Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and has one of the largest Old Town sections in Europe. With the Neris river splitting old and new Vilnius, it has around 560,000 inhabitants, and a tumultous history.
Vilnius’s old town was added to the UNESCO Heritage List in 1994. With most buildings within dating from the 13th to 19th centuries, it has an amazing number of churches, much of Lithuania’s president’s complex, and the first city outside of Christchurch, New Zealand that I’ve come across to have a Cathedral Square as its focal point.
The next few blog posts will be a bit different as I change up my style, focusing instead of daily blow-by-blow accounts to rather present different aspects of the city.
I spent four nights in Vilnius, and after the rough, constant moving of the previous couple of weeks, the occasional sleepless nights and much effort, I needed to recharge. Vilnius had seemed like a chilled city, a perfect place to take stock and explore bits of it each day.
While the hostel itself was really quite good – with super-fast internet, a good common room and kitchen and ideal location, there were few guests other than myself, although I soon found out that I’d missed Danny at the very same hostel by days! And of the guests staying, less than half were English speaking. Warren, an older Canadian man was researching a book he was co-writing, and hoping to enter Russia next. He was a country-counter and very well travelled, and also very keen to give you his thoughts on almost everything he considered interesting. A loud speaker, this meant you were kept up on the conversation no matter where you were in the hostel!
The second night, another Warren turned up. As soon as he spoke I knew I’d found another Kiwi in Lithuania. He’d just spent time in Russia (although not long – the Russian embassy in Wellington had given him much grief, something I could empathise with!), Ukraine and was moving north through the Baltics and Finland, most likely. Also the second person I’ve met while travelling who has been to Chernobyl, and we compared our discoveries in the abandoned exclusion zone. (I visited Chernobyl in 2008).
An American couple – Brad and Mary, were spending two weeks in the area. I’ve never met a couple with so much energy, just hearing their plans exhausted me. Cycling, hiking, exploring, they were hitting Tallinn, Riga, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Vilnius, Helsinki and Stockholm – and several towns, sights, forests, hills, bogs and beaches inbetween!
I spent my days relaxing, sipping coffees in various squares and coffee shops, going for walks by the river and in the amazing park behind the castle. I explored random churches, the cathedral, which I’ll talk about later, and spent much time each day trying to find a Lithuanian cafe Pascal and I had stumbled upon in 2008. I know roughly where we walked then, but try as I might I could not rediscover it.
For food I also had variety. From the occasional quick food, to local cafes, and finally returning to Kaimas on the final night to try a Cepelinai.
Danny had reported from Riga, where he was waiting for me and for his visa for Uzbekistan, something I was wondering about as well – having yet to receive my invite. I’d decided to head up there on the weekend, and checked out bus times in advance – I was eager to experience LuxExpress – I’d heard much about the super-luxurious buses of the Baltics!
Finally it was Saturday and time to leave for Riga – I’d considered Klaipeda on the coast as I’d really like to check out the historically significant spit there across to the isolated, practically annexed area of Russia, but weather forecasts and timeframes played against that, and I bought my ticket for a midday departure, off to Riga, in a blog post coming soon…
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