Vilnius, Lithuania

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Northeastern Europe:

  1. Northeastern Europe – Introduction and Our Route
  2. Gothenburg, Sweden
  3. Copenhagen, Denmark
  4. Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland
  5. Vilnius, Lithuania
  6. Warsaw, Poland
  7. Krakow, Poland and Auschwitz
  8. Prague, Czech Republic
  9. Northeastern Europe Photos

The bus ride from Tallinn to Vilnius, Lithuania, our next destination, was definitely not short: we were on the bus for 9 hours! Fortunately we rode with a really nice company, Lux Express, and our bus had big business class seats, hot coffee on demand, and fast wifi, so we kept entertained and I was able to get some work done. We arrived in Vilnius around 3 PM, and after dealing with a reservation mix up with our hostel, we set out to walk around the town.

Overlooking the old town

Overlooking the old town

Not really having our bearings, we headed for the main tourist sites in their Old Town, the Gate of Dawn and Town Square. The Old Town in Vilnius is much nicer than Tallinn’s, and felt much more authentic; it certainly didn’t have the obnoxious bachelor parties and tourists (we’re told that’s because there are fewer prostitutes and no cruise ship ports, respectively). We enjoyed some singing on a stage in front of the Town Hall before heading to Uzupis, which, like Christiania in Copenhagen, is another “breakaway” community within the country.

Welcome to Uzupio! Rules are smiling, moving a max 20 kph, being creative and happy!

Welcome to Uzupis! Rules are smiling, moving a max 20 kph, being creative. If not you’ll drive off a cliff.

Uzupis was an older, run-down, dangerous neighborhood of Vilnius during Soviet times, and after Lithuania’s independence in 1989, many artists settled there. Eventually they decided (half-seriously) to form their own government, so they elected a president and wrote a constitution. However, their laws include things like, “smiling is mandatory” and, “everyone must be creative.” You can (and should, it’s quite entertaining) read their full constitution. Unfortunately we weren’t there on April 1, which is coincidentally their founding day and also April Fools’ Day. On that day, they “close off” the bridge leading to that neighborhood and you have to get your passport stamped to enter and exit. Apparently they also change their water fountains out with beer fountains, and it is quite a party there.

Hadjapouri!!

Hadjapouri!!

Anyway, we had a really nice dinner there before heading back to our hostel. The next morning we checked out and switched to a nice hotel (that we got cheap with reward points) due to the reservation mixup. We are thankful we did, because it ended up pouring rain almost all day. We really wanted to go to the Occupation Museum (called the KGB museum here, because it is at the site of the former KGB prison and interrogation center), but it was closed for Father’s Day! So we ended up taking a cab to get some Georgian ajarian hadjapouri (bread boats with butter, cheese, and egg) that were oh-so-good, and we spent the day relaxing at the hotel.

We had a great time in beautiful Vilnius

We had a great time in beautiful Vilnius

Our last day there was a lot nicer, weather wise, and at noon we joined a free walking tour which took us around to some of the lesser known but quite interesting sites around town. One interesting thing they pointed out was the former site of one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. Lithuania used to have a significant number of Jews, but after WWII and the Soviet occupation, only 2000 remain in the city today. We also dropped by 3 of the 44 churches in Vilnius (officially they are atheist, although there are several Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches as well as some old, run-down ones). We also saw an alley they used as a movie set for “Latin American” scenes that looked far more Soviet than it did Latin American! After the tour we walked up a hill and took in some nice panoramic views of the city.

The other thing we “learned” on the tour are that Lithuanians love basketball and beer. We didn’t experience too much basketball (apparently they used to be the best in Europe), but we did experience the beer, and it lived up to expectation. We got a few bottles of different kinds of beer each night from the grocery store, and also at various pubs and restaurants while we were out. They didn’t have much variety, but the hefes, lagers, and stouts they did have were really good. Not sure what it is, but they were really way better than anything we had in Sweden or Estonia, and rivalled what we have had in Germany and Denmark. A pleasant surprise to say the least!

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