Lithuania is another new country for us both, the 17th country we’ve visited on this trip, and it’s a country neither of us knew very much about. Reading the blurb in our guide books, it’s had a long and turbulent history, though the modern Lithuanian state is only 100 years old.
Our first full day in Vilnius was the May Day public holiday, but all of the cafés and restaurants in the old town were open so that wasn’t a problem. The tourist information office had an excellent range of maps and leaflets, so we quickly decided that we’d be spending a week here. We had a good wander around the cobbled lanes of the largely pedestrianised old town and found our bearings. It has a lovely feel to it, reminding us of Ljubljana with its coffee culture.
The walk back to the hostel took us through the Republic of Užupis. In 1997, the residents of the area – a group of bohemian artists – established the Republic with its own flag, currency, president and so on. The constitution comprising 41 articles appears on a series of plaques in around 25 languages, including such things as “everyone has the right to idle” and “a dog has the right to be a dog”. The whole place is a bit bonkers, with arty types (who appeared to be on another planet, never mind another republic) performing random theatre and music. It was all good fun though.
In the evening we worked our way through the leaflets, marking all of the things we wanted to see and do on the map to help us plan the days ahead.
Yesterday we walked around the southern part of the old town and saw quite a lot of really good street art.
Like many places in this part of the world, there was a thriving Jewish community which was wiped out by the Nazis in WWII. Two ghettos were set up in Vilnius, and the inhabitants exterminated in 1941. Nothing remains of the ghettos, but there are a few memorials including some stolpersteine.
The 23rd August 1989 was the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which divided Eastern Europe and led to the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by the Soviets in 1940. On this 50th anniversary, some two million people joined hands to form a human chain spanning 675 km or 420 miles, linking the three capitals – Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn – as a peaceful protest against Soviet occupation, and there are commemorations to this in the city.
We were disappointed with the market which was over-hyped in the tourist leaflets. The cafés here though are great, and they’re everywhere. We’ve found one which is also a bakery and does the most wonderful cakes. There are also lots of restaurants here, with many serving traditional cuisine.
Yesterday was also barnet maintenance day – I gave myself a buzz cut in the morning, and Carol went to the hairdressers in the afternoon.
We’ve now learnt not to overdo it when exploring new cities, so today has been a downtime day. All we’ve done is read and gone for a walk through the park to have an ice cream. The weather here has been warm and sunny, but not uncomfortably hot. Right now it’s in the low 20’s and I’m sitting outside the van in the shade of a huge tree with a nice breeze.
Tomorrow we will be paying a visit to the former KGB headquarters, now the Museum of Genocide Victims.