Written by michaelhudson on 14 May, 2009
Ninety-seven kilometres long by no more than four kilometres wide and split between two countries, Russia and Lithuania, the Curonian Spit is arguably the single most memorable landscape in the whole of the Baltic Republics.From Lithuania, the Spit is a ten-minute ferry journey from Klaipeda,…Read More
Ninety-seven kilometres long by no more than four kilometres wide and split between two countries, Russia and Lithuania, the Curonian Spit is arguably the single most memorable landscape in the whole of the Baltic Republics.From Lithuania, the Spit is a ten-minute ferry journey from Klaipeda, the country's third biggest city and well worth an overnight stay in its own right. The services depart from one of two ports, one for foot passengers and cyclists, the other capable of taking vehicles too. If you don't have your own transport, the ferry terminals are located on the river a couple of hundred metres from Klaipeda's Old Town and in Smilyne, close to the Sea Museum. Tickets cost two litas ninety for foot passengers.Aside from the Sea Museum and Dolphinarium there's no real reason to hang around in Smiltyne. Buses leave every two hours (10.15 / 12.15) for Juodkrante and Nida, the southernmost settlement on the Lithuanian side of the border. Tickets are nine litas each way; the journey takes approximately fifty minutes.If you're planning to visit the Dunes, a Unesco-listed living biosphere, Nida makes by far the most convenient base, with a range of accommodation from camping and guesthouses to luxury apartments. The Jurate, in the centre of the village at Pamario 3 is a good budget choice at 170 litas per night for twin or double rooms including a buffet breakfast. The rooms are simply furnished but clean and spacious and many have sea views.The easiest way to see the dunes from Nida is to hire a bike (around 30 litas per day). From the harbour, the 54-metre high Parnidis Dune is a five-minute ride south, providing views across a mini-Saharan landscape right down to the Russian border and taking in the Baltic Sea, the Curonian Lagoon and the coastline of mainland Lithuania. North of Nida, the remaining dunes can be seen along the sixteen-kilometre long cycle path to Pervalka. Don't miss the Baltic beaches either, a long sliver of white-sand framing the western shores of the Spit.Although Nida isn't the liveliest of places for a night out there are plenty of restaurants serving beer in the village, some of which stay open until around midnight in season. You won't need to bring supplies with you as there's a Maxima supermarket next to the tourist information office (which supplies basic maps of the area) in the centre of town.While it's possible to see Nida and the Spit in one long day from Klaipeda, I found it much better to stay overnight. The Curonian Spit is an ideal place to hire a bike, kick back, relax and enjoy nature. If you're in Lithuania, you really shouldn't miss it. Close
Written by dangaroo on 13 Jan, 2009
As I've mentioned in the reviews for Gadi Festival and Roktys Naktys, there's very little better than a music festival in Lithuania. Whilst both of those are more geared to the hard rock or metal fan. ZooFest is a bigger mixture of music but predominantly…Read More
As I've mentioned in the reviews for Gadi Festival and Roktys Naktys, there's very little better than a music festival in Lithuania. Whilst both of those are more geared to the hard rock or metal fan. ZooFest is a bigger mixture of music but predominantly Punk, Ska, Psychobilly, Hardcore, Alternative with some metal bands usually attending.The festival takes place in the small town of Alytus in the southern corner of Lithuania by Belarus and Poland, the town itself has quite an alternative scene and Zoo Club which organises the festival is a regular gig for bands touring in the region.The club and organisers of the festival are also particularly active in contacting and being active with young Lithuanian bands that have just started out. The crowd is drunk and friendly and alerts you to the fact that there are a lot more punk and hardcore fans than it may appear on first sight in the country!This year's festival will take place over the 25,26,27 July and sees the following bands headline it:Friday 25th:Brosided [Hardcore from Lithuania],Faust Again[metal from Poland],My Machete rock/garage from Sweden]Nine Eleven [harcore/metal from France],Offbeat Heroes [ska-punk-reggae from UK],Officer Down [hardcore from UK]Versus You (indie from Luxembourg]Saturday 26th:365 Dni [hardcore/punk from Poland],Avarinis Iejimas [punk from Lithuania],Brigadniy Podriad [folk rock from Russia]Funny Rot [punk/alternative from Lithuania],Lack [indie/alternative from Denmark],My Ocean [harcore/emo from Belarus]Naktine Pufaika jam band [jam band from Lithuania]P.O. Box [ska/rock from France]The Lucky Gang [pop-punk from Lithuania]Sunday 27th -Bu-By [Alternative from Lithuania],Critical Hit [Hardcore from Lithuania],Groove Solid [rock/groove from Lithuania]Lenino Pr. [punk from Lithania],Mister X [streetcore from Belarus],Moj Rakety [alternative/indie from Russia],Netvarkoi! [streetcore from Lithuania],The Blank Heads [punk from UK]The festival is Open-Air and tickets for the whole thing cost a mere 30LT (8 pounds), there are all-night after parties held in the Zoo Club as well as other events like eco-sculpture workshops and an organised sub-culture football competition will take place.There is camping available by the Nemunas River where the festival will take place, within close distance to the center of the town but still in a natural location. You will find it by either the signposting or the amount of people heading in that direction!This is a good chance to watch some great underground bands with a nice crowd whilst drinking cheap beer in a wonderful location. A downside is I've left it a bit late to inform anyone about it, so make sure you book a flight which co-incides with next year's festival!More info can be found at www.myspace.com/zoounderground Close
Written by Koentje3000 on 26 Jul, 2007
Palanga municipality is one of the smallest in Lithuania, with only 20.000 inhabitants. It occupies a roughly 4km wide strip on Lithuania's northwest coast and runs for 20km from the tiny hamlet Nemirseta, a former border post between Lithuania and the German Empire, all the…Read More
Palanga municipality is one of the smallest in Lithuania, with only 20.000 inhabitants. It occupies a roughly 4km wide strip on Lithuania's northwest coast and runs for 20km from the tiny hamlet Nemirseta, a former border post between Lithuania and the German Empire, all the way to the Latvian border. The two major settlements within the municipal border, Palanga proper and Sventoji, attract a multiple of their population as tourists every summer. The town even ranks first in the most visited places by locals but fails to attract foreigners.The main reason for tourists to come to Palanga is the excellent sandy beach, brushing the Baltic Seacoast for the full length of the town and beyond. The at times 200m wide sand strip is lined with dunes and pine trees. The busiest beaches are located near the 400m long Palanga Pier aka The Sea Bridge, offering excellent views of the surrounding beaches and dunes. Take care, however, when strolling on the beach front as some beaches are designated for women or men only (although small children are allowed). Normally the single-sex beaches are signposted well, and if you do end up in the wrong place, just turn around as some people might get offended.Apart from the beach there are a few other interesting sights in Palanga town, which can easily be covered on foot. A good starting point is Palanga's main square on the intersection of Vytauto and Kretingos Street. You can pick up a map at the nearby Tourist Information Centre. Also on the square is the brick neogothic St. Mary's Basilica with its bright red and white interior. Just south of the church, the partly pedestrian Basanavicius Street runs for 1km towards the pier and the beaches. This street is lined with souvenir stalls, ice-cream carts, cafés and restaurants, often situated in brightly painted wooden houses giving the town a certain charm despite the summer crowds. And did I mention the absence of high-rise buildings so characteristic for seaside resorts world-wide?From the "impossible lovers" statue of Jurate and Kastytis the Meiles Alley runs south between pine trees and along the coast. Signs point towards the women-only and mixed beach. About 1km south, across the Dariaus and Gereno Street, is the Palanga Botanical Park. This landscape garden is shaped by French garden architect Édouard André, and features a greenhouse, swan ponds, statues, and beaches. In the southwest is the Birute Hill, dedicated to pagan priestess Birute with an artificial cave and a memorial. The main attraction, however, is the 19th century Tyszkiewicz palace. The neo-renaissance building now houses the interesting Palanga Amber Museum, dedicated to the "Baltic Gold". Polished and unpolished amber stones are on displays, often with animal or vegetable inclusions and in varying sizes, as well as ancient amber jewelry. Entrance fee is only €1.5 so this is a must-see when visiting the town. Vytauto Street runs east of the park and the main square is a short walk back north. Close
Written by Koentje3000 on 11 Jul, 2007
The town was founded as Memelburg as a garrison fort in the 13th century by the crusading German Teutonic Knights. Prussia took control of the town and for the next centuries it formed the border with the powerful Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For the next…Read More
The town was founded as Memelburg as a garrison fort in the 13th century by the crusading German Teutonic Knights. Prussia took control of the town and for the next centuries it formed the border with the powerful Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For the next centuries, the Prussian rule proved to be a blessing for the town as it kept on growing and prospering due to the excellent location of its port facilities. After WWI the freshly independent Lithuania acquired the region, which already had a large Lithuanian population. Memel was officially renamed into its Lithuanian name Klaipeda. After the German occupation during WWII the Soviet Union invaded the country and made it the Lithuanian Soviet Republic. With the collapse of the USSR, Lithuania finally gained back its independence in 1991 and is now a member of both EU and NATO.A thing you may notice immediately when you visit Klaipeda is the lack of churches. The ones not destroyed during WWII were razed by the communists during the aftermath of the war. The few churches now are newer additions and not worth visiting. The town, however, is still full of German-style 17th and 18th century Fachwerk-houses (half-timbered) providing the face of the city. Examples of this architecture can be found anywhere in the old town, like in the unofficial centre of Klaipeda, Theatre Square. Here you will also find the 200 year old bright white building of the Klaipeda Drama Theatre. The building's balcony became infamous as the place from where Hitler announced the German annexation of the town in 1939. In front of it is a small statue in commemoration of one of the most famous Klaipedans, the Prussian German poet Simon Dach. In the small but pleasant streets behind the square are small statuettes of a mouse and a cat. See if you can spot them.Other landmarks in the city include the "Meridianas" schooner ship on the Dane river and the 13th century ruined Memel Castle near the river's mouth. The Museum of Lithuania Minor (Didzioji Vandens Street) is a rather interesting museum of the history of the Klaipeda region. Just northeast of the city, about 1.5 km away from the centre, lies the interesting sculpture park with over 100 statues of Lithuanian artists.There are many places to stay in Klaipeda. On the top end Europa Royal Hotel, located just next to Theatre Square, offers standard double rooms for around 100€. Just north of the Dane river, 1km away, is the excellent Vecekrug Hotel, offering better rooms for similar prices. Good middle class hotels (around 50€ per double room) are Hotel Aribe or the Pajuris Hotel, offering lots of spa facilities for an extra fee and located 6km north of the city but reachable by public bus. Near Vecekrug is the excellent Litinterp Guesthouse offering B&B-style accommodation and self-catering apartments for around 20€ per person. Close
Written by Owen Lipsett on 02 Jan, 2005
Although the Dr. Jonas Sliupas Memorial House features an exhibition on the history of Palanga and the surrounding area, like many other museums in Western Lithuania it suffers from something of a dearth of information in English. Consequently, I hope this summary of Palanga’s…Read More
Although the Dr. Jonas Sliupas Memorial House features an exhibition on the history of Palanga and the surrounding area, like many other museums in Western Lithuania it suffers from something of a dearth of information in English. Consequently, I hope this summary of Palanga’s history may be of some use to you.
While Klaipeda today takes pride its role as Lithuania’s sole commercial port, Palanga held that place of honor for a far longer period. Palanga’s first recorded appearance is in a 1253 agreement between the Bishop of Courland and the Livonian Knights (a branch of the Teutonic Order) regarding the division of the Baltic coast. This is singularly appropriate since the narrow strip of coast between the mouths of Raze and Sventoji Rivers that Palanga now occupies was the only piece of the eastern Baltic coastline never to fall under the Teutonic Order’s de facto control, preventing the Livonian Knights from linking up with their Prussian brethren further south.
The Orders’ inability to gain control of the area, which wasn’t for lack of effort, enabled the nascent Lithuanian state to establish a window onto the sea, with Palanga as its port. Internecine warfare related to the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth combined with futile attempts on the part of the Teutonic Order to seize the territory meant that it took until 1422 for Grand Duke Vytautas the Great to establish permanent Lithuanian control over the area. Palanga had special significance for Vytautas, as legend has it that his mother Birute was born in the area and served as a vestal virgin at a pagan shrine on the hill that bears her name in the Botanical Park on the town’s south edge.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania retained control of this small window onto the Baltic until the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (once the largest country in Europe) was erased from the map of Europe by the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. In the interim period, Palanga prospered, competing primarily with the Hanseatic ports of Liepaja and Riga to the north (in present-day Latvia) to export Lithuanian agricultural goods and raw materials to the rest of the Baltic. The harbor was enlarged in 1589 by an English trade company that had been authorized to do so by King Sigismund III Vasa. In 1679, King John III Sobieski permitted the establishment of a permanent English trade mission on condition the English built at second port at the mouth of the Sventoji River. This settlement, Sventoji, is today part of Palanga.
Palanga suffered a near fatal blow in 1701 when Swedish forces destroyed both ports at the behest of Riga’s merchants. Since both rivers tended to silt up and as the Commonwealth as a whole suffered from the inertia and discord that led to its destruction at the century’s end, neither was rebuilt. After the Third Partition of Poland, all of the Eastern Baltic north of Memel (present-day Klaipeda) fell under Russian control, rendering the presence of a specifically Lithuanian port irrelevant. Indeed, the Russians did not even consider Palanga particularly Lithuanian and in 1819 transferred it from Telsiai County to the province of Courland (roughly equivalent to the present Latvian province of Kurzeme).
In 1824, Count Michael Tyszkiewicz (Tiskevicius) acquired Palanga Manor (today’s Botanical Park) and set about trying to revive the town’s fortunes. At the time, Palanga’s economy, ironically, relied on the Baltic’s storms in two different ways: first, because they deposited large quantities of amber on its long beach, and second, because they made terrestrial trade more attractive than maritime trade in the winter months, making Palanga’s position on Russia’s border with Prussia highly advantageous. Tyszkiewicz unsuccessfully sought to revive Palanga’s own sea trade by having a pier built into the Baltic, however it soon silted up. Not to be discouraged, he and his heirs then sought to refashion Palanga (like Liepaja to the north) as a Baltic resort.
Despite the best efforts of Tyszkiewicz and his heirs, which may be best seen in the attractive manor and gardens they had built for themselves, tourism never exceeded more than a few thousand guests per year under Russian rule. After Russia banned the printing of books in Lithuanian and newspapers using the Latin alphabet in 1864, Palanga became an important location for smuggling such publications northward from Prussia (later Germany), which treated its Lithuanian population somewhat more tolerantly. As a result, Palanga became something of a cultural hotbed during the subsequent Lithuanian national revival, although the risk of deportation to Siberia kept such activities from reaching a very wide audience.
Despite this activity, Palanga was initially incorporated into Latvia, rather than Lithuania, when both countries became independent in 1919, on account of its location within the Duchy of Courland. In 1921, it rejoined Lithuania as part of a broader renegotiation of the Latvian-Lithuanian border. Tourism tripled during Lithuania’s period of interwar independence and reached its present rate around 100,000 under Soviet occupation, when four neighboring villages were annexed to Palanga. A further upsurge in tourism since Lithuania regained its independence has led to a growth in the amber trade, leading to the creation of the Palanga Guild of Amber Masters in 2000. Notwithstanding this history and some fine pieces of public art, Palanga is a beach resort first and foremost.
Written by Owen Lipsett on 14 Dec, 2004
While the History Museum of Lithuania Minor offers interesting exhibitions on the cultural and social history of Klaipeda, it provides relatively little insight on the city’s political history and almost no information of any sort in English. I hope that this brief history will…Read More
While the History Museum of Lithuania Minor offers interesting exhibitions on the cultural and social history of Klaipeda, it provides relatively little insight on the city’s political history and almost no information of any sort in English. I hope that this brief history will enhance both your understanding and enjoyment of Lithuania’s third largest city and only commercial port.
On the bank of the Danes River stands a large stone monument, sculpted by A. Sakalauskas, inscribed with a quotation by the local writer Ieva Simonaityte, "We are one nation, one land, one Lithuania." The sculpture itself, whose larger gray column represents Lithuania Minor and whose smaller red Doric column represents Lithuania major, hints that history has told a different story. With its deliberately jagged edge, representing the loss felt by Lithuanians because of Russian sovereignty over what is now the Kaliningrad Oblast, it indicates that this thinking remains somewhat wishful.
Klaipeda owes its name to members of the Curonian tribe, among the ancestors of today’s Lithuanians, in whose language the words klaip and eda mean "bread" and "eat" respectively. While they established a fishing village in the general vicinity of today’s city around the first century AD, they rarely had the opportunity to consume their bread in peace. Various invaders, in particular the Vikings and later the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights, attacked the region with regularity. The latter succeeded in taking the settlement, and in 1252, erected a brick fortress they named Memelburg (Memel Castle) after the German name for the Nemunas River, which runs into the Curonian Lagoon 50km south, near Nida on the Curonian Spit.
In 1258 the city, which came to be known as Memel, was given municipal rights, and in 1328, the Livonian Order transferred control of the city to its counterpart in Prussia. Despite frequent attempts to take the city, first by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the town remained firmly in the hands of the Teutonic Knights, even after their otherwise decisive defeat at the Battle of Zalgiris (Gruenwald) in present-day Poland in 1410. After the Order’s abandonment of its religious status in 1525, Memel became the northernmost town of the Duchy of Prussia, which it would remain until 1918.
As a member of the Hanseatic League and a key strategic fortress, Memel was often attacked by foreign powers; however, its sturdy fortress fell into non-Prussian hands on only two occasions – to the Swedes in 1628-1635 and the Russians in 1757-62. The thriving trading city that developed was less fortunate – burning to the ground in 1540, badly damaged again in 1678, and stricken with famine and plague between 1709 and 1711. Nonetheless, it developed strong trading ties with Britain and was settled by both Scottish and English merchants, who gave it something of a multicultural character. When King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia fled French occupation of Berlin in 1807, he made Memel his temporary capital for a single year.
With the establishment of the Second Reich in 1871, the Prussian King Wilhelm I became Kaiser (Emperor) of Germany as well, and on the urging of his Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, commenced a Germanization campaign that rankled with Lithuanians. After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the city and surrounding region were placed under international jurisdiction (akin to the status afforded the Free City of Danzig/Gdansk) with day-to-day administration to be conducted by the French. Embittered by the awarding of Vilnius (Wilno) to Poland, the fledgling Lithuanian Republic organized demonstrations by the local Lithuanian population, and amid international dithering, annexed the city in 1923, giving the new country a working port.
Although the international community accepted the transfer as compensation for the loss of Vilnius, this Germans regarded the action as yet another entry on the list of territorial grievances they had with their victorious enemies in the First World War. Adolf Hitler was able to play upon this sentiment, and on March 23, 1939, unilaterally announced the annexation of the territory while the international community again stood by. It was Nazi Germany’s last territorial annexation before it attacked Poland in September of the same year.
The Soviet Army seized Klaipeda in 1945 and annexed it to the rest of Lithuania, which it had recently captured from Nazi Germany. During the war, much of the city was destroyed, accounting for the Soviet character of its architecture outside the small (and largely reconstructed) Old Town. The Soviets expelled the German population and deported many members of the Lithuanian population to Siberia. At the same time, Russians were settled in Klaipeda, which became a major shipbuilding and fishing center, and its prewar population more than quadrupled to 200,000. By the time Lithuania regained its independence, Klaipeda had become the fourth largest port in the entire Soviet Union as a result of its status as the country’s only ice-free port.
Unlike Kaunas and Siauliai, which suffered significant economic losses after the end of Soviet control, Klaipeda has risen to become the country’s second most important business center as a result of its port and consequently has begun to recapture some of its old cosmopolitan flavor.
Written by Owen Lipsett on 04 Dec, 2004
Like the Old Town, Kaunas’ New Town has a main square (Nepriklausomybes aikste), centered on a striking building, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. Fortunately, you won’t have to twist your tongue asking for directions since the neo-Byzantine Church, erected in 1891-3 to serve…Read More
Like the Old Town, Kaunas’ New Town has a main square (Nepriklausomybes aikste), centered on a striking building, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. Fortunately, you won’t have to twist your tongue asking for directions since the neo-Byzantine Church, erected in 1891-3 to serve the local Russian garrison (and stress Russian hegemony) is quite tall. Ironically, it was converted into a Catholic church after Soviet occupation ended, and upon Lithuania’s entry into NATO, became the country’s official "NATO church," which flags inside attest to. The church’s interior is interesting, and it affords an excellent view over Laisves aleja, the tree-lined pedestrian artery of the New Town.
Taking the parallelism with the Old Town still further, across the square, a controversial sculpture stands in front of the Mykolas Zilinskas Art Museum. However, rather than politics, the gigantic male nude’s prominent, well, maleness, is what has set tongues wagging. The museum itself holds the country’s most interesting temporary art exhibitions of international contemporary artists, but its permanent collection is quite disappointing. Its spacious front courtyard offers an excellent vantage point on the square.
The superb MK Ciurlionis State Museum has a far better collection of both Lithuanian art in general and the art of the eponymous painter, Lithuania’s most famous, in particular. A special wing, which has recently been refurbished and rivals newly refurbished galleries anywhere else in the European Union, contains most of the master’s works, arranged chronologically under soft light because of their fragile nature. Ciurlionis, also Lithuania’s greatest modern composer, typically painted his highly mystical works, many of which have musical titles, directly onto cardboard. Photography is forbidden inside and regrettably no books of his works were sold at the time of my visit to the museum. For a selection of his paintings click here. The museum’s exhibition on the traditional Lithuanian art of wooden cross-carving is also outstanding.
Across the street is Kaunas’ other true must-see, the delightful Devil Museum, the first of its kind at its founding in 1966. Its original contents came from the collection of Ciurlionis’ friend and fellow painter Antanas Zmuidzinavicius, who had amassed 260 (that’s 13 devil dozens) of the creatures on his death. The collection now apparently numbers in the thousands – with the first two floors devoted to devil figures from Lithuania and the top floor to examples from around the world. The sheer number of variations on the same theme is overwhelming, entertaining, and even educational.
If you have time, you may want to step inside the Vytautas the Great War Museum, the huge concrete edifice dominating Vienybes aikste, a square which contains the administration buildings of the city’s two universities. Despite the name, the museum covers history as well as war, and its archaeological exhibitions are its finest point. The military collections are fairly uninteresting and the sewn-together flight jackets of Steponas Darius and Stanislovas Girenas, a pair of local heroes who died attempting the longest non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, is downright gruesome. The Freedom Monument in front honors heroes of Lithuania’s independence movement with an eternal flame that had to be hidden during the fifty-year Soviet occupation.
If you have time, and are traveling with children or nature lovers, visit the Tadas Ivanauskas Zoological Museum, which reputedly had the Soviet Union’s largest collection of stuffed animals. Children will also probably appreciate a ride up the Zvaliakalnio Funicular. If you happen to be interested in modern art, visit the Kaunas Picture Gallery, which has good temporary exhibitions and a permanent display honoring Jurgis Maciunas, a Lithuanian expatriate who founded the Fluxus movement.
Rotuses aikste (Town Hall Square) forms the heart of the Old Town. It’s a pleasant place to sit and to look at the buildings. The area’s baroque character testifies to the prosperity the city enjoyed during the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, the largest (and at times most…Read More
Rotuses aikste (Town Hall Square) forms the heart of the Old Town. It’s a pleasant place to sit and to look at the buildings. The area’s baroque character testifies to the prosperity the city enjoyed during the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, the largest (and at times most powerful) country in Europe after the Thirty Years War – the mansions lining the square were home to successful merchants.
The White Swan. Take a few minutes to examine the old town hall which was built in 1522 but did not receive the distinctive tapering tower that provides its nickname until 1780. Having served various as an Orthodox church, artillery warehouse, and residence for the czar, it functions today as a "Palace of Weddings," which are celebrated on Fridays and Saturdays – although I did not have the pleasure of witnessing one on my visit.
The statue of Maironis (just off the square) is worth examining. Maironis is the pen name of the priest Jonas Maciulus (1862-1932), a key figure in the Lithuanian national revival regarded by many as the greatest poet in the Lithuanian language. Naturally, honoring a clergyman (and Lithuanian nationalist) would have been strictly forbidden under Soviet occupation, so the sculptor did not name the piece and placed Maironis’ hand on his neck, thus hiding his clerical collar.
The immense single-towered brick Cathedral dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul is Lithuania’s largest Gothic church – it’s worth stepping off the Square and inside to both appreciate its size and the Baroque furnishings. The twin-towered church on the square itself is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier and once formed part of a Jesuit monastery. It was turned into an Orthodox cathedral under Russian rule and subsequently returned to its original purpose, after serving as a sports hall under the Soviets.
The delightful but little-visited Lithuanian Folk Instruments Museum is the finest in the Old Town. Several comprehensive displays depict the wide variety of materials Lithuanians have turned into instruments – wind instruments made with animal horns being apparently the most common and the somewhat scratchy recordings of the instruments being played enhance the effect. An annex depicts instruments donated by visitors from around the world – given how friendly the older women who staff the place are, it’s little wonder they assembled such a bountiful collection!
By the Nemunas River, the so-called "Vytautas Church" (formerly part of a Franciscan monastery) is well worth a look around. According to legend (depicted in modern paintings inside), it was founded by the Lithuanian Grand Duke of the same name in thanks for his deliverance after a defeat by the Tartars in 1398. Whether or not the story is true, the church does date to about that time. Across the road is the Perkunas House, so named because it is widely believed to sit atop a temple dedicated to the Lithuanian thunder god – in any case it’s extremely impressive to look at.
If you have time, cross the Aleksoto Bridge and climb the hill of the same name on the other side (by foot or funicular) for an impressive view over the Old Town and city. If you have even more time, walk along the bank of the Nemunas beside the Old Town to the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris, then walk back by the Neris. You’ll see the remains of Kaunas’ defensive castle at the end of your journey.
Written by Owen Lipsett on 02 Dec, 2004
Sprawling attractively along three kilometers of the Curonian Lagoon’s shoreline, Nida is the largest town and capital of the Curonian Spit. Although its permanent population numbers a mere 2,000, it apparently plays host to 50,000 tourists during its brief summer season. Consequently I…Read More
Sprawling attractively along three kilometers of the Curonian Lagoon’s shoreline, Nida is the largest town and capital of the Curonian Spit. Although its permanent population numbers a mere 2,000, it apparently plays host to 50,000 tourists during its brief summer season. Consequently I hope that this brief guide will assist you in navigating between both distances and crowds.
Nearly all of Nida’s sights are located along the main street, which is called Nagliu gatve south of the bus station and Pamario gatve north of the station. Despite its location near the southern edge of the town, the station, from which buses run hourly to Juodkrante and Smiltyne, actually forms part of the town’s commercial center. Nearly opposite the station, at Nagliu gatve 3, is the Ethnographic Museum, a somewhat optimistic title for the immaculately restored 19th-century fisherman’s cottage which is its sole exhibit. Although the artifacts on display are interesting, it unfortunately lacks explanatory information in any language. This may be a gesture toward historical sensitivity, as the Spit’s inhabitants were primarily German prior to the territory’s incorporation into the Soviet Union after the Second World War.
The harbor just to the south affords a fine view of the 52-meter-high Parnidis Dune (the largest and highest on the Spit). If this inspires you to climb it, simply follow the footpath that runs southward along the harbor and you’ll be rewarded with a similarly spectacular view of Nida. Most of the town’s restaurants are located between the harbor and bus station, as are quite a number of souvenir stalls, largely selling identical amber objects at fairly reasonable prices, although without certificates of authenticity. It’s possible to purchase meticulously documented (though rather more expensive) amber jewelry and objects at the Amber Gallery, located directly to the north at Pamario gatve 20. True to its name, the Gallery has a modest exhibition of artwork carved from the so-called "Baltic gold" as well as a glassed-in display of amber-cutting equipment visible from the street (thus alleviating the awkwardness of stepping inside if you aren’t inclined to purchase anything).
Further north is the Fisherman’s Museum, which in all honesty should exchanges names with the Ethnographic Museum as its own collections are significantly more extensive and varied. It’s located at Kuverto gatve 2, but is entered from Pamario gatve, which runs perpendicular to Kuverto gatve. Light and airy as a result of a recent (and extensive) refurbishment, it contains exhibitions presenting early human settlement on the Spit, amber harvesting, and fishing, as well as archival photographs of the early twentieth century when Nidden (as it was then known) gained a reputation as a somewhat bohemian resort. All are exhaustively labeled in Lithuanian, German, and English, but pale in comparison to a display on crow hunting – in times of poor harvests fisherman would hunt the birds with nets, dispatching them with a swift bite to the neck (preceded by an even swifter stiff drink!).
The Lutheran Parish Church, built between 1887 and 1888 in the same rustic German style that characterizes much of Klaipeda’s architecture, crowns a small hill just past the Ethnographic Exhibition. The interior has recently been restored to reflect the original furnishings (although, because a Lithuanian Catholic congregation that now Further north still, Pamario gatve turns to Skrudzynes gatve-–its name a relic of the village of Skrudzyne, which was incorporated into Nida. It contains Nida’s most famous sight, the summer home the German author Thomas Mann built in 1929 with the money he received for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature that year. The museum which it contains is a place of pilgrimage for the Germans who comprise the bulk of foreign visitors to Nida, but as it lacks labeling in any other language, is somewhat less interesting for others. Fortunately the traditionally built house’s beauty, including the seahorses on its roof which are intended to guard against evil spirits, like that of the Spit itself, transcends mere words.
Written by Owen Lipsett on 10 Jan, 2005
You may want to exercise caution in making your way to the Hill Park, a wooded recreation area that is Vilnius’s second-finest vantage point after Gediminas Hill, whose 91 meter summit is crowned with three gigantic white crosses. It’s not because these monuments, erected…Read More
You may want to exercise caution in making your way to the Hill Park, a wooded recreation area that is Vilnius’s second-finest vantage point after Gediminas Hill, whose 91 meter summit is crowned with three gigantic white crosses. It’s not because these monuments, erected in 1989 under perestroika to commemorate Lithuanians deported to Siberia and to replace the originals, which the Soviets tore down in 1950, are guarded, though they once were. Nor does it have to do with the considerable difficulty you’re likely to encounter in finding the road leading to the crosses, which have stood on the site in some form or other since the 17th century, when their wooden predecessors were erected in honor of Franciscan martyrs. Rather, it’s that you may have to cross an international boundary to do so.
Granted, you won’t be entering another country in the conventional or even the Frank Zappa sense of the word (he claimed that any true country required a beer and an airline), but you’d be wise to bring your passport anyway. Unless, of course, there happens to be a basketball game going on--in which case the border guards will prefer to watch it instead, as was my experience. The Uzupis Republic, which constitutes the bohemian district of the same name, which simply means "beyond the river" in Lithuanian, is a rather unusual "country." Something between Copenhagen’s free town of Christiania and Paris’ Montmartre, aspiring rather more to the latter, the area unilaterally declared its independence on April Fool’s Day 1998, which is celebrated annually at the somewhat ramshackle Angel of Uzupis Statue.
While it’s difficult to know what to do with a place whose Constitution ends: "Don’t conquer. Don’t defend. Don’t surrender." Vilnius’ authorities seem largely to have taken its declaration of independence with good humor and now seek to market the run-down area, home to several art galleries and youth hostels, as an alternative tourist destination to the Old Town. This might have something to do with the fact that the city’s maverick 35-year-old mayor, Arturas Zuokas, makes his home there. Completely ignoring Article 9 of Uzupis’ Constitution ("People have the right to be lazy and do nothing at all"), Zuokas had a webcam installed in his office to demonstrate to the people of Vilnius how hard he was working.
Zuokas governs from Vilnius’ neoclassical town hall, built in the last years of the 18th century (and thus the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) according to plans by Laurynas Gucevicius, who simultaneously oversaw the construction of the city’s cathedral, which he also designed. The town hall doubles as a "Palace of Art," displaying exhibitions by Lithuanian and international artists. In recognition of this roll, a large plaster angel appears to have alighted just to the right of the entrance, sat down, and struck a pensive pose. Whether it will bless his grandest of Zuokas’ many ambitious projects, the 129-meter Europa Tower, a $250 million skyscraper erected on the far bank of the Neris in May 2004 to coincide with Lithuania’s entry into the European Union, remains to be seen. In any case, it’s Vilnius’s first non-Soviet high-rise!