Lithuania was my first stop on my 9-day backpacking through the Baltics (plus Helsinki).
History wasn’t kind to this country. Its independence was recognised in 1918 (precisely 100 years ago, which makes this year very special), but this didn’t last for long. The 20th century was about to bring very bad news. We all know what happened. Two big World Wars. A Cold War. Terrible crimes committed against humanity. The Baltics suffered terribly, trapped between the German Nazis and the Soviets. I mean…between one or the other, we can hardly decide whose worst. The Lithuanians saw its territory invaded by the Soviets, then by the German Nazis and again occupied by the soviet union.
We can only imagine in our worst nightmares the terrors of living in war. We are lucky enough to be only shocked and disgusted by the crimes humans were (are) capable to commit against each other. Lucky enough to be young and live in a society where war only happens “far away”. For a western millennial, war seems like a dystopian reality.
For that, it’s good to be reminded of how privileged we are. We were only born in the right place at the right time. How unfortunate are those who live in a completely different reality – never knowing if they will survive another day. Not recognising peace as a possible reality. Not even understanding it.
Lithuanian independence has only been restored in 1990 (only 28 years ago!). And due to this recency, I was expecting to find a country still licking its injuries, healing. In a way, I did find that. But on an unexpected turn of events, I was amazed by the warmness of its capital Vilnius. How it’s been thriving, modernising. I was surprised by the vibrant and young atmosphere, its artistic and bohemian soul, its rebellious aura.
And then I learned something else: the Lithuanians were the last pagans in Europe. Christianization of Lithuanian was one of the most complicated processes of conversion in European History. I guess these witches were though! And I really loved that 🙂
It was probably quite controversial at the time. As it is the new campaign to promote tourism in Vilnius. Shortly after booking this trip, I started to be targeted by ads promoting Vilnius as the G-spot of Europe. Privately I thought it was funny. The slogan goes as follows “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it – it’s amazing.”
However, I do understand why this would be under fire. Are they promoting sexual tourism? I mean…aren’t sexual references in marketing a bit old-fashioned? But well. It seems to work when everybody is talking about it. Even if you had never heard about Vilnius, at least now you have.
But what really made me smile was when I found out Lithuanian government asked the city to postpone the campaign after Pope Francis visited Vilnius. They refused. Can you see the religion resistance prevailing? 🙂
I’m not sure about Vilnius being the “G-spot of Europe”. But I can tell you it is definitely an underrated destination. I’m proud of my decision to go on this trip and having modest and surprisingly cultural and vibrant Vilnius as my first stop gave me the energy for a good start. In Vilnius, you’ll find lovely medieval streets, baroque architecture, delicious and incredibly cheap food, trendy bars, culture and History.
— UZUPIS —
This was my favourite neighbourhood in Vilnius. Once the least favourite of everyone, it used to be the poorest area, with high crime rates. A few years ago, students and aspiring artists took over the streets of Uzupis (literally meaning “the other side of the river”) and it’s now the place to be for hipster aspirers.
There’s plenty of trendy coffee shops, design shops and galleries. However, what I really enjoy about Uzupis is its self-established/proclaimed Republic. They even have their Constitution and a national day (the 1st of April). And their Constitution, despite its naivete and simplicity, it only made me think about one thing: if we all, in the whole world, led our lives following these constitutional terms, we’d be living in such a wonderful world. But it also shows the complexity of the human society. How even what seems to be right can be wrong. How contradictions are a part of us.
1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele has the right to flow by everyone.
2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
6. Everyone has the right to love.
7. Everyone has the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.
8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
9. Everyone has the right to be lazy and to contemplate.
10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
11. Everyone has the right to look after a dog till one or the other dies.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but it must help him in time of need.
14. Everyone has the right to sometimes be unaware of their duties.
15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
20. No one has the right to violence.
21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
22. Everyone has the right to have a design on eternity.
29. No-one can share what they do not possess.
30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
31. Everyone can be independent.
32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
33. Everyone has the right to cry.
34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
35. No-one has the right to make another person guilty.
36. Everyone has the right to be private and personal.
37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
38. Everyone has the right to not be afraid.
39. Do not defeat.
40. Do not fight back.
41. Do not surrender.
— BERNARDINE CEMETERY–
Located in Uzupis, the Bernardine Cemetery was another of my favourite spots. Just because I love a good old, decrepit, abandoned cemetery. And I also love photographing them. Nothing beats the Victorian-Gothic cemeteries scattered all across the British Islands, but I couldn’t miss the chance to visit this one in Lithuanian and I didn’t regret walking a bit further up in the neighbourhood to visit it.
— OLD TOWN —
Vilnius old town became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 and it’s Eastern Europe largest old town simply lovely. Feel free to get lost in its tiny streets and to peek inside its courtyards. Here you’ll find great restaurants, offering traditional Lithuanian dishes, trendy wine bars and souvenirs stalls.
— CHURCH OF ST. ANNE —
This is a stunning, an architectural gem in Vilnius. A masterpiece of the late Gothic period, legend says that even Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to take it to France. This beautiful church has survived without changing for over 500 years. I stared at this for some time, wanting to absorb all its details.
— GEDIMINAS HILL —
This is where Vilnius was founded in the 13th century. I climbed up to the hill, where there’s a red brick tower and you can see the city from above. Personally didn’t find it particularly stunning from above (some cities simply look better from inside). Plus a lot of restoration works were taking place.
— THREE CROSSES HILL —
Another viewpoint of the city. Why three crosses? Again no one really knows the answer. It’s been told it dates back to the 17th century when tree monks placed the crosses there to pay tribute to a group of fellow monks killed and tortured back in the 14th century in this location.
— GATE OF DAWN —
Built as part of the city defensive fortifications in the 16th century, it’s the last remaining gate of the city. However, it has become a very important religious symbol. Back in the 16th century, city gates contained religious artefacts with a dual use: to guard the city against attacks and bless any newcomers.
— VILNIUS CATHEDRAL —
This surprised me as one of the most simple, plain Catholic cathedrals I have ever seen. Do you think it even looks like one? But we must admire its simple neo-classical style.
— THE FOOD —
Now, it all comes to this, right? If you’re a foodie on a budget Lithuanian offers great options at very affordable prices. Traditional Lithuanian food is based in meat and potatoes. I tried the famous cold beetroot soup and potato pancakes at a very good restaurant in the old town, Forto Dvaras. Only paid €7 for this!
These were my highlights of Vilnius. Would you consider to visit?
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