Finally it is summertime in Lithuania! Last fall, on my last visit to my hometown Kybartai, my childhood friend suggested I came to spend more time with them this year. She used that rarely used Lithuanian word vasaroti, which my Anglon translates into “to summer”.
On June 19th I had a significant birthday that I wanted to make more meaningful than just eating and drinking with a few of my friends. I decided to escape to Kybartai. But before going to Kybartai I went to Alytus and stayed there for a couple days with my classmate. Then drove to Kybartai, and spent 5 more days there.
It was a very quiet time away from city noise, and even away from the internet. We drove around, visiting villages and making small discoveries of Lithuanian history and amazing nature. To show you the beauty of Lithuania I will divide this post into two parts and tell the story with pictures more than with words. Sometimes one picture is worth of thousand words, right?
Crumbs of History
Alytus is in the Southern region of Lithuania called Dzūkija. We drove to two villages, Raižiai and Butrimonys.
Raižiai has a colony of Muslims and mosque, still opened for prayer:
Muslims were brought to Lithuania from Crimea in 1397 by the Grand Duke Vytautas as his body guards. During more than 600 years they maintain their religion. We visited Muslim cemetery close by and discovered that most people buried there had Lithuanian names, but Muslim signs on their footstones. Yes, this is not a typing mistake. Most of gravesites had footstones, not headstones:
From Raižiai we drove to Butrimonys to see a newly installed fountain:
On the way from Alytus to Kybartai I stopped in Simnas. Simnas church is the oldest still standing church in Lithuania. It stands in the way it was built in 1520:
Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe, Christianized in 1387 for political reasons. Pagan beliefs were alive for centuries after Christianization, and even today there are signs and traditions of paganism that we keep alive. One of them are Lithuanian crosses that are on UNESCO heritage list:
On my way to Kybartai I also stopped to see a new church in Alvitas:
The Catholic church in Kybartai was built in 1929. That’s the church where I was baptised:
Kybartai is a small town on the Western border of Lithuania. The town grew when in 1851, the government of Russia made the decision to build the Warsaw – Saint Petersburg Railway. The line was started in 1858 and finished in 1860. Kybartai was right on the border of two empires: German and Russian. Now again, it is on the border of Lithuania and Kaliningrad region, that was incorporated into Russia after the WWII.
When Russia occupied Lithuania in 1940, Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona escaped Soviets crossing the border into Germany in Kybartai. He was not allowed to cross the border through the crossing point but, with the help of Lithuanian patriots, crossed the creek. Now we have a mark on this spot:
The wire fence behind the mark is the border with Russia. I could touch it if I wanted but I didn’t want to.
On my way back from Kybartai to Šiauliai, where I live, I stopped at Kudirkos Naumiestis to encounter the border with Russia once again. River Širvinta marks the border. Before Russian occupation of Kaliningrad region there was German town Širvinta on the other side of the river, connected by bridge to Kudirkos Naumiestis. Širvinta is the only town in Europe that was not rebuilt after the WWII. All that is left are the memories, stored in Širvinta museum in Kudirkos Naumiestis, Širvinta Path, framed with birch trees, and the wire fence on the bridge:
June is my favorite month of the year. Is that because I was born in June? Is that because the days are much longer than nights? Or is that because the nature is so fresh and beautiful? It is filled with sounds of birds and bees, and with scents of blooming trees, bushes and flowers. I wish I could take pictures and save memories not only of views but also of sounds and scents.
My summertime in Kybartai was amazing. I was able to walk the same sandy paths where I walked barefoot as a child, and to enjoy views that my eyes saw then. Many things have changed, of course, but many other things were still there. I can’t share with you sounds or scents, so enjoy the views:
Lake Žuvintas is a strictly protected nature reserve and a paradise for water birds.
Stork is a national bird of Lithuania. Unfortunately many of their nests are not on trees but on power poles. Also it was difficult to take a photo with their youngsters seen. It looked like the moment I took the camera out, the storks told their babies to hide in the depth of the nest.
I had a wonderful summertime. I will go back to spend more time there and watch how the nature changes. Join me on my adventures!