Latvia & Lithuania
A typical countryside village
A farmer harvesting potatoes
One of many corn fields
just about ready for harvest

Friday, 31 August:  We enjoyed an excellent breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  Ed especially enjoyed the marinated salmon!  Afterwards we had planned to check our luggage with the desk so we could do some touring before moving to the Executive Floor.  However, when we went by the front desk, Inge, the individual who originally checked us into the hotel, told us that a room was already available.  Wow!  So, at about 10:30AM we switched to our room on the Executive Floor.  There was no club but the room did have upgraded amenities as well as a view of Vilnius’ Old Town. 

After we moved to the new room, we headed into Old Town.  We crossed the Neris River (about three blocks away) over the Green Bridge and we were on the edge of Old Town.  We walked along this avenue until we reached Gedimino Pedway.  There we came across a very busy area with lots of people milling about despite it being a work day.  There were tents set up as restaurants, vendors selling various goods and lots of live music.  Later, we learned that we had managed to be in Vilnius during its annual City Fiesta (yes, it is billed as a “fiesta”).  As we walked along the pedway in the direction of Cathedral Square, we stopped to watch a group of women (mostly very old) dressed in ethnic garb singing Lithuanian folk songs while accompanying themselves on instruments – an accordion, a harmonica, a drum and several small percussion instruments.  They were very good!

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We approach the Gedimino Pedway
(where the festivities were underway)
Entertainment provided by
this colorfully dressed group

Next, we reached the Vilnius Cathedral, more specifically known as the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Stanislaus & St. Ladislaus, which is the most important Catholic Church in Lithuania and it is incredibly beautiful.  The church was originally founded in this location in 1251.  However, the building currently standing dates around 1419, with many modifications made in years thereafter.  In 1950, the building was confiscated by the Russians and the original three statutes of Sts. Stanislaus, Ladislaus and Casimir which were on the roof were confiscated and subsequently lost (the current statutes are replicas which were installed in 1997).  Post 1950, the Church spent several years in use as an art gallery and even as a car repair workshop.  It was returned to the Catholic Church on October 22, 1988 and was re-consecrated on February 5, 1989.  Next to the Church is a free-standing Bell Tower which stands 57 meters (~187 feet) tall.  Originally it was part of the city’s defensive wall. 

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Vilnius Cathedral & Bell Tower
The interior of Vilnius Cathedral
A close-up of the Bell Tower

After photographing these structures, we went to a nearby stage to see who was performing.  Our timing was perfect because we were able to watch a military band perform.  We both enjoy military bands and this was one was exceptional in both its music and its marching.  Afterwards, a Youth Band comprised of people with disabilities gave a great performance.

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The military band playing
The bank performing a
complex march while playing
The youth band entertaining
the crowds

We finished our touring by photographing Gediminas’ Tower.  The tower is located on a 48 meter (~158 foot) hill and is named after Vilnius’ founder, Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania.  It is the only remaining part of an upper Castle which stood on the area from the 10th century through the late 14th century.  Then, Ed found a spot where he was able to get a great panoramic shot which includes the Cathedral, Bell Tower and Gediminas’ Tower as well as the City Fiesta tents!

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Gediminas' Tower
The Tower, Cathedral and, above
the Cathedral, Gediminas'Tower
Hot air balloons over Vilnius

[ T O P ]

We stayed in this area until about 3:00PM.  Then, we went to a nearby Information Center to obtain information about using the Vilnius bus/trolley system.  Afterwards, we started the long trek back to the Holiday Inn.  En route, we stopped at a Rimi Market and picked up a few items for a picnic in our room.  We returned back to the hotel a bit after 5:00PM and stayed in for the balance of the evening.

Saturday, 1 September:  Hey, hello to the 1st of September in Lithuania!  We woke up to a dark and cloudy day.  So, after enjoying a leisurely breakfast, we decided to tour The Museum of Genocide Victims (or the KGB Museum).

We once again went into the Old Town and walked to the Gedimino Pedway.  However, instead of heading toward the Cathedral Square, we walked in the opposite direction.  Several blocks later we reached the Museum.  It is housed in the building which served as the KGB headquarters for 50 years.  Prior to that, it had been used by the Nazis during their occupation of Lithuania. 

The names of individuals known to have been killed resisting the Nazi and/or Russian occupations are carved into the granite stones which are the base of the building.  Once inside the Museum, you visit a variety of exhibitions dedicated to showing the atrocities committed against the Lithuanian people and, in particular, those individuals who fought for freedom.  In the lower levels of the Museum are actual cells which were used to hold prisoners prior to their move to gulags (forced labor camps) or other prisons.  Individuals were also held here prior to being executed on the premises.  The execution room still bears the original bullet marks.  The Museum is excellent!  It’s fascinating and disgusting that individuals could have done such horrible things to others in the name of country.  What’s even more amazing is that this didn’t happen in ancient times but in recent history.  Let us never, never forget what happened during this oppression and the human toll that was extracted for Lithuania to once again be a free country. 

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The Museum
The engraved names of those
known to have perished
A prisoner cell
A padded cell and straight-jacket
used for torturing victims
The water torture room (a prisoner was placed
on the raised portion of the floor while
 the room was flooded with ice cold water;
when sleep deprived, the indl fell and was
drenched and the process began again)
The execution room with
plexi-glass covering the
numerous bullet holes

[ T O P ]

After spending our day at the Museum, we returned back to the hotel.  Thankfully, the rain didn’t come until later in the night so despite it being gray and gloomy, we didn’t have to battle any storms.

Sunday, 2 September:  After taking care of a bit of business (unfortunately, a compromised credit card that had to be cancelled), we enjoyed a late breakfast at the hotel.  It was probably good that we hadn’t planned on an early breakfast because there was a huge tour group in the restaurant earlier.

When we finished breakfast, we once again walked into the Old Town as the City Fiesta was starting to get underway.  Today we walked to the far side of the Old Town.  En route we passed many beautiful churches before reaching our destination, Vilnius’ Town Hall.  The first church we photographed was St. Catherine’s Church (built in 1743); unfortunately, it is not in use and its doors were shut. 

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Look closely.... you'll
see the steeples of three churches
St. Catherine's
A view of the back of
St. Catherine's
Vilnius' Town Hall
A plaque on the Town Hall
noting US support of the
Lithuanian peoples

 After photographing the Town Hall, we visited St. Casimir’s Church.  It is a Jesuit church and mass was being held.  The choir sang a beautiful hymn and the acoustics of the Church made it truly beautiful.  St. Casimir’s lies only a few blocks from the original city walls. So, we had achieved a walk through the entire length of Old Town.  As we worked our way back to the Neris River side of Old Town, we stopped by an Information Office to inquire about purchasing bus tickets.  A young man was very helpful and answered all our questions so that we’ll be able to take mass transit to reach Trakai, some 28km from Vilnius, to see its castle and surroundings.

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St. Casimir's
The interior of St. Casimir's

[ T O P ]

We then called it a day and finished the trek back across the Green Bridge to the Holiday Inn.  We decided to make it an early night so we could get to breakfast early in the morning so we could catch our first bus to the Bus Station and then catch an onward bus to Trakai.

Monday, 3 September:  As planned, we had an early breakfast and then walked a couple of blocks to a nearby bus stop.  There, we caught a bus to the central bus station.  Once there, we were able to purchase a ticket to Trakai and we arrived in that town at about 9:35AM.  Pretty amazing journey of 28km!  From the bus station, we walked the main street of the town and came to Trakai Castle, a 600 year old castle set on an island in Lake Galve. 

We arrived at the Castle at 10:15AM which was perfect – it had just opened and we were well ahead of the many tour groups who visit this site.  Trakai Castle is one of the most visited sites in Lithuania.  Once we saw the Castle, we knew why.  It’s truly stunning!

We learned that construction of the stone castle was begun in the 14th century and most of it was completed by 1409.  It was one of the main centers for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and had great strategic importance.  The primary construction material was so-called red Gothic bricks. Stone blocks were used only in the foundations and the upper parts of buildings, towers and walls. The castle was decorated in a variety of ways, including glazed roof tiling, burned bricks, and stained glass windows. During the 15th century the castle walls were fortified and major defensive towers were built on the corners. 

The castle lost much of its importance when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was defeated.  During the wars in the 17th century, the castle was damaged and was not reconstructed again. It gradually fell into disrepair.  After World War II, major reconstruction of the castle was begun.  Active work started in 1951.  The major portion of the reconstruction was finished in 1961.

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Trakai Castle
Accessing the Castle complex
over a wooden bridge

After crossing the wooden bridge leading to the Castle, we were able to walk through its heavily fortified main gates and then into the interior courtyard.  Afterwards, we crossed into a three story building with a major watch tower and a draw bridge.  Once there we walked through several of the rooms located on its three floors.  We began in the Grand Hall which is known for its acoustics.  It is now used for concerts.  Then we visited the Duchess’ Quarters which contained various exhibits of historical items excavated from the Castle during its reconstruction.  Then, we went into the Duke’s Quarters.  It too held many exhibits of artifacts.  It also had the only interior staircase which leads to the bottom floor. We also visited the treasury and viewed many ancient coins. 

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Lindy on the drawbridge
used to access Trakai Castle
A view of the interior
of the Castle compound
The 2nd floor access is
via exterior wooden walkways
Ed's in trouble now!
One of the circular towers
at Trakai
A beautiful view of the
lake and Castle buildings
This is an impressive tower!
The interior of the multi-story Tower
A well within this fortified compound
Ed climbing a stone stair case
The Concert Room
in the Great Hall

After viewing this part of the Castle, we returned to the interior courtyard and then visited an upper floor along one of the outer walls.  It now houses a museum (in multiple rooms) which documents some of Lithuania’s history.

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Ancient war helmets
Weaponry - spear or knife points
Lindy beside a small cannon
(small, yet powerful!)

[ T O P ]

After spending a couple of hours in the castle, we decided to leave, especially since the crowds were growing and we had been spoiled in that we were able to take lots of photographs with no one else present.  So, we retraced our route back to the Trakai bus station.  We caught a bus there that left about 10 minutes after we arrived.  When we returned to the Vilnius bus station, we then caught a local bus back to a stop near our hotel.  We did take time to buy our bus tickets for our trip to the airport early on Tuesday morning (interestingly, we had to buy four tickets – one for each of us and one for each of our bags); however, at only 2 Litas each ($0.72 each) we didn’t complain.

We did a bit of shopping and then returned to the Holiday Inn.  There, thanks to gracious staff members, we were able to print boarding passes for tomorrow’s flights to Riga and then on to Kiev.  Afterwards, we started repacking our bags and we then enjoyed a great final evening in Vilnius – enjoying the beautiful view from our room while relaxing and picnicking.

 [Next, we’re off to the UKRAINE to visit Kiev]