Eight: Spirits

In art, our understanding of a subject is informed by the media through which the subject of a piece is rendered: We feel, rather than simply understand, eternal torment through Hieronymus Bosch’s oil-on-oak depictions of Hell; we recognize the banality of the fantastic through Kurt Vonnegut’s spare and direct prose; and we grasp the eclectic, complex nature of first-person narrative through Kate Bush’s dramatic vocals.

Yes, and in this way, we can also understand cities–the multifaceted, living pieces of functional art that they are. We can get a sense of a city by looking at what it’s made of, analyzing the strokes of asphalt, draped sheets of steel, and underlying armatures, all of which inform its spirit.

However, cities are possessed of dualities not found in all art–they are both media and subject. Like a painting about paint or a sculpture about clay, we can understand a city by appreciating that of which it is comprised, and understand its composite materials by appreciating the city as a whole. Of course, the best way to experience a city, to know both media and subject at once, is to reach out, to run your fingers along its contours and kiss its mortar lips.

Klaipėda: Bronze, Brick, and Sea

Klaipėda, Lithuania’s third-largest city, has been rendered with familiar materials–brick, cobblestone, wood, and iron. Like other Lithuanian cities, Klaipėda’s buildings lose a little more to age every day while the skeletons of new buildings stand on the skyline, patiently waiting for the concrete and wire tissue that will give them life. Klaipėda is unique, however, in that its spirit and meaning are largely influenced by water: the deep grey of the Danės and the crane-lined shore of the Curonian coast. These elements can be felt in every piece of Klaipėda, and they provide it with a texture not found in Kaunas or Vilnius.

A map of Klaipėda’s old town on the side of a building on Tiltų gatvė.
Jūs esate čia: The large map is both decorative and functional. It helps orient visitors to the general grid and landmarks of the old town.
Looking up the Danės upė (Dane River) from the Biržos tiltas in Klaipėda’s old town. The Danės springs north of Klaipėda and empties out into the Curonian Lagoon, beyond which lies the Baltic Sea.
Its seaside location has made Klaipėda a popular destination for both local and international visitors, and its old town is bustling with restaurants, clubs, and hotels.
Newlywed locks hang on Meilės medis (The Tree of Love) in Danės skverelis.
Flowers in Danės skverelis.
An old building on the banks of the Danės. Though the building looks disused, one can hear the sound of machines coming from within.
A cryptic (perhaps unfinished) message on a wall on Vežėjų gatvė.
One of the many friendly denizens of Klaipėda. This one warns visitors to watch their steps on the uneven cobblestones of Vežėjų gatvė.
Waiting (Isroydon Barot, 2014) in Dienovidžio skveras (Midnight Square).
A shuttered factory on Pilies gatvė.
According to legend, a black ghost emerged from the Danės one foggy night in 1595. The ghost appeared to one of Klaipėda Castle’s watchmen and warned him that the city’s supplies of grain and timber were too low to provide for the citizens. It’s warning thus issued, the ghost disappeared. This statue, crafted from bronze and positioned next to a hand-cranked bridge commemorates the benevolent juodasis vaiduoklis (black ghost) that saved Klaipėda.
The old ferry port in Klaipėda. The ferry carries passengers across the Curonian Lagoon to the Curonian Spit. The Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is ahred by Lithuania and Russia, is 98 km. long sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic Sea.
The Klaipėda skyline as viewed from the Smiltynė ferry port on the Curonian Spit.
There are several settlements on the Spit, most of which are small resort villages, including (from north to south), Smiltynė, Juodkrantė, Pervalka, and Nida. A trail, roughly 50 km. in length (on the Lithuanian portion of the spit), allows visitors to pass through large, beautiful forests and ancient sand dunes. Bicycles can be rented in Nida and returned anywhere along the trail.
Cycling the trail can be an all-day event, as there are many places to stop and many things to see. The names, dates, and distances of many visiting cyclists are carved into the wood of this small tower.
Between Pervalka and Juodkrantė lie the Grey Dunes, a fragile, desert-like environment which swallowed a village hundreds of years ago.
A walkway up the Grey Dunes preserve. Visitors must remain on the established path to protect the integrity of the dunes.
Human-made barriers keep visitors on the right path.
The Curonian Lagoon as viewed from the Grey Dunes. Both the lagoon and the Baltic Sea can be viewed from the top of the dunes.
The Baltic Sea.
The wind that batters the Spit affects more than just the sand. Trees bow to their blustery master on the scabrous path to Juodkrantė.
An emergency services structure on the Baltic coast near Juodkrantė.
Nearly back to Smiltynė. I smile despite having been rained on for the past several kilometers.
Back at the Klaipėda ferry port, the sun makes preparations to retire.

Riga: Myth, Masks, and Mortar

Riga, Latvia’s capital, is a sprawling city–a massive canvas, an epic poem–that cannot be explicated within a single blog post. But, like an epic poem, pieces of it can be analyzed to inform the context and meaning of the entire piece. Thus, this section will focus on Riga’s old city and city center, both of which contain stunning examples of architecture designed in the style of Art Nouveau, or Jūgendstil. Nearly one third of the buildings in Riga’s center were constructed in the style of Art Nouveau, and many of them can be found on Alberta iela and Elizabetes iela.

Perhaps the most breathtaking examples of Jūgendstil architecture are those buildings designed by Mikhail Eisenstein. Like other architects working in Jūgendstil, Eisenstein incorporated atlantes, sphynges, nymphs, and masks into his designs. Somehow, though, the human forms in his buildings seem to carry the burden not only of the pillars and walls they support, but of the whole city. Eisenstein’s figures communicate the glory and tragedy of cities, trapped as they are in their buildings, and illustrate how we, too, may become trapped in the cities we design.

A lamp post on theVanšu tilts (Vanšu Bridge). The Vanšu spans the Daugova River, the lifeline upon which Riga is built.
Brīvības piemineklis (The Freedom Monument): The monument honors soldiers who died during the Latvian War of Independence.
Pilsētas Kanāls (City Canal): The canal was once part of the moat that protected old Riga from invaders. It is now part of a beautiful park lined with cultural and diplomatic structures.
A waterfall in the park along Pilsētas Kanāls.
A newlywed lock on a footbridge in Pilsētas Kanāls park.
The Latvian National Opera building on the Pilsētas Kanāls.
St. Peter’s Church in old Riga. The tower of the church has been reconstructed several times since its original construction in the 15th century.
A statue on the facade of St. Peter’s. (Figure unknown.)
A statue in St. peter’s Church. Embarrassingly, I did not take note of the figure’s identity. I believe it is the first Roland statue that used to reside in the town square.
The Museum of the History of Riga and its Navigation.
Riga Cat greets visitors to a gift shop in Riga’s town square.
An antique sewing machine in an artist’s sewing studio.
A sewing machine in an artist’s studio.
A bicycle belonging to a member of the Riga Rusty Bicycle Club.
Alberta iela: The street is lined with many gems of Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture collection.
The stairwell of the Riga Art Nouveau Museum. The museum was originally a residential building designed by Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns. Pēkšēns lived in the building, and his restored apartment can be toured.
An atlas on a building on Teātra iela. (Architects: H. Scheel, F. Scheffel)
A residential building on Elizabetes iela. (Architect: M. Eisenstein)
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
A Sphynge guards an apartment building on Alberta iela.
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
A residential building on Alberta iela.

Seven: Inclination

When I first arrived in Kaunas at the end of January, the city was wet, dark, and dormant with winter. Now, in spring, Kaunas is bright and alive. The built environment of the city is filled-in, integrated into the natural environment as if the two are woven together. The city has become fabric: the warp of street and structure is threaded through the weft of river and wood so tightly that it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Being from Florida, where the seasons offer little in the way of variation, I have never seen a spring so pronounced and drastically different from the winter that preceded as I have in Lithuania. In this blog, I wanted to use color to convey a sense of change. As you’ll see, the photos are not necessarily in seasonal order, but rather have been ordered to allow color to emerge in the same way that spring emerged here in Kaunas.

Presence in Absence

A boardwalk crosses the dunes of the Curonian Spit, leading to the Baltic Sea.
Metal bones on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
A wooden man uses interpretive dance to express the agony of existence.
Trijų mergelių tiltas (Bridge of the Three Virgins). The pedestrian bridge, constructed in 1976 and renovated in 2014, spans the Nemunas river and provides access to Panemunės šilas park.
Figures are carved from fallen trees in Panemunės šilas park.
Kaunas Reservoir. The reservoir, which feeds the Kaunas Hydroelectric Power Plant, was created in 1959 by damming the Nemunas river above Kaunas.
An emergency services structure on the shore of Kaunas Reservoir.
A tree grows atop the Kaunas dam. The dam’s gantry cranes can be seen in the background.
Gantry cranes mounted to the top of Kaunas dam. The cranes are used to hoist open the dam’s spillways. Separate cranes, housed inside the dam’s structure, operate the penstocks that feed the power plant’s turbines.
On the shore of Kaunas Reservoir.

Ink and Inkling

Chimneys protrude from the top of a hill. The chimneys ventilate the old gunpowder bunker that is built into the hill. The bunker, once part of the system of forts that compose Kaunas Fortress, has been converted into an event venue called Parakas.
Parakas from the ground level.
A ticket stub from Buitis, a post-punk show held at Parakas. The show was headlined by Lithuanian bands Pindrops and Vilkduja, and Belarusian band Molchat Doma.
Music from Molchat Doma. “Na dne” was the last song they performed at Buitis.
A wall inside the bunker.
Though the bunker has been cleaned up and prepared for use as an event venue, it is still very much a bunker. It is cold and damp, and there are no venue amenities such as bars and toilets (both of which were provided outside).
Pindrops.
Molchat Doma.

Nothing Less

Paths such as these help pedestrians negotiate the hills that surround central Kaunas.
Trijų mergelių tiltas.
Looking upriver from Trijų mergelių tiltas.
The proverbial May flowers.

Six: Escape!

Note: A version of this post will appear in the May issue of Njuspeipis, the student newspaper of Kauno Technologijos Universitetas (KTU).

I got lost in the woods the other day.

Or, more accurately, I lost myself in the woods the other day. But it was a good thing, a great thing. Looking back at the experience, I can see that losing myself was a necessary escape that I couldn’t do without.


I just lay on the couch

staring at the ceiling

—paralyzed and guilty.

You see, I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure lately. I’ve been feeling the pressure to do well in my classes, to commit to a career, to plan a future. On top of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about the decisions I’ve made in the last few years. Did I choose the right graduate program at my university? Should I even be in graduate school? Am I on the path toward what I want or just what I’m settling for?

These pressures had built up to the point where I felt like I couldn’t move, or that any move I made had to be the right move. But I was so overwhelmed that making any move at all seemed impossible. When I wasn’t in class or at work, I just lay on the couch staring at the ceiling—paralyzed and guilty.

Then, the other day, I forced myself to do something to break my paralysis. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I need to escape, and my favorite form of escape is aimless walking, wandering—just me and my footsteps. It’s not important that I know where I’m going; it’s only important that there is somewhere for me to go that is not the space I share with my anxiety.

So, I set out for a walk around Kaunas. With heavy footsteps I wandered down unfamiliar streets, up unfamiliar steps, along unfamiliar paths, and before long I found myself in a sprawling, forested park—Ąžuolynas. I hadn’t paid much attention to how I got there, so I wasn’t quite sure how to get back, but it didn’t matter. As soon as I looked around and saw what I was surrounded by—thousands of oaks awakening from their winter slumber, a forest floor splattered with patches of wildflowers, a flowing stream caressing the pebbles of its bed—all that mattered was that I was there and nowhere else.

I kicked and shuffled,

shuffled and skipped,

spun around in an awkward

dance, losing myself

in the surprising joy of it all.

I continued to wander. Every step that took me deeper into the forest took me further away from my anxiety. I soon wandered off the trails and into areas where I could see nothing but trees, hear nothing but birds, feel nothing but peace. The spring sun fell onto a forest floor covered in the crunchy detritus of winter. I began to kick the dead leaves into the air, walking—nearly skipping—through the broken brown confetti I’d created. I kicked and shuffled, shuffled and skipped, spun around in an awkward dance, losing myself in the surprising joy of it all, and then…

…I stepped into a leaf-hidden hole and fell flat on my face.

And I started to laugh. Out loud and at no one, for no one, but myself. I laughed at my clumsy fall. I laughed at how wonderful and silly I felt, out in the woods, playing like a child. I rolled onto my back and laughed as I threw handfuls of leaves into the air. I hadn’t thought of school or work or even life for several hours. I felt happy.

When I emerged from the woods, I was dirty and covered in pieces of leaves, yet I felt clean, unburdened. I found my way home on lighter, less rigid footsteps, and when I walked in my door, it was all still there: all the work, all the pressure, all the worry. But somehow it didn’t seem as daunting. It didn’t seem as important. Yes, I still had to address it, but after my walk, I felt like I had the energy and the will to address it. I felt like I could live with it rather than be paralyzed by it.

And all it took was for me to wander, to trip and let myself fall.

All it took was a brief escape.

Five: To the Rhythm of My Footsteps

The enigma of the unfamiliar is a warm amber whisper on a chilly spring breeze, and I am lost in Kaunas, lost in Vilnius, lost among a thousand trees. I discover with no purpose. I wander with no companion. I am alone–through forests I am; through cities I am; in every perfect, joyous way I am–carried by the cadence of my footsteps, a warm amber whisper.

Small Signs of Spring -or- In The Valley of Adam Mickiewicz

There is perhaps nothing more pleasing, nothing more valuable, than being alone with Nature. Here, every moment is yours and yours alone. Here, solitude is perfect and unbroken. Here, it is unimportant to be understood–all that is important is under your feet. The Romantics knew this. Adam Mickiewicz knew this.

You know this.

Girstupis, a tributary of the Nemunas River, winds through the
Adomo Mickevičiaus slėnis (the Adam Mickiewicz valley).
A fallen tree over Girstupis.


The ice, so long unmoved, is bursting now,
With superstitions that have dimmed the light.
Hail, Dawn of Liberty! Oh, Long live Thou!
Thou carriest the Redeeming Sun so bright.

From “Ode to Youth” by Adam Mickiewicz, 1820.
A bridge over Girstupis observes the vibrant birth of Spring.

On the Banks of the Vilnia -or- The Beautiful Guts of Broken Pianos

Vilnius is art. And to be there is to be created as art is created–as a painting, a poem, a street is created; as a river, a tree, a god is created. Vilnius sculpts you, recites you, assembles a salon and invites you to attend. It is not a place that can be appreciated by those sorry thinkers stuck in the concrete. It is an abstract city for abstract people, those who do not require meaning, who rejoice in ambiguity.

St. Anne’s Church as viewed from the other side of Maironio gatvė.
The Flamboyant Gothic façade of St. Anne’s Church.
The Church of St. Francis and St. Bernard peers out from between the towers of St. Anne’s.
A tower of St. Anne’s.
Adam Mickiewicz prays under the eyes of St. Anne, St. Francis, and St. Bernard

Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis
Welcome to Užupis, a neighborhood of artists that declared itself an independent republic in 1997.
Woven art hangs from the main bridge into Užupis while The
UžupisMermaid suns herself.
Love locks on one of the many bridges of Užupis.

A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis
The symbol of Užupis.
The Constitution of the Republic of Užupis is displayed in numerous languages, mirrored, one might suppose, to reflect the reader in its words.
The Constitution in English.

Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis
The Angel ofUžupis.
In Užupis, art is on every wall, in every word, in every thought.

Everyone has the right to understand nothing.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis
A piano on the banks of the Vilnia.

No one has the right to have a design on eternity.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis
An old piano plays to the Cathedral of the Theotokos .
A piano sits under a spoon tree.

Everyone has the right to be lazy and to contemplate.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis

Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.

From the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis

Four: The Magic Words

Note: A version of this post will appear in the April issue of Njuspeipis, the student newspaper of Kauno Technologijos Universitetas (KTU).

Through my experience as a student and a tutor, I have found there are many approaches to learning. There’s the slow, methodical approach; the skimming approach; the study group approach; and, of course, the panic-because-the-paper-is-due-tomorrow approach. Most of these have some degree of merit, though the ones that contain essential elements of learning such as time, effort, and patience seem to consistently produce better overall comprehension of new ideas. Still, it’s difficult to say that there is one “best” approach, since what works for one student may not work for another. However, I have discovered a technique—a magical phrase, actually—that can increase the learning potential of any approach:

“I don’t know.”

The phrase “I don’t know” is magic for this reason: it makes presumption disappear. To gain knowledge, you must first admit that you do not have knowledge. But presumption—the arrogant belief that you know something when you really don’t—is the very antithesis of such an admission. Presumption creates unfounded assumption where there should be only open-minded observation; it limits what can be learned in the same way that manacles limit movement.

Saying “I don’t know” frees you from presumption by forcing you to humble yourself and acknowledge that you do not yet possess knowledge of whatever it is you want to learn. It provides you a solid, and necessarily empty, foundation upon which to build understanding. When you say, “I don’t know,” you become a real student rather than an false expert. You are truly prepared to learn.

The phrase “I don’t know” is magic

for this reason: it makes

presumption disappear.

“I don’t know” has become my mantra while I study, work, and live in Lithuania—and it has served me well. Before I left the United States, I was told many things about Lithuania. I was told that it was essentially an underdeveloped country. I was told that Lithuanian people were rude. I was told that the country was dangerous, and I was a fool for going. All those things I was told have two interrelated things in common: none of them are true, and they were all told to me by people who have never been to Lithuania, people whose only knowledge of the country was based on presumption. But being well-versed in the power of “I don’t know,” I politely dismissed their advice. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know how beautiful and quiet Kaunas is at midnight. I wouldn’t know the thrill of investigating the nooks and crannies of Vilnius. I wouldn’t be able to trade stories and share music with my Lithuanian coworkers. I wouldn’t have done, and I wouldn’t continue to do, a hundred different things that bring me closer to this country and its people every single day.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to say the magic words. They often feel heavy and awkward on the tongue because many of us learn, one way or another, that it is not okay not to know something, that not knowing is weakness. It’s not weakness, though. If anything, it is only the bravest seekers of knowledge who can utter the phrase loudly and without shame.

I’ve been here for two months now, and I can say without presumption that I do, in fact, know a few things about this country, even if they are only small things. Every day, I learn a little bit more, but that wouldn’t be possible, no matter what approach I took to learning, without the magic phrase. I knew when I came here that I didn’t know anything, and that has opened me to everything.

Three: More than Foreign

Note: A version of this article, edited for length and content, appears/will appear in the March issue of Njuspeipis, the student newspaper of Kauno Technologijos Universitetas (KTU).

Like many Americans, I am fluent in only one language: English. And all criticisms about and debate over foreign language education in the United States aside, the fact remains that my existence is contextualized in large part by monolingualism; English is not simply the language with which I live, it is the language in which I live. It is all I have ever known.

What I didn’t know, at least not until I came to Lithuania (my first trip outside of the U.S.), was how vital language was to my sense of security. Specifically, I didn’t realize how being able to read made me feel welcome in and part of my environment.

This realization struck me—and I know how silly this is going to sound—during my first trip to buy groceries, where walking into the store was like walking into an anxiety dream. Everything was at once familiar and alien: I recognized the letters on the signs that hung overhead, but I couldn’t understand the words they formed. Nor could I understand the packaging of the products. Every aisle was filled with a thousand questions that I hadn’t the capacity to ask. For the first time in my memory, written words communicated only confusion. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t read anything. I was truly, as Mick Jones sang, lost in the supermarket (though in a more literal, less existential way).

I was truly, as Mick Jones sang, lost in the supermarket.

I was seized by the feeling of being incongruous with the environment, like a wooden splinter under a fingernail. I felt foreign—and it suddenly became very important to me that I conceal my foreignness. I started to walk around the store as if I knew where I was going, when, really, I was just wandering aimlessly with false confidence, trying to find the cereal, the milk, the bread, but somehow always ending up back at the (rather expansive) herring section. I avoided crowded aisles, where brushing against another shopper might produce a reflexive “Excuse me” that would expose the truth of my tenuous disguise. I picked up items and over-dramatically mimed deep thought and comprehension as I pretended to read their labels. I must have looked like such a fool. (And the less said about my disastrous performance in the checkout line, the better.)

I can laugh at the experience now, but at the time, I felt completely disoriented. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find what I wanted to buy because I couldn’t read Lithuanian—I could still see, after all. It was that the part of being able to read that contributed to my sense of independence was missing. I felt like I couldn’t be self-reliant, that at any moment I would find myself in a simple, utterly banal situation that I could not handle on my own. For me, someone who values independence above almost all else, the inability to read was both defeating and terrifying. I felt like a child, wide-eyed and groping through a world made for adults.

But beyond just realizing something about myself, my experience in the grocery store provided me a glimpse of what life must be like for people who are illiterate in their native language. It’s not a one-to-one relationship, of course; I am able to read at least one language, just not the one I was surrounded by in the store. Still, the mere taste of lost independence was enough to inspire panic. I now have an idea, albeit a small one, of what it is like to go through life surrounded by written communication and not be able to engage with it. In that sense, I imagine that being illiterate must be very lonely.

Of course, the best way to avoid such a situation in the future, for me anyway, is to learn Lithuanian. I’ll be here for five months, so I figure I can learn some basics, at least enough to shop without panicking. But while I’m in the process of learning, I should take stock of what is familiar, what I know. I know buildings and streets. I know the joy of movement and exercise. I know the thrill of music. I know the textures, tastes, and scents of food (though the appeal of herring will forever elude me). And I know people–flesh and blood, the sound of the human voice and the magic of eye contact. Reminding myself of these universal elements of life has helped me, and will continue to help me, feel like I am part of my new Lithuanian environment, like I belong. They help me feel like I am more than foreign.  

Two: Awakenings and Invitations

On vertical structures, the emergence of

Winter drifts into dream, and from its slumber-slackened grasp slips Spring. It falls, warm and bright, thawing sky and city, and the towers of Kaunas emerge from their gray prison to be kissed by the sun once again. Features unfrozen, their long shadows slide down every street, their presence unmistakable on every observable horizon. But it is not merely their height that commands attention; it is their mien. They stand as neither gods nor guards, but as concrete epitomes of stoic grace.

The Kaunas carillon at the Vytautas the Great War Museum.
A building on K. Donelaičio gatvė.
Kaunas Town Hall. It’s tower, often referred to as the White Swan, is the tallest in Old Town.

A building on K. Donelaičio gatvė.
Kaunas Evangelical Reformed Church on E. Ožeškienės gatvė. The church embodies the architectural spirit of interwar Kaunas.


Kaunas Evangelical Reformed Church as viewed from Savanorių prospektas.
The Simonas Daukantas Bridge. The pedestrian bridge spans the Nemunas Canal, connecting Nemunas Island with the center of the Kaunas.
The tower of Christ’s Resurrection Basilica, as seen from Žemaičių gatvė.
The tower of Christ’s Resurrection Basilica, as viewed from the roof of the basilica.
Spring thaws the remnants of Winter from the roof of Christ’s Resurrection Basilica.

On questions posed by doors, windows, and gates

A door is closed, but I am not denied. A gate is open, but I am not encouraged. A window is broken, yet no one and no thing crawls through. Doors, windows, and gates are not merely functional apertures that allow passage; they are peculiar tools of communication, symbols whose meanings are often uncertain until we seek to open them. Are we to be permitted or punished? The question is in the unspoken invitation–the answer can only be discovered in the attempt.

Heavy metal doors bar access to a courtyard on K. Donelaičio gatvė.
The front door of a disused building on V. Putvinskio gatvė.
The front door of an office building onV. Putvinskio gatvė.
A gate and its keeper on Gedimino gatvė.
A ground floor window on Savanorių prospektas.
A door andwindow on Savanorių prospektas.

A rainbow-colored building on V. Putvinskio gatvė.

The south doors of St. Michael the Archangel’s Church.
Double doors with interesting details onK. Donelaičio gatvė.

One: Central Kaunas

On texture and tinted light in Old Town

The daylight over central Kaunas is gray and wet with winter. It falls, delicate as the snow of which it is sire, to the uneven Belgian block of Vilniaus gatvė. On this, the oldest street in the oldest part of the city, light and ice alike deliquesce and drain away into dingy puddles. The puddles reflect, like smudged mirrors among the setts, the intricate texture of the city’s center, one informed quite wonderfully by cohabiting architectural styles coated with an alluring patina of disrepair.

Vilniaus gatvė in Kaunas Old Town
The setts of Vilniaus gatvė
A cobblestone path in Old Town
Exposed brick on a building in Old Town.
A disused building in Old Town
Kaunas Castle: Built in the 14 century, Kaunas Castle sits at the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers. It is the origin of Kaunas, as it is the structure around which the rest of the was built.
The tower of Kaunas Castle.
Vytis, Lithuania’s national symbol, rides proudly outside Kaunas Castle
Vytautas the Great Church: the oldest church in Kaunas
The Vytautas the Great Church sits on the banks of the Nemunas. Also shown: one end of the Vytautas the Great Bridge
The Vytautas the Great Bridge spans the Nemunas and connects Old Town with Aleksotas, a borough of Kaunas.
The Vytautas the Great Bridge and the Nemunas River
The Nemunas River
A Statue of Jonas Vileišis (January 3, 1872 – June 1, 1942), a celebrated mayor who greatly expanded Kaunas and improved the lives of its citizens during his administration (1921-1931). Behind him stands the Kaunas town hall (aka, the White Swan).  

On lindens and leather along
Laisvės alėja

Dark and dormant lindens line the center of Laisvės alėja. The pedestrian avenue extends, like a long, exhaled breath in a lacuna between eras, from the edge of Old Town to the Neo-Byzantine eyes of St. Michael the Archangel, forming the very soul of New Town. Here, mortar cracks and crumbles from facades, exposing brick, and the light from street lamps can be traced in the polished shafts of a thousand leather boots, the winter-hardened heel of each one grinding grit into the walkways between stoic modernist structures.


Laisvės alėja at night
The new surface of Laisvės alėja: The avenue is in the process of renovation for when Kaunas becomes the European Capital of Culture in 2022.
The old surface of Laisvės alėja
St. Michael the Archangel Church, known locally as Soboras.
The northern aspect of St. Michael’s
The base of a column at St. Michael’s
St. Michael’s viewed from Gedimino gatvė
Kaunas State Musical Theatre

On street art, unsanctioned

From Old Town to New Town, no surface, it seems, is safe from graffiti. Indeed, central Kaunas is literally covered in it. Yet, much like Kaunas itself, the city’s unsanctioned street art is a mixture of messages ranging from the political to the purely artistic and whimsical. Though graffiti is, without a doubt, an undesirable element in the eyes of many, it possesses the peculiar power to transform surfaces meant to communicate only one message into bulletin boards that communicate many, thus making it, in a sense, the voice of citizens who may feel that they have none otherwise.

Graffiti in Old Town
On the back of the Museum of Exile and Resistance
Graffiti under the Vytautas the Great Bridge