I arrived in Berlin, Germany at about 5:00 P.M. or 5:30 P.M. on the 16th of August. I know, if I was planning to get my visa in Lithuania, why did I fly into Germany? It is faster to fly to Lithuania. Well this was one of my many moments of being unsure while trying to figure out how to apply for my visa abroad. Initially I wanted to apply for it in Lithuania because I have always wanted to go to Lithuania, and I thought this would be a good opportunity. However, Germany has been on my mind too because I would love to actually visit there someday as well. There is nothing that really tells an American citizen how to apply for a Russian visa abroad because it is a headache. I had done extensive research and there was just no clear information about consulates, embassies and visas in Lithuanian, so I looked into and decided on my next choice. Germany. The flights were booked in and out of Germany and too and from Russia, and I changed my mind. Unfortunately, it is really expensive to cancel and re-book international flights, so I kept the flights, and with the help of my wonderful mother, booked a bus that went from Berlin through Poland, to Vilnius. When I went through immigration, the German Security man who stamped my passport was very nice, and when he saw me waiting around hours later, he remembered me and said hello. The bus arrived at the airport at 10:00 P.M., so I had about five hours to wait around at the Berlin airport. If you have ever flown internationally, you will know that the only airports that really have waiting areas outside of the terminals are ones in the United States. In other countries, they prefer if you leave the airport quickly after your flight lands. I will take a similar bus back to the Berlin airport so that I can fly back to Russia.
For those of you who don’t know, Vilnius is the capitol of Lithuania. If you still don’t know, Lithuania is one of the three Baltic States in Eastern Europe that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Of course, like the other former Soviet State, it has a richer history that starts long before the Soviet Union.
Yesterday I spent the day out in Vilnius with my host, Artūras. I mentioned a few things he told me in my last post, but that was an introduction (although not so much an introduction as information about people. I will have to write a better introduction later). In this I will tell you, I hope, more interesting information. I asked him when I got to his place if I could drink the water from the tap because in Russia you have to boil the water before you use it in large quantities (like for drinking or cooking). His response was something like, “I don’t know, I drink it.” I guess that was good enough for me though, because I was really thirsty. I did some research on Lithuania of course before I left for Russia in the first place, which was good because I did not have much access to internet in Kazan’. However, I think I encountered enough stress with transportation and trying to figure out how to apply for a visa abroad, and enough time elapsed (two months) that I simply forgot much of what I had learned. For example what Lithuanian currency was called (which is really awful to admit since last semester I wrote a full paper on the Lithuanian economic situation). Lithuanian currency right now is called Litas. I say “right now” because there economy is transitioning to Euros in 104 days. I know this in part because my host told me, but also because if you walk by one of the Banks of Lithuania, they have a countdown of the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the transition. Artūras said that many police have been around as the transition approaches due to the need to bring the Euros into the country to get ready for the change in currency. I will have to remember to bring some Litas home since they will not exist shortly after I leave. It is lucky that I was able to visit Lithuania right before the transition to Euros.
Yesterday my host showed me around the old part of Vilnius city which he says is the best part to see because it was built before the soviet period. We went out to lunch at a Lithuanian restaurant because he wanted me to try traditional Lithuanian food. At the restaurant we had this food called Zeppelins or potato dumplings. They are called Zeppelins because they are the shape of the balloon on a Zeppelin. Typical of food in this area, the food was made with potatoes. The food had mashed potatoes with meat inside, but the mashed potatoes did not fall off, they were cooked to stay on somehow. They gave us a sauce which was a mix between sour cream and something that translated to “crackling sauce” (it did not crackle) that I think had meat in it. It was really good but also really heavy.
While I was in Kazan’, Russia for two months, I went on tours with my program to numerous churches. I think one of the reasons they show us so many churches, (that I did not think of for some reason, my host here pointed this out to me) in part it is because many churches have a long history, but in addition, churches are always free. You never have to pay anywhere in the world to see the inside of a church. So, yesterday my host showed me more churches. If you have ever been inside multiple Orthodox churches, you will know the first one is perhaps the most impressive one you will ever see. After that they generally start to blend together in the mind. That being said, the outside of every Orthodox Church, even if one resembles another, is always different and worth at least looking at. All Orthodox churches have ornate gold frames and pictures at the front, and it is nothing like anything else anywhere else, except in every other Orthodox church. In Kazan’, one of my friends was orthodox, and going with him to one of these churches was more interesting because he could tell you about the various symbolism’s of the paintings and the pictures. I can advise you though, if you ever have the opportunity, the one place I saw really impressive Russian Orthodox Churches was in the Moscow Kremlin. There, they really are worth seeing because in each church, the walls are painted from their floors to their arching ceilings with religious symbols, and the history of these churches is fascinating as well.
In Vilnius yesterday, I only went to one Orthodox Church because Lithuania is a predominantly Catholic nation. Instead, my host and I visited a few Catholic Churches. I like Catholic Churches because every single one is different. I said to my mother that I think the only things each Catholic Church really has in common with the next is that they are Catholic, they have pews, holy water, priests and of course, a crucifix. Other than these few necessities, designers, architects and painters seem to do what they wish with the space. I remember two Catholic Churches in particular from yesterday that stand literally right next to each other. I will post a picture of the outside of the smaller one (it was closed so we couldn’t go in). It is a beautiful little Gothic-style church built from a red brick-like material. In Lithuania, my host said many people know about this church because when Napoleon crossed through Lithuania to try to conquer Russia, he saw this church and said that if he could put it on his palm and carry it back to France, he would put it in Paris. The larger church was not very impressive from the outside, but then Catholic churches are usually more interesting on the inside than the outside. This one had interesting wooden carvings attached to the columns and the front of the church that I have never seen in another Catholic church (I will include a picture of this church as well).
One of the first parts of old Vilnius I saw when I went there with my host yesterday was a hill. It is not a very big hill, but the sides are steep. There is a legend that goes with this hill. The legend goes something like this. The was a Grand Duke named Gediminas, (my host told me that Lithuanian names for guys generally end in “s,” and for girls in “a” or “e”) who was hunting in a sacred forest close to the valley where part of the Vilnia River is located. When the Grand Duke was tired, he camped out for the night, and had a dream about a huge Iron Wolf. The Iron Wolf was standing on top of this hill I saw (I will include a picture) and was howling as loud as 100 wolves would howl together. When the Grand Duke awoke, he asked a wise man what the dream meant. The wise man told him that the Iron Wolf represented a castle and that a city would be established around this castle. The castle was to be built on the hill where the wolf howled, and the city would be strong like the wolf so it would be the capitol of a great nation. So, the Grand Duke is said to have taken the advice of the Iron Wolf and the wise man and built the city and castle, and named it Vilnius after the Vilnia River.
My host of course told me this story as well, which I remember reading when I was younger, but legends from different countries and cultures are interesting. Here I think it is relevant to say that the wise man in this story is actually a Pagan Priest. Lithuania was the last Pagan Nation in Europe to be converted to Christianity, but no one knows this because of all of the other history that was taking its course in Europe at this time.
In the old part of Vilnius there is a district that is basically an art district, and it is popular among artists to live there. They have declared themselves a separate republic in the country. It is a sort of joke, but everyone accepts it now. One of the requirements for an area in Lithuania to be a separate republic is for it to have a constitution (my host told me, but I don’t remember the other requirements), so in this district they have a wall that has the constitution written out in many languages on metal plates. Apparently almost every year, the constitution is added in another language to the wall. The region is called The Republic of Užupis. Užupis basically means on the other side of the river, because the district is located on the other side of the Vilnius River. The constitution goes like this:
- Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
- Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
- Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
- Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
- Everyone has the right to be unique.
- Everyone has the right to love.
- Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
- Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
- Everyone has the right to be idle.
- Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
- Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
- A dog has the right to be a dog.
- A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
- Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
- Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
- Everyone has the right to be happy.
- Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
- Everyone has the right to be silent.
- Everyone has the right to have faith.
- No one has the right to violence.
- Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
- No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
- Everyone has the right to understand.
- Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
- Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
- Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
- Everyone shall remember their name.
- Everyone may share what they possess.
- No one can share what they do not possess.
- Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
- Everyone may be independent.
- Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
- Everyone has the right to cry.
- Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
- No one has the right to make another person guilty.
- Everyone has the right to be individual.
- Everyone has the right to have no rights.
- Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
- Do not defeat
- Do not fight back
- Do not surrender
A little bit more about Artūras and Lithuania. My host said that Lithuanian news is very one sided. He said they have various news sources, but that all of them convey the same point of view and the same information in different words. Sometimes a reader can find a differing opinion written below the news article, but often it is too small and insignificant to provide the different points of view a reader should have. In the news, he says that Lithuania blames Russia for everything. Everything is Russia’s fault in according to the news sources, and unless Lithuanians speak a different language as well (which they usually do) and read other news articles, this is the only opinion they receive.
There is more to what I know about Artūras’ story, but I will have to incorporate that into another post.