Vilnius


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September 17th 2014
Published: September 17th 2014
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Friday 12 Sep – Vilnius

The clouds have gone and the sun has returned and we’re back to 23C with blue skies. Perfect burning weather for me!

Our hotel last night was excellent. Tiki Inn, run by a local family who have travelled the world and decided to run a hotel/hostel from their house in Paluse. The rooms were plush, it was whisper quiet and overlooked one of the many lakes in that area. Dwayne and I especially liked their dog, Vella. She was very friendly and cute!

We had a quick look around the lakes and wished we’d had more time but alas, we had to get to Vilnius. As it was, we were over an hour late for our rendezvous with the apartment agent. Luckily for us, apartment owners are very understanding over here and she was waiting for us when we arrived.

Vilnius – baroque bombshell of the Baltics, as it’s known. Within 15 minutes of being in the town it’s already feeling like my favourite Baltic city. Tallinn is the picture perfect medieval town with mainly tourists, Riga is the grungy town with Russian workers but Vilnius is the lively student town and has such a different feel to the other two. It throbs with activity and youth from all the University students. The Baroque architecture reminds me very much of Paris with its detailed facades and wrought iron balconies. The café boulevards vary from wide and tree’d, to narrow and cute and the street cafes are full of people watching the world go by. There are cobblestoned squares, parks and churches around every corner. No doubt the warm weather helps too! But there is a buzz here that the other two capitals do not have. We even went to one of the 50 cathedrals in the old town, and enjoyed a free concert for an hour, albeit in Lithuanian!

We were also fortunate to meet up with Jurate, who lived with my parents when she was volunteering in Geelong several years ago. She lives in west Germany now (about to start at SAP) and we did not think we would see her but God worked everything together so that she was asked at the last minute to be a presenter at a conference here in Vilnius (pronounced Vil’nus) this week and she could stay for the weekend. Never in a million years did we think our next meeting with her would be in her country! We spent a quick couple of hours catching up with her, over some very good Lithuanian zeppelini (dumplings). You never know when the next opportunity might be to meet up with overseas friends, so every minute when you do meet, is treasured time indeed.

Sabbath 13 Sep – Vilnius

Our apartment is not a great apartment for 4 people but it’s right in the heart of the old town on the best street, and it’s the only other time besides Budapest where we’re in the old town, as opposed to being outside the old town and walking in.

Mum and Dad decided to brave the roads on their own today and attend the Vilnius Adventist Church with Jurate. She interpreted for them and they stayed for pot luck afterwards, happily chatting with the brethren via Jurate.

In the meantime, we went to the Cathedral Square to look inside the main church and then we went next door to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, which detailed the history of Lithuania, from the earliest settlements in 6000BC through to the end of their independence in the late 1700’s (they were conquered by Peter the Great). The Lithuanian tribes were first referred to in writing by Ptolemy in 1-2AD. It was very interesting to see how their Kings and Queens intermarried with the powers of the day to form allegiances, and since I already recognised some of the names, the whole royal system starts to make sense. Names like Catherine d’Medici (France) and Isabella of Aragorn (Spain), Maximilian I (Hapsburgs) and Henry II (France). I’ve come across all these names whilst in Western Europe, but to see their names here means I now have a better concept of time and place, rather than just names on a page.

I now know why I like Vilnius so much - no one gets up before 11am! When we were walking down to the Cathedral at 10.45am, there was no one around. The market stalls were only just setting up whereas in Australia most of the action would be over by 11am. They appreciate their sleep and are on my page :-)

We met up with Mum, Dad and Jurate just after lunch and Jurate continued showing us some of the sights. Being 24C today meant there were a lot of weddings out for their photos so we saw at least 3 brides. I asked her why Vilnius felt like a younger demographic compared to Riga, even though they are both University towns. She said that whilst the demographic split between older and younger is similar, Riga is made up of 50% Russians and the older Russians have money and like to go out and spend it. In Lithuania, however, the older people can’t really afford to go out so they stay home and as a result, the proportion of younger people feels higher in Vilnius. She said that the average wage in Lithuania is €500 per month (A$720 = $23 a day)!

Our time with Jurate eventually came to an end, we said our goodbyes and we came home for a simple meal of steamed veggies. After Sabbath we went out for dessert at a famous ice cream store called Dione, where a massive 2-scoop waffle cone was 8 Lats (A$3.35). Afterwards we took some night shots of the buildings and I insisted on a hot chocolate at one of the chocolate shops. Mum and I each had a small cup (approx. 125ml) of hot chocolate, which turned out to be pure liquid dark chocolate. No milk – just straight, runny chocolate. It was worth every penny of the $4 price tag. I think I’ve broken my mother though, as she doesn’t think she could do that again tomorrow night! Where’s the commitment?

Sunday 14 Sep – Vilnius

There are a lot of hot looking women here in Lithuania – more attractive than Estonia and Latvia. Unfortunately there is also a noticeable increase in BO from the men, who are not good looking at all. It seems that not only are they unattractive, they also do now know about deodorant. So the mindset of Russian brides is starting to make sense because if I were them, I wouldn’t want to marry anyone from Eastern Europe either!

Today was the Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon. They had a marathon, half marathon, 10km, 1km Pram run, 1km pre-term newborn run (who knew newborns ran?!), the Unicef children’s run and a 4.2km family and student run. With over 32,000 entrants it’s no wonder the city has been buzzing. Would be interesting to see it next weekend when nothing’s happening.

Feeling in the mood to get active with everyone else, we climbed a steep hill to the Gediminas Tower. It sits on the highest part of Vilnius and has wonderful view across the old town. We then walked back down to the Užupis Republic, which is a small neighbourhood of the old town. In 1997, the residents of the area declared independence as the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, constitution, anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). They celebrate their independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1. I’m guessing the Republic, recognized by no government, is intended to be serious, tongue-in-cheek, or a combination of both.

We found a cute little French bakery and bought some veggie quiches and a whole lemon tart to share, and went to sit in the local park for lunch. Whilst there, we saw the funniest thing. The narrow street, which had cars parked on both sides, meant that only one car could come up or down at any time. A man in a small blue Fiat came up half way and a lady in a black Audi came half way down. The man had no-one behind him but the lady had 3-5 cars behind her. There in the middle of this road, sat the two drivers eye to eye, bumper to bumper, refusing to budge. For over 5 minutes they sat there with no movement, no honking, no talking. They just stared each other down. The lady couldn’t go anywhere because there were parked cars on both sides and people behind her. The man really should have been the gentleman and reversed but he wouldn’t so we watched a procession of about 8 cars behind the lady trying to reverse to allow this man up the street. They were all amazingly calm, as I wanted to strangle him and I was merely a pedestrian.

We left Uzupis and found a café to rest our weary feet and cool our parched mouths. Almost immediately the wave of runners from the 4.2km run came sprinting, jogging, walking and stumbling past us. For the next 10 minutes we could not even cross the road for the sheer number of bodies between us and the other side.

We eventually crossed once there was a break in the “traffic” and came back home for a quick nap before heading out to dinner. We wandered a new section of Vilnius and stumbled across the Vegecafe, so we decided to experience our last Lithuanian dinner there. They had some interesting dishes including Cold Mexican Avocado soup, Fake Mushroom soup and Celery Root french fries. One or two dishes were not to our liking but on the whole, we all tried something new and found something we liked.

I’ve had a great time in Vilnius and Lithuania in general, and it is now officially my favourite Baltic city and country. Would definitely come back and spend more time here.

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