October 6, 2008

Vilnius, Lithuania

The train ride from Krakow to Vilnius was spread over fifteen hours and had four connections, of which, after ending up on the wrong side of a dividing train to Krakow, I was careful to ask a lot of questions and pay close attention so that I didn’t wake up in Finland or Belarus and I am proud to report that I handled the somewhat complicated itinerary like a traveler-with-a-clue for once. My connection in Warsaw to Lithuania put me in the good company of Eldora, a sweet and energetic 75 year old grandma, who started up the friendliest conversation with me and we moved through a range of topics without either one of us being able to speak a common language; she spoke to me in Polish and Lithuanian and I answered back in English. Over the course of a few hours I learned that Eldora was a massage therapist who was married at 18, had two children and just as many grandchildren and that she had taken a trip to Poland to study with an alternative medicine doctor visiting from Japan. She also spent a good amount of time teaching me how to say Vilnius (veal-noose) like a local Lithuanian and not like a Russian, which, perhaps because of her age, she did not have the most affectionate feelings towards.
I arrived feeling a bit tired from the self-induced late night schedule of Krakow and this small and relaxed Baltic city is just the place to restore some lost energy. Combined with the maze-like streets of an architecturally ornate Old City was a real feeling of being in the Northeast; there was no trash or cigarette butts on the streets, the air was fresh and cold and I was the darkest person in town. I wrapped myself in the fall season and walked around admiring the contrast of moments of rain mixed with moments of extraordinary light that turned the sky and buildings into a moody painting as the trees shed their brightly colored leaves. The weather wasn’t the only contrast I noticed; they seemed to be woven into the very structure of this city. Like many other destinations in Europe, Vilnius has fallen victim to the generic consumerism of Armani stores and Starbuck-like coffee shops and they always seem to occupy some of the most beautiful and historic looking buildings. I happened upon one of these lovely large Old European buildings, but instead of expensive stores on the ground level, it housed a notorious KGB prison-turned- museum in the basement that held cells of terror during Communist times. The visit to this museum opened my eyes to the huge “frontline” role Lithuania was forced into during WWII and the stories of the midnight roundups to the Gulag, the brutal “interrogations” under Stalin and the Partisans who were preserving their heritage while fighting for freedom in the thick of the forests put as much of a chill in me as the weather outside…..brrrrrr!


Ronnie8 said...

Hi Andrianna!!

Thanks for the lovely summary of Veal-noose, one of my favorite cities (along with Kaunus, also in Lithuania). Yes, the KGB museum is chilling because they give you almost complete access. I remember sitting in one tiny holding cells for 5 minutes and just wanting to scream!

Anyway, I am glad to hear from you and look forward to reading more. Take care, and write soon!

Ron Harvey
Chicago, IL

sand said...

i was just beginning to wonder . . . "where the he** is she?" when I found your e-mail in my spam filter. Welcome to Spam! So, I went to the blog and OMG, you've been on the move. Glad you witnessed the camps. I was just reading about the survivor who stayed in Krakow (was it?.) She wrote the essay "The Hitler Within." I think. Might be getting my story a little twisted but the essence is there. Now, about "Don't ask when I'm coming home." i guess I will ask, "where is home these days?"
xoxoxo Sand


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