Kaunas was a really nice town to finish off my Lithuanian adventures. It wasn’t the world’s most exciting city – it’s not so big, there’s not so much to see – but it’s a great place to take things slowly and just enjoy the atmosphere. There’s also a lot of good cakes.
Plus, they have free wi-fi in the main street. The benches have little plaques attached advising people of this. The ‘main street’ leads from a beautiful church all the way to the main square, and is for pedestrians only. There’s bike paths on each side, and a central lane lined with trees and benches. It’s quite picturesque.
The town square is nothing overly special, but it was quiet and not particularly touristy – that is, it wasn’t filled with souvenir stalls. It was mostly empty – restaurants on the outside, the town hall in the centre, and mostly vacant space.
I visited a couple of very interesting museums in Kaunas, neither of which allowed me to take photographs unfortunately. The first one, and the one that I’d been really excited about, was the Museum of Devils.
The Devil Museum houses a large part of the collection of Mr. A. Žmuidzinavičius, a crazy guy who, in the early twentieth century, began collecting representations of devils. While most of his collection is from Lithuania and the nearby countries, he also acquired a variety of pieces from around the world. It was absolutely amazing.
Most of the collection consists of sculptures, wooden carvings and masks, however it also includes an entire dinner set that was specially made for the devil collector by Lithuanian artists for his 80th birthday. So it’s fair to say that it’s a little eclectic. What I really loved about it though was that this collection of devils wasn’t a collection of representations of Satan, but more of the concept of devils in different cultures and especially devils in folklore. Explanations attached to many of the pieces tell about Lithuanian folklore and the place of devils in this. It was fascinating. While there were a few strictly religious items, most showed devils as primarily mischief makers rather than the embodiment of evil. There were a number of masks from around the world, and it was interesting to see both the similarities and the differences in various cultural representations. I guess my general interest in devils in mythology and folklore meant that this museum was truly brilliant. It made me want to start my own collection – there were some truly beautiful pieces of art there.
I visited the military museum, properly called the Vyatutas the Great War Museum, which was about as exciting as military museums generally are. Lots of glass boxes with guns, uniforms and medals. There was a wall that held portraits of all the Grand Dukes of Lithuania from the twelfth century onwards, although given that it seems only about three or four artists painted all of them it’s clear that they weren’t contemporary images. There was a few rooms dedicated to Poland in prehistoric times, and these were of a bit more interest to me. In the boring-guns-and-medals section, I’d been entertaining myself by trying to sneak up on each cabinet without triggering the sensor lights. That’s how thrilling I found it. Unfortunately, I ultimately lost the battle of Cat vs. Sensor Lights. I did manage to sneak up on a few though. I must have looked like a bit of a moron, creeping up to glass boxes like some ninja in training.
The other museum that I particularly enjoyed was the Museum of the History of Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy. It was housed underground in a building that had operated as a hospice and pharmacy for centuries, and it was fully of old pharmaceutical paraphernalia. I particularly liked the beautiful old wooden cabinets full of drawers and the antique cash register. I’d have very much liked to take them home, but I don’t think they’d fit in my backpack and I doubt that the museum would appreciate me stealing their exhibits.
Most of my time in Kaunas was spent aimlessly wandering, reading my way through three of the four Terry Pratchett novels at the hostel or just chatting with my dorm mates. The hostel I stayed at, The Monk’s Bunk – second of that name that I’ve stayed at – was fantastic. One of the best places I’ve ever stayed. The staff was brilliant, the dorms were big and it had a great atmosphere.
My second night in Kaunas, basically the whole hostel went out together to a bar with a great view of the town and terrible karaoke. Karaoke’s incredibly popular here, and when two Finnish girls from the hostel went to put their name on the list at 10.30, they were told to come back at 1.00am. It’s that popular. We must have heard ‘Wonderwall’ about five times and ‘Zombie’ at least twice that. The Cranberries seem to be all the rage in the Baltics – or at least that song. They’re mental for it. Every busker has it in his repertoire, and in the 1.5km walk from the hostel to the main square it’s not uncommon to pass three different buskers with guitars singing Zombie.
I took an overnight bus from Kaunas, Lithuania to Gdansk, Poland. Thus ended Lithuania, and began my adventures in Poland.