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UK weekly edition, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Travel to the geographical center of Europe to explore Lithuania’s former capital, Kaunas, and current capital, Vilnius.

In Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, start in Rotuses Square with the old town hall, often referred to as "the white swan." This hall now houses a wedding chapel and a ceramics museum.

The city’s M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum of Art is named for Lithuania’s most prominent artist and includes collections of Lithuanian art from the 16th to 19th centuries, according to the Kaunas regional tourism center. The museum also includes a small collection of folk sculptures.

For something unusual, visit the Museum of Devils, set in an authentic 1920s and ’30s interior. The museum houses a collection of thousands of representations of the devil.

From the museum, climb aboard trolley No. 7 for a ride to the 13th-century brick Kaunas castle. Visitors can explore sections of its wall and moat as well as a reconstructed tower. Inside, visitors can stroll through art exhibitions.

For a mix of history and fresh air, visit the Garden of Military Museum and walk among the busts of Lithuanian politicians and writers. The Web sitewww.kaunas.lt notes that the "External Fire" monument and wooden crosses within the garden commemorate those killed in the fight for Lithuanian independence.

In Vilnius, start at the Gates of Dawn, built into the city wall in the 16th century. A wooden chapel was built into the gate and now houses the painting "Mother of Mercy of the Gates of Dawn."

From there, travel into the city’s old town. The Vilnius municipality Web site, www.vilnius.lt, estimates that there are 1,500 buildings within the medieval layout representing gothic, renaissance, baroque and classical architecture. Pilies Street features numerous shops offering gifts and souvenirs.

The renovated Vilnius Cathedral houses more than 40 artworks from the 16th through 19th centuries and a goblet-shaped 18th-century pulpit. Located in the cathedral’s catacombs is a museum revealing the building’s history and pagan past. According to the city Web site, a 14th-century fresco, the oldest known in Lithuania, was found in one of the underground chapels during the restoration of the cathedral.

The Gediminas Castle Museum offers more history on Vilnius and the surrounding area. Exhibits include archaeological finds, historical documents and armor. The castle’s tower features a magnificent panoramic view of the city.


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