Let me tell you a story of a place. A place unusual for a travel blogger to tell about. A story of home, a place, where you leave from and come back to. Stationary. Always there, unchanged, waiting for you. When you return after your travels, it seems so familiar, it provides comfort and familiar smells. But when you look closer, you realise that the place have changed, while you were away. It lived a little part of its own life, which you missed and will never know. It becomes a little less of your home, and it takes some time to tame it again.
If you narrow me down on the map now, the arrow will point to Pavilnys. This is the place where I grew up, spending all my summers exploring the area. The place, which connects back to my parents and grandparents, and the parents and grandparents of my friends. This neighborhood seemed so solid in my childhood, a place which you found in the same state every spring, waiting for you to come back after a long winter, and then saying an autumn farewell with the smells of burnt grass, cold metallic water and the first frost.
As a grown up, I suddenly realised, how fragile this stability is. Trying to catch the fleeing sensation of the place I have always known, I have built a house, planted a garden, made friends with the neighbors. And while doing all that I felt the ground (or clay, which we have here in the area) crumble beneath my feet, and so did the concept of travelling being a move and home being a place. It all merged into a one constantly moving mosaic.
The only thing I can do to keep this area the way I have always known it, is to write it down, so that my place becomes my story.
Pavilnys actually consists of the two parts: Upper Pavilnys and Lower Pavilnys. The story of the Lower Pavilnys begins in 19th century with the opening of the railway St Petersburg – Warsaw. The first houses of Upper Pavilnys started appearing in the 1910s, when the land was born by the Railway workers’ association.
But enough of history! Let’s have a walk around, and I’ll show you my favourite places.
All the photos in this article are taken by photographer Ramunas Petkevicius. You can see more of his works on his homepage or his Facebook page. And you will definitely see more of his photos later in this blog.
The Raspberry View
The first place I will take you to is the hill, from which we can see the city. This is my favourite view of Vilnius, which is my favourite city. So it has to be good!
We take a little path through the forest. It feels warmer, when the weather outside is cool, and cooler, when it is hot. It also smells of forest, and you can meet some locals on your way, more often than not with a bottle of beer in their hand. When you are out of the forest, you will see the thick bushes of raspberries – and if you are lucky, also taste them. And right after you have just passed the raspberries, turn back and there you will see the view. A perfect skyline of Vilnius, framed with the line of raspberry bushed on the bottom, and a perfect sunset on the top. To enjoy it fully, take a couple of steps further: there will be a swing for you to sit down to soak in all the beauty.
Last year I got a job offer. By that time I was already a year on maternity leave, getting absolutely crazy of leading this stay-at-home lifestyle instead of running around changing the world. And suddenly a job offer came in, a good one, a saving-the-world-for-a-good-salary kind of offer. The kind I like best. With relocation package to a charming international town in Western Europe.
My husband and I went on for days or even weeks discussing the offer and our possible relocation. We already made some plans about trips we would make from there. We were discussing whether or not we should look for a house with a garden at this new place, while we took an evening walk around the neighborhood. We were still discussing it, when we reached the view-point on the hill. I looked around, and I cried a little. Suddenly the old swing, raspberry bushes and the skyline of Vilnius were too precious to be left behind, so we had to stay.
This is the closest pond to our house. The pond is artificial, but it has underwater springs. When you swim over the middle of the lake, you can feel cooler water streams on your belly.
There are stairs and concrete slabs on the shores. Those slabs were very attractive for us as neighborhood children to play on, but it was most strictly forbidden by all the parents and grandparents of the area. Before some of us were even born, a little boy played on the slab and fell into the water. His mother jumped to save him, but she could not reach him, and other people jumped to help. They could save the boy, but not the mother, who drowned in the pond. We all know this story as children, and therefore those slabs disappearing in the brown water seem even more mysterious and tempting.
This pond was the only decent water we had in the whole area, so naturally it attracted a lot of people, many of them young, quite a few of them in a good loud mood and not too sober. In the late 90’s the people living close to the lake got tired of all the parties they had to witness next to their houses. To stop the youngsters going there they put a plate near the pond, announcing that the water is contaminated, and swimming is forbidden. Even though we (at that time teenagers) all knew the reason for this plate to appear, we gradually also stopped swimming in the pond. Slowly, more and more grass grew on the shores, it got inhabited by ducks and turned into one of those ponds in the area, which you pass by, but never enter.
The Serpentine Road
If you open the Google maps and zoom it towards Pavilnys, you will see that the upper part of Ziedu (Flower) street is bending back and forth like a snake. It is proudly marked “The only Serpentine in Lithuania.” The road is connecting the two parts of Pavilnys district: Upper and Lower Pavilnys. It was built in the very beginning of 20th century and not renovated until very recently. Even after the renovation it retained most of the original stone paving.
It is one of the things Pavilnys is especially proud of. In early summer you can take a bike ride on the Serpentine and your head will spin not only from the sudden turns, but also from the strong smell of elderberry tree blossom. And in autumn it becomes a bright orange-yellow corridor.
Next to the Serpentine there is a set of stairs. When I go for a run to the Lower Pavilnys, and am already on my way back home, tired and dreaming about stopping this torture, this hill always gets in my way. Each time I have to make a choice: either suffer strongly for a short time and run up the stairs, or run longer on the Serpentine. Which road would you take?
The first thing you read about the Pavilnys Church of St. Terese on any website is the fact that this is the only wooden Catholic Church in Vilnius. Somehow the combo of wood and Catholicism became the defining feature of this church, but I think it is more than that.
A little plate on the Church announces the information on the masses and contacts in Lithuanian and Polish languages. On any Sunday you can choose whether you attend the mass in either language. And behind the Church there is a small cemetery, where the stones in both languages stand in no order, mixed between each other.
Once I was speaking to a neighbour about her Easter plans. She said that she will go with her family to the mass to the Church of St. Terese.
“This is kind of my church. I was baptised there, I attended all the masses there. I was also married there.” – she told me.
We don’t speak of death here, so the phrase “And there will I also be buried” remained hanging in the air.
The Post Office
It is the cutest post office building I have ever seen in Lithuania. An old blue wooden house, surrounded by lilac, forget-me-not flowers and an outside Toitoi toilet. When you come in, the postwoman would not show in any way that she sees you for the first time. Instead, she will address you as if you are coming in with errands daily or at least weekly. Warmly and with a bit of scolding in her voice, if you do something not right.
“I’d like to send this one to Hungary, please.”
“Right. This will be 70 cents. Do you already have a flag?” – she shows me a huge meter long flag of Lithuania, which you normally hang on the building.
“Would you like to buy it, then? You know, it’s good to have. The Independence day is coming soon. Don’t you like to hang a flag?”
For the record, I don’t.
I come out from the cool shade of the building into the sun again and look at forget-me-nots. I so much wish to show them to my friend, who I grew up with, to share them with her somehow, but there is no way to do that. And I go home with my hands full of flowers instead of the postcard I came with.
Pavilnys Train Station
In the past the train from St. Petersburg to Warsaw used to stop here, but nowadays there are only local trains stopping, not many people coming out. The train stops next to the old wooden building, even though a newer one was built of bricks. Probably, an old habit.
The tiny station building is not completely uninhabited. Last time I was there I counted 7 cats and kittens enjoying the sun on the roof.
Our house is some half an hour walk from the station, but you can still hear the train passing in the distance, especially when it’s quiet in the evening. My husband comes from a house so close to the railway that he could always say, which train is passing by. I’m not that advanced, but it is one of the most comforting sounds I can imagine.
When we were children, we used to run to the field close to the railway, sit in the grass biting the grass stems and wait for the next train to come. When it approached, we would jump up from the grass and wave, and the train would beep. I don’t know whether it beeped for us, or this was a point where it had to beep anyway, but it always worked.