Goodbye Lithuania

This is my third trip to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. I’ve blogged about it before and each time I come, I learn a bit more about this tiny country. Vilnius and the Lithuanians have a nice, cozy, vibe and I had a delightful visit. The photo above shows a still snowy March afternoon sunset of Vilnius. I took the photo while walking from the school to my hotel.

On this particular trip, the focus was basketball. The 3 million Lithuanians are obsessed with the sport so it was a perfect country to host a high school basketball championship. I blogged about the tournament on my Principal’s blog,

The games were held at the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy. Marciulionis was one of the first European players to star in the NBA in the late 1980’s. He is most famous for the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team and their affiliation with the Grateful Dead. We watched the powerful documentary, “The Other Dream Team” that portrayed the story of the forming of that team and the independence movement of Lithuania from the Soviet Union. I thought that basketball was a way for them to express their independence and “fight” against the far more powerful Soviet army. Their defeat of the former USSR team in the bronze medal game in those ’92 Barcelona Olympics, must have been an amazing experience for the players and citizens of Lithuania. To this day, basketball is an obsession for the country.

We watched hundreds of players of all ages play in the Marciulionis Academy  during the three days we were there. All of the teams were super organized with uniforms, and precision and fast-paced basketball. I noticed the proto-type Lithuanian “big” is lean and long-limbed, with short-cropped hair and a pointy head. Most of them can really play the game! Below is a photo of one of Marciulionio’s teams playing against the other Lithuanian great, Arvydas Sabonis‘s team.

It was a great trip and I hope to come back and visit again!

Trakai Island Castle


I am in Lithuania for a basketball tourney and I took time out to visit the famous tourist attraction. The castle is located on a small island in a lake about 30 kilometers outside of the capital Vilnius. My friend Metin and his driver Hakan, were gracious hosts and they showed me the site.

It was very strange in that Lithuania looks very much like my home of northern Michigan. With the mixed pine forests, rolling hills, and numerous lakes, I felt like I was back in my beloved Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But we don’t have castles from the 14th century! What a juxtaposition in my psyche.

The castle is completely renovated and several of the rooms are now used to house museum pieces and explain the history of the site. There is also a small restaurant serving a pasty-like local delicacy. It gave me a feeling of how it must have been so long ago. It would have been quite scary to live in the castle, surrounded by miles of thick forests. The castle was sacked by the Teutonic Knights (Germans) in 1377 and the site of civil war between LIthuanian ruling brothers.

I spent some time in the stocks (below) and want to take one back for my school. It would serve as a deterrent for bad behavior. 🙂 The place must be even more beautiful in the summer.

A big thanks to Metin for an interesting afternoon!

KGB In LIthuania


I visited the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania last week and really learned a lot. Above is a photo of Lithuanian Resistance Fighters in the cold woods of Lithuania. They first fought against the Nazis and then the Soviets, and continued fighting for 20 years after World War II ended! They were waiting for the Allies to come and take on the Russians, but they eventually lost hope and were either killed or escaped to the west.

What happened to the Lithuanian people last century is tragic and the museum documents many aspects of it. Stalin might be worse than Hitler. He exiled whole families to remote work camps in Siberia. Those were the lucky ones that were not executed. There are many stories of families trying to stay together in those harsh conditions.

The building is where the Gestapo and then eventually KGB were headquartered. I took the tour of the cells and execution room. What a horrible feeling that would have been to be carried away in the middle of the night and locked away in the basement of the secret police. One of the cells in particular struck me. As you can see below, there is a small, metal pedastel in the center of the cell. The floor was flooded with water and the prisoner’s only dry area was that little space. What cruel bastards they were!

It was strange to see eventually that Lithuanians replaced the Russians as KGB officers. I can imagine the effect of all those conspirators, informants, and spies on a society. It will take probably as long as the communist regime was in power to take away the effects of mistrust and hate sown in the people and structures. I can see why the Lithuanians are very closed and withdrawn to foreigners today.

It was a moving and informational experience and I highly recommend a visit if you are in Vilnius.

A real Molotov Cocktail

Serbia Defeats Germany


Dirk Nowitzki, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

This is something you might not see for awhile – Dirk Nowitzki playing basketball. Last night, Serbia defeated Germany in the European Basketball Championships hosted by Lithuania. I enjoyed watching some of the game last night, especially big Dirk! He scored 25 points but he was not mixing it up and playing with the aggressiveness that he does in the NBA.

The Serbs are now 4-0 in the competition and play France tonight to determine the winner of their group. After tonight, then the knockout phase begins. Serbia has looked very solid with contributions from many different players. They have the deepest team in the tourney. My favorite player, Dusko Savanovic scored 25 points, mostly from the three point line. They also have a smooth point guard, Milos Teodosic, who many consider the top point guard in Europe. Nenad Krstic, the Boston Celtic center, also played well last night, taking it right at Nowitzki in the post.

I am looking forward to see who Serbia handles Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spur and French point guard. The winner will earn first place in the group and get a higher seed in the Round of 16 knockout phase. Germany also qualified as the third-place team in the group.