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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Can't think of a good title for this post...

St. Casimir's Church

Weekend update: with the temperature on a sunny Saturday afternoon a balmy 4°C (39°F), and with my daughter having a play date at a classmate's apartment, I went for a bike ride along the northern bank of the Nevis River, heading east and then northeast (away from Old Town) before returning from whence I came. It wasn't a long ride, but then I'm hardly in peak physical condition, so I did the best I could for a couple of hours. The bike path is well-marked and easy to follow, and in places passes under a canopy of autumn leaves. The first place of note I passed was Tuskulėnai Serenity Park, which was created to remember the victims of Soviet oppression. From 1944 to 1947 some of those who resisted the re-imposition of Soviet rule at the end of the Second World War were tortured, murdered and then secretly buried on the grounds of the present park. A simple memorial atop a mound pays tribute to the victims:


It's hard to comprehend, but there are people out there who congratulate themselves on their political progressiveness, yet somehow can't see Vladimir Putin's Russia for the autocratic, corrupt regime it is. From the Baltics, however, the Russian saber-rattling combined with the historical revisionism is clearly evident. Lithuanians have first-hand experience going back several centuries as to what it was like to live under first Russian, then Soviet rule, and most people here clearly prefer life within the European Union and under the security umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The elegant former Tuskulėnai Manor House, located next to the Serenity Park

Next up was an abandoned house that I stopped to briefly explore. The place is thoroughly trashed, and a couple of other buildings on the property are only shells after obviously having been burned down. Behind the house is a large structure that could've been a factory or a warehouse; I didn't explore it, however, as two men were having a cookout nearby and I didn't want them to see me. In fact, considering my occupation, I probably shouldn't be trespassing anywhere, so I didn't linger long here:


An idyllic scene of a small houseboat on a branch of the river:


There's an actual beach along the Neris called Žirmūnai. Obviously, no one was going to be swimming there on a cold day in the middle of October. There were, however, ducks lolling about in the water; as I approached to take a photograph of them, they all emerged from the water and started heading toward me. Now I understand why they haven't gone south for the winter yet:


A stately oak tree (unless I'm mistaken) beside the cycling trail:


I eventually reached the 18th-century Trinapolis Church (closed, at least on this Saturday):



From the church I returned to Old Town, pausing outside the hideous Soviet-era behemoth known as the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater to take a photo of the old and the new on the other side of the Neris River:


Weekend update: Sunday was yet another chilly but sunny day. Too bright to stay at home, and not cold enough to find an excuse to remain indoors. So the three of us headed into Old Town to visit St. Casimir's Church (Šv. Kazimiero Bažnyčia):


We mistimed our visit to coincide with the noon mass, which was in full procession when we crashed the party, so we decided instead to get some lunch first and return to the church afterwards. A short walk from St. Casimir's brought us to a nice little French bistro called Balzac:



Amber, Shu-E and I shared some escargot as appetizers, after which I dove into a grilled sea bass as my main course:



Back to the church, and this time it was empty. Some history: St. Casimir's is Vilnius' oldest baroque church, completed by the Jesuits in 1615. It serves as a microcosm of the city's history, having suffered damage from fires and wars over the centuries. In the 18th century a new dome with a crown replaced the previous dome which had collapsed, while the interior was decorated with 13 Late Baroque altars, most of which were later destroyed by Napoleon's army. St. Casimir's became a Russian Orthodox house of worship in 1868, resulting in the towers being lowered and topped with onion-shaped helmets, while the Baroque frescoes and sculptures were demolished (see what I mean about Russian aggression?). During the First World War, the German army made use of it as a Lutheran Church, after which it was returned to the Jesuits and restored in the 1920's. The dome was rebuilt with the addition of a crown in 1942 (see photo below). The Soviets turned the church into a Museum of Atheism in 1963 before it was finally re-consecrated by the Jesuits in 1991, following the restoration of Lithuanian independence:



With a backstory like that, you would expect the interior to be impressive, and it is, though surprisingly minimalist in ornamentation compared to other churches and cathedrals we've visited:



We could also go down into the crypt, where there's a relic supposedly of Saint Andrew Bobola:


And that was pretty much our afternoon. Leaving St. Casimir's we took a long, leisurely walk through the streets of Old Town before returning home, stopping long enough for my daughter to have some fun with a pile of leaves:



It's nice living in a small Baltic republic that is no longer part of a Moscow-centered "Russian World" united by a common language. These days it's English the young people of Lithuania are speaking, and speaking well:


There's a beautiful full moon above Old Town on Sunday evening; even with a tripod, my camera doesn't do the scene any justice







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