9/6/10

Vilnius: Market, Museum & More


Visiting a local market is something I'm fond of doing whenever I travel and this trip to Vilnius gave me that chance once again. A local market - devoid of touristy, kitschy stuff we usually see at tourist spots - is like a window to the soul of a destination. This is where we see, as visitors, what local produce are available and what the locals buy which goes straight to their homes. Besides, it's always exciting to see  and feel that rush of activity as people go about their business: the sellers displaying their goods and the buyers perusing what's on sale.

Clean and orderly market
Fruits and veggies
Meat

On an early start of another day, we passed by Hales Turgus, a local market whose facade seemingly doesn't indicate what's going on inside. But once we entered the main door up through those steps, we got a sense of the mercantile aroma wafting all over the cavernous belly of this old building. One thing I immediately noticed was how clean it was. There were sections for fruits, vegetables and baked goods, sections for meat, sections for clothing and  housewares. It was a wonderful glimpse at how Lithuanians start their day at such an orderly market.

The Town Hall
The Town Hall Square

From the market, we walked into the Old Town part of Vilnius, stopping right at Rotušės aikštė (or Town Hall Square). In the middle of this open space is the 18th-century neoclassical Town Hall, now occupied by local artists instead of politicians, as the building is currently home to the Lithuanian Artists' Center. This is where former US President George Bush famously declared that "anyone who choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America". Sheesh. We sat at the steps and absorbed this grand spectacle of old buildings right before us.

Museum of Genocide Victims,
formerly the KGB Headquarters

We wanted to walk to our next destination but the Museum of Genocide Victims was way out of Old Town and rather than be cooked by the simmering sun, we took our first taxi ride on this trip. The Museum was where I wanted to spend a longer time, to get to know what this building meant as the horror house of the Gestapo (during WWII) and KGB (during Soviet times).

A tiny cell for the church clergy

In Cambodia,  the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a disturbing reminder of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge to their own people so I braced myself to what I was about to see in Vilnius. Entrance fee is 6 lita. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed. My camera merely hanged on my neck but it did not stop me from discreetly breaking the rule (at least twice).

The Basement

There are three floors devoted to exhibits but the most depressing was the basement where the KGB prisons and the execution chamber were located. The cold, lonely cells are now of course empty but going through them felt like ghosts were following as with our every move. I was speechless looking at the execution chamber, wondering how meaningless human life was for the KGB. More than a thousand prisoners met an ugly death as bullets pierced through their skulls. The 'luckier' ones were deported to hard labor camps in Siberia.

The Three Muses

As if to reflect the varying moods I felt in one day, we got amused as we passed by the National Drama Theatre after that depressing but enlightening visit to the genocide museum. Protruding above the theater's entrance are the Three Muses done by Lithuanian sculptor Stanislovas Kuzma. It definitely added drama to the facade.

Cathedral of Vilnius and its freestanding Bell Tower

Further on, we walked until we reached the end of the street and faced the impossibly white Cathedral of Vilnius, a hulking masterpiece in neoclassical architecture. This is Lithuania's most important and historic Roman Catholic church. What used to be a site of pagan worship arose a building in 1251 after the Catholic conversion of Mindaugas, the country's first Grand Duke. Inside its crypts lie the remains of Lithuania's medieval rulers. The remains of St. Casimir, the country's patron saint, lie on its own chapel inside the church.

Inside the Vilnius Cathedral
Candles as offering in one of the cathedral's chapels

In the middle of the Cathedral Square, just next to the cathedral itself, is this monument dedicated to Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania who founded Vilnius in 1323.


Another monument, this time in honor of Mindaugas, Lithuania's first Grand Duke, sits in front of the Lithuanian National Museum. Behind the building is Gediminas Hill with the Gediminas Castle Tower barely visible behind the canopies.

A funicular takes visitors up the hill.
Or alternatively walk through winding steps.

If there's a spot which locals claim the most important, this hilltop fortification has to be it. This is where, as legend has it, the Grand Duke Gediminas dreamt of an iron wolf which inspired him to establish the city. Called the Gediminas Castle Tower, this is what remains of what used to be a more extensive brick fortress. Now a museum, the tower dates back to the 13th century when it was built by the Grand Duke Vytautas.


From the top, there's an expansive view of Vilnius but we actually skipped it, not wanting to pay anymore entrance fees. The view from the base of the tower is still good  nonetheless - even our hotel  is visible in the distance. Which means we have some walking again to do to get back to it.

18 comments:

  1. from market to halls. beautiful from all perspective. who would not want an environment like this.

    i like the town shot. stunningly beautiful!

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  2. I can imagine a painting/sketch of the Three Muses, nice subject. The challenging and exciting part is when we discreetly take photos. Haha.

    The town hall photo represents everything. :)

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  3. Looks quite different from the markets in the Philippines :-0

    It looks like a very clean and nice city.

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  4. what a great day for sightseeing. you definitely made the most of your day.

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  5. You take amazing photos. The colors of the market really pop out.

    http://ficklecattle.blogspot.com/

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  6. the three muses caught my eyes!! and the cathedral church :) nice funicular car... awesome XD

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  7. Dong,
    I wouldn't mind spending longer myself!

    Witsandnuts,
    It's really frustrating when they have rules like that - I can understand when it's a historic relic that's sensitive to flash.

    Sidney,
    it's the cleanliness that's striking!

    Photocache,
    And it was one where my legs really felt sore.

    Fickle Cattle,
    Thanks for dropping by!

    Fufu,
    the sculpture was truly a unique appendage of the facade!

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  8. I particularly like exploring local markets and museums too, true enough, they are the window to the soul of the destination. Meandering through a local market is like peeping into the locals way of life at present whereas museums reveals extraordinary and unique something about the country's past. Though I haven't seen such a clean and orderly market anywhere in SE Asia yet (except those inside the mall), I am hoping we'll have one in the future! :D

    Needless to say, I am almost always awe-struck by museums, but I hvnt seen such a disturbing museum as the museum of genocide victims, I missed the one in Cambodia. Since I am a self-confessed cry baby, I'm pretty sure, it'll make me weep and depressed for sometime. :(

    But then again, that's what makes traveling worthwhile, it's not always about seeing stunning landscapes or powerful cities,but also learning and understanding your destination's history and culture.

    thnx for the virtual tour, as always, your trademark-->impressive captures! keep 'em coming!

    Gael

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  9. The Nomadic Pinoy--yun. that's my point. Blogging is about interaction. But this particular blogger I am referring to is a complete snob. And what amazes me more is that we have met, and we occasionally meet. he seems nice naman. then I suddenly realized that I have followed him eagerly for more than 6 months na. pero skip comment sya lagi sakin. weird diba?

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  10. Gael,
    I think Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh is the cleanest market in South East Asia I've visited. So clean that others thought it lost its "raw authenticity".

    On the other hand, genocide museums do have a tendency to make your tear ducts dry, especially that one in Cambodia. One day, I hope to visit Auschwitz in Poland.

    Pusang Kalye,
    Hmmm...6 months of one way relationship isn't good. Whoever this blogger is, he's probably aware now that you've stopped playing the role of a devoted fan.

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  11. Very nice photos as usual. I guess unlike Estonia, the Scandinavian influence isn't too much in Lithuania. The architecture seems a bit different, but I just cannot put a name on the style.

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  12. iabng klase tong lugar na to. parang yung feeling na nakikita ko yung picture e yung 1st time mo sa place. sure, maraming expat bloggers and when I see their pics parang --ah--nakita ko na yan. ito iba. anu nga pala camera mo? ang linaw.

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  13. Linguist,
    The churches I visited in Vilnius were gothic, baroque and neoclassical. As for the other buildings - I can't really say anything about a predominant influence.

    Pusang Kalye,
    Maraming salamat! Until 2006, gamit ko pa point and shoot, bought a Nikon D70s tapos pinalitan ko ng D80 na ginagamit ko na for more than 2 years. Gusto ko sana D300 kaso wala pa sa budget.

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  14. Weakness ko rin yung mga local markets when I'm travelling, lalo na yung fish markets.

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  15. like you and bert, i also love exploring local markets. will post penang's soon.
    that market above looks like a supermarket. spic and span ha!

    ...there's also funicular here that takes people to penang hill but unfortunately, it's still under repair, i heard.

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  16. the castle tower is so picturesque and i also like the cathedral. great documentation of the place :)

    I also like going to markets because as you said, it showcases the traits and culture of the people.

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  17. I love your photos you must have a great camera. I visited the Gariunia market in Vilnius, it is really where the locals shop and sells everything under the sun. http://tiny.cc/Gariunia

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  18. Excellent Photographs.And amazing Lithuania. If advertised properly about Lithuanian tourist destinations / places etc., in India, I am sure that heavenly Lithuania will be flooded with Indian tourists

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