The city of steeples and spires

Trip Start Mar 31, 2011
Trip End Jul 05, 2011

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Where I stayed
Fortuna Hotel

Flag of Lithuania  ,
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hello from Lithuania! This city marks the end of our tour of the Baltics, and it was just as beautiful as the other two. The logistics of getting from Riga to Vilnius went off without any mishaps. We cruised around the bus station collecting information about our next bus, then found the hostel without any problems. The area around Vilnius' Old Town is significantly more seedy than its Baltic neighbors, so we were very glad to have arrived in mid-day. The hostel was impeccably clean, which is uncommon for hostels, and we once again had a giant room to ourselves. We went out to Old Town (I know, this is the 3rd Old Town you've heard about-- Europe has no shortage of Old Towns) and wandered around the city to enjoy the sunny (and warm) weather.  Finally, it sunny and sort of warm!

Lithuania has a pretty interesting history-- it spent time being occupied by both Soviets and Nazi Germany. Also, it was the country that first broke free from the Soviets, and began the landslide of Soviet demise. Plus, they took part in a human chain in 1989 that stretched from Vilnius to Tallinn through Riga. We just traveled that exact route, and it was really long! What a huge undertaking-- but I bet it got the Soviet's attention. They also recently sent a team of Lithuanian sailors around the world, stopping at various different Lithuanian communities along the way to visit with the people and vamp up Lithuanian pride.  Needless to say, there is some pretty strong Lithuanian pride here in Vilnius. Also, the people appear to be very religious. I say this for a few reasons: first, there is a church on every corner. Literally, every corner. There are church spires as far as the eye can see, and the interior of each is different. Apparently, Lithuania used to be pagan, but is now nearly 90% Roman catholic. This could explain my second point-- when people pass any of these dozens of churches, the pause and do the sign of the cross on themselves. This practice makes us look like assholes, standing there next to them snapping pictures of the cathedrals. But, in our defense, they are beautiful.

We went to dinner at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant. What an experience! We ordered Cepelininai, which are butter soaked potatoes filled with meat and shaped like Zeppelin hangars (yes, the WWI airplane contraptions again). Not our healthiest meal, but much more approachable than the other items on the menu-- I took a picture to demonstrate. Meat jelly made of pigs' ears, knuckles and tongues. Home made chicken liver with apples. Smoked half metre eel with fresh tomatoes. Fried bread with smoked pigs' tongues, ears and snouts. Not very appetizing, is it? But like I've said before, we have yet to have a bad meal, so maybe these dishes are prepared deliciously well! We weren't willing to try it at the time.

After dinner, we went back to one of the churches in Old Town to listen to a performance of pipe organ music. The organ player was so young, he had to be younger than 30, and he played so beautifully. He picked hard music too--Liszt, Rachmaninov, Reger, and an original composition of his own. The way the music echoed around the church was breathtaking-- not something I've experienced very often at home. The pipe organ was absolutely gigantic and took up the entire back wall of the very large church, but I couldn't take a picture because it was too tasteless. Wonderful experience though.

The weather finally improved on Wednesday (4-13)-- sunny and 51 degrees! Goodbye, scarves and hats! Maybe I will finally be able to pull out my short sleeve shirts in the near future (knock on wood). We had breakfast in the hostel, consisting of pastries we had picked up at the supermarket the night before. Pastries seem to be an important part of the diet here because they are super cheap, delicious, and on every street corner. Yay!

We climbed up to a tower on top of a hill to check out a view of the city. It was so cool! It really put the number of churches in prospective-- there have to be 200 churches in this city. Then the sun came out while we were on the tower, so we stayed up there for almost an hour because it was warm and so beautiful. After trekking down the hill, we walked almost a mile to look at another church. This one had a bunch of really beautiful carvings inside instead of the usual icons or ornate decorations. Really beautiful! Then we headed back in the city and had dinner at a little French restaurant.  There had to be at least a pound of butter in each of our meals. It was so good! Reminded me of the recipes we've tried from the Julia Child cookbook, although they prepared our meal in about 20 minutes and those recipes always seem to take me upwards of four hours. I wonder if all the food in France tastes that good.

So now we are sitting at our hotel relaxing before our night bus to Warsaw. Hopefully this night bus will be less exciting then our night bus from Russia to Estonia-- we are hoping to at least get to stay on the bus for this border crossing instead of having to get out and drag ourselves through immigration. Wish us luck! Iki pasimatymo!
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Tom on

Did you know that professional basketball star Zydrunas Ilgauskas hails from Lithuania?


Aaron on

Im glad its getting warmer! That is always nice.

I think i would have ordered the meat jelly and the chicken liver. That way i could have drenched the liver with animal juices...

Aaron on

How do all those churches stay in business.... people must go to more than one church!

Adrienne on

The only way to pull off the pork face is to wash it down with lots of beer. The churches are so beautiful; just think of the people that were put to work to build these churches. Thanks for another great blog and professional photos.

Valentina on

It is so nice, that you liked my native town Vilnius :)
We have a lot of churches, but I'm afraid, not 200, unless before war, when there was a lot of Jewish synagogues :) We also have only one cathedral, all the other are churches of different confessions.
The third church is orthodox, that's why it is different from the other :) It is the main Orthodox Church in Vilnius. There are hold the bodies (mummies) of three Vilnius orthodox saints (in front of the iconostasis).

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