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Adventures of a short vet

Summer in Vilnius

LITHUANIA | Thursday, 2 June 2011 | Views [377]

mmmm cold soup yum yum yum

mmmm cold soup yum yum yum

The bus trip itself was fine, except for the horrible chemical toilet smell that permeated through the interior, but the highway was in terrible condition and I awoke several times thinking we were swerving off the road to our deaths whenever we hit the gravel on the side of the road or potholes in the road. So I didn’t get much sleep. Interesting fact: it gets light around 3:40am. I should know. I watched the sun rise…

In a sleep-deprived haze I somehow managed to navigate my way from the bus-stop to Hostelgate, where I was stoked to be able to check in early. It's a lovely hostel - nice big, light, open kitchen; great common room with lots of English TV channels & movies (not that you spend much time inside), a big table in the garden outside and very friendly staff who hang out with the backpackers and get everyone together. It has a real friendly “hostel traveller” atmosphere rather than a self-absorbed “hotel style” feel that so many of the big hostels now have.

I decided not to have a nap but pushed through the tiredness with the help of a strong coffee, and headed into town to meet the 12pm walking tour after a quick supermarket shop and early lunch. It was a really interesting tour. Instead of hitting the obvious tourist sites, we walked through the residential area of “Uzupis”, which was taken over by artists and hippies and soon declared a “Republic”. They even elected a “President”, refused to pay taxes, and had a 12 man “army” to guard the bridges into the area on April Fool’s Day and issue stamps into people’s passports. There was a great wall full of art dedicated to local writers, as well as the obligatory lock bridge. We also walked up a random hill for a lookout over the town, though our place was pretty slow given the stifling heat of the day.

After lunch in the park I headed down to the Museum of Genocide Victims (also known locally as the KGB Museum), which was pretty harrowing, especially the prison cells and re-enactment of the executions that took place in the basement room. It made me even more grateful for the free and safe upbringing I had as a child.

The following day I decided to visit the town of Trakai, situated on a little peninsula between two peaceful lakes and described as “Lithuania’s prettiest town” with its castle on the lake. I caught the local bus to the station which is a bit of a walk to the town centre, where I stopped for a coffee at a little café overlooking the lake. I then joined the crowds of schoolkids crossing the bridge to visit the castle. Tip of the day: in trying to avoid the weekend crowd be warned you may be surrounded by kids on school trips instead! Once again, it was not the original castle, which fell into disrepair after being damaged in the wars with Muscovy in the 17th century, but a reconstruction initiated in 1905 by the Russians and finally completed in the late 90’s. They even managed to work on it during WWII. I learnt a lot about the reigns of power throughout history and checked out the old armour, porcelain and glassworks before finding a nice quiet spot on the lake behind the castle to have lunch. It wasn’t long before the serenity-shattering screams of kids swimming nearby sent me off on a walk to another peninsula, which I reached by crossing a bridge floating on barrels (THAT was a surprise when I first stepped onto it!). I followed a little path past the docks and ended up bush-bashing through the undergrowth until it ran out completely at the edge of the lake. Fortunately there aren’t any snakes here (or so I hoped). Having reached the end of the road I headed back for an ice-cream and a wee nap on the lake while waiting for the return bus. Not a bad day at all.

I had a lazy start to the day before heading down to check out the “Gate of Dawn”, the only remaining city gate out of nine original gates. It contains religeous artifacts intended to guard the city from attacks and to bless travelers and has organ music is piping out (not what I expected at all). I headed over to the Defensive Wall and Bastion, which was disappointingly under construction. I walked past St Anne’s Church again, a rare brick building which is renovated with the original bricks as hundreds of spare bricks were discovered under the church. I then walked through a lovely park and up a steep, abandoned path to the Hill of the Three Crosses for a view over the city. On the way up I saw a lot of people with bike helmets running around the hill waving maps so it looked like there was some sort of orienteering marathon happening in the city. After lunch in the park I headed past the cathedral and bell tower into town, and from there to the “Vilnius Beach” on the river. It’s essentially a bit of sand dumped on the riverfront where people play volleyball – not exactly a beach by Kiwi standards! But there is a nice open grassy area on the river where the locals sunbathe, so I joined them to read my book in the sun for a couple of hours.

I stopped at a street restaurant on the way back to the hostel for my first cider in two months, to accompany a meal of “cold soup” recommended by the walking guide the previous day. Bright pink in colour, it’s a beetroot and celery cold soup that is not only delicious and refreshing, but pretty as well!

Tags: bus, castle, hippies, hostelgate, kgb museum, trakai, uzupis


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