Pegontheroad in eastern Europe

Old Jul 8th, 2015, 06:18 PM
  #61  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 20,187
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The Barricade Museum may be small, but the cause was Great.

Glad you saw it and walked in.

What was your bus ride like to Vilnius ?

I am following along.
Percy is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2015, 06:43 PM
  #62  
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,989
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi PERCY,

"latedaytraveler: People who go on the Baltic Cruise do need a Visa for Russia, BUT if you go with the ship's tour, then the ship IS your Visa and they are responsible for you."

Thanks for the clarification. That arrangement makes things easier I guess. I have not yet ventured that far...

PEG, I hear you:

"I'd love to have a friend with whom I could travel, but it's hard to find someone (my age) who's in good enough shape and who can afford to travel." True.

Your corollary:

"I'm very independent, so I just decide where I want to go and then I go there." Truer.

I continue to admire your spunk/resiliency in these Baltic climes. Will continue to follow....
latedaytraveler is offline  
Old Jul 9th, 2015, 06:55 AM
  #63  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 3,284
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Peg, When we arrived at the train station in Frankfurt there were tons of heavily armed police. My SO went up and asked what was going on and was told it was security for a big soccer match that weekend.

I'm enjoying your report.
outwest is offline  
Old Jul 9th, 2015, 10:00 AM
  #64  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The hop-on/hop off bus was strictly a hop-on bus. It didn't stop anywhere. No wonder I couldn't find one the day before when I was hunting for a h-o/h-o bus stop. I'm glad I took that tour, though, because otherwise I would have thought I missed something.

I walked a lot in Riga. It's gorgeous! My only regret is that I didn't have enough time there. In my Lonely Planet I had high-lighted various places I wanted to visit, such as the Latvian People's Front Museum (the organization that led Latvia to its independence from the Soviet Union) and also the Holocaust memorial, but I didn't see them. I would have loved to do the art nouveau walking tour, but I just had to be satisfied with the architecture that I saw in my wanderings.

My main problem in Riga, as in other cities on my itinerary, was that I didn't have the stamina to see everthing I wanted to see.

So...as we bid farewell to enchanting Riga... My taxi driver to the bus station was a darling. He helped me out of the taxi, then took my suitcase and led me to the departure platform.

The Lux Express trip was about 4 hours long. A young guy from Australia was sitting across the aisle from me, so we talked until he got off the bus. He'd been with a European tour that lasted a couple of months, so he'd seen a lot. I kept asking him about the cities they'd visited--in some cases, only lunched in.

He was enthusiastic and interesting, and talking to him certainly helped pass the time.

As I said, various events in the trip kind of blur together, but I think this was the bus that dropped passengers off in the wilds somewhere. I dragged my suitcase across the north forty, where I saw a taxi and so got into Vilnius.

My hotel was the Comfort Hotel Rock and Roll. When I saw how cheap it was, I became a little nervous, but it turned out to be perfectly acceptable-- just a bit like an upscale Motel 6. I don't mean that in a deprecating way. It had everything I needed and was perfectly comfortable. The receptionists were great.

I'm fascinated with languages and their origins, and I wanted to ask one of the receptionists about the relation of Lithuanian to other languages. I began by saying, "You're probably too young to know this, but can you tell me if Lithuanian is an Indo-European language?" To my surprise, she knew that it was. So we talked about that for a few minutes, and I asked the Lithuanian words for some common words--mother, father, baby, etc. For a language geek such as myself, this was really interesting.

The reason the hotel was so cheap was the location, which was away from the city center. However, the room included a simplified map with a clearly indicated path to the Old Town--a path that any idiot can follow easily. Naturally I got lost the first time I tried to go to town. It was discouraging because I'd heard how beautiful Vilnius was, but the area through which I was passing was pretty run-down.

I finally gave up and turned back to the hotel. On the way what did I see but...a McDonald's! Longing for a sundae and a rest for my tired legs, I stopped and waited in line...and waited...and waited. This was the most inefficient McDonald's I'd every seen. There were more people working behind the counter than there were customers.

As I waited, a chunky little lady with frizzy blond hair was circling around, looking like she wanted to get in head of people (like me!) who were already waiting...and had waited...and waited. She really did remind me of a shark circling the bait. I wasn't able to be kind and let her in ahead of me because I'd already waited for 20 minutes or so. She finally gave up and got in the end of the line like the rest of us.

This TR is reaching epidemic levels--and I'm not nearly done.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 9th, 2015, 03:56 PM
  #65  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 4,109
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Glad you're not nearly done. I am loving this story and don't want it to end--just like a good book!
irishface is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 03:36 AM
  #66  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 57,091
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
yes, keep it coming Peg. apart from anything else you have provided yet another reason not to go anywhere near McDonalds, if only to avoid circling shark-like grannies.
annhig is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 04:00 AM
  #67  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 11,505
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I am also glad you aren't nearly done because I'm enjoying your report so much!
Florida1 is online now  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 06:31 AM
  #68  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 20,187
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Count me in also.!!!
Percy is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 08:15 AM
  #69  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I just listened to my little recorder and learned that I had not asked the receptionist "Is Lithuanian an Indo European language?" I had asked her what language Lithuanian was related to, and she was the one who said it was Indo-European. Now, how many twenty-something girls would know something about Indo-European. I was impressed.

My only complaint about this hotel was the "decor." Instead of badly executed amateur paintings of flowers on the wall, this one had a gigantic (maybe 8 feet by 8 feet) photograph of a break dancer with loooong dreadlocks covering one wall. He was doing his thing on the stage of a baroque theater, with chandeliers and lots of gold detail in the background. Very incongruous.

The hotel was home to various tour groups and perhaps to individual groups of Europeans. I rode down in the elevator with a group of Spanish ladies, with whom I talked a little. There was a man--I think he was German--wearing a long skirt. Nothing fancy. He didn't strike me as a real cross-dresser--just as a guy who was wearing a skirt.

After my ill-fated attempt to walk into town, I wasn't too impressed with Vilnius, because I'd seen only shabby back streets with uninspired architecture, but I tried again the next day, this time following the map carefully. The result was that I found beautiful Vilnius, a UNESCO World Heritage City.

I love a good baroque church, and St. Casimir's in the town center, certainly is that. It was built by the Jesuits in the 17th century, but over the years it has been used as a Russian Orthodox church, an Evangelical Lutheran church, a museum of atheism (guess who did that!) and was finally reconsecrated as a Catholic church in 1991.

Beautiful church, not too over-the-top as are so many baroque churches in Vienna and Salzburg. Nearby was "the Gates of Dawn," a 16th century gate and tower of the town wall. Apparently there's a room or a chapel upstairs in the tower holding a painting of the Virgin Mary that's supposed to have miraculous healing powers. However, I didn't have what it takes to climb those stairs, so I had to do without the healing powers.

In all the cities I visited, there were groups of school children being herded around, most of them wearing those bright yellow vests like school crossing guards wear in the States, probably to keep them together and for easy spotting if they strayed.

I saw a hop-on/hop-off bus, this time a well-maintained one, and went along for the ride. We went through the historically less-interesting parts of Vilnius, but it was good to see other more modern areas of the city.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 12:25 PM
  #70  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Oh, rats! I made a mistake! The KGB museum that I described in the section on Riga was actually in Vilnius. When I was writing about it, I had wondered why I hadn't recorded anything about it as I went through it. As I've been listening to the recorder for my memories of Vilnius, I've come upon comments I made during my visit to the Museum of Genocide Victims, which is the former headquarters of the KGB.

The building houses a museum dedicated to the thousands of Lituanians who were murdered, imprisoned or deported by the Soviet Union from WWII until the 1960's.

The museum contains many photos of the "armed anti-Soviet resistance," the "unarmed anti-Soviet resistance," and of deportation and hard labor camps--all camps in Siberia, I think. Whole families were sent to Siberia, so some of the pictures include children.

There was a room containing objects made by deportees--a rosary with beads made of bread, a monstrance (which holds the communion host during benediction), and various religious articles and pictures.

The place was very grim. The basement contained prisoners' cells and an execution cell where, between 1944 and the 1960's, prisoners were shot or stabbed in the skull. Placards give information about the cells (such as the fact that 15-20 prisoners might be kept in a single cell), that they were painted again and again to cover the writing done by the prisoners. Others give brief histories of prisoners, including one who was born in the US and who taught in a teacher's college. He led units of partisans in southern Lithuania, was arrested in 1956 and shot in 1957. How sad! Most of these partisans were quite young.

One cell was padded so that no one could hear screams if a prisoner was tortured. There was also a straight jacket on the wall for use if a prisoner went crazy from torture or anything else, or if he was hard to manage.

After I left the museum I passed a small monument to Soviet Occupation Victims, which was constructed of a pile of stones, rather like a cairn. Nearby was the building with (marble?) blocks on which is written names of many who died in the resistance. I walked for a considerable time trying to find a way back to the Old Town.

I found Cathedral square and hunted around for the "miracle stone," which marks the spot where the human chain--formed between Tallinn and Vilnius by two million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to protest Soviet occupation--ended. To make a wish, you do a 360 degree turn on the tile. I hunted all over but couldn't find it.

I did visit the cathedral but wasn't very impressed, though the organ is beautiful The Soviets did their usual barbaric job on the cathedral, using it as a warehouse until 1985, when Mass was said there again. It was reconsecrated in 1989. I finally gave up that day and took a taxi back to my hotel.

I learned that 75
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 03:28 PM
  #71  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 191
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Bookmarking
Keiracaitlyn is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 06:51 PM
  #72  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 20,187
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Too bad about the Miracle Square at Cathedral Square.

Did you get up to the Gediminas Tower which is just back of the Cathedral and up the hill.

I don't expect you to walk up there but there is a Tram/Funicular going up.
Percy is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 07:01 PM
  #73  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Darn! I didn't mean to post that. I started to say that I've learned that 75% of Lithuanians are Catholic, so that Catholicism is the number one religion, and basketball is the number two religion. Pretty funny. I think the most famous Lithuanian basketball player was Arvydas Sabonis. His son Domantas is playing with my beloved Gonzaga University basketball team--the Zags.

P.S. I neglected to say that the Nazis also used this building during their time in Lithuania.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 07:25 PM
  #74  
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,989
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Still with you, PEG. Admiring your stamina...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Old Jul 10th, 2015, 07:33 PM
  #75  
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 148
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Love your report..you travel much like I do - semi-planned and semi-winging it. Happy to know you are also a Zag fan (me, too).
baglady is offline  
Old Jul 11th, 2015, 07:17 AM
  #76  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
baglady: I had a kind of a Zag-ish experience in Torun, Poland. I was eating a sundae in McDonald's when I heard a young woman sitting next to me say, "Bad boy!" with a strong Polish accent. (I wanted to tell her that she shouldn't talk to her little boy that way, but of course, I didn't do so.)

We started talking, and she told me that she was visiting her parents, but that she now lived in Ireland. She had met a man though the internet and had moved to Ireland to be with him, but that he'd had a heart attack and died.

I told her that I'd first become curious about Torun because one of the Gonzaga basketball players came from there, and I looked in a guidebook for information. The guide said that it was a beautiful--a UNESCO world heritage city--and I decided to add it on to my tour of Poland.

She asked what was the player's name, and I said Karnowski. She asked if his father was a coach, and I said yes. She said his father was her teacher.

Wow! Small world and all that.

Yes, that's pretty much how I travel, but as I get older, I am forced to do more winging it than I really want to--and too much of the winging involves sitting or having a rest at my hotel.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 11th, 2015, 09:14 AM
  #77  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Percy: No, I didn't get to Gediminas Tower. Another reason to return to Vilnius. Still another is that I didn't visit the Utzupis Republic, a breakaway tongue-in-cheek state, with a 41 point constitution, which includes such articles as these:

"Everyone has the right to be happy. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies."

That last article was my favorite.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the time or the stamina to visit the Utzupis Republic; all I saw was from the hop-on/hop-off bus.

On one of my forays from the hotel, I found the beautiful Choral Synagogue, the only remaining synagogue in Vilnius, but it was surrounded by a locked fence, so I couldn't get in to see it. After the synagogue, I went to the Center for Tolerance, which contains a great collection of art work and all manner of Jewish relics. I especially liked the works of Gerardas Bagdonavicius.

The third floor showed a wide variety of pictures of pictures of synagogues of various types in eastern and central Europe--Burgher house synagogues, protestant church types, Solomon's temple type, etc. There was a synagogue in Slovakia that was especially beautiful.

The last section I looked at was about Jews in Lithuanis--how they lived, what work they did, etc. There was a lot about anti-Semitism. I'd been hoping that there'd be one place without that ugly anti-Semitism that was so prevalent in other places, but that was not to be the case here.

For the most part the Center didn't stress the suffering of the people, though some of the people mentioned did die in the camps. Mostly it portrayed the history and culture of the Jews in Vilnius.

Oh, this was funny. I took a taxi back to the hotel. I asked the driver if he was Russian, which he was. He asked what I was, and when I said I was American, he started a political argument. It was hilarious because I don't speak Russian, and he didn't speak English, but that didn't stop us from arguing. He said "Obama bad!" complete with a thumbs down, and I countered with "Obama good, Putin bad." We both yelled a lot in our respective languages, neither of us understanding a word, except Syria (him) and Ukraine (me).

I got out of the cab laughing and kept laughing as I went into the hotel restaurant for dinner, whereupon I looked at the menu, which sobered me up and reminded me of why I sometimes visit the golden arches on my travels. Beef tongue with tomato quinelle, stewed beef cheek, duck leg confit? Weird stuff. I don't think so. I ended up ordering a salad with "6 types of tomato, green olives, pesto, and pine nuts." It was okay, though the tomatoes were elderly.

I love this kind of stuff. These German guys in the restaurant were trying to order large beers, and the waitress said in English that they didn't have any more large beer glasses. They only had small glasses. The Germans didn't understand, so I said, "Sie haben keine grossen Gläser. Sie haben nur kleine Gläser," and everyone was happy. I love showing off like that.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 11th, 2015, 11:35 AM
  #78  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,820
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I couldn't find a convenient way to get from Vilnius to Gdansk, so I decided to fly. I had to change planes in Copenhagen and was briefly tempted to just stay in Copenhagen, but reality set in, so I continued on to Gdansk.

I stayed at the Gdansk Hilton on one of those pre-pay, non-refundable deals--$411 for three nights, breakfast incuded. Pretty good price, I thought, and I loved the Hilton. It had a separate shower AND a bathtub, which was great, since it meant that I wouldn't have to exit the shower by climbing over the side of a tub,at the risk of breaking a leg. It had a nice deep sink with a plug--so handy for rinsing out the unmentionables--and a clothesline over the tub that you could pull out and fasten to the other side of the tub.

The staff at the reception was wonderful. One young man, Oskar, cancelled my rental car for me and then arranged for a different car. (I think I'd arranged to drop off the first car at Torun and then decided I'd just return it to Gdansk and take the bus to Torun.) He was so helpful! His attitude was that he was glad to do it for me. He also phoned for a ticket on the bus from Gdansk to Torun, since I decided that was going to Torun by bus.

Oskar arranged for someone from AutoEurope to bring the car to the Hilton and then for me to leave it there when I returned. Wow! Such service! This is how the other half lives, I guess.

The hotel was in a really nice, if a bit touristy, area on the harbor, with various restaurants and a couple of boats/ships anchored there. When it was too late to go, I found out that a ship could do a trip to Westerplatte, the site of the beginning of WWII, in a few hours. The next time I go to Poland, I will do that little trip.

The first touristy thing I did was to taxi to the "Road to Freedom," the Solidarity museum, which was impressive. It told the history of the movement and of Lech Walesa and other important figures. It told something of the suffering of the Poles and other eastern European people under the Communist regime.

When I looked at the faces of the workers in the Gdansk shipyard, they looked like my father and the men with whom he worked at Kaiser Aluminum. There were artifacts from the time--a police van and a display of police shields and artworks, along with (more or less) interactive displays in this huge museum.

One of the amusing posters related to the 1989 elections. It was of Gary Cooper, as he was in High Noon, wearing a Solidarity badge and carrying a ballot in his hand.

One minor artifact I saw was an old DDR auto tab (which cars use in Europe to identify the country of origin). It had the first D and the R crossed out with white tape, so that it said simply D instead of DDR. Pretty cool. I stopped to watch a tape of Lech Walesa's speech to the U.S. Congress in 1989. He received an enthusiastic, very long round of applause from the congress.

There was a translator beside him repeating his speech in English after each paragraph. The translator first said, "We the people..." and I got a bit teary. We take so much for granted, and those words reminded me that we have choices in our government, and Poland didn't have choices at that time.

The last part of the museum that I looked at was a huge white wall with the Polish word for "solidarity" written acorss it in red letters. Both colors were composed of little cards on which one could write a comment and then hang on the wall.

When I'd entered the museum, I had signed in on a registration sheet. When I went to sign out, the clerk kept turning pages on which names of people who'd signed out were crossed out in red marker. She kept turning pages and turning pages and finally got to my signature. I realized then how long a time I'd spent in the museum.

After that I walked back to the hotel, of course getting lost and having to retrace my steps. When I got back I had to lie down because I was really pooped out. I really do have to lose some weight and get in better shape!
Pegontheroad is offline  
Old Jul 11th, 2015, 12:58 PM
  #79  
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 148
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
What a great "small world" story!

I haven't got the nerve yet to drive in Europe, so admire your spunk. I am never lost.....but I do walk many "scenic routes." (ha). Loved your interactions with the Russian and German fellows. I must admit I have never eaten at a McD's on my travels, but given the menu at your hotel, I just might have caved!

Looking forward to more..........
baglady is offline  
Old Jul 12th, 2015, 11:09 AM
  #80  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,009
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Peg, love your trip report. You're such a spunky, feisty lady. My hat off to you...
Treesa is online now  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -