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Tuesday, 01 September 2009

Vilnius: The City of Dark Humor - Page 3

Written by Belinda Hogan
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After a difficult overnight journey across the Baltic Sea, my traveling companion and I finally arrived in Lithuania. The ferry we took got us to our destination in one piece, but it was far from comfortable. Sleeping on the floor of the boat in a room full of drunken men was not the most luxurious experience, but it did serve its purpose. We docked in Klaipeda, a town in north-west Lithuania in one piece with a few marriage proposals to boot. From Klaipeda we caught a bus to Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city and, after a few days of rest, made our way down to Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

A visit to Vilnius in not complete without touring the Museum of Genocide Victims. Housed in an ex-KGB prison in the New Town, known as Naujamiestis, the museum is not for the faint of heart. The prison remains as it was when the KGB left in August 1991. It encompasses the reality of what actually happened to Soviet resisters in Lithuania and neighbouring areas. There were rows of minute, light blue colored stone cells that were used for imprisonment. Inside was a small wooden bench that was just big enough to sit on – I felt claustrophobic just looking at it. One padded cell housed a straightjacket that was used for partisans sentenced to solitary confinement before they were killed in the execution chambers. There were also other parts of the museum that had permanent exhibitions showing the histories of both Soviet and Nazi occupations. At times even brave survivors take tours of their past nightmare.

The occupation of the Baltics and the atrocities that came with it have, without question scarred its people. Despite this, there are parts of Lithuania where its citizens make light of this time period in a darkly humorous way. The Lithuanians found a way to have the last laugh about it all and this is what I loved about its people. I noticed this first hand on a day trip to the Soviet Sculpture Park in Grutas, located in the south. Here, about sixty giant, mostly bronze, statues of Lenin, Stalin, and Kapsukas (the leader of The Lithuanian Communist Party) stand in the large courtyard. The quirkiest statue is one of Lenin and Kapsukas standing in conversation with their heads resting near their feet. Knowing the atrocities these two men carried out on the Baltic nations, this sight to many Lithuanians is poetry in motion. Not all were happy about the construction of this park, however, as parts of the population wanted all remnants of the Soviets destroyed.

Back in Vilnius, I went to a bar called ‘Groks Stacija,’ which had the interior design of a Soviet train -- patrons sit to drink in its carriages. The city also boasts the only statue of Frank Zappa in the world. The idea came from artists of the Uzupis who were lovers of western music during the communist era and Zappa in particular. After much deliberation from local authorites the statue was erected in 1995. Frank’s statue in many ways has become a symbol of freedom in Vilnius. The irony is that the designer is Konstantinas Bogdanas, Lithuania’s most renowned sculptor who was also the artist behind the statues of Lenin and company in Grutas Park. I’d also recommend a visit to Vilnius University both for its architecture and its students who lend to the Bohemian atmosphere of the city.

Vilnius: The City of Dark Humor,  Jerusalem of Lithuania, travel Vilnius, travel Lithuania, Ausros Vartoi, Gates of Dawn, Ausros Vartu Gatve, bohemian and cozy city, Old Vilnius, Lithuania, Museum of Genocide Victims, Belinda HoganLithuania is a country full of mystery and its capital, a city of dark humor. I wrote in my travel diary that Vilnius is like a secret garden and a precious jewel. Although not as popular as Riga or Tallinn, the Latvian and Estonian capitals, respectively, the locale and culture are improving Vilnius’s tourism appeal. My trip was an eye-opening experience I enjoyed every minute of – one I am sure to never forget.

©Belinda Hogan

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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