Final Morning

I thought I had already finished this blog,

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but then we took an early walk this morning, our last morning in Vilnius, and there were the balloons again, over the Town Hall square,

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near one of the Russian churches, and floating down Pilies gatve (castle street).

We’ve seen them many mornings and evenings, but it was special to see them one more time.

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The Town Hall was looking especially fine in the morning light.

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Nic and Edita, and the congregation, had given us three souvenir prints, and it was fun to take photos of the same scenes. And we had the streets almost to ourselves.

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One more newly-discovered courtyard, a view of part of the presidential palace, to the right, along with Vilnius University towers,

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and finally our own boulevard and fountain, with an early biker riding by.

Our carefully-planned croissant breakfast was almost ruined when we found our usual bakery closed – due to some sort of technical difficulty – but we knew a coffee shop that featured the same bakery’s goods, so the morning was saved!

Eggs and croissants, final packing and weighing, a call for a taxi about noon, and we’ll be off to Warsaw and Chicago.

Thank you, Vilnius, and the International Church. It’s been a great two months.

And thanks, faithful readers, for sharing this little blog project. It’s been fun!

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Church and Neighborhood

We’ve been here for the past two months so that the International Church pastor, and his wife, could take some vacation.

As we mentioned back in our winter blog, our church host is a very old Lutheran building and congregation – 1555!IMG_2546IMG_2545

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Our congregation rents worship space from the Lutherans

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and also a small top floor studio apartment – which, with the skylights, has been surprisingly cool and breezy, even in the hot weather we’ve had.

During Soviet times – before independence in 1991 – the Lutheran sanctuary was turned into a two-story building with storage on the ground floor and a basketball court above.

IMG_2532This is an old photo showing the pillars that had supported the basketball court, in the midst of the renovation of the church. Note that all the sculptures around the altar are missing –

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and here they have been restored.

Especially in the summer our congregation has been pretty small, with many people gone home or on vacation.

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But there are almost always a few visitors who worship with us and join us for coffee hour – this last Sunday people joined us from Poland, Germany, a campus pastor from U. Mass.Lowell, and some young men from The Netherlands who were on a camping trip. You never know who will show up.

We’ve had fun investigating the neighborhood around the church.

The church is in the center of a jumble of buildings –

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In the right photo, top floor left, is our apartment, with a cracked wall looming over it.

Behind us –

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from time to time some men are working on the top floor of a neighboring building. It will be quite striking when it’s finished, possibly matching the other side of the building,

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here viewed from the street behind our church jumble.

And here is the view of our glass “lobby” from behind our apartment building.

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It’s amazing to wander through the alleys and courtyards immediately around us –

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this is what’s directly behind our kitchen and bathroom, on the other side of the wall.

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And this is a view from another direction, with a restaurant sharing space with the church and with our “independent senior living” building.

I guess that even if we took you on a walking tour with us, it would still be confusing, because it still is confusing to us!

But we’re grateful that the neighborhood has not been subjected to modern leveling and starting over. That would be a shame.   The way it is, you can at least get an idea of the “medieval” atmosphere of the old city – few straight alleys or uncracked walls, low archways leading into surprising courtyards, piles of rubbish and then an unexpected garden.

Liz loves leading us on what we call our “alley walks.” She enjoys the surprises, and so do I. And that’s why it’s hard to imagine we won’t be off on another adventure someday, maybe sooner rather than later.

The Hill of Crosses

We’ve shown you photos of the Hill of Three Crosses, here in Vilnius, up behind the fort.

But on our way back from Riga, a few weeks ago, we wandered around and finally found the Hill of Crosses, a couple hours drive northwest of Vilnius.

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For centuries crosses have been a Lithuanian folk art, often carved from the sacred oak, found on hill tops and along the roads, and then eventually blessed, co-opted, by Christian missionaries.

There are legends about the origin of the hill itself, one being that it was built up in three days and nights by the families of warriors killed in a great battle. Or that it was the work of a father who sought healing for his sick daughter.

It is said that crosses began appearing here in the 14th century, and multiplied in succeeding centuries after uprisings against occupying forces, a growing symbol of suffering and hope.

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In the Soviet era planting a cross here was a crime, but the crosses kept coming in the wake of deportations and killings. The hill was bulldozed at least three times.

In 1961 the Red Army destroyed the more than 2000 crosses that stood on the hill at that time, but, literally overnight, new crosses appeared.

in 1972, after the self-immolation by a student in the city of Kaunas, protesting Soviet occupation, the crosses were destroyed again as authorities sought to eliminate opportunities for anti-Soviet activities.

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But the crosses appeared again, and by 1990, by rough count, there were more than 40,000 of them spilling over one hill and up the side of the next one.

And since independence, in 1991, the number has grown to a half million or more, with new ones added virtually every day.

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In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses. You can see the shelter where he celebrated mass. And later a cross was added to commemorate his visit.

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Recently, elaborate stations of the cross have been erected,

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at least one of them also hosting a nest.

Large and small,

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elaborate and simple,

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piled up by the thousands, they testify to faith, to nationalism, to loss, to hope.

(Thanks to “Lonely Planet” for some of this information.)

The Bells Toll for a Bridge

A cloudy and cool Saturday today, good for walking and climbing.

IMG_2514Back in 2012-2013, our winter in Vilnius, the bell tower in front of the cathedral had been closed for improvements, but now it’s open and we have no excuse not to climb it. Besides, it’s half-price for seniors. You just have to sign a paper that you won’t die on the way up, or jump. True.

IMG_2513Here is a senior lady starting her climb. The first sets of steps were well-worn stone,

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and then they turned to well-smoothed wood.

The bell tower was formerly one of the towers of the old fort, converted to bell-duty when the perimeter fort was destroyed.

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It was fascinating to climb among the bells and the old massive scaffolding. And a bell only struck once, tolling the quarter-hour. It was enough of a shock – an on-the-hour serenade would have been pretty bad.

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Good views across the roof of the cathedral toward the old upper fort and, beyond, the hill of three crosses.

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Looking down at the statue of Grand Duke Gediminas

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and the city of Vilnius.

Jumping back a couple of days –

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Liz took me to meet the Easter Egg Lady, whom Liz had visited before. Liz has had a couple lessons now,

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so I expect one day to see some works of art like these.

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The egg lady also offers these Palm Sunday creations. I don’t know anything about them, but they’re amazing.

Now from the bells to the bridge.

The statues are gone from the Green Bridge. I showed the statues to you back in my winter edition –

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four sets of statues at the four corners of the Green Bridge over the Neris river. The bridge and statues dated from the 1950s. The two artists were Lithuanian but the style is clearly Socialist Realism, like a lot of the public art that you would see in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. I think there had been tension about the statues – artistic and historical value versus the uncomfortable link with the Soviet years.

They were still in place last week, but a couple days ago they disappeared, leaving empty pedestals.

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And today we found that flower pots have arrived to fill the void.

The plaque below the statues had declared that the Green Bridge was the only bridge in Lithuania decorated with this kind of sculpture, and that they were to be protected as “objects of their cultural heritage.”

But now they are gone. I can understand it – as one who lived for three years in the midst of Moscow socialist realism on every corner, I can appreciate that it brings back a history and a cultural environment you’d like to forget.

Still, I did like them.

A happier note to end with –

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my lunch – a Vilnius “happy meal.” (A cheese and mushroom pirozhok or pirog – I guess there are many names – all of them delicious.)

Journey to the Center of the Continent

Here it is –

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the geographic center of Europe.

We journeyed there, about 10 miles northeast of Vilnius, by bus and by minibus a couple days ago. There was none of the excitement of “which bus? when?” this time. Everything was well-researched and went on schedule. We are becoming Lithuanian.

(For one more week.)

Actually there are several “centers” of Europe; at least two are in Lithuania. It depends on how and who is defining “Europe.” But I imagine Lithuanians will stick to this one for a while,

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since, under the leadership of artist Gintaras Karosas, they have, since 1991, been  building and expanding a “museum of the center of Europe.” It’s about 135 acres of forest and meadows, and would be a pleasant destination just in itself, without the art.

Some samples:

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“Wall” and “Culture”, both by Karosas.

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“Drinking Structure with Exposed Kidney Pool” and “Chair-Pool”, both by American Dennis Oppenheim.

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“Sitting Policeman” by Lithuanian Evaldus Pauza, and “sitting wife” by Liz.

She was waiting for me to catch up to her so we could have coffee at the little cafe terrace in the apple orchard.

A few more:

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“Pinnochio” and “With Moustaches”, both by Evaldus Pauza.

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“Woman Looking at the Moon” by Mexican artist Javier Cruz.

Some of Liz’ favorites –

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“Space of Unknown Growth” by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.

And Liz also especially liked these

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woodpiles, which are not just woodpiles, of course, but art: “Continuously Changing” by Karosas.

The most famous of the art installations is “LNK Infotree,” by the park’s founder, Karosas.  At present it looks like this:

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Walls of thousands of old TVs, with Lenin lying, struck down, before them.

Originally, it looked more like this –

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long, snaking corridors of TVs covered in plastic, and Lenin when he still had a hand and a head.

This remembrance of Soviet propaganda started crumbling not so long after it was installed, ironically, and what is left now are pathways of pipe

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showing where the TV walls used to be.

Walking between those walls would have been a sickening reminder of those blasts of propaganda,and even what little remains gives you a sense of today’s invading, brutalizing power of TV, internet, etc. The screens are different sizes, but they all drain your spirit.

Here I am, my spirit uplifted,

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standing between the pillars of Karosas’ “The Place.”

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These are the “Ancients” by American Blane De St. Croix.

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A pair of plastic people prone in pink polka dots – “Bye-Byes” by Lithuanian Donatas Jankauskas –

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and a “European Kayagum” by Korean artist Ko Seung-hyun. Check out various you-tube kayagum tunes.

Strange, funny, puzzling, challenging. Something for everyone.

All they’re lacking is that big muskie from Hayward, Wisconsin. It would be perfect.

 

 

 

The Best-laid Schemes

About a week after the big Baltic trip we jumped into a busy weekend, the culmination of which was

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Salzburg!

Eleven glorious days of reunion and nostalgia – four years since our last visit. (We lived there for three years, from 2006 to 2009, when I was part-time pastor of the Salzburg International Christian Church. And we had gone back for a visit in 2011.)

The day before our trip I officiated at a wedding at our International Church. It was fun – the bride was Lithuanian,

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and the groom was from Scotland. All the men in their kilts. Very fine. The bride’s a petroleum scientist doing post-doctoral research in Aberdeen. She’s been in Scotland for a while, and her English is authentic Glaswegian (Glasgow dialect).

This Scots atmosphere leads me to my theme – “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley” (Robert Burns), and indeed they did go seriously agley.

For three days before the wedding I hadn’t been able to eat anything or keep anything inside. Some pills got me through the wedding and worship the next day, and through the Salzburg flight, but then, at our friends Gabi and Thomas’ home in the mountain village of Lofer, south of Salzburg, whatever I had been fighting definitely got the upper hand.

Finally, on Tuesday, Liz persuaded me to go to the doctor in Lofer. I left the doctor’s office on a stretcher, and soon the ambulance had me at the area hospital in St. Johann-in-Tirol, 20 miles away. Lots of tests agreed with the first diagnosis of an acute gall bladder infection. So, surgery on Wednesday, a little bit of food on Thursday, more food and dismissal on Friday, feeling EXCELLENT! Liz said she knew I was feeling better when I proclaimed on Thursday that the pureed zucchini was some of the best food I’d ever tasted. I couldn’t have looked pureed anything in the eye a couple of days before.

We “mice an’ men” had planned a dozen hikes and bike rides for this Austrian vacation, and suddenly the height of excitement was –

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a lounging chair, a small table, and a cold glass of hollanderbluten (a popular, harmless drink made from the blossoms of a bush). The front lawn of the Birkenhof was the only Matterhorn that mattered.

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The peak I was gazing at was just for decoration this trip. Being alive and not sick was thrilling enough.

So it was educational. Maybe a lesson – enjoying the day and the moment – was learned.

But eventually I did get out of the lounger and moved to a bench along the Lofer Bach –

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I talked to local residents –

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seeking their secrets of relaxation.

Eventually Liz let me get off the bench and out of the lounger and we took walks through the delightful main street of Lofer –

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and to church on Sunday.

To help me gain strength

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Gabi made me a plate of Kaiserschmarren – see, I am getting stronger by the minute!

We made the trek, by car, up to a mountain alm gasthof, where the farmer is also the server, and his son is the cook.

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Finally, six days after surgery, Gabi and Thomas took us on a day trip to Bad Ischl, about an hour and a half drive past Salzburg into the Salzkammergut – the area of lakes and mountains that in most minds summarizes Austria. Bad Ischl was the summer residence of the Vienna court in the 19th century, and it still thinks of itself as quite imperial and elegant – elegant and charming it certainly is. It hasn’t quite noticed yet that the empire has struck out.

We started out along the River Traun at Cafe Zauner

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the traditional coffees with accompanying glasses of water, a spoon poised on the rim, with strudel, etc. (Remember, I’m still trying to regain my strength.)

Then a few steps to the riverside gardens

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where Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elizabeth still tend their imperial flowers beds and lawns.

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Strategically placed loungers kept us from collapse – it was hot!

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We walked a few streets – on the shady side – and enjoyed the coolness of St. Nicholas Church where Anton Bruckner was organist for many years.

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We crossed the Ischl River to the Villa Kaiser, Franz Joseph’s summer home and hunting lodge,

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enjoying more flowers,

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a strange mirrored gazebo,

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a rose garden, and ice cream for lunch (still re-gaining strength!).

Mid-afternoon Gabi and Thomas drove us to Salzburg where we spent the last two nights of our Austrian vacation at the Villa Trapp –

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the “real” home of Captain von Trapp, Maria, and the children from 1924 to 1938.

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Why, there’s Fraulein Maria herself up in her attic bedroom!

We had decided to try to get a place in Salzburg for the last couple nights of our stay. When I got sick, we had cancelled our earlier reservations and accepted Gabi and Thomas’ invitation just to stay with them. So it was a bit miraculous that Thomas found us two nights anywhere in the city, let alone at Villa Trapp. (You DO know, don’t you, that Liz was the Fraulein herself for four summers of bike tours!) Even more miraculous was that the Villa honored our reservation in the midst of a snafu in which booking.com booked 168 people into the Villa’s 17 rooms. Lots of disappointed customers – but we were lucky, somehow.

We tried not to do too much. A walk along the river

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and through the gardens, meeting a few friends, drinking a couple familiar biers,

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testing my limits with a couple wurst (note the artistic curls at the ends),

and marveling at the changes to our old neighborhood –

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several blocks across from our old apartment building are completely new.

We also enjoyed exploring the Villa Trapp –

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our room used to be Eleonore’s (the movie names were made up and were not the children’s real names).

The staircase and living room –

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the back of the house –

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and the breakfast room.IMG_2388IMG_2392

 

Salzburg was fun, as always, and Villa Trapp was a special treat.

But the lasting memory from this journey that went “agley” is the generous kindness of loving friends –IMG_2299

Thomas and Gabi – who happily let their own plans go “agley” so that we had everything we needed.

 

Heading Back South

We had skipped Riga on our way north from Vilnius to Tallinn, so now it was time to head south.

As I had mentioned, the hotel clerk said the parking turned out to be “no charge,” so, before someone corrected that error, we jumped in the VW Golf and headed out of town.

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More storks along the way. Lots of them scouting for breakfast in the hay fields and along the roads.

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We stopped again to enjoy the Baltic coast along the Gulf of Riga. Good walking, and very nice shallow pools for the kids.

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And a very handsome, rustic toilet available at the path to the beach.

With help from paper maps and the phone app Liz got us to our hotel, in an area of the city about a 15 minute walk from the old town.

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Our first walk that afternoon took us past lots of buildings in the process of renovation. Here you see the plastic facade put up to shelter the work and to preview the final product. It seemed that Riga had quite a long way to go to catch up with Tallinn. (And my opinion is that Vilnius is still farther behind. Of course, the blocks across from the church compound where we live was the old Jewish ghetto, and at the end of World War II it was just acres of blasted masonry and heaps of bricks. So it’s no wonder there’s work to be done. And I suspect not so much work, at least good quality work, was done before the Soviet regime left.)

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We walked through a park and over the canal – formerly the moat –

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and, at the edge of the old city, the Freedom Monument. It was built in 1935, in an inter-war period of Latvian independence, replacing a statue of Russia’s Peter the Great.  (The inscription says “For Fatherland and Freedom.”) The monument was the focal point of the Latvian independence movement, which started on June 14, 1987, when 5000 illegal demonstrators gathered to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s deportations. And the Freedom Monument was an important link in the 2 million person chain

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which stretched almost 400 miles from Vilnius through Riga to Tallinn on August 23, 1989, remembering the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and demanding an end to foreign occupation.

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In Riga’s old city, the medieval powder tower and an interesting rebuilding of part of the old wall – perhaps you can see that it is just hanging in space.

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Past the old soldiers’ barracks and through the Swedish Gate, the oldest gate in the city.

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We had supper at this outdoor cafe – a pleasant place on a quiet street.

With non-smoking tables. Nice.

Except at our table I was SMOLDERING – because what these twenty-something diners would do was get up from their tables and walk around just to the other side of the flower box barrier and light up! They were only 2 feet away! At least a half-dozen cigarettes going at one time! Every 10 minutes – another light-up time!

Liz kept me calm and there was no international incident.

But it just was so ludicrous! Non-smoking??

Moving on. . .

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The next morning, after a nice hotel breakfast, we headed for the Jugendstil, or Art-Nouveau, neighborhood. UNESCO says it’s the finest collection of this style in the world.

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And it was amazing. The guidebooks say it is characterized by ornate features such as flowers, monsters, masks, and grotesques. Some examples above and below –

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Most of the buildings on this street were designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the famous Russian film-maker, Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky).  One of the buildings is the birthplace of  philosopher Isaiah Berlin, familiar to readers of the New York Review of Books.

And one more –

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I’m sort of looking. . . sort of not looking.

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From Art-Nouveau past the flower market and the Russian Orthodox church

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back to the old city and its castle (1330) – former headquarters of the Livonian Order, also known as the Teutonic Knights, who rampaged through this part of the world in those days. They suffered a serious defeat by the Russians at the Battle of Lake Peipus (now in Estonia), a film of which was  Alexander Nevsky (mentioned above) by Eisenstein.

Also – the Vansu Bridge over the Daugava River. St. Christopher watches from the shore.

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Three happy couples.

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In the heart of old Riga the former stock exchange (bourse), and, below, a still previous stock exchange, now a museum of art,

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and the so-called Cat House (two sassy felines perched on the towers of the yellow building).

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We had timed our touring so we would be at the “dom” church (founded in the 13th century, and now Lutheran) for the noon organ concert. And we did hear it, though the organist waited for some late-arriving tour groups. The organ is one of the largest in the world. Its organ pipe facade is getting a face lift.

By now you’re probably as sleepy as the guy above. Getting to the end. . .

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We tried outdoor dining again after the concert, and it was fine – no smoldering on my part.

And now it’s time to walk on out of this blog. . .

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wish we had such fine boots. . . but for us just some sneakers, which are getting kind of worn!

Let’s Drive Somewhere

The Estonia/Latvia saga continues –

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Renting a car instead of flying to these places, of course, gives us the option of heading out of town – which we did on our second full day in Estonia. We drove east toward Russia, but not too close. After about an hour we entered Lahemaa National Park, and drove north on one of several peninsulas up to the sea. Beautiful, rocky shoreline, clean shore and water, and almost no one around.

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The park consists of a lot of forest land combined with small villages – usually just a few houses, along with sheds and barns and boathouses.

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We found a campground with a picnic shelter for our lunch, and we walked to a nearby

lighthouse.

 

 

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Soon after lunch, and after exploring another of the peninsulas, we drove back to Tallinn, rested a bit, and then walked away from the old town, declined a buggy ride, and ended up in a lovely park area.

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We enjoyed a late afternoon drink near the gazebo pool,

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and watched the parade go by. (The above photos were Liz’ idea, not mine! A pretty woman? No, I didn’t notice.) But Liz has been struck by the classic, Audrey Hepburn, style of so many young women – simple skirts and dresses, with skinny waists to go with them. (You’ll see some wedding dresses a little bit later – maybe in the next blog.) I have to ask: what do you think of Audrey Hepburn’s escort? I think she has better taste in clothes than in men. (Judge not, Michael. . .)

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Another skirt.

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And exquisite flower beds.

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A little farther into the park we came to a “small” palace built, after victory in the Great Northern War, by Russia’s Peter the Great (6’8″) for his wife Catherine.  In fact, the entire enormous park is called Kadriorg, or Catherine’s Valley. The palace is now an art museum.

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Are these people looking for a contact lens, or four leaf clovers? Are they members of an Estonian cult? No, just yoga people, one of several groups we saw scattered through the park.

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Just beyond Catherine’s palace is another one, more recent but in the old style, that houses the office of the Estonian president. Sort of their White House, though it’s pink.

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Nearby a group of beer drinkers were playing a game with small wooden cylinders. We watched for a while, but could not begin to figure it out. But they were serious.

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I guess Peter promised her a rose garden – and it’s still blooming.

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A couple buildings observed on our walk back to the old town – one well preserved and one in dire need of it.

And that was our second day in Tallinn. Found a cafe for supper – the table that was free was right in the front window, so we had a great view of the dining deck outside and various children entertaining themselves while their parents had dinner. Our fellow diners were, of course, Estonians, but also Finns and Swedes, two groups which visit regularly.

What a great city! And a great Estonian countryside and coastline as well!

To Tallinn

July 6 – the anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas in 1253, Lithuania’s first and only king.

It’s been a while since I posted anything, my excuse being that I’ve been too busy. I need a ghost writer to do the posting while I keep having fun.

(By the way, for some of you who may have just sort of stumbled into this blog and don’t have any idea who this author-dude is – I’m here filling in at the International Church of Vilnius while the pastor is on a U.S. break. And Liz is my wife-cook-laundress-navigator, and the one who really looks at things and says “wow!” I’m usually at least a couple steps behind. But I’m actually working a little bit – it isn’t all just goofing off!) (Right. . .)

A week ago (Sunday duties completed) we rented a car from Sixt and headed north to Latvia and Estonia. (Along with Lithuania the three are known as the Baltic countries. Don’t let anyone tell you they are the Balkans! That’s somewhere to the south: Bulgaria, Romania, etc. Dracula lives there, not here.)

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It’s about 200 miles to Riga, which we skipped for the moment, and then another 200 or so to Tallinn. Perhaps a quarter of the distance is four-lane. Some of the two-lane highway in Latvia was getting some serious improvement, which meant some serious delays along the way. About 2 o’clock we finally had to have some lunch and we happened upon this delightful spot along the road – much-needed refreshment at a very nice old cafe which had a new roof perched over the old one.

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Cold beet soup for Liz. It has become a favorite of hers. And a safer chicken kabob and salad for me. Liz enjoyed a nice local beer and I, the driver, had a diet Coke. (The inebriation limit in Lithuania is 0.04; in Latvia it’s 0.02; and in Estonia it’s 0.00.)

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One of the younger diners at the cafe. Lots of kids in kerchiefs, knitted caps.

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Nearby, as we stretched our legs, was a small farm with a few haystacks and a well bucket on a pole. And what looked to be a very solid former school, now a library and various offices.

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Along the way – storks! (At least we think they’re storks!) We couldn’t tell if the pole had an extra feature to support the nest. Lots of hay was being cut and the birds were enjoying a good harvest of bugs, to be shared with the young ones.

IMG_1746And, speaking of the Baltic countries, we came upon the Baltic Sea, right along the west side of the road.

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Liz, the Lake Michigan expert, had to test the waters – and found that, at least at a depth of six inches, it was warmer than back home.

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She wondered why I was so chicken! (I’m the photographer – I don’t get involved.)

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My very cute traveling companion.

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And finally – Tallinn, capital of Estonia. We parked at a parking garage near the Viru Hotel, on the right, and walked with our suitcase and backpacks through the gates and to our hotel, the Vana Wiru.

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But then we discovered that we could drive to the hotel, via an intricate back alley cobblestone route, and that the fee was much less.  So we retrieved the car. (And actually, at the end of our stay, the very nice young lady at the desk said there was some sort of failure to enter the fee on our bill and so we could just forget about the fee. Worked out very well!)

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And in the hotel lot we were  rubbing fenders (not literally) with a Ferrari. (That’s the engine through the hatch window.) And the next day, a Bentley. Oh yes, we are definitely 1%!

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Since our bargain hotel rate didn’t include breakfast, we had to find coffee somewhere else. The first morning was a bit of a stretch – the only thing that we found open at an early hour was a cafe at a shopping center. But the next two mornings found us at the Reval Cafe (Reval is an old name for Tallinn – so I have heard), with very good coffee and raisin pastry, and Liz even tried their “English breakfast” one morning – two fried eggs, bacon, salad, dry toast.

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Tallinn is a wonder. Its mostly intact wall still encircles most of the old city. Here part of the wall, just close to the hotel, serves as a market for knitted woolens. I bought a stocking cap! (Don’t need it right now.) And the old wall still has 26 remaining red-roofed watch towers.

And, as you can see, it’s right on the water, on the Gulf of Finland, part of the Baltic. Helsinki is only about two and a half hours away by ferry. We considered taking the ferry, but are glad we spent more time right where we were.

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Our first full day in Tallinn we did a lot of walking, even in a few light showers. At one corner of the city walls sits the tower called Paks Margareeta, where we started our walk. Nearby is a ‘broken arch” monument to those lost in the sinking of the “Estonia” ferry in 1994. 852 people died; only 137 survived.

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The many beautiful homes and guild halls testify to the wealth of Tallinn in the days of the Hanseatic League, a German trading association that from about 1250 to 1750 stretched from London to Russia, including Scandinavia and the Baltics.

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Looks like some of those old Hanseatic guys are still walking the cobblestones.

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The Great Guild Hall on the left, and Town Hall and square on the right.

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We hiked up to the upper town, Toompea, which used to be the more “Estonian” part of town, with the Germans and other merchants in the lower, wealthier town. Toompea is home to the parliament, and to a Russian Orthodox church – actually not old at all, built in 1900, when Russia still dominated Estonia and decided to put a Russian symbol right in the middle of the Estonian government center.

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Good views of the lower city and the harbor, with many, many cruise ships stopping to call. Helmets and shoulder pads would have been a good idea at certain times of day – cruise ship tourists don’t really notice anybody else in their rush to see it all in a few hours. (Apologies to you cruise ship lovers!)

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We walked to a green space – green and open because it was bombed to non-existence in 1944, either by the Germans or by the Russians – both deny responsibility. A walk below Toompea’s walls –

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where we found this tribute to Boris Yeltsin. When Gorbachev was overthrown by a coup in 1991, it looked like the Soviet military would take over the Baltics once again, after a short-lived revolt. But then Yeltsin reversed the coup and, in some manner, cancelled the plans to re-invade. (The story is told in different ways in each of the Baltic countries. Certainly in Lithuania there was a serious confrontation and loss of life before the Soviets pulled back.)

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We toasted Tallinn up on the city wall!

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And on Catherine’s alley we had a very nice second-floor supper (glad it wasn’t third floor – note stairway!). Liz had salmon and I had pizza.

And that was just the first day! I’m exhausted!

I’ll go on with the story soon. But I’m ready for a break and I’m sure you are too!