Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Laurynas remembers the day that around 2 million people from Tallinn to Vilnius, stretching right across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, linked hands to form a human chain.  His parents were activists in the anti-Soviet independence movement.  They were out on a trip, visiting family, and drove to a place where they could join the human chain.  He remembers the roads almost choked with traffic as everyone tried to join in.

Outside the cathedral in Vilnius this tile marks the spot where the chain ended. Stebukla means simply 'miracle'.  The memories I have of the break up of the Soviet Union are hazy.  I remember Gorbachov's perestroika and glasnost, and we still see images of the Berlin Wall being dismantled that night.  But the story of the human chain passed me by.  Each time I see reference to it now I get goose bumps.  Laurynas says the same when he talks about it - 'chicken skin' in Lithuanian.  The communist party in Lithuania was the first to declare independence from the U.S.S.R.

We meet Laurynas outside his office in the centre of Vilnius after a hair-raising roller-coaster ride with the trolley-buses, taxis and cars.  There's always a frisson of excitement riding into a city after the quiet of country roads.  The office building Laurynas works in is dramatically only half-finished - the economic downturn put an end to the building work.  He takes us home where Giedre is preparing tea - a drive out of the city along a motorway and to a small community of new houses built on land used for small-holdings in Soviet times, where city-dwellers could grow vegetables and fruit.  They've built their own house - a lovely bright modern building.  After some long days cycling we are happy to rest here.  Somewhere along the way a boil has developed on my leg and it has grown to monstrous proportions.  Things seem to be coming to a head, so to speak.  It's got so that I can no longer buy custard tarts.  I also have a sick bike - a wonky front wheel after riding into the back of Gayle's bike.  Of course I think the crash was not my fault, but the judgement has already been made against me.  Being an absolute novice at bike maintenance I have to turn to You Tube to see how to true a wheel without a bike stand.  It turns out to be relatively straight forward and my wheel is straight again.

We love wandering the old city which has an unpolished lived-in feel about it, in contrast to Tallin.  The old town is much bigger and still used by locals.  One neighbourhood has declared itself a people's republic, with it's own constitution:
Giedre and Laurynas take us Trakai to see their famous castle on the lake there.  It is probably Lithuania's most visited destination, but it's nice and quiet in the evening.  They tell us how they always thought how special this castle is until they saw similar ones in Poland.  We try local pasties, a speciality made by local muslims, descendants of a group from the Caucasus brought here centuries past.  Our hosts are an energetic and enthusiastic  young couple with interests in cycling, hitch-hiking, film and music.  We talk endlessly about all kinds of things and when it comes time for us to leave we once again feel a little sad to be saying goodbye.  Funny thing this feeling.....

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