Walking Around in Old Vilnius
A tidy, quiet and eminently affordable third floor cubicle (at $60 American per night) featured a bathroom whose uni-floor also drained the shower and a TV offering English language news from the BBC. An S-shaped steam pipe device on the bathroom wall dried hand-washed laundry. For more options, find unique Vilnius accommodations and intrepid tours in Vilnius.
The gleaming, modern Europa Mall a few blocks away put shopping and
Over the River Neris
Donning sturdy hiking boots on my first morning in Vilnius, I crossed the River Neris to find Cathedral Square and the National Museum immediately over the King Mindaugas Bridge.
Modern statues in the plaza recognized both Lithuania’s first and only King, Mindaugas, and Duke Gedminas, a 14th Century figure credited as father of a Lithuanian empire that linked the Baltic and Black Seas by the 17 th Century.
Inside the museum, wall-mounted maps documented the ebb and flow of Lithuanian history from pagan times to contemporary independence. Crusaders, frustrated in efforts to bring Christianity to Moslems, turned to converting Lithuanian pagans in the Middle Ages.
Renovation work raised dust around the national Catholic cathedral in its world class historical setting. Construction recalls a debate over how far modern development should go in the Old City. Opponents suggest the wrecking ball may sacrifice Vilnius’ historic landmarks blending medieval, renaissance and later architecture on the altar of 21 st Century progress. Other denominations, including Orthodox, also have places of worship in the Old City.
Narrow Old City streets easily accommodated horses and wagons, but max out with increased traffic from numerous tiny French, German and Russian cars. For nearly a half mile along Didzioji Street vendors hawk amber articles and other local treasures in the street.
The Gate of Dawn marks the remaining piece of the Old City wall. One elderly lady prayed on her knees before its shrine, visible at street level. Nearby, St. Teresa’s Church offers sanctuary surrounded by elaborate interior trappings just before the Old City ends.
Filling up on Local Cuisine
Cafes and restaurants in and around the Old City serve everything from a cup of heavily sugared black coffee up to major meals. English-Lithuanian-Russian language menus advertise Italian, Chinese and American food. The Old City even hosts a McDonald’s with a more limited menu than in the U.S. For my favorite mealtime experience, I ordered Lithuanian cuisine by pointing at what looked good in the Europa Mall’s third floor cafeteria. Fewer than ten litas bought a tasty and substantial dumpling, potato and pork centered meal.
A Farmers’ Market just over the River Neris inside the Old City offers produce grown on privately owned agricultural land. A city block long series of small stands display fresh flowers to meet the serious Lithuanian demand for them.
Getting Around Town
Miles long walkways along the Neris make for scenic and flat jogging trails, although few Lithuanians
Frequent buses and abundant cabs motor through the heart of Vilnius, easing transport for short-haul or weary walkers. Handy kiosks all
Carrying a few litas in coin on those walking tours helps in case of a call of nature. While restaurants, bus stations and public places, such as the park at the National Museum, have rest rooms, they often charge a nominal fee... usually a lita coin for using them. And Turkish style toilets built flush to the floor make an interesting experience themselves.
In some ways visiting Vilnius resembles entering a time warp back to a gentler, simpler time, such as the Fifties in the U.S. Lithuanian citizens now own units in the huge Soviet-era apartment buildings which rose over the sites of bulldozed private homes. Lace curtains adorn nearly all private windows. And people buy and carry cut flowers everywhere, demonstrating a refreshing thoughtfulness. Membership in the European Economic Community, already underway, probably will impact the Vilnius lifestyle.
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