The day after my wanderings in Vilnius, I decided to go to the Rasos cemetery, where is buried the urn containing the heart of the Marshal Pilsudski (Marshal’s tomb is located on Wawel Hill, about which I wrote here). Continue reading
Posts Tagged With: Poles in Vilnius
Time to continue wandering around Vilnius. During my “marathon” on the first day I managed to see quite a lot. Although a non-believer, always with great pleasure I visit churches, what attracts and captivates me is the peace and tranquility prevailing inside. The first sight was the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul in Antakalnis (Vilnius district). The first wooden church on the site was built during the reign of Wladyslaw Jagiello, was burned at the end of the sixteenth century and later rebuilt lasted only until 1655 when it was again destroyed, this time by the Russians. The building in its present form was started in 1668 and completed in 1684, and was founded by Lithuanian hetman Michał Kazimierz Pac. The curiosities worth mentioning are the crystal chandelier in the shape of a boat (a reminder of the sinking of the transport of the main altar with the crystal columns ordered by Pac in Italy) and placed somewhere close to the entrance a large Lithuanian drum (litaur) brought by hetman Pac after the battle of Chocim in 1673 (unfortunately I did not see this as I did not know during my visit about it and I certainly would find a way to see it). The interior is really impressive but I also recommend a walk around the basilica, because there are plenty of Polish traces out there (as in entire Vilnius). In the years 1951-1989 the church served as an art gallery, but it is often encountered situation in Lithuania, that the churches in the communist era were used for other purposes e.g. warehouses.
The next stop was the Adam Mickiewicz Museum, located in the house where our poet lived and worked. I was able to get to the museum in front of a large Polish tour, with which I then “raced” to next sights 🙂 Further proof that you can organize everything yourself and see exactly the same things as on organized trip, without having to be rushed from place to place. But everyone explores how he/she wants.
Gentlemen at the Museum (with a lovely Vilnius accent) asked me if I’m alone (I think groups are more common), to which I replied, yes, but that I do not lose hope 🙂 and then they warned me that if I chose Lithuanian girl, I have to take a skinny one, because, according to the Lithuanian custom, the bride must be carried across the bridge (as indeed I saw near the castle in Kaunas). While visiting museum at the same time as Polish trip, I was listening to their guide, telling various tidbits of life of our poet (in this very house he wrote “Grazyna”). I highly recommend the museum, because admission is not expensive, and you can learn something new. Museum is not very big, so you won’t be bored.
On the way to the image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn I visited beautiful St. Anna’s Church. Napoleon liked this church so much that he wished he could move it to Paris. Founded by Alexander Jagiellonczyk in the late fifteenth century as the Bernardine monastery chapel, the church was rebuilt several times after fires. Beautiful interior stopped me for a while (until the appearance of the Polish tour). Right next to the church is a monument of Adam Mickiewicz.
Finally it was time for the Gate of Dawn. Madame Wala from Sikorski Museum keeps saying that she prays only to the Virgin of Gate of Dawn and I had a strange feeling that Lady of the Gate of Dawn is closer to the people than the one from Czestochowa. There are no wild crowds like in Czestochowa, people passing by kneel and make the sign of the cross. You can approach the image at a very close distance, I felt a little intimidated standing next to it, but the moment of reflection was ruined by another tour wearing sandals and socks…
A short walk away from the Gate of Dawn is St’ Casimir’s Church. Wonderfully restored facade and rich interior meant that I was distracted for a moment and thought about the power of the old Polish Republic, when the aristocracy had the money and the willingness to fund such masterpieces. The church was built in the first half of the seventeenth century, burned down during the Russian invasion in 1655. The fire destroyed the church twice. Napoleon’s army used it as a granary, and from 1839 until 1917, the church was converted to the Orthodox. Since 1963, there was… a Museum of Atheism (an example of Soviet sense of humor). In 1991 large crypt from the early seventeenth century was discovered under the main altar. You can view the interesting black and dark-blue drawing, forming the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and praying monks. Drawings are accompanied by similarly made subtitles in Latin.
That was the end of my tour, I had to run to meet my CS host. Renata took me to a delicious Lithuanian dinner, mushroom soup served in bread and zeppelins – dumplings filled with meat stuffing with bacon (the name comes from the similarity in appearance to the Zeppelin airships). At the end of the day, after a delicious unpasteurized beer, Renata showed me the Presidential Palace, from a less popular among tourists side.
It was a very intense day, I did 25 kilometers on foot and legs almost refused to work at the end. Another episode of Vilnius escapades soon.
Today, the first entry from Vilnius – I say first, because it will be more 🙂
I stayed at Renata’s from Couchsurfing. She picked me up in the evening from the airport (in neighbourhood of which located is Gypsy camp – apparently the local place to buy various narcotic substances 🙂 ) and went to her apartment. Walking through the backyards I realized that I smile and I came to the conclusion that the backyards look very familiar – they are surrounded by ugly blocks – gems of Soviet architecture. Probably our architects were given projects from Russia at the time 🙂 There is, however, one major difference between the blocks in Poland and Lithuania – Polish ones are insulated, painted, very nicely presented in a word, and Lithuanian? Almost ruins – have not seen any older block (built more than 20 years ago) in Vilnius and Kaunas, which would not be shabby, with balconies threatening to fall down and bury passers-by under.
My main goal was to contact Ms Halina Jotkiałło (starts out as a story of espionage) as I had something for her from Ms Wala (with whom I do Fridays at the Sikorski Museum). The two ladies met in London when Ms Halina and her group came from Vilnius with shows. Ms Halina lives at some distance from the centre, so I decided to walk along the Vilnia River as I wanted to see that mysterious Vilnius with my own eyes (that day I did some 25km on foot, I do not need to tell you my legs hurt “a little bit” the next day 🙂 ).
I already described above my aesthetic experience (or lack of them) at the sight of residential buildings in Lithuania, so I will not repeat myself. I heard before leaving from a few people, that Vilnius is beautiful and yes, the old town is beautiful, but go outside the old town and it’s different world. One can see it’s a poor country.
But back to Ms Halina – she is a retired Polish journalist (among other things she worked for “Courier Vilnius”, previously called “Red Flag”) who spent her entire life in Vilnius. Her husband, George (Jerzy) Surwiło was a very respected journalist, writer and activist for the Polish culture. Her occupation and functions performed by her husband meant that Ms Halina was sometimes invited to various events where she met many celebrities and politicians. They were among others Richard (Ryszard) Kaczorowki (the last President of Poland in Exile), President Kaczynski and his wife and George (Jerzy) Waldorf. There’s an interesting story regarding President Kaczyński. In 2005, during his visit President Kwasniewski and President Valdas Adamkus unveiled at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius a plaque advising that the work is carried out under the aegis of the Foundation of Adam Mickiewicz, under the patronage of the Presidents of Lithuania and Poland (though apparently Lithuanians didn’t give too much). Well, in the course of his presidency, when President Kaczynski visited Vilnius, he said that if the plaque is not removed he won’t visit the cemetery and will withdraw all financial support. The result is a new plaque, picture of which you can admire below. And no, it is not my goal to denigrate the late President Kaczynski, I quoted the story, because we spent a lot of time talking about the cemetery (Ms Halina also met the late Andrew (Andrzej) Przewoźnik, the then secretary of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom, who is largely responsible for the restoration of the Bernardine Cemetery and many others).
The afternoon passed pleasantly and quickly, with wine and conversation. I picked up a few words in Polish spoken in Vilnius which is totally different from Polish I speak. Listening to Ms Halina’s stories of the olden times and Poles, it felt as if I was there, transferred in time. I have to admit that the life of Poles in Lithuania is a totally different story. They’re Polish too but they had lived in the Soviet Union. Ms Halina talked about how the books were smuggled from Poland, because one could not get anything in Lithuania. Smuggled books were later read in turn by the intelligentsia. So maybe life was not so hard in communistic Poland – certainly Poles in Lithuania struggled more to remain Polish. The beautiful thing is that Ms Halina still feels Polish, loves Poland and is interested in all aspects, including the rising Polish tennis stars. You can meet Ms Halina and other ladies from Vilnius on 1st and 2nd November at the Powązki cemetery collecting money to keep Polish cemeteries in Vilnius. Dear Varsovians – be generous!