Ah, lovely Lithuania.
We trained through Eastern Poland and Western Lithuania. The countryside became less manicured and populated as we travelled east, we started to see lots of cranes, horse, geese, and (of course) cows. Quite a bucolic feel. At the border the passport control soldiers came on, and carefully looked at our passports before stamping them (well, mine at least, Luke has the advantage of a British passport, but personally I like my stamps), occasionally stroking his gun. Ugh, I hate having people with guns around me. People are crazy, I don't like them having the ability to instantly kill me if they choose. Quite unlike the Polish passport guard, who got bored halfway through our cabin, and forgot to check my passport at all (no Polish stamp).
Further into Lithuania we started to see some of the ex-soviet heavy industry, including the nuclear power plant sister to that in Chernobyl. A stop over in the middle of nowhere (well, the middle of Lithuania, I guess) then off the quirky Vilnius.
And quirky was the right word for it. It had its charm, with beautiful buildings and churches, but nothing like Prague, Krakow or Warsaw. The buildings were not restored to the same level, but it had a very festive atmosphere to it. Luke and I sat down and had a few beers and a pizza (Luke still hasn't managed to find anything other than chips or pizza to eat in Europe, my pizza was a "vegetable pizza", which unlike my one in Prague did not have cucumber on), then just people-watched. Luke was happy to note that the girls were even prettier than in Poland, which I could hardly dispute with their beautiful long legs. Cultural difference was interesting - we almost never saw two Lithuanian girls walking around together without holding hands. I think it is lovely, physical contact enhances friendship, and it is pleasant to walk around holding hands with friends, and sad that you can only do this with a partner in most cultures.
Our second day in Vilnius started with an exit of Lithuania, and a visit to the Independent Republic of Uzupias. In Vilnius, after they achieved independence finally from the Prussians, Russians, Germans and Russians (again), a small group of idealistic artists declared their suburb Uzupias (in the bend in the River Vilnele) to be an Independent Republic. They have their own passport control (but we didn't see them, maybe they couldn't be bothered that day, hey Poland didn't try hard either) and own constitution, and Luke and I loved it.
We criss-crossed the Republic several times, and had breakfast in its only restaurant (mmm... omlette). The Republic was full of crumbling old buildings, lovely statues (such as the Angel of Uzupias in the middle, and a mermaid in the small river that surrounds it) and paintings. Their constitution is engraved on metal plaques in French, English and Lithuanian. While reading the constitution Luke was hit by a van, but it was only a nudge.
This is their constitution:
1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele has the right to flow by everyone.
2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
6. Everyone has the right to love.
7. Everyone has the right to not be loved, but not necessarily.
8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
9. Everyone has the right to idle.
10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
20. No one has the right to violence.
21 16. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
23. Everyone has the right to understand.
24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
27. Everyone shall remember their name.
28. Everyone may share what they possess.
29. No one may share what they do not possess.
30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
31. Everyone may be independent.
32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
33. Everyone has the right to cry.
34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
36. Everyone has the right to be an individual.
37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
38. Everyone has the right to not be afraid.
39. Do not defeat.
40. Do not fight back.
41. Do not surrender.
After leaving Uzupias to return to Vilnius, Luke and I visited the Museum to Genocide Victims, which is in the old KGB/NKVD headquarters. The Lithuanians never really had a good time since the downfall of the Lithuanian empire, with the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact in 1940 sealing their doom. The agreement between the Nazis and the Soviets allowed Stalin to invade Lithuania and rule it, killing or deporting 40 000 Lithuanians. When the Nazis broke the pact and invaded Lithuania, they were much worse, killing 300 000 in concentration camps (including wiping out the Jews) between 1941-44. The Soviet recapture heralded a wave of retribution killings for "collaborating" with the Nazis (and paranoid Stalin random killing), with 200 000 killed or deported to Siberia. This wave of terror was started by Iron Felix, and run by the KGB/NKVD where the museum now is. It was interesting to see a painting of Iron Felix, about whom I have read so much but never seen a picture, and to tour the old Soviet prisons. We saw the room of water torture, which has a small platform in the middle of the room surrounded by ice-cold water, where the prisoners had to balance on the platform for days, or stand/sleep in ice-cold water and freeze to death. There was also a padded room for prisoners that went insane after torture, and there were pictures of the Lithuanian partisans who resisted the Soviets. So sad to think that only in 1990 did Lithuania finally become independent.
Afterwards for some lighter viewing we visited the world's only statue to Frank Zappa. We walked around Katedros aikete (the Cathedral Square) and visited the Vilnius Cathedral. We looked for the stebuklas (miracle tile, if you spin around it your wishes come true), but couldn't find it. We walked through the Old Town, and looked at the old Baroque churches, and St Anne's church (in gothic style). It was nice, but I'm not quite sure why Napoleon picked that one to say he wished he could take it home in the palm of his hand. We walked up to Gedimino Tower, the only remaining tower of the High Castle of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and visited the Higher Castle Museum.
It was sad to see that Lithuania has no "bankomats", preferring to call them ATMs.
Come evening, we sat in the Old Town to drink some pear cider (very easy to drink, nice and smooth, a little bit sweet), then wandered off to view the Red Army vistory statues on the Green Bridge (the only Soviet statues that weren't pulled down, because everyone says they look nice). Another few ciders, and then a beer wagon rode past (a mobile bar with eight people cycling and drinking beer, one working the keg and drinking beer, and one steering and drinking beer. Must be tough on the cobblestones), so we took that as a sign and went to drink in Uzupias. We had beer glasses that held a litre each (just as well, nothing keep you warm like a few litres of beer), and looked at the menu. My favourites were "rings of Squids" which sounds like a bad sci-fi movie, but I choose some type of vegetable bake. We then ordered this little wooden tray which came out with six double shots of various liquors. As we were sitting in the only bar in Uzupias, which overhangs the river, a kyaker shot past. Vilnius is a very peculiar city indeed.