Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lithuania Adventure, Part 5: Sights Around Vilnius

Erik has been busy working on his research project, attending various meetings over the last few days. The visit has been really productive, and he still has a couple of days to make additional progress. While out and about in Vilnius, he has snapped several photos that are posted below with some comments.

If you can become a regular when visiting a country for just over a week, then Erik has become one at Alaus Namai (above). This microbrew pub is tucked away in the basement of a Soviet-era building along the Neris River. [A side note: when Erik said that it was a microbrew pub, Lea rightly noted that all Lithuanian beer is probably microbrew. But, Alaus Namai features really micro microbrews: beer brewed by families and farmers in the Lithuanian countryside.] Erik's favorite beverage at the moment is a roasted brew with honey; a cloudy, burnt umber, and full flavored drink. He has tried a few others and plans to visit again before his departure.

None of the photos that Erik snapped quite capture the glory of the bronze-domed Orthodox Church of the Apparition of the Holy Mother of God, but this picture gives a taste. Located across the Neris River bridge from the Seimas, it directly opposes the Catholic Cathedral at the other end of Gedimino.

When Erik and Lea visited Lithuania in 2004, they took a day trip to Trakai, a small city just outside of Vilnius. Trakai features an impressive castle on a lake, as well as the main Karaite community of Lithuania. A religious minority that traces its roots to Mesopotamia, the Karaites accept the Old Testament, but not the Talmud (or, so said the sign in front of the Kenessa, pictured above). When we were in Trakai, we were told that Karaite buildings feature three windows on the street side: one for God, one for the prince, and one for the residents. Karaites were "invited" to come and serve as guards for the castle in Trakai from Crimea (the voluntary nature of migration and residence in Lithuania seems to be a matter of dispute). There are now only a few hundred Karaites, and three places of worship: one in Trakai, one in Vilnius, and one in Ukraine.

Another view of Gedimino, from the Seimas looking toward the Cathedral. It is a long, lovely walk that Erik has taken several times.

Along Gedimino is the Museum of Genocide Victims, and a memorial to the fallen is pictured above. Erik and Lea visited the museum in 2004, and it provides a harrowing account of Soviet-era atrocities. The most chilling sections show the cells where victims were held, tortured, and executed.

Erik forgot to post the picture of the statue of Gediminas in the previous entry. Grand Duke Gediminas was a 13th-14th century leader of Lithuania who was baptized into the Catholic Church and allowed Lithuania to be Christianized (whether or not he really wanted this outcome seems to be another matter of dispute).

Yesterday, Erik had a little over one hour before a meeting, and found himself near the National Gallery. The museum is currently featuring an exhibition of Pirosmani, a revered Georgian artist. Pirosmani had no formal training, and painted commercial displays and other work for bread and paint - he was a true outsider artist. He was later discovered and came to be recognized as one of Georgia's greatest painters. This painting perfectly captures Georgian hospitality, and love of food and wine. Erik's upcoming adventure will take him back to Tbilisi several years since his last visit, so this exhibition was something of an "appetizer."

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