Since I am such an excellent traveling companion (read, I make it my mission to seek out good food), Eric decided he would join me on the bus to Vilnius – which is in Lithuania for those of you who, like me, were a bit fuzzy on your obscure European capitals. We were staying in different hostels this time, so we said we would go shower and get ourselves sorted and then meet up to explore. So we made it to our respective hostels, showered, got ourselves sorted… and then Vilnius exploded into the most violent rainstorm I’ve seen since leaving the monsoon countries. We were both feeling too wussy to go outside in the rain so we stayed in and made the most of the frankly bloody excellent Baltic WiFi until about 5 when the rain eased up and I got a plaintive Facebook message saying ‘I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been in my life’
I hadn’t found as many recommendations for Vilnius as I had for Riga, but I picked one restaurant that looked like good cheap authentic stodge and we set off. About halfway there our bellies got the better of us and we went for pizza instead. Damn fine pizza it was too, but not exactly traditional Lithuanian food. Continuing the trend we then headed into the centre for ice cream at Dione’s, where we meet up with Dean again, along with his couch surfing host Vaida.
This was unbelievably good – my number one recommendation in Vilnius. We ate there twice, with two scoops each time, and I’m so upset I didn’t get to go back and try more flavours. The chocolate orange is particularly special.
We then went to find a cider bar we’d seen on the map, where we lasted for all of one drink before calling it a night in true rock and roll style (Eric and I were tired, Dean was ill and Vaida doesn’t drink but laughed at us for being so rubbish). It was a bit of an odd experience, more like a fancy wine tasting. The barman took his cider very seriously, which apparently meant that it had to be served in minuscule glasses. Sorry, but where I come from cider comes in pints, or half pints at the very least. We were also told that if it wasn’t made from Normandy apples it wasn’t proper cider. Pfft. Rubbish. Clearly this guy has never had 12% apple rocket fuel straight from the farm in a recycled plastic milk bottle with the price scrawled on in permanent marker.
Another city means another free tour, to try and make up for our lack of sightseeing yesterday. This one was another yellow suitcase one, though the guide had dumped it somewhere by this point (like I said, a pain to carry round). She talked really fast so it was sometimes difficult to understand her, but a pretty good tour when we concentrated! Better than the Riga one I thought. We also met Shameera from Singapore on the tour, who I coincidentally shared a dorm room with in Tallinn, though she left early so I talked to her for all of thirty seconds there.
These fingerprints are on the wall of the oldest church on Vilnius, as a maker’s mark on the bricks. Our guide was proud to tell us that Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe – the leaders eventually decided it wasn’t a good idea to be pagan and surrounded by powerful Christians so they bribed the people into converting by offering them a brand new white cotton shirt at their baptism.
The church next to the town hall went through some pretty dramatic changes. As well as switching between catholic and orthodox more than once it’s also been a wine cellar and, in soviet times, a museum of atheism (aka a museum of how evil religion is, with inquisition torture instruments and the like). It lost its bell in one of its non church modes, and since they were short on metal to replace it they opted for wind chimes instead. Tinkly, but possibly not very practical.
My favourite part of the tour was the republic of Uzupis, the nutso artistic community over the river who decided they were going to declare themselves independent. They have their own flag, their own independence day, their own president and prime minister, as well as…
Their own passport stamp – on independence day (April 1st, I’m not sure if this is a coincidence or an Uzupis joke) you can’t cross the river without getting your passport stamped, but for the rest of the year you can get one in a souvenir shop.
They have their own constitutional rights. Some gems include ‘everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation’, ‘everyone shall remember their name’ and ‘a dog has the right to be a dog’
They also have a lovely statue of Jesus Christ, who was apparently the world’s first backpacker.
After the tour the guide took us to her favourite micro brewery restaurant for Lithuanian food (score!), but I completely failed to remember the name or where it was (not so score). I had what turned out to be chili with cheese, which I will forever refer to by the much better Lithuanian name of ‘witches’ tears’
After lunch, and more ice cream I was planning a nice gentle mooch around an art museum, but somehow got talked into joining Shameera and her friend Justine (who lives here) and walking up the hill to the three crosses for a panorama of the city.
I am more exhausted than I’m letting on here. Haven’t climbed any hills in a while…
Later we went to Snekutis for dinner (hint, if you order potato pancakes, you will NOT need two. Good God they are heavy). We walked into to be greeted by the most impressive facial hair I’ve ever seen, and then we opened the menu to be greeted by this:
It was a whole photoshoot. Every page was different. If I thought I could fit it in my rucksack I would have tried to smuggle a menu out under my jacket.
And in case Lithuania’s next top model isn’t enough for you, I also saw the mayor suited up and riding his Segway. He’s famous on YouTube don’t you know.
I don’t think this comes close to Shameera getting lost the day before and bumping into Steven Tyler though. Damn.