18 February 2018
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Switzerland & Italy


Today we start our little tour of Europe. Over the next few weeks, I invite you on a journey from north to south, from east to west. Some sections will dwell with history. Some withLithuanian contact points in various countries. I have travelled across here with camera andnotepad for nearly 40 years, and hope you will enjoy seeing and reading about some of my experiences. We start today's tour in Switzerland, and then continue to the south of Italy. 

My daughter Cassandra tries, unsuccessfully, to fix the leaning tower of Pisa.

Tour guide, text and photos: Aage Myhre




The best known Lithuanian politician in Europea before 1916

I have come south in Switzerland, to the incredibly beautiful Lake Geneva. I sit on the lake bank in the picturesque Montreux town, knowing that only five kilometres from here lived the best-known Lithuanian political figure on the European scene 100 years ago. Juozas Gabrys (1880-1951) was his name. This extraordinarily active personality is today little known in Lithuania and other European countries, like many other thinkers who helped to shape today‘s Europe. Visionaries like Gabrys are often neglected by history, which would not have been the case had they become presidents of their countries. Historians remember Gabrys as the organiser of the four international conferences on Lithuania between 1916 and 1918 in Lausanne and Bern. He bought a farm here in the most romantic area of Switzerland, near the town Vevey five kilometres from where I’m sitting, a region where Victor Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Charlie Chaplain, Nabokov, and others also felt at home.
Juozas Gabrys

Vevey is, by the way, the town where Henri Nestlé in 1867 invented his now famous powdered milk and set up a company that was to develop into today‘s number one coffee and chocolate producer worldwide.

But back to Juozas Gabrys. In 1977, Alfred Erich Senn at University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote a piece about him in the journal Lituanus, stating that Gabrys was a controversial figure in the history of independent Lithuania. He continues:  “Since he died in 1951, I never had the opportunity to meet him. In 1957 my father and I visited his widow in Vevey, Switzerland. She received us in friendly fashion, gave me copies of several of his books, and even presented me with a file of five issues of Gabrys' newspaper, la Lituanie Independante. 

On the other hand, she would not permit me to search through his papers. She looked through several files herself and insisted that the documents were too personal to turn over to me. Unfortunately, after her death, most of the archive was destroyed. Dr. Albertas Gerutis managed to save Gabrys' manuscript memoirs, "Tėvynės sargyboj," but the rest was lost. As a result, documentation of his career has to come from other sources.

Gabrys was undoubtedly the best known Lithuanian political figure on the European scene before 1916. He had been very active in Paris for several years, and he had established a number of friendships in French intellectual circles. He published memoirs, which appeared in French in 1920, described this phase of his work in detail, but one has to turn to his unpublished memoirs, now in Dr. Gerutis' possession, to get a clearer picture of his career after 1916 when he had begun to work with the Germans.

On August 1, 1919, Gabrys published the first issue of his newspaper La Lituanie Independante, which was aimed at discrediting Provisional Government in Kaunas. In the lead article, entitled "Our Aim," Gabrys proclaimed his desire to seek Lithuanian independence on good terms with all its neighbors. The keynote of the issue was his demand for the election of a Constituent Assembly. A report on the "Present situation in Lithuania" criticized the government as lacking "any support worthy of the name." Completing the first page was the text of an open letter to President Smetona, written in May, declaring that the government feared facing elected representatives of the people.

The issue continued with a "letter from Lithuania," decrying the power of German officials in the country and denouncing the subservience of the "Smetona clique." An anonymous report on "mass discontent in Lithuania" told of moves by the government against Vincas Bartuška and others of Gabrys' friends, and it declared that meetings of Lithuanian patriots were endorsing the sentiments of Gabrys' open letter to Smetona.

Gasthaus Leuen/Löwen, Zimmerwald
Elsigbach outside Bern, Switzerland.



Winter carnival

For many, Switzerland is probably more known as a winter wonderland than a summer destination. This is the country Lithuanians and many others prefer when they go on a ski holiday. 

One of my good winter experiences here took place some years ago when I celebrated 'Fasching (winter carnival)' in an inn outside the capital, Bern, in a half timbered ‘gasthaus’ with a large open fireplace, packed with partying Swiss this evening. 

All dressed in their national leather and homespun suits. High humidity. Much beer and powerful, heavy food. 

Switzerland is good in so many ways. Every season!


Montreux is beautiful! 

A stroll along the impressive lakeside promenade in Montreux at Lake Geneva.



Management for Presidents. Villa d’Este, Lace Como, at the Swiss-Italian border

I prefer classical architecture. Modern buildings in glass and steel rarely appeal to me. I see them as cold, sometimes almost hostile. The Renaissance style is the one I admire most. This I understood already in my school years, when I sat up three days and nights to write an essay about Michelangelo. The man and his work was simply so fascinating that I could not sleep.

Italian Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 - 1564), commonly known as Michelangelo, was the very 'renaissance guru'; a painter, sculptor, architect, poet and engineer. Only Leonardo da Vinci can be compared. Strange, by the way, that so many of the contemporary geniuses of those days were multi-talented.

During my years as a business leader in Trondheim, Norway, I used some time to read about leadership and management. The course ended in May-June a year in the mid 1980s, and I set my course for Villa d'Este on Lake Como in northern Italy. I was going on one week's final course: 'Management Course for Presidents, a Concentrated program of study in professional management for chief executives.'

We were three persons from Trondheim arriving at Linate Airport in Milan that late May evening. Soon I was sitting behind the wheel of a rented car, a blue-black Lancia Gamma. On the motorway we were met by heavy lightning and thunder, the rain pouring. Police cars with flashing blue lights driving slowly on the highways around Milan to get other cars to take it easy. Not always easy in Italy... The weather improved when we an hour later, following the winding mountain roads, approached the hotel on Lake Como. Soon we come to a guard shelter with a turnpike. The guard checked our booking information, and not long after we parked outside one of the world's most beautiful hotels - in an incredibly stunning setting on the hillside above the lake. Later I was told that the reason for placing the guard a full mile before reaching the hotel, was that business people from Milan should be notified in time to get hidden mistresses away in case the wives came for a hotel visit...

Villa d'Este was originally a privately Renaissance palace, built in the 1500s, since 1873 a luxury hotel. We were here for a week, going through a busy course agenda and enjoying nature, luxury, in one of the world's
most scenic areas.
The Renaissance Palace Villa d'Este on Lake Como, between Italy and Switzerland,
is one of the world's finest hotels.

Pisa, Central Italy 

File:Leaning Tower of Pisa.jpg
The leaning tower of Pisa. 

Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its Leaning Tower (the bell tower of the city's cathedral), the city of over88,332 residents (around 200,000 with the metropolitan area) contains more than 20other historic churches, several palaces and various bridges across the River Arno .

The city is also home of the University of Pisa, wooden has a history going back to the12th century and also has the mythic Napoleonic Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies as the best Superior Graduate Schools in Italy.



The three Renaissance Capitals of the World!






Did you know that throughout the Renaissance period, when Italy was a trading centre and a melting pot for the world’s greatest civilisations, Vilnius also became a Renaissance centre, competing with Florence and Milan?

The two great nations merged when Grand Duke Sigismund the Old (1467-1548) married the Princess of the Italian city of Milan, Bona Sforza, and returned to reign in and from Vilnius as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The royal couple created an Italian community within the court and, under the influence of the new Grand Duchess, Italian culture became the preoccupation of the Lithuanian’ elite.

This was at a time when Lithuania was Europe’s largest nation, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. See



District of Tuscany – city of Florence

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) is the cathedral church of Florence. The Duomo, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris.

The Palazzo Medici, also called the Palazzo Medici Riccardi after the later family that acquired and expanded it, is a Renaissance palace located in Florence. The palace was designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de' Medici, head of the Medici banking family, and was built between 1445 and 1460. The House of Medici or Famiglia de' Medici was a political dynasty, banking family and later royal house that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de' Medici in the Republic of Florence during the late 14th century. The family originated in the Mugello region of the Tuscan countryside, gradually rising until they were able to found the Medici Bank. The bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century. 

The Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") is a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common. Butchers initially occupied the shops; the present tenants are jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers. A curious fact regarding the words bank and bankruptcy is that they derive from the economic activity on Ponte Vecchio. The stand, or table, that held the merchants goods was called a "banco" (“bench”). When a merchant was no longer able to pay his taxes, his banco was literally broken or "rotto" into pieces, therefore creating the term "bancorotto" which translated into the word "bankruptcy" in English. 


A room with no view

A Room with a View is a 1908 novel by the English writer E. M. Forster, about a young woman in the repressed culture of Edwardian England. Set in Florence and England, the story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century. Merchant-Ivory produced an award-winning film adaptation in 1985. Our hotel room in Florence faced a house wall, a room with no view, but my daughter Cassandra was able to take reading light.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and commune, with over 2.7 million residents. The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy. Rome's history spans two and a half thousand years. It was the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, which was the dominant power in Western Europe and the lands bordering the Mediterranean for over seven hundred years from the 1st century BC until the 7th century AD. Since the 1st century AD Rome has been the seat of the Papacy and, after the end of Byzantine domination, in the 8th century it became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and in 1946 that of the Italian Republic.

The Trevi Fountain is a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy. Standing 26 metres (85.3 feet)
high and 20 metres (65.6 feet) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one
of the most famous fountains in the world. 

The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96). The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" derives from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine. 

One of many fantastic nights in Rome. My kids simply loved them. 

Gargano, South Italy, has the best beaches of the Mediterranean Sea!

Gargano is a historical and geographical Italian sub-region situated in Apulia, consisting of a wide isolated mountain massif made of highland and several peaks and forming the backbone of the Gargano Promontory projecting into the Adriatic Sea. The high point is Monte Calvo at 1,065 m (3,494 ft). Most of the upland area, about 1,200 km2 (460 sq mi), is part of the Gargano National park, founded in 1991. It is within the Italian Province of Foggia. My good friends are running a motel & camping close to the Adriatic Sea. A paradise for travellers!

The coast of Gargano is rich in beaches and tourist facilities. Vieste, Peschici and Mattinata are world-wide-famous seaside resort locations. The two major salt lakes of Lesina and Varano are located in the northern part of the peninsula. Monte Gargano is the site of the oldest shrine in Western Europe dedicated to the archangel Michael, Monte Sant'Angelo sul Gargano. Today tourism is thriving with several hotels and campsites, in particular along the seaside of Marina of Lesina, give the possibility of staying in this suggestive area. Tourist attractions include the cathedral, the episcopal palace, the Abbey of Santa Maria of Ripalta and the volcanic rocks dating back to the Triassic era, known as "Black Stones", as well as the Sanctuary of San Nazario.









I will always feel gratitude towards the Pacilli family here in Gargano. They have taught me important things about friendship, companionship, food, Italian wine and the joy of a long meal among friends when darkness falls... 


Santa Claus and Lithuania's Grand Duchess 
are buried in the same South Italian basilica

My years in Lithuania and my many visits to Italy have put a different and very special Christmas story onto my lap. Far south in Italy, a little south of Gargano, lies the city of Bari with its Cathedral Basilica di San Nicola, built between1087 and 1197. This church was erected over the remains of St. Nicholas (270-343). His relics were originally stolen from the city of Myra in today's South-west Turkey.

When Myra in the 1000s was occupied by the Saracens, the Catholic Church saw this as an opportunity to move the saint's relics to a more friendly place. 

According to the justifying legend which was created, had the saint himself,
Lithuania’s Grand Duchess Bona Sforza (1494-1557) and St. Nicholas (270-343).

during a voyage from  Myra to Rome, arrived at the port of Bari and then selected the city as his burial place. It came to great competition for the relics between Venice and Bari. The latter won and the relics were removed just below the nose of their Greek keepers and their Muslim masters. On 9 May 1087 the remains safely arrived in Bari. A crypt was immediately made for the remains of this important saint, and a new church was started built on top of the crypt. Pope Urban II was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089. The church, which naturally carried the saint's name, was completed in 1197

460 years pass, and the Lithuanian Grand Duchess Bona Sforza, who is now the widow after Grand Duke Sigismund the Old, comes to Bari gets to collect the debt Spain's King Philip II has to her. Instead of receiving money as agreed, she was poisoned by the Spanish king's envoy and she dies here in Bari in the year 1557. Her sarcophagus was placed in the middle of the church. The Sforza family's role in Bari was very important, and it are no wonder that Bonas sarcophagus in the St. Nicholas Church to this day symbolizes and represents this role in a grand manner.

It was duchess Bona and her mother, Isabella d'Aragona, Princess of Naples, Duchess of Milan and Bari, who had undertaken the construction of the fort here in Bari. The fort still dominates today Bari's old town, but has now turned into a cultural centre in the midst of the imposing defensive bastions. The fort also houses a gallery of plaster casts and temporary exhibits of different character



File:Bari Basilica San Nicola.jpg
Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, South-Italia.
Photo: Wikipedia.

So here they lie, St. Nicolas who later became better known as Santa Claus, and Bona Sforza, the grand duchess who was also the mother of the last two representatives of Lithuania's famous Jagailo dynasty, Sigismund Augustus and Anna Jagiellon.

With them came the 300-year dynasty of the House of Gediminas to an end, and today the world knows very little about the country that was once Europe's largest, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

And ironically enough, the relics of the woman who was such a leading symbol of Lithuania's greatness is to be found, not in Lithuania, but here in southern Italy - along with the remains of the symbol of today's Christmas traditions...


Venice shows me that architecture first of all is about life


Venice is a perfectly beautiful city. The smells, the sounds, the narrow alleys, canals, bridges. Place suddenly, often unexpectedly, opens as you go. The music, The gondoliers’ songs, vaparettos, taxi boats. I feel well. It is as if I'm in the middle of the very architectural being.

I was once one of many who believed that architecture is primarily about buildings. Venice shows me that architecture first of all is about life. Our human life. How it is the architecture which gives us the framework and background for how best to walk, sit, eat, sleep, work, meet with others, experience beauty.

I understand that the spaces between buildings are as important as the houses themselves. That the widths, heights, depths and connections between everything we surround ourselves with are important. The relationship between them. Interaction. Venice makes me feel that the physical is in total harmony with life itself. Also the spiritual.

It is as if the body, intellect and spirituality converge. I feel an intense happiness. Maybe this town is the world's leading symbol of what an architect should strive to achieve in his work. Maybe it has something to teach us about ourselves. About how important it is to think holistically, holistic in the way we plan our environment and our lives.

"A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart," said the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Venice tells me that he is right. One does not become a good architect, no matter how much knowledge is acquired, without having talent and an inner inspiration that drives one to draw very good environment for real people interacting with each other. Empathy. Synergy. Proximity. Emotions. In a living symbiosis.


“Form follows function - that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union,” says Llloyd Wright also. He emphasizes that "Art for art's sake is a philosophy of the well-fed." "Get the habit of analysis -analysis goodwill in time enable synthesis two Become your habit of mind. All fine architectural values ​​are human values​​, else not valuable, "he concludes. Venice is to me proof of that. 

Venice taught me to look behind facades. It was here it first dawned on me that it is the human that
is good architecture's true nature. The architect's task is to create inspiring framework that promotes, 
does not conflict with or interfere with human activity. I start taking pictures of people 
and situations, more than of buildings.
Photo: Aage Myhre, 1974.



Venice is an outstanding symbol of life itself... 


My Venice is different from the tourists’ Venice.
I see the channel the city as a leading symbol of life itself.



Venice has been known as the "La Dominante", "Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals". Luigi Barzini described it in The New York Times as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". Venice has also been described by the Times Online as being one of Europe's most romantic cities. The city stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers. The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain, and spice) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. This made Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history. It is also known for its several important artistic movements, especially the Renaissance period. Venice has played an important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music, and it is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi.









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