We’re in Vilnius!

Hi. We flew from Newark Airport today to Vilnius Lithuania by way of Frankfurt.  We left out house at 230p on Monday and  stepped into our Hotel at 4p Vilnius time on Tuesday.  We walked around the old town to acclimate ourselves to the city and the time zone. The architecture is beautiful and the old cobblestone streets are so quaint.

Here are a few shots of what we saw today.  Click on the first image and it will open in a lightbox in the center of your screen.  Use your mouse to click and see the next photo or use the arrow keys to  step through the images at your own pace.

Vilnius Day 1

These pictures were taken on our first lap around the hotel area- which essentially encompasses the old city of Vilnius. They were taken before we met up with the rest of the people on our tour last night and we had relatively no information about these sites except what might have appeared on a plaque nearby. So the pictures are just of some things that caught my eye (and of course, Mike’s- hence some duplicates!) At first glance, the city is filled with young people– the university is nearby— well dressed— not unlike people we would see on any street in Manhattan. The city squares have been re-done with an influx of money, we later learned, from UNESCO as Vilnius was named the culture capital of Europe several years ago- a title that moves locations every two years. With the title came funds and they were well utilized to modernize the streets while keeping the integrity of the old historic buildings.  The weather has been cool and intermittent rain showers– the locals always carry umbrellas this time of year and our hotel has plenty in the lobby! The language, Lithuanian, is not recognizable to me at all. It’s not slavic but rather, more like a nordic language. But most people speak English– especially the young people who work in the hotel and in the local restaurants. The city is clean except for the tremendous amount of graffiti all throughout. So far, so good!

Day 1 and 2 in Vilnius

Debbie did a great job describing our tour and experiences in Vilnius…if you haven’t read it, click here to read her post.

I took photos too!  There are so many lovely textures and contrasting architectures; it was great to see.  All of it was overshadowed by the emotions that came from seeing the old ghettos, learning of the persecutions, hearing about the mass executions.  Here are some glimpses of what we saw.

 

Some More From Day 1 and most of Day 2

We had the first afternoon before meeting up with the group free, so we hired a local guide to take us on a Jewish history tour. Our tour guide was a young woman (28) who studied at Vilnius University and received a masters degree in cultural differences.  She took us through the 2 Jewish Ghettos that were established by the Nazis during WW2. They were crammed with the thousands of Jews who made Vilnius their home (I think there were at least 60000 Jews in Vilnius before the start of the war– approximately 60% of the city’s population!).  The Nazis quickly murdered the Jews in both ghettos by walking them into the forest and executing them.  They could not have done it without the many thousands of Lithuanian collaborators who worked with the Nazis and killed their neighbors.  She told us some personal family stories as well–one was about man who became a priest. He didn’t find out until he turned 50 that his parents were Jews who had given him to their neighbors at the start of the Nazi occupation, when he was an infant. After the war, they, like others who had done the same thing, could not remove him from the “new family” that raised him for 3 years. We learned that there is one active synagogue in Vilnius (there were 60 before the war!) and there is one outside the city that is the home of the Chabad. There are only 1500 Jews in all of Lithuania today. There were 250000 Jews before the war!

There are several monuments erected to the memory of the murdered Jews of Vilnius. They were erected within the last 10 years after the Russians lost their rule of Lithuania. Some of the pictures posted with this note are of these monuments.  There are also some shots from the only Jewish cemetery that exists today. (The other 2 were paved over by the Russians, who actually used the headstones in buildings and on sidewalks. The stones were collected and there is a  monument outside of the cemetery that is constructed from many of these headstones.  There is picture of that monument in this batch of photos.

Day 2— we had a walking tour of Vilnius with our Tauk group. It was led by a local tour guide who was very knowledgeable. There are photos of some of the things we saw along the way, some of which we saw when we walked around alone on Day 1.   After the walking tour we were given a guided tour of the KGB headquarters in Vilnius. It was incredibly disturbing to see the cells and watch the videos of the awful murderous activities of the KGB. Our tour guide’s grandparents were directly affected by the KGB_ his grandfather was murdered and his grandmother was sent to Siberia and was not released until 1986.

We then took a 45 ride to Trakia to see the castle on an island. There are a lot of photos of the castle.  After napping on the bus back to the hotel, we went to the hotel’s gym and worked off enough calories for one of the glassess of wine we plan to have for dinner. The food has been really good but we haven’t had true Lithuanian cuisine which is described as potatoes with potatoes! The salmon and the vegetables are really good and the dollar is very strong here, so the tab for meals that are not included on the tour is really very reasonable!

More tomorrow when we get to Riga.