Trip Start Dec 31, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

DAY 182–183 – 30/06/13-01/07/13 – RIGA – VILINIUS (LITHUANIA)

We arrived in Lithuania, our third and final country of the Baltic States after a quick four hour bus ride. We were pumped up on free coffee and hot chocolates from the bus and were ready for action. We quickly skipped down the street and found our hotel for the night. It was only 12:50pm and we could not check in until 2pm. This was no problem, so we grabbed our bags walked around the corner to a local restaurant and proceeded to get drunk and full on local beer and local potato, "mystery meat“ dumplings and litres of sour cream.

We arrived back at the hotel at 2pm, only to be told that the room would not be ready until 3pm... maybe. I don't like maybes; they are not definitive and majority of the time they always lead to a no answer. When McDonalds was not on every street corner and was somewhat of a rarity in Gippsland in country Victoria, my brother and I would get really excited when we played soccer in the other bigger towns as this meant we would be going past a McDonalds. As soon as the first golden arches billboard came into view indicating a McDonalds was very near, we would ask dad straight away, “Can we go to McDonalds?" This simple but ultimately critical question would always be met with the same reply, “maybe”. Maybe almost always lead to, “Oh damn, I missed the turn off. Oh well, we can just have salad rolls at home.” So, guy at the hotel, you can f**k your maybes off and Dad, you can f**k your salad rolls off too. Clearly my past still haunts me...   

Anyway, with another hour to kill, we went back to the little restaurant and concentrated on trying all the local Lithuanian beer on offer, this led to me becoming pretty pissed and delaying check in for another 45 minutes. When we finally got into the room it was time to sleep off the beer and have an unplanned relaxed day.

After a big sleep, a big breakfast and a big planning session we were on our way to see what Vilnius had to offer. As it was my turn to plan an itinerary I tried to keep the museum and church visits to a minimum and even had to resort to lying about facts to avoid, in my opinion, unnecessary time wasting stops on my whirlwind tour. “Joel that church is amazing, let’s go inside.” “Nah Jo, the guide book said just to look at this one from the outside.” “Look Joel, there is a museum there.” “Um, I read heaps of reviews on tripadvisor that say it’s a rip-off.”  Yep, these actually worked and saved us from looking at amazing church sculptures and interesting museums.    

Lithuania was no different to its other Baltic State brothers when it came to the illegal occupation years. It to, was under occupation between 1940 to 1991 and tossed between the two superpowers of the time, the USSR and Nazi Germany. But things really heated up during World War II as the geographic location of Lithuania’s border and the fact that it had the largest Jewish population within the region interested Hitler immensely. He instructed to invade the USSR Soviet Union through the old borders of Lithuania and also to eradicate the large Jewish population that had settled in two Ghettos in Vilnius after the USSR had pushed them there after seizing all their assets and proclaimed these riches to the Red State. This act of thievery played into Hitler’s hands as now he had all the Jewish men, women and children where he wanted them and over the years that followed during the fighting he gave specific orders to murder all of them. All in all close to 200,000 Jews were murdered and a lot of the killings took place right in the ghettos we were visiting. The Ghettos were now a hive of activity, with little hotels, cafes and artistic shops opening up everywhere but it still felt like a very sad place with a horror history.      

Apart from the horror history that surrounds Vilnius, it is otherwise a nice leafy city with many old amazing buildings and of course churches and cathedrals. Because of this abundance in churches, it was not long before my “not another f**king church again” syndrome returned. Vilnius has some of the most amazing and unique churches and cathedrals that I have ever seen. They are baroque in style, and yes, I did not know what this meant before today. But basically they have amazing life like 3D sculptures everywhere in the church. Apparently this was the in thing in this area. Even though the churches were amazing, each one of them looked exactly the same. Guide books tried to decipher why each was different but I could save the guide book and everyone else some time in one quick sentence, they all look the same, see one and move on.

The rest of the day was walking down old alleyways, finding hidden street art gems, walking up hills in the middle of the city to see amazing old castles and even visiting a state within a state. This state within a state is called Užupis and one day, a long time ago, one of the residents woke up, decided he had enough of living in Lithuania and instead of moving just declared his suburb a free state. The state has separate laws but still remains under the jurisdiction of Lithuania. They have a democratically appointed President, a flag, a guardian symbol and a constitution. The area is full with artists and free thinkers and it’s a pretty cool area that just adds to the intrigue of this very interesting city. 

We finished the night off with dinner at the local restaurant next to the hotel with another helping of local beer and local potato and meat stew with, of course, litres of sour cream. All in all, it was an interesting and fulfilling day in a country that I previously knew nothing about.
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