Sunny Changes Everything

Trip Start Aug 19, 2011
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Well, today I was super happy when I got up and saw the sun. I had been starting to feel a bit down because I haven't been able to really get out onto the streets of Vilnius and look around thoroughly like I like to do and I was feeling disappointed. In addition, the gloomy skies were beginning to make me feel like Vilnius was a drab and depressing place, even if I have seen some wonderful sights and learned amazingly positive things about their history and culture.

So, with the sun shining on my parade, I set off, at first, to the right of my hotel which is the "Green Bridge" so called because when it was first built out of wood, it was painted green and has stayed that way for the rest of its life and through its new reincarnation into steel and iron.  It is also the only bridge adorned with statues, which are depictions of “Realist, Socialist” life in Lithuania and are four vignettes, characterizing average Vilnians during the Socialist era.

I crossed the bridge, made my way down the river, enjoying the wonderful morning and the citizens along the way, until I came to the site of the first electric company of Lithuania, with a statue on top, holding a lamp that was originally lit with the first electric bulb introduced to Lithuania!

Across the river, I could see the old bridge, crossing the Vilnia River at the junction where it joins the larger Neris. 

At the time I reached the Mindaugas’s bridge, which is near the old Olympic area, I turned back in the direction of the newer part of the city, thinking that it would help my (minor) depression to be in the modern world, away from the Soviet and Nazi images that were clogging my head.

It turns out to have been a good idea as the city is in a state of celebration, not only for the freedom anniversary, but also because their basketball team has just won the world championship and they are obviously very proud.

When I actually reached the modern “Europa” section, a big band was playing, welcoming the team and their supporters back into the city with a hearty congratulations.  I must say that if you are feeling down, there is nothing like a big brass band to take that gloomy feeling away.

So after stopping to listen to the joyful music, I made my way through this “space age” area of town and enjoyed strolling among the “High Tech.” buildings, which were towering high in the air, with their glass windows reflecting the sun and river below.  

I spent at least an hour and a half, just walking through the amazing mall, with its futuristic design and bright skylight above, while my mood quickly improved.

After enjoying the scenery of the river and the artificial beach, created along the right bank of the river, I crossed the 'White Bridge,” leading to the "Left Bank" and then I wandered up a random, twisted street to meet the river at the next bend.

In this area, I was surprised by an old Russian Orthodox Church now being used as a maximum-security prison (which I asked about later at the tourist office) right across the street from the Parliament. I found this placement odd and in addition, the security people had their eyes completely fixed on me while I innocently took pictures for my own posterity. It made me a bit uncomfortable, so I hurriedly clicked a few shots and went on my way!!

By now, I was feeling hungry, so I ducked into a supermarket and bought a take-out lunch, which I sat and ate in a park, across the bridge and leading to a defunct residential neighborhood which I found myself strangely attracted to.

The neighborhood is full of crumbling wooden buildings but bears a visit, because of the style of the buildings, which are now scheduled to be renovated by the city. These were very similar to the older wooden structures in Latvia but seemed more detailed in their adornments, while the buildings in Riga were more simple.

I spent a short time walking through the area, before turning back and walking to the next bridge down the river, which I crossed. It was scary because it is long and when a truck drove past, the bridge rocked and swayed to the point that I thought it would crumble into the river, raging below me. I decided to NOT stop for pictures until I got safely down on the other side!!

At this time, the sun was still shining and my mood was increasingly improving as I took in more and more of the city on foot, really getting to understand the current growth cycle and enjoying a different idea of Lithuania than I had been focused on, passing all those grim memorials of the harder times of occupation and the terrible treatment by the Soviets.

Coming across a lovely park, with a sign marked panoramic view, I consulted my map, only to find that I had basically circled back to another point on the same main road, which leads directly through the center. The city is sort of circular shaped, like a spider web, with a main street bisecting it.  I decided to climb the hill and cross the park to the far end, which leads to an area near the university campus, which is in a very green area of Vilnius that used to be a very posh suburban neighborhood, but is now part of the inner city and still quite lovely albeit not quite so upscale anymore.

Before the rains began again, cutting my journey short (after several hours of walking) I worked my way down, through the massive former Ghetto, which housed the massive Jewish population of 41% at the 1898 census, and back through the center to my room to get ready for my trip to Kiev tomorrow morning. At one point I stopped to photograph the inside courtyard at the "Oldest Cathedral in Lithuania," I got locked in!!  I panicked for a few minutes, until I found that if I pushed on the gate, it would open, so I pushed it... and snuck out!!  Then I happened past the adorable statue commemorating the doctor, who in reality, inspired the story of Dr. Doolittle! He lived right here, in the center of the "Ghetto."

In conclusion, Vilnius is a lovely, growing city, striving to restore its former diversity and tolerant reputation. It is loaded with artists and culture of all kinds, with a rich and interesting history. I wish I could spend about 6 months here a
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