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It’s no secret that I’m not a huge vacation person. I love mixing business with pleasure, so I typically plan my “vacations” around some new business adventure. However, I do have a soft spot for history, heritage and heirlooms, which is honestly why I love photography so much. I’m constantly looking for authentic moments that encapsulate personalities and relationships that will give the next generations insight into what their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were like.
When my Mom and sister decided to tour Europe last summer, making Lithuania one of their stops, I decided I might actually be interested in making this trip as well. I was fortunate enough to know my Lithuanian Great-Grandmother for most of my life, we called her “Greatma.” Greatma Alice lived to 97 years old, and died when I was 21. Born in Vilnius, Lithuania exactly 105 years before my Georgiana Alice was born, she came to America with her family and grew up in Elizabeth, NJ, where (I’m learning) a lot of Lithuanians lived! She only spoke Lithuanian to my Greatpa, so my Grandmother sadly never learned the language. The only thing she did learn about her mother’s heritage was that she was born in Vilnius. So Vilnius is where we went.
This was my first trip to Europe. The only thing I knew about Lithuania, is that it neighbors Russia, which is a little disconcerting. However, I also knew, from my Mom and sister, that it is a country that is proud to be Lithuanian and proud to have held their ground as a nation despite decades of oppression and war.
We spent two days touring Vilnius and other towns I cannot pronounce, learning about the history, hope and perseverance of my Grandmother’s people. On the last day of our tour with our beloved tour-guide, Inga, we visited the Hill of Crosses in Kryzių Kalnas. The tradition of placing crosses on this hill dates back to the 14th century. Millions of crosses, large and small adorn this hill left by Lithuanians and now pilgrims from all over the world. We, too, brought a cross made by our cousin, Wendy, with the names “Bogda” and “Kanzler” etched into the wood to represent our two Lithuanian families. In my mind, this was going to be an emotional moment of Grandma placing the cross on the hill. How silly I am to forget who we are. It was a “Power woman” struggle to find the perfect place, but once we settled on a location, all was well, and we felt the emotion of bringing back what once belonged to this ancient area of the world. Perhaps in the midst of all those crosses, my great-great-grandparents placed a cross before making their trip across the seas to America. One can only imagine.
I don’t think eight days was enough time to learn all I wanted to about this country. We saw the last of the ancient gates of Vilnius, the Gates of Dawn, toured the entire city, and got a taste for the culture. Most importantly, though, we spent time together as a family. I will forever treasure learning about our heritage with those women who share it with me.
I was surprised to hear how many people reached out because they too are part Lithuanian! Let me encourage you to visit this great city! It’s not the tourist capital to be sure, but that is absolutely part of it’s charm. The people are kind and genuine, and I will be back again! The Gates of Dawn are the only part of the ancient gate still standing. Flags everywhere! Yes, I bought one of these paintings! Okay, I just had to photograph the wedding party walking by! I swear it’s an addiction! …And another bride. I actually saw a grand total of 8 brides, but these were the only two close enough for me to be weird and take their picture, lol.This is the traveling hat…my sister made us all wear it, but I have to admit it’s cute! My sister also took these pictures! I’m obsessed with my new amber ring! They have amber jewelers all over the city! My beautiful Momma.My Godmother and Aunt Lisa.Aunt Bonnie, and we’re missing dear cousin Stacey!Most importantly, the Matriarch. Grandma. Here we find the “rebel city” which is actually it’s own country, called Uzupis.And, naturally, that’s where we can find my youngest Aunt Jeni and her daughter, Maggie. This is what happens when I casually tell them to put their arms behind each other… Uzupis is separated from Vilnius by this river.Once a year, this fountain flows with ale! All the constitutional needs of this very small country. You will see people spinning on this square all day long (rain or shine). Spin three times and make a wish! One of the only churches that still has it’s interior intact!I was obsessed with these crosses! They were everywhere! Countryside bound!The site where hundreds of thousands were deported to Siberia, under Stalin.I loved the decor in this pub! My Grandmother does not use a cane on a regular basis, but seeing as she’s going to be 86 (this weekend!) we thought she could use this portable seat…Caitlin did too. The original capital of Lithuania, and one of the only standing castles. The Hill of Crosses. My Grandmother had one request, and it was to see this place. My cousin made this cross for us to bring, we all signed the back. My cousin, Maggie took these two pictures! I love them! The Power girls. Until next time, Lithuania!
Lauren Kearns is Luxury Wedding Photographer serving
Newport, RI to Naples, FL & beyond.