153 Photos - Jun 23, 2014
Photo: On May 23, 2014 I arrived in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, the first of three Baltic countries that I would visit.Photo: The foreground shows part of our hotel that dated back to the 1600's.  It used to be a monastery, among other things.  Notice the thickness of the walls!Photo: Across the street from our hotel were two churches.  The smaller church is St. Anne's and the other is the Bernardine Church.  They were both built in the 1500's.Photo: Napoleon especially liked St. Anne's and said he would like to take it back to Paris.  It did not stop him from looting it and using it as barracks for his soldiers in 1812.Photo: This is St. Anne's gothic interior.Photo: The first written reference to Vilnius was in 1323.  Pilies Street is the main street in the old town.  The large old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Photo: Vilnius Cathedral dates from the 1700's.  Closed by the Soviets in 1950 and later used as a picture gallery, it is once again a Catholic Cathedral and Lithuania's main basilica.Photo: Children dressed in white robes and carrying candles are celebrating their first communion.Photo: St. Casimir Chapel was built between 1623 and 1636.  It is part of the much larger cathedral.Photo: The exterior of the cathedral was unusual, but the interior was lovely.Photo: The belfry in Cathedral Square next to the cathedral is part of the town wall. The lowest part dates back many centuries.Photo: This marble block was also part of the Chapel Square.  It is said that if you turn around three times on it and make a wish, that your wish would be granted.Photo: The Jesuits founded Vilnius University in 1568.  It is the oldest university in any of the Baltic States.  It is also Lithuania's largest.Photo: This is the interior of one of the heavily decorated rooms.Photo: This is the quietest of the capitals we visited.  Archways to the right open to lovely courtyards.Photo: The Gates of Dawn is an early 16th century entrance to the old town.  Above it is a chapel of the Madonna of Mercy.Photo: A few miles out of town is the Church of Saint Peter and Paul.  It dates from the early 1600's.Photo: There are over 2,000 plaster designs inside the church.Photo: While we were there, this beautiful lady was married.Photo: We continued to drive away from Vilnius to the small village of Darguziai.  This is what a lot of Lithuanian countryside looked like.Photo: Lithuania has 10% of all of the storks in the world - about 20,000.  March 23 is the day of the stork here.  They are considered to be good luck.Photo: We visited a "cheese house".  Each goat provided about 1 gallon of milk a day for the cheese makers.Photo: I am gently breaking down the cheese before it is put into a mold.  It felt kind of like Jello.  We didn't wear gloves.Photo: Back in Vilnius, the western tower is the only remaining part of the Upper Castle complex dating to 1419.  It is the symbol of Lithuanian independence and proudly displays their flag.Photo: This is the old town from the upper castle.  The fortification was built to protect the pagan town from the German Crusaders.Photo: The Bernardine Gardens are across the street from our hotel.  Many people enjoy an early evening stroll.Photo: I didn't see many blooming flowers, but the rhododendrons are very nice.Photo: We walked towards the Church of Saint Catherine, but we never quite arrived.Photo: Five hot air balloons were at the park for people to see the city and countryside.  It cost over $200 to ride - I didn't rise to the occasion.Photo: Later that morning, our group of fourteen travelers drove 15 miles out of town to see the medieval castle of Trakai.Photo: Situated on Lake Galve, the castle was built in the 15th century to fight off the crusading German–Prussian Teutonic Knights.Photo: The outer courtyard was completed just before they won the big Battle of Grunwald fought on July 15, 1410.Photo: The Ducal Palace keep is to the right.Photo: A dry outer moat separates the main castle from the outer courtyard.Photo: This is the interior courtyard of the Ducal Palace.Photo: The interior of the reception area is pictured here.Photo: I really enjoyed this castle and it's lovely setting.Photo: Lithuania has turned the former KGB building into a Museum to showcase the horrors of what they did during their occupation to the Lithuanian people.Photo: Saint Casimir was built in the 1750's as a Catholic church.  Napoleon used it for a granary.  Russians added "onion domes" and turned it into a Russian Orthodox Church.  It became a Lutheran Church to serve the German army in World War I.  Then the Soviets used it as a Museum of Atheism in 1963.Photo: Saint Casimir is now once again a Catholic church. Inside, a beautiful recital is being song by a small choir.Photo: On the way back to our hotel, we saw some young people "swinging" to the music.Photo: On the way to the Baltic Sea, we stopped at Rumšiškės and visited their open-air museum.Photo: This was once the home of a rich family.  We were told a woman should have 200 yards of linen and 40 yards of wool in her hope chest before marrying.  This room is for the whole family.  A smaller room would be for guests.Photo: A poor family would live more like this.  When the Lithuanian language was banned by the Russians in the mid 1800's, this house was used as a secret school to teach children how to read and speak the language.Photo: I had the privilege of meeting Irena who had been deported by the Soviets to Siberia in 1941. Of the Lithuanian population of 3 million, 1.1 million were deported, jailed, or killed by the Soviets.Photo: She told how 65 people were put in a train car for the one month trip to Siberia. Her father was declared an "enemy of the nation" because he was a Lithuanian military officer.Photo: The men were taken to a work camp. Up to forty women and children occupied earthen buildings like this further north.Photo: We stopped at Kaunas for lunch.  The second largest city in Lithuania, Kaunas is located at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers.Photo: After lunch we went to a store that sold traditional items where I bought a Lithuanian egg.Photo: I visted the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul.  It was begun in the late 1400's.Photo: It is the only gothic church of basilica size in the country.Photo: The Pieta is very special and dates back to about 1600.Photo: The town hall building is nicknamed "the white swan".Photo: I finished the day in Klaipeda, Lithuania’s third largest city with a population of 160,000.  Hitler addressed the local people from this building.Photo: Klaipeda is at the mouth of the Danė River, where it flows into the Baltic Sea.  Sixty-five cruise ships will dock here this year.  Here is an old warehouse.Photo: This area of the Curonian Spit is called the "Hill of Witches".  Seventy carvers depicted fairytales or witches along this one mile pine forest trail.Photo: This is a slide that a person could use - slivers notwithstanding.Photo: This was more detailed and told a fairy tale.Photo: There were also beautiful flowers along the path.Photo: I saw a cormorant colony and learned how they damage the environment.Photo: I made it to the Baltic and started my search for amber.  Amber is fossilized resin that is about 50 million years old.  I found three pieces about one quarter inch in diameter.Photo: They offered fish for lunch, but I chose to admire the flowers outside instead.Photo: At Nida the swans and other birds were having a beauty treatment.Photo: The next morning we headed towards the Latvia border.  We stopped at the Hill of Crosses on our way.  Three times the Soviets destroyed the religious site but each time crosses quickly returned.Photo: We crossed into Latvia and stopped at the Rundale Palace, considered to be one of the finest palaces in the Baltic region.Photo: Construction of the Golden Hall began in 1736.Photo: This is the Porcelain Cabinet, used for the Duke's collection of fine porcelain.Photo: Tall blue and white porcelain stoves flank each side of the duke's bedroom.Photo: A lovely ceiling graces the Rose Room.Photo: A large French formal garden is in the back of the palace.Photo: I am in the Town Hall Square of Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic. Their old town is a UNESCO site.Photo: The moat around the old town was turned into a canal with park land on both sides.Photo: The Swedish Gate, built in 1698, is the last of the eight city gates.Photo: The  Parliament Building is only about 150 years old.Photo: These are “the three brothers".  The white building is the oldest stone residential in Riga. The musicians played "America" when they saw us coming.Photo: The House of the Blackheads was modernized in the 1600's.  The astronomical clock dates from 1622.Photo: Black Balsam is a popular drink in Riga, dating back to 1752. I bought some to try later with the family.Photo: The Central Market is housed in five zeppelin hangers that date to the 1930's.Photo: Different items are sold in each hanger.  This is the fruit and vegetable hanger.Photo: This is the park across from our hotel.Photo: An hour out of town is Salaspils, a concentration camp run by the Nazis where many died.  It is now a memorial park with no buildings. This statue is called "Solidarity". I loved the stork perched on the fist.Photo: Close to Salaspils is a site were more than 25,000 Jews were murdered on Nov. 30 and Dec. 8, 1941.  Children, elderly, and women were buried in five massive graves.Photo: Riga's collection of Art Nouveau buildings has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the best.Photo: The entire street is Art Nouveau.Photo: The Art Nouveau Museum is in the corner apartment of one of their leading architects.Photo: This is looking up the stairwell of the museum.  I really liked this building, but unfortunately I didn't take pictures inside.Photo: I ate at this medieval restaurant.Photo: I ordered a 13th century version of French onion soup.Photo: My main course was roasted pumpkin with cooked mushrooms on it with a kind of sour cream.  The recipe is from the 15th century.Photo: The Lutheran Riga Cathedral, built in the 14th century, is one of the biggest and oldest religious buildings in Latvia.Photo: I attended an organ concert at the cathedral. The organ with its 6,718 pipes is of high quality and very valuable.Photo: The cathedral was built in the 14th century.Photo: We set out for Estonia.  On the way we stopped at Cesis Castle in Latvia. It was built by the German crusaders in 1209.Photo: Much of Cesis Castle is in ruins, but there is still plenty to see.  Ivan the Terrible destroyed some of it in 1577 when he briefly took the city.Photo: I climbed a tower to see more of the castle.  The castle is located in Latvia's first National Park - the Gauja National Park. Most of what I saw dated to the 15th and 16th century.Photo: I found this lady as I toured the castle.Photo: Statues of Lenin were erected in many towns of the old Soviet Union. This was put up in 1959 and taken down and put in a box in 1990.Photo: Cesis is one of the oldest towns in Latvia.  St. John's Church in the back was built in the 13th century.  It is the largest basilica outside of Riga.Photo: This is the Gothic interior of St. John's where Ivan the Terrible kept his horses. It was Catholic but became Lutheran with the reformation.Photo: Lunch was in the old school at the Manor of Unguri, built in 1732.  It is one of the best remaining manor houses in the Baltic States.Photo: Inside the manor house some of the painted walls still remained.Photo: Our bus stopped at the Tulkuse Nature Study Trail.  The 60 foot viewing tower is on the highest dune in a very flat Estonia – 155 feet above sea level.Photo: We walked on the 1.5 mile long wood plank trail.Photo: We walked over bogs and arrived at this swamp pool.Photo: The next day we started our tour of Tallin, the capital of Estonia.  The Estonia Song Festivals are held here every five years.  The stage can hold up to 15,000 singers.Photo: In this 1988 photo, brave Estonians showed their unity against the Soviet occupation by singing songs about Estonia.  A few years later, Estonia became an independent country.Photo: Tallinn's old town is divided into two parts:  the upper town for the nobility and the lower for merchants.  This is the back of Toompea Castle, built by the Danes in the early 13th century.Photo: This is the front of the castle where the Estonian parliament meets.  Old Town is a UNESCO Historical Site.Photo: The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was commissioned by Czar Nicholas III in the late 19th century.Photo: The Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin was constructed by the Danes in 1240.  It is Lutheran and believed to be the oldest church in EstoniaPhoto: At 522 feet, Saint Olaf (the tall spire in this view of the lower town from the upper town) was the tallest building in the world until 1625 when it was struck by lightning.Photo: A gull wanted to be in this picture.  Notice the two cruise ships visiting Tallinn.  They say that up to ten might dock on any given day.Photo: This 14th century Swedish harp is called a "nyckel".Photo: The Town Square has been here for over 1,000 years.  We heard part of a concert here.Photo: Tallinn is filled with interesting architecture including some of the old city wall and a tower in the background.Photo: There is a walking tour that you can take and walk around on the city walls.Photo: We walked out of the old town to see Swan Lake in Kadriorg Park.Photo: Peter the Great built Kadriorg Palace for a summer retreat.  I went there to hear a wonderful vocalist and pianist perform.Photo: I found this advertisement for the performers.Photo: This was one of the charming courtyards in the lower town.  Later I had tea at a tea and chocolate shop.Photo: The Nigulist Church is now the Museum of Medieval Art.Photo: I paid my money and then got trapped inside.  The lights flashed: the siren howled.  Finally, I pulled an emergency lever and escaped.  My friends had a good laugh at my expense!Photo: I found felted flax and wool in one of the shops.  It was very pricey and I didn't buy any.Photo: View from the top floor of my hotel.  The first skyscraper in Tallinn was built in 1994 after their independence from Russia.Photo: The next morning we drove from Tallinn to the Russian border.  We stopped for a break and saw some crafts made by the local people.  I loved the wool animals.Photo: We stopped at Narva Castle for lunch before we crossed into Russia.  96% of the people speak Russian in this border city.Photo: Narva Castle is situated by the Narva River.Photo: This castle is in Russia directly across the river from Estonia's Narva Castle.Photo: We were warned that it could take up to seven hours to cross the border into Russia, but we made it in 30 minutes!  We spoke to three different people to complete the task.Photo: For $11 we had an hour tour of the city.  Originally there were 150 canals to connect all parts of the city.  Many have since been filled in.Photo: These are some of the five buildings that comprise the Hermitage.Photo: We were able to see Peter and Paul's Fortress.  It was very big and grand.  The angel at the top of the tower is 10 feet tall and the tower is 400 feet high.Photo: St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia with a population of five million.Photo: The sun basically didn't set, so I wandered around in the evening.Photo: St. Nicholas Cathedral has never closed since it was constructed in 1750.  Of the 130 churches in St. Petersburg, only 18 remained open in the 1950's.Photo: I found these beautiful treats in the window of a tea room.Photo: I saw advertisements for the current Disney film.Photo: On the last day in St. Petersburg, we started by visiting Lion's Bridge where some students were sketching.  There are over 500 bridges in St. Petersburg.Photo: St. Isaac’s is the largest cathedral in St.  Petersburg.  Peter the Great was born on the feast day of St. Isaac.  When Stalin was in power he wanted to blow it up.Photo: It took about 500,000 serfs and crafts men about 40 years to build this cathedral.  It was created from many material like granite, marble and malachite that came from all over Russia.Photo: This door is patterned after the famous Baptistery in Florence.Photo: This is a close-up of the bronze door called St. Issac's Gate.Photo: Many of the original paintings deteriorated, so intricate and beautiful mosaics were made to copy them.Photo: On my free afternoon I went into the Church on Spilt Blood, built on the site of where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and dedicated to his memory.  It reminded me of Disney’s “It’s a Small World".Photo: Beautiful metalwork surrounded much of the church.Photo: Almost the whole interior of the church was covered with mosaics: over 7500 square meters of them.Photo: The alter had intricate woodwork and more mosaics.Photo: There is only one other church in the world with more mosaic in it.Photo: This beautiful portrayal of Christ's birth shows off the mosaics really well.Photo: I walked to the Summer Gardens that border the Neva River.  It is green, lush, and very nice.Photo: Lilacs were in bloom everywhere I visited.Photo: This was  a very large park.  You can see the amount of grass clippings that were taken away by this truck.Photo: If you could land a coin on the little platform with a bird on it, it would ensure that you would be able to return to St. Petersburg.  I tried twice and didn't do it, but it was time to return home anyway.  This was a very nice trip!