A dog has the right to be a dog

My second day in Riga, Latvia, I headed out to explore more of the Old Town and had brunch at a vegan restaurant called Fat Pumpkin, which was really good and reasonably priced.  From there I went to see the Three Brothers, which are three buildings built super close together that are the oldest buildings in Riga, dating back to the 15th century.  The Latvian Museum of Architecture is now located in the buildings, although I didn’t have time to see anything more than the outside.  It’s actually pretty cool, they all have different styles and one of them is super narrow.

 

Super cute cat "hostel" near my hostel in Riga, Latvia

Super cute cat “hostel” near my hostel in Riga

 

Morning Glow smoothie at Fat Pumpkin in Riga, Latvia

Morning Glow smoothie at Fat Pumpkin

 

Morning Glow smoothie at Fat Pumpkin. Riga, Latvia

Omelette at Fat Pumpkin

 

House of the Blackheads in Town Hall Square, Riga, Latvia

House of the Blackheads

 

Roland Statue in Town Hall Square in Riga, Latvia. House of the Blackheads in background

Roland Statue in Town Hall Square

 

View of St. Peter's Church from Town Hall Square in Riga, Latvia

View of St. Peter’s Church from Town Hall Square

 

The Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia

The Three Brothers

 

The Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia

The middle Brother dates back to 1646 and is influenced by Dutch Mannerism

 

The Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia

The oldest of the Three Brothers, dating back to the late 15th century

 

From there I stopped quickly at Big Bad Bagels to get some takeout for my bus trip that evening, before walking to the KGB Museum, also known as the Corner House.  The museum was a bit hard to find and so I ended up kind of walking around the building before realizing that it WAS in fact the right place. It’s a big, unassuming building (which makes sense, seeing as how it was originally built as an apartment complex and was later used as the KGB Headquarters for Riga) and there isn’t much signage advertising the name of the museum.  But I finally found the right door and paid for my walking tour after I was assured that I could leave the tour at any point (I couldn’t stay for the whole thing as I had a bus to catch, but I figured some is better than none!).

The museum was pretty interesting; there were lots of facts and information about the KGB and the kinds of things they did during the time they occupied Latvia.  The tour takes you through the cellars, cells, exercise grounds, the yard and the interrogation room.  Thousands of people were taken away in the middle of the night, imprisoned, tortured and either sent to labour camps or executed, never to be seen again.

 

Cellars at the KGB Museum (the Corner House) in Riga, Latvia.

Walking through the cellars at the KGB Museum

 

Exercise Grounds at the KGB Museum (the Corner House) in Riga, Latvia.

The exercise grounds at the KGB Museum

 

Exercise Grounds at the KGB Museum (the Corner House) in Riga, Latvia.

Looking up from the exercise grounds at the KGB Museum

 

It was really interesting to hear the guide, a young Latvian, talk about how for most Europeans, WWII and the Holocaust were the worst things to happen in recent history, but for the Baltic countries, the Soviet Union and the KGB were far worse.  While thousands of Baltic people (mostly Jewish) were killed under German rule, they only ruled for 3 years.  The Soviets ruled for almost 50 and were considered to be harsher and more ruthless than the Germans.  It was a new perspective on history for me, something I’d never thought of before; having traveled throughout Europe and having seen many of the sites dedicated to and scarred by WWII and the Holocaust and having seen countless movies and documentaries about it, it always seemed that nothing could have been worse, but I’d never really thought before of what it was like for the countries that were formerly part of the USSR and how the Russian rule affected them, as it’s not something you hear about as much.  One of the many things I love about traveling is how you’re constantly learning (whether you are trying to or not) and how you gain new perspectives about the world, its people and its history.

I managed to make it halfway through the tour before having to leave to go back to the hostel to pick up my bags.  I then walked to the bus station to check in for my 5pm Lux Express bus, heading to Vilnius, Lithuania.  Once again I was impressed by how nice (and relatively inexpensive) the bus was (bonus, it wasn’t that full so I had two seats to myself)!  I watched another movie: Love, Rosie, which was okay.

 

 

I arrived in Vilnius at 9pm, took an uber to my hostel, Home Made House, checked in, hit the grocery store for some dinner and then went back to the hostel to chill and have a glass of wine with the owner of the hostel.  The wine was actually really good, it was a Lithuanian wine and was made out of blackcurrants instead of the traditional grapes.  The hostel was pretty good; I was in a 4 bed dorm and there was free wifi and breakfast, although only one shower for the entire hostel which could be a bit of a challenge.  But the owner was really nice and friendly and it was clean.

 

Lithuanian wine made with blackcurrants

Lithuanian wine made with blackcurrants

 

The following morning I woke up bright and early and went to visit the Museum of Genocide Victims (another KGB Museum).  Similar to the KGB Museum I had visited in Riga, the one in Vilnius also had a tour that took you to the cellars, exercise grounds, cells and interrogation rooms.  However, the one in Vilnius has been open much longer than the one in Riga and so it had a lot more information, with displays featuring clothing and artifacts, and was better overall, in my opinion.  There was also a haunting room where many executions had taken place.  I paid the extra €3 for an audio guide and I think it was totally worth it.  While the upstairs part is full of panels of information, when you go down to the basement where the cells are there isn’t much info, so having the audio guide was really helpful.

 

Fall leaves in Vilnius, Lithuania

Beautiful fall leaves!

 

Fall leaves in Vilnius, Lithuania

Looking up

 

Fall leaves in Vilnius, Lithuania

Aaaaand looking down

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum.

Museum of Genocide Victims

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum. Duty officer's room.

Duty officer’s room

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum. The Guardroom.

The guardroom

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum.

Old school phones!

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum.

Some of the different ways the KGB spied on people electronically

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum.

Some of the different disguises the KGB employed to spy on people

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum. Solitary confinement

Torture room. The bottom of the unheated cell was filled with ice-cold water and a person was made to stand in their underwear on the pedestal for hours trying not to fall asleep and fall into the water

 

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania. KGB Museum.

More than a thousand people were executed in this room from 1944 to the early 1960s. Up to 45 people could be shot in a single night.

 

From there I walked across the Neris River and had lunch at Hesburger, a Finnish fast-food chain that is very popular in the Baltics (in fact, in those 3 countries it is more popular than McDonald’s), then walked to the Money Museum.  It was a nice museum, and best of all, it’s free (!) and you can never go wrong with free!  There were all kinds of really cool old bars and coins from when currency was first used; money from around the world; and there’s a giant coin pyramid made up of 1,000,395 coins! There are also interactive exhibits, like a scale where you can see how much you’d be worth in gold, silver and platinum.

 

Neris River in Vilnius, Lithuania. Church of St. Michael the Archangel.

Neris River

 

White Bridge in Vilnius, Lithuania. Signs of Vilnius.

One of the stainless steel sculptures of the Signs of Vilnius project, commemorating the 20th anniversary of Lithuania’s independence.

 

White Bridge Park in Vilnius, Lithuania

Beautiful green space next to White Bridge

 

White Brige Skatepark in Vilnius, Lithuania

White Brige Skatepark

 

Trying out a Hesburger

 

Neris River and Congress Hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania

Neris River and Congress Hotel

 

Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Vilnius, Lithuania. Neris River.

Church of St. Michael the Archangel

 

The Money Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania

The Money Museum in Vilnius

 

The Money Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania

Copper, gold and silver bars you can try to lift. Definitely a difference in the heaviness!!!

 

The Money Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania

Old currency

 

The Money Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania

Old money

 

The Money Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania

Old coins

 

The Money Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania. Coin Pyramid

Coin pyramid

 

Then I walked to Vilnius Cathedral, took some pictures and then walked up the hill to Gediminas’ Tower just in time for dusk and a beautiful view of the city.  After walking back down, I spent some time walking around the city before heading back to the hostel and spending the rest of the night talking to an Australian guy in my room.

 

Lithuanian National Drama Theatre in Vilnius, Lithuania. Lietuvos nacionalinis dramos teatras.

Lithuanian National Drama Theatre

 

Three Muses sculpture in Vilnius, Lithuania. Lithuanian National Drama School.

Three Muses sculpture (representing drama, tragedy and comedy)

 

Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania

Vilnius Cathedral

 

Vilnius Cathedral Belfry in Lithuania

Vilnius Cathedral Belfry

 

Gediminas' Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

Gediminas’ Tower

 

Sunset over Vilnius, Lithuania. From Gediminas' Tower

Sunset over Vilnius

 

Sunset over Vilnius, Lithuania. From Gediminas' Tower

Sunset over Vilnius

 

Sunset over Vilnius, Lithuania. From Gediminas' Tower.

Night has fallen

 

The Hill of the Three Crosses in Vilnius Lithuania. Seen from Gediminas' Tower

The Hill of the Three Crosses

 

Sunset at Gediminas' Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

Beautiful sunset

 

Backlight pictures at Gediminas' Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

Backlight fun!

 

Backlight pictures at Gediminas' Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

Backlight fun!

 

Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania

Cathedral Square

 

My final morning in Vilnius I got up early and walked to the Gate of Dawn, which is a historic city gate dating back to the early 1500s and whose chapel has an icon of the Virgin Mary said to have miraculous powers.  Then I walked through the old town before heading to the Artillery Bastion, one of the few remaining parts of the city’s old defensive wall.  It was closed for renovations, but there was still a nice view of the city.  I had lunch at Cafe de Paris, a small but cozy restaurant started by French expats with good food that caters to students and artists.

 

Roasted tomato soup at Cafe de Paris

Roasted tomato soup at Cafe de Paris

 

Warmed by my soup, I headed back out to explore Literatu street (Literary street), a street dedicated to people who have contributed to literature that has significance to Lithuania.  There is a wall with plaques dedicated to those people: authors, translators, poets, etc…  It was pretty cool, as the plaques vary greatly in colours, materials and designs.

 

Literatu Street in Vilnius, Lithuania

Literatu Street

 

Literatu Street in Vilnius, Lithuania

So many different plaques

 

Literatu Street in Vilnius, Lithuania

Literatu Street

 

Literatu Street in Vilnius, Lithuania

Plaques dedicated to those who’ve contributed to Lithuania’s literary culture

 

Literatu Street in Vilnius, Lithuania. Dedication plaque # 229

Dedication plaque # 229

 

Literatu Street in Vilnius, Lithuania. Dedication plaque # 158

Dedication plaque # 158

 

I then walked to Užupis, a district in Vilnius which has declared itself independent, similar to Freetown Christiana in Copenhagen.  Formerly a Jewish neighbourhood (most of its residents were killed during the Holocaust), it was left empty and neglected by the Soviets for decades. It then became popular with artists and intellectuals, leading Užupis to declare independence on April 1, 1997.  It has its own anthem, constitution, flags (one for each season), president, currency, cabinet of ministers and even its own army (there are 11 members)!  The constitution, consisting of 38 articles (for example: 12 – A dog has the right to be a dog; 16 – People have the right to be happy and 17 – People have the right to be unhappy) and 3 mottos (Don’t Fight; Don’t Win; Don’t Surrender) can be found on a wall in Paupio Street, with translations in over 20 different languages.  I spent some time wandering around the streets, reading the constitution and searching for the shop where I’d been told you could get your passport stamped with an Užupis stamp.  It was a bit hard to find, but I finally found it and got a new “unofficial” stamp on my passport!

 

Love locks on the bridge into Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Love locks on the bridge into Uzupis

 

Buddhist prayer flags in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Prayer flags

 

Buddhist prayer flags in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

More prayer flags

 

Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Can’t argue with that!

 

Angel sculpture in Uzupis central square by Romas Vilčiauska in Vilnius, Lithuania

Angel sculpture in the central square. It has become a symbol for Uzupis

 

Uzupis constitution in Vilnius, Lithuania

Uzupis constitution

 

Uzupis constitution in Vilnius, Lithuania

The constitution is translated in over 20 languages

 

Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Flag emblem

 

Uzupis constitution in Vilnius, Lithuania

The constitution in French

 

Artwork in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Random artwork

 

Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Finally figured out that the shop to get my passport stamped is behind this gate

 

Daile shop in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Found it! Got my stamp!

 

Artwork in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

Uzupis artwork

 

Artwork and Mermaid statue by Romas Vilčiauskas in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

One of the entrances to Uzupis with the mermaid scupture and artwork

 

Mermaid sculpture by Romas Vilčiauskas in Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania

This mermaid sculpture has also become a symbol for Uzupis. It was sculpted by Romas Vilčiauskas, the same sculptor who created the angel statue

 

I then headed back to the Vilnius Cathedral, but this time went to visit the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, a museum next to the cathedral.  The current palace was built from 2002-2009 but sits on the site of the original palace that was built in the 15th century and demolished in 1801.  You can still see the remains of the original palace in the museum and learn about its history.  There are also exhibits on Lithuanian culture and tours of the reconstructed palace.

 

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania in Vilnius

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania

 

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania in Vilnius

Entrance to the museum

 

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania in Vilnius

Walking through the ruins of the original palace

 

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania in Vilnius

More ruins

 

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania in Vilnius. Knight.

I feel like this knight looks a little defeated, lol

 

Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania in Vilnius. Spears.

Lots of spears

 

I walked around a bit more then went to Keule Ruke, a bbq restaurant that had been recommended to me by my friend Jesse.  It’s the site of a famous mural of Putin and Trump kissing, as well as many more political paintings inside and in the courtyard.  It’s worth visiting just for the artwork, but you might as well try a delicious pulled-pork sandwich while you’re there!  I got a sandwich to go and walked back to the hostel to enjoy it and chit-chat with the others until my uber car arrived to take me to the bus station.

 

Make everything great again. Putin and Trump mural. Keule Ruke in Vilnius, Lithuania

The famous mural by Mindaugas Bonanu. It’s a play on a famous photograph of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker greeting each other with a kiss

 

Keule Ruke

 

Keule Ruke in Vilnius, Lithuania

Tell us how you really feel!

 

Keule Ruke in Vilnius, Lithuania

It’s everywhere!

 

Pulled pork sandwich at Keule Ruke in Vilnius, Lithuania

Pulled pork sandwich

 

My time in the Baltics was about to come to an end and although I’d kind of rushed through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, spending only a few days (or less) in each one, I’d really enjoyed my time there and met some really awesome people.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone traveling to Europe; the scenery was beautiful, the people friendly and there was lots to see and do.  I’ll definitely have to come back and spend more time in the area.

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