Currently: Amused that it’s 10:11pm and the sun still hasn’t set.
Ahhh Vilni… I look back so fondly on you. Mostly because I met some amazing people. I’ve realized when I travel, it’s about the experiences that I have within the cities that make them the most memorable. Sure, sometimes the architecture is outstanding or the food is delicious, but it’s when you have interactions with locals (or travelers like yourself) that really turn a place into a memory.But first… let’s talk about Vilni. She’s a babushka. Small, tough, wrinkled, resilient, beautiful, and hard to capture in a photo. The old city town was my first introduction into Lithuania, and I had no expectations. The only thing I knew about Lithuania was that it was a part of the Soviet Union. #unprepared
Our hotel was right in the middle of old town, which is exactly what you’d expect an old town to be: walkable cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways with courtyards that connect neighborhoods, a main pedestrian street with cute shops and artists lurking by their masterpieces and waiting for a sale. It has also managed to cram somewhere between 30-35 churches into its tiny area. As is now become our custom, our first stop was up a hill to the Three Crosses to get an idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
That church looks cool. So does that church. Oh and that building is pretty too. Time to explore!
|King Mindaugas Monument|
|city walls originally built between 1503-1522|
|an old charming alleyway that caught my eye|
|St. Anne’s Church|
That was all in a short evening! The next day was when the real fun began. We did yet another free walking tour, where our tour guide was a Lithuanian named Raminta, or Rami for us foreigners. This tour was riddled with fun stories, so I wanted to break them out for you.
He visited Lithuania on November 23, 2002 and said
Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America.
Now when this happened, Lithuanians were super proud. So proud in fact that they immediately ordered a plaque to memorialize this moment forever.
Two days later, Bush visited Romania. Guess what he said. In the following weeks, Bush visited five more countries. Guess what he said to each of them. Yup. It’s apparently the same phrase said by every US president to any new country adopted in NATO.
They kept the plaque anyway.
So that’s why they have so many churches. Erm, actually no. Lithuanians are dedicated Chreasters. Funny story though. Their strong ties to Poland, which is church-every-Sunday Catholic, came in and tried to convert everyone. And to do that they decided to go about changing the names of the people to biblical names. One guy decided to name all the men in one village “John” and all the women in the village “Maria.” Confusing much?
Their practical religion is basketball. If you want to strike up a conversation with any Lithuanian, just start talking basketball and they won’t shut up. Apparently they were 4th in the last Olympics and are still upset about it.
They also maintain that they make the *best* craft beer. They also recognize that every other country in Europe makes the same claim. My parents did say it’s pretty good though.
- You must smile (Lithuanians are known for their grumpy facial expressions. Rami blames the weather. “It’s hard to smile in minus 20 degree weather.”)
- You cannot go too fast. (Lithuanians recognize themselves as the worst drivers.)
- You must be open to anything crazy, because this is a place of art.
- If you do not follow these rules, inhabitants have the right to throw you or your car in the river.
|swing in the middle of the river?
|lots more street art|
|the infamous beer fountain|
Time to sober yourself up for a history lesson. While the city today boasts a number of silly traditions, there are grim realities etched into it as well. Much of it sings to the same tune as Warsaw’s story. Here in Vilnius, instead of a tour on its dark past, we walked through the former KGB headquarters, turned into a museum dedicated to the genocide victims.
Walking through the basement was the most unnerving. The basement was the prison chambers, where Nazis and the KGB held, tortured, and killed over a thousand people. The walls spoke volumes.
|a room held ~8 prisoners|
|Soundproofed with padding and a straightjacket|