Vilnius Lithuania 2019
What a tasteful city! As regards both its architecture and people’s style! We reached Vilnius after visiting our friends in Kyiv and the cultural difference was more than obvious! Both Ukraine and Lithuania used to be part of former USSR but while in Kyiv the soviet element is still apparent, Vilnius has completely shaken off any sign of their previous occupants! The difference in our eyes was more than striking, starting the very moment we entered our hotel room! Probably the most beautiful hotel room we have stayed so far, with beautiful bright colors and tasteful details that added a touch of luxury! Everything was so clean that we felt we were the first guests!
Hurriedly we left our luggage and set off on our exploration of the Old City! But we first needed energy so we grabbed a bite at the restaurant right next to our hotel. We entered the Old City through the Gate of Dawn, one of its most important religious, historical and cultural monuments. It used to be part of the defensive fortifications for the city of Vilnius and is the only one that remains, while the other nine gates were destroyed at the end of the 18th century. In the past, city gates often contained religious artifacts in order to guard the city and to bless travelers. Hence, the small chapel, Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, containing an icon of Virgin Mary which is believed to have miraculous powers and thus attracts many pilgrims from neighboring countries who come here to pray. The Old City is dotted with dozens of old churches each of which has its own exquisite character.
Still walking, we reached the central square in front of the neo-classical Town Hall where all big events of the city are celebrated. But the magic of the place is hidden in the medieval, narrow lanes where you can easily get lost figuratively and literally!
Our wandering brought us to the gigantic and bustling Cathedral Square in front of Vilnius Cathedral. It is hard to believe that during the Soviet regime this magnificent building was converted into a warehouse! Its status as a cathedral was restored in 1989. The Cathedral’s Bell Tower, the Belfry, is situated in front of its façade and is an element of particular importance which has become a symbol of the city.
Taking the route back we bumped into another symbol of the city, gothic St Ann’s Church with the characteristic red-brick walls. The appearance of this church has remained the same for the last 500 years! It is so uniquely beautiful that legend has it that Napoleon expressed a wish to carry it home to Paris ‘in the palm of his hand’!
Another district of the city well-worth a visit is the Republic of Užupis. It is an independent, artistic district dating back to the 16th century with a distinctive Bohemian atmosphere and its own guardian called ‘The Bronze Angel of Užupis’ situated in its center. I thought it would be like Christiania in Copenhagen but no! This is a prestigious district occupied mainly by artists who frequently hold festivals, concerts and artistic events here. It has its own flag, its own currency, its own president and ministers, its own anthem and its very own constitution that decorates the long wall on Paupio Lane which I found quite funny I have to admit!
…Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation (!!!)
A dog has the right to be a dog (!!!)
Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday (!!!)
Everyone shall remember their name (!!!)
Everyone has the right to have no rights (!!!)…
were among the lines of Užupis constitution!
Taking the same route towards the Old City, today we visited a lot of churches of exceptional architecture. Wandering around the city we reached the foot of Gediminas’ Hill on top of which stands Gediminas’ Tower. There are two options to get to it: either take the lift or walk. Impressed by the scenic landscape and urged by the unexpectedly warm weather we walked the steep path towards the tower from which we had a panoramic and breathtaking view of the city. Gediminas was a Lithuanian Duke. According to a legend, while he was hunting in the woods, he felt tired and stopped to rest on a hilltop for the night. There he had a dream of an iron wolf standing on top of the hill howling like a hundred wolves. When Gediminas asked the magician about the meaning of his dream, he said that it was a sign that he should build a city in this place which would become the capital of Lithuania. He of course obeyed the signs and built a city, Vilnius (after the nearby river Vilnia), and a castle, whose only surviving part today is Gediminas’ Tower.
The descent to the Old City was very easy. We decided to have lunch in a Georgian restaurant which served delicious soup and tasty pies with eggs, spinach and eggplants the names of which are impossible to remember. The heat and our full stomachs led us to our hotel for a siesta before roaming again the narrow winding lanes of the now dimly-lit Old City. It is amazing how different everything looks at night; more romantic, more mysterious! The further we moved from the center, the dimmer the lights got and the more genuine people became…
Local draught beer was exactly what we needed that warm night in Vilnius! The following day a new country was waiting for us….