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.
The 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.
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.
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.
First 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.
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.
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.
Afterwards there was time for rest, food and beers with the family. It rarely feels as well deserved.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.