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Russia / Baltic States

16 18 day trip in September, 1998.

I went a day early and stayed one more day after the tour. This was a Cosmos ( tour on a bus.

Jump to some pictures of this trip.


Thursday 8/27Atlanta, Georgia to Amsterdam to Helsinki, Finland
Friday 8/28Helsinki
Saturday 8/29 Helsinki
Sunday 8/30 Helsinki
Monday 8/31 Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia
Estonia History
Estonia Sights
Estonia Interesting
Tuesday 9/1 Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia
Latvia History
Wednesday 9/3 Riga, Latvia
Latvia Sights
Latvia Interesting
Thursday 9/3 Riga to Vilnius, Lithuania
Lithuania Sights
Lithuania History
Friday 9/4 Vilnius, Lithuania
Lithuania Interesting
Saturday 9/5 Vilnius to Minsk, Belarus to Smolensk, Russia
Sunday 9/6 Smolensk to Moscow
Monday 9/7 Moscow
Tuesday 9/8 Moscow to Tver to Novgorod
Wednesday 9/9 Novgorod to St. Petersburg
Thursday 9/10 St.Petersburg
Winter Palace & Hermitage
Summer Palace: Peterhov
Friday 9/11 St.Petersburg to Vyborg to Helsinki, Finland
Saturday 9/12 Helsinki
Sunday 9/13Helsinki to Copenhagen to Brussels to Cincinnati to Atlanta

Tips for the trip | Jokes | Enlightening exchanges | Disclaimer | Atlanta Journal Constitution Articles

Tips for the trip 

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Web sites:
Institute of Baltic Studies:
Vilnius on Video


This is a joke - I never wrote it in my journal. "ABC" in a journal stands for "Another Bloody Church".


This one is so appropriate for this trip:

You are very International when you're going to the bathroom:
First you're a "Russian", then "European", then you're a "Finnish."


What is the difference between a diplomat and a lady?
When a diplomat says yes, he means maybe.
When a diplomat says maybe, he means no.
He says no, he is no diplomat.
When a lady says no, she means maybe.
When she says maybe, she means yes.
When a lady says yes, she is no lady.

Truly enlightening exchanges.

What a revelation. These two little exchanges with our St. Petersburg guide truly enlightened me, put me in my place and shut me up. Our guide was a single female in her 30's.

I mentioned that I didn't see any pregnant women. That was a mistake. She turned to me, looked me in the eye, and told me that no one can afford to have children. My heart went out to her.

On another occasion on a different day, I told her about my aunt who lived in Moscow in 1962 (during the Cuban missile crisis) and how it permanently affected her. Delayed stress syndrome etc. Our guide had absolutely not sympathy what so ever. I don't blame her. She looked at me and said "think how we felt." Wow.

At the (over-priced) souvenir shops in Moscow, I saw a beautiful pin with St. Basil's painted on it. There was a young girl (in her 20's maybe) working at this booth. She seemed nicer than the men at the other booths. I asked for the price. $17.00. I knew that was too much, but I knew I wanted it. I felt so blessed to even have the money to travel and here was this girl struggling to earn a living in a depressed country with an uncertain future. I gave her the $17.00. 


I never felt like I had to write a disclaimer before, but I was writing so much on in my journal some people started to wonder what I was writing about and they expressed some concern as to what and who I was writing about. My intent is not to embarrass anyone. If I mention a "situation", I try not to mention names or explicit details. I also try to write enough so that only those involved can remember the details.

This journal is mostly for me so I can remember the trip and so I'll have "rocking chair memories". It's easier to re-live something from the past in your mind if you have a visual reminder. Pictures are one visual reminder, a journal is another. This journal is also for the other people on the tour and for anyone thinking about taking a tour like this.

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Thursday 8/27 Atlanta, Georgia to Amsterdam to Helsinki, Finland

Pretty good start to the trip. I'm leaving a day before the tour officially starts cause the airline flights were full tomorrow. I'm in the Atlanta airport on my way to Helsinki. I need coffee.

Ok, now I have coffee. Now I can write. Leave Atlanta at 4:30, 8.5 hours flight to Amsterdam, then 2.5 to Helsinki.

Flight to Amsterdam was tough. If I had the money, business class sure looks a lot more comfortable. I'm in the Amsterdam airport now. It's 7 in the morning here. Uugh. Hey - I fit in here! There are so many other people here with blonde hair. People start speaking to me in Dutch first, then I speak and they realize that I'm American. "Do you speak English?"

I had to really run for my plane in Amsterdam. They were boarding when I got there.

They x-rayed our carry-on luggage before we got on the plane! No way is Atlanta able to do that. I was impressed.

Get to Finland. Get suitcase. Geez, it's heavy already. I can't imagine what it will be like by the end of the trip. I reminded myself that I packed a lot of food, which is heavy. I exchanged some money. Rate was 5.4 Finn Marks = $1. Then took a taxi to the hotel. It cost about $15. We had to drop a guy off at the Linnemaki Amusement Park. They let the taxi drive around inside the park and we drove all over - all around the roller coasters, rides, and carnival booths. It was adventure trying to find where this guy was supposed to be dropped off. The park was closed so we could easily drive all over.

I was next to be dropped off. The hotel was very close to the park. I paid for the room in advance through Cosmos so I checked in with the voucher. No problem. I got to the room, read, then slept. Oh so tired.

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Friday 8/28 Helsinki

I ate lunch in hotel restaurant. I paid about $11 for a good grilled chicken breast and veggies. The Cosmos bus pulled up in front of the hotel right as I was finishing. The tour right before ours was just ending. They had driven from St. Petersburg that day. I talked to four women on the trip about what I should expect on our trip. One girl said that she was the wrong person to talk too - She got really sick and didn't see any of St. Petersburg. They told me we would get lots of schnitzel to eat, no pepper, bugs in the Smolensk hotel, and only exchange as money as you need in each country cause you won't be able to get rid of it in the next country. OK.

The tour leader was still on the bus so I jumped on and introduced myself. He wasn't impressed. I guess I just wanted to let someone know that I had gotten there just fine a day early. He was very tired from the trip and told me that he had to read his "post" (his mail). He didn't know anything about who was in the next group. I was so excited to be there and he just wanted to be left alone. Robin joked about that episode later in our trip. About how this excited person jumped on the bus and all he wanted to do was finish with the current group. He didn't want to be reminded that he had to go through the exact same trip again with yet another group.

I went for a long walk after that. I went back up to the amusement park, then over to the Olympic Stadium. They had the Olympics in 1952, I think. I packed some Atlanta 1996 Olympic pins - I wish I had put them in my purse and I could have traded some pins. There was a huge game in the stadium. Finland vs. Sweden. They are bitter rivals. I assumed it was soccer (football). There were drunken people everywhere with their country's flag painted on their faces. I took a picture of the people who performed the opening ceremony as they exited the stadium. I also took a picture of the policemen on horses. I also saw the ice skating rink and swimming buildings too. I also found another unusual site that you would never see in the States. The men's urinals are very open! It was a portable structure where four men could stand and pee. I had never seen anything like that before.

It's 8:30 p.m. now. I read some, then slept.

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Saturday 8/29 Helsinki

Roommate arrived around 11 am! I get up, get dressed. She didn't want to go to sleep because her goal was to stay awake as long as possible so we went for a walk. We went to the stadium, the all over the park. We got a little lost so we had to ask directions. We are very lucky that many people speak English here. We've had absolutely no problem getting around or getting a question answered.

Oh, I remember one awkward moment though. We found this great little bar where we could get some lunch. She got a Finnish dish of cabbage something. It was really good! I got meatloaf, potatoes, and mushroom gravy. When we finished our meal, a guy in the bar came up to me and gave me a business card. He pointed to the back of card where he had written. It was all in Finnish! I couldn't understand a single word and he couldn't speak English! He had to take his card back. There was a lost opportunity to meet a local. I think he was trying to pick me up. He was cute too. Oh well.

After lunch we found a grocery store near the hotel. 1.5 liter bottle of water for less than $1. (We paid $2 on the bus). Back to the hotel, nap till around 7, then out again for another walk.

We were so amazed to see that people do not lock their bicycles here! It's such a safe place I guess. We felt perfectly comfortable walking around at night. We found a great pizza place.

That night, we had our first meeting with the other people on the tour and Robin, our tour leader. He went through a long list of tour tips. He seemed very competent, and really nice with a great sense of humor. 17 other people on the tour. They seemed really nice too. It was going to be a great trip.

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Sunday 8/30 Helsinki

7:30 am wake up call. Robin set these for us for the whole trip. How nice. Breakfast at the hotel. 9 a.m. depart for city tour with a good guide. Younger, energetic lady with short blonde hair, named "Marta".

Helsinki is the capitol of Finland. It's called "The Daughter of the Baltic Sea".

Founded in 1550 by Gustav somebody (a Swedish king) Finland was part of Sweden for 700 years.

In 1808-1809 the Swedes lost to Russia so in 1809 Finland became part of Russia. Population was 4000 people.

1917 - Finland was an independent country.

Population is more than 5 million people now.

Senate Square is in the center of the city. There was a festival going on in the square when we visited. She called it "Piazza of the tastes". Restaurants offering tidbits of their menu. Sounds like "A taste of Atlanta" type gathering.

Cathedral is Lutheran Neoclassic architecture. Finished the building in 1852 and they are restoring it from the inside out now. The church bells are in a small building beside the cathedral because they are too heavy to put on top!

To the right of the cathedral is the main building of the government. President is elected for 6 years. There are 200 members in parliament. 23% are women!

To the left is the main building of the University. 30,000 students

There are 2 religions here: Lutheran (90%) and Orthodox (1%)

Upenski (means "Assumption") Cathedral is Tuomiokirkko. Sir Alexander II - former Russian Czar. Unique cause they are all torn down in Russia. Red Stone church. This is the biggest Orthodox Cathedral in Western Europe.

There is one large tower and 12 small towers, which represent the 12 apostles.

Fountain - Havis amanda

Statue of National poet

Korkeagaari Island is Zoo Island. It's the most northern zoo in the world.

We went to the open-air market (by the water). They said that Margaret Thatcher sat there and had coffee when she was here for a visit.

Then we drove around the Esplanade area. Beautiful park with cafes on the streets adjacent to the park. Our guide pointed to the Esplanade Cafe and said it has good soups.

The theater on main street is our landmark. Also Stockman's - the biggest department store in Nordic countries.

There is a ferry from the market place to 7 islands. Bridges connect the islands. In the winter, you don't need the bridges. You can even drive on the ice to the islands!

The Helsinki Harbor maintains18 places to wash carpets. The government built them. Water is 0.4% salt, which they say is good for the carpets. They use environmentally safe soap. Seems like an odd thing to do, but it's a tradition here

There are 185,000 lakes in Finland, but there are none in Helsinki.

70% of Finland is forest. 40% of the exports are from the forest.

We saw a ship building area. They build ships for Carnival and Royal Caribbean. The ship named "Paradise" was currently being built. It's the first non-smoking ship ever built. Even the people building it can't smoke on it!

There are 2 official languages. Finnish (90%) and Swedish (6%)

Thank you in Finnish is "keetos" (as in the last part of "mosquitos", except here in the South we say "skeeters", anyway...) One is "ipsi", two is "kaxi", and three is " colme".

Olympic Stadium was built in 1938 for 1940 Olympics, but the 1940 Olympics were not held. The stadium was used in the 1952 Olympics. Helsinki was the smallest city ever to host Olympics. My grandparents, Chris and Lydia White visited this stadium in 1960. I have their pictures. There was a lot less trees then. They also took a picture of the statue of Paavo Nurmi.

The Rock Church: The Church of the Temple Square. Lutheran. Opened in 1969. The dome is copper wire circled around and around to a large circle on the ceiling. She said if you unwound it, it would be 13 miles!

There were many tour buses when we first got to the church. The church was supposed to be open at 11:30 for tourists but there was still a baptism going on. Guide told us there were 7 weddings in this church yesterday! And that's normal. Wow.

We left to see an interesting sculpture in a park. The Sibelius Monument. He was a famous Finnish composer. 60 tubes welded together. All different sizes. It took Ella Hitunen 6 years to build it. I had to buy a postcard because I couldn't understand how the guide pronounced what we were seeing.

This language is so odd. I guess every language is odd if you don't know it.

Then we went back to the Rock Church. We were the first tour bus to arrive and the church was open. I got a picture of the entrance of the church with nobody standing in front. Quite an extraordinary church.

Average salary is $2000 a month. Typically pay about 30% in taxes. School is free.

The city tour ended about 1:30. I was really hungry. We were at the train station: Rautatiesema Jarnvasstation. I had some US$ that had some marks on the paper bills so I tried to exchange the dirty money for clean money but they didn't have enough. Turns out that I could easily spend the dirty money too. Not one single person in any country on this trip inspected the US$ when I spent it.

I had my mind made up that I wanted to eat at the shop where our guide said had good soup. The guide pointed the direction and we walked over the Esplande area. I recognized the landmark theatre and I knew it was right around the corner and down the street a bit. Sure enough there it was. Interesting feeling when you're standing in line and you're very hungry and there's lots of great looking food, but you don't know how you're going to ask for it. We we're very lucky this entire trip - there was always someone who could speak English. We split a roast beef sandwich and May got the fish soup and I got a great chicken-vegetable soup. Looked like a great place to have a date and order dessert and coffee, no cappuccino.

After lunch we walked down to the open-air market on the dock, where Margaret Thatcher had coffee. I took a picture of the fountain with the naked lady and the seals spitting water.

We sat in the park awhile and watched the people. Then we found our way back to the train station. What a fortune - a Youth United Nations - type celebration was setting up a festival. We decided to go back to the hotel for a nap then come back later to the festival.

We took trolley 3B back to the Olympia hotel. We paid 8 marks ($1.50). We napped an hour then went back downtown. I gave the trolley guy 20 marks for both of us and he didn't give any change and I didn't know how to ask for it. It's supposed to be 8 marks or 10 if you are going to transfer. Well, it didn't look like anybody else was paying so on our way home we jumped on the trolley like everyone else and I admit we rode without paying.

The festival was great fun. Live music from different countries. 90 countries were represented. They had booths set up with lots of tourist literature and food samples to encourage people to visit their country. We picked up lots of maps. I bought a souvenir from Colombia - I figured it was justified since I did live in Bogota. We had a great time, except for deluge of a downpour of rain. I'm glad I put on my thick sweater and had my umbrella. We ran to the train station for some shelter till it stopped. The young people seemed to be all around 20 years old or less. They were very very energetic promoting their countries. The kids from Hungary we're singing folk songs. India was really pushing their food. There was even a sauna building.

Well, we were hungry again so we had to find someplace to eat. We found a bar that didn't serve food so the guy pointed us across the street. That place served all American food - hamburgers, some Mexican tacos etc. Yuk! We went to the shop down the street and had "Meat pies". They reminded me of the empanadas we had in South America. After we ate we walked back to the festival. They were played a Raggae song "Suzanna". I asked the DJ in the booth who the band was and he didn't know. It had a great Jamaican rhythm. Well, it was starting to get late and all I couldn't think about was the 6:15 wake up call. We found the 3T-trolley home and did not pay.... It was easy to recognize our stop with the sports field across the street from the hotel. There was a very loud game going on.

Monday 8/31 Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia

6:15 wake up. 6:30 breakfast. 7:15 luggage out. 7:45 depart. 15 minute ride to the ferry. The ride to Estonia is about 3.5 hours. Boat leaves at 9 am. A ship just like this one sank in 1994 and killed 852 people!

Robin told us to find a place to sit (in the bar, cafeteria, anywhere) for 3 hours, then meet at the ship doors at noon. OK.

I found this great secluded spot to write in my journal. And now, how do I begin to explain about what's going on. I'm sitting here on this huge ship (about 2000 people?) on the way to Tallinn, Estonia. What a great trip so far. It's a nice day so far today. A little cool so I'm wearing a sweater and light jacket. I have an umbrella handy too, just in case. We're passing by all these islands now. The guide said that you could walk to these islands (or ice skate) in the winter. All this water is frozen. Now that's cold - frozen salt water. This is so beautiful. I'm sitting right in front of a big picture window, which is beside a door where I can go outside. The lifeboats are right there too. I think these vents are supposed to be blowing warm air but it sure feels cool to me. This lady next to me ate an orange and was holding the peels so I gave her a newspaper to put them in. This is huge boat but I can still feel it rocking. I walked all over. It was 9 floors. The bottom floor has all the vehicles.

We finally dock in Tallinn, Estonia and met our guide, older lady with blonde hair, named "Milvi". We had a bus tour of city, then a tour on foot.


Estonia History

8000BC (8th millennium) -Oldest traces of humans in the Estonian area.

1050 - The first fortress in Tallinn.

1219 - 3 day fight with Danish. Estonia lost so it was call Danish Town till 1248.

1558-1700: Swedish rule. Polish-Swedish war was from 1600-1629. Sweden wins rule of the Baltics north of Daugava river, and Lithuanian Empire rules the Southern part.

1700-1918: Russia ruled. The Estonian song festivals were still going strong in 1869.

"Russification" began in 1880-1890.

Estonian War of Independence and on February 24, 1918 the Estonian Republic declares independence.

1918-20: The 2-year War of Liberation. Feb 2, 1920 a peace treaty so Soviet Russia recognized unconditionally the Estonian independence.

1938: The standard of living in Estonia equals that of Finland.

1939: Eastern Europe is divided between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. 21,000 Baltic Germans emigrated to Germany.

1940-1941: The Soviet Union occupies Estonia. The annexation of all three Baltic States was the same. During one year, Estonia loses 60,000 people to the Stalin regime holocaust. Estonian literature is systematically laid waste because the Soviet Union destroys 10 -12 millions of books.

Estonians start an armed resistance against Soviet occupation.

1941-1944 German rule. WWII Germany attacks the Soviet Union and occupies the Baltic States.

5,000 Estonians executed. On June 14, 1941 Soviets deported 11,000 Estonians to Siberia.

About the German occupation, our guide said, "That was a good time for Estonia." She meant that is was good time compared to when the Soviets occupied.

Our guide told us that there were two Nazi death camps near here, but they didn't kill any Estonians. They brought Polish Jews here to kill.

Bombing on March 9, 1944 destroyed half of Tallinn so half the city is "The Old Town".

1945 - End of WWII and total defeat of Germany, on May 8, 1945.

1945-1991 Again a Soviet occupation. Stalinism from 1944-55. 36,000 Estonians are arrested and accused of aiding the Nazis. At the same time 30,000 - 35,000 people flee to the woods to resist the regime as "Brothers of the Forest". 15,000 of these "partisans" were killed. Organized resistance continued into the 1950s.

Estonian coastline was closed from '45-'46. The collectivization of agriculture started in '49. On March 25, 1949 Priboi (The Breaker) operation of the Soviet Union began. They deported over 30,000 people to Omsk Novosibirsk region of Siberia. The operation was aimed against owners of large farms and people who served in German and Finnish armies. They were given 30 minutes to 2 hours to pack what they could carry. They were deported, but their spirit was not broken. Over 2000 Estonians are buried in Siberia. Many people tried to escape to Finland, Sweden and Germany. Soviets bombed the water.

Stalin finally died, so in 1956 the deported started trying to come back from Siberia, but not to their same houses.

During the German and Soviet occupations and the War for Independence Estonia lost approximately 200,000 people. But despite these losses the Estonian national identity survived 50 years of Soviet occupation.

1968 - First forms of open political mass resistance in Estonia start.

1977 February 24 - The blue-black-white flag flies illegally to mark the 59th anniversary of the first Estonian Republic. Our guide said that the "Estonians were brave people because they showed their dislike of the Soviets."

1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games and Tallinn's Olympic yachting center, hotels and airport terminal are built.

1987 - A new National Awakening begins as protests against the system become more frequent and open. August 23, '87 - 2000 people gather in Tallinn's Hirve Park to mark the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

1988 was "The Singing revolution": Mass demonstrations of 300,000 Estonians in Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Estonian flag was raised again. The People's Front established. More than 860,000 people sign a petition protesting amendments to the USSR constitution that would increase centralized power. The Supreme Soviet declares Estonia "sovereign" (254 for, 7 against).

1989: On August 23 two million Baltic people join hands along the 650 km road between Tallinn and Vilnius to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hitler - Stalin pact and to demand freedom. (We drove along the "Baltic Chain" road.)

1990 - March 11 - Lithuania declares independence. Soviet symbols were abolished, and the official name of the country became again the Republic of Estonia.

May 15 - An anti-independence movement tries to take Toompea.

1991 - March 3 - 78% of voters support Estonian independence

August 19 - During the failed Moscow coup, military units land in Estonia and blockade the harbor.
August 20 - Estonia declares independence.
August 21 - Latvia declares independence.
August 22 - Iceland recognizes the Baltic States.

August 23 - Lenin's statue comes down in Tallinn.
August 24 - USSR recognizes Estonian independence the official name
September - The USA recognizes independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and they are admitted to the United Nations.
December 21 - The USSR ceases to exist.

1992 - After prices rose by 629% in 1991, the government institutes ration coupons.
At the Albertville Winter Olympics, Estonians compete for the first time in 56 years under their own flag.
June 20 - The Estonian kroon becomes the first national currency introduced in the former Soviet Union.

The citizenship law and the currency crown/kroon introduced. Elections of Riigikogu (parliament). The republic of Estonia re-established.

1993 - May 13 - Estonia is accepted as a full member of the Council of Europe.

1994 - September 28 - 852 people perish when the 15,000-ton ferry Estonia sinks en route, Tallinn to Stockholm.

August: Last Russian troops leave Estonia. The 50 years of occupation has come to an end.

1995 - February: Talks between Estonia and European Union it is agreed that Estonia will become the Associate Member of EU without a transition period.

July 16, 1997 - Estonia is invited to begin negotiations with the EU.

1998 - January 16 - The Baltic presidents sign the U.S.-Baltic Charter, a co-operation agreement that, although offering no security guarantees, may ease entry into NATO.

March 31 - EU begins accession talks with Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Cyprus.

Estonia Sights

We did a walking tour of the Central Tallinn and a bus tour. Here are some highlights of what we saw:

Pikk Hermann Tower. Built in 14th century as a prison. Now it's a flag tower. 46 meters (150 feet) high. Flag color symbolize:

Blue - work (under a blue sky)
Black - farmer
White - honesty

Parliament house (1870) is pink. The Baltic Chain of Freedom started here and stretched to Lithuania in 1989.

Across the street is one of the 7 Orthodox churches.

Alexander Nevski Cathedral. (1894-1900) Moscow style of churches. The locals do not like this church. It has 11 bells; largest one is 15 tons. It has unique crosses on top memorialize the Turkish war. Churches in only 3 other places have these crosses: Kiev, Bulgaria, and St. Petersburg.

We walked down the street to the Neitsitorn, or Virgins Tower. It was bombed in '44, but it was restored and is now a cafe. We had a nice latte there.

We walked along Pikk Jalg (which means "long leg") street to the Dome Church. As we walked, we noticed security guards and limousines everywhere. The king and queen were just arriving to visit this church so we couldn't go inside. I got a picture of them getting out of the limo.

This gothic style church dates back to 1223.

200 people are buried in the floor of this church. There's a grave marker for the "Don Juan" of Estonia. She said that if you stand on it and make a romantic wish, then the wish would come true.

St.Mary's - 1st church. Danes built it in 13th century.

Olaviste Church, est. 1267. Original spire was 149 meters (460 feet). Tallest in the world at one time. It was rebuilt and burned 8 times. It's 120 meters (394 feet) now. They have services in Estonian, Finnish, and English.

Three Sisters houses at Pikk 71. Three attached nearly identical houses. Also saw the Three Brothers houses from the 15th century.

There are 65 towers in Tallinn with 2.5 km long wall with a moat.

Fat Margaret's Tower (16th century). Huge cannon was kept there. Now it's the Maritime Museum.

Milvi told us a long story about Linda, the widow of Estonian's legendary hero Kalev. Drinking water is from "Tears of Linda" lake. Linda was crying for husband.

National Library was built 6 years ago. Across the street is a memorial for Soviet soldiers. This memorial NOT popular with the Estonians who fought for their independence from the Soviets.

Tallinn English College (founded 1932). The Russian school got the big, pretty, nice building.

There are about 20 universities in Estonia. Government ones are free.

240 (?) students at university in Tartu, 180 km south of Tallinn

Town Hall Square is the main square. The houses around the square were build in 1920 and 30's.

Theater opened in 1913. Big yellow round building. The Town Hall building is from the 14th century. It had shackles on the front of the building where "ladies of ill repute" were put on display. The first public Christmas tree was put here in 1441 in this Town Square.

The Town Council Apothecary - First documented pharmacy in 1422. The skinny gray house in the corner of the square

Back on the bus.....

Swan pond - there were 3 swans last year and 5 swans this year!

Wooden houses around park. They were not maintained at all during Communist era, but now you can have your house back if you can prove it was yours. Owners are slow to maintain them.

The Norwegian king and queen are visiting here now so there are many many police officers around. She was surprised they let us by to see Peter's First Palace. There is a Big Palace and the Little Palace. Little one has 3 rooms and a kitchen.

Botanical Garden opened in 1969.

Russalka (means mermaid) Memorial (1902) to honor ship that sunk in 1893. 177 seamen died. Granite foundation represents a ship crashing against underwater reefs. Bronze angel with a cross on top.

Song Festival Stage (1960). An enormous amphitheater. There is a song festival here every 5 years. It started in 1869. Estonians use songs as "passive resistance". They sing songs written by Lydia Koudula (1843-86). Stage is big enough for up to 40,000 singers and 150,000 spectators. It has great acoustics. About 250,000 were here for the Singing Revolution in 1989. Michael Jackson and Rolling Stones sang here. There is a summer beer festival here, and a Whiskey Winter Festival in February.

We saw the Olympic Yachting Center where the sailing and rowing events took place for the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. We drove along the highway called the Pirita Tee ("Olympic Road"). They had to bribe people to construct the hotel and road there. For 25 hours of work they got recognition, 50 hours - silver medal. 75 hours - a free ticket to an Olympic event.

We saw the Forest Cemetery. This is where the best chess player in the world is buried. Lydia Koidula is also buried here.

We passed a Tivoli amusement park on the way to the open-air museum. It was closed for the season.

The Open-air Museum is at the Roc Al Mare (The Rock by the Sea).

68 hectares. Opened in 1964. Shows typical life in Estonia.

Roofs are reed (not straw) because they are near the water.

The buildings don't have any chimneys so they really smell like smoke.

The floor was made up of large stones.

Teepee-like building is a summer kitchen.

They would bake bread once a month.

The kept horses, cattle, sheep, chicken, and pigs.

Estonian pigs are fat with not much meat - makes great bacon that the Soviets and English like.

The milk from the dark red cattle is better because these cattle prefer the better grasses.

The buildings are situated such that the room in the building where the girls slept is directly across from the room in the building where the elders slept.

The wool is dyed with flowers for color.

Tradition was that the oldest son got the entire homestead. Younger sons must then rent from the father or oldest son.

Men like women with big, strong legs so ladies with skinny legs would wear many pairs of thick socks so their legs look bigger.

The windmill here came from Holland. The first mills were water mills, but the windmill seemed to work better. This one was built in 2nd half of 19th century and transferred here in 1960. Mills like this one were build in West Estonia. These windmills have a "tail" which is used to rotate the entire mill so it faces the wind. They grind rye, barley, and wheat. No corn though. The soviets ordered them to grow corn, but the land in Estonia is not good for growing corn. No corn grew so Estonians didn't obey "these dumb orders".

We drove past Lasnamae in rural area- it's a huge complex, all cement, bug buildings, nothing green. It was called "suburb of Leningrad". Built in 1970's. The Soviets had a huge advertising campaign that said the Baltics needed workers. Soviets built apartments and the workers arrived with their apt keys ready to move in. So many people arrived that locals couldn't find places to live. Estonians didn't like the Russians. The taxi drivers would pick up these Russian at the train station and just drive them out of town - so most live in rural area. Area is more than 70% Russian.

Estonia Interesting

Population of Estonia:

In 1934: 1,126,416. 94% were Estonian.

In 1959: 1,203,000. 74% were Estonian.

In 1979: Only 65% of population is Estonian.

In 1998: 1.5 million people. Only 51% are Estonian.

About half a million people in Tallinn.

About 20,000 Soviets with families that are living here "illegally".

48% of Estonia is forest, but now only 43% because some people "don't respect the environment".

Estonia is 45,000 square km,

The Soviet lifestyle is still prevalent here and people still aren't happy. They are introverts.

About 1.5 million Estonians live all over the world now. She mentioned someone in our legislature, Lempic Erpic (?) who is Estonian.

Estonia lost 40% of their population to Siberia, or they were shot when Communist came.

Money exchange is 10 rubles to 1 kroon when Estonia broke away. When it was communist, some things came for free or they were very cheap (like sports clubs) so people didn't save money. They didn't have too.

When communism was here, Milvi said it was like a "soviet dream that is gone now."

They had television here in 1955. They watch Finnish TV because Finland is their "window to the world". Local Soviet TV is all "words, promises, and lies".

90% of Parliament are ex-communists and they are only taking care of themselves so Estonians aren't happy.

Estonians do not mix with non-Estonians. They do not do Slavic traditions or culture.

Russians here have not gotten their pensions (from Russia ) for a couple months now so they want Estonia to pay it. No way! They are seeking Estonian citizenship but they are required to pass an Estonian language test. They have a different "temperament and education". They refuse to learn Estonian and continue to speak Russian.

About 12,000 Russians applied for Estonian citizenship, but 120,000 applied for Russian passports.

The younger generation of Soviets is a little more tolerant of Estonians. They are learning the Estonian language. (She never really indicated that Estonians are tolerant of the Russians. Big dissention there. )

The Russians tried to kill off the Estonians and didn't succeed, (she was very proud of that). But then she added that people are dying faster than they are having babies so Estonians are dying out themselves. There are about 1.5 million people now. 8000 people died last year, only 6000 born.

Most rich people are non-Estonians. They are rich from drug smuggling from Finland and Soviet underground activity.

There are 1000 islands in Estonia.

There are 150 National dresses in Estonia. Each dress represents a different parish. Different style hats indicate if the girl is single or married.

National flower is the cornflower, bird is the barn swallow, and plant is the Mountain Ash (a red berry tree).

Tallinn Orthodox style architecture. Here it's called "Tallinn Gothic". We also saw a building with "Stalin architecture"

Estonia is also called the Potato Republic cause they can grow anywhere in the country. They make liquor from potatoes and exported it to St.Petersburg, 350 km away. We saw a typical Inn where they would stay the night on their way to St.Petersburg. They would often drink half their supply before they reached the destination.

Price for a single family house is 50,000 kroons ($3571). They can get 18% loans from the government.

A condominium costs 10 million kroon ($714,000)

We found a McDonalds in Tallinn and bought some french fries! There was also a great place to buy 100% wool sweater for $35. Great price for the quality. A couple people on the trip bought sweaters.

I just saw a 1986 Toyota Camry hatchback - exactly like the car I had! We also saw other dealers on this road: Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Ford, and Yamaha motorcycles, BMQ, and Land Rover.

EU is the "European Union". Estonia is the only breakaway republic that is most likely to join the EU.

A man in our group was pick-pocketed yesterday. He felt someone reach in his pocket so he caught the guy before he got away with the billfold.

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Tuesday 9/1 Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia

7:15 wake up, 8 luggage out, 9 am departure. Drive south through Estonia. See Parnu and Tarnu.

Parnu - Population 20,000, but 80,000 in the summer (July & August when people vacation here). There is a nude beach here too where the ladies wear "Eve's costume".

Tarnu has 12,000 people. 18% sales tax in shops.

Border crossing from Estonia to Latvia. They stamped our passports. We met our city guide, Eve. Nice, young, short blonde hair. Very good guide.


Latvia History

10,000 BC The first human settlements in Latvia.

3000 BC - Settlers included Finns, Estonians and Livs (a very small nation living in the northwestern part of Latvia, now only few hundred live) came. They split into several tribes: Zemgali, Seli, Latgali and Kursi. Most European languages can be traced back to these origins, with Latvian and Lithuanian the closest still-surviving tongues to the original..

100 BC - The Baltic tribes first appear in written records. Trade of amber jewelry, which is found in large quantities on the coasts of the Baltic Sea, flourished in the Viking times.

1100's - German traders establish a route for trade with the East, especially the flourishing Russian City Novgorod (where we stayed a night in Russia!).

1201 - Riga is founded when Bishop Albert builds a castle on the site. The foundations of the Dom cathedral are laid in 1211.

Christianity was introduced to the Baltics in 13th century. The Pope initiated crusades to the Baltics, which were considered to be equal before God as the crusade to Jerusalem. Economic motivations were far more important than the missionary duties and the crusades ended in a war, which lasted for almost 100 years.

The Germans won and became the ruling class; Latvians were the middle class. A Baltic person was unable to become a German. However, in the territory of Prussia, farmers had the possibility of becoming Germans. This is why the Baltic nations, contrary to the Prussian population, did not lose their ethnic identity.

1522 - Several radical German preachers bring the reformation to Latvia. Social unrest breaks out in 1524 and churches are vandalized, religious artifacts destroyed and monks are exiled from Riga.

1554 - Protestantism is declared the state religion, which weakened the defenses of the state and allowed the Russians to loot vast territories of Latvia.

1561-81 - Latvia was independent, or rather power was given up to the Lithuanian-Polish State for reasons of military protection to prevent Russian rule. The remains of Protestant State were secularized, and Catholicism was proclaimed the state religion.

1582 - Polish rule

1600-1629 - Polish-Swedish war. Sweden wins rule of the Baltics north of Daugava River, a Kurzeme duchy loyal to the Polish-Lithuanian Empire ruled the remainder of Latvia. The war mainly took place in the territory of present day Latvia.

1621 was the beginning of the "good Swedish times" when the Swedish king Gustav Adolf II marched into Riga. It continued until the 18th century.

1642-1682 - Duke Jacob ruled and there was great entrepreneurial spirit and rapid economic improvements and times of prosperity for Kurzeme. Schools were opened, oppression of the peasants lessened, and the Bible is translated into Latvian for the first time. Protestantism was rooted in Kurzeme, and Catholicism elsewhere.

1800's - The population of Latvia was still neither politically nor culturally able to express its own identity, because every utterance in this direction was suppressed by the feudalistic regime, but the formation of the Latvian nation finally starts when, for the first time Latvians attended the Baltic university in Dorpat (Tartu), Estonia. The educational language was German. Latvians wanted to be equal with the Germans and live in a free, independent state and not in a country ruled by foreigners, was voiced more and more often. Commerce and industry develop rapidly in Riga, making it the third most important industrial city in Czarist Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg.

1700-1721: Sweden and Russia fight for control of Livonia in the Nordic War. The army of Czarist Russia confronted Sweden for the sole purpose of conquering the ice-free harbors of the Baltic Sea. At first the Swedes, led by Charles XII, have great success, but their armies are defeated after marching on Moscow.

1710 - The Russians capture the Northern provinces, including Riga. Only 90,000 people are left alive in all of Livonia.

Russian Czar restored privileges of local Baltic German aristocrats, which were lost under Swedish rule.

1772 - Second division of Poland and Latgale was joined to the Czarist Russia,

1795 - Third division of Poland and Kurzeme joined Russia.

Third division of Poland and Russia had rule over almost all of the Baltic States, including Estonia and part of Lithuania until the start of World War I. The wars devastated Latvia.

1802 - Peasant rebellion (because of appalling poverty) is brutally crushed. A similar revolt, meeting a similar fate, takes place in 1840.

1873 - The first all-Latvian song festival is held in Riga. In 1990 and 1993, these festivals again become a rallying point for national feelings.

1905 - National uprising with strikes and deadly clashes break out all over the country in an attempt to get rid of both the Russian rulers and the German aristocrats.

On October 30 the Russian Czar caves in to demands and allows the Constituent Assembly to form. Two months later Russian "punishment brigades" executes almost 2,000 Latvians.

During World War I, Latvian soldiers fight the Germans as members of the Russian army.

1915 - The Germans occupy half of Latvia, and the Russians allow independent Latvian units to defend their homeland.

1918-20: The 2-year War of Liberation with German and Russian monarchists ensued. Nov 2, 1918 Latvian independence was declared and in April 1920, the first liberal elections took place.

1921 - Latvia's independence is recognized by the international community on January 26, 1921, and nine months later Latvia is admitted into the League of Nations.

Between the two World Wars, Latvia prospered economically due to land reforms and privatization. During this period of independence, cultural changes were obvious: at the beginning of the 1930's, 0.3 percent of the Latvian inhabitants were studying at Universities, which was the highest number in Europe at the time and Latvia has one of the highest standards of living in Europe.

1934 - Latvia could not escape the influence of the world economic depression. President Karlis Ulmanis stages a bloodless coup and dissolved the parliament. Ulmanis is effectively a totalitarian dictator for six years and gained wide support from the people.

1939 - The plan of forming a military and economic union together with Estonia and Lithuania failed and Eastern Europe is divided between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia.

1940-1941: The Soviet Union occupies Latvia. The annexation of all three Baltic States was the same. During one year the Stalin regime holocaust murdered 35,000 Latvians.

1941-1944 German rule during WWII

On June 13, 1941 Soviets force tens of thousands of people into cattle wagons and deport them to Siberia.

In July, 1941 the Germans took Riga when invading the USSR and the German army was greeted with joy. Latvia hoped to remove the Soviet terror and to reestablish their independent state, but it remained occupied. In 3 years of occupation, the Nazis murdered ninety percent of Latvia's pre-war Jewish population in the Salaspils concentration camp or shot in the forest of Rumbula.

Latvian men were forced to fight in the German Army as well as in the Red (Soviet) Army. They were made to fight each other, instead of fighting together for the common cause of Latvia's future.

1945-1991 - Again a Soviet occupation. End of WWII and total defeat of Germany, on May 8, 1945. The reinstated communist regime picks up where it left off in 1941. The situation in Latvia worsened.

From 1945 to 1949 more than 100,000 people were deported from Latvia to Siberia. On March 25, 1949 alone over 42,000 people are deported to Siberia during the forced general collectivization of farms. About 35% of the Latvian population perished in the war, were deported to Siberia, or fled Latvia into exile. More than 80 percent of Latvian intellectuals fled across Kurzeme to escape to West.

In 1940, Latvians comprised 75% of the population, In 1989 it dwindled to 51.8%, Latvians were almost a minority in their own country. However, despite over half a century of Soviet rule, Latvia never lost its identity.

The partisan guerrilla movement against the Soviets, called "the green resistance", continued until the late 50's in the forests of Kurzeme.

The Stalinist regime begins a massive Russification campaign in Latvia. Hundreds of thousands of Russian workers are brought in to man the machines of industrialization, and they are given preference in housing. The Latvian language slowly becomes a minority tongue as many forms of local cultural expression are simply banned.

Historically formed cultures were doomed to extinction and a new uniform Soviet culture ensued.  

50's - During the Kruschev period, many Latvians returned from Siberia. Attempts to gain more independence for the Latvian Socialist Republic became obvious, and under the rule of Kruschev, a new wave of deportations followed in 1959.

Brezhnev continued the totalitarian regime started by Kruschev. KGB activities intensified and an all-embracing system of spying and persecution was created. For example, those who, attended church services on Christmas were recorded, and then persecuted, either at workplace or at school, and called religious fanatics. A state of absolute control was created, which everyone hated - there was no way to escape or resist.

The economy deteriorated during the Brezhnev regime, and finally, it became absolutely obvious that the planned economy was an inefficient system. During this period, they built new, gigantic plants. Workers from other republics of the Soviet Union were sent to Latvia. There was a lot of interdependence of the Soviet republics. The industrial plants mainly processed raw materials imported from other Soviet republics, with the help of the imported work force.

Disregarding all the decay, Latvians still followed their cultural tradition and held the Festival of Songs. Theater and literature became a forum for sarcastic public thought.

During the Gorbachev's reforms in the 1980's, it was easier to express views and the first anti-Soviet political organizations formed and the drive for independence began.

1987 Summer - First protests since the war take place at the Freedom Monument. People demanded independence of Latvia.

1988 November 11 - The Latvian pre-war flag is raised on the Riga Castle.

1989 - The Latvian Popular Front calls for complete independence.

On August 23, 1989 - Two million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians join hands in a human chain stretching from Estonia to Lithuania in the 650 km long "Baltic Way", which protests the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop (Hitler-Stalin) Pact. They demanded freedom.

1990 - March 18 - Popular Front candidates win 124 of the 201 seats in the Supreme Council. Immediately after the elections, the independence of Latvia was declared. To preserve its power, the Soviet Union answered with military force.

1991 - January 13, 1991 - Soviet troops occupied Vilnius, Lithuania where there was a bloody assault on the TV tower. News traveled fast that the Soviets were trying to take over again. People built barricades in the streets in Riga within a few hours. Soviet tanks moved north toward Riga. These were the days where the Soviet army shot at civilians. Thanks to the pressure of the world community, they were forced to retreat and only 7 people were killed. The Soviets ended up not attacking full force. There is a memorial of (ugly) cement barricades in front of the parliament building to commemorate this event. The barricade symbolized their independence. (This memorial reminded me of Les Miserables)

March 3 - 87.6% of the people, including Russian residents and servicemen, voted and 73.7% voted in favor of independence from the USSR despite a call by the pro-Russian faction in parliament to boycott the referendum.
April 27 - The Popular Front adopts a plan for transition to independence by spring 1992.
August 19 - 20 - Inspired by the Moscow coup, Soviet troops block roads leading to Riga and seize the Interior Ministry building.
August 21 - The Moscow coup collapses and the Latvian parliament restored Latvia's pre-war independence and the soviets recognized Latvia as independent.

August 23 - The local Communist Party is banned.
September 2 - The USA recognizes the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and they are admitted into the United Nations.

1992 - The government introduces the transitional "Latvian rouble" and the Baltic countries gain telephonic independence and receive their own country codes: 370 for Lithuania, 371 for Latvia, and 372 for Estonia.
Barcelona Summer Olympics, Latvian athletes participated under their own banner.

1993 - The Latvian lat is introduced and gradually replaces the Latvian rouble. First free parliamentary elections occur but Russian speakers who settled in Latvia are not entitled to vote. Guntis Ulmanis is elected President.

1994 - Ulmanis and Yeltsin sign a troop withdrawal agreement. U.S. President Bill Clinton visits Riga for a state visit. The last Soviet troops pull out of Latvia and Estonia. 500 officers stay to operate the (unfinished) 19 story Skrunda early warning radar station until 1998.

1995 - February 10 - Latvia becomes a member of the Council of Europe.
May 4 - The Skrunda is dynamited to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the restoration of independence.
June 27 - A bank crisis rocks Latvia. Banka Baltija, the biggest commercial bank is declared insolvent. The government pledges to reimburse some of the over 200.000 depositors.

1996 - Incumbent President Ulmanis is reelected for a second three-year term as Latvia's president.

1997 - January 20 - 29 - Short government crisis. Prime Minister Andris Skele resigns over the appointment of his Finance Minister Melniks. On January 29 President Ulmanis re-nominates him to form a new government.

March 9 - Leftist parties are the clear winners of the local elections, which were also marked by a low turnout of 56.8%. The extreme left Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is not represented in the Parliament, won 13 of the 15 seats on the Daugavpils council. In Riga the party won 11 of the 60 seats. However the rightist parties are to retain the senior posts.
February 24 - 25 - Latvia gives up its claim to the Abrene region at border talks in Moscow. Under the 1920 Riga Peace Treaty with Soviet Russia, Latvia was entitled to the patch of land now in Russia's Pskov region. In November 1996 Estonia had made a similar move, de linking the border treaty from its own 1920 peace treaty to make progress in bilateral talks with Russia.

1998 - January 16 - The Baltic presidents sign the U.S.-Baltic Charter, a co-operation agreement that, although offering no security guarantees, eases entry into NATO.
March 16 - A demonstration by Latvian Waffen-SS veterans produces international condemnation and threats of trade sanction from Russia.
October 4 - Next elections to the Parliament and referendums on the thorny citizenship issue.

Tuesday late afternoon, check into the high-rise Intourist Hotel Latvija. Over 20 floors, only 4 (very slow) elevators. We were on the 19th floor. We ran down the steps a couple and I made up to the 19th floor once. Nice rooms and a great location within walking distance to the Old City.

We selected and paid for all our optional excursions after dinner, then a lot of us met in the bar in the lobby. Vodka was definitely the drink of choice. Some people on the trip partied a lot more than others. I tried the local Balsam drink. The first time they mixed it with Coke so I couldn't even taste the Balsam. I got a straight shot of it the next time. Boy did I regret that. It was, well, yukky. I guess you acquire a taste for it, like scotch. I did buy a small bottle of it, which is now getting dusty in my display case next to the bottle of Auguardente (from S. America).

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Wednesday 9/2 Riga, Latvia

9 am departure for city tour.

Riga, Latvia: Our hotel and the Freedom Monument:

Latvia Sights

From the hotel, you walk down Freedom Street (Brivibas iela), past the monument to the Old City.

Freedom Avenue was called Lenin St. and Hitler St. during German rule.

The Monument of Freedom was built in 1935. Woman holding three stars. The stars symbolize the 3 areas of Latvia. The Soviets said they symbolized the 3 Baltic republics, which is why the monument survived the Soviet occupation.

Old City walking tour started at St. Peter's Church. Founded 1209 for Riga's patron saint. It was highest wood steeple in 15th century. Spire is 123 meters. Rebuilt in 1960. Golden rooster on top of Lutheran church, cross on top of Catholic Church. Tradition is for architect climb up to the rooster and drink a glass a champagne, then throw the glass down. Number of broken pieces determines number of centuries the church will stand.

Walk to St.John's yard. Part of the fortification wall. It has 28 towers, 15 gates with a moat in a U-shape around the outside. The river forms the fourth side.

Daugava River (means "much water") 1030 km (640 miles) long, 800 m wide, 9 m deep.

All streets lead to the Cathedral Square. The square was created in 1936 when Karlis Umlanis demolished buildings so people could gather to hear him speak on the balcony of the bank building in the corner.

They were doing construction in the square when we were there. It was all torn up. Looks like they were installing lights in the ground.

St. Mary's Cathedral, (the Dom Church) is right on the square. Founded 1211. Pipe organ put in 1884. My book said it has 7000 pipes, postcard said 6768, guide said 6718 pipes.

Guide pointed to a popular pub where ladies have coffee with 3 drops of Balsam. Men have balsam with 3 drops of coffee.

We walked by the Three Brothers (Trts brali) buildings at Maza Pils 17, 19, and 21. Number 17 is the oldest house in Latvia. It dates back to the 15th century. #19 is the Museum of Architecture. The building had little windows. It looks like they were bigger at one time. There was a window tax, so people made their big windows smaller. There are no numbers on the buildings. Owners identified their homes by putting their coat of arms on the front.

St. Jacobs Church (Jekaba baznica) est. 1225. Catholic Church, then in 1522 it was Lutheran (first Lutheran church in Latvia). 60 years later, it was handed back to the Catholic's again. It has a 73-meter (240 feet) spire.

Walked by the parliament house on Jekaba Street. (This street was blockaded against Soviet attack in 1991). There are 100 members of parliament. President has a 4-yr. term. There are 23 political parties.

Jekaba Street leads to the Swedish Gate (Zviedru varti) Built in 1698. This is the only gate left in the fortification system. There were 15 gates. It's called that cause is was cut in the wall when the Swedish ruled. Story is that a Latvian girl fell in love with a Swedish Officer (who lived on the other side of the gate). She was supposed to meet him at the gate, but she was late and got there after the gate closed at 8 p.m. Her father heard about this and was so mad that he entombed her alive in the cement of the gate. They say that if you stand under the gate at midnight you can hear her moan.

We walked through the gate, turn left to the Powder Tower (Pulvertornis) , built in 1330's is the only tower left. Walls are 3 meters thick. 26 meters (86 feet) high. Gunpowder was stored here. It has also been a prison, torture chamber and students party venue. Today it is the War Museum. 9 Russian cannon balls from the 17th and 18th centuries are embedded in the tower walls.

Central part of city is Art Nouveau style of architecture. She took us to Alberta Street where we all got out of the bus to look at the architecture. There were 3 styles on this street:

Decoratively eclectic (very ornamental, spires on top, medusa, mythological figures),
Rational (not as ornate), and
Romantic National

"The Cat House" is a yellow art nouveau building. Story is that Latvian owner was refused entry to the Big Guild Hall (founded 1384) which was strictly reserved for rich German traders so he the rear of the cat were turned to face the guild. He was finally admitted on the condition that he turned his cats around.

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Latvia Interesting

Latvia population 2.5 million. Riga pop is 840,000.

52% Latvian, 33% Russian, and 100 other nationalities live here too.

800 year anniversary in 2001.

There is a Latvian language test. If you a born after 1991 you are automatically a citizen and you are exempt from the test.

There are 3 parts to the city: Old town, Center, and New part with new living districts.

40% Lutheran, 20% Catholic, 20% Russian Orthodox

The people knew that they better enjoy socialism because they knew the Capitalism was hard work... but they knew that it does change eventually. Latvia was successful.

There was a 7% growth of the GDP (gross domestic product) last year, but the Russia problems may slow that down this year.

1991 - 120% inflation of the Ruble.

92 - Latvian ruble was introduced

93 - Latvia's own currency the "Lat" was introduced

93-96 - 13.5 % inflation

97 - 10% inflation

98 - 5.5 % inflation and the National currency is stable.

There are 18 universities in Latvia. 4 of them are in Riga.

Riga's coat of arms is a lion sitting in a gate. The open gate indicates they welcome people, the lion means the city is fortified.

Riga was the Soviet capitol of the Baltics.

During Soviet times all the churches were used for store houses, exhibition halls, or museums.

Latvian flag is 3 stripes: Red, white, and red again. Flag legend is that a Latvian castle was surrounded by Estonian troops. The siege lasted several weeks and the starving residents considered surrender. The only alternative was to charge over the battlements to break the enemy's lines. They had a short prayer before the full-scale attack. A ram was sacrificed and the old man took off his shirt and dipped it in the sacrificial ram's blood. The shirt was completely soaked in blood except where it had been held. The old man attached this red-white-red colored material to a shaft. Waving this as a standard the warriors attacked and drove their enemy away. Ever since then Latvian fighters have used this flag."

This is riddle they told here in Riga:

What is highest building in Riga?
The KGB building
Why is the KGB building the highest building in Riga?
Because you can see Siberia from there.

7.2% unemployment here. They get unemployment payments for 6 months and they get free courses to train them for a new career.

First electric train here was in 1902.

There are about 10,000 Jews in Latvia.

The TV tower is 367 meters high (the 10th highest in the world)

Bridge is 3 km across the river.

There are 20 gas stations in Riga. There are 3 gas station companies in competition here: Shell, Nesta, and Stat Oil. They have to get their cars inspected here every year.

Their main export is Pine and Silver Birch wood. Fish and dairy products is next.

They grow Rye, Barley, and Oats. There was an overproduction of grains this year so they are exporting.

There are 4 types of taxes here. 25% income tax, 18% VAT, a social tax to build a pension for individuals, and an Access Tax (import tax).

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Trip to Sigulda (the "Garden of the God"). This Gauja Park is a National Park. It is 92,000 square hectares on the Gauja River. River is 440 km long.

The highest peak in Latvia is 311 meters.

Livi's Tribe is N. Latvia. Only about 300 people left in this tribe that can speak Livi.

We went to the Turaida Castle (Turaidas Musejrezervatis). It is the monument to medieval architecture dated 2000 BC to 100 AD. Construction for Turaidas ("Gods Garden") started in 1214. In 1972 they started renovations here.

They use new bricks for all the renovations. They do that on purpose on most restored buildings and castles so you can easily tell what is new and what is original. The clean new bricks really stand out.

We walked past the oldest wooden church in Latvia dated 1750. It's a Lutheran church now and the pastor is a woman.

People lived here during the early mid-evil age (2nd (century?) BC to 1st C. AC.)

In the 10th century they moved south.

In the 12 and 13th centuries they started inhabiting the Baltic States.

We saw the grave of Maija, the Turaidas Rose (1601-1620). She died at 18 years old. An older Polish man loved her and wanted to marry her. He told her to meet him by "the cave". She met him there and told him that she was in love with "Victor", a younger man and the gardener for the castle grounds. She came up with a scheme for him to kill her instead of subjecting her to marry him (a fate worse than death). She showed him a "magic" scarf that Victor had given her and the Polish. To prove it's effectiveness, she put it around her neck and said it would protect her. He pulled out his sword and cut off her head. (The "magic" didn't work, but at least she wasn't forced to marry him). The flowers on her grave symbolize that love is stronger than death.

On the bank of the Gauja river is the cave where she was killed. The sign in front of cave said "Gutmana ala", another said "Gutmanis Cave". It is 14 meters (35 feet) deep and 9 meters high and 9 meters wide. There is graffiti everywhere of lovers. The oldest one dates over 300 years old.

We saw the Folk Song Garden ("Dainu Hill"). There were many sculptures of carved out of stone. They were dedicated to Latvian folklore. 24 of the sculpture are by Indulis Ranka.

It was a beautiful day to walk around the garden. I was really enjoying everything about the trip (so far).

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Thursday 9/3 Riga to Vilnius, Lithuania

6:15 wake up call Uuuuugh! This was the first (and I hope the last) sunrise that we saw on the trip. I took a picture of it from our bedroom window. It was beautiful. 7:15 luggage out, 8:15 departure.

We passed a park est. in 1812. Drive south to Lithuania. Border crossing from Latvia to Lithuania only took 22 minutes! They stamped our passports.

Arrive in Vilnius, check into hotel. Very very nice. I think this was the best hotel of the entire trip (except for my extra night in Helsinki). Nice rooms and close to the main street. There was a big souvenir place next to the hotel. Low prices too. I got 2 sets of 5-stack dolls for 4 US$. I even used my MasterCard credit card!. We heard there was Matreshka stacking dolls of Clinton on the outside and all of his girlfriend on the inside: Monica Lewinski, Gennifer Flowers etc etc., But no Hillary

We had our city tour in the afternoon.

Lithuania Sights

Opera house was built in 1974

The Old Town covers 665 acres. Main street is Pilies (Castle Street). It begins at Cathedral Square and ends at the Gates of Dawn.

Cathedral Square (also called Gedeminous Square). There were democratic demonstrations on this square. The church on the square was commissioned in 1387. It was rebuilt 11 times. The white neoclassical building that is standing now dates to 1777. There is no real name for this church, just "the Cathedral". It has 6 Doric columns in front and large baroque statues depicting Abraham, Modses, and the 4 evangelists. The Soviets removed the 3 statues on top, but they were recreated and put up last year. (Our guide said that the locals like it better without the 3 statues on top. All the postcards show the cathedral without the statues).

The interior of the cathedral has 3 naves divided by 2 rows of huge pillars. There are several chapels on the right:

Baroque chapel of St. Casimir (1623-36)

The "Chapel of victims" to honor those deported in 1941. June 14, 1988 is Day of Mourning and Hope. (?) This chapel in the Cathedral is dedicated to that. 50-130,000 people or up to 200,000 people. No one knows for sure. The chapel is still under construction. (I took a picture of Jesus on the cross with cherub pictures beside Him. There was a gate in front cause it was still under construction.)

This church was shut down in 1950. In 1956 it was a picture gallery. The pope visited here in 1993! The belfry stands in front of the cathedral. 52 meters (170 feet) high. It was part of the defense walls of the lower castle.

We walked by the President's building. The flag was flying on top, which indicated that he was in the building. He is the second president since their independence. President has a 5-year term. He is 75 years old now. He had to give up his dual citizen ship with American to be president of Lithuania.

The Parliament Building was surrounded by barricades in 1991 and they remained there for years as a constant reminder of their struggle for independence. There are 141 seats in the parliament. The Conservative Party is dominant. The Communist Party is still around too.

We walked into one of the 10 courtyards of the university, founded in 1570. In the 18th century this university flourished. In 19th century (1831) the university closed by the Russian Czar because the students started uprisings.

There are 16,000 students at this university now. The university is free but tuition is staring to be introduced. You must pay depending on your score on the college entrance exam. Scoring is 1 to 10 with 10 being the best. Cost is about $2000 . Private colleges are starting to be formed too.

I bought of postcard of the University courtyard area. They have revealed (uncovered) another mural since the post card so I took a picture of the same area. Our guide told us that "maybe it is not so good to uncover these because they remind the people times that they are trying to forget. This was written on mural:

Viln isociesv col lecii Pri MS v thor Fidemo emeni pa o a is D Fundator

St. John's church (1387) is in the university courtyard. It was first Catholic, then it was granted to the Jesuits. During Soviet occupation it was the Museum of Scientific Thought. In 1991 it was finally reopened for public worship. The belfry is 225 feet, one of the tallest buildings in the Old Town.

St. Anne's church 16th century. (see postcard). Gothic architecture. 33 different types of bricks used to build it. There is no foundation, it rests on alder logs.

Beside St.Anne's is the monastery of the Bernardines. Gothic roof and baroque belfry, and it is fortified with gun ports since it was on the edge of town (at one time). It was covered with scaffolding when we saw it, but the postcard has a good picture of it. Gothic roof with a baroque belfry and gun ports since it was at the edge of town at one time. I took a picture of the statue in front . It the Polish-Lithuanian writer Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1859).

Across from St. Anne's is St. Michael's church built between 1594-1625. Lublin Renaissance style.

We walked by the only Russian monastery that was allowed to operate during the Soviet period. The Church of the Holy Spirit was a Russian orthodox church. It had a pink entrance. The Soviets even allowed their printing press to operate.

Town Hall Square is on the main street. Original square burned, this one was completed 1799.

We walked through The Jewish City are of Vilnius. Pre-war Jewish population make up half the city. All 96 synagogues were destroyed. 50,000 Jews were herded into 2 ghettos. The first ghetto lasted 43 days and 15,000 Jews were liquidated. The rest were killed in Paneriai, south of Vilnius. Today essentially nothing remains. Only about 5000 Jews are in Vilnius now. I took a picture of a restored brick building in the Jewish area.

1503 built the wall around the city. It had 9 gates. Dawn Gate entrance to the city is the only remaining gate. The chapel in the gate was built by St. Theresa's in the 17th century (1671). There is a holy image of the Virgin Mary and The Black Madonna (artist unknown) with miraculous powers.

Vilnius, Lithuania  The Dawn Gate Chapel  

The TV Tower is 1070 feet tall. It is the tallest structure in Lithuania. There is a restaurant half way up the tower so the shadow looks like a cross on the ground. On Jan 13,1991, 14 people were killed at this tower when Soviets tried to take the country (again). Soviets failed.


We were going to venture out for dinner tonight and we went down to the dining room to tell Robin. There was a good cabbage salad waiting, then fish dinner that smelled wonderful. We stayed and ate in the dining room. Great food in this hotel! So we ventured out after dinner.

It was me, Rose, Bob, Wally, May, and Nicholas. We were looking at the map on the street corner and an American who lives here stopped and asked if we needed help . We were looking for the main street (Pilies Street, means "Castle") in town. Turns out that we were already standing on it. He was very nice. Rose asked him to come with us on our walk so he did! His name is Thomas Wilbur. He has lived here 3 years. He's making video tapes promoting the city and country. His email is and his web site is

He walked us down dark alley shortcut to nice pub where the university student hung out. We all drank a local beer. $1.50 for a very large (20oz.) glass. Good beer too. Fun night.

Here's some very interesting history of the country.

Lithuania History

1236 - Lithuania's first king, Mindaugas consolidates the Lithuanian lands into a powerful Grand Duchy.

1323 - The accepted date for the founding of Vilnius by the Grand Duke Gediminas.

1386 - 1572 The Jagiello dynasty rules over the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom. Polish becomes the state language.

1579 - Vilnius University founded

18th Century - The Livonian wars with Russia and Sweden drained their resources and the commonwealth is partitioned between Russia, Austria and Prussia (Tripartite Alliance 1795). Russia absorbs Lithuania.

19th Century - Strict censorship and intensifying Russification under Tsarist rule fuel patriotic unrest, which leads to the 1863 national uprising. The rising intelligentsia nurtures a national ideal based on the rebirth of the Lithuanian language.

1864 - Count Muravyov, nicknamed "hangman", is dispatched to Vilnius to restore order. Thousands of Lithuanians are forced to emigrate to North America. Along with repression comes the revival of Lithuanian culture and tradition.

1905 - Lithuanian language was officially permitted.

1915-1918 German occupation,

February 16, 1918 (Independence Day) - Council proclaims the Republic of Lithuania. They were not allowed to celebrate this day under Soviet rule. If 2/16 was your birthday, you had to prove it was your birthday before you could have a celebration.

1919 - 1920: War with Poland, Lithuania and the Bolsheviks. Germany's military collapses and on October 9, 1920 Poland annexes Vilnius and the capital is transferred to Kaunas.

1926 - 1939: Independent Lithuania prospers under the leadership of strongman Antanas Smetona

1939 - Russian rules again as a result of the secret signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Hitler and Stalin.

1941-44 - Nazi occupation. SS and Gestapo units, assisted by locals, organize the liquidation of over 200,000 Jews.

1945-1991 - Soviet occupation again.

Red Army returns and re-incorporates Lithuania into the USSR on July 7, 1944. 250,000 Lithuanians deported to the gulag, and Polish-Lithuanians are extradited to Poland. Lithuanian partisans, dubbed the "Forest Brothers", wage guerilla warfare up to 1953.

Our guide tried to convey to us what it was like from 1941 to 1953. It was a "siege" and no one could talk about anything. This period in her history book was only half a page long. It said the Lithuanians joyously welcomed the soviets in the books. Siege ended in 1953 when Stalin died. In 1958 Stalin's statue in front of the rail station was finally removed.

Despite over four decades of "Sovietizacija", the nation never loses its identity.

1972 - May 14 - The 19-year-old student Romas Kalanta protests against the Soviet system. In his final letter he explains, "What should I live for? For this system to kill me? It would be better if I kill myself at once..."

1987 - Independence movement starts with 50 brave people who celebrated Lithuania National Foundation Day on 6/1/88. on 6/1/98, over 300,000 people celebrated this day. In 1986 when Gorbachev was in power, Lithuania started flying their own flag.

1988 - June 3 - The Lithuanian Reform Movement is set up by 500 representatives advocating "openness, democracy and sovereignty".

August 23 - 250,000 people gather in Vilnius to mark the 49th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which sealed Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR.
October 7 - The tricolor flag of pre-war, independent Lithuania is raised on Gediminas Castle.
December 24 - Christmas Eve is celebrated openly for the first time since the end of World War II.

1989 - February 16 - Lithuanian Independence Day is officially commemorated.

August 23 - Some two million Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians join hands in a human chain stretching from Vilnius to Tallinn (650 km.) to protest the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
December 20 - The Lithuanian Communist Party declares itself independent from the CPSU.

1990 - January 11 - 13 - Mikhail Gorbachev is greeted by 300,000 pro-independence demonstrators in Vilnius.

March 4 - Pro-independence Sajudis candidates receive an overall majority in the first free elections in Lithuania since 1940.
March 11 - The Supreme Council declares Lithuania's independence restored. Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis is elected parliamentary chairman.
April 17 - Moscow imposes an economic blockade on Lithuania.

1991 - January 13, 1991 - The people in Vilnius heard the Russians were going to attack so many people gathered at the TV tower. Soviet troops tried to take the country again. Russian soldiers stormed the TV tower building and really vandalized it and killed 14 unarmed civilians. Soviets took over broadcasting so they only had Russian TV for half a year, But Lithuanian TV was still alive so the independence movement was kept alive. The Russian moved north to Riga, where the Latvians were ready to defend themselves.

Lithuania claimed that they were still abiding by the 1920 agreement when Russia recognized Lithuania as an independent country.

Lithuania was the first Baltic country to be independent.

Belarus independent in 1991.

Lithuania is not afraid of Russia, or Russian people. She said "they just have bad leaders"

August 21 - The Moscow putsch collapses. Soviet troops leave the buildings they have occupied since January. Lenin's statue is removed from Lukiskiu Square.
September 2 - The USA recognizes Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
September 17 - Baltic states are re-admitted to the UN.

1992 - For the first time since 1928, Lithuanians participate under their own flag at the Winter Olympics.
The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party wins a landslide victory in elections to the Seimas (Parliament).

1993 - Lithuania joins the Council of Europe and Lithuania's pre-war currency, the litas, is re-introduced.
Last former Soviet military unit withdrawn. Pope John Paul II visits Lithuania.

1994 - January 27 - Lithuania becomes the second country to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
December - Vilnius' Old Town joins the list of UNESCO World Heritage Monuments.

1995 - June 12 - Lithuania signs an association agreement with the European Union in Luxembourg. Lithuania's full integration into the EU is scheduled for no later than the year 2000.

Dec 16 - Bronze statue of Frank Zappa by sculptor Konstantinas Bogdanas is unveiled in Vilnius. It makes international news. They praised him as an anti-establishment singer.
Dec 20 - Bank crisis in Lithuania after the country's two largest banks are declared insolvent and their board chairmen arrested on suspicion of fraud. Depositors lose around 400 million Lt.

1996 - The first McDonalds opens in Vilnius five years after gaining independence

September 28 - The presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia issue a joint statement asking for full NATO membership as soon as possible in reaction to a statement made by US Defense Secretary William Perry the previous day in which Perry said the Baltic States would not be among the first new members admitted to NATO.
November 5 - Trials of six Lithuanian communists begin, in connection with their roles in the 1991 storming of the TV tower. The proceedings against former First Secretary Mykolas Burokevicius, former head of the ideology department Juozas Jermalavicius and four others are expected to last more than six months.

1997 - January 21 - The first genocide trial is completed in Vilnius. Three former members of the NKVD (KGB?) are convicted of causing the deaths of four civilians in 1945. Six more cases are under investigation.

May 5 - Women announce plans to propose an equal rights bill to the Parliament, fighting discrimination on the basis of age and marital status.
May 27 - Russian President Boris Yeltsin and representatives from the 16 NATO states sign the Russia-NATO Founding Pact in Paris. Meanwhile, the Baltic presidents, after a summit in Tallinn, issue a joint statement asking that the "door to NATO be left open" after the Madrid summit.
July 1 - Law allows pre-war property owners or their descendants to reclaim their property - including forests, land and buildings, which were nationalized by the Soviets in 1941.
1998 - January 4 - Valdas Adamkus wins the runoff presidential elections. He fled Lithuania in 1944 was a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, Illinois.
January 16 - The US-Baltic Charter of Partnership, which pledges US support for the integration of the three Baltic nations into Western institutions, including NATO, is signed by the American, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian presidents.
March 29 - Lithuania leaves the Eastern European Time Zone (GMT+2) and joins the Central European Time Zone (GMT+1). A small step towards Europe, a great leap towards confusion.

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Friday 9/4 Vilnius, Lithuania

7:35 wake up. Breakfast here is the best ever. Scrambled eggs, cheese blintz, roast beef, herring, sardines, lots of hot fresh rolls, all juices. Very good.

9 am departure for sightseeing this beautiful city, Trakai Castle and KGB Museum. What a great cool, sunny day.

Trakai Castle

Capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until 1323. 18 miles from Vilnius. Built in 15th century on an island.

There is a whole room here in the castle dedicated to the history of 1940's and 50's. It said from 1918-1940

Lieturos Respublika (Lithuania was independent). Then the history was hidden after 1940. Our guide said that in her history books this period was half a page long. Her book said that Lithuania joyously voted to join the Soviet. Her parents couldn't even tell her about the history. No one could talk about it. A couple years ago they opened this room to tell people about that period in history. Lithuanian school children from all over the country come here to learn the real history .

This castle is 3 floors high. Wooden staircases were built to connect the rooms. When they were being attacked they would burn the stair cases so the invaders could not get up to the rooms.

There were lots of nice shops and tourist booths by the castle. Kathy and I stopped at one (before the tour started) and I got a cotton and linen crochet sweater for 10 US$. The rest of the group was waiting on us to begin the tour. I told Kathy to let them wait because of what happened to her yesterday. The guide didn't count the number of people at the end of our city tour and sure enough, we left Kathy in downtown Vilnius. She had to pay a taxi to take her to hotels until she came to one she recognized. Oops. She wasn't very happy about that.

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KGB Museum is "Museum of Victims of Genocide"

The sign on the door of the museum said "Lietuvos Genocido Auko Muziejus". This is the only place in the world where you can see what the KGB did.

STATISTICS about the Museum:

From 1939 to 1953 about 132,000 people were deported to camps in Siberia. 35% did not come back. Jews and Partisans were deported. Partisans were farmers or anyone went to the forest to fight Russian soldiers and everyone who supported them). Soviets were striving for NO RESISTANCE. The Partisan movement lasted 9 years.

81% Partisans here in Lithuania

54% in Latvia

56% in Estonia.

In 1944, over 200,000 educated people left for Western countries.

Over 200,000 people who supported Partisans were imprisoned in Russia. They were not allowed to return to Lithuania.

All total, there were about 5 to 6 million people were imprisoned in Russia. Prisoners worked in the forest, in mines, building railways, and in factories.

Our guide said that the "ideal order" was found in the prisons of the Soviet system. He said Russia is having problems now because now people work and they want money. In the past, with the gulag, they worked for free.

In 1944 there were 3,500 new KBG agents. 1200 KGB worked here. There was also a special secret division that watched the KBG.

430 priests were sentenced here.

60-80 women were here.

1000 people were executed here in 1947 to 1950. There was no such thing as a life sentence, only a death sentence.

Vilnius, KGB Museum. I'm standing with the man who gave us the tour. He is a former prisoner. Numbers are estimates of those killed. 


OUR GUIDE in the KGB Museum:

Our guide was a Partisan. He was here for 6 months (being "interrogated"), then he was sentenced to 10 years in gulag (Siberia), and 5 years in deportation.

We stood in the cell where he was held for 6 months. There were also 10 to 13 other people in the cell with him. The cell had a wood floor, but it was cold cement when he was imprisoned. He never had a shower and was in the same clothes the whole time. No one in the cell was allowed to touch the walls. They had to sleep facing the door. Guards could look in at any time. They shared one (2 gallon-size) bucket for the toilet. There was no heat. A light was on all the time.

You had absolutely no contact with other people in other cells.

They were given food twice a day. 100 grams of bread and water. Sometimes, some fish soup or tea.

He was in prison for 10 years. He was ALWAYS hungry. The ground was always frozen.

He did 1.5 months of very hard labor once. He would let the bread melt on his tongue because he never thought there would be any more.

He always had hope in prison because he knew that one day this system would collapse. He also knew that his voice would save him. He is a tenor opera singer. When he was a prisoner, he was asked to perform. It gave him hope to hear the applause.

He couldn't come back to Lithuania for 5 years so he sang in operas in Russia. He came back in 1981. He has been working in this "museum" for 8 years. He is 83 now.

Our guide told us "Those who have not lost their freedom can't understand what freedom is"

"You should be glad that you don't know Communism"

720,000 people suffered because of Communists in that period (44-53). There are 220,000 communists here and 100,000 KGB agents.

He met lots of people from other countries.

Everyone is equal in prison.


There are 420 rooms in this building.

1200 KGB officers worked here.

530 Russian

230 Lithuanian

170 Jews

130 Polish

It was built 100 years ago in 1896 during the occupation .

In 1915 the German took it over

1941 the Gestapo

1944-1990 KGB Soviet occupation

There are 58 cells here.

There were over 500 prisoners daily.

From 44-53 there were 40,000 prisoners here.

22,000 were killed by KGB

This is an "interrogation" prison. People were either killed or deported, but not kept here long.

Now we go down to the basement to the "Path of Tears, Blood, and Torture".

Down the stairs. First you see "The Box". .6 square meters

Then you see "The Search Cell" and "The Dactilography and Photo Room".

Prisoners were seldom allowed to sleep. The light was always turn on in the cell where he was.

There were listening devices in every cell. They were monitored constantly.

The "special padded cell". This is a sound proof cell with rubber floor and walls. A "taming shirt" (a straightjacket) was hanging in this cell.

Water torture cell. Cell was about 8 x 6 feet. Prisoner was forced to stand on a small (12 inch round) stand in the middle of the cell. He was surrounded by about 12 inches deep of freezing cold water. He would die if he stepped on the platform.

The "Isolation Cell" No heat, no windows, underwear only, 300 grams of bread a day, half liter of water, less than 5 hours of sleep, no exercise. Prisoners were kept up to 7 days at a time in this cell.

There was an exercise cell in the middle of the courtyard. They were forced to walk in a circle for 15 minutes.

Interrogations went on from 10 p.m. to 3 am. Executions occurred from 12 midnight to 2 am. The guards that shot the prisoners wore leather vests because the blood splattered. Our guide has been working here for 8 years and he learned only 5 years ago the place where they shot the prisoners. The prisoner was told that they were being taken to write an appeal. They were lead across the hallway, and up some stairs. They were told to stand against a door "to be measured". There was a hole in the door where they would shoot the prisoner in head from behind.

The remains of 706 persons found in a mass grave are sealed in a couple cells here. Only 46 were identified. They are temporarily kept here in the Genocide Museum until the Society "gets ready a proper perpetuation of their remembrance" (build a memorial for them).

No one ever escaped from here.

The treatment of prisoners improved a little after Stalin's death in 1953. In 1956 heat was added. Shower room was added in 1958. Prisoners were allowed to shower once a month and go to the lavatory once a day.

In 1964 when Khruschev was in power, they got special clothes for the prisoners.

The most sophisticated communication system was installed in 1975.

73 people monitored devices all day.

In 1991 a very historic event took place. Lithuania took over this building. The KGB agreed to leave. They left their guns, but took computers and personal items. They (the KGB) really feared for their lives. This had never ever happened anywhere else before. They were never put on trial because, at that time, they weren't breaking any laws.

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Lithuania Interesting

The Grand Duke Gediminas lived from 1316-1341.

River Neris runs through Vilnius.

Population is 3.8 million in Lithuania. 80% are Lithuanian. Population is 600,000 in Vilnius

Lithuanian flag is Yellow, Green, and Red.

An iron wolf is the symbol of the city.

Most people are Catholic here.

Lithuania was Russian for 50 years.

20% of Lithuania exports go to Russia so they are really uncertain about the future.

Families can now claim back land that was seized in 1940 by the Soviets for collective farms. But they have to prove it was their land before.

There are about 40 churches were and half were still functioning in Soviet times!

Others were converted to museums and storehouses.

There were over 100 synagogues here at one time, but there is only one synagogue left now. The Soviets distorted all of them. This one was rebuilt.

3 years ago there was a major bank crisis here. The 2 biggest banks collapsed. Many people lost savings. Panic in banks is a very touchy subject here now.

There was 8% unemployment last year, 5 % this year.

But they have hidden unemployment - Some people only work three days a week.

Thomas told us that the huge factory (not far from Vilnius) that produced canned milk for the entire Soviet army was just shut down that day.

Lithuanian money is the Lita. It is only useful in Lithuania.

Lithuania is famous for the Amber stone.

Lithuania has about 3000 lakes.

The Old Town is the most expensive place to live. Apartments are private. 100 square meters on main street cost about 80,000 US$ or more.

Factories never had to look for markets to sell their goods before because everything was planned by the Soviets. They are learning that they need to learn how to market their goods and advertise and sell them.

Church was available, but you could not go to church if you wanted a better job.

In Lithuania there is 9 years of compulsory education, then you go to trade school or university. It takes 5 years for a bachelor's degree.

After we toured the KGB museum met an American touring all the Russian republics. He is an American History teacher. I talked with him awhile, then I walked around Vilnius for a couple hours. Went up to the top of Castle Hill. This is the oldest settlement in Vilnius. Gediminas Tower is on top of the hill. The tower overlooks the city. This is the "Lieturos Nacionalinis Muziejus Vilniaus Aukstutine Pilis". Another marker on the hill said "Zalgiris 1410. Built by the Grand Duke Gediminas (1316-41). It situated right where the Neris and Vilnia rivers intersect. 3 story octagonal brick tower.

Nearby is the Hill of Three Crosses. Crosses were removed and buried during Stalin time, but they were rebuilt and unveiled on June 14, 1989.

I noticed that there are not as many people here with blonde hair. There are more people begging on the streets here. More older ladies out begging.

I really felt perfectly safe walking around all by myself. there were many many other people out walking around too. Young people in the park, drinking beer... the young girls here either wear very tight pants or very very short skirts and big clunky shoes.

I saw an ad on the street for real estate. The cost for a 3-bedroom 85 square meters condo on Gedimino Street is 420,000 Lt.

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Saturday 9/5 Vilnius to Minsk, Belarus to Smolensk, Russia

6 am wake up, 7:30 departure. Now we're on the way to Belarus. They always call it "Bela Russia". The KGB is very strong and prevalent here.

As we drive along I notice that There are no fences here. Each cow or horses in individually tied to the ground. They can walk around. Many just lay down.

We filled out customs forms to enter Bela-Russia and we had to declare now much money we had. The forms are all written in Russian so you must know Russian to fill them out. Robin did a great job directing us what to write and where on the form. We had to list all of our money on the forms. Count currency separate from traveler's checks.

8 am. We are at the border now. There is no que at the Lithuanian side, but they expect a minimum 2 hours at the Belarus side. The nice buildings on the Lithuanian side of the border was opened a couple months ago. 8 officers can process 3000 cars a day on the Lithuanian side, but they can only process about 300 a day on the Belarus side.

Robin said that helps us to through the border when our guide wears a very short skirt and hers was very short today.  It also help that she is here every Saturday with another bus full of tourists. We were flagged ahead of on 12 cars.

It took us about 10 minutes at the Lithuanian side. It's now 8:20 and we are approaching the Bela-Russian side. Our guide said that the economic crisis in Russia help this tour because no one is going to Russia any more.

Estonia stamped our passports and recorded the passport number in the computer, Latvia just stamps it, and Lithuania may not even stamp it. Lithuania is a lot more relaxed about things.

It's now 9 am and were moving forward to the next stop at the border where you may or may not pay any amount of tax. Robin's shortest time through this border was 2 hours, 10 minutes. The longest time was 5 hours 30 minutes. Well, it's 9:05 and we're done. Only 55 minutes to cross! A Cosmos tour bus record was set last week though. 50 minutes.

Move clocks ahead 1 hour to 10:05.

Robin said that the next border between Bela-Russia and Russia there is practically no border. "If you blink, you'll miss it".

Bela-Russia is 200,000 square km. 10.2 million people. 1.7 in Minsk. It was founded 930 years ago in 1067. Minsk was totally destroyed in WWII so it's a new "soviet style" city. It's 80% Bela-Russian, and 13% Russian, Polish and Lithuanians also live here.

The language is Bela-Russian. It's practically the same as Russian.

Money: In May of this year 46,000 Bela-Russian rubles = $1 US

In July, 60,000 = $1

Now in September it's 300,000 ruble= $1.

There are no coins here. Only paper currency.

President Lukashenko was elected in 1994. He was a former farm leader. No education is required for leaders here. You just need to be good communist. The President just changed the constitution to increase his term from 6 years to 8 years so it ends in 2002. An article in the Atlanta says

"He has spoken with admiration of Josef Stalin"

"He stifled newspapers and closed radio stations. People don't have access to information. And if they don't have access to information, they cannot make informed decisions."

There has been a "steady erosion of freedom since Lukashenko was elected"

"Belarus retains the heavy and soulless architecture of the Soviet era"

In 1980 they had 6 days of independence.

In 1990's they had a few months of independence.

Belarus is the most Soviet-like of the 15 independent countries created when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991

There is absolutely no privacy here.

Our guide said "some people prefer to go back to communism. But you cannot go back. You can only go forward or stay in the same place." Ain't that the truth.

Collective farms are common here, but they aren't effective. As we drove through the country I did see many many people in the fields. I did not see many machines though (tractors etc)

Retirement pensions are the equivalent of 5 US$ in one month!

The Atlanta Journal Constitution July 17, 2004 article by Ron Feinburg said this about Belarus:

"The city is a dark and sterile place - huge buildings, large monuments and streets that are empty.  There's a feeling in Belarus that the world has passed it by."

That was true in 1998 and he made that statement in 2004! Things are slow to change.


The Atlanta Journal Constitution Sept 28, 2008 article by Yuras Karmanuau said this about Belarus:

The West has called President Alexander Lukashenko the "last dictator in Europe."

"Every election has held since becoming president in 1994 has been condemned by the West as undemocratic.


The Wall Street Journal Sept 11, 2014 article by Jessica Kasmer-Jacobs

Belarus is dubbed "The last dictatorship in Europe" ruled by an authoritarian apparatus that violently restricts the rights the its citizens.

To visit Belarus is to be transported back to the worst days of the Soviet Union.

The nation declared sovereignty in 1990, but President Lukashenko assumed office in 1994 and reigns over his poeple as a paranoid despot.

He rigs elections and has complete control over the economy. He exiles opponents and imprisons dissidents.


Today we had our first "bush stop". The bathroom on the bus was for emergencies, bedsides, I'd rather use a tree than hot stinky bathroom. As the bus pulled off the road, Robin said that the trees closer to the road are for the gents, and the tree in the back are for the ladies. Keep toilet paper handy in your tote bag for these stops.

We had lunch in the Hotel Belarus (Jubilee Hotel) in Minsk. I think we had seven courses. Hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise, broth with yukky meat-filled dumplings, potato pancakes (bulviniai blynai), so-so chicken keiv with french fries (chips) was the main course. Ice cream for dessert.

The food looked good, but to tell you the truth, the food really took a turn for the worse after Lithuania. In all the Baltic states the food was really good. Belarus and Russia the food was yuk yuk.

We met our guide "Elizabeth". She was going to be with us through St. Pete. All the other guides were fabulous. Elizabeth was going to be tough to get used to. Her voice. Anyway.

My comment: It's almost nice for a change not to have such a good guide. She's not very talkative. Most of the other guides were talking all the time on the bus rides. I couldn't sleep because they were so interesting I felt compelled to write or listen. The university girl that was with us from Vilnius to Minsk was an aspiring stand-up comedian. She told (communist) jokes for about 30 minutes.

Driving tour of Minsk.

 Lots and lots on concrete here. 10 story apartment buildings. 3-room apartments: Kitchen, bedroom, living room, and one bathroom for 4 people.

There is a McDonalds here!

I never saw any other tourist in Minsk. They do get some tourist though because the souvenir guys were right there when we got off the bus. I bought a book of Minsk for $4.

We saw Gorki Park, named after Maxim Gorki

Victory Square - Big monument with a star at the top.

Academy of Sciences building


Odd language. Many of the letters are upsidown and backwards.

What a hotel. An Intourist hotel called the Phoenix. Small, dark rooms, but really not that bad (in my opinion). Tiny twin beds, yellow water. No phone, no TV. Shower stall had 2-foot high walls and no curtain. I never saw a single cockroach in Smolensk, but I saw many many in the hotel in Moscow.

Good cheap souvenirs in the hotel lobby too.

There were two other bus loads of German tourists in the hotel also.

In every hotel in Russia, they need your passport to check in to the hotel. And it may take the hotel all night to "do with the passport whatever they do" (record the numbers? Robin didn't really even know what they did with our passports). You also need your passport to exchange money (legally). You could buy most things with US$, but it's good to have a some rubles too. Robin recommended that we exchange some money with the vendors in the hotel.

I exchanged $10 - enough last me through Sunday and maybe Monday. We get to Moscow around 2 on Monday so that hotel may have our passports till Tuesday morning.

The exchange rate was fluctuating so wildly too, so we didn't want to exchange too much at one time. We heard the rate was around 17 to $1US in Moscow. The hotel reception desk was giving 12 to 1 and the guy in the hotel lobby gave us 15. We may get 25 to 1 on Tuesday and it may be 50 to 1 in St. Pete. Whatever.

Dinner was pork schnitzel and really greasy french fries. Dessert was a (bad) cake. The vodka for 10 rubles (66 cents) sure made it taste better. Coke was 15 rubles (50 cents). Vodka was 3 Lita (75 cents) in Lithuania.

We saw a nice ballet in the hotel that night. It was traveling troup out of St. Petersburg. Very talented young people. They only wanted $6 but I gave her $10.

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Sunday 9/6 Smolensk to Moscow

No phones in the rooms so they said we would get a wake up "knock". We called it a morning "knock-up". Mmmm, sounds good to me. Anyway. We didn't get, or didn't hear our knock-up. We woke up at 7 and bags were supposed to be out at 7:15. Rush rush rush. There was no elevator in this hotel and we were on the third floor. The bell-boys had to carry all our bags down the stairs. That was such a nice perk of this trip. We never had to carry our luggage. It was always delivered to our room and picked up from our room. I noticed that the German tourists had to carry their own bags down to the bus.

Another great Cosmos perk was that we got to eat breakfast first in the dining room. So we could get on the road before the other groups.

We had a bus tour of Smolensk.

City was founded in 1135.

I learned that every city has a "Kremlin". That means a protected fortification usually where the government buildings and churches were built.

The fortification wall in Smolensk was 5 km long.

We stopped to take a picture of the Assumption Cathedral. It's an Orthodox church built in the 18th century.

We saw a statue of Kutuzov. He lead the victory against Napoleon.

This is a nice little town. I guess they appreciate the tourist dollars. The police here are nice too. They stopped us twice on our city tour to tell us to go back the hotel "for an important message". Cosmos stays at that hotel so often that the hotel staff knew that we were doing a bus tour of the city, so they told the police to find us. Message, yeah right. We learned what that was all about. We went back to the hotel for our "message" which Robin did share with us. He is so cute. He really is a great tour directory too, despite some small adventures.

The weather has been phenomenal so far on this trip. Some rain in Helsinki and drizzly in Estonia, but fabulous since then, Cool and sunny. Jeans, turtle neck sweater and no jacket. Perfect.

Then we took off for Russia.

Border crossing from Bela-Russia to Russia only took 5 minutes.

Set clocks forward 2 hours.

There were 2 major wars in Russia: against Napoleon (army of 630,000) and against German fascists.

Napoleon did make it to Moscow, but he only stayed 36 days. There was no food so he had to leave.

My note: I'm really having trouble with our guide's voice. She is an older lady and the tone of her voice is really getting to me. She speaks very loud into the microphone. I put ear plugs in and I can hear her just fine. She really does know a lot. She gives hour-long lectures on Russian history. The information is interesting, but that voice! Uugh! I won't be writing as much in Russia. That's Ok. My journal is getting full anyway.

Elizabeth's ramblings:

Basil III died in 1533. His 3-year old son is "Ivan the Terrible". She said that "Ivan the Storm" was a better translation. He was very easy to anger. His mother was poisoned when he was 7 so his grandmother took over ruling the country. At 16 years old, he married Anastasia. His second wife is Marie.

There were some very nice houses in the rural areas outside of Moscow. Red brick, 3 floors with a garage. These were for "rich Russians". Cost about $500,000 dollars.

There are 150 million people in Russia.

300 million were in the former USSR.

Moscow was founded in 1147. They celebrated their 850 year anniversary last year.

There are seven very carefully planned points of growth for the city. The city looks like a seven pointed star from the air. The 8th development area (pop 9 million) is in the center of city.

People who live here are called "Muscovites".

There is a 109 km highway that circles the city. (285 around Atlanta is about 65 miles long).

Parks and gardens make up one third of all new development.

There are 7 buildings here that are "Stalin gothic" style. Ornate spires on top.

Drove past the US embassy and the Moscow Chancery building. Atlanta newspaper reported that they have been building it for 19 years. It was originally projected to cost $72 million, but it's now costing US taxpayers $240 million more. It was begun in 1979 using Soviet workers and material. They discovered the entire structure had been laced with thousands of microscopic devices. It was dubbed "The Great Transmitter". They lopped off the top two floors and are rebuilding the top floors.

I took a picture of Peter's palace built for Catherine the first. Red brick with white brick accents.

There are about 50 theaters in Moscow.

There are about 80 colleges in Moscow.

There are 9 railway station terminals, 5 airports.

A 1-room apartment was 13 copics a month in the old days. When the ruble equaled the dollar, it was 6 rubles per month. A 2-room apt was 12-15 rubles, and 2-room was 20-25.

A 1-room apartment with a kitchen and bathroom in a bad area of town cost $30,000 to buy now. In St.Petersburg apartments are cheaper. A 1-room there is only $10,000 US.

30% of the people live in poverty here.

Minimum salary is 80 rubles a month, but it needs to be changed because of inflation.

Volga canal was built 1933-1937 so big ships could navigate to Moscow. Moscow has 5 ports.

Arrive at Hotel Rossiya. It's huge! It has 3000 rooms. It was the largest hotel in the world at one time. There is a cinema on the ground floor.

When we were parked at the hotel, a uniformed lady got on the bus. Someone asked "police?". She replied "No, KGB." They were checking us out.

Lunch at the hotel. Good Borsch soup. I had 2 bowls of it.

There were 3 parts to the Moscow city tour: Walking portion and the Kremlin, the subway, and the bus tour. We did the first two parts in the afternoon.

Tour of the Kremlin in Moscow:

20 towers in the Kremlin. We entered the Kremlin through the Trinity tower (tallest in the Kremlin - 7 stories high) First Kremlin wall was pine wood. As each wall was destroyed, it was rebuilt bigger and better. This wall is 1.4 miles long, 3.5 to 6.5 meters thick and 11-19 meters high. There is a walkway along the top of the wall.

Kremlin is 69 acres. Buildings from many centuries in the Kremlin.

State Kremlin Palace (1960-61) - This new 20th century building stands out. Many people didn't want to build such a "new" looking building (marble and glass) . But others argued that there are buildings from other centuries here too, so there should be one from the 20th century. Contains the Palace of Congresses, used for government and social affairs. Largest auditorium in Russia. Seats 6000, has 7000 loudspeakers. Banquet Hall seats 2500 people

President of Russia Residence (1932-34) and the Senate Building (1776-87) Yellow buildings. Lenin's study (now a museum) is in the Senate building.

Tsar Cannon - Largest bore of any cannon in the world. Cast in bronze in 1586. They're not sure if it has ever been fired. Each cannon ball weighs 1 ton. Cannons weighs 40 tons, 17 feet long.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower. Built in 1505. 266 feet, tallest in Kremlin. Holds 21 bells.

Tsar-Bell at the foot of the tower. World's largest bell. Cast in 1733. 80% copper. When they were finishing the bell in 1737, fire engulfed the Kremlin. Water to put out the fire splashed onto the bell. The bell hadn't finished cooling so it cracked. The broken piece weighs 11 tons. Whole bell weighs 210 tons. (Big Ben is 13 tons). 20 feet high and 22 foot diameter at the base.

Cathedral Square. Oldest part of the Kremlin.

Cathedral of the Dormition (means "falling asleep or death) of the Virgin - An Orthodox Church Celebration falls on the same day as a Catholic Church Assumption festival so this is incorrectly referred to as the "Assumption Cathedral" and the "Upenski Cathedral". ("Upenski" is Russian for "Assumption")

Largest and most historic in the Kremlin. Foundation stone laid 1325, completed in 1479 but it looks like 12th century architecture because it was modeled after the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir. All Russian czars were crowned here. No pews. Everyone stood (or kneel) except for the czar and czarina (czar wife). Her seat was marked with the crest of double headed eagle with "St. George the Great Martyr" in the middle. St. George is the patron saint of the city. If you want to sit, you go outside. This is the main state cathedral in Russia. There were several layers of paint on the frescos. They started a restoration in 19th century. Found murals from 1642.

Oldest icon - The Virgin Hodegetria - Late 11th -early 12 century

Napoleon used this cathedral as a stable for his horses and stole 5 tons of silver and 500 pounds of gold when he left.

It had 5 domes, then 4 chapels were added so now there are 9 gold gilded domes. Contains the most ancient Russian iconostasis - painted in 1405.

Italian type construction. The only cathedral to have silver domes, but they were gilded in gold. - 1 big gold dome, 1 small gold dome, and 2 silver.

During communist times, the cathedrals in the Kremlin were museums.


We saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Commemorates the Soviet soldiers that died in WWII (1941-45). The flame of eternal glory burns over the grave.

Next stop was the Moscow subway - Commissioned in 1934. Very impressive. 800 volts of electricity. There are over 150 stations. It carries over 7.5 million passengers daily. Cost 3 rubles per ride.

We went to a couple stations. One with sculptures depicting the real people: miner, engineer, and a woman from a collective farm. One station was all mosaics. I took a picture of a beautiful mosaic of Lenin "proclaiming Soviet power".


At the end of the walking portion of the tour in Moscow, the first person got sick. Right there in the square. I think every single person on our trip could relate. We were all very seasoned travelers and we had all had a similar experience. Elizabeth found the ambulance, but that wasn't necessary. Sweet Bob escorted her back to the hotel. It hit the second person on the bus ride back to the hotel. I was the third person - right there in the lobby of the hotel. Lovely. Fourth person made it to the bathroom in their room. Anyway.

Out of 19 people on our tour, 14 of us (including the bus driver and tour leader) were, how shall I say "out of commission" that night. The two 74-year old guys and my roommate did not get hit with "it".

Robin had to cancel the optional excursion to the Armory. Everyone was sick, even the bus driver. Robin wasn't even qualified to drive the bus. He said that if it was absolutely necessary that Cosmos would fly in another bus driver. That's comforting.

Elizabeth felt so bad about everyone getting sick that she had some food sent up to the rooms. I was laying in bed and there was knock at the door. No way was I going to get vertical. I heard male Russian voices, They kept knocking and finally asked if I was sick. Ok. Get up, let them in. Rice and tea. Looked good but I knew it wasn't going to stay down so I didn't touch it. It was a tough night - puking with the roaches crawling on the walls. Oh joy. I have to say that Borsch (beet) soup looks lovely the second time. Turned everything pink! They did get a doctor for one person. I felt so much better the next day and ate a full lunch.

I think 6 people made it to the circus this night.

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Monday 9/7 Moscow

9 am city tour by bus. I didn't go because I was still recovering.

Across from our hotel was St.Basil's and Red Square. The square is 440 yards by 165 yards wide. Name does NOT come from the blood spilled in the square. In Old Slavonic "Krasny" ("red") also means beautiful, since red was regarded as a beautiful color.

Around the square is GUM's department store. St. Basil's is at end of Red Square. Originally built by Ivan the Terrible in 1555. It has nine churches and bizarre domes. Named for the holy fool Basil who dared to denounce Ivan's cruelties. It is state-of-the-art Russo-Byzantine architecture. Ivan blinded the architects that built it to prevent them from building anything so beautiful again. In 1812, French army used it as a stable for their horses. Napoleon ordered it to be blown up, but fear of sabotage by the Russian people saved it.

Moscow: St.Basils:  


I walked with two other people on the tour towards St. Basil's to take a picture. We took our pictures, then proceeded to turn around and start walking away from St. Basil's. We thought we were going to Red Square. I was still feeling a little weak and didn't want to do more walking than necessary so asked if we could verify the direction on a map. They didn't seem to want to pause to look, but we did anyway. I think we confirmed that we were walking in the correct direction, but we didn't feel like walking that entire distance so we turned around and went back to the hotel. Turns out that we walked in the total opposite direction of Red Square so I'm glad we didn't walk any further.

I was very wary of the food in that hotel and I did not feel like eating dinner so we ventured around the hotel to find the cafe that Madelyn and Don told me about. There was a little restaurant on every even numbered floor. We thought the one on the 4th floor was closed so we went up to the 10th floor and I went down to every cafe till I found that cup-a-soup that I wanted. It was a perfect dinner.

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Tuesday 9/8 Moscow to Tver to Novgorod

7:30 wake up call, 8:15 luggage out, Depart at 9. We're all the walking wounded. Drive north today.

We're now driving through the town where Tschaicowski lived. We just passed his museum and we're listening to his music. Very pleasant way to enjoy a long ride on the bus.

About Matreshka dolls. I think she said that was Russian for "maiden". There was a set of nested dolls for a family to show each generation.

The Volga River runs through Tver. The river is very small here, but it's mighty big further down. It was a very active trade route. Tver is a very industrial town now.

Ramblings from Elizabeth on the bus:

"Czar Boris" because they changed the constitution and gave the president too much power. No impeachment proceedings yet.

[She went on and on and on with many historical details from the 12th century on. Someone finally asked her to say something about Stalin or Lenin]

Stalin was in power from 1936 to 1938. (I think that's what she said) It was "the time of purges". All foreigners were assumed to be spies. There was "spymania". More than 80% of the most talented people were killed or in prison. He annihilated the population.

[That's all she said about Stalin or Lenin.]

Elizabeth (our guide) accompanies us to the souvenir stands to translate and help us buy things. I wonder what she thinks about when were trying to talk the price down really far. She helps us make change with coins. She's been buying lots of things too...

Robin really does like Russia and the Russian people. He used to live here and he speaks some Russian. He can get away with making fun of the Russian people some times. Like when he said an 18-year old boy with a gun will get on the bus to look at our passports. Robin told us "He doesn't really know what he's looking for, so we should just be patient".

Nice hotel here in Novgorod. Our room was on the 2nd floor. They tried to arrange a boat ride, but not enough people wanted to go. Rose and I went for a nice long walk after dinner. The city seems so quiet. It was spooky. We walked by many deserted buildings. There was nobody outside.

Evening was relaxing. I had one drink in the bar with the group. Wally kept wanting to buy me more. No thanks.

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Wednesday 9/9 Novgorod to St. Petersburg

7 am wake up, 7:45 luggage out & breakfast, 8:30 depart.

Novgorod City Tour

Population 240,000

City was founded in 859. The name means "New Town"

Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn were exiled here during the Soviet era when the town was know as Gorky.

The city is on both sides of the Volkhof River.

The Kremlin Citadel in Novgorod:

Limestone walls were built in the 11 century. The wall is 1385 meters long and 3.5 meters thick. There were 13 towers. Only 9 are left.

St. Sophia Cathedral - Oldest stone structure in Russia. Built in 11th century (est. 989). It is 38 meters high. Byzantine architecture. 6 domes. In the 16th century, the central dome was covered in gold.

"Holy Spirit symbol" is the dove on top of the central dome.

In the 15th century St. Sophia was stucco. It is limestone underneath.

The bell is 26 tons. It was hanging on top.

The doors are from the 12 century. There are 48 bronze panels on an oak frame. There are scenes from the old and new testament. The door handles have the head of a lion symbolizing the entrance to hell.

This was the religious and administrative center.

Novgorod had the first democratic republic in the world in the 12th century!

The white washed arches were called "the great trade row"

Pareskiva Church - 13th century. No stucco on this church. ( I took a pix with flowers in front).

There are many many old churches here. Communist ruined them. Almost all of them are still being used for storage. Only one is being restored.

I really like this city. Most people in the tour are feeling better so we're back to enjoying the trip. There are lots of babushka's (sp?) cleaning the lawn and sidewalks with stick brooms. Leaves are turning beautiful colors. It is very pretty here.

On the drive to St. Petersburg we saw many many individual homes by the side of the road. They maybe had a acre for a garden. Each town had a carpenter who helped decorate the outside of the homes. Window frames usually. In one town the father and the son (both carpenter craftsmen) lived across from each other and competed for the most beautiful decorations. We slowed to take pictures.

The roads in Russia really suck. Awful construction with potholes. Usually 2-lane, but sometimes 3-lane so a car can pass in the middle. Finally we hit a 4 lane road and we're almost to St. Petersburg. I took a picture of a sign that said "Leningrad".

The traffic police here are called the GAI "Gosavtoinspektsia". They can flag anyone to pull over to the side of the road. We saw it happen too. They are authorized to shoot if you don't pull over. We didn't see that happen. They did pull us over a couple time. (Mika does not like driving in Russia). Robin said they asked for our "traveling papers". Robin had done 10 tours like this before and he had never had "traveling papers". He finally convinced (bribed) them that we didn't need any.

Arrive in St. Petersburg

Pop 5 million. One forth of the population in St. Petersburg is over 60.

Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and it was capitol of Russia for 200 years. Spreads over 42 islands in the delta of the River Neva, which links to the Gulf of Finland.

Also known as Petergrad (till 1914) and Leningrad but reverted to original name St.Petersburg in 1991. (Elizabeth keeps calling this city "Leningrad")

Peter the Great (1682-1725) created this great European-style city. There was a plan for the city development.

All streets must be straight, long, and wide. Houses must all stand in a line and they must be beautiful. They must follow three basic designs. In the center of the city the houses are the same height. They couldn't be higher than the Winter Palace. 22 meters.

Peter the Great worked as a carpenter. He was a master of 14 skills. He built shoes and boats. He wanted everyone to learn how to sail. He even taught sailing classes. Poor families got boats for free. He was 2 m 4 cm tall.

They dug canals by hand throughout the city. Every 3rd street is a canal. Peter the Great had a goal to use the waterways instead of roads. City is called the "Venice of the North". There are 65 rivers and canals in St. Pete. The canal is 11 km long. Canals are very dirty now. In 19th century this canal was the border of St. Pete. There is lots on industry along it to pollute it. Rubber factory, furniture making.

First bridge was built in 1850 (100 years after the city was founded)

The river is totally frozen in the winter. There are floods here every year in the spring. In 1975 it was so bad that the center of the city was flooded.

The 900 day siege from Sept 8, 1941 to Jan 20, 1944. 1 million people died of starvation and cold. Germans blockaded the city and isolated it. They bombed within 14 kilometers of the center of the city. Blocked all supplies going into the city. Temperature in winter of 41-42 was -40 degrees centigrade. They gave out rations of 125 grams of bread per day per person. Half of it was rye bread and the rest was filler that made people sick. (Prisoners in KGB prison got 300 grams!) People had just enough energy to stay alive.

150,000 shells fell during the war. 16,000 people died in the air raids.

33% of the houses were ruined.

There are 2 synagogues here.

The first structure in the city was the St. Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island. It was used to defend the city against the Swedish. Gray walls of Peter Paul fortress was part of the fortification. 120 guns on the walls. It was used as a prison till 1917.

In Soviet times it was turned into a museum. Belfry is highest in St. Pete, 122 meters high.

Triumphal Arches commemorate the war against Turkey. Another Triumphal Arc celebrates Napoleons defeat.

In Decembrists Square there is the Bronze Horseman monument (1782) of Peter the Great. He is shown as a Roman here. Inscriptions was "Petro Primo Catherina Secunda MDCCLXXXII 1782" There is a snake under the feet of the horse. It symbolizes the evil forces that he had to overcome on his fight for Russia. The snake was added because they needed another point of support to stabilize the statue. The stone is one piece of granite rock. It represents a wave. It took 2 years to move the stone 15 km away to this location.

The yellow building across the street is the house of Russian government and the Senate Square.

St. Isaac's Cathedral. Outstandingly beautiful. Nobody really knows who Isaac is. This cathedral was named because he and Peter had the same birthday. It is made of marble. 112 granite columns. Each weighs 114 tons. Walls are up to 5 meters thick. It can hold up to 12,000 people. This is the 3rd biggest in the world. Biggest is St. Peters in Rome, then St. Paul's in London. 60 workers died gilding the dome. 100 kilo of gold in the dome, 300 kilo of gold inside.

Bronze horse statue in front of St. Isaac's is the Monument of Emperor Nickolas I. Pedestal has bas-reliefs symbolizing faith, wisdom, power, and justice.

We parked right beside a Rostral Column. It was being renovated it was totally covered in scaffolding. There are 2 columns, each is 30 meters high. Erected 1810. Named because they are decorated with rostra, or prows that imitate the beaks of captured ships. They have lights on top that a lit on festive days.

We saw the ship building place where Aurora was built in 1900. This ship was used in the war with the Japanese. I got a picture of me standing next to a sailor. I love men in uniforms.

We saw the Cathedral of the Resurrection (Our savior on the spilt blood). It was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. It covers his blood on the roadway and at the edge of the canal. It is modeled after St. Basil's on Red Square.

The Smolny Monastery and Cathedral. Advanced Baroque style. Extended corners with clusters of columns. I thought this was the most beautiful building. Light blue with white trim.

This whole city seems to have a lot of class. The atmosphere here seems more Western European. I feel a lot more comfortable here than in Moscow. The buildings are so beautiful, ornate, and colorful. Better hotel too. That helps.

After the city tour by bus, we checked into the Hotel Pribaltiyskaya, built 1978. Nice big hotel overlooking the Bay of Finland.

Dinner was wonderful roasted chicken. (Always dark meat - thigh and leg - which I like)

8:45 Folk show. This was a fabulous show. Live music and Russian-style dancing. They played Lara's Theme.

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Thursday 9/10 St.Petersburg

7:30 breakfast, 8:30 depart. Very full day: Peterhov and the Hermitage!

The Summer Palace: Peterhov

On the way to Peterhov we stopped at St. Peter and Paul Church . It is a Russian style church built in the 20th century. Beautiful colors. It is an imitation of ancient Russian architecture. It looks like a confectionery creation. It is a museum inside.

Peterhov is 40 km from the center of the city. Pop is 100,000. Palace was completed in 1723.

Peter couldn't afford to decorate the road on the way to the palace so he gave the land away under the condition that they must build a palace or make a park. There were 167 palaces during Catherine the Great's reign along this road.

Peter the Great saw Versailles in France and decided to build something like that, but better.

Gilded staircase is typical of palaces.

The center part was built by Peter the Great.

Blue reception room.

Hall of Mirrors

Biggest hall is 2 floors high.

Elizabeth, daughter of Peter.

Portraits of Peter, Catherine and all their children are here.

White dining table seats 32.

There is a room with carved wood walls that are oak.

I took a picture of Catherine the Great and some carving that wasn't covered around the door and a tall wood heating stove from Holland. Ornate guild starts with carvings are from the Linden tree, then they add the gold.

The back yard was incredibly beautiful fountains. These were laid out in 1704 by Peter the Great. There are 300 Italian marble statues. There is an Upper Park and Lower Park.

The biggest and most spectacular was The Great Cascade fountain. The sculpture in the center is Samson tearing open the jaws of a lion. No machines are used to supply water to this fountain. They used the natural downward slope of the terrain towards the sea.

There were some trick fountains too. When you step on a certain stone, water squirts out and you got wet. I was the only one that walked around the shower fountain.

During WWII these palaces were occupied by German troops and completely destroyed so the Soviets had to restore it. It was reopened 30 years ago.

We found the buy of the trip in the souvenir shop in Peterhov. I paid $60 for 4 multimedia computer CD's of Peterhov, St. Petersburg, The Moscow Kremlin, and Faberge Easter Eggs. I make multimedia CD's for a living so it didn't take long after I saw the short demo to decide to buy these. I also saw one for sale in the Hermitage. I wish I had bought that one too.

Back in St. Petersburg for a tour of the Hermitage:

The Palace Square is beside the Winter Palace and the Hermitage. This is where the massacre on Bloody Sunday happened in 1905 and the crowd burst into the palace in Oct 1917. In the middle is Alexander Column. Erected 1834 to celebrate defeat of Napoleon in War of 1812. 47.5 meters high. Weighs 600 tons. Biggest granite monolith in the world.

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The Winter Palace and the Hermitage

They said it was called the Hermitage because it was the private collection of Catherine (who was a hermit). It was for only her and her mice. It was an abode of recluse. It was the residence of the Russian Tsars for a century and a half until 1917. Big 3-day fire here in 1837. They tried to restore it to it's former grandeur.

Hermitage opened as a museum in Autumn of 1945. It is made up of 5 buildings, which are all connected. It has 1,057 rooms, 117 staircases. There are over 3 million items here. (over half are coins).

If you see everything for one minute, it would take you 8 years!

Imperial Hall. 16 different types of wood in the floor. Design in the floor is the same as in the ceiling. Coat of Arms design.

Throne Hall

Amorial Hall with gold columns. Bomb landed on roof of this room.

Carriage - ornate gold. It was used one time per reign. They used this carriage for the entrance to Kremlin for coronation.

French Impressionist's paintings that we saw:

Henri Fantin-Latour
Camille Pissarro,

These are from German private collections that were transferred after WWII. The Germans want the pictures back, but our guide said that they probably won't get them. They are still negotiating.

Pavillion Hall. Mosaic on the floor. The original is in the Vatican, but this one is twice as big. Another source said the mosaic is copied from a Roman bath to create a peculiar exotic atmosphere of an old fairy tale.

There were huge vases throughout the palace. Some made of Rhondonite. They look like red marble. Also Malachite Vases. Malachite is a semi-precious stone and very breakable (fragile). There is a stone or metal form underneath then 2mm thick malachite is stuck on in a mosaic pattern. Inscription on the vase read:

Peterhov factory
Malachite & gilded bronze

St.Petersburg: Malachite Vase in the Hermitage 


I was awestruck, especially with Malachite Hall. Designed by A.P. Briullov in 1839. 2nd floor, room 189 Over 2 tons of malachite is used in this room! The malachite is set in gold. There is a beautiful gilded ceiling and parquet floor. I wish had the words to describe how beautiful it is.

There are 10 original Leonado da Vinci's (1452-1519) in the world now. The Hermitage has two of them: The Litta Madonna and The Benois Madonna. Purchased in 1914. This was the last purchase by the Hermitage before the war started.

The door to each room here are very ornate. Tortoise shell and glass in one room. Painted porcelain in another.

Tent Hall. Over 1000 paintings in the Dutch collection. Dutch paintings depict life surrounding as well as people.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn 1606-1669 - 25 paintings. We saw the original painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son" Acquired in 1766.I took a picture of this painting - I got in trouble for using a flash. I should have known better, but I wanted to make sure the picture came out. It probably would have been a better picture without the flash anyway.

Rembrandt died a pauper in Amsterdam.

Raphael Loggias. Architect Giacomo Quarenghi 1783-92. Raphael's Bible Hall. This is the place that I will go back to in my mind to remember this trip. Original is in the Vatican. Created in the end of the 18th century. The Last Supper at the end of the Hall. A copy of the frescos in the Vatican was made, then those copies were used to paint this hall.

Knight's armor weighs 40 kilos.

Michael Angelo's statue of a crouching boy. The Hermitage has the only one in Russia. It is not finished.

Ruben - 25 paintings

Van Dyck - 17 paintings

Rembrandt painting: Danae 1636. Myth is that her father was told that his grandson would kill him so he kept his daughter (Danae) captive in the tower so she would not meet anyone and conceive a child. The God Zeus fell in love with her and made her pregnant. She had a son, who went on to kill Medusa. In 1985 someone poured sulfuric acid on this painting. It took them 8 years to restore it.

Claude Gellee 1602-1682 Rome. He was the first to paint landscapes with different shades of light.

Alexander Room has incredible chandeliers made of paper mache. They are gilded with gold so they look incredibly ornate but still very light weight. Beautiful parquet floor.

We saw a sculpture of Voltaire. It was done the year he died. He was 84 years old. He advised Catherine the Great and she purchased everything that he recommended.

Paul Cezanne - More than 50 original works of art here at the Hermitage.

Jordan Staircase -the main staircase that leads to the entrance by the river. Quite impressive. When we got to this part of the tour there was plywood on the side of the staircase. Three very strong men had just moved/carried a big wood-enclosed object up the stairs. It was smaller than a baby grand piano. We couldn't believe that there wasn't an elevator that they could have used. I wonder if there are any elevators there.

Today the exchange rate went up to 20 to 1 then back to 13 to 1 US$ in one day. The next day it was 10 to 1 by the evening.

A married couple on the trip got a great cheap massage in the hotel so another lady in our group decided she would get one too. She went down to the salon and asked for a massage. The lady who worked there seemed to understand and told her to wait. A little later she was called over and asked to sit down and before you know it, she was getting her hair shampooed and set. I guess there was a little miscommunication after all.....

7:45 pm Boat ride on the Neva River. Light rain was falling but there was free drinks on the boat so that made it nice. I had been such a good girl the entire trip, so I partook of the vodka. What a ride. Sorry Wally for spilling it on your pants. What a sweet man. Everybody still wanted to party when we got back to the hotel so we went to shoot some pool. Quite a fun night, indeed.

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Friday 9/11 St.Petersburg to Vyborg to Helsinki, Finland

7:30 Breakfast, 8 luggage out, 9 departure. Drive to Finland. We drove through the Forest of Karelia.  A huge forest, which has changed countries many times. There have been so many battles in this forest that all the trees are useless because there are so many bullets in them.

People are so desperate for money here. We saw many bands playing/begging for money. As soon as our bus would pull up to a hotel or restaurant, they would figure out what nationality we were, then we would hear America the Beautiful or the Star Spangled Banner.

After three shaky days of uncertainty between Yelsin and the Dumas, they finally picked someone to be the prime minister . It's not Chernimyrdin, which is who Yelsin wanted. If Yelsin had picked Chernimyrdin a third time (which is not allowed) then the Dumas could start impeachment proceeding, but Yelsin could dismiss the Dumas before that happened. Like I said, it was very tense . Ruble went up to 20 to 1 one day, then 10 to 1 the next.

Arrive Helsinki late afternoon. I braided Rose's hair again, then we went out in search of pizza and a good beer. We found it, then came back to the hotel. I sat in the bar and drank for too long. I got back to the room very late (or rather very early). We only had one key so I had to bang on the door until my roommate let me in.

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Saturday 9/12 Helsinki

Tough morning. Tired from traveling and fun. Skip breakfast. There were three departures to the airport depending on your airline flight: 5 am, 9:45 am, and 2 pm. I took the 9:45 departure.

Right now I'm in the Helsinki airport. It's Saturday morning. What a great ending to a great trip. There was a 5 am shuttle to the airport. Thank goodness I wasn't on that one. I was on the 9:45 shuttle. 20 minute ride to the airport. I really didn't want to go home and said so on the bus. Arrive at the airport, then say goodbye to Mika and Robin. I said goodbye to Robin with a big kiss! He is so cute. And so young. 25. Geez. I can't remember the last time I had ...anyway.. I digress. So we said goodbye and I went in the airport. Well, I found out, be careful what you wish for (little girl) or it may come true. I went to the check in my luggage and the Northwest airline strike screwed up my schedule. I was supposed to arrive in Memphis at 6:20 pm, but now I had to make a choice: Fly to Memphis, TN without a guaranteed flight to Atlanta till Monday morning and no hotel room, OR, stay in Helsinki another night and fly home via Copenhagen, Brussels, Cincinnati, then arrive Atlanta by 8 pm. I chose to stay in Helsinki. I still had about 80 FinMarks ($16) left and plenty of traveler's checks. They gave me a voucher for a night at the Holiday Inn.

I saw the Cosmos bus again at 2 pm. Robin was very shocked to see that I was still at the airport. I went running up to him and I told him that I decided not to go home to Atlanta. I wanted to stay in Finland and party with him and Mika. Robin was speechless at that remark. Then I explained about my airline mess. He was relieved to hear that I did have a flight home. It gave me another opportunity to say goodbye to him.

I took the free shuttle to the Holiday Inn and I had a very nice dinner at the hotel. What a great room too. The absolute best of this whole trip. All the amenities. Big full-size bed with very soft sheets and 2 pillows, an iron and a pressing board, blow dryer and a second hand-held shower so you can wash your hair in the sink. Very fluffy towels.

I repacked my suitcase, set the alarm for 4:45 am, read some, then went to sleep.

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Sunday 9/13 Helsinki to Copenhagen to Brussels to Cincinnati to Atlanta

5 am breakfast was the absolute best of the entire trip. All kinds of fresh fruit, eggs, meats, cheese.

Take the 5:30 shuttle to the airport. It's 6:10 am now and I'm sitting here listening to a 6 piece string orchestra playing in the Helsinki airport. There's a whole band of young people traveling. They were in the bar area drinking and one quite energetic guy convinced 5 others to put on an impromptu concert. It was quite nice. Only in Europe would this happen.

Suitcase was 38 kg so they put a "Heavy" tag on it. It actually made it through all the connections from Helsinki to Copenhagen to Brussels to Cincinnati to Atlanta. Amazing.

This by far the best trip ever. What made it the best was the other people, the bus driver, and the tour leader. There was at least 8 of us in the bar drinking and getting to know each other the very first night of the trip (in Estonia).

Mika was a good driver. He didn't like driving in Russia so when we got to Finland he go out and kissed the ground. He was very patient and did well in traffic. Robin was very organized and did a great job doing his job, which was to make sure we were happy. Yup, I was happy.

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Atlanta Journal Constitution articles.

These are quotes from article I clipped.

August 8

Struggling to avert financial disaster, Russia devalued its currency, raising fears that soaring inflation and social instability could follow. The ruble, previously at about 6.3 to the US$, was allowed to drift to as much as 9.5 to the dollar.

August 14

Panic swept through Russia. Russia's main stock index dropped more than 10 percent in the first hour. Ruble was trading at 6.3 to the dollar.

August 19

The ruble slid to 14.5 to the dollar

August 21

The Russian government pledged to fully guarantee all deposits in banks.

August 23

President Boris Yelsin abruptly fired the prime minister and Cabinet. He announced he would restore Chernimyrdin (who he fired only 5 months ago). Lawmakers responded by calling for the resignation of Yelstin.

To avoid bankruptcy, the government devalues the national currency. The ruble declined against the dollar 34%. To find a lasting fix, Yeltsin's government must transform the economy from the unpredictable hybrid Soviet-era centralization.

August 25

Politial analysts said Monday that the political obituary of Yeltsin, 67, has been written....

Rioter have not stormed the Kremlin, in fact most Russian life goes on grimlyin Moscow. Russians are all too familiar with economic troubles and political turnovers since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Many Russians are careworn, but ultimately resigned to a life of flirting with disaster.

Sept 16

Prime Minister Primakov said they are committed to market reforms and they proposed to print money to pay back wages and impose some Soviet-style controls over markets.

Sept 18

American and other multinationals doing business in Russia ahve lost nearly $500 million so far... The situation could turn bleaker is Russia's new government implements Soviet-style currency controls. "We believed in the reform process, and it turned out that we were wrong."

Sept 24

A poll just released says "One-third of Russians believe the president should have "supreme power" and that dictatorship is the only way out of the current economic crisis"

Sept 26

When the International Monetary Fund lent Russia $4.8 billion in July, Russian officials said they hoped the emergency funds would sit unspent, bolstering the wobbling ruble. But within weeks, the money was spent on questionable fiscal measures that did little to help the struggling economy. The IMF did not recommend for Moscow to receive thenext installment of $22.6 billion loan.

Oct 3

Barter now accounts for about 70% of trade in Russia. Deals are done in a cashless society. About 8,000 teachers in the impoverished Altai district of Siberia have not been paid since February and are owed $3.5 million in wage arrears. They agreed late last month to accept their pay in 15 bottles of vodka per teacher per month.

Moscow is losing its grip on the regions.

Oct 8

1 million aging die-hards of the Communist Party, students, and working class Russians denounced Yelsin and the economy in Moscow on Wednesday. Long suffering Russians continue to act with anquish, no anger, as they are buffeted by their nation's deep and lingering economic crisis.


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