Category Archives: Travel

Kaunas #3

On the final day of our visit to Kaunas (we would later take the bus to Panevezys), we still had some time left. After coffee, breakfast and conversations it was time to head out.

rumsiskesThe open air museum in Rumšiškės shows a broad range of buildings and dwellings that were normal in the past two centuries in Lithuania. The museum is divided in the four historic regions and a central town. It’s quite a walk, since the parts are hundreds of meters apart. In the houses are some old people seated, who can tell you  a little about the places. Unfortunately most are not too keen to. That is a shame since the information is mostly rather limited.

Fortunately I have some knowledge of historical farm structures and such and I was not the only one in our company.  Quite impressive was the Yurt, a dwelling made in Siberia, where many Lithuanians ended up in past days. There are some more pictures on the wiki page of the town. Interesting fact is that the original town is flooded by an artificial lake. The place is popular for ethnographic parties and celebrations.

Kaunas busstation
Kaunas busstation

From there it was time to go to the bus station and say good bye to our great host. I had a great time exploring Kaunas, which would be a lot harder if it wasn’t for the great guidance. In the bus I finally had time to catch up on some reading on our way to Panevezys, where we were greated with great beers and food.

Kaunas #2

Unfortunately I got a bit sick in the bus from Warsaw to Kaunas, so perhaps we didn’t go see as much as planned on day 2, but it was still a full agenda. I’ve tried to get some pictures of things, but it’s not that much.  Thanks to Doctor L. I was able to see some cool stuff again.

DevilsFirst we headed out to the Devil’s museum. The Lithuanian painter, politician, poet and what not Žmuidzinavičius started collecting Baltic pictures of Devils during his life. Now, I’m always a sucker for the occult, so a collection like this has enough relevance to my demands. The many fascets and deeply rooted place of the devil or demonic figures in the national culture is astonishing. He fulfills the role of bogeyman, helper, trickster, seducer and ofcourse the master of hell. Technically he replaced the traditional pagan spirits and sprites. On the picture we see two devils that are still very relevant to the country.

From there we continued to the War museum, bringing a long history all the way from pagan times of the Lithuanian military. Unfortunately the staff was not very friendly and many items missed some actual explanation. Wether it was the portraits of king and archdukes (Lithuania had only one king), or the room filled with guns. The English audioguide also sends you of into the museum on a wild goose hunt for the different items. Lot to be done for this museum to get a bit better.

source: Wikipedia

Interesting was the part of the exposition, concerning the Lituanica. An airplane that was supposed to fly across the ocean but crashed 650km from Kaunas in mysterieous circumstances. It has become an important part of Lithuanian history. The 10 lita banknote actually has the airplane and the faces of the pilots printed on it.

9thfort
The monument at the 9th fort.

The final destination of the day was the ‘Ninth Fort’. Part of a defensive ring build around Kaunas by the Russians, it served as a fort, a prison and finally as a place to herd unwanted elements  of society towards. Many people lost their lives in this fort, but also heroic things happened, like the escape of 64 prisoners who were selected to burn corpses of other victims of the regime. The museum consists of an exposition about the turbulent times outside the fort, inside the fort and a guided tour through the tunnels. To me that was the most exciting part of the tour, because I’ve seen quite some occupation museums and they start breaking down your feeling for it.

kaunasbeerAfterwards there was time for rest, food and beers with the family. It rarely feels as well deserved.

Kaunas #1

After what can only be described as an unpleasant bus ride overnight, we crossed the border into Lithuania. Our destination was Kaunas where we would be staying with my girlfriends brother. I’ve previously only been to Kaunas busstation, which is not a place where you wish to find yourself any time soon, so I had an obligation to fulfill to this city I think.

Memorial in Kaunas
Memorial in Kaunas

The bus ride was interesting and very, very slow. I spend most of the ride reading or listening to books if I wasn’t trying to in some clumsy way find a position to sleep in. Around 5.00 in the morning we did arive to a sleepy city. We were picked up by car and went towards the appartment to get some hard needed sleep. Around noon we picked up some breakfast, meaning egg, sausage, bread and coffee. From there we continued our trip by climbing to the top of a church in Kaunas, which served as a radio factory in Soviet times. Hey, atleast it was still sending signals up in the sky, right? From there we could see the whole city, from the oldest buildings around the ‘Boulevard of Liberty’ to the brand new Zalgiris basketball stadium (the most famous club from Lithuania).

'Funny'culair railway of Kaunas
‘Funny’culair railway of Kaunas

From there on we took the funiculair railway down hill (yes, thats the word).  Apparently this thing works forever and barely needs any maintenance. Below one finds the square on wich the war museum borders. There are various busts and symbols, with an eternal flame in memory of the independence struggle. According to populair legend, under the square lie the remains of one of the people that signed over Lithuania to the Soviet Union around 1940. The name elludes me, but the woman in question is considered the traitor of the nation due to it. The memorial itself is not pompous or grand in any way, it has the sober typicality of the Lithuanian nation to it, which makes it as impressive as it actually is. I put the picture up a bit higher.

The presidential palace when Kaunas was the capital
The presidential palace when Kaunas was the capital

One of the great sores in Kaunas is the fact that it used to be the Capital city of Lithuania. This was changed when the nation got the city of Vilnius back, which was it’s historic centre of rule. For a brief period Kaunas experienced growth and prowess due to its state as capital and afterwards it was easily forgotten. That is how the people feel about it and this is almost tangible in the atmosphere of the city. Similar graffiti concerning this can be found all over the city.  That being said, the heart of the city is very beautifull and has it’s own sober identity, very distinct from Vilnius or Klaipeda (one much more Polish, the other German).

House of Thunder
House of Thunder

We continued all the way to the ‘House Of Thunder’, past the great market where the municipality hall is and various nice bars and restaurants. This house is famous for the rumoured pagan rituals that took place here. The indigenous religion had a few deities, of which one was the god of thunder, who was on equal footing with the supreme god. Perkunas was his name and apparently he was revered in secret here. Hence the name.

From there we crossed the bridge and climbed the hill to the district Aleksotas and overlooked the city, which looked much prettier from here. A bit run down, but still proud.

Then we had to go, because Aleksotas is not a happy place and people get shot there for no real reason. Living on the edge, you know! It was great seeing so much in one walk of this city. We continued past the old castle, where according to legend an army got missing and is waiting for the day Kaunas needs it again. I’m very grateful to our guide, who told us more than we could ever have figured out ourselves.

Warsaw #3

Today I’m blogging a bit from Warsaw again. At this moment still at the busstation of the Polish capital but our bus is departing as I type. Ecolines is kind enough to offer wifi on the vehicle, which provides me with the oppertunity to write. Yay!

Today we started out fresh and fruity early in the morning with a walk to the University library. The cool thing is that it has a rooftop garden, that you basically walk onto from street level up. It’s not a small one, like we have at home. This is the real deal. The library looked empty, but that had the simple reason that it was closed as a security guard (probably) tried to tell us. From here on, we walked across the bridge to another part of Warsaw called Praga (so no, not actually Prague).

Praga, gritty, grimy but full of soul
Praga, gritty, grimy but full of soul

Praga has an industrial and commercial past, which made it important for Warsaw. However, it was also the part of town where you dropped your dissidents, former criminals, homosexuals (I’m not sure about that, but the gay community resides here mainly according to our guide) and artists. Now, I already mentioned a guide, which has a simple reason. We walked to Praga without a clue where we would end up. As it happens, one of the free guided tours showed up right in front of us, so we followed it. The guide Agatha clearly had a soft spot for the ‘bad side’ of Warsaw. Like most things in Warsaw, there are many projects to improve this part of town. Not only by renovating, it, but also social projects aimed at kids and old timers. There is even a 75 year old DJ Wika, who spins records on the radio now thanks to the DJ courses. Pretty wicked huh? There’s so much you can do if you aren’t looking for the money behind it, it shows again.

2 for the price of 1
2 for the price of 1

Also worth mentioning is the two bears living in a bear pit on the street side there. It’s not very nice for those to live this way, but they’ve been there all their lives. When they pass away the pit will be closed. Not sure what I think about this, I have some passion for the animal rights, but that’s not what this story is about. From Praga we took the tram back to the old center to have some lunch at the Browarmia. A restaurant and brewer in one, where they make some nice beers. We missed the fact that you get two beers for the price of one today, which is also something the staff will not mention to you. You just get two beers slapped on the table in front of you.

Ghetto monument, not easy to find
Ghetto monument, not easy to find

After that we dropped by the book shop, had some coffee and chilled out back at the Fest Hostel for a bit, where we got to say goodbye to owner Marcin (again). My darling girlfriend wrote something nice in the guestbook and I drew a peacock with muscular arms in it. We started for the busstation, but first went looking for the last remnant of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. We happened to pass a church dedicated to John Paul the pope on the way. Now, the monument was hidden behind a fence on some parking lot. It was small and humble and to me it felt like it did no justice to the history that has unfoled here. I hope that the Jewish history museum can give a bit more info on that in the future.

It took us forever to find the busstop, so no fancy food this evening. Just Burger King, becasue the cues happened to be the shortest. Allez, Kaunas here we come.

Warsaw #2

Alright, so it’s sunday and we have rain. Rain means that walking around Warsaw becomes a whole lot less fun for us, but fortunately we have not yet visited that many museums which gives us plenty to do today.

We started for the Royal Castle, but first took some cofffee. The trumpet from a high window declared the Castle museum open (I think that’s what it was for) and a huge cue spread out over the court yard. Bad idea, so we walked to the museum of Archeology first. Though the staff didn’t seem to manage a word in anything else than Polish, the museum was supplied with all the English information you need. Spreading out over two floors, it contains a lot of text and models of old settlements. Apparently when you aren’t a kid, it’s not ok to put on the helmet and sword they have laying around.

Monument
Monument

From there on we continued to the Jewish History Museum. The security for that museum resembles what you will find in an airport. The main collection is not yet open for visitors, but the temporary one was already worth our time. It is dedicated to the Jews in the Polish Legion during the first world war and the interbellum/struggle for independence. The monument outside of it is very impressive as well. The museum looks huge and the building looks interesting. I can see this become  a big tourist spot in the future if it’s fully open.

Polonia jrs in action
Polonia jrs in action

On the way back to the old town, we passed the stadium of KS Polonia Warsaw, apparently the oldest football team of Poland. Lucky for us, there was a game on by the youth team. Their main force went bankrupt and is playing on the fourth level in Poland now, but the fans still turn up for their Polonia. Those old clubs with rich histories are always cool to check out. Couldn’t find a souvenir though, bummer.

Zurek soup served in bread.
Zurek soup served in bread.

Enfin, we ended up having some lunch at a tiny but nice looking restaurant. Lunch for me involved a beer and soup served in bread. I’ve seen others eat it before but this was my first time to give this dish a go. The soup is quite sour in flavour, filled with egg and sausage. The bread gives a hint of sweetness to it, which is probably just the whole idea behind the combo. People do buy Zurek in a bowl, but for me it was the challenge to also ‘eat my bowl’. Apparently that is not too common, the waiter looked curious at me. Then again, that did seem to be his standard look…

We crossed the street after this and visited the museum dedicated to Madame Curie, who was, as most people who collected flippo’s know, Polish of origin. The museum is tiny, cheap and full of knowledge concerning the person. It is not very coherent however, but when in Rome, right? After this we marche don to the royal castle and squeezed in a visit there as well. Funny enough you first have to collect your tickets for the free entrance thing there on sundays. I don’t know why, and I’ve given up trying to understand Poland and its things.

DInner took place in the ‘Bierhalle’, which turned out to be a Bavarian themed place. After that we tried some beers in the Hostel and that’s that. Tomorrow we have a day left, at 21.00 we leave for Kaunas by bus. Kaunas…bus…  Have you seen Kaunas bus station? The arse of Lithuania if I may say so, but I have been promised a different side of Kaunas, the old capital of Lithuania.

Warsaw #1

I hung around in your soundtrack,
To mirror all that you’ve done,
To find the right side of reason,
To kill the three lies for one,

– ‘Warsaw’, Joy Division

Yes, I’m writing this from Warsaw, capital of the glorious nation of Poland. I’m in a bunk bed in a ,for what I believe is an 8 euro a night hostel just outside of the historical centre. We flew here from Eindhoven with Ryanair. I had a lot of fun in the usual insane queing thing that Ryanair likes to do. I relally like the simplicity and prices of Ryanair, but the amount of unnecessary waiting in line for nothing, it baffles me. What was fun, is the guy that stood in front of me with opium and marihuana incense sticking out of his bag. It just looked silly.

The weird sticks
The weird sticks

The city feels big, it feels old and grand but also new and vibrant. You might think Strijp-S is swarming with hipster crap, and it is I suppose, but Warsaw had plenty of that too.Here they just do things for free, because it is cool.  Warsaw has both the old and embraced the new. It feels a lot like a bigger Vilnius at times. We walked a lot this far, we climbed the old Stalin buildings tower and looked out over the city. It was rather impressive I think, that building with concert halls and theatres attached to it. The beating heart of cultural Warsaw, given to them by the friggin’ antichrist.  I have to say something about the ladies here, because we tend to think of Polish ladies as being tacky. People look classy here and by now we’ve seen other parts of the city too. These are not villagers ofcourse, but the urban population. Maybe that has a lot to do with it.

warsaw1
Warsaw from Stalins tower, 30 floors up

So, from there on it was time to check out the old town, which we finally found. It has a light feeling, not the grim concrete jungle that I used to  feel associated with the name Warsaw. The broad streets are full of artists and entertainers doing their things. Restaurants try to lure you in and vendors try to sell you crap as always. People are out and about, enjoying themselves. Very pretty is the monument for the unknown soldier by the way, on a huge empty square where a fire is kept burning. A silent reminder of the grief that lies in the past.

Warsaw3
Le sausage, remarkably good with a beer.

Time for some food as well ofcourse, so I got myself a black beer and a beer snack. The snack was actually a huge sausage, which I could hardly finish. I was stuffed, yes I yielded to the sausage.

Time to give a shout out to the hostel. We’re staying in a small hostel named ‘Fest Hostel’. It’s basically being run by one dude, and has one 12 bed dorm, one 6 and I think 2 double rooms. Everything is clean and nice and breakfast is included. The owner is the friendliest dude ever, and will help with anything you need. Honestly, are you heading for Warsaw? Go spend your nights here and enjoy amazing company. Link here!

We spend the night in the Irish Pub, where the band Backup played some rock covers. Interesting fact is that this was a Polish-Russian band, making them particularly interesting. Check them out if you like. What was most peculiar is the great amount of cougars on the dance floor. It was a weird night, really very weird. We were a bit hung over this morning, which sucks but its part of that holiday blowout moment. After enjoying the provided breakfast we walked around the city for a long time.

We saw the park with peacocks and squirrels, the Botanical gardens and, ironically, some sort of Chinese exposition in the park. When you see Asian people take pictures of themselves in the fake temple buildings in a park in Warsaw, it completes a circle  of some kind I think.  Then I got to see the stadium of Legia Warsaw, which was pretty impressive. On the other side of the city is the stadium of Polonia Warsaw, who went bankrupt a bunch of times. Still 5000 people turn up for their home games, loyalty that always impresses me.

We took some rest and then ate some pierogi, got coffee and went to the Chopin museum. The city was full of nicely dressed people, its time for weddings on saturday. It gives a special charm to the town. We then relaxed at the hostel and now I’m writing this for those who like to know. Tomorrow more museums, now just some Chopin.