Friday, September 25, 2015

Klaipeda, Lithuania - Day 9

Thursday, September 17, 2015
Lithuania - its pronunciation reminds me of the way we Louisvillians pronounce our city name - slurring the "u." So instead of the usual 3 syllables that most Americans use to pronounce this country's name, the natives say "Lithwania" with the accent on the latter.
We were blessed with a lovely sunny day as we visited Klaipeda, the third-largest city in Lithuania with a population of 200,000. Like Riga, it has a beautiful canal leading into the city.
Although the country shares a similar history with the other Baltic states, Klaipeda, the city, spent most of its early history as part of Prussia (later Germany).
For years it was known as Memel and represented the northernmost city in Prussia/Germany until 1918. It was significant because of its usually ice-free port. After WW I it was annexed to the newly established Republic of Lithuania.
Of course, both the city and country were annexed by the Germans in WW II. They were then run out by the Russians who stayed for 45 years.
Lithuania was the first Baltic state to restore its independence in 1990. Today the country has over 3 million people and is known for shipbuilding and other port-related industries.
Although the ship docked downtown, we took a bus about a 1/2 hour drive through the countryside to a village called Palanga. There we visited a beautiful botanical park that surrounded a 19th century neo-Renaissance-styled mansion.
The owner collected amber and at some point created the Palanga Amber Museum.
Walking through the park to reach the Museum was a treat in itself.
We had a gorgeous day and the grounds were punctuated with fountains, statues, streams and manicured flower gardens.

Even with fall, there were still flowers in bloom and lots of butterflies. Our guide said they have over 150 species and I photographed one I have not seen before.
The museum is well appointed and informative. The descriptions are all in English and the range of amber pieces is exceptional -- which included some ancient jewelry pieces that were highly prized by civilizations along the Mediterranean. We also saw decorative items created entirely out of amber.
We learned that amber is fossilized resin (not sap). The resin was extruded through the bark of a special type of coniferous tree, usually in response to some kind of stress. This occurred 40-50 million years ago. It is believed the climate's warming encouraged the trees to produce more resin. During that time, insects would often become trapped in the sticky substance.
Then the glaciers from the last ice age knocked down these trees and covered them with water, forming the Baltic Sea 14,000 years ago. This is why most of the amber is found in the sea area.
Amber is the result of complex physical, chemical and microbiological processes. There are more than 150 colors. White and green are the rarest. The green is the result of leaves from deciduous trees decaying in the resin. The dark yellow is formed when the resin is exposed to extreme heat, such as a forest fire. 
Amber is a very fragile gem and 70% is lost when the stone is polished. This residue is not discarded but is used in medicine and cosmetics or fabricated into cheap amber jewelry. 
How do you know if it is real?
- Burn it. It does not melt, but burns like incense (but then you've ruined it).
- Put a few drops of fingernail polish remover on it. It will not hurt real amber but plastic will become tacky.
- Real amber will float in salt water, which is why it washes up on shore in the Baltics. Test it with 1 part salt to 2 parts water.
Following time in Palanga, we returned to the city center of Klaipeda for a brief tour of the old town. There really isn't much of an old town left. We got off at Theater Square where a group of young people were performing folk songs and artisans had set up booths.

The other side of the square had some buildings that feature "fachwerk" - a decorative manner of half-timber framing popular in Germany.
Our guide took us to a bar and told us that her country thrives on "3 B's" -- beer, bread and basketball, all of which can be enjoyed at a bar. Apparently, the country won the European Basketball Cup in 1938 and has focused on that sport ever since, being very competitive against much larger countries. We sampled the beer and had the bread, smothered in a rich garlic sauce.
Not bad but would not want a steady diet of either.
Then Ed went back to the ship and I visited some of the shops in the area, which are very nice. Thought the shoes in this store were fascinating.
I even bought a lovely pendant at another store comprised of several colors of amber fused together.
Tonight we had dinner in the Compass Room and went to another performance by the clarinetist. We finished the evening  listening to the combo in the upper level lounge. Another lovely day.

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