Call of the North (26): Vilnius, bar rock

Aug 4th 2008, 09:00

I’m in the Eurolines bus Riga-Vilnius, and have wireless internet. I can’t imagine how that works, but it works.

I have no idea what to expect in/from Vilnius. I have heard nothing about the town, except for the football team Jalghiris Vilnius, which sounds like something industrial, i picture “grey”. The Marco Polo guide says it is a beautiful baroque town – i’m curious.

On the way from the railway station to the hostel, it looks very familiar, very much like home – like the non-refurbished part of Sibiu. Old small houses, shabby-looking pavement, building site noise, dust.

The hostel, top notch. Very “cool”, refurbished, good taste, funny (sample note on the wall: “the receptionist is away for 30 mins, or sleeping. In the latter case, you can try waking her up.” Or – “your mother doesnt work here, so be so kind and clean up after yourselves.”)

Baltic hostels are the best i’ve seen on the entire trip. New, clean, sharp, creative, with personality. Impressed.

I ask the non-sleeping receptionist for permission to leave some luggage here till the evening – even though I am cancelling the reservation, since I found an overnight bus to Warszawa. “No problem”.

So I gladly leave the big backpack and am on my way to the city – but I turn back, forgot the phone. I check the pocket where I remember putting it this morning – it’s not there. Damn. Check again. Nothing. Take out the jeans from the big backpack – nothing. Shit, I must have forgotten it in Riga. Merda. Take out the laptop, open skype to call Riga, computer blocked. Shit. Reboot. Wait. I have only half a day here, and it’s fading away before it started. Finally computer works, I call Riga, ask them to look for the phone, will call back. In the meantime I write them an email with the address where to send it if found. Little hope though. I’m thinking – damn, right at the end… but – every achievement needs a sacrifice… for this trip, it seems to have been the phone. so i go on the website to cancel the phone card – then a thought comes – let’s call myself, to help those people in Riga find it. I call from skype, and… hear the ringing next to me.

It was in the tiny pocket of the small backpack, the one specially made for mobile phones. It was the only place I hadn’t checked.

Releaved, I call those guys in Riga and tell them to not bother, and am finally on my way. 6 hours left in Vilnius.

On the way to the centre, I see an old tall church tower. Nothing on the map about it. The church looks old and unrefurbished,

but otherwise quite impressive.

but – let’s have a look inside. And – couldnt help a loud “wow” when entering.

The echo spread in the entire room, which was EMPTY. No single tourist! When I took this picture, you could hear the click like a gun being armed. Awesome.

Ok, now i get the “baroque town” thing. And why they are “European cultural capital of 2009”.

This “all saints” church was in no brochure, so I wondered how stuff that IS in the brochure looks like…

Well, let’s see.

I get to some sort of square – no name on the map, none on the streets,

but it has an “important street” feel, so I start walking upwards.

Left and right, passages, some monumental,

some discreet.

Through one of them, the Orthodox church, one of the few of its kind in baroque style. Outside, nothing spectacular,

but inside…

You see green.

Moving on to the Dawn Gate, an emblematic praying place, visited by the Pope too

So i climbed up to see the famous painting

and the spectacular silver hearts, which I don’t get the meaning of, but that shd be no big issue.

Nice view from upstairs,

So I get down, first to see the medieval gate from the other side,

and then back

towards the centre, along other majestic buildings, like StKazimir’s church.

Somehow, it seems i made it to the town hall square.

I’m not going to depict all churches seen – it seemed to be the main ocupation of medieval Lithuanians, to build majestic baroque churches. What they didn’t build is a walking area – only a small part of this street is dedicated exclusively to pedestrians, among which this mother-daughter duo.

Moving on, when taking this picture

I didn’t know I was going to come back, but first, along many open-air boutiques

with amber

I ended up at the Cathedral.

at the edge of what seem to be newer districts – but, no time for them today.

Next, back on the narrow street I mentioned earlier, to see this famous church couple, one more Gothic than the other.

Then, with ambition, up to the Gediminas tower,

for the traditional panorama shot, with new

and old Vilnius.

Just that, standing on the very tower, it is missing from the picture. So I climbed the hill of these 3 crosses

through the woods, which was nice, albeit resulting panorama was not much of an improvement. More impressive was this non-refurbished church

which reminded me that many of these buildings had been transformed in deposits during Communism.

For the way back I chose a detour through the Užupis republic, sort of a Copenhagian Christiania, a bunch of hippie artists declaring independence in their neighbahood, they have a parliament, constitution and president. From what I’ve seen, it looks… picturesque,

overall seemingly slightly in a better shape than Christiania,

and less shady.

The way out is locked. The whole bridge.

Donno why, but it’s well locked.

Vilnius used to have a large Jewish population. Around 100000 maybe. After the short nazi occupation, 175 survived. One hundred seventy five.

This is how the former Jewish ghetto looks today.

In this house on the right, an auntie was weaving, with an ooooold, old machine.

Out of the ghetto, about to head back to the centre, but before that I look back, and see – this.

Church number 325 (no idea, but i wdnt be surprised). Let’s check it out, looks good from the outside. And, it turns out, from the inside.

Back to the main square, again very similar to Sibiu (the refurbished part, too),

towards the last observation point, an insider tip from the MP guides. On the way there, to a bastion as fat as fat Margaret from Tallinn,

I realized I lost my sunglasses. So, the sacrifice thing happened, after all. I liked those sunglasses, we’ve been through a lot together. Kept a silent moment in their memory, and moved on.

The guide was encouraging us to stop and take a peek inside courtyards, to discover hidden treasures of the old town, so I did that

on the way back to the hostel. Where I spent some time loading up pictures, fixing a picasa bug that crashed my computer 2 times, took my time… and almost missed the bus. Had to do a heavy run with my by now heavy backpacks through heavy rain. Caught it, eventually, and have been writing this since. No wireless here though, so since battery’s running out, I’ll make the first attempt at sleeping in a half-way upright position.

Goodbye, oh, Baltics. Marco Polo says you 3 don’t like much to be categorized under this common denominator, but I’m tired now, so don’t be offended. Marco Polo was right, you were a hidden treasure.

2 thoughts on “Call of the North (26): Vilnius, bar rock

  1. What an awesome review and photos 🙂 Very interesting to read indeed. And we’re not offended being called Baltic countries, at least in Lithuania. I’m going to read your other posts now. Good luck in your travels!

  2. thanks :).
    about the baltic thing, its based on a comment i heard, that very few people know how different the 3 countries are, and usually pile them together as “baltics”. but maybe it was just an isolated opinion. thanks for the clarification!


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