Category Archives: vacations

Yes, Virginia. There is a Spiritual Vortex in Lithuania

At the end of our stay in Vilnius, my aunt Ona’s husband arrived to drive us to our next destination, the spa town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania. Ona and Kostas don’t even live in Vilnius, but they insisted on chauffeuring us so we wouldn’t have to rent a car.

How generous are the Lithuanians? Very generous.

We were hoping to stop and pick some mushrooms on the way (there is very good ‘shrooming in the area around Druskininkai) but the weather had been dry and there was no fungi in sight. Instead, Kostas asked if we’d like to make a short side trip to a place called “Merkin?s Piramid?” (the Pyramid of Merkin?), which was very close to our final destination.

“A pyramid? There’s a pyramid in Lithuania?” My attention was immediately piqued.

“Not big pyramid, like Egypt. Smoll pyramid,” Kostas explained. “Is spiritual place.”

“Like a church?” I asked.

“Not church, but spiritual energija, yes? Is guy, Paulius, very good guy, he built own two hands this pyramid. God told. Very special energy, people come all over Lithuania for healing.”

“You mean, it’s like a SPIRITUAL VORTEX?”

I have always wanted to visit a spiritual vortex.

“We stop, you see,” Kostas said.

So we turned off the main road and drove down a little towpath through a pine forest to the homestead of a man named Paulius. (A sidenote concerning Lithuanian towpaths: you think there is no way under God’s blue sky that your Audi sedan and the oncoming truck could both make it out of the towpath alive. But, nine times out of ten, you’d be wrong!)

So this guy, Paulius, received a message from heaven as a child telling him that a particular spot on his parents’ property was exceptional, and that he should build a pyramid over it where the special healing energy could be harnessed. It took him years, but he finally built the structure and the dome around it was completed just a few years ago.

merkines piramide

Merkin?s Piramid?

I especially love the juxtaposition of the traditional wooden homestead with the futuristic glass dome. It’s a good metaphor for the state of Lithuania today – a country clinging to its ancient roots while striving to be as modern a contender as possible.

There is no charge to get in (the structure was built with the help of private donations) and the holy well water available inside the dome is free, too.

Which is a good thing, because it was hotter than blazes inside that pyramid.

meditating

Meditating

under the pyramid

Kostas and Some Ladies Under the Pyramid.

So did I feel the energy, you ask?

Well, yes and no. Because it was easily one hundred degrees inside the dome, I found it hard to differentiate between feelings of unity with all of creation and plain old climate induced light-headedness. But there was very peaceful, new age type of music playing and the acoustics inside the dome are phenomenal, which definitely added to the ambiance. I sent up some prayers for all the people who come here to be healed.

Maybe that’s how it works?

Afterwards, I walked a bit around the grounds, which are beautiful, while the children played on one of the wooden play structures ubiquitous to the country of Lithuania (playgrounds are everywhere – it’s great.) I saw Paulius himself working in a field and began to make my way over. After reading the history of the pyramid that’s posted on the grounds, I was still unclear as to how, exactly, he received his mandate and what, exactly, God told him.

I really wanted to know.

I patiently waited to talk to him while a couple of other tourists monopolized his time, but after awhile I got bored just standing there waiting, plus there were a lot of bees who liked my scent in that field. So I left without getting the answer to the meaning of life, which I regret.

merkines kryziai

Crosses Near the Pyramid

These crosses near the pyramid are another example of the mingling of old and new in Lithuania. (Paulius is Catholic, but for some reason the Church has not sanctioned his activities with regards to the Pyramid.)

Whether there’s something going on here or not, it’s definitely a beautiful, serene place to visit.

*******************************************************************************

This is the seventh (but far from last) post in my series “Tessmans do the Fatherland,” about my family’s recent trip to Lithuania. Here, in chronological order, are the links to the first six posts:
  1. Lithuania, Day One
  2. City Building 101: The Founding of Vilnius (Gediminas Castle)
  3. Lithuanian Vacation: What We Ate
  4. Artists Sleep on Mondays (Užupis)
  5. Blood and Sunshine (The Vilnius TV Tower Memorial Site)
  6. Zip Line Trumps Castle (Trakai Castle and Tony Resort Park)
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Zip Line Trumps Castle

Did you know that bars of silver were used as currency in medieval Europe, and that the value of the bar was determined by the number of notches made in it by a silversmith? And if you took that bar of silver and made a few extra notches in it, it was considered counterfeiting? And if you got caught (because no one can exactly reproduce the mark of a bona fide silversmith), do you know what they’d do to you as punishment?

They would melt that bar of silver and stuff it down your throat.

silver bars

Silver Bars

We learned these interesting facts, and many others, during our tour of Lithuania’s Trakai island castle, which was built in the 14oos by Grand Duke K?stutis. This castle is the real deal, with a moat and turrets and everything, and its surroundings are just as picturesque as depicted in photos and postcards. Including this one which I don’t mind saying I took myself:

trakai boats

Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania

The children had learned all about this storied place in Lithuanian school, and I was anticipating that it would be one of the high points of our trip. After all, what kid doesn’t love a good old fashioned moat and dungeon type situation?

Trapped pat

Trapped

Trapped kids

Also Trapped

And indeed, all four youngsters in our entourage (we went with good friends of ours and their children) were captivated by the castle and its history as told by our charming tour guide.

After eating our fill of “kibinai,” (a type of dumpling introduced to Lithuania by the Karaim tribe of Crimea that came to live in the city of Trakai to serve as bodyguards of Grand Duke Vytautas the Great after he battled Ghengis Khan’s Golden Hoard), we still had a lot of daylight to burn, and decided to check out a nearby “adventure park” recommended by a friend of my friend Rita’s. We knew nothing about the park except that it was supposed to be very pretty and great fun for kids.

The park, as it happened, was called “Tony Resort.” Who is Tony? Is there a significant Italian population in Lithuania? No one knows. But what we do know is that Tony’s Resort, tucked away in a lush pine forest by the town of Anuprišk?s, was a most excellent diversion. The resort boasts a very modern hotel/spa situated next to a placid lake, but its main attractions are obstacle courses and zip lines.

And it was totally legit, too, with instructors and release forms and a safety lesson included in the cost. So what if the instructors split after giving a couple of pointers, and so what if there’s no one around to ensure that kids are properly harnessed? This is Lithuania, not the litigious U.S.!  If you meet your demise because you weren’t using common sense or paying attention, that ain’t none of Lithuania’s bidness.

lady napping at tony resort copy

See the crumpled figure in the bottom left of the above photo? She’s not dead! She’s just resting.

The P-Dawg, his friend Art?ras, and all of the children had hours of fun there. Even the youngest eventually worked up the courage to ride the BIG zip line, losing a shoe in the process but returning with a smile of utter ecstasy on his face. Meanwhile, my friend Rita, her mother and I enjoyed adult beverages in the shade.

intrepid

Intrepid

Jonas Zip Line

Jonas, Hanging on for Dear Life

Jonas declared it “the best day of his life.”

And that’s how Tony the Italian trumped Grand Duke Vytautas the Great.

trakai sulinys

(We came across this villager getting well water on the trip from Trakai Castle to our car. NO ONE HAD EVER WITNESSED such a site, so we all gathered ’round to watch.)

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Blood and Sunshine

The area in front of the Vilnius’ TV tower is unremarkable, except for a group of wooden crosses that stand in contrast to the futuristic form that serves as their backdrop. But what happened there on the morning of January 13th, 1991 is forever etched in the memories of Lithuanians all over the world.

kryziai prie boksto

It’s the sight where thousands of citizens convened in the days following the Act of the Reestablishment of the State of Lithuania to stand guard against Soviet militia that descended upon the city in the wake of Lithuania’s refusal to follow Moscow’s order demanding the restoration of the constitution of the USSR. And it’s the place where thirteen of the peaceful protesters were killed and hundreds more injured during Mikhail Gorbachev’s last ditch attempt to keep Lithuania and the other Baltic nations under the Soviet thumb.

After taking over the National Defense Department, on the morning of January 13th, a column of Soviet tanks rolled into the area in front of the Vilnius TV tower, firing at random into the crowd and running over unarmed bystanders who had formed a human defense shield. The last image transmitted on Lithuanian television that night was of a Soviet soldier running toward the camera and turning it off.

Shortly afterward, a small TV station in the nearby city of Kaunas began broadcasting, asking anyone who was able to pick up the signal to re-transmit the broadcast in as many languages as possible to let the world know that Soviet militia were killing unarmed Lithuanians. Sweden answered the call and began re-transmitting. The next day, the tanks retreated, but it would take several more months before Mikhail Gorbachev let go of the reins for good. (Though Iceland was the first country to recognize Lithuania as a sovereign country, in February of 1991.)

We visit the TV tower on our last day in Vilnius, and though I remind my children why it’s hallowed ground, after an obligatory photo session in front of the memorial, they do what they are programmed to – they run along the stone wall, shrieking, and then jump off.

kids in front of tower

Vija, Jonas, and Friends

If not for the granite slab with its tribute to the victims, if not for the wooden crosses put up in their names, one could hardly know that this place is where years of silent oppression finally came to a head. I try hard to imagine it as it might have looked on a cold night in January, but I can’t. There are neither spirits nor demons here, not even the slightest trace of blood.

It’s a hot blue summer’s day, after all, and we’re in a young-old county. The concrete column of the Vilnius TV tower, where we’ll go later for drinks, is unequivocally Soviet. But the stoic wooden crosses, those are 100% Lithuanian.

TV bokstas statula

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Artists Sleep on Mondays

Užupis is a tiny bohemian neighborhood in Vilnius that declared itself an “independent republic” in 1997.  As such, it has its own tongue-in-cheek constitution, flag, and anthem, and every year on April Fool’s day, visitors to the Republic can get their passports stamped with its (totally unofficial) seal. Once home to squatters and prostitutes, Užupis (which literally means, “Beyond the River”) has undergone a transformation of sorts in recent years, and now it still looks kind of poor and run down, but has a few cafés,  wine bars, and art galleries.

Sign by Bridge to Užupis

Sign by Bridge to Užupis

uzupis wall

Graffiti a Go-Go

Locks of Love on Užupis Bridge

Locks of Love on Bridge Leading to Užupis

I’m sure it would be a fun place to party on April first, but on the Monday afternoon when we visited, most of the art galleries were closed and the only artist I saw was a guy from Chicago who I used to know in high school. Something tells me there’s fun to be had in Užupis for the people who actually live there, but not so much for the middle-aged housewife marching along the sidewalk with husband and kids in tow, wearing comfortable sandals and a cross-body bag containing maps, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and all of her important documents. 

Middle-Aged Housewife with Cross Body Bag

Middle-Aged Housewife with Cross Body Bag

Užupis Angel

Užupis Angel

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