Monday, May 31, 2010
After breakfast, which for us this morning was around 10:30am, I left Robyn in
the hostel common room working on her computer while I went off to take photos
around the market. I have not had a camera with me on the previous wanders
around so this was time to get some pictures and videos done.
standing selling handfuls of old fashion women's stockings. Shots of clothing,
groceries, meat and cheese and various vegetables. However, the most
interesting location I felt was in the fish market. Here I took closeups of all
sorts of fish heads, salted herrings and trays full of sardines. Also all sorts
of salted and raw fish roll ups. All very interesting I though. I don't see
anything like this in NZ.
Then Robyn and I headed to the supermarket to have coffee and cake in their
western style cafe. Well as western style as you can get in Riga. Then off for
a walk around the river side gardens.
I have developed quite a sore area at the back of the ankle on my left leg. I
think it is a result of my boots pressing against the area each step I take. It
is a problem which has really just developed since I arrived in Riga. On the
other hand the blister on my right foot is not painful now. Win one loose one.
So it was a case of walking a bit more slowly and sitting down more often than I
normally would. Later back at the hostel Robyn applies a selection of foot balm
and healing creams which hopefully will assist reduce the area of aggravation.
I have put new insoles into the boots and tomorrow will give the boots a spell
by wearing shoes. Boots are great for the cobble stone streets but not if they
aggravate the heel area.
We visited the Orthodox Cathedral. We decided that it was Russian Orthodox. No
photos allowed so it was just look. And it was very interesting. There were
several icons which had the same image of Mary and baby Jesus which people were
showing devotion to. Lots of paintings on the walls and screens of Biblical
figures and saints. There seemed to have been a lot of gold used in the
Then it was a further park to walk through before we go to the building where
Sergi Eisenstein was born in 1898. The only indication of that event was a
plaque on the wall in Latvian and Russian. Of course I took a few photographs
to evidence my visit.
We passed several great buildings hosing the National Opera, the National
Theatre, a National Art Gallery and a lesser white building housing the WC.
Entry fee 0.20 Lats. The lady in the booth made sure that Robyn paid on the way
out as the lady had been at the men's window collecting my money when Robyn went
in the other door.
We continued on into the Old Town to pass by the Riga Castle, which was nothing
all that inspiring or noteworthy. In face I realised that I had gone within a
100 metres of it twice previously but it was so much like an ordinary building
that I just didn't recognise it for what it was.
So I continued my hobble along the narrow cobbled roads and alleyways. Robyn
spotted Hobbywool, a shop of wool made garments and such items as a knitted
iced cake with cherries on top. OK you work it out. I had a cup of coffee and
sat looking at the 'cake' while Robyn looked at other products in the adjoining
Then on to the restaurant where I had had my second night meal. A good welcome
from the wait staff and we had – you guessed it – pork again, plus I had a
barley and black bean soup and Robyn had potato cakes. It was an enjoyable
meal, sitting outside and watching the world go by.
Then a slow walk back to the hostel to relax and have a cup of tea. Well Robyn
did and I forgot to have mine.
Saturday 29th May 2010
Here I am waking up in Riga. A look out of the window shows a hive of activity
down below as market stall holders work to get ready for the crowds who will
turn up on a Saturday morning.
First before checking the market out, I went downstairs and out the door to turn
and go in the adjoining door. This was the Russian owned and Russian style (
well I assume this is what
Russian cafes look like) cafe and bar, where I was to get breakfast. I had a
card from the hostel with 'breakfast' written on it in Russian. So I showed it
to the slightly worried lady behind the counter. I mean to say that I looked
different from most of her customers I guess.
Once she had seen the card she smiled and said "eggs and bacon?" and I
agreed that would be a good idea. Then I had the choice of the number of half
slices of rye bread I wanted and ordered coffee. The end result was a half
decent cup of coffee and a very decent plate of fried eggs and thick smoked
bacon. Not bad actually. Not all that Russian either I suppose.
Then out to wander around the market. Row upon row of fruit and vegetables,
great areas of clothing and flowers. Inside the hangers were meat stalls which
occupied two hangers, fish in another. Now that was an interesting hanger to
visit. All the variations on salted, dried and smoked fish that you can imagine
along with fresh fish. Huge salmon, lots of fish row and caviar, Fish with heads
on, fish without, heads on their own, barrels of herrings, sardines and fish I
just didn't know. I did spy some labled 'fatty herrings' and they looked it.
One stall even had fresh fish swimming around in tanks. No shell fish though
There were grocery stalls in other hangers and in most around the edges and in
the corners were food stalls and coffee bars.
At one point I sent off texts saying that Otara and Nelson should eat their
hearts out. This was the mother of all markets. It was crowded but not
uncomfortably so. Everyone seemed to have a purpose and were out to get their
household goods. The vegetables all looked fresh. The meat stalls seemed to
concentrate on just one bread of meat. Mostly this was pork, great cuts of
great looking meat, and some was beef which was more expensive. There did seem
to be less chicken on sale than I had expected.
In the clothing area I managed to buy a replacement cap. I seem to have lost my
Russian cap from Vienna somewhere along the trip. Luckily I was able to locate
a pretty good substitute on one of the stalls and this one fits me better than
the lost one did. Cost 6 Lats which is about NZ$15.
I came back to the hostel room to do some blog typing before heading off again.
This is when trouble struck. I had Open Office Writer open and had just started
and saved a new file when the programme crashed and closed down. This does
happen from time to time, but not as often as MS Word did when I used that.
Usually I just reopen the programme, which is what I did today. But this time
the recovery instruction box caused the problem. Normally at the bottom of the
box is the choice to recover the file or cancel, but this time the box was to
big for my screen size and I could
not see the two buttons. I tried to move the box up the screen but that was not
enough to solve the problem. So I ended up spending quite a long time working
on this. Without actually clicking on one of the boxes the programme was
jammed. If I closed it down which I could only do by rebooting the computer,
the same problem occurred on reopening the programme. So I could not even
access existing but different files.
In the end I gave up and went out to wander around Riga. I was now after 1:30pm
and too much time had been wasted. I had even removed the programme and
downloaded a new copy, but it jut reverted to the same problem.
The rest of the day was made up of more wandering around the Old Town. I did
look at the supermarket close by and checked out the films running at the
The day was sunny and generally warm. When I got to the Dom Square I found a DJ
performing on a stage and lots of people milling around with some dancing. This
was PINK Day and lots of people were wearing pink Tee shirts. On the square was
a large open tent were a make up company was doing make up on anyone who wanted
it. Cosmetics that is, not stage make up. The staff all wore pink tee shirts
with "Go Blond" across the front. They all had blond hair (or wigs I
suppose) and seemed very hyped up. Lots of people were wandering around with
cameras and the make up girls were happily posing for anyone. ON a small stage
a couple of women were sitting in a bath drinking champagne. They had golden
tutus on, gold fairy wings and gold face paint – oh and gold sequins
everywhere. They seemed quite hyped up as well and were constantly posing for
everyone with a camera.
In addition people were going around with signs in various languages saying
'free hugs'. I got hugged by several happy huggers of both sexes.
Some were dancing. All the time various walking tourist groups would come along.
All in all it was a very happy crowd and it seemed that everyone was having a
great time. I think that I had got there after the main activities had
I headed off down new roads and discovered a new, for me, church but actually a
very old one from the 13th century, several interesting old buildings including
three narrow multi-storied buildings from centuries back which are called The
I found the rebuilt section of the old town wall which ends in a half completed
archway. There was a gate, the Swedish Gate which was a small entrance through
the wall but on the inside had several attractive windows indicating that
people had or still do live above the gate. This was quite a pretty area with
some narrow alleyways and picturesque buildings. A bit further on was the old
Gunpowder Tower. I assume this had been rebuilt as well as it looked a bit too
tidy. It was also attached to a museum. As one group finished hearing about a
particular feature and moved on another would often move in to have their
I found a new grassed square with lots of dinning tables set out in the sun,
which looked appealing but as the shadows were mo0ving across the square the
temperature cooled. I ended up deciding to have a meal here but inside a
pleasant restaurant. Pork again, but also potato pancakes.
Back to the hostel, via a look at the peace or victory column and a call to the
very impressive supermarket/ Here I bought a bottle of German wine, grapes,
bananas, strawberries and bottle water as well as plastic plates and tumblers.
I set these up on a a bedside table as a welcome for Robyn when she arrived.
Then back to the computer problem. I transferred the installation files to an
external drive and tried to open up on that drive, but it didn't work. Finally
into the control settings again where I decided to alter the font sizes and
this did the job. I could now see the recover buttons and all was solved. Oh
boy, was I a happy chappy.
So I got on with the blog writing. Suddenly there was a knock on the room's
door. What a surprise to find Robyn standing there. For some reason I had got
times wrong in my head and didn't expect her for another hour or so. Nor had I
go a text which we had arranged for her to send from the airport. It seems she
had been sending texts from different stages of her journey but nothing had
arrive to me. However, the Air Baltic taxi got her to the hostel door after a
bit of searching in the dark. It was nice to she her and hear about her work in
And she enjoyed the fresh fruit.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
The bus left pretty much on time at 7:30am. This meant that I had had an earlier
wake up. Actually I woke about 5:10am which was 25 minutes ahead of what I had
set it for.
The guest house staff had kindly left my breakfast the previous evening so I did
not leave on an empty stomach. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk and light rain was
falling. However I did get to the bus station 30 minutes early as I like to
watch the process of connecting with your transport. Generally the bus pulls in
only a few minutes before departure so you need to be sure which of the 24
loading points it will use and be ready. Most people on the bus were there just
as early, only three male youths, looking like they had had a hard night, turned
up right on departure time.
The bus was not full and I had a double seat all the way. The seats are a little
narrow for my width but there is plenty of leg room. This was a Euroline bus.
Nothing really special about the trip save the few towns we called into. It was
interesting to see a few places which are really off the tourist map.
Going through one we passed what I assumed to be a school. Out on the front lawn
standing on a riser ready to be photographed, were group of older young people.
The males were neatly attired in suits while the young women were in flash
dresses often with bouquets. Others were standing around watching. My
assumption was that this was the graduating class and that as this was the last
Friday in May, perhaps the school year was ending. Of course I don't know but I
just made the assumption as the bus drove past.
I spied another stork standing on its nest on top of a pole. That's two for the
trip so far. Exciting ah? Apparently storks are considered special and bringers
We pulled into what looked a bit like a petrol station forecourt but it turned
out to be the border and a single armed policeman did a passport check.
Then it was off again.
Coming into central Riga there was a tall TV tower on a tripod base and then I
spied another of those distinctive Soviet palaces of culture – not as large
as the Warsaw one though. Then I spotted bridges which I recognized from maps
and satellite investigation before leaving NZ So I knew that the bus station
was close and it was.
The hostel was close by. You just headed into the market area and passing
through it looked for their street. Of course I went right through the market
and had to back track as the building is actually in the area covered by the
market stalls. This evening with the stalls cleared away, it looks more like a
The hostel is one floor up and not the most appealing I have been to on this
trip so far. Posh Back Packers is anything but posh. It is old and somewhat run
down though the room was clean as were the sheets. The common room is small and
the shelf which is the 'kitchen' has no running water. You have to go into the
bathroom which leads off the common room to get water and to wash cups in the
wash hand basin. I do not think that Robyn will like that feature. Only tea is
The staff all speak Russian as do most of the guests. However the receptionist
does also have English skills. You have to go downstairs and into the adjoining
cafe for breakfast - if you can get them to understand she said. TV in the
common room seems set to Russian channels.
WiFi which the web page said works in your room does not in our double room. I
did connect in the common room though which may not be the best place for
skyping. Perhaps we could use the desk along the hall way.
After setting in I headed off to wander around the market, both the outside and
the inside. There are six or more aircraft hanger ( actually they were zeppelin
hangers Robyn tells me) type buildings to house the covered market, although
each one I went into seemed to have pretty much the same type of stalls as the
others. I bought a small pizza type hot product for lunch. The melted cheese I
decided was more like hot mayonnaise. I also had a couple of small rugby ball
shaped items. They were like Maori fry bread but with a filling. One had
cabbage the other seemed to be cottage3 cheese and pineapple.
After this I headed into the Old Town, which is more or less just across the
road from the market.
So the hostel location is fine.
I visited the Museum of Photography which was interesting. Did you know that the
tiny spy camera, the Minox was invented and built in Riga? So they had a good
display cabinet on this. They had samples of the early photographic processes
including tintypes. Several lovely old big plate studio cameras were on show
– the type before they had shutters. There was a small display on stereoscope
cameras and viewers, displays of some Russian cameras and enlargers. Sample
boxes of photographic materials manufactured in Latvia before the war. There
were lots of sample photographs by local photographers working in the 192's and
30's The style of posing was a give away.
They also had a studio set up using an original 1886 painted scene background. I
got the ticket seller to pose in front of for me. All the other ladies were too
Around the walls they had a series of still life shots of loafs of bread. Then
next to each there was a microscope shot of the bread's structure.
Up stairs there was an exhibition of panoramas all taken around a garden.
Interesting, but all that appealing to me.
Next I hunted out the Museum of Film which was not at the address I had been
given but around the corner. I did not know the the great Russian film maker,
Sergei Einestein was born in Riga in 1898 and lived here for most of his first
15 years of life. The museum had set up an interesting series of displays on
his early life and some on his films. Samples were screening on monitors. One
display showed his sketches and story lines for little plays he set up in his
toy theater. Interesting as Ingmar Bergman was doing the same thing around
about the same period. He features that in the film Fanny and Alexander. I
thought that the museum was quite a find even though it was small.
There was a further room given over to the work in the 1950's of a Latvian
director. He only made about five movies because of the budget restrictions in
post war Soviet countries.
There is currently a court case to decide ownership of these films between the
State and the film studio where they were made.
A young Latvian woman showed me around on and of. Having lived in London she had
good English speaking skills.
I ended up buying three dvd's one was from Estonia, the other two are Latvian.
Tea was a piece of pork done in honey mustard with potatoes done in butter and
dill. The Latvians certainly know how to cook pork.
Then off to the Cathedral for an hour long organ recital. I did not have a
programme but enjoyed listening whatever the tunes were. The might pipe organ
did sound good – great in fact.
The city was obviously warming up for Friday night. Bands playing, lots of
people sitting out eating and drinking. But I decided to go back to the hostel.
Today's tally equals:
two art galleries
one church on a hill
But first, it was time to do a test run – actually a test walk, but you know
the term. I wanted to walk to the bus station along the route I had worked out
would be the shortest. The purpose was to time it and to check that the paving
stones were not too uneven. Well it turned out to be a workable route and would
take between 15 and 20 minutes. While I was at the station I purchased my ticket
for tomorrow's trip. That took a while, perhaps 6 minutes so it was good to have
the ticket. Cost was 52 Lt and that was with a 10% senior discount. I didn't
even ask but I guess the passport birth date was enough to get me the discount.
The first art gallery I went to was the one in the square at the end of the
guest house road. It was the one with the full frontal nude called "Man"
and modeled on Nike who was the Greek god of something – perhaps running? It
was very controversial when installed but when I have been watching people just
walk past without a glance at it. It stands about twice life size with arms
outstretched. Hard to miss.
The art gallery, the Mykolas Zilinskas Art Gallery, is named after a rich
businessman who donated much or all of his art collection to the city. The
gallery holds Lithuanian's only Paul Rubens painting and a couple of others
that may be his or by his pupils. There was quite an extensive display of
paintings from 16th and 17th centuries but except for Rubens, I can not say
honestly that I had heard of more than a couple of the painters. The usual
collection of subjects: portraits of rich men and sometimes of their wives as
well, mythical legends, views of Biblical significance including themes around
Christ on the Cross and some landscapes which were usually dark and moody.
There was a gallery hall of furniture and household objects from 17th century
mostly. Another very large collection of Japanese water colours showing aspects
of Japanese culture. There was also a display of 19th and 20th century
Lithuanian painting where I found a number I enjoyed.
It was an interesting couple of hours really, especially as it was cold outside.
Next I went a couple blocks to ride up a small hill on a funicular. Just a
couple 16 seat cars each on the end of a single steel cable. As one came down
it pulled the other one up. There was a control box at the top with a brakeman
operating the system. In his room, he maintains a small photography exhibition.
This was pictures from Berlin and it was pleasing to recognise some of the
Then it was just few short steps to Christ's Redemption Basilica, a huge modern
church on the hill top . Well modern in comparison to the centuries old church
buildings down hill. This Basilica is a very commanding white building with a
high tower at one end and a lesser tower at the other. I thought that it could
well pass for a Mormon temple.
Inside the auditorium is white, fairly plain without much ornamentation. It is
light and airy and very high.
I paid the charge to go up the tower in the elevator – it was cheaper to climb
up the stairs, but that seemed a lot to ask of me. When I exited the elevator I
was very surprised to walk out onto a large flat roof. I had expected just a
viewing platform. But no here was an area almost large enough for a rugby game
to be played. Well you could play but it was a little under sized. The main
tower continued on upwards and what I had assumed to be a small tower at the
other end was in fact a small chapel. I suppose that at times they hold roof
Like all big churches this one had taken a while to build. Seventy years in
fact. The Nazis used it as a paper warehouse and then after the war, the
Soviets used it as a radio factory. In the end the Catholics got it back and it
was consecrated in 2004.
There were great views out over the city as you could imagine.
Coming down from the hill top, I headed along the road to the second art gallery
for the day. The National Ciurlionis Art Museum is dedicated to the work of one
of Lithuania's most famous artists and composers. Mikalojus Konstantinas
Ciurlionis not only painted, often in pastel, but composed piano and symphony
music as well. The local experts view him as the founder of abstract art
although this is not a widely held view elsewhere. I found his art, and there
must have been close to 100 pictures on display, was often quite appealing and
thought provoking. Over all I enjoyed it and would loved to have heard some of
his music as well. There were CD's on sale but I thought they were a bit
expensive and I was also trying to make my remaining cash spin out.
Else where in the museum were displays of local folk art and paintings from
around the early 20th century. As well there was a photo display be a German
photographer who had gone around in the 1950's taking pictures of interesting
road side crucifixes and crosses. They also had several samples of the real
thing there, or metal parts of them, on display.
In another room an artist had taken fresh spring bark from trees and softened it
and then molded it into figure sculptures. On display they looked like they were
just a mysterious part of a growing tree trunk. It was very realistic and
impressive. The theme she had taken was a 19th century revolution and the
punishments that followed.
Then there was time to look at some Soviet area sculptures along the road and
visit a war memorial with an eternal flame burning.
Essentially the rest of the evening was spent packing and getting ready for an
early departure the next day.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
crashed then stuck on data recovery. So I can not type new pages or do anything
with the old.
Working on it but........
One of the enclosed meat market
one outside showing where my/our room is
lady at the photography museum poses for me in front of a genuine 1886 painted
photography studio background.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The cold grey conditions of yesterday have not gone away today. Only difference
as been a lack of much rain. Just a little during the morning.
Tally for today:
Two churches, one town hall, walking (partly to keep warm) around the old town.
First up I went into the large church in the square just up from the guest
house. High spacious interior but much plainer than most churches I seem to
visit. It is a military forces church as well as public. Stations of the Cross
are done by a series of modern almost abstract oil paintings, hung in sequence
along the pillars. There was still and old lady progressing slowing from
painting to painting and kneeling to pray before each picture. At one side of
the front of the church was a plain white statue of Mary but without all the
attachments and decorations of other churches, although there were candles
What I liked however was on the other side. Here instead of an anguished Christ
on the Cross which would normally be the case, they had a statue, bit like a
wood carving, of Christ sitting on a chair, with his head resting in his hands.
Still looking sad but quite a different impression to being on the Cross. A very
plain curved white backing to it, made it all very simple yet meaningful.
There was a steady flow of folk coming to sit and or knee in the church in quiet
Today I headed off along the tree lined avenue again. On the way I regular
notices about the free wi-fi coverage all along the street. I wounder if it is
a faster service than here at the guest house?
The end of the avenue merges into the Old Town with its older (of course)
buildings and narrower streets, some hardly wide enough to take a car down
them. I worked out in one such street that the pavements were just two feet
wide which must be about 600 mm. So to pass someone, one had to step out onto
Into the old town and I found a photo exhibition in a small park. The large
photos on display all showed transport in Kaunas during the early part of the
20th century. Interesting seeing the empty streets and the old buses and horse
drawn trams. There was a tour group of old people looking at the display as
well. One lady wanted and did take a photo of me because I was wearing my
colourful knitted beanie to keep warm. This is not the normal head wear around
here, in fact most people don't seem to wear anything on their head.
Next along was another church. This was large red brick and was the largest
gothic church in the city. It had an impressive looking organ up high at the
back of the church. I would loved to have heard it playing. There was the usual
mixture of worshipers and sightseers.
Around the corner was the town square with the old town hall in the middle.
Today apparently it has little more function than to act as a wedding service
centre with the registrar in attendance. A nicely up dated interior without
loosing the old feel. I chatted to one man who could only speak Russian but
another who could understand a little English translated. We talked about
photography and where I had come from and was I traveling alone etc.
Wandered down to the riverside a couple of blocks away. It was wide and judging
from the height of the stop banks it can get pretty high in a flood. A few
hundred metres downstream and another river joins into it.
I wandered back to the square along some back streets and found some old
abandoned buildings which were great to photograph. The highest was at least
three stories and on the top floor was a door with the remnants of a crane
sticking out. So I assumed that it must have been a storehouse of some sort or
In the square was the groups of school children being escorted around by
teachers. Once again the students were well behaved. There were a number who
would pause to photograph each other with their digital cameras in front of
every statue in the square. Mostly girls were doing this and each would take a
model like pose for the picture.
Then along a block or two to see the castle – a small a fair which is closed
for renovation – well it looked more like a rebuild. A bit of the old town
wall ran up to the tower. The castle is, or is going to be, the Tourist
By 2:30pm there were lots of school children walking home. High school rather
than primary. A lot of the girls had smart shortish check or tartan like skirts
and some had a blazer. The boys were all in mufti.
Lots of little shops in the back alleys of the old town. Whereas the main and
slightly wider, street had a number of tourist targeted shops in the mix, in
these back streets the shops were much more for locals. Some were very
fashionable, a painting gallery, some w omen's clothing shops, a mini mart and
lots of restaurants. None very large. There was a steady flow of locals walking
with purpose as well as the odd tourist like me walking more slowly and gazing
I stopped along the main avenue for a late lunch or early dinner. It was 4pm. I
had beef prepared in coffee and blue vein brie with vegetables. The vegetables
included several roasted chillies which turned out to have retained their chili
heat. I didn't really feel that I could spot the coffee and blue brie flavour
but it was a nice warm meal which with a local beer cost around NZ$15.
Back at the guest house and the warmth of my room I took a moment to lay down.
Next thing I knew it was over two hours latter. Obviously sleep was needed at
that moment. Certainly my feet appreciated the rest. Actually I have a blister
on one heel which I am taking care of and keeping a plaster on. So foot care is
a concern at present.
The usual problems on the Internet. Problem getting the signal and problem
staying on line. At one moment there is a signal then there is nothing. Loading
web pages is so slow that the browser times them out and I just get a no go
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Today I went to a Lithuanian cinema and I enjoyed it. More later.
The morning was obviously cold and gray with a chance of rain. My Internet
weather for both Vilnius and Kaunas was 11C when I checked about 8am. The
highest expected was 17C,
After breakfast and after packing I slipped out to take some photos in the
nearby street, well more of an alley, where I had found art work attached to
the walls a couple of days ago. It was in a street called Liturali and realised
that the plaques and tiles and other items tended to relate to writers play
rights and poets.
So back to the Guest House for my 11am check out – actually I was ready at
10am. I chatted to the manager while waiting for the taxi and learned a bit
more about the country and culture.
At the bus station I had the choice of the normal bus at 11am or an express mini
bus at 11:05, I chose the later as I did not think 20 Litas was excessive for a
comfortable non stop ride down the highway in a 16 seat bus. There were only
seven on board so there was lots of room. Before embarking I tried to ask the
driver the cost and departure time. He could not speak English and I was very
pleased when another passenger asked if he could help. So I got my answers from
Much of the way we drove through rain but it had cleared by the time we got to
Kaunas. I used the time to catch on three Prairie Home Companion segments of
the News From Lake Woebegone.
Much of the countryside was fairly unkempt grass land although at one stage
there was some rape in flower. Surprisingly I spotted two cows in the distance.
A feature of Lithuania is the way in which industry is spread around. Apparently
in Soviet times the country's leaders place industrial development all over the
country in an attempt to avoid a Russian build up. By spreading it it meant
jobs for local people.
On arrival it was quite simple to go to the front of the bus station, buy a
ticket from the kiosk's little open window and wait for any trolly bus on the
side of the road which I arrived at from the bus station. Then catch any trolly
bus; ride past the first two stops and get off at the third. This was the corner
of Gedimino gave and the hostel was just two numbers down after crossing the
road. It sounds more complicated than it actually was.
I have a nice twin bed en suite room which is fairly large, bright clean and
tidy. The same pine furniture as in the Vilnius hostel of the same company.
Quite quickly I checked out the Internet – slow but a connection on one side
of the room.
Then it was out into the cold somewhat windy conditions to look around.
Essentially, the main street of this older part of the city is one block up the
road where it starts there is a square with a large church in the middle. The
road is a pedestrian precinct. Down the middle runs two rows of tall trees with
walking space in between. On either side of these is space which would have had
a double lane roadway. Now it just carries walkers and cyclists. The amazing
thing is the length or the row of trees. My pick is that it runs for more than
a kilometre, it certainly took time to walk down it let alone back.
I called into the Tourist Office got a guide and asked where a cinema would be.
Turns out that just two blocks from my guest house, in the opposite direction
to what I had walked along to the square, there was a shopping mall and a
So because it was just too plain cold to stay our walking I headed down to what
turned out to be a large shopping centre with a lot of restaurants KFC, Pizza
Hut and so on.
I was a bit late for the start of the session but the feature had not started so
I went to the ticket counter to be told it was full. Well first of all that the
film I wanted to see was not on. We sorted that out pretty quickly though. Well
the end of the story is that the sell found a seat for me, row (eile) 8 seat
(vieta) 10, which was pretty good position right in the centre of the cinema.
Of course I had to get to it in the dark and did manage to step on a few toes
and trip over one foot but I grabbed a seat and didn't fall completely over. I
sat down just a s the maker's title hit the screen.
The movie was obviously very popular to have a full cinema at 6pm. The film was
Robinas Hudas and it was an action packed big spectacular feature. I did enjoy
the acting by Martinious Croweous and Katerous Blancardeous. OK I did make up
those actors' names. But the title is correct. We of courses would know it as
Robin Hood. But this is not the Robin Hood story we all know. No way, this is
set before the story of the legend. Which made it much more interesting than I
had expected. Much to my surprise I noticed in the credits that one actor was
Max von Stydel (I am sure I have spelt that wrong) who used to star in Bergman
films. I did not recognise him. I did feel embarrassed about that.
Admission cost was 6Lts which must be around NZ$4.
So a quick walk back to the guest house with some wine and sparkling water and
time to do the blog.
Photos are from the cell phone.
The church in the square
the main street
Today I go to the castle at last and it was worth every bit of the effort.
Cool start to the day. It was cloudy warm in the sun but cool wind blowing. I
caught a bus to Trakai which was about 40 minute ride and then a 30 minute
along the road up a narrow peninsula to the bridge to a small island with an
attractive castle on it.
As the bus arrived in the little town I could see beautiful lake views on both
sides of the road. Sometimes even little islands. Beside the bus station was
the local market. This was pretty basic with a couple of meat stalls and about
six stalls selling flowing plants in pots. There were several clothing stalls,
a couple 'everything' tables. One man had a table with a dozen small tools. A
lady was selling a few bunches of lettuce by weight. Not the most attractive
set up for a market and I have seen much more photogenic ones than this.
So I headed off down the road towards the island. A call into the little town
tourist office got me a flyer of the 10 places to see and a small map.
There were a couple of supermarkets- not very large- a bank and a few small
stores spread along the road. Essentially the peninsula has one road running
along it of any consequence. There is one Catholic and and an Orthodox church
which I did not call in at. I did call in at a cafe which turned out to be a
chocolate shop and asked for hot chocolate. And it was just that. Hot chocolate
just thing enough to run but very thick and rich. I had a slice of cake but I
avoided all the chocolate ones. The slice was weighed as was the cup as they
added the hot chocolate. It was a bit too rich and thick for me.
Besides the castle, Trakai is special because it is the traditional home of one
of Lithuanian's smallest ethnic groups.The Karaites arrived in the 14th century
(from the Crimea) and have apparently preserved their traditions ever since.
There is a small temple beside the road. They speak the Turic language and
religiously are a mixture of the Old Testament with some Islamic aspects added
in. They have their own food culture and I made sure to at least try a kybyn
(aka kibinai) before I left. This is like a Cornish pasty and my one was
stuffed with minced pork. I also drank gira which was sweet and a bit like a
local coca cola. I took a photo both arriving at my table.
Along the road are houses or the Karaites. They are wooden and lengthwise to the
road. The road frontage has three windows. There are not a lot of them left in
Lithuania. Of the 250 or so in total, about 60 still live in Trakai.
Well I reached the bridge across the lake to the first island, from which the
next bridge to the castle went from.
I must say that the first view of the castle out in the lake was really special.
It looked some picturesque and rather stunning just sitting there surrounded by
the lake. Along the peninsula shoreline were row boats for hire.
I headed out across the bridges and arrived at the castle. Now I did know that
it had been in ruins by the beginning of the 20th century, but since then, and
mainly since WW2 it has been restored. It is possible I think to work ot where
the the ruins end and the restoration begins. Stones change to bricks was my
guess. However, the red brick looks really good and bright in the sunlight.
Inside the castle was the ticket office. Eight Litas for a senior plus 4 LT for
photography and video, which I thought was reasonable.
There were lots of school groups but not enough to make the place feel crowded.
They also moved around quite quickly. They kept arriving as earlier groups were
leaving. Some were quite small children but all pretty well behaved.
Inside the main gate and I came into a large courtyard. There were walls and
high buildings around it. Then there was the drawbridge and defended gate
leading into the main castle courtyard. Around it the rectangular building rose
four stories with a higher gate tower.
Many of the rooms had museum like displays in the history of the castle and the
region. There were lots of old coins, weapons and armour. There was a display
of the castle in ruins and the restoration. One room showed some displays on
the Karaite Culture.
In the outer courtyard the double story building had more general historic
displays. Furniture and dinner sets and porcelain ornaments. Some were very
impressive. Some portrayed unexpected and somewhat bizarre relationships
between women and angles, a swan and other women. One room was full of
historical pipes – the sort you smoke tobacco in. At first I just glanced at
them but then I began to spy all sorts of tiny pipes with figurines on them. I
took some photos of these. I decided that this was in fact interesting as I
didn't know anything about pipes.
Two rooms had some very impressive paintings unlike anything I had seen before.
Painted to display the grief of a king on the death of his wife the serieis of
large canvases are called the Black Paintings. I ended up taking lots of photos
here, often close ups of detail from sections of the whole.
I spent about four hours at the and it was a really pleasant day out. I even
walked right around the outside and that was very pleasant with not only good
views of the castle and its walls, but also out across the lake. I enjoyed the
groups of reeds or rushes along the shore line too. Out on the lake a couple of
launches took passengers for cruises and three or four yachts were doing the
same for smaller groups.
Standing on the peninsula and looking across the lake at the island was a
beautiful sight. See the photo. Lots of areas long grass with lots dandelions
flowering in it – quite picturesque.
Up on one castle wall I spied a couple protrusions which could only be the
outside of the castles original long drop toilets. For today's visitors there
are more than adequate modern toilet facilities.
I headed off to catch the 1740 bus and found that it was an Euroline bus. Very
comfortable and 8o centas less than my morning trip.
Back in Vilnius I called into the supermarket and wandered around to get yogurt
and water. I also spied some possible meal ideas for my next town.
As I wandered back along the road and under gate bridge chapel with the famous
painting, I again noticed how many people paused to genuflect towards it or to
get down on their knees in the street to play and cross themselves. I read that
there was a regular flow of pilgrims coming to worship in front of the painting.
Back in my room I spent just too much time trying to get onto the Internet. Very
I move on tomorrow -about a three hour bus ride, I will stay in another
guesthouse run by the people who run this one in Vilnius. I hope that their wi
fi works better. I notice that this system is wifi b were as at home we use a
faster 'g' and the next faster generation is arriving in the latest equipment.
I have also worked out that Vilnius is best said as "Will- no" or
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Today I had a free lunch which I thought would be enough for the meal of the
day. The only problem is that the nearest supermarket I know about is 30
minutes walk away. I had discovered a small grocery store round the corner and
thought that would be enough. However, beside the fact that it was old style
with counters and an assistant between the shelves and you, I could not spot
the instant noddle type product I was hoping to find. All I can do in the
apartment is boil water or use a fridge. Nothing to enable you to cook
anything. So I had to go out for dinner and I went to the little cafe in the
road behind the guest house and had, crumbed pork chop which as is the case,
was as thin as a schnitzel. Nicely cooked though and attractively presented
with some fried boiled potatoes and a tiny salad. It did however, fill the need
and it was pleasant sitting in their patio area down an alleyway.
As I tend to write a lot about food; here is another story.
I was once again going to go to Takai. There are supposed to be 40 buses on a
weekend day. Well i missed the 10:40am bus and the next looked like 12:00 until
I worked out the code and found that didn't run Sundays. The next was 12:30pm.
Around about 12:10 I decided to give it a miss and try again tomorrow when the
opening hours are longer, there will be more trains and buses.
Part of the problem was I had slept in! Well it was a Sunday, but it wasn't the
intention. I had woken to voices outside and the daylight with a jump out of
bed, only to find it was 4:45am. I must have quickly returned to sleep and no
one outside woke me. It was 9:15 when I did wake and of course my breakfast had
been waiting since 8am. The egg was still warm and the coffee still hot so that
was ok. Tomorrow I will set an alarm.
So I did pretty well getting to the bus station which must be 40 minute walk
away by just after 10:40am.
So I spent the rest of the day walking around. Which how I got my free lunch. I
was walking up a new (for me) street when I heard loud music down a side
street. I could see lots of people and streamers and ribbons draped around
posts. I went a bit closer and though it could be Hindu, but getting closer I
noticed all the Europeans sitting eating and I clicked. Hari Krishna and they
were having their free lunch. So I went in and had a very nice meal of rice and
several different vegetarian dishes plus a herbal flavoured warm water and a
couple of sweet pieces. It was interesting because the members were so
welcoming of everyone and going around with more food and drink and collecting
empty cardboard plates. They were certainly making a good impression. But you
did have to accept the live music, which was various loud versions of the Hari
Krishna refrain with drums and flutes.
As a contrast, a little later walking down the main tourist street – which can
be narrow enough in places to almost be an alley – I heard the sound of jazz.
Along came a couple of girls holding a banner advertising something at the Kino
and behind the a six piece marching jazz band. They sounded good, but they had
marched past far to quickly to really hear enough of their music.
I also visited two churches. OK what is a visit to a city which is just full of
churches without going to one or two on Sunday?
First I went into the Church of the Holy Spirit. It was one of those over the
top Baroque churches full of statues of Jesus and saints and angels and so on.
However the music of the service was good and it was similar to the service I
saw in the Cathedral yesterday. It involved white clad children going up to the
front and children reading to the congregation.
Later I called in at the large brick Church of St Anne. It is a block away from
the guest house and does dominate the area as it has very high towers and
spires. I can tell you, because I have the City's Tourist Guide the "it is a
nmasterpiece of late Gothic, which has survived unchanged over 500 years. In
fact inside it did look in need of the 500 year 'servicing'. Bits of columns
had broken off and the walls were peeling. Apparently Napoleon is supposed to
have said that he wanted to take it in the palm of his hand back to Paris. Well
in the main church (there is a 'small' side chapel which could seat 100 or so) a
service was getting underway. I was amused by one busy priest rushing around. He
wore worn jeans under his white robe and had a large ear ring in one ear. That
didn't seem very traditional to me. However, what kept me in the church for
quite a while was the amazing choir singing. And adult choir of all or mostly
males, who could sing in the most professional manner. I couldn't understand a
work of it but the music just sounded fantastic – like the angles? In fact I
am sure that one song was a John Rutter composition as I am sure it is on one
of my CD's of his hymn music. He is a top British contemporary composer. I have
one of his CD's on my mp3 player and I often play it as I am travelling along in
a plane bus or train. But not for some reason, ever in a tram.
As well I visited the Presidents Palace – well visit in terms of standing
outside and looking at it. I walked along even more narrow alley ways and at
one stage this evening, I found a great area of art on walls – mostly small
plaques and tiles and such like. It was all along the street by the
Contemporary Art Centre which of course was closed. As I had decided to leave
my camera at the guest house, I am going to have to return and take some
pictures. Fortunately it is only a block from the guesthouse – just in a
direction I had not yet been along.
I seemed to see more statues and more churches not open. These are often turned
into some other use. One was a concert venue while the Orthodox Church around
the corner from the guest house is a gallery of religious art. I seem to have a
lot of churches around the corner from me. At a quick memory recall and
including the cathedral it would be five or six.
Today had been brilliant with clear blue skies – deep blue through the
polarizing filter on my camera lens. However, the evening was not so mild as
the past couple of nights have been. Not so many people around either.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
This has been another warm over 20C day. Just short shirt sleeves. Nothing else
needed that's for sure.
Breakfast was delivered as promised at the time (8am) I suggested. Three slices
of brown rye bread, three tiny slices of salami and equally small blocks of
cheese. Together with a boiled egg which was still hot, orange juice and
plunger coffee in a thermo cup.
I had slept well making up, I guess for the very long previous day. It seemed
even longer because Lithuania is and extra hour ahead on Poland, so now two
hours ahead of UK time.
I spent quite a bit of the morning standing in the stair well working on my
computer. I can not get wifi in my room but it is good on the stairs. Actually
I can pick up the hotel across the road though.
I was trying to get my phone credit recharged but was having problems with
paypal. It worked ok last time I used it to buy the SIM card but now it is not.
Also I can only get texts inwards and can not send which may be because my
credit is low, if not then there is another problem.
When I did get out and going I intended to visit a famous castle 30 km out from
town. However I did quite a long bit of sightseeing on the way to the bus
station. There I checked my castle details and discovered that the week end
hours finished at 3pm. That made it just not worth going today. Perhaps I'll
get going earlier tomorrow and see it then. I think it will be worth the
Wandering back from the bus station I went under an archway. Through a window in
the arch it is possible to see the original painting of the Madonna and Child,
copies of which seemed to be in every Polish church I went into. I did consider
going in on the way to the bus but the crowds were too great. This time however,
no queue so I headed in and along the stairway, but realised I could hear a mass
in progress. So out I went and true looking up I could see and hear the priest
Once the Mass had finished, a miracle occurred (just joking) but all the tour
guides suddenly appeared again with their followers. So I gave it a miss.
Other churches visited today and there have been several I can tell you were:
A small Orthodox church (no photography) where all the walls were covered with
murals. Just what you would really like to photograph.
A large Jesuit Church. High roofed, white walls, cool bright and airy. Organ
music filled the church but I suspect it was a recording because when I turned
to look up at the organ I found it had a clear plastic cover draped over it.
This church has changed hands between various groups over the centuries but now
the Jesuits have it back. Like, it seems, most of the churches, it has
undergone alterations to suit whoever had control of it at the time.
I went into another church were a small gathering were having a Christening I
The huge cathedral in the main square had a service going on but as plenty of
folk including a robed priest were rushing around taking video and flash
photos, I had no problems taking a bit myself. In the front rows of pews were
young children all clothed in white robes and holding candles. The girls had
woven floral head bands. I assumed it was a confirmation service which had to
be something special for everyone there.
The final church I saw – well I think it was- was actually undergoing repairs
and renovation so it looked pretty run down and uninviting.Photogenic though
– sort of. Perhaps that is why the groups still came in.
I made my way up to the rotunda on a hill top but that too was undergoing
extensive renovation. Actually I would say a rebuild as there was not much of
it left after the war. So I carried on down a hillside and made my way back
alongside a river. Not that large but it had cooling trees along its banks.
Rather than go into yet another church I crossed a bridge and wandered along
the road knowing that it would come to a small square and then allow me to loop
back across the river. This bridge was the Bridge of Locks. And it had plenty
most engraved with a couple of names. The idea is that a bride puts a padlock
here to ensure her husband remains true and close to her. That's what the guide
I carried on into a large park with tall trees and uncut grass areas, covered in
dandelion flowers and seed heads. Lots of people were out walking or just siting
enjoying the day or each other as the case may be.
I made my way around to the funicular which was like a lift running up the side
of the hill to the old castle tower. Not much evidence remains of the actual
castle but the tower has been restored. There was a great view over the city
from the top. Including the dominating Soviet built TV tower on the skyline –
looked a bit like Prague's one, and Berlin's one too.
Within the tower there were several floors each with small displays relating to
the history of the tower. What moved me was the display about 1989. In that
year, as a mark of defiance against the Soviet occupiers, the people of
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed a long continuous line between Vilnius and
Tallinn. Just a line of people holding hands running for over 600kms. So many
peopl;e turned up to take part that Vilnius had its first ever traffic
blockage. People who could not get space in the line form branches. Over one
million people participated. I thought that wss really moving.
They also celebrated the time in 2008 when 30 or more Lithuanian communities
around the world all linked up to sing the national song at the very same time.
So that all around the world the national song was being sung and heard. The
first time any national song has had this happen. They had a DVD going with
clips of the groups joined together to play as a continuous singing of the
O and I had an ice cream 1LTT = about NZ 50cents. I had a ice cream cone but
instead of it being rolled specially, it was there in a tinfoil wrapper from
the factory just like any other ice cream would be in NZ.
Weddings. Yes it's Saturday and wedding day.
Bride being photographed down and old narrow alleyway against a, old s
door with character.
Bride and groom being photographed in a old rundown archway to back yards
behind. I noticed the photographer stood a distance back and used a long lens
which would fore shorten the distance between the bride and groom and the mess
Another wedding turned up to pose in front of a column with an angel on top.
Just as they were carefully posed, an old man shuffled out of the alleyway just
used and walked slowing right through the posed wedding party set up. I think he
could have being making a statement.
This was a very large wedding party with about eight bridesmaids.
Round the corner another party was walking to the column. Along the road a bit
more at the Bridge of Locks the group was posed across the road and the
photographer was getting them ready to do the let's all jump up shot. I
remember a similar photo in St Petersberg. And I am sure I saw another bride or
two during the day. I am sure they were all very happy about the lovely weather
A wander along the street again. Lots of people were out but not as many as I
would have expected for a Saturday evening and certainly, nothing like last
I do feel stiff and have tired feet – oh dear!
I can get the BBC as it has a local FM relay that my mp3 player has located.
Fashion note: Jeans are very popular here for women even though several label
shops have stores here.
Yes today I did get to Copenhagen for all of 35 minutes. So I only saw the
inside of the airport terminal and it is large when you have to hurry from A
Terminal to B. Now I know why you can suddenly see a crowd of people hurrying
in the same direction in a airport like Copenhagen. Their plane has landed late
and they have to connect with one about to depart.
I was up around 5:30am and certainly ahead of the alarm. So I showered and had
my banana and mineral water for a breakfast and headed out the door about
6:20am. I wanted to catch an early tram so that I could get the 6:55am airport
bus. It is a 40 minute ride and although I could have caught one 35 minutes
later I wanted to use that as a backstop in case I missed the first.
Fortunately it was not as cold as I had expected. The landscape was covered in a
mist or fog and so as the tram went along I enjoyed seeing old buildings emerge
as faint shadows and outlines in the distance.
So we reached the central railway station. Like almost every other station I
have been to in Poland, this was build in the grand 19th century castle style
with a tower (and a clock) spires and other 'wedding cake' decorative bits. It
was built in a time when rail was king and so a castle for the king was quite
I did not have to wait that long for the 210 bus and by a communication with the
driver which didn't get far until I said 'plane', then he was on my wave length.
He pointed to a ticket with 3 zyt on and I handed over the money and got the
ticket – not forgetting to slip it into the machine to be date and time
stamped. I knew from several sources that the bus ride would be 40 minutes
which it was almost to the dot. Polish buses can be very reliable at times. On
the way we left the city and drove for a while though a wooded area. Then I
began to see signs pointing to the airport so I could relax knowing that yes
this was the right bus.
Of course I got there early but after 40 minutes or so I checked with LOT Air
if I could check in. They were happy for me to do so, but I noticed the woman
at the counter getting worried and typing more into her computer. Finally she
said to me that I should come back in 10 minutes as there was some doubt about
the flight happening. So I hung around the counter area and suddenly she was
beside ma and telling me to go to the LOT office as they would reroute me. This
was done in the office, I was to fly to Copenhagen and then have a quick
transfer to a Vilnius flight getting in about 40 minutes later than I was
originally scheduled for.
Departure procedures were fairly standard with a cursory glance at my passport,
then boots of, belt off, bracers off to go through the detector and amazingly
my trousers did stay up! I had to open the laptop so that the inspector could
look at the keyboard.
Just one problem though the carrier was to SAS. Now I try to avoid this company
as they make you pay for a snack or meal. LOT would provide snack and
refreshments. To my surprise on the first sector I was actually give a small
water and an even smaller orange juice. But on the second sector SAS was true
to form and sold everything. Now I was feeling the pangs of hunger and needed
to get something. Yes euros would be ok but not Polish. A (nice) filled roll
and beverage came to 11 euro! But when the attendant saw I only had a 10 or a
50, the price was recalculated to 10 euro. Nice but an expensive roll.
On both flights I had a aisle seat in the first row of economy – behind
economy premier which was behind business. There were little notices on the
seat backs to whow where each section finished, The planes were both MD80. This
has two engines at the rear beside the tail and only two seats on each side of
the aisle. It seems very long and pencil like.
Other than this the flights were uneventful. I was able to find an International
Herald Tribune amongst the pile of free newspapers on board. I thought that the
safety briefings were rather lax.
While Gdansk is a small airport mostly it would seem used by Ryan and Wiz and
one were you walk out on the tarmac to the plane steps; Vilnius looked modern
and larger. While we had to go down steps to a bus for a short ride, the
terminal did have air bridges. My bag did come through quickly and there was no
check or forms to fill in or passport inspection. It was get you bag and go
through the door the the outside. Where I found my driver waiting. I had
decided that because of the distance I would have to walk from the normal
airport bus service I would book a guest house organised ride. The walk would
be around 2kms. It took about 30 minutes to drive to the guest house door. I am
staying at Litinterp Guest House ( and also in Kanus next stop on). Here there
are three bedrooms opening onto two bathrooms and a kitchen shelf area with tea
and coffee making facilities. Breakfast is delivered to the room. I have a
single room room and although both other rooms are full tonight, I will have
tomorrow night to myself. Not a large room but adequate and pleasant pine
furniture. The guest house is only perhaps 100 metres from the main tourist
area, so is very central. Everything seems much closer than I had imagined from
looking at maps and at Google Earth before leaving NZ.
So next a chance to wander along the main street and adjoining ones. First
impressions are of a pretty city, not over large but full of large and small
squares and places and other open areas
It was warm, perspiration producing warmth and I was only in a short sleeved
There were crowds out every where enjoying themselves. Out door restaurants were
largely all full as were bar tables. In the parks groups had set up their own
tables to picnic or just sit and enjoy the mild evening temperatures and
sunlight. It all seemed very pleasant. Streets were crowded with groups of
friends, couples and young family groups. Just a nice relaxed happy atmosphere.
I am having trouble connecting to the Internet.The free wifi does not reach my
room and I have to go out into the stairway. I could link into the wifi from
the small hotel across the narrow road if only it was unsecured. So it is
going to to be cut and paste emails and blogs into my browser mail box.
Actually I am having trouble actually logging on in the stairway as the Zebra
website (the provider) seems to have fixed on a mistake I made in putting in
the pass word code and I am having trouble getting it to clear.
Secondly, my mobile is running out of credit and trying to recharge it via
Internet but having trouble checking into Paypay to complete the transaction.
At present I am down to one euro. I used some up phoning the guest house to let
them know about the later arrival. In fact the phone is at the point of only
receiving and not sending texts.
Thursday 20th May 2010
The two memorials were both ones I wanted to visit.
First I made my way to the Solidarity Monument. This celebrates the shipyard
workers who in 1980 went on a strike which challenged the Communist Government
of Poland, but which increasingly gained widespread public support.
The workers produced a list of 21 Demands which really were a challenge to
government but in most cases would not have seemed out of place in many Western
nations. L We became the figurehead of the resistance. Some of the workers were
killed by government forces but in the end the weakening Polish Communist
Government gave in and the way was open for multiparty elections.
At the time the people of Poland were living in a very depressed nation and the
wages were not increasing to meet rising process. Party officials got
privileges which others did not.
This resistance has been described as the Road To Freedom, as it began a
movement which lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communist
governments in Eastern Europe.
As you approach the memorial the road down to it begins with a portion of the
Berlin Wall and a portion of the Gdansk Shipyard wall which Leach Wensla (not
sure about the spelling here)climbed over to join the strikers.
The actual memorial is beside the shipyard gates and consists of three towering
columns each with a large anchor at the top. The columns are constructed out of
metal and it gives the impression of pieces of metal joined together. Near
ground level each column has pictorial plaques which depict moments in the
There was a large anchor at ground level laying across the paving made out of
living yellow flowers. In addition were burning candles and bunches of flowers.
I thought of it as a privilege to visit the memorial as the events happened in
my lifetime and I recall my amazement that workers could challenge a communist
government and be successful.
The next memorial recalled an older event, just weeks before my birth.
When the German Army invaded Poland in 1939, there were a number of points of
determined resistance against the superior German forces. One was a resistance
by a group of Polish Post Office workers. They managed to keep the invaders at
bay for a number of days, but in the end were captured and the Germans executed
the surviving postal workers.
So this was a large stainless steel sculpture with a determent looking woman
being handed a rifle by a dying male solider or worker – I am not sure
exactly which. There were lots of jagged, pointed pieces of steel pointing
Unexpectedly I decided to go down an alleyway to head towards the waterfront. To
my surprise I found a second part of the memorial. Here was a long old brick
wall and along it I noticed a number of small metal rectangles with finger and
hand prints impressed into the metal. At first the meaning escaped me, but then
I imagined a row of people standing facing the wall with their hands raised up
and pressed against the bricks. Then at the very end a small wall at right
angle showed a photo of people lined up against the wall. It was where the
remaining postal workers were executed. I found this an extremely moving moment
to stand and imaging the scene in 1939 and I did feel really sad. I wondered
what and how one group of humans could do this to an equally developed and
cultured group of fellow human beings.
The two museums looked back in the history of Poland.
I suppose the first was one of the things which attracted me to visit Gdansk in
the first place. I wanted to see the great medieval wharf crane that had been
restored following the war. This enclosed structure seems to appear in almost
every photo you see of Gdansk. It was or is, both a crane and a gate to the
city and it also looks like a tower. I have taken several photos of it already
and walked past it. Now today I pay my money and photography fee and visit it.
I had to climb up narrow stairs between floors where displays were mounted
showing the history of the port and a model of how the crane worked. At one
time it was the largest wharf crane in Europe
There were also displays of typical offices and a living room of a wealthy
merchant. Finally I went through a narrow entrance and was able to clamber up
and down a series of narrow and steep stairs beside the crane mechanism.
Essentially it consisted of two large wheels on different levels. Workers stood
inside the cage of the wheel and climbed up the steps, so making the wheel turn
and wind the lifting rope. There was actually a parallel system next to it, so
that two cranes could work at once. This was before the use of block and
It was very interesting to me to be able to closely inspect such an example of
My ticket included a short ferry ride across the narrow harbour to a further
museum complex. The little ferry just traveled back and forth the whole day
working to demand and carrying perhaps twenty five passengers at a maximum, I
I went to the Granary Building which I assume had been a grain store house way
back. Now it houses Maritime Museum which is an extensive coverage of Polish
boating history, especially as it related to the Gdansk area. It was
interesting to follow through the development of local boats from the hollowed
out logs of very long ago. They even had genuine artifacts on display, although
there were lots of scale models and illustrations as well. At first I followed
the English guide sheets for each room carefully but I began to realise how
slowly I was moving through the rooms. So although I took a guide sheet in each
room I began to just refer to it for a particular item of interest to me. It was
a pity that usually reflections from windows tended to spoil my shots.
I did have a all building pass so I could have gone aboard the first Polish
cargo ship built after the war, but I decided that that would be some what of
an over kill.
Earlier coming around from the little ferry my way was blocked by a group of
small children dancing. It was simple but fairly well done. When they finished
I got past the wharf side performance area but on the other side I decided to
stop to watch a couple of teenage girls do a baton twisting performance to the
turn of Star Wars. That was good and I filmed most of it. Later as I was having
coffee in the nearby bar I noticed that the girls were also there with their
with their teacher or parent and some friends. So I went to their table and
offered to play the video back to them. They were wrapped to watch it.
Earlier in the day when moving from one memorial or museum to the next I also
took a quick look in a church or two or three, I visited the Old Town Hall, the
old mill (now a small shopping centre) called back at the covered market for a
French pastry which I thought was a bit too dry.
Now I spend the early evening wandering the main streets with countless others,
enjoying the sun and the mild evening. I was also interested in the way the
light hit and coloured the buildings.
Then with the sun set I headed back to the hostel to pack ready for an early
departure the next day.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Today was a fine day. Somewhat amazing but I did not experience even a drop of
rain. In fact the temperature was set to reach 17C, but at Malbork it must have
cot higher as I peeled off my merino layers and just want around with my fleece
jacket open. In fact it I didn't carry my little video in one of the pockets,
the jacket would have come off as well.
So it was nice to head off to see the castle at Malbork. I caught the first
train to leave the station after I got there. It was an Inter-City and I
decided second class would be ok. In fact the seats were just as well
upholstered as first class on my trip to Gdansk. Then I worked it out. In
second class there are four seats per side of the compartment, but in first
class there are only three seats on the side each with an armrest. The carriage
I got into was non smoking but the couple already in the compartment obviously
had been smoking. However they refrained from a cigarette for my journey. The
husband did play quite loud music on his cell phone though. That was OK as I
sat by the door and had it a little open.
The train didn't stop much so it was a quick trip. Along the way we did cross a
large river and the bridge continued across a wide area of pasture which must
be a flood plain. Next to us was a road bridge with castle like towers at
different points and a construction where the side was like a metal trellis
boxing in the roadway. Quite unusual I thought.
Suddenly as we approached another river, I spied the castle and it did look like
I was going to enjoy seeing around it.It was large and looked very smart in its
red brick construction. Then we had passed it and were drawing into the
station. The walk back took me through the main street of Malbork, which turned
out to be pretty, modern looking small town, complete with a large MacDonalds.
That feature is most likely a result of the half million visitors which the
castle gets every year. Potentially a lot of hamburger sales in that many
The walk from the station was just a easy 20 minute stroll and the route just
fell into place, it was pretty obvious which way the castle was as you could
usually see one tower.
So consulting my leaflets and guidebooks here is a quick background to the
Construction started around 1274 or 1276 depending on which source you read. It
was built by the Teutonic Knights, who had been crusading in the Holyland
during the Third Crusade around 1190. At first they just did medical work and
ran a hospital but in time they became a monastic order and then brother
knights fighting the holy war against pagans.Back from the Holyland they
established in Poland and began a war against pagans, espanding their control
of quite a vast area.
With Malbork their headquarters they became a very rich and powerfull kingdom
under the order's Grand Masters. They built factories for bricks works, wood
mills, glass works black smithing workshops and other industries. This built up
the kingdom's economy and during the 14th century I read that they were the only
European country not in debt. They helped civilize their territory.
But in the end other kings got jealous and feared the power of the Order and
their power ended in one of the greatest battles (15th century) of the medieval
times. The result was the Grand Master becoming a subject of the Polish king. It
included the 13 Year War – which I can not find the date for.
So what I saw today was the castle as it was when finally finished around 1500.
Of course this is not the actual building as more that 50% was destroyed during
the German and Russian Armies battles in WW2. That it has been mostly rebuilt
and restored is an amazing achievement. I did go into the castle church which
is till very scared and un restored, although work is going on slowly. It did
give an idea of what the rest of the buildings may have been like at the end of
the war – those still standing of course. I did also see a small chapel below
the main church which needed repair as well. It also interested me that the
main restoration of the castle took place under Communist rule. I wonder why
they would put so much effort into that when so many other things needed to be
met. This was being restored at the same time as they were working on rebuiding
towns and cities.
During WW2 the castle was Stalag 20, where 20,000 prisoners were held. Even with
the size of the castle and it covers 21 hectares, it would have been crowded.
Mostly today I just saw lots of large halls with curved arches holding up the
high ceilings. Some fresco and murals on the walls. Also painted decorative
designs which I thought of as wallpaper substitute. But not really much of any
of the art work. I did go into a couple floors of weapons and armour. Most I
have seen before elsewhere but some still looks really scary stuff to meet on
the battle field. Some early canon and flintlock pistols as well. I also went
into the kitchen area which was set up with reproductions of the utensils and
cooking facilities of the time. Also a long table set out with typical food of
the time. Later outside the main castle but still inside the walls, I located
the flour mill with samples of pounding and grinding machinery.
There was the toilet tower where several long drops were reconstructed. There
were also smaller toilets around the castle but they all drained out into the
moat. I guess that means the moat would have been quite smelly at times.
The castle was constructed in three sections within the protecting outer walls.
The first area was the Outer Bailey. It was here incidentally that St
Lawrence's Chapel was located. A lot of the needed trades would be done in this
area. Then a second line of defense with the Medium Castle where guests would
stay and the great dinning hall was located. Finally the High Castle which had
its own moat, a draw bridge and portcullis. There were also several massive oak
doors in this gateway as well. Strong defense. This castle had a church,
dormitories, the treasury, toilet tower and was were the highest status guests
As you can see I have learn t a lot about castles.
Because there are lots of visitors which today included adult tour groups and
lots of various aged school groups being guided around, it was often quite
crowded in some spaces. Also the tents of souvenirs in the Outer Bailey area
were all selling swords, bows of various sorts, arrows to suit and shields. The
also had knights armor and costumes, helmets and head rings and ribbons for
girls. Now this was different to the usual run of items you find in souvenir
It cost 25 zty admission and another 35 to take photos and video. So it cost me
50zty to get in and I had to wear a photo sticker so the guards would know I
could take pictures. The price actually included a guide (in a group) but only
in Polish or German as the tourist season wasn't busy enough until July to
provide English language groups – unless you wanted to pay 200 zty for a
I went back on a slower train which stopped more often and did not have nice
comfortable seats. Then again, which it cost me 15.50 zty to go, coming back
was only 11zty.
So back to the hostel by 8:30pm. It had been a full day.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Today has been cold. Actually better expressed as COLD. It was 9C when I went
out and now, at 8pm it is 10C – which happens to be the same as Auckland is
having. I know these thing not because I have a suburb sense of temperature,
but because I have a couple widgets on my computer which give me the local and
the Auckland temperature. Isn't the Internet an amazing system. What ever you
want to know it can find for you. Well, to be honest, most things.
Today I spent wandering around the streets of the Old Town. Very interesting it
was too. Of course, like every city so far, what you see is not usually the
original. It is a post war recreation of what was bombed out by the Germans and
the Russians. So what looks old is in reality rather new. However, they have
recreated a great copy of what was there originally and most tourists just take
what they see.
There are tourists around. You can tell by the walking groups and by the couples
walking along taking photos just as I was. There are also lots and lots of
student groups primary school upwards, being escorted around the town. There is
lots of excited chatter. Their buses park down near the hostel, so you see them
in double file heading of determinedly in the same direction as I go, but on
the opposite side of the road.
Highlights today included hearing the town hall bells ring out each hour.
Actually they start 3 or 4 minutes prior to the hour with a tune rung out
before the deep sounding hour bell chimes out the time. I thought that the
bells sounded rather good although I have no idea what the tune was they
played. I heard them first last evening on my first wander around.
Second highlight was to wander around the covered market. This was similar to
what I had seen elsewhere except most of the fruit and vegetables were on sale
out side. I bought some bananas
Third highlight was spending time talking to a couple of students who man one of
the amber stalls. Amber is the big item to tempt tourists here. They both knew
were NZ was and that it had fjords and was a nice country. So we chatted as
they had no customers and it was obvious that I wasn't. She works up to 10
hours a day even in winter when it is -15C. Many of the other stalls are closed
them so they hope to get any business that there may be. Her complaint was that
she only got an hour a day to see her son. She had good English and the male
was able to hold and follow conversation well too.
Next highlight was getting back to the hostel where it was warm and my laundry
was done by the helpful hostel staff (male at that). I had a chat in the
kitchen to the staff member on for this shift. He to is a student and is doing
economics. In term time he is able to fit his work hours around the classes so
he likes the job.
I only when into one church today and that was very briefly at the start, just a
block from the hostel as I wanted to see the inside of the stain glass windows.
Gdansk has a series of town gates and towers. Today I have seen several of each
including: Green Gate
Each gate is quite an imposing structure as I suppose it was once part of a wall
going round the city.
Also towers both round and square. I think the round ones look the most
photogenic. So I did take photos. Some of the towers and gates are large enough
to now house museums. There are plenty of museums, that's for sure. Most likely
I will go to one or two before I leave.
In the post office, which I wandered into in case I want to send mail, there
were a series of poster boards set up with photos and text in English and
Polish, telling about the war. Recently apparently Poland issued a couple of
stamps commemorating the attack on the country by Germany. I wonder how the
Germans would react getting a letter in the mail with these stamps on it.
Somewhere in the city there is a memorial to the brave post office workers who
mounted an armed resistance to the German Army from their post office. In the
end they were defeated and most killed, when their food and supplies ran out.
Around the old town, most of the buildings are the same style as I have seen in
the Czech Republic and in most of the places I have stayed in Poland. They just
seem higher here and perhaps with more decoration.
For an early tea I went on board a little ship anchored at the quayside. I had
some halibut and potato pancakes. Then on the way to the hostel I called into a
small store and got a rice and apple pudding - a new discovery – and a yogurt
type desert. Both small. The rice was nice. You expected me to say that if you
know that I like to take tinned rice off camping in NZ.
Well I had intended to head out again, but with the 9C and falling, the hint of
rain and the warmth of the hostel – I have stayed in and got the blog done
early than usual. It is now only 8:45pm and in NZ I guess the grandchildren are
getting ready to go to school and in the UK which is an hour behind me, Robyn
could well be having a late dinner.