We arrived home from our week of touring late Thursday evening having absorbed as much about Vilnius and Riga as we could in such a short time. I took close to 500 photos so have the job of selecting which I think are the best representation of what we saw. I’ll do a post for each city.
We took the train from Klaipeda to Vilnius on Friday evening–a 5 hour journey. As we began with a couple of hours of daylight left, we were hoping to see some of the Lithuanian countryside as we traveled but the train was so filthy outside that it was next to impossible to see out. Happily, the inside was clean. Our hotel was just a short walk from the train station and, though so well-located–also just a block from the entrance to Old Town (not to mention that palace of expensive fast food – McDonald’s)–we will only comment that it did not look as good as the pictures on the website. Enough said.
Saturday morning we were ready to explore. The Old Town in Vilnius is one of the largest in Europe and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is one lovely building after another and more churches in such a small space than I have ever seen. In our post-Christian times, it is so different to think of a time when God was an all-important fact of every day life. As we entered through the Gates of Dawn, we immediately saw tourists and townspeople turn toward the gate and cross themselves. This is because, above the gate is a chapel of The Madonna of Mercy, a picture which is reputed to have miracle-working powers. It was a custom to have a chapel or religious image in every gateway to safeguard the city from intruders and to protect departing travelers.
Just past this chapel is St. Theresa’s Church, known for it’s exceptional ceiling frescoes.
About a half a block further is the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit with an amazing rococo interior of greens and blues. It was not permitted to photograph the inside so I took a photo of a picture of it in a book which, though not so vivid as the real thing, gives some idea of how it looked. This church is the final resting place of three saints martyred in the 15th century–Jonas, Eustachius, and Antanas–and their bodies are displayed under that brown canopy you see in the middle of the church.
Just down the street from this church is the Basilian gate, an ornate Baroque entranceway to The Church of the Holy Trinity and monastery. Unfortunately, this church is in ruins, having been used as a Tsarist prison . Some, but not nearly enough, restoration has been attempted.
A few more feet–another church.
Another couple of blocks away is the Orthodox church of St. Nicholas below.
Vilnius Cathedral, as you can see, is quite different in architecture from all the other churches with its neo-classical design. Inside it is plain in comparison and was used as a Soviet art gallery until 1988. There are many paintings still. The outstanding feature of this church is the baroque Chapel of St. Casimir, Lithuania’s patron saint, which is quite a spectacular room.
You may be wondering if there are other buildings in Vilnius besides churches. Yes, there are–many of them and here are a few street scenes. It was hard to stop taking pictures.
John and Rachel, along with Chayah and Noah, arrived by car about noon on Saturday and joined us for much of the sight-seeing. Our visit to Vilnius coincided with a big fair along with traditional song and dance in the town hall square and stalls of local arts and crafts spilling out along the streets. It was very crowded.
On Sunday morning we all squeezed into John’s car and drove about 15 miles west to the lovely Trakai Island Castle. This is a very well-restored and very picturesque castle with nice museum displays inside. You can read about its history on line so I will not go into it here as this is already getting to be quite long.