A visit to KaunasJune 10, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C
We'd set a day aside to visit Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd city. We'd originally planned to stay 5km out of town and cycle in along the river, but it was a scorcher of a day so parking in the castle car park in the old town at just 30 cents an hour was a lot better option.
As we approached the city, we passed roadside plant sellers and a few fruit stalls. The closer we got the more tram wires criss crossed over our heads. The trams and trolleybuses had real character, around half were lime green, but the rest had been decorated in different styles; animal prints, outer space, flowers and cartoons were just a few. There was a real mix of buildings too. Run down concrete walled factories were interspersed with modern car washes, glass fronted offices and the now familiar flapboard houses with corrugated rooves. We'd been spoiled with the miles of open road in Lithuania's countryside. If a fast moving vehicle came up behind you there, it just overtook, but the city phyche ruled here, with close knit gridlocks whete cars pushed in front with inches to spare. Keeping their place in the line of traffic was of the highest priority.
The castle car park was already pretty full when we arrived late morning but we managed to find a space. Martha will just about fit into a regular sized bay with her rear wheels up against the line so long as there is a verge for her back end to overhang.
We set off up Vilniaus Gatve, the pedestrianised main street in the Old Town, towards a couple of vegetarian restaurants the guide book had recommended. Either side was an interesting selection of colourful townhouses, some with dormer windows in their tiled rooves, others sporting decorative flushes of plasterwork around their doorways and window frames. People enjoyed cool drinks as café tables and chairs spilled out onto the thoroughfare. The area was quite touristy, but thanks to Kaunas's two universities there was a good mix of students too. Arriving at the first eatery, a sign told us it was closed on Mondays. Lithuania is the first country we've encountered that uses symbols such as Roman Numerals or dots to communicate opening days and times instead of the names of days or abbreviations of them. We like it!
Will's feet weren't on best form thanks to the cuts he had sustained on successive wild swims, so we didn't venture as far as the new town that stretched eastwards, where there were a few other veggie places. Instead we looked around at what else Vilnaiaus Gatve had to offer. Dismissing Hesburger (the Lithuanian McDonalds) in favour of Casa Della pizzeria. Whilst pizza isn't traditional Lithuanian fare, it seems to be one of the most popular contemporary food choices. Vicky got the pleasure of choosing between four veggie pizzas, opting for the goat's cheese with fresh spinach, while Will ramped up the heat with pepperoni and fresh chilli. Sitting on the metal runged chairs at the melamine covered table outside, we were approached by a persistent (but well dressed) beggar, until a member of staff asked them to leave. She then went over to a burly looking man who gave her a cigarette and sent her off in a different direction... The pizzas were delicious and together with nectarine juice for Vicky and a large can of beer for Will, came to only €9.30. It seemed mean to only tip 10%!
After lunch we went in search of a viewpoint from which the guidebook promised the best views of the old town. Dominating one side of the main square, St Francis Xavier Church, college and Jesuit monastery was easy enough to find. A point of entry was not! We'd walked almost all the way around the large complex before we found a small gate under a brick arch. An A4 printed sheet pinned to a notice board advertised the viewpoint. Stepping through the portal we came to a closed wooden door with entry buzzer. We pressed the button, half expecting to speak to a random resident who knew nothing about any observation deck, but no, to our relief we were buzzed in and met by a warden who knew what we were talking about! Another setback came when they couldn't find the keys to the tower, but they led us out of the building and to the entryphone on the main square, hoping the door at the top of the staircase was open! Thankfully it was and we were left to our own devices on a large rectangular rooftop area beneath the church's pink and white steeple. The views were definitely worth the hassle, encompassing the river, rusty tin rooftops mingled with modern tiles of different hues that covered dormer windows. Trees in full leaf bordered the grey paved square and various steeples protruded, vying for attention. The winner had got to be that of the historic, white painted town hall.
Having seen the Nemunas riverside from up high, we now crossed over to reach the funicular railway leading up the steep hill on the opposite shore. It gave us a different perspective of the city. From here we could see the small university, the residential areas and the basketball painted on the bank, showing the country's enthusiasm for the sport. It was a hot day and we were both getting tired, so we swung back to the mainstreet and found a café serving icecream cones. Ahh, that was better.
Back in the days when people first settled in this area, they chose the land where two major rivers joined, not least because of the natural protection these waterways offered in terms of defence. Wandering back towards Kaunas Castle, we strolled through a park on the tongue of land between the Nemunas and Neris, following a path right to the point where the two confluenced. Taking off our shoes, we cooled our feet in both, finding the Nemunas to be faster flowing, cooler and clearer than the Neris.
Last stop in the city was the humble red brick and cobblestone castle, built back in the 14th century, its coat of arms flying proudly on a red flag. After admiring it from outside we returned to Martha. Kaunas is the first Lithuanian city we've explored on foot and it had been a good experience. The old town was compact but not crowded, the people we interacted with were friendly and happy to speak English, food and attractions were very affordable and there was a good mix of sights. It's a thumbs up for Kaunas!Read more