Like other Nordic peoples, Lithuanians don't show much affection upon greeting.
When they meet friends or acquaintances, they often just say hello or shake hands. A hand-shake is the norm when meeting someone new.
Cheek kisses are limited to good friends, and it's usually just one kiss. I was a bit amazed to see some young people greeting each other with a quick peck on the lips.
Lithuanians, especially in Vilnius, indicate opening days and hours in a unique visual way. Check the attached photos and remember they count the days of the week from Monday (not from Sunday, as we do in North America).
The miracle tile is all but impossible to find in the huge tile plaza that forms Cathedral Square in the spiritual and physical heart of Vilnius. This colourful tile, if you can find it, marks one end of the 2 million person human chain, which stretched for 650km from Vilnius to Tallinn to protest against Soviet rule, in 1989. The way to find it is not to look down, but around! You will see lovers greet and spin over the tile and old friends embrace. Inlayed with a special word it grants wishes if you stand upon it and spin around - or so the story goes. Past occupants of the tile wished for, and were finally granted - FREEDOM
What will you wish for?
If you want to know the word for souvenirs in Finnish, or How far Vilnius is from Tokyo then head to this souvenir shop at No 6, Didizioji Street.
This smart looking shop stocks Linen and amber goods, two of Vilnius's most popular products. You'll see shops and market stalls selling these items all around the Old Town- some are obviously better quality than others.
How to Recognise Baltic Amber
Wikki on amber
In the pleasant Vinco Kudirkos Square, off Gedimino Avenue, we spotted some trees that had been 'wrapped' in knitting and crocheting. These were samplers of different stitches, patterns, wools and colours.
Later on, we spotted another woolly wrapped tree in a square opposite St Anne's Church. This had the name of the nearby artists shop worked into the knitting.
I've now found out (Thanks to Google)! that this could be a form of 'Urban Art known as yarnbombing or guerilla knitting. Participants secretly cover trees, monuments etc in this knitted graffitti, usually under cover of night fall
It's technically illegal, but these items can easily be removed with no damage to the structures below
What Wiki has to say
There were two stages set up for performances - one in front of the Town Hall and one off Gedimino Avenue.
We enjoyed watching the dance groups and musicians playing on the Gedimino stage. There was quite a variety of music, from traditional songs (including a rousing version of HAVA NAGILA) to modern rock music.
These performances were from different nations and different age groups.
Returning to the Town Hall Square, we were met with the sounds from a wonderful choir, their combined voices soaring above the city.
Sadly, we reached the stage to find this was their last song.
The next group were setting up the stage with sheaves of corn. They were dressed in 'rural' costumes and carried small sythes.
The comperes took a long time to introduce the group, with a long speech beforehand.
We watched this group for a while, but much was 'spoken word'. Judging by the elderly women standing in front of the stage and making the sign of the cross, I'm guessing there was some religious content - probably a 'Thanks for the Harvest'?
Well, we'd had a pleasant afternoon enjoying the Nations Fair in the sunshine.
Videos of performances
In the Town Hall Square, there are a few open air bars, that are a permanent fixture.
During the festival, seven 'taverns' were set up along Gedimino Avenue, where draught beers and various foods were on sale.
These were foods from different countries, they all looked and smelt delicious.
Curiosity and hunger got the better of us...... Phil had his eye on the kebabs, but wasn't sure if they were too big - so we decided to share one. The first stall holder didn't speak English, but asked her colleague to serve us instead. After a bit of pointing, we were presented with a juicy kebab, accompanied with a salad, dark bread and barbecue sauce. (Personally I'd have preferred the sauce to be served on the side, rather than covering the meat, but it's just a minor criticism) We chose a large glass of draught Svyturys wheat beer each, which I really liked.
We found a seat at one of the tables at the side of the bar. This was a great spot for people watching and enjoying the singing and music from the nearby stage. Again, there were performances from groups from the different nations.
At the end of each table was a black bin liner to place your rubbish. We were impressed as to how clean and litter free Vilnius was.
Wandering along the stalls were piles of sausages, dried meats, cheeses, fruits, smoked fish and bottles of beer (that seemed to be very popular)
I was quite curious about some thin grilled 'flaps' of meat that people were purchasing from the food grills. These were cut into thin slices before being handed over in a paper bag.
I asked the young man who was tending the grill what these were - Pigs Ears!
Well, I had to try these - but not now, as I was still full. I tried these later in the week as a 'beer snack'
Another Beer Snack that we noticed were beer glasses filled with fried bread sticks that again appeared to be very popular. We never got around to trying these though.
As we headed back, we spotted a stall opposite the Cathedral, where spirals of potato were being deep fried and served on skewers.
We weren't sure at the time if these stalls were a regular fixture - I was hoping to try these snacks at a later date, However they were just there for the Festival
Don't worry, we certainly didn't starve during our week in Vilnius ;-)
Our visit co-incided with a lively festival - The Nations Fair, which was originally created as a cultural exchange between Vilnius and Gdansk in Poland. This has expanded to include participants from other areas of Poland and Lithuania, Greece, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Russia with representatives from the Jewish, Tatar and Karaite communities.
Our first encounter with the festival was as we entered the square in front of the impressive Town Hall (Rotuse). We'd spotted bales of hay near the stage and sheaves of wheat. We soon realised that stall holders in traditional dress were demonstrating the old 'hand made' methods of creating products . At the first stall we looked at, a man was encouraging children to have a go at turning a mill stone to produce flour from the grains, another stall revealed a woman preparing sheeps fleece for spinning.
I was quite intrigued by one stall with a huge set of bellows, that were aiming air into a small fire next to a sand box - Phil explained the process of casting to me.
I enjoyed watching a mother trying to explain how a Samovar worked to her young son.
Some stalls had delicious looking jars of jams, pickles etc.
A local TV company was filming the event and two presenters were visiting the stall holders and interviewing these and visitors to the stalls.
We went off to explore further, but returned later, to find some musical entertainment on the stage
I came across these padlocks on a bridge in Uzupio initially, then later on other bridges around the city. I'm not sure where and when this custom of padlocking originated - I first came across it in Florence at Christmas 2010, then again in Paris in 2011.
As I understand it, couples declare their love by fixing a padlock, usually engraved or permanently felt tipped, with their initials to the bridge, they lock it, then throw the key into the water below as a symbol that their love won't be unlocked/broken!
Well Wiki thinks it arose in the early 2000's Read All About it Here
Some of these 'Love Padlocks' in Uzupia were quite ornate!
Wandering around Vilnius on our last day (Saturday) we came across 3 wedding parties near the Town Hall - We'd spotted a couple of wedding cars bedecked with ribbons and balloons earlier
I was surprised to see that these parties usually consisted of the bride and groom and the photographer, although the last party were joined by a suited man who rushed out of a nearby bar - presumably the Best Man?
Not sure if Lithuanian brides have an entourage of bridesmaids, and if so where were they, as indeed where were the proud parents/family and friends?
I did feel a bit sorry for them in the cold weather that Saturday was experiencing.
Hmm... the Vilnius cathedral was oriented front to the West and back to the East. Did it mean something? No doubts, it was very wrong orientation during Soviet occupation...
The Vilnius Cathedral had two identical, impressive domes put in its both back (eastern) corners. They covered the St. Casimir Chapel - real highlight of the cathedral I liked a lot - on southeastern corner and the sacristy (closed to the public) on its northesatern corner.
They were designed by the best Vilnius architecturer Gucewicz at the turn of 18th and 19th century. It remained me a little the Sigismund Chapel of the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland
From Katja (pedersdottir) from Evanston, Illinois, USA:
Cathedrals and all older churches since earliest years of Chiristendom were oriented so that the altar was placed in the East (towards the rising sun i.e. Son Of God) - and the main or front doors would then face west. (Setting of the sun - direction one is carried out after a funeral, etc.)
Thank you, Katja :-))
I cannot talk about any "cultural guidance" in this local custom. Its the freedom and personality one possesses may drive to do such a funny thing. I should call it as an example of "cultural diversities"!
The night I arrived in Vilnius, the local team had just won a big game... and the whole city was going completely crazy! I knew they loved basketball, but even this level of insanity was very amazing to witness. The following day, the team had a huge victory parade. Local bands played a free concert, and the players came up and gave speeches. I have no idea what any of them said, but it was great to see. Like hockey in Canada or rugby in New Zealand- basketball in Lithuania is a religion.
Two items within Lithuanian cuisine are complete opposites from each other, and both equally delicious. Saltisbarsciai is a beet root soup made of kefir, beet roots, dill, and a hardboiled egg. The end product is bright pink, delicious, and filling.
The second one is cepeliniai, which is shaped like a bomb and has pork in the middle. Think of it as a giant stuffed perogi. It's covered in a cream sauce, bacon fat, and bacon bits. Equally filling but your stomach will feel like lead.
We came across this bridge by chance, only because a helpful man (well, a little drunk as well, but helpful anyway) who had approached us in the cafe in Uzupis showed us a 'secret passage' that let us make a short cut to St Anne's. So, instead of going down Uzupio St we turned right at the Angel of Uzupis into a covered passage (there was some construction work going on) and went down Malunu St to a bridge on the Vilnele.
And here we got a surprise. The wrought iron barrier of the bridge was covered all over with.... padlocks. They were all locked, some were rusty from the elements but all firmly attached to the barrier.
We thought it rather strange at first but on closer inspection we saw inscriptions on the padlocks - a boy's and a girl's names, a date and perhaps a picture of a heart. Some even had a picture of a young couple engraved by laser. The keys were not there so we suppose the newly-weds must have dropped them into the river in the belief that this will make their marriage last forever. Good luck to them!
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