Kaunas – Lithuania’s Second City

Vilnius Street

Kaunas - Lithuania's Second City

When the low-cost airlines took off (sorry), it gave me the opportunity to visit some places that I’d always wanted to visit – and also some that I hadn’t; places such as Kaunas.

Kaunas was to be my first destination to the Baltic States, simply because it was the only place in that part of the world that I could fly to from my regional airport at the time. So, in the summer of 2012 I took off from Bristol not really knowing what to expect, so before I completely lose my marbles, here is an account of what I remember.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania with an urban population around the 400,000 mark, so it’s not surprising that we landed in the country’s second largest airport.

What did surprise me though was that it was so warm it was like arriving in Spain – and it was 10 o’clock at night.

I usually try to use public transport where possible, but on this occasion, I just jumped in a cab which took me directly to the hotel, which although it was called the Ibis Kaunas Centre, wasn’t quite in the city centre but convenient all the same.

The following morning, I was pleased to see the sun shining, and so after breakfast I didn’t waste any time in making my way past the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation to Laisves aleja.

Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

Laisves aleja (Freedom Avenue) is the main shopping street in Kaunas, and it wasn’t far to walk to from the hotel.

The first thing that I came across was the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, which looked as though it should be Kaunas Cathedral – but it wasn’t.

On closer inspection I could see that it needed a good lick of paint so I guessed that it wasn’t as important as I first thought.

Even so, I decided to go in because I’ve always liked the architecture of Russian Orthodox churches. This one also had some neo-Byzantine columns which made it slightly different, but if I’m being honest the interior of this 19th century building was a bit of a let-down, mainly due to its chequered history; Over time, it was a garrison church for Russian, German and Lithuanian troops and then closed down by the Soviets until Lithuanian independence in 1991 restored it as a Catholic church.

St. Michael the Archangel

Freedom Avenue is a pleasant pedestrianised shopping street that runs for over a mile: It has two rows of Linden trees which reminded me a bit of Unter den Linden in Berlin, although obviously not so grand.

Freedom Avenue

Shopping streets are not my thing in England, let alone Lithuania, and so I didn’t waste too much time along here. There was a fountain half way along which tends to be a meeting point, and which I needed to look out for, and at the western end of the street is a monument to a national hero, Vytautus the Great, the Grand Duke of Lithuania during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Vytautus the Great Monument
Kaunas Cathedral Basilica

Freedom Avenue leads to Vilnius Street and the Old Town, which is much more interesting for people like me, and if Freedom Avenue can be regarded as the main street in the New Town, then Vilnius St can be regarded as its counterpart in the Old Town.

Like Freedom Avenue, it is also pedestrianised, but the buildings are generally much older, some dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries including the real Kaunas Cathedral Basilica.

Many of these old buildings are put to good use for the modern age with plenty of bars and restaurants on offer.

Vilnius Street

The centrepiece of Kaunas Old Town is the Town Hall Square, and the centrepiece of Old Town Square is – you’ve guessed it – the Town Hall. This graceful, white Baroque 16th century building is affectionately called the ’White Swan’ and it’s easy to see why.

Over the years it’s had a multitude of uses, some more acceptable than others, but today it’s used as a ‘Palace of Weddings’, which seems to me to be very appropriate, not only because of its appearance, but also because of its proximity to the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers, which I’ll be coming to in a minute.

The Town Hall

At the far end of the square is an attractive collection of buildings including Holy Trinity Church.

The seminary buildings here were recognised as the most important Catholic learning establishments in the country, and one of its most famous sons was Pastor Jonas Maciulis Maironis: A writer of patriotic poetry, his statue stands in front of the 18th century house where he lived, and which is now the Maironis Museum of Lithuanian Literature.

St. Trinity Church
Statue of Maironis

On the other side of these buildings on a slightly raised piece of land is Kaunas Castle.

Near to the confluence of the rivers Nemunas and Neris, Kaunas Castle is the oldest historical building in the city, dating from the 13th century. It has to be said though that not much of the original stone building has survived, and Lithuania’s tendency to restore buildings to something like their original appearance is something I’m not all that sure about.

It’s not difficult to see why a castle was built where the two rivers converge. Under constant threat from the Teutonic Knights, the castle saw its fair share of action, but as the threat from the Teutonic Order waned, so did the importance of the castle.

Flood damage added to its demise, and eventually it was just abandoned until reconstruction started in 2010.

Kaunas Castle
The Reconstructed Castle

The castle stands above Confluence Park which leads down to where the two rivers merge, and for all you romantics out there you may be interested to know that Neris is a feminine noun in Lithuanian and Nemunas is masculine. After the male and female rivers join, they never split up and the confluence has now become a romantic site for newlywed couples; so, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a young couple being photographed frolicking around in the river when I arrived.

Confluence of the Neris (right) and the Nemunas (left)
A Young Couple having their photographs taken

Overlooking all this at the top of the park is a large statue of Pope John Paul II who attracted a huge crowd here back in 1993, but it was my intention to perhaps get an even better view of everything by taking the Aleksotas Funicular which was located on the other side of the Nemunas.

Pope John Paul II

To get there I made my way over to the Vytautus the Great Bridge via the House of Perkunas, a fine building constructed during the 15th century for merchants of the Hanseatic League.

House of Perkunas
A Soviet Coumn on the Bridge

I like bridges, all sorts of bridges, which is just as well because I had time to have a closer look at this one as the funicular was unexpectedly closed.

The bridge, connecting the Old Town with Aleksotas, is not particularly attractive, which is understandable when you consider that the original was destroyed in WWII and replaced by the Soviets in 1948.

I noticed that the Hammer and Sickle symbols were daubed with yellow paint, but it wasn’t until I got home that I found out that it’s one of the few reminders of the Soviet period that still remain in Kaunas, and still a bone of contention for some that they’re still here.

The Nemunas from the Bridge
Soviet Hammer&Sickle daubed with paint

I’d covered as much ground as I needed to for one day, and as I had a pre-arranged meeting this evening, I made tracks back to the hotel for a bit of a scrub up.

At the time, I was a member of a group called Couchsurfers, which was essentially a group of travellers who opened their doors to anyone who belonged to the group. It was a good idea but I have to admit I was a bit of a fraud because I never couchsurfed once, but it did enable me to meet people abroad if I was on my own, and greet people from elsewhere when back at home.

I wasn’t sure how many people would turn up at the Fountain in Freedom Avenue, but word must have got around because when I arrived, only Evelina, the organiser, had turned up.

She was a young lady in her twenties, and I was an older man well past his sell-by date, and so I did the honourable thing and gave her the opportunity to call the whole thing off, but she wasn’t having any of it. As far as she was concerned, I was a guest in her country and she was going to make sure that she didn’t let her country down.

The Fountain in Freedom Avenue

Between us, we decided to go to a restaurant called Berniliu Uzeiga, which literally means ‘Shepherd’s Inn’.

The choice couldn’t have been better, because I wanted to try some local food and this traditional rustic sort of place was ideal.

The waitresses were dressed in national costume, and so it was a bit kitsch, but it was a lovely old building, with a good selection of Lithuanian food and beer, good service – and cheap.

I ordered some Kepta Duona, which is a plate of fried black bread sticks served with cheese and garlic mayonnaise which we shared, and very moreish if you like savoury snacks.

Berneliu Uzeiga (Shepherd's Inn) Restaurant

Evelina turned out to be the perfect host and told me a lot of things about Lithuania I couldn’t have got from guidebooks, and I’d like to think that she also learnt a little bit about where I came from.

After a convivial few hours we went our separate ways, which for me, meant going back to the hotel to get ready for my trip to Vilnius the next day, and hoping that it would be as successful as the one I’d just had in Kaunas.

The Joining of the Male and Female Rivers
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22 thoughts on “Kaunas – Lithuania’s Second City

  1. Odiseya

    Hi, Malc!
    I visit this city in 2011 on the road to Russia but menage to see only to the picture of St. Trinity Church in this blog post since we spend very short time here.
    Anyway, seems it would be nice to come back and recreate your trip, do you agree?!

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks Albert. I’m glad to hear it, although I suspect that there are some who would disagree with you LOL

      Reply
  2. Alli Templeton

    There are some amazing buildings in Kaunas, Malc. I’ve never been anywhere in that direction, so it’s nice to see somewhere different. The House of Perkunas is an architectural beauty, especially for the age, and that’s a very different type of castle to the ones we have over here, isn’t it? I’m sure I’ve seen it on an archaeological TV programme before about a medieval battle – it does seem familiar. Looking forward to more about your trip. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      AS you can imagine Alli, travelling to places like Kaunas throws up more questions than answers. You start to realise that there’s history everywhere even if you’re not familiar with it, but the more you see the more pieces of the jigsaw start to fit together. The only trouble is that the jigsaw seems to get bigger 🙂 Thanks for taking a look and I hope that your mini quest is starting to take off. I’m also interested to know what you think your next major quest might be. 🙂

      Reply
    2. Alli Templeton

      It’s true, Malc, the picture gets bigger and bigger, and in the end its so big you can’t take it all in. Last year I did an Early Modern Europe module, and looking at Europe over such a long period is mind-boggling. You have to pick out the bits you’re interested in and stick with them. If you studied it in detail it would take decades. For now, I’m happy to do Scottish Medieval and Early Modern History – and even that’s vast, so you have to concentrate on a few chosen topics.

      Regarding the mini quest, well, the mead brewing kit has arrived and I’ve organised a trip to a meadery. I’m preparing for the uni term at the moment, so hopefully we’ll get going on it next month. It’s a quest that’ll fit in with life as we know it. But it’ll be fun – and a bit of light relief from the studies! 🙂 As for the next big one – I’ve got a couple of ideas brewing (as well as the mead!), but it’s going to have to be on the back burner for a while. So time will tell… 😀

      Reply
      1. Easymalc Post author

        I think you would need several lifetimes to make sense of European history in any real detail, but as with everything in life, the more you find out, the more you realise you don’t know.
        One of the reasons that I’ve enjoyed following your blogs is because they enlighten me in a way that is easy to understand, which for someone like me is essential 🙂

        I’ve wavered constantly between concentrating on one or two locations and broadening my horizon to include places further afield, and I’m still none the wiser now. So much so in fact, that I’ve seriously been considering chucking the whole blogging thing in, but every time I think that’s it, then something crops up to make me feel differently. You might have felt the same after your last quest if I’ve read your mind right.

        Reply
        1. Alli Templeton

          I’m sorry you’ve been having doubts about blogging, Malc. But you have read my mind right and it’s the same as I feel. My initial instinct after Wales was to bring the blog to a natural conclusion as it had served it’s intended purpose. And if I’m honest, I’m still not sure whether I should carry on much longer, what with the most intensive two years of study about to start as I move towards the end of my degree. I’ll just have to see how the next few months go and take it from there. But one thing that the Welsh Castle Quest and the blog have shown me is that I know for certain I’ll be doing more quests, and I have ideas for at least another two big ones for the future. But whether I’ll blog about them or not remains to be seen. Either way, I’ll be out there questing for those wonderful medieval stories.

          I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my blog though, as it shows that I’ve achieved exactly what I set out to do. And for what it’s worth I really enjoy your blog too. After all, if it wasn’t for your blog I wouldn’t have taken Maddie to the SS Great Britain in June.. 🙂

          Reply
          1. Easymalc Post author

            I know I’m not in any position to give advice on this Alli, but it would be a shame if you didn’t continue with your blogs for a couple of reasons.
            Firstly, I think writing blogs is a big help in remembering what you’re learing because writing it all down sems to help the memory bank somehow – at least it does for me – and secondly, it will be a treasured memory for you, as well as making new friends along the way.

            Perhaps you could look at it in a way that your last blog in pusuit of your Welsh quest was just the first chapter in a longer saga to come. Mind you, the last thing you need is to put yourself under more pressure. That is definitely not the idea of the game. You have to enjoy it or it’s totally pointless.There are ways to get around that of course. It’s just working out what they are. For example on my jaunts I hardly ever write about them straight away but just make notes as I go along and put it all together later.when I’ve got the time and the inclination – just an idea.

            You see, by giving my thought to you, I ‘ve already convinced myself to carry on 🙂 – and of course, when you tell me how my blog on the SS Great Britain inspired you and Maddie to go there, what more do I need? 🙂

            Reply
            1. Alli Templeton

              Thanks for this, Malc. You’re right of course, there are reasons to carry on, and I guess that’s why I haven’t thrown in the towel just yet, Another reason is that it would look good on my CV when I come to do an MA. I’m certain it’s one reason why I’ve been accepted to Dundee Uni for this next module without the need for references.
              What worries me is sustaining it over the long timescale between now and then, at a time I’m really busy with all my studying and my dissertation next year (which will be about Edward 1st and the Welsh wars or the castles). The problem lies with how time-consuming blogging seems to be. I’ve learned it’s a two-way thing, and I’m having to follow many other blogs (I’m not including yours here – that’s a given, and is outside these), and that takes a very long time. I can spend two hours just reading and commenting on blogs I follow, and I just won’t have that kind of time over the next couple of years. It’s OK now before my course starts, but once it’s going time will be limited, especially when you consider the long school run I have. So I guess I’ll just have to see how it goes and hope for the best.

              As for your blogging, I’m only too glad to have inspired you to keep going. 🙂 And it wasn’t just the SS GB of course, there was also Winchester! 🙂

              Reply
              1. Easymalc Post author

                I can understand where you’re coming from Alli. Life is always a juggling act and we all try to keep the balls in the air for as long as possible.
                In the end it’s all about the priorities that are important to us that count the most.

                As long as you keep writng blogs, I’ll keep reading ’em even if you don’t have the time to respond, and hopefully I’ll continue to provide some more inspiration for any free time you may have 🙂

                Reply
                1. Alli Templeton

                  I’ll always respond to you, Malc. If someone takes the time and effort to read and comment on one of my posts it’s only polite to respond. And besides, I really enjoy our chats – they do break up a sometimes otherwise monotonous day slogging through work. 🙂 And I’ve no doubt your blog will continue to inspire us to go to new places and revisit others during my precious downtime. 🙂

                  By the way, I’m having trouble answering you from my site today, so I don’t know whether that’s something on my side or yours, but the comments don’t get sent. I’m getting round it now by replying directly on your site. Just thought I’d let you know. 🙂

                  Reply
                  1. Easymalc Post author

                    Thamks for your comments in the first paragraph Alli, they mean a lot to me because I get so few followers and comments which suggests to me that my blogs are either not worth reading or I have a technical issue which prevents people from communicating. I’ve been at home all day today and so I should have seen your comments straight away. Whatever, thanks for your support 🙂

                    Reply
                    1. Alli Templeton

                      They are very worth reading. 🙂 If other people don’t see that, that’s their loss. I wouldn’t put too much stock in followers etc anyway, because I know people who have a couple of thousand followers but no-one comments on their posts. It doesn’t really mean anything. If you enjoy doing it, then stick at it. As I always say, you only need one or two good friends. 🙂

  3. Stuart Templeton

    Wow – what some fascinating architecture, that town hall is wondrously OTT! The castle is good too – although it looks more like a Roman for to me.

    Thanks for a great tour around Kaunas Malc, it’s always really interesting to read about far-flung places, and great photos too!

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks again Stuart. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. There’s some more to come, so stay tuned 🙂

      Reply
  4. starship VT

    Malcolm, I really enjoyed your excellent write-up and photos of Kaunas! Lithuania is on my wish list. So nice you had a contact there to converse with and learn about the city. It seems you did some wonderful sightseeing on your own. Lovely architecture in most cases make it look like a very pleasant city to visit.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for taking a virtual tour of Kaunas with me Sylvia. I’m glad you enjoyed – and I reckon you would enjoy the real thing even more. 🙂

      Reply

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