Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Last weekend we took a bus to Lithuania’s second city, former national capital, and epicenter of the national basketball craze:  Kaunas.  It turns out that there is a lot to see in Kaunas, much more than we could have squeezed in over a weekend.  But we had a great time that included a quick trip to Rumšiškes, about which we will have more to say in a day or two. 

We spent two nights at the Daugirdas, a hotel in the city’s old town, about a block away from the town hall square, or Rotušės Aikštė, where we were reminded of something we learned during previous visits to such cities as Rome and Prague:  Saturday is wedding day in Europe, and weddings usually involve parallel ceremonies—one at city hall (see photo at the top of this post) and another at a nearby church.  These events typically are scheduled back-to-back, which means that on Saturdays the town hall square is chock-a-block with wedding parties hanging around waiting for the call, traipsing off in the direction of a neighborhood church, or folding themselves into horse-drawn carriages, vintage automobiles, or (in the case of the bride below), stretch limousines.  It’s pretty picturesque.  How could one not be charmed by peripatetic brides, grooms, and their attendants on their matrimonial rounds on a gorgeous sunny day in old town Kaunas?

We visited Kaunas Castle (see photo below).

Jane climbed creaky stairs sans handrail up to the top of the castle tower, while Ken, ever reluctant to abandon terra firma, amused himself by taking selfies on the castle grounds (see photo below).

We also enjoyed hanging around in the watering holes on Vilniaus Street, which is the name of the pedestrian district in Kaunas, as it is also in Siauliai.

One of the truly fascinating things about Kaunas is that cartographically, it is quite reminiscent of Pittsburgh, though its hills are much more modest, and of course maps are two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional realities.  As in Pittsburgh, two rivers meet at Kaunas, the Neris and the Nemunas, and at their confluence a “third” river is formed (see photo below), though in the case of Kaunas it is considered a continuation of the Nemunas. 

On the south shore of the Nemunas, near “the point” where the rivers meet, there is a funicular railroad that leads to a hilltop overlook, which is reminiscent of the vantage point on Mount Washington where the young George Washington saw at once the military value of the site.  It was in fact crucial to control of the Ohio Country, and was fought over by the English and French, and then fortified by the newly independent Americans in the eighteenth century.  Kaunas is, simply, Pittsburgh without the dramatic topography, yesterday's smoke, and today’s spectacular skyline.

We didn’t do Kaunas justice, but we did have one extraordinary experience, one that Jane and I will never forget.  Thanks to Ken’s Šiauliai University colleague, Aistė Lazauskienė, who lives in Kaunas, we were able to visit the AB Underground Printing House, which reminded us of the marvelous German film, The Lives of Others, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. 

We were shown around the eerie site by the wife of Vytautas Andziulis, the typesetter who was one of two partners in the clandestine publishing operation.  Astoundingly, at the end of our tour we were joined by Mr. Andziulis himself, who still lives in the house, and who took the occasion to complain about U.S. foreign policy--though in terms polite enough to spare our feelings, and those of our translator, I think.  This museum is a gem, though it is hard to find, and almost as hard to research.  Here is the entry from the “In Your Pocket” guide: 

Founded and run by Vytautas Andziulis (b. 1930) and Juozas Bacevičius (1918-1995), the AB Underground Printing House (the title comes from the first letters of Vytautas and Juozas' family names) operated at great risk during the last decade of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania three metres under the ground in Andziulis' garden on the outskirts of Kaunas. Dug by hand between 1978 and 1980 and reinforced with sturdy concrete walls, during its lifespan the printing house published 23 titles dealing with subjects ranging from Lithuanian history to religion and poetry, all on a hand-cranked machine built from miscellaneous spare parts gathered by Andziulis who was at the time a professional printer. Now part of the Vytautas the Great Military Museum, the printing house has been preserved and can be visited by prior arrangement. Set in the small village of Saliai some 10km north of the city centre, visitors can view the old printing house, which was and that remains hidden under a greenhouse as well as a museum dedicated to the place and to resistance printing in general. Easiest reached by car or possibly bicycle, the museum is more or less off the public transport route entirely. The N°21 city bus to the Mega shopping centre is the best option. Running from the Kauno Pilis stop close to Old Town to the Mega shopping centre, get off at the Šiaurinio Aplinkkelio Tiltas stop and keep walking out of the city with the river on your right until you reach the outskirts of Saliai. A signpost marked Pogrindžio Spaustuvė Muziejus takes you off the main road. At the fork a little further on, keep to the right and look for the small car park of the left. The N°21 also runs a couple of services in the afternoon to Saliai itself, in which case you need to double back on yourself and keep an eye out for the museum sign. Everything at the museum and printing house is labelled in Lithuanian only and nobody speaks English. Taking somebody along who can translate is not only recommended but more or less essential. 

Entrance free.

As luck would have it, as we approached the hidden crawlway in the greenhouse, the battery in my camera announced that it needed re-charging.  So I have no photos to share, alas.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of weddings in June, and the full moon just past, I just learned this month's moon is called the honey moon (although some call it the strawberry of hot moon). And thus, the honeymoon!