This winter Amra and I decided to take a little break, so we took a flight to Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, hoping to spend a several days relaxing and enjoying a new city and a experiencing a new culture.
The flight took less than two hours and we found ourselves for the first time in one of the Baltic countries. Since it’s winter, it does get dark already around five o’clock, so we took a transfer bus from the airport to the Old Town, where we booked a hotel. We were lucky that the bus stopped not more than 200 meters from our hotel, so we quickly checked in, freshened up, and went out exploring Vilnius by night. The first impression was that the area around the old town looked rather very small and we didn’t feel we were in a big city. I also noticed that Vilnius looked like so many other towns and cities in the former Communist countries, including my own homeland Bosnia.
It was often poorly maintained buildings and roads – there were relatively many uneven and pot-holed roads, especially in small streets and secondary alleys. But the whole looks had a certain charm to it, and we didn’t mind the rugged aesthetics at all. The city itself, especially the Old Town reminded me a lot of Krakow in Poland. That’s probably not a complete surprise since both countries were part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for a couple of centuries. Only a couple of hundreds of meters from our hotel I took a picture of the Catholic Church Of All Saints (Vilniaus Visų Šventųjų bažnyčia). There are so many churches standing like this in the Lithuanian capitals.
We walked through the old Jewish part of town through small alleys, and we found dozens of pubs and restaurants. We entered one which looked quite interesting and cozy. Aline Liečiai is a restaurant that offers traditional Lithuanian dishes and it has a quite large collection of local beers and meads. We tried stewed beans and mushrooms inside rye bread. Both dished were quite delicious. I loved the large beans and their somewhat chewy consistence. We also tried Lithuanian version of mead (medus), an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, hops and spices. We started with the 6% mead, but later we tried even 40% mead. They all tasted great, sweet yet strong. Very drinkable and delicious. After the dinner we walked some more, but then returned to our hotel in order to get ready for the next day.
The next day was a rainy one, which is apparently quite common in this area. We walked through the Old Town, and when we reached the old town hall, we notices a small group of people. When we got closer, we could see a young woman offering a free tour for tourists. There were around ten other young people, so we joined them and soon enough we were touring the Old Town for the next two hours. The woman called Milda was an excellent guide who provided us with a lot of interesting facts and information about Vilnius and its turbulent past. First, we walked to the district called Republic of Užupis, a free haven for artists and other creative souls. The neighborhood can easily be compared to Christiania in Copenhagen or Montmartre in Paris. We saw the large pub in Užupis which functions as its unofficial parliament (also called Barlament). A little further we saw the Constitution of Užupis placed on a wall in many languages. Тhere are some interesting articles that deserve to be mentioned: “Everyone has the right to love”, “Everyone has the right to be happy” and “Everyone has right to die, but this is not an obligation”.
Milda told us that there used to be a quite large Jewish population in the city prior to the World War 2, and that there were more than a hundred of synagogues in Vilnius. Today there is only one left. It is sad to experience once again how once a prosperous Jewish community that largely contributed to a city’s culture and economy doesn’t exist anymore only because of a sick ideology, nationalism and hatred. These parts of Europe extensively testify to that.
Later on we reached the Literatu Street (Literatų gatvė), a street where pictures of famous people who mentioned Vilnius in their works, even briefly, deserved a place on a wall.
Soon we reached the area around St. Anne’s Church, we passed the Gediminas Castle Tower and ended the tour at the Cathedral. I must say that our guide Milda proved to be a quite capable interlocutor and I can honestly recommend every visitor to Vilnius to take a tour with Vilnius Free Tour. It is a great way to learn about the city and its history from a local citizen.
From the Cathedral we walked further towards the center of the city. It was a rainy day, we were feeling cold, wet and hungry, so we made an effort to find MO Bistro, a restaurant inside the MO Museum. We had a pleasant meal inside the fancy establishment, we recovered our strength and we were ready to head back to our hotel, that wasn’t too far away.
The next day we were ready for a big walking tour across the capital. First, we went straight ahead to Gediminas Castle Tower, but, alas, it was still closed. We reached it before 10 o’clock, and we found out it was closed until 10 or so. It was snowing and it was cold, so we decided to move westward towards the new part of the city. We explored several shopping malls in the northern parts of the city (CUP, Europa and Panorama), but we also paid a visit to National Gallery of Art. It is built in a typical Communist-style architecture in 1980, and is partially located underground. The gallery shows primarily works of Lithuanian artists and painters from the last 150 years or so, and is a great way to learn more about Lithuanian art. It is quite large and we felt we had it all for ourselves. The entrance fee is only 3 €, so there is no reason not to visit it.
From there we walked back to Gediminas Castle Tower, and we walked up the hill, where from we had a marvelous view at both the Old Town and the modern part of Vilnius.
All in all, Vilnius is a great city to spend some days, gazing at some great architecture, talking to a very friendly and welcoming people, eating and drinking Lithuanian specialties, and enjoying their culture. I found it very interesting to see many small cozy coffee bars (coffee is apparently what Bosnians, Danes and Lithuanians have in common) all over the city, and it was inspirational to see how many places have books you can read while enjoying your beverage. I would very much like to come back and do some more cultural exploring in nearer future. Ačiū, Vilnius.