Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vilnius. Off to School.

Viewing Old Town from the top of the campanile of St. John's Church.

We kick started our long day today with a gut busting, taste bud satisfying, yummy breakfast! It was a buffet that offered up a good selection of breakfast items and included two eggs cooked any which way you want. We happily stuffed ourselves.


By the time we hit the streets, it was still early morning. Vilniusian (?) were commuting to work. I did not envy them :-)


We headed back toward Town Square go to the Information Center - we had spotted it yesterday.

We were in no rush this morning.  We just took our time; it was such a lovely walk.  The buildings of Old Town Vilnius remind me of Old Town Tallinn but the way the streets wound about, it very much reminded me of Old Town Riga, if that makes any sense.  If the three Baltic capitals were the three bears, Vilnius would be mama bear.  I'm feeling a good vibe here.


Before we made it to Town Square, we came across a church.  You have to admit, it's so ornate on the outside, it would be hard to miss.  We decided to enter St. Casimir (Jesuit) Church.


I loved the interior of this little church. It was colorful, the architecture was very eye catching and while the altar was pretty ornate, the rest of the church it wasn't over done in terms of decorations.



At the Information Center, we got our handy dandy street map plus suggestions on places to go see.  Of all things, we were told to visit Vilnius University.  I'd like to think that the young man behind the counter thought we were both young enough to be students but in reality, it turns out that the University is a very popular tourist attraction.  So, off to school we went!

We arrived at the entry gate to stand before a ticket booth.  I've never been in a University before that required an entry fee so I was a bit taken aback at first.  But for 5 LTL, we decided to check out the place and we got a map to guide us around.

Vilnius University is one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. It was founded at a time when the reformation movement was active in Lithuania and Jesuit monks were invited to help fight the mood of reformation. Jesuit monks were quick to take over education. In 1569, they established a college and in 1579 the University of Vilnius was born.

As described on the university's website:
"The complex of University buildings extends over a whole block of Old Town. Its original architecture attracts the visitor’s attention. The construction of the University buildings was carried on over t­he centuries under the changing influences of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical styles. The campus began to take shape in about 1570 in a city quarter belonging to the Bishop of Vilnius. By that time, the area had already been built up with brick houses. It later gradually expanded to the east and to the north, towards St.John’s church. Bounded by four streets , the campus is composed of 12 buildings, some of them having multiple structures, the Church of St.John, and the belfry. The buildings are arranged around 13 courtyards of different shape and size. "

The entrance leads right into the Grand Courtyard.


Located on one side of  the entrance to the university complex is St. John's Church and on the other side, the church's campanile aka the freestanding bell tower.  Our ticket entitled us to entry to the university complex which included the church but not the campanile.  For now, we decided to just check out the church.

St John's Church on the left,  campanile on the right.

It's a beautiful church on the inside.  Very ornate altar and a gorgeous pipe organ.







We wandered through the courtyards, sticking to the larger ones.  We really had no idea where were going but anytime we caught sight of a tour group, we would follow them.  That's what lead us to entering a very nondescript building and walking up a very nondescript set of stairs to enter in a most magnificent room, painted from floor to ceiling with a stunning set of frescoes.

We were standing in the reception room of the Centre of Lithuanian Studies and the work of art around us is called, "The Seasons of the Year"  painted by the Lithuanian artist, Petras Repšys from1976 to 1984, in celebration of the university's 400 year anniversary.  The frescoes' motifs are drawn from Baltic mythology.


The frescoes cover several rooms.





The courtyards were all very well tended to.  Odd though that we rarely came across a student.  Maybe the school year had not started back up yet.



Going from one courtyard to another.

Walk about as much as we could, we somehow always ended back up at the Grand Courtyard and St. John's church and the campanile.



Each of the thirteen courtyards are named after famous graduates and professors of the university; commemorative plaques in their honor can be seen in the Grand Courtyard.  I think it such a classier way to honor the university's famed contributors than with the usual oil painting hung on the wall of some building or other.


On one of our return trips to the Grand Courtyard, we heard music emanating from St. John's Church; the organ was being played. We stepped inside to listen for a few minutes.



Isn't that a beautiful organ?


Our next surprise waited for us at the University's bookstore, Littera.  Yes, the campus bookstore.  
Ask my college age nephew and he'll tell you that the only thing he does when he goes to his campus bookstore is to get books and other study materials he needs for his courses. It's an in and out kind of place. You don't linger inside and you most certainly don't stare up at the ceiling. But this ceiling is so gorgeous, it begs for you to stare up at it!


The bookstore is small by U.S. standards. With its dark wood interior, low lighting and painted, vaulted ceiling, it looks and feels like an intimate library of a luxury European estate and not a campus bookstore. The ceiling is low and fully decorated so your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the frescoes of caricatures of professors and students painted by Antanas Kmieliauskas in 1978. It is a work of art unto itself.

In addition to selling books, the store sold some decent souvenirs.  Makes sense given that the university is a tourist attraction.  I ended up buying a  pressed paper postcards, suitable for framing, by Metalo Forma (http://www.metaloforma.lt/), a renown Lithuanian art print maker.  My souvenir from Lithuania!


Originally, we had not intended to go to the campanile but we decided, what the heck, let's climb the tower and take in the view from atop.  We paid an additional 5 LTL each to enter.

On the ground floor is Foucault’s Pendulum, swinging back and forth, reflecting the rotation of the Earth. The socket of pendulum entrenchment is installed on the second floor ofthe campanile.  I have to admit, it can get a bit hypnotic watching the 10 kg ball, hung on a thin wire, rock back and forth over marble dial base.




I think this is the out of operation elevator.

The elevator was out of operation so we had to climb the 193 rickety, authentic wooden steps, to the top.   I let Bro go ahead of me as I know my cursed weak lungs would slow me down.   I was climbing the stairs alongside a mother and her daughter from Texas.  The daughter was starting work in Vilnius and mom took the opportunity to come over so both could do some touring together.  We had a nice chat on the way up; it kept me distracted from my huffing and puffing.  So sad.


At 45 meters tall, the campanile is the tallest structure in Old Town.  From the top, we did indeed have a wonderful 360 degree view.  Unfortunately, because we really hadn't spent much time in Old Town, we didn't recognize any of the buildings. It really is best to take in bird's eye views AFTER you've explored on ground.



The large green hillock is Gediminas Hill.  We would visit that later in the day.


A view of the Grand Courtyard.

Vilnius Old Town is definitely larger and more spread out than either Riga or Tallinn.  After taking in the view from high above, I was definitely looking forward to exploring it!

Our day in Old Town had just begun!