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Published: June 19th 2012
Gates of Dawn (Eastern Gate)
This is one of the most visited places in Vilnius old town and very close to our hotel.
Thursday 14th June 2012
We were off before 0700, both of us waking before the 0615 alarm. Actually, neither of us slept that well, finding it hard to sleep and then waking expecting the alarm to go. This happens when we have an early departure.
As it was the tram was just coming, the train was about to leave, and we ended up at the airport so early they hadn't even assigned a gate for our flight.
When we arrived at Vilnius airport we caught the local bus into town for the princely sum of A$3, this covering both of us plus an extra ticket for the luggage. Once at the terminus we saw the hotel across the road and were soon in our new 'home'. The Panorama Hotel is aptly name as due to its position high on the edge of the old town it has panoramic views across the city to the modern business centre. Our room on the top floor had a huge picture window with this panoramic view.
As we are just on the edge of the “Old Town” area it was easy to walk down the street, entering the area through
Dinner in the Sky anyone?
All the diners are strapped in to their seats and the waiters wear harnesses. We didn't try it!
the”Gates of Dawn”, an old entry to the town. The narrow street continued and we followed it down, stopping at the Gusto, a cafe where we had pancakes (blynine). Judy's was a vegetarian pancake, Rags had a pancake filled with chicken livers and covered in a bacon sauce. Both agreed it was a tasty meal. A drink was had with these of course, Judy a virgin mojito and Rags a half litre glass of the local beer.
We continued down the street, Judy doing her normal window shopping, Rags tagging along but rarely entering the shops after Judy. He did on the occasions when it was a shop selling amber and these shops were in profusion. Some of the amber pieces are really something to see, with small insects and spiders inside them. Judy is determined to get some, having missed out in Russia and the Turkey on earlier trips.
Every time we turned a corner there was something new to see so we continued on until we arrived at the Royal Palace and cathedral. Inside the cathedral it was packed and everyone was singing. The news trucks were outside and it appeared that it was being recorded.
Hill of the Three Crosses
The first crosses were erected here to commemorate 3 monks who were martyred here in the 14th Century. today it is a landmark.
Even thought he sun was still shining brightly (it doesn't get darkish until 2300 and then brightens again at 0400) we returned to the hotel at 1900 only to find there was no hot water. On enquiry we were told that there was an area fault in the supply (buildings don't supply their own) and they were hoping that it would be repaired by tomorrow. Rags vented his feelings in a nice way to the manager who promised to do what he could. Later he rang and offered us free drinks, which we had with our meal later on.
This meal, which we had at the hotel was satisfactory but not such that we would return. We both chose a salad dish as we'd had a late lunch. The menu wasn't very inspiring and when Judy asked about the apple pie she had seen advertised in the elevator she was offered chocolate cake instead! Capuccino finished her meal while Rags had a jagermeister.
Friday 15th June 2012
Last night we actually spent the night together on a double mattress for the first time since we left Perth over 5 weeks ago! We slept like
Modern buildings in Vilnius
Vilnius has a modern section and a very well restored old town.
the dead as usual.
Breakfast was a little different as besides the normal cereal, bread, cold meats and cheese, they served boiled cauliflower with carrot to go with an egg omelette. “When in Rome.......”
We set off in a different direction than last time, still heading for the same area near the Gate of Dawn. The backstreets were less crowded and on the way we came across Hales Market which looks a little like a fancy train station. Here there were old ladies outside selling herbs and flowers, they making way for stalls of strawberries and cherries, and when you entered the aroma of smoked fish and smallgoods assailed the senses. Rows of counters, most with ladies in attendance, sold different wursts, cheeses etc as well as similar rows where they sold chicken or pork. Beef was nowhere to be seen, that's probably why Rags' beef salad last night was so sparse and tough.
We came to Gate of Dawn and enjoyed our tramp down it, taking in the cafes just being opened with regulars in them getting their morning caffeine fix, as well taking in the sights of the old buildings in the morning light.
Vilnius could be described as a city of churches for there are many. The distinctive green top of the Orthodox Church of St. Michael and St. Constantine can be seen all over the city.
We walked around Gediminas Tower, one of the city's most prominent landmarks, not finding the entrance as it was fenced off as they renovate the Palace adjacent to it. We continued past and climbed the steep road to the aptly named Hill of Three Crosses. Here, on the top of the hill are just that, 3 crosses which commemorate monks martyred in the 14th century. Crosses were erected here then but over the years they have been removed only to be replaced by new ones. The latest have been here since 1989 and we found the fractured remains of three older crosses several metres below. Great views from here, all over the city.
On the way back Judy, in her normal inquisitive way, found an open doorway, this opening up into a compound where there was a funicular lift to the bottom of Gediminas Tower. Here, for a more modest cost than many places we have been, we were able to take the finicular to the tower's lookout where there were uninterrupted views over all the surrounding area. There were some US army and airforce brass enjoying the views also and we tagged along with them to get a
bit of a commentary on the city. They were there on their annual courtesy visit, there being a relationship between USA and Lithuania military.
A quick look at the cathedral we saw yesterday was followed by a little fun bartering for some amber necklets and then lunch at the same place we had lunch yesterday. Here Judy had a the local dish of dumplings, Rags had herring and potatoes. Both dishes were delicious, the former very filling.
It was then a hurried walk back to the hotel, Judy having an online meeting with some of her students. This kept her busy for the next couple of hours, giving Rags a chance to get the photos sorted and to get the blog to date.
Now Rags' suitcase is broken, must have been in sympathy with Judy's old one! And he'd like a good new one too! We therefore set off to what we thought was a shopping mall not far away, only to find it was the Central Railway Station. No wonder there were always lots of people around it!
We gave that idea away and on the way back to the hotel decided to make a
detour into the more local area, looking for a place for dinner. Not far up the road we found a restaurant which specialised in Armenian food. We joined another man waiting at reception, an American we found out, for a seat. When they finally got around to acknowledging that we were there, we had the Yank, Mark joining us for the meal. Mark works in security for a couple of hotels in New Orleans, he giving us his card if ever we were to go there again. Who knows?
Mark was in Lithuania to find out more about his ancestors, they originally coming from here. As they were Jewish, all had been killed by the Nazis during WW2 but he did visit the town where his mother was born. He was welcomed with open arms in the town when he told why he was there. Very few visitors come there and he was featured in the local paper.
Dinner was interesting, we had a dish with pieces of pork, stuffed capsicum, eggplant, rice, all topped with a sauce provided separately. A side plate of gherkin, tomato and onion with some sour cream accompanied the meal. A very tasty
experience. Judy had a glass of Mojito, Rags a couple of 500ml beers and we walked out very satisfied for a total cost of less than A$20!
It was pleasing to find that the hot water problem had been solved when we returned, both of us enjoying a hot shower before continuing on with getting this blog up to date. It does take some time to do this but it does give us a chance to discuss what we have done and experienced. It's so surprising how much you can forget in a short time when you are bombarded by new things all the time.
Saturday 16th June 2012
We awoke to a beautiful blue sky as a precursor to a informative day. By the time the day was up we would have walked around a lot of Vilnius we had not seen before. In the 7 hours we spent, mostly walking, the first thing we saw was a wedding. It appears they don't have bridesmaids like we do!
Around the next corner we found the flea market run by the Vilnius Collectors Club. Here you could buy coins, notes, jewlry, army memorabilia, fake knives
and real, weapons, paintings and so on. Very similar to the swap-meets we have at home, just different things for sale. We were tempted to buy a few things but when we considered the weight of them we decided not to. This was positioned on top of a hill so we also enjoyed a great view.
Not far from here we found the next tourist highlight, the original KGB building. This building is now called the Museum of Genocide Victims. How aptly named! We spent quite some time here, going from room/cell to room/cell viewing exhibitions dealing with the painful and dramatic times in the history of Lithuania in the 20th Century. Used by both the Nazis and the Soviets, the atrocities both planned and committed here, left us both in an emotional state. We saw displays of how the Jewish population was exterminated, how dissidents to the Soviet rule were executed and generally how the population was controlled through fear. This continued right through to 1991, before Lithuania gained independence. Coming from a country that has never been invaded or had conflict like this certainly drove home the fact on how lucky we are to live where we
Just around the next corner we were in a different world. The road stretched out in front of us, ended at Parliament House, the shops and buildings fronting this road all renovated and looking loved. From the look of the few people we saw on the street and in the coffee shops this was a much more affluent area. From here we just walked, through the back streets; the houses changed from one street to the next or even within the street, some dilapidated, some restored, interspersed with modern houses. We eventually came to the newer part of Vilnius, then walked back along the riverfront on the 'modern' side which is easily identified with it's modern art and of course new high rise buildings.
It was interesting to see what the locals do on a 'warm' day. Many couples and families had come down to the parkland near the river to have their lunch so that they could laze in the sunshine.Many lay in bathers on the grass sunbathing. Nearby there were several beach volleyball courts, all being used by local teams. We found our first shopping complex here, no doubt the Western hotels nearby being valuable
customers. Prices were a little higher than some we have seen but were still reasonable in our opinion. Judy found a place which sold amber and a few purchases were made.
Getting back to the hotel was a little more difficult. After crossing a pedestrian bridge we found a stop but really had little idea of where we were or how to get back. A tourist tried to help, his information would have been ok, unfortunately we followed a local, who was most insistent, onto a trolley bus. We knew we were going the wrong way but we persevered , the trolley bus taking us away from where we thought the hotel was. When we got off our 'guide' told us to catch a trolley going in the opposite direction, saying it would get us there. As it was, she was correct, but we decided to walk instead. Following the trolley lines we returned to the hotel eventually, becoming fully conversant with the local neighbourhood and any restaurants near the hotel. We visited the liquor shop attached to the hotel on the way in, it now being after 1700 and time, in any language, for a drink.
Judy visits the shopping centre
She wishes we had another suitcase!
around 2000 we set off into the Old Town to find somewhere to eat. On the way we passed a local eatery which looked good only to be told they were closing. Obviously the locals eat early. We needn't be worried though, the square in Old Town was packed with people. All ages were there, from little kids, parents, the local yuppies in their BMWs, Mercs, Bentleys etc, and of course the ubiquitous tourists.
Dinner in the Sky featured here, where a large table of people is lifted into the air above the square and dangle there whilst being served a meal. Looked as if this could be an interesting experience, although by the number of empty bottles brought down after one session we saw end, could be a strain on the bladder!
In a side street we found a nice little cafe and enjoyed a tasty soup and a large piece of lasagne. From here we just wandered back to the hotel, taking in the sights and atmosphere, it still being daylight even though it was after 2200. By the number of locals, including children, still about, we understood why there is little activity in the streets
prior to 1000.
Sunday 17th June 2012
Had a nice slow start to the day, decided to sleep in until 0800 or so before going down to breakfast at about 0900. Good decision as it was quiet for most of it with only a few people around. It started pouring with rain during breakfast so the decision was made to catch a bus out of town to Akropolis, a large, modern shopping complex. The very helpful lady at our hotel, The Panorama Hotel, was able to tell us straight away to catch the number 53 from the front of the train station.
Here Judy visited nearly every shop (joke) but only bought a top. She enjoys just looking around, unlike Rags who buys and gets out. Lunch was had here, at a self-serve local place where we ate an entree of pickled herring, followed by a skewer of bbq pork, a potato pancake, a pancake filled with meat, salad, finishing with a piece of raspberry slice and coffee.
With our hunger satiated we walked about a kilometre back to town where there was another shopping centre, Ozas. Here there were 3 floors of a
A lot of the old buildings are crumbling with obvious signs of concrete cancer.
huge complex to explore, including several selling travel cases. We mentally noted one after finding that Samsonite bags were more expensive here than in Oslo. We found a canvas one a sixth of the cost of one of these and decided that may be the way to go. We still checked through the rest of the shops in case there were others but, after 3 baggage shops and many clothing shops where nothing was bought, we returned to buy the purple bag we had seen previously.
Not that easy. We now changed our minds several times, walking out with a canvas carry-all, which has several compartments, can be carried as bag, or an over-shoulder bag, or as a trolley bag. Be interesting to see how it goes.
We returned directly to the hotel, unlike our experience yesterday, the weather appears to have lifted and tomorrow we intend going out a little further into the countryside by local train. Exploring is still fun but it will be nice to have a fixed base, as we will have in Bucharest, to just relax and do nothing for a while. Knowing us that won't last for long!
Today's target was to visit the town of Trakai, the ancient capital of Lithuania, about 30 kms from Vilnius. This was easily reached by catching a bus from the local bus station, information here being very helpful with departure time and tickets. Trakai is the pride of Lithuania as it has the only fort, in Eastern Europe, situated on an island. The town, (they call it a city but it isn't very large) is situated on 5 lakes, and now bases much of its tourism on water activities.
The fort itself, on an island connected to the mainland by a long jetty, has been painstakingly restored over many years dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. It was built in the early 14th century, rebuilt several times in the late 14th century, left in ruins in 1655 until finally being restored over many years to what it is now. It now houses a museum displaying artifacts dating back to the early times as well as displaying how it was gradually rebuilt. Restoration and exhibits are fabulous and this is certainly worth a visit. There is even a permanent expo here which includes the history
Old wooden house in Zverynas
This suburb of Vilnius (name means menagerie) is one of the oldest in Vilnius and is surrounded by river on 3 sides.
of pipes (the smoking type) and examples of the many different types.
We spent some time here, Rags even showing a little shooting skill with a crossbow, before we wandered off to the usual stalls surrounding places like this. We continued on to the other side of the peninsula the township sits on, stopping at a cafe for lunch. Here we had a taste of local food- chicken, beef type pasties, and a tongue and chips dish. All very tasty.
The Karaims, a very small ethnic group, originating in Turkey, live in Trakai, invited to do so in the late 14th century. They were the first guards to the fort, later being involved in agriculture and the breeding of horses. A distinctive feature of their architecture is that the houses have 3 windows facing the street.
By the time we returned to the hotel the heat in the stuffy bus had got to us and we had a half hour break in our room before setting off again.
We hopped onto a trolley bus (no 16 from near the railway station) and headed off to the Vilnius TV bokstas. This is a tower which can be
seen from almost everywhere in Vilnius, being 326m high. As we got further away from the centre the housing became more dense, we ending up surrounded by blocks of flats 10 storeys high. This is where most of the residents live.
From the observation deck of the tower, 165m off the ground, we could see all over Vilnius. The deck is actually a revolving restaurant and we took a seat and enjoyed a coffee as we made the 360 degree journey. Cameras are banned up here, for some reason we couldn't understand, but we did manage to take a few shots with our small camera. The high-rise apartments were set in clusters, with greenery around them, the newer ones a little more colourful than the older grey buildings. Even though it was now after 1700 we couldn't see many children out playing in the grounds, in fact we have seen very few children out playing anywhere.
We bought some bread and cheese from a local supermarket on our way to the tram, to have in our hotel room, neither of us feeling very hungry and feeling too tired to have to go out again for a meal. Instead,
This river separates the old town and the new town.
on our return, we had a refreshing shower, got into cool gear and enjoyed the evening having a 'picnic' dinner and a drink. Judy, of course, spending time with her online work.
Tuesday 19th June 2012
After being awoken by phone calls again at 4am neither of us felt like doing much today, maybe 6 nights was a little too long for one place. After breakfast we walked to the tongue-in -cheek breakaway country of Uzupis. This was set up several years ago by some alternatives and is now a tourist attraction with art and craft galleries and a so-called bohemian culture.
We didn't find anything! At after 1000 nothing was open yet, there were no displays, and we managed to take a wrong turn somewhere and had to retrace our steps after walking uphill in humid conditions for about a kilometre.
We did find a beautiful church where a point of interest was a stone block with an inscription which dedicated the spot as where the protestors met to gain independence from Russia.Nearby we joined a French tour group who were visiting a place making jewelry out of amber, leaving them when they had
Approach to the Island Castle
The construction of the stone castle was begun in the 14th century by Kęstutis and it was fully restored in various stages during the 20th century.
the tasting of an amber infused drink.
The cathedral area was revisited, the blue skies being the drawcard, we hoping to get some better photos than the previous time. We sat in the shade and cooled off a bit here, just enjoyng the scenery and people moving around.
Not to far from here we caught a trolley bus back to the Ozas shopping centre where we had lunch and had our tax rebate form completed for the suitcase we bought there previously. It won't be very much of a refund and the counter at the airport may not even be open as we fly put at 0630 tomorrow. Still, it gave us something to do and we enjoyed a lunch at the food hall.
The last few hours were spent back at the hotel, luckily in a made up room which normally wasn't done till later. Here we snoozed, read and worked, the time soon passing.
Dinner was at Gustos again, this time the one at the railway station. Both of us had soup, Judy's goulash soup with mashed potato, Rags a meatball & vegetable soup. With this we had the local dish of Kepta Duana,
deep fried black bread and a cheese sauce – fattening, filling, and nice! Once again the glass of alus was not filled to the mark, the head being 3-4 cms high. Would cause a comment at home!
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