Churches, Cafés And Execution Cells

Another busy day of sightseeing today, as there’s a lot to see in this town.

We started to the south, with a number of churches and Aušros Vartai, the Gate of Dawn, which is the only one of the original nine city gates still standing.

That took all morning, so we had lunch at Pilies Kepyklėlė. Mmm, blynai.

After that, we walked down Gedimino gatvé, past the pretigious Gedimino 9 mall, all the way to the parliament building, where concrete barricades and barbed wire used to defend the building against Soviet special forces in January 1991 have been preserved as a chilling reminder of Lithuania’s recent past.

After cake and coffee at AJ Šokoladas, we hurried back along Gedimino gatvé to the Museum of Genocide Victims.

Much like its officially unrelated yet necessarily very related counterparts, the Latvijas Okupācijas Muzejs (Museum of the Occupation of Latvia) and the Okupatsioonide Muuseum (Museum of Occupations) in Estonia, the museum is a chilling document of the oppression of a people under a brutal foreign invader.

The building that houses the museum has served many purposes over the years, and under the Soviets it was the headquarters of the KGB. Consequently, the museum’s cellar features the actual cell block used for holding, interrogating and, inevitably, also torturing and murdering prisoners. It’s a bone-chilling place and I found myself biting my fingernails as I walked from exhibit to exhibit.

Sarah and the children toured the museum in a different order. Eloïse came to find me at one point and announced, “Papa, come and look. There’s a really nice room where some people killed some other people.” Her dispassionate stance was at once both amusing and shocking in its candour. Children are so matter-of-fact.

Emerging from the execution cell into the sunshine of a free and independent Lithuania was a thought-provoking and gratitude-inspiring one.

As I walked back along Gedimino gatvé, two Mormons approached me in an attempt to engage me in conversation, which, of course, I parried. Their presence was an immediate indication of how much things have changed in this country in the last couple of decades.

Dinner was at Forentino on Universiteto gatvé, a nice Italian restaurant with a very appealing courtyard.

Tomorrow is our last day in Vilnius.

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