Baltic Trip - August 2013


Courtesy of www.worldofmaps.net

04 August 2013 Helsinki, Finland
05 August 2013 Helsinki, Finland
06 August 2013 Tallinn, Estonia
07 August 2013 Tallinn, Estonia
08 August 2013 Tartu, Estonia
  Cēsis, Latvia
  Sigulda, Latvia
09 August 2013 Gauja National Park, Latvia
  Vilnius, Lithuania
10 August 2013 Vilnius, Lithuania
  Trakai, Lithuania
  Druskininkai, Lithuania
12 August 2013 Kaunas, Lithuania
11 August 2013 Grutas, Lithuania
  Klaipeda, Lithuania
Kuršininkai, Lithuania
  Nida, Lithuania
13 August 2013 Nida, Lithuania
14 August 2013 Nida, Lithuania
15 August 2013 Nida, Lithuania
16 August 2013 Uostadvaris, Lithuania
  Kinta, Lithuania
  Ventės Ragas, Lithuania
  Klaipėda, Lithuania
17 August 2013 Klaipėda, Lithuania
  Palanga, Lithuania
18 August 2013 Kryžių kalnas, Lithuania 
  Rundāle, Lithuania
  Riga, Latvia
19 August 2013 Riga, Latvia
20 August 2013 Pärnu, Latvia
  Tallinn, Estonia
21 August 2013 Tallinn, Estonia

We flew from Atlanta to Helsinki by way of  Amsterdam. 

Our Estonia-Latvia-Lithuania tour was arranged by East-West Tours and was all-inclusive save our airfares and the ferry cost from Helsinki to Tallinn and, of course, our expenses in Finland. This is the first time we contracted with a travel agency for our land trips. We were very pleased with the service. Breakfasts were included at each hotel and they were buffet type which offered eggs, bacon, sausages, in addition to the usual European "continental" plates of cheese, meats, rolls and butter, and so on. We usually left the hotel each morning at 0900 and usually got back around 1800-1900. Lots of walking (5 to 7 miles a day over cobblestones and rocky surfaces) and somewhat long bus rides between stops. We were in a group that had both English and German speaking visitors. There was a female guide for each of the language groups. Some were excellent, some were mediocre. All in all, we got a lot of information about the history of cultures of the Baltic peoples and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Being in our 70s, we started to tire a bit after 2 weeks of full-time hard traveling but we managed to keep up.

All our earlier European land trips were basically "played by ear." We had flights to and from with a car rental for the duration. Then we proceeded at our own pace to see what we wanted to see. We used the Michelin guides to determine which hotel to stay in each night based on where we were. We have taken many cruises in recent years and enjoyed them, particularly those on Holland America. 

We have visited most countries in Europe but the Baltic States and Finland were among the very few that we never visited. The Baltic States have had great history over the centuries and we always had them on our "to-do" list.

Much of the background information included here has been garnered from various internet sources, mostly Wikipedia.




From the 12th until the start of the 19th century, Finland was a part of Sweden. It then became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire until the communist revolution in 1917. Finland is actually the Swedish name of the country, the Finns call it Suomi. This prompted the Finnish declaration of independence, which was followed by a civil war where the "reds" were defeated by the "Whites." After a brief attempt to establish a monarchy in the country, Finland became a republic. Finland's experience of World War II involved three separate conflicts: the Winter War (1939–1940) and Continuation War (1941–1944) allied with Germany against the Soviet Union; and after the peace treaty with the Soviets and expulsion of German forces,  the Lapland War (1944–1945) against Germany. Finland lost a large part of its eastern territory in Karelia to the Soviet Union who Russia still holds. My father told me that Finland was the only country that totally repaid its debt to the US.

The earliest inhabitants of most of the land area that makes up today's Finland were in all likehood hunter-gatherers whose closest successors in modern terms would probably be the Sami people (formerly known as the Lapps). There are 4,500 of them living in Finland today. They have been living north of the Arctic Circle for more than 7,000 years now, but today are a 5% minority in their native Lapland Province. The Finnish people are considered to be Finno-Ugric as their language is Euro-Asian unlike any other major language except Hungarian. Some studies believe that the ancestors of these people originated in China some 10,000 plus years ago and migrated through the Urals into Europe. 

Finland has about 5.5 million inhabitants, with 1 million in the immediate Helsinki area. The people are mostly Finn-speakers with about 5% being Swedish speaking Finns. Like Sweden, Norway, and Northern Russian, Sami people populate the extreme north. Close to a half million Finns have emigrated to North America over the last century and a half. About 80% of the people belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, another 1%+ belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church. About 18% of Finns profess no religion.


Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today known as Tallinn). Little came of the plans as Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases. The plague of 1710 killed the greater part of the inhabitants of Helsinki. The construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg (In Finnish Viapori, today also Suomenlinna) in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki's status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. During the war, Russians besieged the Sveaborg fortress and most of the city was devastated in an 1808 fire.

Tsar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland and bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg. Following the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, The Royal Academy of Turku, back then the country's only university, was also relocated to Helsinki, and eventually became the modern University of Helsinki. The move consolidated the city's new role and helped set it on the path of continuous growth. This transformation is highly apparent in the downtown core, which was rebuilt in neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg, mostly to a plan by the German-born architect C. L. Engel. As elsewhere, technological advancements such as railroads and industrialization were key factors behind the city's growth.

We stayed at the Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka. This hotel was the district prison from 1837 to 2002. It was renovated using 2 to 3 cells to make the current guest rooms. The grounds are still surrounded by the very high and thick prison brick walls including one of the old gates located at the rear of the hotel. The hotel still has the old prison iron staircases with a bit of modernization. The basement restaurant has preserved one of the isolation cells.

The hotel/prison grounds -- The hotel/prison staircase


The exercise yard now houses a terrace bar where you can order snacks and drinks. It was very nice outside except the "music" that they played constantly was terrible and very irritating. I asked the barkeep if they could turn it down or off but he said he had no control over it. Most guests were in small groups at the various tables and it was difficult to hear your tablemates because of this "music"/noise. The Wi-Fi does not work in the rooms so you had to sit outside your room door to use it (no tables of seats provided though) or you go down to the terrace bar. The god-awful racket of the "music" made it hard to concentrate on what you were trying to do. My wife commented that the "music" sounded like something the drug culture would enjoy. If they have to have music there, they should use something soothing not annoying!

We had lunch in the restaurant one day and it was good and not expensive. The wife had salmon soup with large hunks of salmon and potatoes in a cream broth. She says it was the best meal she had the whole trip!

We booked a two hour tour bus to take us around to see the highlights of Helsinki and after that walked back to the places we were interested in. Helsinki is a very clean and modern city. The people are friendly and most speak good English (they are required to take a foreign language for several years in their schools). There were only a few beggars to bother us unlike western and southern European cities.

Senate Square has the Helsinki Cathedral, a Finnish Evangelical church built from 1818 to 1841; the Palace of the Council of State (formerly the Senate Building) built in 1822; and the statue of Tsar Alexander II of Russia who is revered in Finland as he allowed the establishment of the Finnish Diet (Senate), allowing the Finnish language to be used in the then-Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, and other reforms.

The Market Square is located by the waterfront and features numerous kiosks selling everything from souvenirs, to food/drink, to ferry tickets to nearby islands and other points.

Helsinki Cathedral -- Senate Building

Statue of Tsar Alexander II on Senate Square -- Market Square

Panorama of Market Square

We took a ferry out to an old Swedish fortress on an island called Soumenlinna/Seaborg. The area is very well preserved with garrison walls and we enjoyed an ice cream cone while walking the grounds. 

Helsinki waterfront from ferry to Soumenlinna - Close up of Upensky Russian Orthodox Church from ferry


You could walk from the hotel into central Helsinki in 15 or 20 minutes to see the sights or dine away from the hotel. The last night we were there, I checked the internet and found a recommendation for a pizza/pasta place about 4 blocks or so from the hotel. Turns out that one closed in 2007 but there was another one near the old location. I do not like pizza so I ordered by number for a pasta dish. I also wanted some garlic bread (which I find is essentially unknown in the Baltic States). He responded about something about pizza and I told him I do not want pizza as I do not eat it that I wanted bread or rolls. Anyway, out comes our dinner. Marilyn got her pizza OK but my pasta was a pizza (again, I ordered by number "51" which the the menu grouping said were pasta dishes)! The garlic bread was a small pizza. I was irritated and told Marilyn that we would tell them we were taking it back to the hotel because it was too windy.7 in their outside sitting area and way too warm in the restaurant itself. The fellow asked where we were from, I told him "Georgia" and asked where he was from. "Bangladesh!" The two gents working there were not conversant in good English. Lesson when ordering Italian food be sure the principals are Italian not Bangladeshi! As we walked back to the hotel, I was looking for a place to trash my pizza and there was a young fellow outside a nearby grocery. We asked him he would like the hot pizzas. He did and was grateful for our gift to him. We then walked into town and had real Italian food like we ordered at IL SICILIANO restaurant.

The next morning we caught the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia.




Estonia was settled near the end of the last glacial era, beginning from around 8500 BC. Germans invaded in the 13th century. Later Estonia became a battleground for centuries where Denmark, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Poland fought their many wars over controlling the important geographical position of the country as a gateway between East and West.

Being conquered by Danes and Germans in 1227, Estonia was ruled initially by Denmark in the north, by the Livonian Order, an autonomous part of the Teutonic Knights and Baltic German ecclesiastical states of the Holy Roman Empire and from 1418–1562 the whole of Estonia was part of the Livonian Confederation. After the Livonian War, Estonia became part of the Sweden from the 16th century to 1710/1721, when it was ceded to Russia as the result of the Great Northern War.

The Estophile Enlightenment Period 1750–1840 led to the Estonian national awakening in the middle of the 19th century. In 1889 Russia tried to Russify the country. In the aftermath of World War I and the Russian revolutions, Estonia declared its independence on 23 February 1918. The Estonian War of Independence ensued on two fronts between the newly proclaimed state and Russian communists to the east and the Baltic German forces in the south, resulting in the Tartu Peace Treaty recognizing Estonian independence in perpetuity (until the Germans and Russians seized the country in the 1940s). Internal convulsions in the early 1930s led to a coup by the head of state who ruled by decree until 1938. 

In June 1940, Estonia was occupied and  illegally annexed by the Soviet Union as a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The Soviet authorities, having gained control over Estonia, immediately imposed a regime of terror. During the first year of Soviet occupation (1940–1941) over 8,000 people, including most of the country's leading politicians and military officers, were arrested. About 2,200 of the arrested were executed in Estonia, while most others were moved to prison camps in Russia, from where very few were later able to return alive. Mass deportations of civilians to Siberian labor camps were carried out, with at least 40% perishing from maltreatment. During the war Estonia was occupied by Germany in 1941, then reoccupied by the Soviet Union in 1944. Estonia regained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR. The US maintained diplomatic recognition of the three Baltic republics during the Soviet occupation until free governments were reestablished.

Estonians are akin to the Finns. Their language is also Finno-Ugric in origin which really is believed to originate in the Ural Mountains. Current population is about 1.3 million. About 70% are of Estonian ethnicity, about 25% Russian.  Due to Soviet policies during the occupation, Estonians have the largest percentage of non-believers in Europe, only 30% of the population adhere to religion. Some 14% profess Lutheranism, 13% Orthodox, and a small percentage to other religions. 

Tallinn, Estonia

The earliest names of Tallinn include Kolivon (Russian: Колывань meaning big red castle) the name possibly deriving from the Estonian mythical hero Kalev. Up to the 13th century the Scandinavians and called the town Lyndanisse in Danish. According to some theories the name derived from mythical Linda, the wife of Kalev and the mother of Kalevipoeg who in an Estonian legend carried rocks to her husband's grave that formed the Toompea hill. It has been also suggested that in the context the meaning of linda in the archaic Estonian language had the same meaning as linna or linn later on meaning a castle or town in English. According to the suggestion nisa would have had the same meaning as niemi (meaning peninsula in English) in an old Finnish form of the name Kesoniemi. Other than Kesoniemi known ancient historical names of Tallinn in Finnish include Rääveli. The Icelandic Njal's Saga mentions Tallinn and calls it Rafala, which is a variant of the name Raphael. After the Danish conquest in 1219 the town became known as Reval. The name originated from Estonian Revala or Rävala, the adjacent ancient name of the surrounding Estonian county.

The origin of the name "Tallinn(a)" is certain to be Estonian, although the original meaning of the name is debated. It is usually thought to be derived from, Tallide-linn (meaning the City of Stables) or "Taani-linn(a)" (meaning "Danish-castle/town"; after the Danes built the castle in place of the Estonian stronghold at Lindanisse. However, it could also have come from "tali-linna" ("winter-castle/town"), or "talu-linna" ("house/farmstead-castle/town"). The element -linna originally meant "fortress" but is used as a suffix in the formation of town names. The previous name Reval was replaced after Estonia became independent in 1918–1920. 

The first traces of human settlement found in Tallinn's city center by archeologists are about 5000 years old. In 1050 the first fortress was built on Tallinn Toompea.  As an important port for trade between Russia and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark beginning of the 13th century when Christianity was adopted. Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219. In 1285 the city became the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. The Danes sold Tallinn along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights in 1346. Medieval Tallinn enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defense towers. With the start of the Protestant Reformation the German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. In 1561 Tallinn politically became a dominion of Sweden. During the Great Northern War, plague stricken Tallinn along with Swedish Estonia and Livonia capitulated to Russia in 1710, but the local self-government institutions (Magistracy of Reval and Chivalry of Estonia) retained their cultural and economical autonomy within Russia as the Duchy of Estonia. 

Tallinn consists of three parts:

The city of Tallinn has never been razed and pillaged that was the fate of Tartu, the university town 200 km (124 mi) south, which was pillaged in 1397 by the Teutonic Order. Around 1524 Catholic churches in many towns in Estonia, including Tallinn, were pillaged as part of the Reformation fervor. Although extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the later stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town still retains its charm.

We took the Viking Line ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. It was about a 2½ boat ride across the Gulf of Finland. Reservations and check-in 2 hours before departure are rules though the ticket office only opened about 1¾ hours before departure. The ferry was packed with Finns who go to Tallinn for low cost goods, primarily alcohol. A round trip ferry ride costs around €40 so the savings must be great! We were told that they can buy Finnish-produced alcohol items sans tax in Estonia. The Tallinn ferry terminal has a large shopping center for these day travelers.

Steaming into Tallinn

We stayed at the Meriton Grand Spa Hotel just outside Old Town Tallinn. About a quarter mile walk up the hill from the hotel takes you into Toompea (the Upper Old Town} where the magistrates, religious leaders, and the prosperous lived. You first come across the Pikk Hermann tower on the city walls. You turn left and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral is to the right.  There are a lot of old interesting buildings there but we only found a single snack bar that served light snacks and cold beer and wine. We stopped, obviously. While there,  we heard country music on someone's radio that made us feel right at home. After we toured this part (we knew nothing about the Lower Old Town), we went back to the hotel and had dinner.

Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) - Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral -- St Mary's Cathedral

Tallinn Skyline from Toompea Park Overlook

The next morning, our guide first took us on a bus tour of Tallinn.  We went through residential areas with beautiful homes. We visited the Song Festival Grounds where more than 300,000 people participated in a huge event entitled "The Song of Estonia" in September 1988, and for the first time the re-establishment of Estonia's independence was openly demanded. There is a belief that Estonians sang themselves free from the Soviet occupation.

Tallinn home -- Song Festival Grounds


She then led us to Toompea and then to All-Linn (the Lower Town). The Lower Town is where the merchants lived and the area has many old buildings and multitudinous bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. We came back in the evening for supper at one of the restaurants.

St Mary's Cathedral --- Altar -- Pulpit

Walking down the Long Steps to All-Linn -- Street scene in All-Linn

Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square) -- Eesti Vabadussõda (Independence War Memorial)

Supper at All-Lin

Panorama of Raekoja plats

City walls at end of Short Steps from All-Linn to Toompea

Tartu, Estonia

Tartu is the second largest city of Estonia. In contrast to Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinn, Tartu is often considered the intellectual and cultural hub, especially since it is home to Estonia's oldest and most renowned university. Historical names of the town include Tarbatu, an Estonian fortress founded in the 5th century, Yuryev (Russian: Юрьев) named c. 1030 by Yaroslav I the Wise, and Dorpat as first known by the German crusaders in the 13th century.

Archaeological evidence of the first permanent settlement on the site of modern Tartu dates to as early as the 5th century AD. By the 7th century, local inhabitants had built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi).

The first documented record of the area was made in 1030 by chroniclers of Kievan Rus. Yaroslav I the Wise, Prince of Kiev, raided Tartu that year, built his own fort there, and named it Yuryev (literally "Yury's" – Yury (a Russified form of George) being Yaroslav's Christian name). In the beginning of the 13th century the fort of Tarbatu was captured by the crusading Livonian Knights and recaptured by Estonians on several occasions. In 1224, after additional troops led by prince Vyachko of Kukenois had been installed in the fort, it was besieged and conquered for one last time by the German crusaders. Subsequently known as Dorpat, Tartu became a commercial centre of considerable importance during the later Middle Ages and the capital of the semi-independent Bishopric of Dorpat.

In 1262 the army of Prince Dmitri of Pereslavl, son of Alexander Nevsky launched an assault on Dorpat, capturing and destroying the town. His troops did not manage to capture the bishop's fortress on Toome Hill. In the 1280s Dorpat joined the Hanseatic League. In medieval times Tartu was an important trading city. As in all of Estonia and Latvia, the largely German-speaking nobility, but in Tartu/Dorpat (as in Tallinn) even more so, the Baltic German bourgeoisie, the literati, dominated culture, religion, architecture, education, and politics until the late 19th century. Most Germans left during the first half of the 20th century, in particular as part of the Heim ins Reich (Return to the Reich) program of the Nazis in 1939.

In 1558 the forces of Muscovy led by Tsar Ivan the Terrible invaded the region in what became known as the Livonian War. Dorpat was captured without a fight and the local bishop was imprisoned in Moscow, which effectively ended the period of local self-government. In the effect of the Truce of Jam Zapolski of 1582 the city along with southern regions of Livonian Confederation became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1598 it became the capital of the Dorpat Voivodeship of the Duchy of Livonia. In late 1600 the forces of Charles IX of Sweden besieged the city defended by three banners of reiters and the city's burghers. Despite repeated assaults, the Swedes could not enter the city. Finally in 1601 Capt. Hermann Wrangel switched sides, assaulted the castellan and opened the gates for the Swedish forces. The town was retaken by Poland on 13 April 1603 following a brief siege led by hetman Jan Chodkiewicz. During yet another Polish-Swedish War, in 1625 Tartu was once again captured by Sweden, this time for good. In the effect of the 1629 Truce of Altmark the city became part of the Dominions of Sweden. With the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the city became part of Russia and was known as Derpt. In 1893, the city was officially retitled to the ancient Russian name Yuryev. 

With Estonian independence after World War I, the city officially became known by the Estonian name Tartu.

During World War II, a large part of the city was destroyed by the German Army, partly in 1941 and almost completely in 1944. Already heavily damaged Tartu was occupied by soviet forces in 1943-44. After the war ended, much of the historical downtown area was left in ruins. Even the less damaged buildings in entire city blocks were torn down by the order of occupational authorities and large swaths of land turned into public parks.

We traveled by bus to Tartu, Estonia's second largest city. We passed through small towns and farming areas. When we arrived, we walked to the town square and the parks surrounding it. We walked through the Tartu University area and visited one of the school's buildings. 

Farms near Jõgevamaa

Town Hall Square - Tartu

Buildings in Tartu

Tartu University buildings (mural at left is scene in the 19th century) -- Old Observatory and Astronomer's residence

Tartu Dom Cathedral ruins -- Student's room in the 1800s

After a tour of the city whilst the rest of the group had lunch, a Lithuanian ham operator Rolandas LY4Q and an Estonian ham Tauri ES5HTA picked me up in his car and took me to a ham convention for the Young Operators on the Air. There I met several young hams from all over Europe and a few old timers like Janis YL3AD from Latvia. I was able to visit the two stations ES5YOTA and ES9YOTA. It was a pleasant break to meet with fellow ham radio enthusiasts. The youngsters were very enthused about the hobby and really enjoying the operating with the special call signs.

LY4Q, YL3AD, K6EID -- ES5HTA Tauri operating ES5YOTA

ES9YOTA operating position with Kristers (now YL3AJA) at the mic -- IZ6TSA, IZ1TUP, K6EID, IV3BAB, and IT9RGY



Latvia was settled following the end of the last glacial period, around 9000 BC. Ancient Baltic peoples appeared during the second millennium BC and four distinct tribal realms in Latvia's territories were identifiable towards the end of the first millennium AD. Latvia's principal river, the Daugava River, was at the head of an important mainland route from the Baltic region through Russia into southern Europe and the Middle East used by the Vikings and later Nordic and German traders.

In the early medieval period, the region's peoples resisted Christianisation. Today's capital, Riga, founded in 1201 by Teutonic colonists at the mouth of the Daugava, became a strategic base in a papally-sanctioned conquest of the area by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. It was to be the first major city of the southern Baltic and, after 1282, a principal trading center in the Hanseatic League. By the 16th century Germanic dominance in the region was increasingly challenged by other powers.

Due to Latvia's strategic location and prosperous city, its territories were a frequent focal point for conflict and conquest between at least four major powers, the Teutonic Order, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden and Russia. The longest period of external hegemony in the modern period began in 1710 when control over Riga switched from Sweden to Russia during the Great Northern War. Under Russian control, Latvia was in the vanguard of industrialization and the abolition of serfdom so that by the end of the 19th century it had become one of the most developed parts of the Russian Empire. The increasing social problems and rising discontent which this brought meant that Riga also played a leading role in the 1905 Russian Revolution.

A rising sense of Latvian nationalism from the 1850s onwards bore fruit after World War I when, Latvia declared independence on 18 November 1918. A series of conflicts within the territory of Latvia during 1918–1920 is commonly known as the Latvian War of Independence. In December 1918 Soviet Russia invaded the new republic and rapidly conquered almost all the territory of Latvia, Riga itself was captured by the Soviet Army on 4 April 1919, with the exception of a small territory near Liepāja. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was proclaimed on 17 December 1918 with the political, economic, and military backing of the Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia. On 3 March 1919 German and Latvian forces commenced a counterattack against the forces of Soviet Latvia. On 22 May 1919 Riga was recaptured. In June 1919 collisions started between the Baltische Landeswehr on one side and the Estonian 3rd division on the other. The 3rd division defeated the German forces in the Battle of Wenden on 23 June. An armistice was signed at Strazdumuiža, under the terms of which the Germans had to leave Latvia. However the German forces instead of leaving, were incorporated into the West Russian Volunteer Army. On October 5 it commenced an offensive on Riga taking the west bank of the Daugava River but on 11 November was defeated by Latvian forces and by the end of the month, driven from Latvia. On 3 January 1920 the united Latvian and Polish forces launched an attack on the Soviet army in Latgalia and took Daugavpils. By the end of January they reached the ethnographic border of Latvia. On 11 August 1920 according to the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty ("Treaty of Riga") Soviet Russia relinquished authority over the Latvian nation and claims to Latvian territethnographicory "once and for all times."

During the economic tumult of the early 1930s, the prime minister made a coup on 15 May 1934 suspending all opposition parties and the parliament. This iron rule continued until World War II.  On 16 June 1940, threatening an invasion, the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum demanding that the government be replaced and that an unlimited number of Soviet troops be admitted. Knowing that the Red Army had entered Lithuania a day before, that its troops were massed along the eastern border and mindful of the Soviet military bases in Western Latvia, the government acceded to the demands, and Soviet troops occupied the country on 17 June. Staged elections were held 14-15 July 1940, whose results were announced in Moscow 12 hours before the polls closed; Soviet documents show the election results were forged. The newly elected "People's Assembly" declared Latvia a Socialist Soviet Republic and applied for admission into the Soviet Union on July 21. Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on 5 August 1940. In the spring of 1941, the Soviet central government began planning the mass deportation of anti-Soviet elements from the occupied Baltic States. In preparation, General Ivan Serov, Deputy People's Commissar of Public Security of the Soviet Union, signed the Serov Instructions, "Regarding the Procedure for Carrying out the Deportation of Anti-Soviet Elements from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia." During the night of 13–14 June 1941, 15,424 inhabitants of Latvia were deported to camps and special settlements, mostly in Siberia. 35,000 people were deported in the first year of Soviet occupation.

Latvia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, then retaken by the Soviets in 1944 after Germany surrendered. On March 25, 1949, 43,000 rural residents ("kulaks") and Latvian patriots ("nationalists") were deported to Siberia in a sweeping repressive Operation Priboi in all three Baltic States, which was carefully planned and approved in Moscow already on 29 January 1949. All together 120,000 Latvian inhabitants were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration camps. 

From the mid-1940s the country was subject to Soviet economic control and saw considerable Russification of its peoples, but Latvian culture and infrastructures survived such that, during the period of Soviet liberalization under Mikhail Gorbachev, Latvia once again took a path towards independence which eventually succeeded on 21 August 1991 and was recognised by Russia the following month.

Latvians now make up about 62% of the population with Russians the largest minority at about 27%. Today 24% of the people profess Orthodox, 21% Catholic, 20% Lutheran, with 16% non-believers.

The Latvian flag's blood red represents the Latvian blood lost in many wars over the centuries.

Latvia uses its own currency at present. They will join the Euro group in 2014.

Cēsis, Latvia

Cēsis was established in 1206 and it is third oldest city in Latvia. Evidences of people living in Cēsis can be found from the fourth century. The fastest development of Cēsis happened in Livonian times, when it was capital of Livonia and main development center in the Vidzeme region. In 1323 Cēsis received title of city. In 1367 Cēsis joined the Hanseatic League. Cēsis is considered to be a city where the Latvian flag was created.
Starting from the 19th century Cēsis is known as center of art, culture and rest and it continues to hold this title. Cultural environment is being influenced by cultural and historical heritage which is made by Cēsis Medieval castle; Old City with its street network and wooden, stone and brick buildings, mansions near Gauja river; and old manors.

St. John's Church is one of the oldest medieval architectural monuments in Latvia. The church was built in the beginning of 13th century during the Christianization of Baltic’s for the purposes of the Livonian Holy Order because residence of the order was located in Cēsis; therefore Cēsis became one of the most important German power centers in the Baltic’s from 1237 up to 1561.

Headed here from Tartu. Passed a lot of small towns and farms on the way. The town is quite pretty. The Victory Monument was unveiled in 1924 as one of the first monuments to those who fell in the Latvian freedom battles. It was located at the southern edge of Union Square, where Raunas and Rīgas streets come together. The basic theme of the monument was: a sun rising from the flames of battle. The Soviet regime blew up the monument in 1951. In the late 1990s the monument was restored, and it was unveiled for a second time in 1998.

Strenči --- Home -- Water tower at mental hospital

St. John's Church 


Cēsis Castle ruins

Cēsis street scene -- Victory Monument

Sigulda, Latvia

Sigulda is situated on a picturesque stretch of the primeval Gauja river valley. Because of the reddish Devonian sandstone which forms steep rocks and caves on both banks of the river, Sigulda has been called the "Switzerland of Vidzeme".

Finno-Ugric Liv tribes inhabited the area as far back as 2000 BC; by the 12th century they had built several wooden hill-top strongholds. In 1207, when the German crusaders were dividing up their spoils, the Gauja was chosen as the boundary in this area between the territories of the Knights of the Sword, who took the land south of the river, and of the archbishop of Rīga, who took the north side. Both built prominent castles, as much to guard against each other, one suspects, as against any local uprising.

After suffering numerous wars, particularly between the 16th and 18th centuries, Sigulda developed as a country resort with the building of the Pskov-Rīga railway in 1889. The Russian owner of the local estate, Prince Kropotkin, sold off land to wealthy Rīgans to build their own country houses.

We stayed at the Segevold Hotel (Segevold is the old German name of the town). The room was very spacious and comfortable.

The Sigulda New Castle was built during the time of Duchess Olga and Duke Dimitry Kropotkins from 1878 until 1881 using the materials from an older building which stood here during the 17th century. During World War II, the New Castle was used as a headquarters for the Nord division of the German army. After the war, the USSR Council of Ministers made it a recreation house for high state officials. 

Sigulda New Castle

Located immediately behind the New Castle are the ruins of the Sigulda Medieval Castle. The Medieval Castle was built by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword who were later incorporated into the Teutonic Order of the castle, thus the castle eventually became the property of the Livonian Order. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, officially known as The Militia of Christ of Livonia, was a military order composed of German "warrior monks.” They later became better known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword due to the symbols on their white capes: a red sword and cross. The order, founded in 1202, was the first "warrior monk” order formed outside the Mediterranean region. Historical documents indicate Bishop Albert and Cistercian Abbot Teoderih were the co-founders of the order. The military order’s mission was to remain in Livonia to protect the land and conquer new territories. At the very beginning of the Livonian war, Sigulda Medieval Castle was damaged and in 1562 it became a part of the Polish Starostwo. At the end of the 16th century, the Poles repaired the castle and its surrounding buildings. During the Polish – Swedish war the castle was seriously damaged. After the war, the Swedes reported that the castle was empty and destroyed. In the 1622 it was again restored and a new residential building and sauna were built. In 1625, the King of Sweden bestowed Sigulda as a gift to Count Uksensem.

Sigulda Medieval Castle

Building of the Turaida castle was started in 1214 according to directions given by Albert, archbishop of Riga, at the place where previously had stood the wooden castle of Liv leader Kaupo. A “Castellum” type fortress was built and named Fredeland, which translates as “Land of Peace”. This name was not popular so the local name "Turaida" has survived until the present day. Improving the defensive system of the castle continued in later centuries – in the 14th century, the tower-shaped southern section was built, at the beginning of 15th century, when fire arms were invented, the semi-rounded western tower was built. Along with the fortifications, domestic buildings and living accommodation were erected in the inner yard of the castle. Minor reconstruction work was carried out in 17th century although the castle started to lose its strategic importance. After a fire in 1776 it was not reconstructed and in the course of time it fell into ruins.

By the beginning of the 20th century, only separate fragments of the defensive wall and some buildings – main tower, semi-rounded tower and western section, were left. From 1976 regular archeological excavations were carried out, which were followed by restoration and conservation works; as a result the castle has regained part of its earlier shape.

Turaida Castle



The history of Lithuania dates back to at least 1009, the first recorded written use of the term Lithuanians, a branch of the Baltic people, later conquered neighboring lands, establishing the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the 13th century the short-lived Kingdom of Lithuania. The Grand Duchy was a successful and lasting warrior state. The Duchy remained fiercely independent and was one of the last areas of Europe to adopt Christianity. 

Grand Duke Gediminas was the first of the leaders responsible for Lithuania's state power and the great expansion into Ruthenia. Gediminas extended the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the east by challenging the Mongols, who from the 1230s invaded large areas of Rus'. Through alliances and conquest, in competition with the Principality of Moscow (an Orthodox Metropolitan Lithuanian seat was established to further that end), the Lithuanians eventually gained control of vast expanses, the western and southern portions of the former Kievan Rus'. Gediminas' rule stretched up to the eastern Smolensk region, southern Polesia and temporarily Kiev. In the 14th century, many Lithuanian princes established in the territories to govern the Rus' lands accepted Eastern Christianity and assumed the Ruthenian custom and names, joining the culture of their subjects. Integration into the Lithuanian state structure was accomplished without disturbing the local ways of life. The Lithuanian-controlled area grew to include most of modern Belarus and Ukraine (the Dnieper River basin) and comprised a massive Lithuanian state that in the 15th century stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

From 1345 Algirdas took over as the grand duke. He in practice ruled Lithuanian Ruthenia, while Lithuania proper was the domain of his equally able brother Kęstutis. Algirdas fought the Golden Horde Tatars and the Principality of Moscow, Kęstutis took upon himself the demanding struggle with the Teutonic Order. Algirdas captured Kiev in 1362 after defeating the Mongols in the Battle of Blue Waters. Volhynia, Podolia and left-bank Ukraine were also incorporated. In 1368, 1370 and 1372 he invaded Muscovy and each time approached Moscow itself.

In the 15th century, Lithuania became the largest state in Europe through the conquest of much of East Slav populated Ruthenia. The Grand Duchy, a formidable power, formed in 1385 a dynastic union with Poland and became Christianized, merging into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. In 1795, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was erased from the political map with the Partitions of the Commonwealth. Afterwards the Lithuanians lived under the rule of the Russian Empire until the 20th century. 

The Russian Empire regarded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as an East Slavic realm that ought to be (and was being) "reunited" with Russia. In the following decades however, a national, Lithuanian ethnicity-based movement emerged. It was composed of activists of different social backgrounds and persuasions, often primarily Polish speaking, but united by their willingness and zeal to promote the Lithuanian culture and language as a strategy for building a modern nation. In 1864 the Lithuanian language and the Latin alphabet were banned in junior schools. Lithuanians resisted the Russification by arranging printing abroad and smuggling the books in. The tsarist authorities implemented a number of Russification policies, including a ban on Lithuanian press and the closing of cultural and educational institutions. Lithuania became part of a new administrative region called Northwestern Krai (the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania). The ban was lifted between 1890 and 1904. 

Large numbers of Lithuanians went to the United States in 1867–1868 after a famine in Lithuania. Between 1868 and 1914, approximately 635,000 people, almost 20% of the population, left Lithuania. Nevertheless, a Lithuanian National Revival laid the foundations of the modern Lithuanian nation and independent Lithuania. Lithuania's nationalist movement continued to grow. During the Russia-wide revolutionary uprising of 1905, a large congress of Lithuanian representatives in Vilnius known as the Great Seimas of Vilnius demanded provincial autonomy for Lithuania (by which they meant the lesser northwestern portion of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the territory they considered ethnically Lithuanian, including Vilnius and surrounding areas) on 5 December of that year. The tsarist regime made a number of concessions as the result of the 1905 uprising. The Baltic States could once again use their native languages in schooling and public discourse. The Latin script replaced the Cyrillic script which had been forced upon Lithuanians for four decades.

On 16  February 1918, Lithuania was reestablished as a democratic state. It remained independent until the outset of World War II, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. In 1940,  the Soviets heightened their diplomatic pressure on Lithuania, culminating in the Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania of 14 June 1940. The ultimatum demanded the formation of a new pro-Soviet government and admission of an unspecified number of Russian troops. Lithuania, already partially controlled by Soviet forces and unable to effectively resist, accepted the ultimatum. The President fled Lithuania as the soviet military (15 divisions with 150,000 soldiers) crossed the Lithuanian border on 15 June 1940.] Soviet representative Vladimir Dekanozov formed the new pro-soviet puppet government, known as the People's Government. Justas Paleckis replaced Smetona as the acting President of Lithuania. The new government was a rubber stamp institution, carrying out orders from Moscow. The Fourth Seimas (parliament) was disbanded and new show elections to the so-called People's Seimas were organized on 14-14 July 1940. With only communist-led Lithuanian People's Bloc candidates running and under conditions of general terror, official results showed over 90% voter turnout and 95% support for the Bloc. During its first session on 21 July, the People's Seimas unanimously voted to convert Lithuania into the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and petitioned to join the Soviet Union. The application was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on 3 August, which completed the formalization of the annexation. By 6 August the Republic was subjected to a complete Red Army control. Twenty to thirty thousand Lithuanians, Poles and Jews were deported by the soviets  to Siberia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere between June 1940 and June 1941.

Immediately following the occupation, Soviet authorities began rapid Sovietization of Lithuania. All land was nationalized. To gain support for the new regime among the poorer peasants, large farms were distributed to small landowners. However, in preparation for eventual collectivization, agricultural taxes were dramatically increased in an attempt to bankrupt all farmers. Nationalization of banks, larger enterprises, and real estate resulted in disruptions in production causing massive shortages of goods. The Lithuanian litas was artificially undervalued and withdrawn by spring 1941. The standard of living plummeted. All religious, cultural, and political organizations were banned leaving only the Communist Party of Lithuania and its youth branch. Estimated 12,000 "enemies of the people" were arrested. During the June deportation some 17,000 people (mostly former military officers, policemen, political figures, intelligentsia and their families) were deported, under the policy of elimination of national elites, to work camps in Siberia, where many perished due to inhumane conditions.

Following a brief occupation by Germany when the Nazis declared war on the Soviet Union, Lithuania was again absorbed into the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years. On 4 February 1991, Lithuania restored its sovereignty.

The soviets brutally suppressed religion. The Lithuanians are and were a very religious Catholic country. The soviets desecrated most churches, stripping them of their art and religious relics and converting them into museums (of religion and atheism, for example), warehouses, art galleries, etc. In Vilnius the Cathedral statues and frieze sculptures were destroyed and the current ones are replicas of the originals. We saw St. George Church in Kaunas which has been returned to the Franciscan order. They are just starting restoration of the interior (you will see very graphic photos of the damage done by the soviets when you read about Kaunas). 

The older people here bitterly hate the soviets for their treatment. We were told that the Lithuanian flag's yellow represents the sun, the green represents the landscape, and the red represents the blood lost fighting the Russians over the centuries.

Overall, Lithuania is a beautiful country with friendly and happy people. Their country is recovering from the damage down by the socialist system and they seem on their way to prosperity.

Vilnius, Lithuania

The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323, when the Letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting German members of the Jewish community to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital; Old Trakai Castle had been the earlier seat of the court of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The city underwent a period of expansion. The Vilnius city walls were built for protection between 1503 and 1522, comprising nine city gates and three towers, and Sigismund August moved his court there in 1544. Its growth was due in part to the establishment of Alma Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Iesu by King Stefan Bathory in 1579. The university soon developed into one of the most important scientific and cultural centers of the region and the most notable scientific center of the Commonwealth.. 

We stayed at the Novotel hotel. It was centrally located near Cathedral Square. It was located on Germinas Street (formerly Josef Stalin Street in soviet days and Adolf Hitler Street in Nazi days). It is right at the entrance to Old Town.

The Cathedral was closed by the soviets who converted it to a warehouse. It was finally restored as a cathedral in 1989. The soviets destroyed the statues and the freize sculptures in 1950 so the ones currently on the church are modern replicas of the destroyed objects. 

The coronations of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania took place within its confines. Inside its crypts and catacombs are buried many famous people from Lithuanian and Polish history including Vytautas (1430), his wife Anna (1418), his brother Sigismund (Žygimantas) (1440), his cousin Švitrigaila (1452), Saint Casimir (1484), Alexander Jagiellon (1506), and two wives of Sigismund II Augustus: Elisabeth of Habsburg (1545) and Barbara Radziwill (1551). The heart of the Polish-Lithuanian king Wladyslaw IV Vasa was buried there upon his death, although the rest of his body is buried at the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.

Inside, there are more than forty works of art dating from the 16th through 19th centuries, including frescoes and paintings of various sizes. During the restoration of the Cathedral, the altars of a presumed pagan temple and the original floor, laid during the reign of King Mindaugas, were uncovered. In addition, the remains of the cathedral built in 1387 were also located. A fresco dating from the end of the 14th century, the oldest known fresco in Lithuania, was found on the wall of one of the cathedral's underground chapels.

Between 1786 and 1792 three sculptures by Kazimierz Jelski were placed on roof of the Cathedral - Saint Casimir on the south side, Saint Stanislaus on the north, and Saint Helena in the center. Presumably the sculpture of St. Casimir originally symbolized Lithuania, that of St. Stanislaus symbolized Poland, and that of St. Helena symbolized Russia's dominance.


Statue of Gediminas on Cathedral Square -- View from our room overlooking Vinco Kudirkos aikštė

Prince Casimir became crown prince and heir apparent to the throne of Poland and Lithuania. Prince Casimir died on March 4, 1484, in Hrodna. His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where a dedicated Saint Casimir's Chapel was built in 1636. The silver casket above the altar holds his remains. 

St. Casimir Chapel in Vilnius Cathedral

Lithuanian Presidential Palace -- Vilnius University

Vilnius University was founded by the Jesuits in 1579 and is the oldest institution in Eastern Europe. In 1955 the University was named after Vincas Kapsukas. After it had been awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour in 1971 and the Order of Friendship of Peoples in 1979, its full name until 1990 was Vilnius Order of the Red Banner of Labour and Order of Friendship of Peoples V. Kapsukas State University. Though restrained by the Soviet system, Vilnius University grew and gained significance and developed its own, Lithuanian identity. Vilnius University began to free itself from soviet ideology in 1988, thanks to the policy of glasnost. After independence was restored, the name reverted back to Vilnius University. 

St. John's Church at Vilnius University

Vilnius's Old Town is one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Central Europe, having an area of 3.59 square kilometers (887 acres). It encompasses 74 quarters, with 70 streets and lanes numbering 1487 buildings with a total floor area of 1,497,000 square meters. The oldest part of the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, it has developed over the course of many centuries, and has been shaped by the city's history and a constantly changing cultural influence.

Vilnius Old Town

St. Peter and St. Paul's Church (one of the few churches not closed by the soviets)

Trakai, Lithuania

The first settlements in this area appeared as early as the first millennium A.D. The town, as well as its surroundings, started developing in the 13th century in the place of Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai). According to a legend after a successful hunting party, Grand Duke Gediminas discovered a beautiful lake-surrounded place not far from Kernavė, then capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and decided to build a castle in the location. That is how the Old Trakai Castle was built in Senieji Trakai. The name of Trakai was first mentioned in Teutonic Knights chronicles in 1337. This year is considered to be the official date of town's foundation. When Grand Duke Gediminas finally settled in Vilnius, Senieji Trakai was inherited by his son the Duke Kęstutis. Duchy of Trakai developed and the town entered its best decades.

Grand Duke Kęstutis moved the town from Senieji Trakai to its current location, which is sometimes known as Naujieji Trakai. The new location was a place of intensive construction: a new castle was built in the strait between lakes Galvė and Luka and known as the Peninsula Castle, and another one, known as the Island Castle, on an island in Lake Galvė. A village grew around the castles. Vicinity of Trakai was protected by Senieji Trakai, Strėva, Bražuolė, Daniliškės and other hill forts from attacks of the Teutonic Knights. Despite the protection, both wooden castles were successfully raided by the Teutonic Knights several times in a row.

The town was in the center of a conflict between Grand Duke Jogaila (later to become King of Poland) with his uncle Kęstutis. In 1382 Jogaila's and Kęstutis armies met near Trakai, but Jogaila tricked Kęstutis and imprisoned him in Kreva. A few weeks later Kęstutis dies in captivity and Jogaila transferred the castles to his brother Skirgaila, who became a governor of Lithuania Proper. However, his rule was briefly interrupted when in 1383 joint forces of Kęstutis's son Vytautas and the Teutonic Knights captured the town. In 1392 Vytautas and Jogaila signed Astrava Treaty ending their quarrel. Vytautas became the Grand Duke of Lithuania while Jogaila technically remained his superior. Vytautas also regained his father's lands, including Trakai. Despite his official capital being Vilnius, Vytautas spent more time in Trakai. In early 15th century he replaced the older, wooden fortress with a stone-built castle. Some design elements were borrowed from the castles of the Teutonic Knights as Vytautas spent some time with the Teutons forming an alliance against Jogaila in earlier years.

Trakai became a political and an administrative center of the Duchy, sometimes named a de facto capital of Lithuania. Construction of the brick castles was finished and a Catholic church was built. In 1409 the town was granted with Magdeburg Rights; it one of the first towns in Lithuania to get city rights. The village started rapidly developing into a town. In 1413 it became a seat of the Trakai Voivodeship and a notable center of administration and commerce.

After the Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined the Kingdom of Poland into Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, the castles remained a royal property, but the town's importance gradually declined, with the nearby Vilnius and the political center of the Commonwealth in Kraków being far more important. 

During the wars between Russia and Poland between 1654 and 1667, the town was plundered and burnt. In the aftermath of the war with Muscovy in 1655, both castles were demolished and the town's prosperity ended. The castle ruins remained a historical landmark. During the Great Northern War (1700–1721) Trakai was plundered again, as famine and plague swept the country.

After the Partitions of Poland in 1795, the area was annexed by the Russian Empire. After World War I, the area was captured by the restored Republic of Poland. In 1929, the Polish authorities ordered reconstruction and restoration of the Trakai Island Castle. The works in the Upper castle were almost complete in 1939, when the Polish Defensive War started and the area was soon annexed by the Soviet Union, then by Nazi Germany during Operation Barbarossa.  In 1944, during Operation Tempest, the town was liberated by joint forces of the underground loyal Polish Home Army and soviet partisans. After World War II it was again annexed by the Soviet Union and made part of the Lithuanian SSR in the Soviet Union; subsequently many of the city's and area ethnic Polish inhabitants left for the recovered territories of the People's Republic of Poland.


Lake Galve --- Wedding party -- Lithuanian folk festival

On the way we stopped near the village of Pirčiupiai where on June 3, 1944 when Nazi avengers burned down the village, killing 119 people. The people were herded into houses, locked in, and the houses burned. The act was in revenge for the killing of a few German soldiers by soviet partisans. There is a memorial to  the victims.

Pirčiupiai Monument

We stopped at the town of Grutas where there is a park preserving soviet era statues, monuments, and propaganda pieces. The locals resisted this wanting to forget the soviet era. The man went ahead anyway thinking it important that these memories never fade. 

Soviet locomotive and cattle cars used to transport exiles -- Monument to Red Army soldiers

Posters of Stalin -- Soviet era ballot box

The guide told us of a voter in the soviet era. He was given a sealed envelope and was told to cast his ballot. He started to open it but the poll worker stopped him. The voter said he just wanted to see who he was voting for. The poll worker said he could not do that as it was a secret ballot!

Statue of Lenin formerly in Lenin Square Vilnius, dismounted August 23, 1991 -- Feliks Dzerzhinsky, ex-Pole, head of secret police of USSR

Druskininkai, Lithuania

According to some sources the site of present-day Druskininkai was inhabited by local Yotvingian tribes in the early Middle Ages. In the 13th century the area was conquered by the Lithuanians. A small castle was built in the area as a part of the defense system against the Teutonic Order. In 1308 the castle was conquered by the Teutonic Knights and destroyed, causing a depopulation of the area.

The first written mention of Druskininkai dates back to 1636. The name of the town suggests that the local population collected the precious mineral salt. In the late 18th century it was believed that minerals found in the waters of Druskininkai area produced health benefits and their usage in the medical treatment of asthma and other ailments began. In the early 19th century Ignacy Fonberger, a professor at the University of Vilnius, analyzed the chemical composition of Druskininkai's waters and showed that they contain large amounts of Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Iodine, Bromine, Iron and Magnesium. He also promoted the town as a holiday resort for the population of Vilnius. 

In 1837 Tsar Nicholas I of Russia bestowed upon Druskininkai the status of a spa, and construction of pensions and hostels started. To ease communication to the spa, a ferry service on the Nemunas was started.

After World War I the town became part of Poland and soon became one of the Polish resorts. Its popularity was increased by the patronage of President Józef Piłsudski, who spent most of his summer holidays there and promoted the development of the area. Soon most of the resort was bought up by the state-owned Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego and the construction of luxurious villas and pensions started. In 1934 a railway link with the Porzecze train station was opened and the town became more accessible to the general public.

After Poland was invaded in September 1939, the town was briefly incorporated into the Byelorussian SSR. However a month later, in October 1939, Stalin transferred Druskininkai to Lithuania which in turn was annexed in August of the following year and incorporated into the Soviet Union. In 1951, Druskininkai began to grow rapidly again and several huge sanatoriums and spa hospitals were opened. The city became a famous resort, attracting around 400,000 visitors per year from all over the Soviet Union.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was followed by economic difficulties faced by Lithuania and some of its resorts, due to the lack of many of their former tourists. In 2001 unemployment reached 29% in Druskininkai. Recently Druskininkai began a revival. Sanatoriums, spas and the city's infrastructure have been renovated by both the local government and privately owned businesses.

Despite damage inflicted during World War I, the city features houses and villas reflecting all periods of its development - Russian, Polish and Lithuanian.

We stayed at the Europa Royale Hotel which is in a former Russian Tsar's residence. It was a very nice hotel. 

There is a large park in front of the hotel. The locals were having an early Lithuanian Heritage festival to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, normally held on August 15th. They had a bandstand where several folk groups competed against each other with music and dancing. I posted a video of one of the groups at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDAroqwsP0&feature=youtu.be


Lithuanian Heritage Day - Druskininkai


Kaunas, Lithuania

A settlement had been established on the site of the current Kaunas old town at the confluence of two large rivers, at least by the 10th century AD. It is believed the town was founded in 1030, but it is first mentioned in written sources in 1361. In the 13th century, a stone wall was built as protection from constant raids by the Teutonic Knights. In 1362, the town was captured by the Teutonic Knights, who destroyed the Kaunas Castle. The commander of the Kaunas castle garrison Vaidotas with 36 men tried to break through, but was taken prisoner. It was one of the largest and important military victories of the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century against Lithuania. The Kaunas castle was rebuilt at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1408 the town was granted Magdeburg Rights by Vytautas the Great and became a center of Kaunas Powiat in Trakai Voivodeship in 1413.

In 1665, the Russian army attacked the city several times, and in 1701 the city was occupied by the Swedish army. The Black Death struck the area in 1657 and 1708, and fires destroyed parts of the city in 1731 and 1732. After the final partition of the Polish–Lithuanian state in 1795, the city was taken over by the Russian Empire and became a part of Vilna Governorate. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the Grand Army of Napoleon passed through Kaunas twice, devastating the city both times. After the Partitions, Kaunas was one of the centers of the November Uprising (1830–1831) and the January Uprising (1863–1864). To suppress the local population, the Russian authorities subsequently established the Kaunas Prison and placed a huge military garrison in the town. The Russian military fortifications from that time still survive throughout the town.

After Vilnius was occupied by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1919, the government of the Republic of Lithuania established its main base here. Later, when the capital Vilnius was forcibly annexed by Poland, Kaunas became the temporary capital of Lithuania, a position it held until 28 October 1939, when the Red Army handed Vilnius back to Lithuania. The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania first met in Kaunas on 15 May 1920. It passed some important laws, particularly on land reform, on the national currency, and adopted a new constitution. The military coup d'état took place in Kaunas on 17 December 1926. It was largely organized by the military and resulted in the replacement of the democratically elected government with a conservative authoritarian government led by Antanas Smetona. The last meeting of the Lithuanian government was held just before midnight in Kaunas on 14 June 1940. During it, the ultimatum presented by the Soviet Union, was debated.

After the outbreak of German invasion into USSR on 22 June, the June Uprising against the retreating Red Army began in Kaunas and a short-lived period of independence was proclaimed in Kaunas on 23 June 1941. During the battles with the Red Army, Lithuanian rebels secured government offices, police stations, shops, warehouses, and attempted to re-establish order in the city. On 25 June the main German forces marched into the city without opposition and almost in parade fashion. The Nazi Germans did not recognize the new provisional government, but they did not take any actions to dissolve it until the establishment of a German civil administration on 17 July. The government's powers were taken over by the new occupiers. Nazi Germany established the Reichskommissariat Ostland in the Baltic States and much of Belarus, and the administrative center for Lithuania (Generalbezirk Litauen) was in Kaunas ruled by Generalkommissar Adrian von Renteln.

Following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Soviet forces fled from Kaunas. Both before and after the German occupation on 25 June, the anti-Communists began to attack communists, blaming them for the Soviet repressions, especially along Jurbarko and Kriščiukaičio streets.

Beginning in 1944, the Red Army began offensives that eventually took back all three of the Baltic States. Kaunas again became the major center of resistance against the Soviet regime. From the very start of the Lithuanian partisans' war, the most important partisan districts were based around Kaunas. Although guerrilla warfare ended at the time of 1953, Lithuanian opposition to Soviet rule did not. In 1956 people in the Kaunas region supported the uprising in Hungary by rioting. On All Souls' Day in 1956, the first public anti-Soviet protest rally took place in Kaunas: citizens burned candles in the Kaunas military cemetery and sang national songs, resulting in clashes with the Militsiya.

On 14 May 1972, a 19 years old Romas Kalanta, having exclaimed "Freedom for Lithuania!", immolated himself in the garden of the Musical Theatre, after making a speech denouncing the Soviet suppression of national and religious rights. The event broke into a politically charged riot, which was forcibly dispersed by the KGB and Militsiya. It led to new forms of resistance: passive resistance all around Lithuania. The continuous oppression of the Catholic Church and its resistance caused the appearance of The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. In strict conspiracy Catholic priest Sigitas Tamkevičius (now the Archbishop Metropolitan of Kaunas) implemented this idea and its first issue was published in the Alytus district on 19 March 1972. The Kronika started a new phase of resistance in the life of Lithuania's Catholic Church and of all Lithuania fighting against the occupation by making known to the world the violation of the human rights and freedoms in Lithuania for almost two decades. On 1 November 1987, a non-sanctioned rally took place near the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica, where people gathered to mark famous Lithuanian poet Maironis' 125th birthday anniversary. On 10 June 1988, the initiating group of the Kaunas movement of Sąjūdis was formed. On 9 October 1988, the Flag of Lithuania was raised above the tower of the Military Museum. Kaunas, along with Vilnius, became the scene of nearly constant demonstrations as the Lithuanians, embarked on a process of self-discovery. The bodies of Lithuanians who died in Siberian exile were brought back to their homeland for reburial, and the anniversaries of deportations as well as the important dates in Lithuanian history began to be noted with speeches and demonstrations. On 16 February 1989 Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius, for the first time, called for the independence of Lithuania in his sermon at the Kaunas Cathedral. After the services, 200,000 persons gathered in the center of Kaunas to participate in the dedication of a new monument to freedom to replace the monument that had been torn down by the Soviet authorities after World War II.  

After the proclamation of Lithuanian independence in 1990, soviet attempts to suppress the rebellion focused on the Sitkūnai Radio Station. They were defended by the citizenry of Kaunas. Pope John Paul II said a Holy Mass for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Kaunas at the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica and held the meeting with the young people of Lithuania at S. Darius and S. Girėnas Stadium, during his visit to Lithuania in 1993.


Ruins of Kaunas Castle

Near the castle ruins is St. George the Martyr Church. The soviets stripped it of religious objects and used it as a warehouse. After independence, it was returned to the Franciscan Order who is now restoring it as a place of worship.

We then walked into Old Town at the Town Hall Square. 

The construction of Kaunas town hall started in 1542. In the year 1638 the renaissance reconstruction was made. In the year 1771 -1775 the second reconstruction was made. Part of building was rebuilt, which was demolished in the 17th century, replanned the premises and added additional floor to the tower. They then decorated the town hall with baroque and classicism style decorations, rebuilt the pediment and erected there the sculptures of Grand Dukes of Lithuania (they survived only until the 19th century). In the year 1824 the town hall was used as the premises of the Orthodox church and later - ammunition storage. In the year 1836 the town hall was reconstructed again. The residence for Russian Tsars was made there.

Town Hall

We then visited Kaunas Cathedral of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. The exact date when the first Gothic style church dedicated to apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, was built is unknown, but it was first mentioned in written sources in 1413. The first parochial school in Kaunas at the St. Peter and St. Paul church was mentioned in 1473. The construction works were concluded only in 1624. The church greatly suffered from wars in 1655 and was rebuilt in 1671 and gained some Renaissance features. Only one of the towers was rebuilt after the fire of the roof in 1732. As a part of renovation, the internal decorations were funded by the King Stanislaw August Poniatowski in 1771. The main altar, a lectern and a choir were installed by Tomasz Podhajski in 1775. The present day shape of the building is from 1800 renovation. The bishop of Samogitia, historian and one of the best known Lithuanian writers of the 19th century Motiejus Valancius was interred in a crypt of the church in 1875. The church was promoted to cathedral status by Pope Leo XIII in 1895. It received the Basilica title in 1926, when the Diocese of Samogitia was reorganized into the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Kaunas by Pope Pius XI.


Lastly we drove over to a scenic viewpoint to see a panorama of the city of Kaunas.

Nida, Lithuania

First mentioned by Teutonic Order in macher colony documents in 1429 and 1497, the settlement was originally 5 km south of today's position near the Hohe Düne (high dune) at Grabscher Haken. The fishing village became part of the Duchy of Prussia in 1525 and the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701.

Continuously threatened by sand drifts, the village was moved away from the dune to today's position in the 1730s. In 1874 a lighthouse on Urbas hill was built, later destroyed in the war and rebuilt in 1945 and 1953.

Nidden became part of Lithuania together with the northern half of the Curonian Spit in 1919 after World War I and was officially renamed Nida. Nevertheless the village remained a German-majority settlement - the border with East Prussia's half of the Spit lay only a few kilometers to the south (East Prussia is now the Kaliningradsk enclave of Russia). Nobel Prize-winning writer Thomas Mann lived in Nida during the summers of 1930–32. Mann's summer cottage survived and in the Soviet era hosted a library open in summer only, with residential quarters of the visiting librarian posted from Klaipėda upstairs and public areas downstairs. It is presently a culture center dedicated to the writer, with a memorial exhibition.

The town is known for Nidden Kurenwimpel, ornate carved flags peculiar to local families resident on the Curonian Spit. The flags, replicas of which can be seen around Nida, feature animal and human figures as pictograms reminiscent of a pagan writing tradition. At the local cemetery, examples of krikštas, pagan burial markers in place of tombstones, can still be seen today.

Nida became nearly uninhabited, like all of the Curonian Spit, as a result of the evacuation of East Prussia during World War II. The town was returned to the Lithuanian SSR within the Soviet Union by the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, and today (since 1990) is part of independent Lithuania.

Nida was a little-visited fishing village in the post-war period. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir went to Nida during their stay in Lithuania in summer 1965. In the 1970s, together with three other villages of Neringa municipality (Juodkrantė, Preila and Pervalka), it was reserved as an invitation-only holiday resort with controlled entry regime and accommodation reserved almost exclusively for the communist party nomenklatura and senior government and industry elite. Thanks to the very strict planning regulations, a ban on any industrial development and more generous municipal subsidies, it remained an unspoiled and clean territory. Today, the number of visitors is kept small by a low number of available hotel rooms (as new developments are limited, and are usually permitted only on already existing old buildings foundations), relatively high accommodation prices, ferry tolls and entry pass costs.  

On the way, we stopped and walked the Hill of the Witches were local artisans have sculpted various figures in oak. 

We stayed at the Nidos Smilte Hotel. The Nidos Smilte occupies the former guesthouses of Hermann Blode, the founder of the famous Nida Artists' Colony in 1890. We had a nice room, very large with refrigerator, couch, and other amenities. It was about a 15 minute walk to the town center from the hotel. There was no internet in the room but WiFi was available and fast in the restaurant. We had cool weather and rain, sometimes very heavy, during the first few days.

We visited the amber museum. Baltic amber is world famous and much of it was excavated here on the Corunian Spit. Amber is basically petrified pin resin from trees that died over 50 million years ago. Folks still find small pieces of amber on the beaches after a storm. We always thought amber was a golden transparent mineral but if comes in many colors depending on the environment where found. We were able to taste amber liquid which is made by soaking amber in grain alcohol.

Normal amber -- Amber with insects embedded

Objects made from amber

We walked around the town. Our hotel was located right on the lagoon and there was a concrete mole there where we sat and watched people fish.  

A home in Nida -- A grandfather teaching his grandson how to fish

Here's a photo of our hotel taken from the mole. Our room was in the closest building at the left dormer.

We then drove south of Nida to visit the Great Dunes.

Panorama of the Parnidis Dunes the Parnidis Dune in the foreground and Grobštas Point in Russian Kaliningrad in the background

Solar clock st top -- Landscape

The next morning we walked from the hotel up to the German author Thomas Mann's summer cottage on a hill. The original house was abused by soviet soldiers who did such things as pulled wood paneling down to burn for fuel. It was reconstructed to the original specifications. 

Later that day we walked back into town and visited the boat landing and had lunch. We had hoped to take a cruise down to coast on the Lana, an old sailing vessel but it was not possible so we took another boat, the motorized Gresa

Nida Lighthouse on the Baltic side -- Sailing vessel Lana

Panorama of Nida from the end of the boat landing looking northwest

On Thursday, the town celebrated Lithuanian Heritage Day. There is a park just off from the boat landing where the locals were celebrating their Lithuanian Heritage Day. The day was beautiful, a few clouds, pleasant temperatures, no wind and no rain (until we returned to the hotel about 2000 hours). They had several booths set up by the dock for various foods, gira (kvass), and artifacts. There were artisans making iron tools, tin ornaments, making a boat, and other traditional crafts. They had a medieval dance demonstration.

Woman cooking and seasoning almonds -- Another selling crayfish

Woman selling bakery good -- Medieval dancing

We took a one hour cruise down the coast to the Russian Kaliningradsk border where we had to turn back. The dunes near the border are still moving so no people are allowed on them.

The living dunes from the Gresa

After we ate at the Cili Pica on the dock, we went back to the park and saw a reenactment of a 13th century battle between the Ancient Balts and the Teutonic Knights. These fellows used iron swords and battle axes. They had shields and armor on it (many of the headpieces were heavily creased from blows). They fought viciously, no holding back! It was something the do-gooders and cry babies in the States would thoroughly condemn and surely try to outlaw. I posted a short video of two in a sword fight at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxhRruEFvlg&feature=youtu.be

The people here were happy and friendly. The food was very reasonable (most dinners were about 20 - 30 Litas (US$8 -12), Beer and wine is cheap. They are adopting the Euro in 2015 so prices will really rise if past Euro adoptions are any guide. Shame on the EU for forcing the Euro on these countries and shame on those that accept it.

Kintai, Lithuania

Kintai began to be settled in the sixteenth century, it is mentioned as early as 1540. There is evidence that there was a church  as early as 1550. Here was a house of prayer. Kintai began to grow in the eighteenth century. In 1705 there was established an Evangelical Lutheran Church which was converted to a warehouse in 1948 by the soviets. In 1990 it was restored, this time as a Catholic church.

Kintai had large fish and livestock markets, which came from the fishermen on the Curonian Spit.

We took a boat from Nida across the lagoon and up the Atmata River to the Minija River to the village of Minge where we had a brief stop. As we approached the mainland, we saw numerous flocks of birds in formation.

Passing the Ventės Ragas Ornithological Station -- Cormorants along the river

Turning up the Minija River -- Village of Minge

We then continued on to Kintai where we met the bus who took us to Kintai for lunch at a seafood restaurant. Since I do not eat fish, the guide called the restaurant and they made me a schnitzel. 

Kintai Restaurant -- Marilyn's fish lunch

After lunch we proceeded to Ventės Ragas Ornithological Station where we visited the exhibits and the old lighthouse. 

View from the top of the lighthouse

Klaipėda, Lithuania

The Teutonic Knights built a castle in the Pilsāts Land of the Curonians and named it Memelburg; later the name was shortened to Memel. From 1252–1923 and from 1939–1945, the town and city was officially named Memel. Due to political changes between 1923 and 1939, both names were in official use; since 1945 the Lithuanian name of Klaipėda is used.

The names Memelburg and Memel are found in most written sources from the 13th century onwards, while Klaipėda is found in Lithuania-related sources since the 15th century. The first time the city was mentioned as Caloypede in the letter of Vytautas in 1413, for the second time in the negotiation documents of 1420 as Klawppeda, and for the third time in the Treaty of Melno of 1422 as Cleupeda. According to Samogitian folk etymology, the name Klaipėda refers to the boggy terrain of the town (klaidyti=obstruct and pėda=foot). Most likely the name is of Curonian origin and means "even ground": "klais/klait" (flat, open, free) and "ped" (sole of the foot, ground).

A settlement of Baltic tribes in the territory of the present-day city is said to have existed in the region as early as the 7th century.

In the 1240s the Pope offered King Håkon IV of Norway the opportunity to conquer the peninsula of Sambia. However, following the personal acceptance of Christianity by Grand Duke Mindaugas of Lithuania, the Teutonic Knights and a group of crusaders from Lübeck moved into Sambia, founding unopposed a fort in 1252 recorded as Memele castrum (or Memelburg, "Memel Castle"). The fort's construction was completed in 1253 and Memel was garrisoned with troops of the Teutonic Order, administered by Deutschmeister Eberhard von Seyne. Documents for its foundation were signed by Eberhard and Bishop Heinrich von Lützelburg of Courland on 29 July 1252 and 1 August 1252.

Memel was unsuccessfully besieged by Sambians in 1255, and the scattered Sambians submitted by 1259. Memel was colonized by settlers from Holstein, Lübeck and Dortmund, hence Memel also being known at the time as Neu-Dortmund, or "New Dortmund". It became the main town of the Diocese of Curonia, with a cathedral and at least two parochial churches, but the development of the castle became the dominant priority. According to different sources, Memel received Lübeck city rights in 1254[3] or 1258.

In the spring and summer of 1323, a Lithuanian army led by Gediminas came up the Neman and laid siege to the castle of Memel after conquering the town, and devastated Sambia, forcing the Order to sue for a truce in October. During the planning of a campaign against Samogitia, Memel's garrison of the Teutonic Order's Livonian branch was replaced with knights from the Prussian branch in 1328. Threats and attacks by Lithuanians greatly thwarted the town's development; the town and the castle were both sacked by Lithuanian tribes in 1379, while Samogitians attacked 800 workers rebuilding Memel in 1389.

The Treaty of Melno in 1422 stabilized the border between the Teutonic Order and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for the next 501 years. The rebuilt town received Kulm law city rights in 1475. Memel remained part of what became Prussia and Germany; the border to Lithuania remained unchanged until 1919. It was one of the longest-lasting borders in Europe, and is referred to in the now-unsung first verse of the German national anthem, which describes borders of German-speaking lands: Von der Maas bis an die Memel, referring to the Meuse river in the West and Neman river in the East.

Against the wishes of its governor and commander, Eric of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Memel adopted Lutheranism after the conversion of Hohenzollern Margrave of Brandenburg Albert of Prussia and the creation of the Duchy of Prussia as a fief of Poland in 1525. It was the onset of a long period of prosperity for the city and port. It served as a port for neighboring Lithuania, benefiting from its location near the mouth of the Neman, with wheat as a profitable export. The Duchy of Prussia was inherited by a relative, John Sigismund, the Hohenzollern prince-electors of the March of Brandenburg in 1618. Brandenburg-Prussia began active participation in regional policy, which affected the development of Memel. From 1629–1635, the town was occupied by Sweden over several periods during the Polish-Swedish War of 1625–1629 and the Thirty Years' War.

After the Treaty of Königsberg in 1656 during the Northern Wars, Elector Frederick William opened Memel's harbor to Sweden, with whom the harbor's revenue was divided. Prussian independence from Poland and Sweden was affirmed in the Treaty of Oliva in 1660.

The construction of a defense system around the entire town, initiated in 1627, noticeably changed its status and prospects. In November 1678 a small Swedish army invaded Prussian territory, but was unable to capture the fortress of Memel.

By the beginning of the 18th century, Memel was one of the strongest fortresses (Memelfestung) in Prussia, and the town became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701. Despite its fortifications, it was captured by Russian troops during the Seven Years' War in 1757. Consequently, from 1757–1762 the town, along with the rest of eastern Prussia, was dependent on the Russian Empire. After this war ended, the maintenance of the fortress was neglected, but the town's growth continued.

Memel became part of the province of East Prussia within the Kingdom of Prussia in 1773.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Memel became the temporary capital of the Kingdom of Prussia. Between 1807 and 1808, the town was the residence of King Frederick William III, his consort Louise, his court, and the government. On 9 October 1807 the king signed a document in Memel, later called the October Edict, which abolished serfdom in Prussia. It originated the reforms of Karl Freiherr vom und zum Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg. The land around Memel suffered major economic setbacks under Napoleon Bonaparte's Continental System. During Napoleon's retreat from Moscow after the failed invasion of Russia in 1812, General Yorck refused Marshal MacDonald's orders to fortify Memel at Prussia's expense.

After the unification of Germany into the German Empire in 1871, Memel became Germany's most northerly city.

The development of the town in the 19th century was influenced by the industrial revolution in Prussia and the attendant processes of urbanization. Even though the population of Memel increased fourfold during the 19th century, and had risen to 21,470 by 1910, its pace of development lagged in comparison. The reasons for this were mostly political. Memel was the northernmost and easternmost city in Germany, and although the government was engaged in a very costly tree-planting exercise to stabilize the sand-dunes on the Curonian Spit, most of the financial infusions in the province of East Prussia were concentrated in Königsberg, the capital of the province (Togay Kaliningardsk a Russian enclave).

Under the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Klaipėda and the surrounding Klaipėda Region (Memel Territory) were detached from Germany and made a protectorate of the Entente States. The French became provisional administrators of the region until a more permanent solution could be worked out. Both Lithuania and Poland campaigned for their rights in the region. However, it seemed that the region would become a free city, similar to the Free City of Danzig. Not waiting for an unfavorable decision, the Lithuanians decided to stage the Klaipėda Revolt, take the region by force, and present the Entente with fait accompli. The revolt was carried out in January 1923 while Western Europe was distracted by the occupation of the Ruhr. The Germans tacitly supported the action, while the French offered only limited resistance. The League of Nations protested the revolt, but accepted the transfer in February 1923. The formal Klaipėda Convention was signed in Paris on May 8, 1924, securing extensive autonomy for the region.

The Weimar Germany, under Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, maintained normal relations with Lithuania. However, Nazi Germany desired to reacquire the region and tensions rose. Pro-German parties won clear supermajorities in all elections to the Klaipėda Parliament, which often antagonized with the Lithuanian-appointed Klaipėda Directorate. Lithuanian efforts to "re-Lithuanize" Prussian Lithuanians by promoting Lithuanian language, culture, education were often met with resistance from the locals. In 1932, a conflict between the Parliament and the Directorate had to be resolved by the Permanent Court of International Justice. In 1934–1935, the Lithuanians attempted to combat increasing Nazi influence in the region by arresting and prosecuting over 120 Nazi activists for the alleged plot to organize an anti-Lithuanian rebellion. Despite rather harsh sentences, the defendants in the so-called Neumann–Sass case were soon released under pressure from Nazi Germany. The extensive autonomy guaranteed by the Klaipėda Convention prevented Lithuania from blocking the growing pro-German attitudes in the region.

As tensions in pre-war Europe continued to grow, it was expected that Germany would make a move against Lithuania to reacquire the region. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop delivered an ultimatum to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister on 20 March 1939, demanding the surrender of Klaipėda. Lithuania, unable to secure international support for its cause, submitted to the ultimatum and, in exchange for the right to use the new harbor facilities as a Free Port, ceded the disputed region to Germany in the late evening of 22 March 1939. Adolf Hitler personally visited the harbor and delivered a speech to the city residents. This was Hitler's last territorial acquisition prior to World War II.

During World War II, from the end of 1944 into 1945, as Allied victory appeared imminent, the inhabitants fled as the fighting drew nearer. The nearly empty city was captured by the Soviet Red Army on 28 January 1945 with only about 50 remaining people. After the war the Memel Territory was incorporated into the Lithuanian SSR, marking the start of a new epoch in the history of the city.

The Soviets transformed Klaipėda, the foremost ice-free port in the Eastern Baltic, into the largest piscatorial-marine base in the European USSR. A gigantic shipyard, dockyards, and a fishing port were constructed. Subsequently, by the end of 1959, the population of the city had doubled its pre-war population, and by 1989 there were 203,000 inhabitants. In the aftermath of World War II almost all the new residents came to Klaipėda from Lithuania, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Initially the Russian-speakers dominated local government in the city, but after the death of Joseph Stalin, more people came to the city from the rest of Lithuania than from other Soviet republics and oblasts; Lithuanians then became its major ethnic group. Among Lithuanian cities with a population greater than 100,000, however, Klaipėda has the highest percentage of people whose native language is Russian.

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Hotel. It is a nice hotel close to the city center and the restaurants. The hotel, as most, charges about 2 to 3 times the going prices for food and drink so we always walked to nearby places to patronize. The first night we walked about 15 minutes to a street with a couple of outside eateries, one of which where we dined. There was also an Iki market near there where we bought snacks and drinks (at about 1/5th of the hotel costs). The second night we walked a few miles to a little side street in FrederichsTown where we joined several hundred locals for dinner, drinks, and listening to a small rock band. 

Most of the city was destroyed by soviet bombing in the latter days of World War II. Most of the populace here were ethic Germans who were repatriated to Germany as the Red Army advanced. When they entered this large seaport, there were only 9 inhabitants left. All churches and other places of worship were destroyed and now churches are only found outside the city center. 

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Klaipėda hotel. First place we visited was the old post office. It is one of the few classic ones left.

Post office in Klaipėda

Next we walked to Senamiestis (Old Town). Old Town is newer than those of Vilnius and Kaunas as it was largely consumed by the great fire of 1854. What you see now was rebuilt afterwards on a grid layout of narrow streets. Under the soviet rule all the imposing Old Town churches were torn down. Many of these elaborate buildings have been replaced by new plain structures, whereas in place of the largest among them, Saint John‘s, there is now an empty lawn. There is a marker there soliciting contributions to rebuild this historic Evangelical Lutheran Church. Devoid of impressive spires Klaipėda Old Town has no architecturally dominant buildings and is instead a collection of 19th and early 20th century residences with an occasional soviet building or, even more likely, an empty lot (yet another scar of the WW2 and post-war destruction).

First we stopped at the Theater Square. They had some very interesting photo posters picturing old Memel. A lot of the older buildings are fachwerk (timbered) similar to the Tudor buildings one sees in England. 

Old Town - National Theater (built in 1857)

French Administrative Office Memel 1922 -- 18th Century fachwerk (timbered) warehouses

We then walked down to Turgaus Square (Market). This being a Saturday, the stalls were full and the patrons were many. Sellers were offering everything, clothing, fresh foods and vegetables, bakery products, and even old 78 records (including some old Elvis Presley albums).

Chimney Sweep figure on top of house (to see a sweep is considered good luck) -- Fellows playing chess on a rather large chessboard

Palanga, Lithuania

According to a legend, there was a pagan shrine at the foot of a hill in Palanga where a beautiful priestess named Birutė used to tend the ceremonial fires. Having heard of Birutė's beauty, Kęstutis, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, came to make her his wife. It is written in the Lithuanian Bychowiec Chronicle that Birutė "did not consent, and answered that she had promised the gods to remain a virgin as long as she lived. Kęstutis then resorted to take her by force, and with great pomp brought her back to his capital, Trakai, where he invited his kinsmen and celebrated with a lavish wedding..." Kęstutis was later murdered and Birutė returned to Palanga and resumed serving at the shrine until her death. The legend claimed that she was buried in the hill which is now named for her.

Not far from Šventoji, archaeologists discovered an encampment which indicates that the area was inhabited some 5,000 years ago. Between the 10th and 11th centuries Palanga had been one of the main settlements of Mēguva Land, inhabited by the Curonians. Situated upon the trail of the ancient Amber Road, it became a center of trade and crafts.  

In historical documents the name of Palanga was first mentioned in 1161 when the King Valdemar I of Denmark disembarked there with his army and captured the castle of the Curonians.  

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the inhabitants of Palanga had to confront the Teutonic Knights in the south and the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in the north. Their adversaries were unable to achieve their goal of capturing the Lithuanian sea-coast from Klaipėda to Šventoji. Although Klaipėda (Memel) passed into the hands of the German feudal lords under the Treaty of Melno, in 1422, Palanga and Šventoji remained under Lithuanian control. The two towns gradually developed into harbors and even greater centers of trade. British merchants established enterprises in Šventoji in 1685. During the Great Northern War, the Swedish Army ravaged Palanga, destroyed the harbor at Šventoji, and blocked up the entrance with rocks in 1701.  

Palanga was purchased in 1824 by Count Michał Tyszkiewicz. His grandson Józef Tyszkiewicz built a pier and engaged ships to transport passengers and bricks to nearby Liepāja. Palanga began to develop as a resort in the early 19th century. The pier has been a favorite spot for taking a stroll and other recreation since 1892. Józef Tyszkiewicz's son, Feliks Tyszkiewicz, built the neo-renaissance Tiškevičiai Palace in 1897.

Following the Lithuanian press ban of 1864, Palanga became an important location for the smuggling of Lithuanian publications from the west. The Rev. Marcijonas Jurgaitis, physician Liudas Vaineikis, and notary Jonas Kentra, played significant roles in this activity. After Kentra obtained official permission, a public performance featuring the comedy, Amerika pirtyje (America in the Bath), was performed in the Lithuanian language. This had previously not been permitted. However, later the Tsarist authorities deported Vaineikis and twenty-five other people to Siberia in 1901.  

The Tiškevičiai Palace's park was converted into a botanical garden in 1960. Today it contains two hundred different types of trees and shrubs, including an oak tree planted by President Antanas Smetona. The palace, now the Palanga Amber Museum, has an extensive collection of amber jewelry and other artifacts. Symphonic concerts as well as other musical festivals and events take place in the summer, usually in the evening.

We went by bus from Klaipėda to Palanga. There we entered the grounds of the Tiškevičiai Palace. Unfortunately, the outside of the palace was under refurbishment. 

The Grand (Red) Drawing room -- Fireplace Hall

Next we rode into the town of Palanga. Being a resort, there were numerous cafes. We stopped at one for lunch. As side dishes we ordered pomme frites (french fries) and garlic bread. The garlic bread was actually pieces of fried bread (much like melba toast) with garlic slices (it is the dish on the right in front of Marilyn). After lunch, we walked down to the Church of the Assumption. As we entered the yard, a wedding party was leaving. Inside the church we witnessed a baby's baptism. The church was built in 1897. 

Kryžių Kalnas, Lithuania

Kryžių kalnas is the Hill of Crossesis a site of pilgrimages about 12 km north of the city of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania. The precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising. Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 100,000 in 2006.

Over the centuries, the place has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite the threats it faced throughout history. After the 3rd partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863. These two uprisings are connected with the beginnings of the hill, as families could not locate bodies of perished rebels, they started putting up symbolic crosses in place of a former hill fort.

When the old political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost during the Wars of Independence.

Most recently, the site took on a special significance during the years 1944–1990, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Continuing to travel to the Hill and leave their tributes, Lithuanians used it to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. It was a venue of peaceful resistance, although the Soviets worked hard to remove new crosses, and bulldozed the site at least three times (including attempts in 1963 and 1973). There were even rumors that the authorities planned to build a dam on the nearby Kulvė River, a tributary to Mūša, so that the hill would end up under water.

On September 7, 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses, declaring it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. In 2000 a Franciscan hermitage was opened nearby. The interior decoration draws links with La Verna, the mountain where St. Francis received his stigmata. The hill remains under nobody's jurisdiction; therefore people are free to build crosses as they see fit.

Many of the crosses are inscribed with names and dates of visitors and visitor's deceased relatives, from most countries in Europe. 


Rundāle, Latvia

From the middle of 16th century till the end of 18th century Courland and Semigallia (now western Latvia) were operating as autonomic vassal states of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the beginning of 18th century, the Russian Empire achieved great influence over this region as in 1710 Empress of Russia Anna married Duke of Courland Friedrick Wilhelm. Unfortunately, Anna’s husband died a year later. In 1737, Anna elected Ernst Johann Biron, the Duke of Courland-Semigallian, as felt sympathy for him and had great distrust to Russian nobles.

In 1736, just before election of Courland Duke, the foundations of Rundāle Palace were laid down. Rundāle Palace was built as summer residence of Ernst Johann Biron, the beloved Duke of Anna. Architect of this baroque style masterpiece was Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, one of the greatest architects in Russian Empire. Unfortunately, constructions of the Palace continued just until 1740. In this year, Anna died of kidney disease and Ernst Johann Biron was arrested and exiled to Russia.  Building works of the Palace were interrupted for about 20 years until Catherine II of Russia released Biron in 1764. After Biron returned to Rundāle, further exterior and interior works proceeded. Professional designers, sculptures and painters such as Francesco Martini, Carlo Cuki and Johann Michael Grafs were invited to create decorations of the Palace. Some of them remained until nowadays. After E.J.Biron died, his son Peter von Biron inherited Rundāle Palace. In 1795, Duke Peter von Biron ceded rights to rule Courland to the Russian Empire governed by Empress Catherine the Great. Soon after that, Catherine the Great presented splendid Rundāle Palace to her 40 years younger lover Prince Zubov where he spent his declining years. After Zubovs` death in 1822, Rundāle Palace was brought to the family of Shuvlov’s as Zubov’s widow remarried Count Shuvlov.  Purpose of Rundāle Palace changed with WWI. During WWI Rundale Palace was turned into hospital and offices of commandant’s, later in 1933 - into National History Museum of Latvia and after WWII - into school and apartments. Just in 1972 restoration and renovation works began as Rundāle Palace with its picturesque Garden were turned into independent Museum of History.

Today Rundāle Palace is a well preserved building with two floors and 138 rooms. It’s impressive and magical, rooms, halls, apartments, staircases, all decorations, design details and many other minutiae and curlicues are raised back to their former condition. On the eastern wing there is situated a parade hall with the most important room – Gold Hall – the Throne room. The central part and western wing were designed as parade and private apartments of Dukes and their families as well as of noble guests. Just behind the building there opens a large space of beautiful Palace Garden. Already in the 18th century there a special building for a roses` growing was built. Today in spring and summer, visitors of the Palace can admire the view and smell of thousands of roses and tulips.

We stopped at the old Lithuania-Latvia border crossing to change money and have a snack. Because both countries are in EU, the border crossing station is closed. We passed  a lot of farms on the way to Rundāle. When we crossed the border into Latvia, we immediately noticed that the roads were much worse than Lithuania's. This part of Latvia is heavily agricultural and poor in comparison to the agricultural area of northern Lithuania. We saw large farms with cultivated fields but the homes and agri-businesses were in many cases run down though the farm equipment looks modern (the picture is of, I think, a John Deere tractor plowing the field).  Then we came into Rundāle. The road was noticeably better and all of sudden the Rundāle Palace complex came into view.

Farm scenes near Rundāle

The palace is a beautiful place reminiscent to a lesser degree to Peterhof, Catherine's Palace, and the Winter Palace in the St. Petersburg, Russia area. The palace is owned by the State but it provides no funds to maintain the place. Funds are derived from admission fees, photo fees, and contributions. Most of the furnishings are from other sites but some were donated by the family of the Duke of Courland who owned the Palace. The rooms are very ornate with gilding and silver inlays, masterpiece paintings, and paintings of Empress Elizabeth as well as her lover and paintings ad photos of other notables connected to the palace into the early 20th century. The gardens reminded us of Versailles and are probably more beautiful.

The Gilded Hall  -- Ceiling painted by Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi in 1766-67

Riga, Latvia

The river Daugava has been a trade route since antiquity, part of the Vikings' Dvina-Dnieper navigation route to Byzantium. A sheltered natural harbor 15 km (9.3 mi) upriver from the mouth of the Daugava—the site of today's Riga—has been recorded, as Duna Urbs, as early as the 2nd century. It was settled by the Livs, an ancient Finnic tribe.

Riga began to develop as a center of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages. Riga's inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with fishing, animal husbandry, and trading, later developing crafts (in bone, wood, amber, and iron).

The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia testifies to Riga having long been a trading center by the 12th century, referring to it as portus antiquus (ancient port), and describes dwellings and warehouses used to store mostly corn, flax, and hides. German traders began visiting Riga, establishing a nearby outpost in 1158.

Along with German traders also arrived the monk Meinhard of Segeberg to convert the pagans to Christianity (Catholic and Orthodox Christianity had already arrived in Latvia more than a century earlier, and many Latvians baptized). Meinhard settled among the Livs, building a castle and church at Ikšķile, upstream from Riga, and established his bishopric there. The Livs, however, continued to practice paganism and Meinhard died in Ikšķile in 1196, having failed his mission. In 1198 the Bishop Bertold arrived with a contingent of crusaders and commenced a campaign of forced Christianization. Bertold was killed soon afterwards and his forces defeated.

The Church mobilized to avenge. Pope Innocent III issued a bull declaring a crusade against the Livonians.  Bishop Albert was proclaimed Bishop of Livonia by his uncle Hartwig of Uthlede, Prince-Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg in 1199. Albert landed in Riga in 1200 with 23 ships and 500 Westphalian crusaders. In 1201 he transferred the seat of the Livonian bishopric from Ikšķile to Riga, extorting agreement to do so from the elders of Riga by force.

Christianization of the Livs continued. In 1207 Albert started on fortification of the town. Emperor Philip invested Albert with Livonia as a fief and principality of the Holy Roman Empire. To promote a permanent military presence, territorial ownership was divided between the Church and the Order, with the Church taking Riga and two-thirds of all lands conquered and granting the Order a third.

Albert had ensured Riga's commercial future by obtaining papal bulls which decreed that all German merchants had to carry on their Baltic trade through Riga. In 1211, Riga minted its first coinage, and Albert laid the cornerstone for the Riga Dom. Riga was not yet secure as an alliance of tribes failed to take Riga. In 1212, Albert led a campaign to compel Polotsk to grant German merchants free river passage. Polotsk conceded Kukenois (Koknese) and Jersika to Albert, also ending the Livs' tribute to Polotsk.

Riga's merchant citizenry chafed and sought greater autonomy from the Church. In 1221 they acquired the right to independently self-administer Riga and adopted a city constitution.

That same year Albert was compelled to recognize Danish rule over lands they had conquered in Estonia and Livonia. Albert had sought the aid of King Valdemar of Denmark to protect Riga and Livonian lands against Liv insurrection when reinforcements could not reach Riga. The Danes landed in Livonia, built a fortress at Reval (Tallinn), and set about conquering Estonian and Livonian lands. The Germans attempted, but failed, to assassinate Valdemar. Albert was able to reach an accommodation a year later, however, and in 1222 Valdemar returned all Livonian lands and possessions to Albert's control.

Albert's difficulties with Riga's citizenry continued; with papal intervention, a settlement was reached in 1225 whereby they no longer had to pay tax to the Bishop of Riga, and Riga's citizens acquired the right to elect their magistrates and town councilors. In 1226, Albert consecrated the Dom Cathedral, built St. James's Church, (now a cathedral) and founding a parochial school at the Church of St. George. In 1227, Albert conquered Oesel and the city of Riga concluded a treaty with the Principality of Smolensk giving Polotsk to Riga. Albert died in January 1229. He failed his aspiration to be anointed archbishop but the German hegemony he established over the Baltics would last for seven centuries.

In 1282 Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League. The Hansa was instrumental in giving Riga economic and political stability, thus providing the city with a strong foundation which endured the political conflagrations that were to come, down to modern times. 

As the influence of the Hanseatic League waned, Riga became the object of foreign military, political, religious and economic aspirations. Riga accepted the Reformation in 1522, ending the power of the archbishops. In 1524, a venerated statue of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral was denounced as a witch, and given a trial by water in the Daugava River. The statue floated, so it was denounced as a witch and burnt at Kubsberg. With the demise of the Livonian Order during the Livonian War, Riga for twenty years had the status of a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire before it came under the influence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Treaty of Drohiczyn, which ended the war for Riga in 1581. In 1621, during the Polish–Swedish War (1621–1625), Riga and the outlying fortress of Daugavgriva came under the rule of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, who intervened in the Thirty Years' War not only for political and economic gain but also in favor of German Lutheran Protestantism. During the Russo-Swedish War (1656–1658), Riga withstood a siege by Russian forces.

Riga remained the largest city in Sweden until 1710, a period during which the city retained a great deal of autonomous self-government. In that year, in the course of the Great Northern War, Russia under Tsar Peter the Great besieged plague-stricken Riga. Along with the other Livonian towns and gentry, Riga capitulated to Russia, but largely retained their privileges. Riga was made the capital of the Governorate of Riga (later Livonia). Sweden's northern dominance had ended, and Russia's emergence as the strongest Northern power was formalized through the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Riga became an industrialised port city of the Russian empire, in which it remained until World War I. By 1900, Riga was the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg in terms of the number of industrial workers and number of theaters.

During these many centuries of war and changes of power in the Baltic, and despite demographic changes, the Baltic Germans in Riga had maintained a dominant position. By 1867 Riga's population was 42.9% German. Riga employed German as its official language of administration until the installation of Russian in 1891 as the official language in the Baltic provinces, as part of the policy of Russification of the non-Russian speaking territories of the Russian Empire, including Congress Poland, Finland and the Baltics, undertaken by Tsar Alexander III. More and more Latvians started moving to the city during the mid-19th century. The rise of a Latvian bourgeoisie made Riga a center of the Latvian National Awakening with the founding of the Riga Latvian Association in 1868 and the organization of the first national song festival in 1873. The nationalist movement of the Young Latvians was followed by the socialist New Current during the city's rapid industrialization, culminating in the 1905 Revolution led by the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party.

The 20th century brought World War I and the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 to Riga. The German army marched into Riga on 3 September 1917. On 3 March 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, giving the Baltic countries to Germany. Because of the Armistice with Germany of 11 November 1918, Germany had to renounce that treaty, as did Russia, leaving Latvia and the other Baltic States in a position to claim independence. Latvia, with Riga as its capital city, thus declared its independence on 18 November 1918.

Between World War I and World War II (1918–1940), Riga and Latvia shifted their focus from Russia to the countries of Western Europe. The United Kingdom and Germany replaced Russia as Latvia's major trade partners.

During World War II Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in June 1940 and then was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941–1944. By the end of the war the Baltic Germans were forcibly repatriated to Germany.

The Soviet Red Army re-entered Riga on 13 October 1944. In the following years the massive influx of laborers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. Microdistricts of the large multi-storied housing blocks were built to house local workers. By 1989 the percentage of Latvians in Riga had fallen to 36.5%.

Upon the restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991, Soviet era immigrants (and any of their offspring born before 1991) were not automatically granted Latvian citizenship because they had migrated to the territory of Latvia during the years when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. In 2013 citizens of Latvia made up 73.1%, non-citizens 21.9% and citizens of other countries 4.9% of the population of Riga. The proportion of ethnic Latvians in Riga increased from 36.5% in 1989 to 46.2% in 2011. In contrast the percentage of Russians fell from 47.3% to 40.2% in the same time period. Latvians overtook Russians as the largest ethnic group in 2006.

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Ridzene Hotel. It is right near Old Town which is very well preserved with buildings dating back to the 13th century. You walk through a park Bastejkalns to get to Old Town with the canal separating Old Town from modern Riga. The bridge across the canal is adorned with many locks engraved with the names and dates of newlyweds (in Latvia and Lithuania, a wedding tradition is that the groom must carry the bride over three bridges (she said it used to be 7 bridges)). I guess heavier girls must have had a problem landing husbands!

The park has a hill which is about the highest point in Latvia (our guide told us that there is no Latvian word for mountain as there are no mountains in Latvia)! The park has several stone monuments to Latvian patriots who were killed on 20 January 1991 in an uprising against the soviet occupiers. 

Riga is a fairly expensive town compared to Lithuania which is very inexpensive (dinners in Lithuania typically run US$8-$12 while in Riga you are looking at $40-$60). It is interesting and very well kept up. We visited the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia with history from 1941 to 1991 when Latvia declared its renewed independence. It would be a good history lesson for Americans to see to understand what a tyrannical form of government like communism does to the spirit, the culture, and economy of a once prosperous country.

Monument to Andris Slapins murdered by soviets -- Old Town building with arms of Latvian cities

Gun Powder Tower (14th century) --  St. Mary's Dome Cathedral

Dom Square -- Old Stock Exchange Building

Rigas Dom, St. Mary's Cathedral is the seat of the Lutheran archbishop of Riga. Built near the River Daugava in 1211 by Livonian Bishop Albert of Riga, it is considered the largest medieval church in the Baltic States. It has undergone many modifications in the course of its history. The church was originally Roman Catholic but was changed during the Reformation where Estonians abandoned the old faith. There was a monastery behind the church but it was disbanded after the Reformation. It now houses artifacts from the church's history.


We continued on a walking tour of Old Town. One of the buildings, currently a restaurant, was built in 1221. The House of Blackheads was destroyed in 1941and rebuilt in 1999.

We proceeded to Town Hall Square.

The House of Blackheads --  Craftsmen (small) and merchant's (large) Guild Buildings

We boarded our bus for a riding tour of Riga. One on the buildings we saw was the Staliniust building (only 9 of these are left, 7 in Moscow, 1 in Warsaw, and 1 in Riga). It houses the Academy of Sciences. 

The Museum of the Occupation 1941-1991 is normally housed in a building in Old Town but is closed for renovation. Many of the exhibits were moved to a building right around the corner from our hotel. We went and saw many sad mementos of bother the soviet and the Nazi occupation of Latvia. They had a very stirring movie about their history from the 1918 independence through the end of the soviet occupation. I taped it but the quality is not good. 

After the soviet takeover, they arrested and/or executed most of Latvia's political leaders. The president and prime minister Karlis Ulmanis was exiled to Voroshilovsk in the USSR where he dies in prison in Krasnovodsk in 1943. Eleven of the twelve cabinet members were arrested. Former prime ministers Hugo Celmans and Margeris Skujenieks were sentenced to death. More than 7000 Latvians, leaders, military, were arrested and imprisoned in 1940. Many were killed in prisons, the others exiled to gulags. In June 1941, 15,000 Latvians (21,000 from Lithuania, and 11,000 from Estonia) were exiled. Men went to the gulags, woman and children to Omsk and Tomsk. Most never returned.

After the soviet reoccupation in 1944, red terror reigned again. Some 47,000 Latvians (2% of the population), 32,000 Lithuanians, and 21,000 Estonians are exiled. About 5500 died in transit or in forced labor camps. Releases started in 1953 after Stalin's death with the majority returning in 1956. They were not allowed to return to their former homes and were excluded from education and professions.

Member of the Home Guard in Talei District kept his Enfield rifle and modified it to use in the resistance 

Pärnu, Estonia

The Livonian Order came because of the favourable port location at the mouth of Embecke. Thus, in the 13th century, two settlements appeared on the shores of River Pärnu - Perona (Old Pärnu) on the right shore, at the mouth of River Sauga, and Embecke (New Pärnu) on the left shore. The history books mention the City of Pärnu for the first time in 1251. Old-Pernau was founded by Bishop Henrik of Ösel-Wiek around 1250 with the inauguration of the cathedral situated by the River Pärnu. From 1346 onwards, the city developed to a flourishing member of the Hanseatic League. Especially corn trade was handled in the sea port that profited of its good climate.  It was a port on the route to the Hanseatic City of Novgorod.

During the Livonian War (1558 – 1583) Pärnu was occupied by Sweden in 1562. This led to the development of new and profitable trade relations with the northern parts of Germany. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took control of town between the late 1560s to 1617; the Poles and Lithuanians fought the Swedes nearby in 1609.

In 1710, the city was taken over by tsarist troops as a result of the 1710 Capitulation of Estonia and Livonia and the 1721 Treaty of Nystad, following the Great Northern War. It belonged to Imperial Russian Governorate of Livonia then.  At the same time the shrinking population was heavily threatened by the plague. Thus, the situation could not get any worse in the future. Eventually the situation changed for the better.

In 1838, the first public sanatorium was opened in Pärnu. This led to a considerable rise in cultural activities and tourism. Apparently, people had learned to profit from the region’s climatic conditions. From now on, large parts of the medieval fortress were torn down for it was not considered attractive for visitors.

Two events prove the very special zeitgeist of the city. Firstly, “Pärnu Postimees” (the first newspaper in the Estonian language) was founded there in 1857. And secondly, the first independent Republic of Estonia was declared on the balcony of the Theatre Endla (now destroyed) on 23 February 1918.

The soviet occupation rule closed the port of Pärnu  in 1940 for foreign vessels and the port remained only a fishing harbor for 50 years. The next important milestone was the era of being a Soviet health resort and spa for privileged people, lasting for almost 50 years. Today, only about one and a half decades later, Pärnu is one of the most popular resorts in the Baltic countries. The buildings of the old town and St. Nicholas Church were blown up by the Soviets in 1952-53.

We left Riga for Pärnu. After we crossed the border into Estonia there was a police roadblock. They were checking for drivers who had alcohol in their system. Estonia has a 0.00% blood alcohol acceptance, period! Luckily our driver passed the test and we were permitted to resume our journey. 

The day was Estonian Independence Day so the villages we passed through had most homes and businesses adorned with the national flag. We arrived in Pärnu and were taken to the beach. Some of the folks wanted to wade in the Baltic. You could go out about 1,000 feet from shore and the water was only waist high. 

We then motored into town where we were free to wander and have lunch. Pärnu is the town where Estonia issued its Declaration  of Independence on February 23, 1918. There is a monument to that important event on the mall leading into the town. 

Street scenes

Marilyn at Russian Orthodox Church -- Independence Monument

Tallin, Estonia

On the afternoon of the 20th we returned to Tallinn, staying overnight again in the Meriton Grand Hotel. The next morning we departed for home. Our Estonian Air flight was at 0645 and we had to check in two hours earlier so the driver picked us up at the hotel at 0425! Mighty early but, hey, we were on our way home after a long but very interesting vacation.