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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Happy Lietuvos nepriklausomybės atkūrimo diena!

Selfie time on the balcony of VCUP

On this day in 1990 the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania was declared by the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, serving as a model and inspiration for other Soviet republics in the rapidly dissolving USSR. It would be another eighteen months before Moscow would formally recognize the fact that Lithuania had become an independent state again, but March 11 is the date that was the beginning of the end of the country's fifty-year nightmare as a Soviet republic. It's an important public holiday in Lithuania, but although the day falls on a Saturday this year, there's no mechanism for shifting the holiday to the day before to give the citizenry an extended weekend. Flags lined the buildings on our street and Gediminas Prospektas was closed to traffic today, but we stayed clear of New Town, going out instead to the Vilnius Central Department Store, aka Vilniaus Centrinė Universalinė Parduotuvė or VCUP, to have lunch. As we parked the car, we noticed what appeared to be a large Lithuanian flag or banner being spread out along the banks of the Neris River:


In honor of the occasion, I ordered the Lithuanian Burger (a potato pancake atop a beef patty) at Smart Burger Bar:


After lunch, we crossed under Konstitucijos Prospektas and did some shopping at the Europa shopping center. On the way back to the car, I was surprised to find this memorial to Chiune Sugihara 杉原千畝, the World War II Japanese diplomat who it's estimated helped up to 40,000 Jews escape Lithuania by issuing transit visas allowing travel to Japanese territory, despite orders not to do so. The memorial was erected by students from Waseda University 早稲田大学, Sugihara's alma mater:


Back home the girls decided to relax, but I wanted to see what was going on in New Town, so I went for a walk. I reached Gediminas Prospektas in time to witness a demonstration passing by. I don't know if this was the "controversial nationalist march" referred to in this Delfi article; the only signs I could work out were those protesting the nuclear power plant under construction in Astravets, across the border in Belarus and only 50 kilometers from Vilnius:



Lukiskių aikštė (where a statue of Lenin once stood) is currently closed for reconstruction work. The outer fencing has been turned into a photography exhibit, with images depicting the plight of migrants attempting to reach Greece among the displays:


Looking toward Šnipiškės from New Town:



I'm not sure what this building is used for now, but it's most definitely of Soviet design and the spire on the top likely once had a Red Star. The plaque above the doorway also appears to be missing something Communist-related:



New Town threw up a couple of surprises this afternoon. The first was the sight of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Церковь Cвятителя Николая Чудотворца), looming over the walls and barbed wire of the Lukiškės Prison:


The other surprise was a plaque on the outer wall explaining that Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister who signed the Camp David accords, was an unwilling "guest" of the NKVD at the prison in 1940-1941:



A restaurant located behind the Parliament House (Seimas):


A look back at New Town on the way home:


My wife, daughter and I model T-shirts sent to us by my friend Steve, who has been running his own English school in Taichung 台中 for several years now:


At the march on Gediminas Prospektas mentioned above, someone was carrying a boombox that was playing this song as the procession made its way past where I was standing. I don't know what the aims of the demonstrators were, but I did agree with the soundtrack:


POSTSCRIPT: The day after

Sunday was a quiet day for us, but we did go out for lunch at René, Vilnius' best Belgian restaurant (namely because I haven't yet found any others), specializing in La Cuisine de la Biere. Belgian cuisine has been a favorite of mine since our trip to the country in the fall of 2014:


The restaurant gets its name from the noted Belgian surrealist René Magritte; reproductions of some of his works (including his most famous, The Son of Man) line the walls, and the staff are decked out in bowler hats in homage. Customers are encouraged to draw on the paper tablecloths, and my daughter happily took up the offer:




I started off with a bowl of lamb soup, then followed up with an order of mussels cooked in beer, but neglected to take any pictures (sorry Internet!). I did get shots of the beer (of course) and the chocolate mousse I had for dessert, which alone is reason enough to pay a return visit to the restaurant:



While the girls did some grocery shopping after lunch, I worked off some of the meal by taking a long walk. Even if the Gulag, purges, deportations and executions had never taken place, the Soviets would still be guilty of crimes against humanity with their Socialist Realist architectural legacy, such as the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater (1974). I'll be glad when spring returns so that the foliage will partially obscure the view:


I returned to the Europa Business and Shopping Center to pick up an invoice which allows me to claim a partial refund on VAT, a job-related perk:



The TV Tower off in the distance:


On the grounds of the National Gallery of Art (on the "To visit" list) stands this suspiciously Soviet era-looking statue:


The Šnipiškės area (aka the New Town Center) is in the process of having its utilitarian concrete apartment blocks replaced by more modern business buildings:


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