2012 m. spalio 1 d., pirmadienis

A Day trip by The Narrow Gauge Railway of Aukstaitija

Narrow gauge railway of Aukstaitija (the Highlands of Lithuania) organized an event for hikers and cyclists, during which we visited famous places of Anyksciai region. This region is famous for its natural beauty and many bright people, important in our history, came from here. It was also an occasion to mark Day without A Car. This day aims at drawing people's attention to the fact how dangerous for health can transport be and people are invited to leave their cars at home and choose greener methods of transport, including trains and walking. Even famous guidebook publisher Lonely Planet advises to make informed decisions in this regard. Narrow gauge railway of Aukstaitija was started in 1897 and the first train ran in 1899. The railway was laid to conenct two towns of Panevezys and Svencioneliai. It was economically-wise to lay narrow gauge instead of the wide one because it was 1/3 times cheapper, taking into consideration the given geographical situation of the place. Did you know that trains carried cargo until the second half of XX century and only then they started carrying passengers? Narrow gauge railway of Ausktaitija has won an international environmental protection contest in Kalmar city, Sweden, for their educational trips for hikers and cyclists.

Last stop: putting bikes aboard and leaving more than 20 km behind. 

I started my preparation well in advance. Often, this was done by looking at the sky and begging it not to rain. The temperature forecat was jolly good, +30'C -meaning +15'C on Saturday and +15'C on Sunday. Serious debates took place wheter a raincoat or an umbrellla should be employed. To make matters worse, no public transportation ran so early in the morning (I needed to catch a bus from Vilnius to Panevezys, 1.45 hours away). I got up at 4.00 a.m. A colleague hiker/cyclist managed to organize a lift to the bus station. The ticket offices were still closed but we got our tickets from the bus driver (35 LT; 1 EUR is 3.45 LT). It took us 1.45 h to arrive in Panevezys, where Vytautas (media relations officer at narrow gauge railway) met us and gave directions how to reach the railway station, that is located quite a distance away. At the moment of my arriving there, the bikes were being put aboard. Mind that the railways WC is for regular train passengers only (but if you wail badly enough they'll have a heart and give you the key to it).

Narrow gauge railway train from the viaduct. 

Precious cargo.
The first class (26 LT) carriage looks like a restaurant carriage: soft seats, tables, curtains...The second class was rather modest compared to it. The journey starts...

A. Barauskas (left)  reminded us of rules how to behave on the road, G. Kerbedis presented the route.
We passed a few historical stations enroute to Anyksciai.




Since the train is going at án incredible speed, it's difficult to take photos. I didn't know heritage can move so fast! Also, safety comes first, so I get held by my belt every time I stick my camera out of the door:-)

Anyksciai narrow gauge railway station. 
Upon arrival we cannot unload the bikes just yet because we have to see off a train that is returning to Panevezys. Meanwhile we can have a look at the historical station and hear stories about it on the second floor. Also, grab a coffee or use WC.



Staff is personally seeing off the train.

Me. Need to get ahead of the cyclists because I cannot cycle. The intro photo is just basking in the event's glory :-)
Even though archeological findings show Anyksciai being a very old place, the first written mentioning took place only back in 1440 (other sources give 1422) as a Great duke's manor given to Radvila Astikaitis (the founder of a Europe-famous Radvila family). The name of the town comes from the name of the river Anyksta just like the majority of place names in Lithuania: they are named after people or water bodies. Also, we have many legends telling that the name of Anyksciai was coined when a person hit their thumb (nykstis- thumb in Lithuanian) and cried out in pain. Since 2008 a city/town is elected to be the Lithuanian capital of culture and this year it is Anyksciai.

Unloading the bikes.

Moving towards St. Matthew's church.


St. Matthew's church in Anyksciai is the tallest church in Lithuania with a total height of 79 m (includes towers). St. Matthew was a tax collector called by Jesus to follow him. This church was built in 1909 in the Neo-gothic manner. There is a viewing platorm at the height of 32 m. It now serves as a popular tourist attraction. If I failed to mention before, viewing platforms are my weak spot- I'm in love with them!



By the monument to our poet A. Baranauskas the cyclists honour him and the city.
Since the viewing platform cannot accept more than 15-or so people, I rush with the first group. The ticket costs 2 LT and the ticket lady warns us not to touch the ever-present ropes- the bells are not to be rung! I guess I also failed to mention that I suffer from height fright? The stairs to the viewing platform are transparent! I did say a prayer.

The largest bell.



The view from the viewing platform. 

The interior of the church is very beautiful. I had a  chance to have a look after the Mass had ended. It's pretty dark inside and the candles are burning in front of several statues and it creates a cozy, quaint atmosphere, inviting to sit down and spend some time quietly. This is a very, very beautiful church indeed.


See the angels?



It says: in the honour of the parents of famous people in Anyksciai.

There's an Angels Museum right across the street. Angels are present in many important scenes from the Holy Bible and in lives of many prominent saints. Arcangel Michael is a very popular angel to depict. He's the one you can see fighting a dragon. It's interesting that many pre-Christian winged creatures like victory goddess Nike are also considered to be angels. The founder of the museum Beatrice Kleizaite-Vasaris became interested in angels in 1989. A late writer Jurga Ivanauskaite gave her a painting of an angel as a gift. Ever since the collection grew. The museum was opened in 2010 and it is the only museum of this kind in Lithuania. An angel is also a symbol of St. Matthew. Entrance ticket 3 LT, photography-for an additional fee.






A small but well-kept museum. The staf was still clearing up after an educational programme with the little ones. 

I had planned to visit an Anyksciai Wine speciality shop but, unfortunately, it is closed on Sundays. The capital of wine was titled to Anyksciai because in 1929 an agronom B. Karazija came there. Wine wasn't made in Lithuania at the time and imported one was very expensive, so B. Karazija got the necessary permits and started making local wine from fruit and berries. This wine was bought very well. Where the trade was slow, a special marketing method was used: a couple of men would come and demand for this wine, should it not be for sale they would complain loudly and leave withoug buying a thing. They say, sales increased soon after :-) This wine was a medal-winner even back then. It is known that Queen of England Elizabeth II received this wine as a gift on her visit to Lithuania in 2006. Her mother also tasted this wine back in 1930s. Black currant wine (from 2007 called "Voruta" in the honour of a castle of our first and only king) was recognized as our cultural heritage.   

One more place of interest in Anyksciai for both hikers/pedestrians and cyclists is the left bank of the River Sventoji. This river is very beautiful and even three regional parks are set up around it. It starts to rain but I have a raincoat -my main worry is to protect a borrowed camera because mine is with my parents in the Northern Poland. There are benches to sit down and have a snack from one's travel bag.



Am I seeing dinosaurs here???
Another viewing platform.



There's a funpark for children to climb different things. 
The day took a crusial turn when I came back to the church to say goodbye to my fellow cyclists who were to set off to visit other places and I would have spent more time in Anyksciai. I did ride a bike once but then there was crash boom bang and ever since we have not been friends. But it turned out there was a car to escort the cyclists and I hurriedly asked for a lift. It was great joy-to see all the other places of interest!

The plice is going to lead the cyclists to safety.
The River Anyksta that has become a fall. It's the cleanest river in Lithuania (2006 data). 
Water mill ruins.
The next stop is Horse Museum. We have several words to say "die" but the same form is only used  for people, bees and horses-that shows how important the horse is in our culture. The museum demonstrates different artifacts from horse's life. The territory is really big and there are many attractions like horse-riding and other things to do. 
He was such a flirt!


There is a cafe "Pasagele", that serves delicious caraway kvass. 

Then our road leads us to Andrioniskis. There we can have a look at a local church and buy local goods, including home-grown raspberries (that were gone in a second, so delicious!). The place is known for its resistance movement against the tsarist occupation and distributing banned book during the time of banned Lithuanian press. This is the third church in this place built in 1935 and it is now a protected monument of architecture. 




Some tired, some still over-energetic, we move forward to the last stop at Pagoje from where the narrow gauge train will pick us up soon. It leaves Anyksciai at 16.30. The weather is getting worse and we get soaked by the time we board the train. 

The trip back flies quickly as we chatter about our impressions and drink thyme tea, supplied by the staff on board (first class only). We get back to Panevezys at 19.00. I catch a 20.25 bus back to Vilnius (35LT again). This time it's a double-decker, so my fellow travelelrs and I grab the best seats at the front and we have all the road to ourselves.  What a day!

Some useufl links:

Narrow gauge railway of Aukstaitija http://www.siaurukas.eu
St. Matthew church http://www.anyksciuparapija.lt/anyksciu-svento-mato-baznycia/
Angel Museum http://anyksmc.lt/
Anyksciai Wins http://www.avynas.lt

Have you ever travelled on such a train? Have you ever travelled on a special train? Have you ever travelled by any train? :-) Do leave a comment.Also, feel free to browse through the lovely section of books and films that's on offer at Amazon.




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