In a great display of the efficiency of budget airlines our bags were on the belt waiting for us as we arrived in Vilnius. We were pretty much first off the plane with no queues at passport control either. This is our first stop, Lithuania and we’re going to see it’s capita, Vilnius in 34 hours. The Hotel Telecom Guest was our choice for the two nights we spent in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. We got free wifi, a double room with a third bed and private bathroom as we ease ourselves into the $50 a day lark. Get current prices and availability now.
It started to rain not long after we arrived at the Hotel, which didn’t bode well for our whistle-stop tour. It was still raining in the morning, as we headed for a late breakfast. We screeched in just before 10am and fueling up on the 14 litas ($5.60) buffet breakfast.
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Out came the Hi Gear waterproof trousers and jackets – courtesy Go Outdoors from their budget range. Pack-a-mac-and-pants in not so many words. Fabulous gear, while we might have got a little warm after hiking more than 15km round the city, we were dry as a bone all day. Out too also came the baseball cap to keep the hood from falling into my eyes and horrors the first realization. We should have bought a backpack rain cover. Necessity was the mother of invention and the daypack lived inside Nige’s jacket for the day, because, yes it rained all day. Well, until we left dinner and headed home, just as the skies cleared and the city came out to play. We even trekked to Everst Base Camp with this gear! Check out pricing here.
History of Vilnius
So Vilnius and Lithuania. Independent in 1918, lost to the Soviets, then the Germans during World War Two, then it was the Soviets again. Lithuania became independent again in 1990. There are reminders throughout the city of the struggle this landlocked nation has had to escape Nazi’s and the Soviet machine.
The Vilnius Genocide Museum
Cataloging the history of communist overlords, of political prisoners, or executions, deportees and of the hundreds of thousands of deaths is the Genocide Museum.
It’s housed in the old KGB building. The organization which ran 6,000 agents in Lithuania as late as 1990. From the exhibition on two floors you’ll read of the history of the building. Here too are the details and difficulties of deportees and the deaths of partisans, independence fighters, political prisoners and ordinary people.
You’ll see photographs of those who died, laid in town squares as a deterrent to others. You’ll see a map that shows the scale of labor camps. Also documented are the challenges that those who were simply deported faced when they tried to return, decades later.
No more than 5% of Lithuanian Jews survived WWII. Children who were deported became assimilated with their new Russian schoolfriends and never returned.
Lithuania and World War II
Thousands were shot in the woods outside Lithuania. “His place of burial is unknown” is a constant that you’ll see throughout the museum. Venture downstairs to the prison in the basement and you’ll see the shiver-inducing padded cell. It’s a cell with 18 layers of paint – as guards sought to cover up writings and carvings from previous prisoners. There’s also a execution chamber, where nightly shootings were carried out. Step outside into the exercise yard and you’ll see small walled enclosures. No more than 20 feet long and15 feet wide , high walls and barbed wire over the top.
Ignore the crowds and the stampeding tour groups and you might just get a sense of the horrors that happened here.
Vilnius, though, is about much more than this stark reminder of her fight for freedom.
Gedimas Tower Vilnius
At the top of the hill overlooking the city, stands all that remains of the castle. Gediminas Tower, the symbol of the city, has great views over the city and surrounds. There’s a funicular railway to the top, 3 litas return trip or 2 litas for a single trip. We took our life in our hands and walked the cobble stone path up and down. I remain convinced that in the rain it was probably a level four adventure sport as specifically called out on our insurance.
Vilnius Churches and Cathedrals
From the Cathedral to St Anne’s to St Casimir there are churches galore in the city. They’re all free to visit, but donations gratefully accepted, including by Visa, Mastercard and all reputable card issuers.
Walk into the Old Town through the “Gates of Dawn”- – it’s the only remaining of 10 gates into the city. We took the glorious marble stair case to the relief of the Virgin Mary, that Pope John Paul II visited and made a visit to in 1993
Beers in Lithuania
There are a lot of breweries in the country, each using their own technique, so we eschewed the main drag of the Old Town and headed to the independent republic of Uzupio. We arriv there by taking be-padlocked road bridge near to St Anne’s Church. This area of the city the declared itself independent on April 1, 1997. There’s no need for passports, though and I’m sure it’s busier on a sunny summers day, but all was pretty quiet on our trip to Vilnius in 34 hours.
Spunka, is squeezed in by the Angel of Uzupio statue, serving local and draft and bottled beer with beer snacks. 0.5l will set you back 8 litas, or if you want a half pint, then its just 5 litas. It certainly felt like we were the only non locals in there!
The second oldest brewery in Lithuania is Svyturys. If you head to Aula restaurant you can try the Svyturys beer flight for 12.90 litas. This lets you taste 0.1 litres of 5 of their different beers. They range from a light – colored water variety to their wheat beer and Amber Bock.
What to eat in Vilunius – Lituanian Food
We lunched at a chain restaurant Cili – the Pica (or Pizza) variety. We opted for mushroom soup so thick you could almost stand a spoon in it (yum) and chilli that heated you from the inside. There are, notes, TripAdvisor, a few restaurants that will serve you Lithuanian specialities – two of them are in the Old Town, pretty much opposite each other.
We opted for Aula and a starter of cold beetroot soup served with roast potatoes. The pink coloring is a little startling and the half boiled egg hiding in the middle is a surprise – but not a bad one.
Then we went for the “Little Bit of Everything” option
- Four potato pancakes
- Mashed Potato Sausage
- A potato dumpling with fallow deer meat
- Herring Snack
- Some parcel things with pork in
- Boiled Pigs Ears and Split Peas
Don’t say I don’t try things, but I shan’t be depriving pigs of their hearing in the future, I’ll stick to the Bacony parts.
A Long Day in Vilnius
The weather probably had a lot to do with our day in Vilnius. It definitely felt like a 15 kilometre trudge and boy were we tired when we got back to the hotel. Bed by 930pm, asleep by 931pm. It’s an ok city to trundle around, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as, say, Plovdiv.
Vilnius to Riga
The next morning we’re up and at-em, having left the city on an 8am 11 seater minibus, from the fab Lux Express, heading the 300 km’s to Riga in Latvia. At 16 euros each, it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get to Riga, our next stop en route to Russia – and as we make our way north, the flat, fertile farmland makes it easy to see how invading armies rolled into town and how hard the life must have been for the Lithuanian and partisan fighters.