While waiting on our cab in the hotel lobby, my dad took up a conversation with another American soldier. He mentioned that we were on our way to Vilnius, but it was clear the soldier had zero idea where that was. My dad elaborated—Lithuania. (Literally, the country right next door. Literally, dude.) “Oh, oh!”
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A Geography Lesson
So sad that he comes to Latvia and has zero idea what the neighboring country’s capital is all of four hours away. He also mentioned at some point that he hates traveling. Very unfortunate, but whatevs. Maybe to make him feel better, my dad told the guy he’d only just learned about the Russian exclave Kaliningrad that sits next to the Baltics. (He did just learn about it, but I don’t think most people know about it.) Anyhow…
We had another luxury bus to Vilnius. Another four hour drive. The attendant let us know that she spoke English and was happy to speak English because “she was surrounded by Russians.” Both my dad and I thought she said this with a certain level of disdain, but couldn’t be sure. I’d guess there’s a level of division between the Baltic ethnicities and the Russians. I mean… I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure they’re pretty nervous right now with world politics as well.
Another City, Another Cabbie Showdown
When we got to the bus station, we couldn’t find our ride to the hotel, so we flagged a cab down. Another rip-off experience. I asked how much it was to get to our hotel ahead of time and the guy told me he’d use a meter, but I think it was the fastest meter known to man. Twenty Euro later we’d arrived. I also wasn’t convinced he took a straight shot to get there, but my GPS wasn’t pulling up fast enough. Sigh.
The important thing is we got there. I later learned I told the hotel the wrong time (an hour later) and the cab waited for us. I felt bad, so I just told them to charge us for the inconvenience. It was my fault, after all. I had it in my email and everything. They use military time here and it always takes me a moment to calculate what the hell time it is. Clearly I’m not always doing my math correctly! Whoops.
Our Vilnius Hotel & Traditional Lithuanian Dinner
We stayed at Vilnius’ Artagonist Art Hotel and every floor, every room has an artwork displayed in it. They even had a book about each piece and the artists. The one in our room was not the most interesting. But at least it wasn’t disturbing and you could get a good night’s sleep in it.
We wandered down the road a ways for dinner at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant. I had mushroom soup in a rye bread bowl and a fried pork chop. So much better than our traditional Latvian dinner since I didn’t spend the next five hours convinced I had food poisoning.
Everything here is rye, potatoes, pork, and cabbage. I don’t mind any of this, but the rye gets a little old. They put the rye herb on sauerkraut, which kind of ruins the sauerkraut for me. Also, their sauerkraut is more like a sweet vinegar coleslaw, so it’s way better than… sauerkraut.
And so happy to say I got the best night’s sleep of the trip so far this evening. It was truly magical and I didn’t want to wake up. But I had a whole new city to explore and this always excites me, so off I went!
Wandering Old Town
Vilnius’ Old Town is way larger than Tallinn or Riga. Similar to the other two cities, it’s filled with a thousand churches and squares. Like… a bagilliondy. We hiked up to the top of the fortress which offered terrific views but in itself was nothing all that special. Tried to take the funicular down, but it seemed to be closed off. I’d swear I saw it traveling up, though.
Strolled through a nice park. In typical “dad fashion,” we got a little off track and missed some things on my list (and saw some things I didn’t realize I’d seen). That’s okay because later, when my dad needed a break for his back, I ventured out in the immediate hotel area and checked a couple more interesting Instagrammable Baltic spots off my list. (My favorite!) Super artsy, super old, and really not easy to find. But that’s kind of the adventure of it, right? Finding those quirky little places.
Uzupis, An Uber Quirky Vilnius Neighborhood
The following day was the best day of all, in my humble opinion. We started off by hunting down the narrowest street in Vilnius. It has no name and is just one meter wide (3.3 feet wide). It’s not off a main street or even off an alley off a street; it’s off a courtyard. Tricky, but we found it. Turned out to be a fun photo location.
We spent a lot of time exploring Uzupis, a strange little neighborhood on the outskirts of Old Town. After the war and then the fall of the Soviet Union, the area was known for being pretty rough. Thank God for artists because they moved right in and created a vibrant little community out of it.
Uzupis supposedly declared its independence, and actually has its own flag and its own constitution. The constitution is engraved on mirrors and affixed to a stone wall in a variety of languages. You can stop by the information center and get your passport stamped. And, just outside the door of the information center is an old piano and a rotund, lazy cat relaxing right beneath it. If you take a close look at the area map, you’ll see they’ve placed a cat icon in the exact location where this real-life cat sits. Nice touch.
Uzupis also has two “mascots” of sorts—an angel (of which they have a monument in the town square) and a mermaid (of which they have a statue sort of embedded in the side of the canal wall). It took some time to find, but there’s also an old, haunting little graveyard. It’s almost in the part of the Uzupis where the locals look at you side-eyed and you wonder if you’ve gone just a little too far off the regular tourist path.
Off-The-Beaten-Path In Vilnius… Like, For Real
We took the long route home, trying to access two churches on the outskirts of town. What we really ended up doing was crawling up this massive hill and then walking unofficial trails around the backs of them and crawling through openings in chainlink fences to get back round the fronts.
I’m sure this was completely safe, by the way, and that no vagabonds ever hang out inside the boarded up, cinder block maintenance buildings in the immediate area. Needless to say, the churches were a letdown and I think my guidebook misrepresented these a bit.
The upside to all of this was that it wasn’t that far to the famous Trump-Putin shotgun wall mural! Silver lining, my friends, silver lining. At some point, we also walked through a local market, which was mostly filled with junk, before heading back to the hotel.
A Hanger Debacle (So Embarrassing)
I had a little hanger fit later that evening that I now feel a bit sheepish about. I was super exhausted and our hotel restaurant was too fancy for room service. They charged twelve Euro for delivery and only had a tasting menu! No bueno, art hotel.
That being what it was, I started to try to track down Lithuanian delivery and couldn’t figure out how to dial out locally. Called reception, still unsuccessful. I was getting pissed. Like… really pissed. And I was so hungry.
Luckily, my dad was kind enough to just go pick up pizza next door. He probably had enough of me stomping around and slamming the phone down repeatedly. (Thanks, Pops! You’re the best!)
The Long Way Home
The next morning we had some time available before catching a flight back to Helsinki, so we tracked down a few of my missed alleyways and headed over to the Holocaust Museum. Vilnius was once home to some quarter million Jews before World War I. Now? 4,000. Just incredible. Grabbed a crepe and some coffee at a little cafe and started the long, sad road home.
Two flights to Helsinki, which seems so dumb for such a short distance. One to Riga, and then over. Both uneventful and fairly short, so that was good. When we got to the Helsinki airport, finding our hotel was a bit hairy. A lot of the information desks were closed down, but the hotel was at the airport, and we couldn’t seem to navigate exactly where. We did eventually find it and sat down for a nice dinner. Tomorrow—back home.
In my more recent travels, I’ve really gotten into Eastern Europe and I would highly recommend it. It’s still very inexpensive and most of the infrastructure is built back up. Another dad-daughter adventure in the books and a host of awesome travel pics to sort through. Meanwhile… we’re thinking Poland for our next trip!
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