On 23rd August 1989 about 2 million citizens of the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed a human chain and held hands for 15 minutes at 19.00 hours starting in Tallinn, through Riga and ending outside Vilnius Cathedral Square.. Before cell phones and the internet people used portable radios to coordinate the event and free buses were provided and Estonia declared a public holiday. The chain was 675.5 km (419.7miles).
The Soviet Union was collapsing and losing its influence and 50 years after the secretive Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that enslaved the Baltic States freedom was around the corner. Seven months later on March 11 1990 Lithuania was the first of the trio to declare independence. During the dark period it was called LSSR-Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, LSSR-Latvian SSR, ESSR- Estonian SSR.. The Lithuanians reintroduced their tricolour flag yellow, red and green to replace the Soviet one with the hammer and sickle.
Lithuania has been controlled by Poles, Germans, Russians, and Soviets. for a long time the population consisted of Poles 65%, Jews 26%, Russian 4% and Lithuanians 1%. When the Germans invaded 95% of the Jews were massacered.
Today Vilnius is a great place to visit with an awesome Old Town full of restaurants, pubs and clubs. Flower sellers line the streets along with artists and craftworkers. Cathedral Square and its bell tower is full of tourists, skaters, children with balloons and pets and across the road is the start of the modern Gedimino street which was hosting an arts fesitval with lots of clothes, crafts, paintings for sale. Further along is the former KGB headquarters, now a museum. Turn right on Vilniaus street for three blocks and I arrive at Zaliasis Bridge on the River Neris. There on either grass bank is one of my favourite sights..ANYWHERE.
On one bank written in large letters in Lithuanian is I LOVE YOU... facing on the opposite bank it says I LOVE YOU TOO. Wonderful.
I took the bus 28 km west to TRAKIA, a wonderland of lakes and trails and old wooden houses and TRAKIA CASTLE on an island in the middle of the lake, reached by a woodern pier. It was the residence of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes from the 14th Century with a courtyard with cannon, an iron torture cage and stocks for villians, plus lots of rooms and museums full of history. It is the only castle in Eastern Europe on an island. There were hordes of tourists, mostly Polish, arriving in tour buses. The nearby village is full of painted wooden houses, places of worship and cafes and tourist shops.
It is home to the Karaite ethnic minority that is of Turkic origin when 383 Karaim families came from the Crimea 600 years ago. Their descendants are still here and I ate a traditional lunch at a family owned old wooden restaurant across from the lake called Kavine Kiubete www.kiubete.lt. Trakai tourism site. www.trakai-visit.lt
Transport is inexpensive. After walking 1 k or so to the castle I took the toy train for €2 back to the local bus station for the return to Vilnius. In town my hotel called a taxi on a couple of occasions for a €2 fare. That was cheap, but even cheaper was the train fare from Vilnius Station to the airport cost €.0.70 cents.I had arrived from Riga on a luxury bus with ergonomic reclinining seats, air conditioning, at seat monitor with movies and more and a free tea and coffee macine. Four hours by freeway for €12.00. Next blog about Lithuania v Slovakia FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifier.