Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trip to Vilnius, Lithuania (July 2015)

Vilnius Cathedral
Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic nations. Its capital city, Vilnius, was a pleasant surprise to me. It was so beautiful, livable and pleasant to walk around. Its infrastructure was well developed and convenient. The supermarkets were well stocked with a lot of choices and their prices were reasonably inexpensive.

After we left Riga and before we arrived in Vilnius, we stopped over a place called "Hill of Crosses." It is a site of pilgrimage, 12 km north of Vilnius. This small hill was covered with a lot of crosses, estimated to be 100,000 in 2006, and obviously far more now. The crosses were in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some were large and others were tiny. Nonetheless, they represented the cross where Jesus was crucified without any sin or blame, only to be the way, the life and the truth for those who believe in who He was and His redemptive death.

The precise origin of the site is unclear, but it is believed that people started placing crosses at the current hill where a fort was located. Let me review the history a bit.

It was completely new to me, but Lithuania used to be a strong nation and once it was asked to rule over the current Poland. This Lithuania-Polish empire controlled their current territory plus part of Russia to Moscow, all of Ukraine and Belarus. This empire ruled for a couple of centuries from the 16th century until the end of 18th century when Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire in 1795. The Lithuanian and Polish rebels held two uprisings in 1831 and 1863, but unsuccessfully. The families of the rebels started placing the crosses on the current hill because they could not locate the bodies of their perished family members.

Lithuanians also used the practice of placing crosses on the hill as a way of delivering peaceful protest against the Soviet Union during its occupation after the World War II. Now, the intent and purpose has been expanded to many people who wish for the country's peace and also who wish for the peaceful rest for those who perished during the patriotic wars, and even for other reasons. It was an unforgettable experience.

Lithuania declared independence again in 1990 one year before the Soviet Union demised. Thus, Lithuania became the first country to gain independence from the Soviet Union. Lithuania is a member of EU and adopted the currency Euro from January 2015. The World Bank's ease of doing business index ranked Lithuania at 24th. Wow!

Lithuania's population is approximately 3 million and its capital Vilnius has 530,000 inhabitants.

Vilnius is known for its Baroque-style architecture, mingled with neoclassical buildings. The city was very clean and has a lot of interesting places.

We had a free time after a short orientation tour. We visited the Vilnius Cathedral, Gediminas Castle, Vilnius Town Hall, and also saw the National Museum of Lithuania and Vilnius TV Towner remotely. I climbed up to the top of the bell tower and saw the city green and beautiful.
St. Anne Church
Interior of St. Anne Church
Town Hall
Town Square

Vilnius Cathedral

Bell Tower

One thing quite interesting was that within Vilnius there is another republic. Yes, another state that declared independent but no other nation has acknowledged its independence. It is called Uzupis (or Uzpio in their own language) Republic. It is within Vilnius and people freely go in and come out of the republic. They declared the independence in 1997 on the April Fool's Day. The founding fathers were pretty much Bohemian artists who wanted to convert a run-down district to be more attractive. They have elected their own president, parliament, and even an army (only 11 though). Its constitution, which has 41 provisions, is quite interesting. Here are some examples:

  • Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
  • A dog has the right to be a dog.
  • A cat is not obligated to love its owner, but must help in time of needs.
  • Everyone has the right to be happy.
  • Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
  • Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
  • Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
  • Everyone shall remember their name.
  • No one can share what they do not possess.
  • Everyone has the right to cry.
  • Everyone has the right to have no rights.

We had a little crack out of the visit to a republic that no other nation cares about. Uzupis Republic.

Overall, I like the city and the country so much that I felt like coming back to live there for a while. The city was quite impressive. - Jeffrey

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