As part of my 2014 New Year's travel goals I wanted to take more day and weekend trips around Lithuania. J and I accomplished this goal throughout the late summer and early fall with trips to Kaunas and Trakai. I'm still really hoping to visit Siauliai (for the Hill of Crosses), Druskininkai (for a spa weekend), and Nida (for the gorgeous sea-side town) prior to our leaving Lithuania.
I want to focus today's post on Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania. Kaunas became the interim capital of Lithuania from about 1919 to 1939 at a time when Vilnius was occupied. Kaunas is located at the intersection of the Neris River (which also flows through Vilnius) and the Nemunas River.
What I first noticed about Kaunas was that its dirtier, darker, and tougher than Vilnius. That certainly doesn't mean that I didn't like the city though. Kaunas has a serious edge to it that makes it feel very rough and real. Even the architecture was very different from that seen in Vilnius.
It is best to begin your visit in Kaunas with a stroll down the tree lined Laisves Aleja (Freedome Avenue) that leads directly into the Kaunas Old Town. On Laisves Aleja you will see numerous shops and restaurants. I really enjoyed the little cafe called Mio (Laisves al. 31), which served delicious cupcakes - a rare treat to find in Lithuania!
The statue in the photo below is to commemorate a Lithuanian student who died after self-immolation as he protested against Soviet rule.
While walking around Kaunas keep your eyes peeled for cool street art and unexpectedly beautiful ruined buildings. I particularly loved the exterior of the partially ruined church in the photographs below.
The Old Town is marked by its beautiful low-storyed buildings and intricate roofs. You couldn't possibly miss the Old Town Hall because you'll see flocks of people taking wedding photos in the square. The Old Town Hall currently serves as the marriage registry office, but previously held offices for the mayor and magistrates and had an underground prison (I wonder if we can tour that!). One thing that you'll notice when visiting Lithuania in general are the large numbers of weddings and elaborate wedding photos happening every weekend pretty much throughout the year.
|The Old Town Hall - what you can't see in this photo are the 3 different wedding parties taking photographs|
Just like everywhere else in Lithuania, you can find a church on pretty much every street. Probably the most famous church in Kaunas is the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. Inside the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul is an icon from the 17th century that supposedly grants miracles.
Another famous church that you will see while walking down Laisves Avenue is the Church of St. Michael, which is clearly identified by its blueish grey onion-shaped domes. This church was originally Russian Orthodox, but was later used for the Lithuanian army (in Lithuania you see a lot of churches that are converted for other use).
|The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul|
|The Church of St. Michael|
The Kaunas Castle (Pilies g. 17 - Pilies gatve translates to Castle Street) is the oldest stone castle in all of Lithuania. On a spooky note, the castle is thought to be haunted by the spirits of prisoners. I'm unsure whether or not you are allowed to go into the remaining part of the castle. I didn't notice an entrance but also didn't walk around the whole structure. From the Kaunas Castle you can stroll along the point where the Neris River and the Nemunas River meet. This park is very beautiful!
If you end up visiting Kaunas I'd really suggest that you visit the Devil's Museum (V. Putvinskio g. 54). I know it sounds completely like a strange choice, but is actually really interesting. I really enjoyed visiting the Devil's Museum because the displays were described well in English and there was a lot of information about Lithuanian culture and superstitions (most of which I didn't previously know).
The Devil's Museum has over 3,000 images/statues of the Devil in his many forms. The first two floors of the exhibit are collected from Lithuania and other Baltic States, while the collections on the third floor are from elsewhere in the world.
The Details: Taking the train from Vilnius to Kaunas is easy and inexpensive. You can pick up a free map when you arrive at the Kaunas train station and easily use it to navigate to Laisves Ave. Remember above when I said that Kaunas is a bit rougher and toucher than Vilnius? Be a bit careful when walking through certain areas of the city and just be aware of your surroundings.
What do you think of this second city of Lithuania? Would you visit the Devil's Museum?