Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day trip to Trakai...

It's one of those picture post card places that I guess everyone has to visit when in or around Vilnius, so why should I be any different...


So yesterday I took the bus from Vilnius...


This was a regular Lithuanian bus not a special tour. They use these mini-buses to get around to a lot of local places, and also have a whole fleet of private buses in Vilnius that go on the same routes as the City buses -- it's an odd system. There are City buses, Private company large buses, and these mini-vans as buses. But anyway, this was the bus to Trakai. Takes around 30 minutes from Vilnius bus station.

First thing I found was a lovely flower market happening in the bus station grounds...


Then I started walking to the Castle. It is not an easy sight to see if you don't like to walk. From the bus "station" it is around 2 km to the castle. The info center where you can get a free tourist map is .5 km down the road. Luckily there is just one main road and several places along it there is this map to show you where you are...


Oh did I mention the castle is on an island?

Along the way I saw a lot of people's boats tied up. Some are in areas for rent, others just I guess belong to whomever lives nearby...


People had lovely gardens...


and even larger yards for vegetable growing...


My first stop was to try some of the local Karaim cuisine...


The Karaims (also called Karaites) are an odd sect of Jews with Muslim and Turkic ties that got settled in Trakai long ago. Everyone said "you have to try their national food" which turned out to be pretty close to an empanada (delicious none the less)...


From the menu...


So with renewed energy I forged on to the castle...


Forded rivers...



Escaped wild animals...


And came upon the Castle...




I think the post card photographers had better cameras! But it was a very pleasant day. I walked the 2 km back to the bus station and made it back to Vilnius in the afternoon with just a bit more sunburn than I had wanted (even with a hat on and Factor 50 sunscreen).

HERE is more info about the castle.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vilnius, Lithuania

Got to Vilnius (Lithuania) the other day and I am enjoying it a lot. For one thing, aside from a few showers the first day, the rains seem to have stopped, even though it threatened to storm yesterday (gray clouds are so dramatic!)...

Vilnius skies

It is very easy to get around here. I think Vilnius is much more geared for the foreign visitor than Riga was. Informational plaques and signs abound and Lithuanians seem to take more pride in their creative past and let you know who lived/died where...




They are fond of letting you know that "the Pope was here"...


And even though there is graffiti everywhere just like Riga...


these signs show that they are at least thinking about cleaning the place up a little...


People here have fond ways of putting art elements in odd places...


Yes it is an Easter egg on a pillar. It actually used to be in the "art area" of U┼żupis, which is an interesting story in itself. More on it later.


Vilnius is filled with churches, Lutheran, Catholic and Russian Orthodox...





But only has one synagogue left after hundreds were destroyed by both the Russians then the Germans...



One of these days I need to sit down and write more (for myself) on the emotional side of being a relatively lapsed Jew from America and seeing the struggles of what Jews here have gone through for the last 50-100 years. Vilnius is maybe at best 200 or so miles from the area that my family came from (the borders of then Prussia now Poland/Belarus/Lithuania changed often and there is still a large Polish connection in Vilnius). Several times in my travels in Eastern Europe I have been brought to tears and it has confused me a little because my family has been "American" since the mid 1800s and even though of course I learned about the Holocaust in school it never really affected me (more than horrors like that would affect me from anything) until now being here.

If nothing else, it really makes me wonder why people kill each other for their beliefs.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Bookbinding...

One of the things I have noticed in these Eastern European festivals/fairs is that there is always one or two booths of lovely books made by the local bookbinding artists. This one was from the other day's Dome Square fair in Riga:


It makes me want to do more bookbinding when I get home. I love the medieval journal look (the ones with the cord wrapped around it). I have a few pieces of leather I got for covers a while back so now I really want to make some books!

Friday, June 24, 2011

More Ligo in Riga...

Latvia it seems celebrates Summer Solstice more than it does any other holiday -- several days of festivities and on the 23rd and 24th most places are closed and people leave town to go to the countryside.

Well, except those left in Riga celebrating at the huge herb and flower markets (it IS a pagan holiday after all).

Here are a few views of the festivities in Dome Square.







Many more photos on Flickr! Click on any of these pix and it will take you to the collection in Flickr.

Later I went to the huge Soviet-built Academy for Scientific Study (which houses offices of things like folklore and various science groups -- not museums or anything)...



The draw here is that it is 17 stories tall and for a couple of Lats (around $4) you get to go to one of the tallest points in Riga and look down!





After that I went to one of the Jewish memorials a few blocks away. Formerly a synagogue, it was burned to the ground with all the congregation, another sad reminder of Nazi atrocities in East Europe.





That was all from Wednesday. Yesterday I wandered around a bit more to make sure I had seen all I could see in Riga, then went back to the hotel (in the rain again) and packed.

This morning I left Riga and came to Vilnius, Lithuania, where I was greeted by more rain! What's up with that?? I will be here for the next 6 days then back to the U.K. for a couple of weeks then home! Whew!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Riga Open Air Ethnographic Museum Festivities

I am NOT used to using my camera for video (yeah I know, it shows) but here are a couple of very short clips of part of a Ligo (Summer solstice) traditional arts and music festival at the Riga Open Air Ethnographic Museum -- caught in the 30 minutes or so between rain storms! I got out there after a few hours of rain and the forecast said the afternoon would be clear (they lied) but after around an hour it started raining again. I didn't get a chance to see the whole museum because the dirt paths became mud paths and it was just too slick and slippery to venture around the hilly exhibits. If I have time I will go out one more day before I leave. It looked pretty similar to the one on Estonia however, although it was nice to catch some of the festivities for summer solstice today (they are doing different things every day this week leading up to the weekend).

Most of the videos I tried to take are not good because people around kept jostling me or walking right in front. There were a couple of large groups of Latvian and German tourists and neither group was very conscious of people taking pictures around them. Oh well, live and learn.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Trip to Jurmala

Day started out sunny with a forecast of rain in late afternoon so I decided this would be a good day to go on a little day trip to the coastal resort town of Jurmala. So I took the train for the 35 minute journey. First we crossed the river...


and got out at Majori station...


and started walking...



Beautiful white sand...


Not very many people were out today but perhaps on the weekends this sign makes more sense...


Jurmala is known for its large Soviet built spa hotels (it was apparently the place for all the rich Soviets to go in the summertimes back when Latvia was in the USSR)...



It is also known for its wooden houses...



Although many have been abandoned...


Jurmala also has its shopping promenade...


And at about 1:30 the storm moved in...


So I went back to Riga and by 3 there was massive thunder and lightening and DRENCHING rain! I holed up in the hotel room waiting it out but it kept storming til around 6 so I just decided to stay in for the evening and watch Latvian TV (right now watching Russian music videos!).