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  • Day1085

    Vilnius Day 1

    June 16, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    It's time to explore Vilnius, the largest city in Lithuania and its capital! A barrier controlled, tarmac car park near Gediminas Hill is our home for 2 days. There are no specified bays for motorhomes but they are mentioned in the pricing, which can be charged hourly, or €9 per 24 hours. Number plates are scanned on entry and you can pay at a machine by card or cash when you leave. It is a pleasant spot with the Vilnia tributary river running along one side, a border of trees, a few other motorhomes and most importantly great access to the centre! We'd been anxious about how difficult it would be to drive in, but the Sunday morning traffic was minimal and it all went smoothly.

    We'd planned to visit Vilnius with our sister and brother in law, Sue and John this time last year. With unexpected medical appointments we made the decision to stay in the UK while they went ahead with their pre booked flights. We were therefore particularly keen to explore the city we'd waited so long to see.

    The weather had swung from searing sunshine to overcast rainy skies. We clad ourselves in waterproof coats and grabbed our brollies. Crossing a little bridge and walking through a park we arrived in the central square, with the imposing form of St Stanislaus and St Vladislav Cathedral Basilica looming above us. The rectangular building with its white pillars and statues appeared quite modern. It's cylindrical bell tower which stood separately didn't seem much taller than it.

    We'd marked a few sites on Maps.Me but the white canvas of market stalls on the main street, Gediminas Avenue, caught our attention. Two beautifully constructed lifesize floral mannequins stood in the roadway, with a sign welcoming visitors to the 'herb market'. Within it we found two sellers wearing fresh garlands while bouquets of wildflowers and grasses decorated the stalls. The items for sale were similar to those in Palanga a few weeks ago, although with a little more variety; honey, herbs, amber jewellery, clothes, especially linen, cheese, street food including the Gira drink, and woodwork. There was real individuality and skill expressed in the crafted products. There aren't many things that are practical for us to buy but Vicky persuaded Will to get a beautiful wooden trivet, made from cross sections of small tree branch arranged in a pattern.

    Having done a bit of research we knew the weekly changing of the flags was due to take place at the Presidential Palace at noon, so this was our next port of call. The two storey pale yellow building had rows of white pillars like the cathedral, but was more subtle in its communication of power and wealth. Sure enough at 11:50am four armoured knights marched onto the public courtyard. There was nothing subtle about them! Next came four officers, each in different uniforms, whose job it was to prepare the flags by untying their ropes, before standing aside for the marching band, from which a further four officers emerged. The flags of the EU, Lithuania, Vilnius's Coat of Arms and NATO were in turn lowered, folded, exchanged, unfolded and raised with much pomp and ceremony. By now the rain had begun falling hard, soaking the uniformed assembly who, credit to them, remained professional throughout.

    To see an abbreviated video of the changing of the flags go to the VnW Travels YouTube channel:

    We were grateful for our umbrellas as we trudged through wet streets into the Užupis neighbourhood; described as a 'breakaway state' for artists within Vilnius. The self proclaimed Republic of Užupis even has its own president, anthem and 41 point constitution! Last summer we'd visited Freetown Christiania, an independent state within Copenhagen and had expected a similar setup. However Užupis residents seemed far less extreme than Denmark's rebels, to the extent that (to our inexperienced eyes) we didn't notice much difference when crossing the bridge into the 4000 strong community. Passing by the small main square with a large bronze angel statue (a symbol of Užupis) and a collection of generic looking eateries we found a small café, with tables and mismatched chairs on a narrow pavement. We were seated on antique cushioned chairs with a fresh carnation on the table and a small cover above our heads that managed to protect us from the worst of the rain. We were a little nervous about cars that could have drenched us by splashing through a large puddle, but thankfully drivers were considerate. Keen to sample the national cuisine we ordered Lithuanian sausage and potato pancakes from the friendly manager, along with a beer and freshly made apple, carrot and courgette juice. The juice and sausage were delicious, but Vicky's fried pancakes were a bit too oily for her.

    From our lunchtime seats we'd seen groups of tourists admiring 37 silver plaques that stretched out along the wall we'd been sitting next to. Each displayed the Užupis constitution in a different language (additional versions can be found on the internet). The more we read the more we liked it. Our favourite decrees included;
    "Everyone has the right to be happy.
    Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
    A dog has the right to be a dog.
    Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
    Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
    Everyone may be independent.
    Everyone is responsible for their freedom."

    The rain really started to come down as we navigated through the quiet, Old Town cobbled lanes towards the B&B Sue and John stayed in last year. We don't mind a bit of rain but this was the sort that bounced back once it hit the pavement to soak through your shoes. Water overflowed gutters and pelted our umbrellas. Downpipes were backed up and spurting like fountains at their joints. Water streamed over paving slabs and formed large puddles stretching right the way accross the road. We were becoming fed up, so decided to call it quits. Heading back, we took refuge in the cathedral where a choir and organist were practicing in the stalls. They helped mellow our mood as we admired the beautiful, white, arched ceiling dotted with plaster flowers set in to circles.

    When we emerged, the rain had all but stopped. After a welcome cuppa in Martha the clouds began to clear and typically gave us a blue sky evening!
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  • Day1086

    Vilnius Day 2

    June 17, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Thankfully the weather was kinder to us on our second day in Vilnius; Lithuania's capital city. After a late start we began our mission to find the Cat Café! Will's sister Sue had discovered this place when in Vilnius last year and we'd been keen to visit ever since. Maps.Me showed it on the other side of town so we were confused when we came accross it while walking up the main street. It was early for lunch, so double checking the map we decided to investigate the other location.

    Further up Gediminas Avenue we found peope's names inscribed on the side of a building with origami paper doves, exhausted candles in glass jars and fresh flowers layed against the wall and a stone memorial. After a little research we discovered it was the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights (previously the Museum of Genocide Victims) and Memorial of the Victims of Soviet Occupation. On this day (June 17th) in 1940 the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania fell under Soviet Occupation. This place, which had previously been used as headquarters for the Nazi Gestapo was taken over by the KGB. People were imprisioned, tortured and executed in its cells, before being buried in the gardens. There are so many histories within different countries that we have very little awareness of. Coming accross the tributes was a sobering experience.

    Just around the next corner we found the old Cat Café that Sue had visited, with a note saying it had relocated. Our curiosity satisfied, we looped back via the Neris riverside. Several bridges crossed to the opposite bank; a real contrast to the historic old town, with glass walled skyscrapers belonging to big name companies such as Barclays and Huawei.

    Entering the new Cat Café we were required to place protective covers over our shoes and wash our hands before being seated. A list of rules, such as not stroking sleeping cats, was clearly displayed. The establishment is home to 15 cats. They all appeared very healthy. Some sat in the picture windows watching the world go by, others lounged in cat trees, on chairs or strolled accross the floor inspecting visitors' bags, doing what cats do best and ignoring the humans that vied for their attention. The whole place was very clean. Chilled music played, photographic portraits of each cat hung on the walls together with a few large anthropomorphic cat paintings.

    None of the cats was interested in a cuddle, but several came close enough for strokes and we petted those that looked keen. The food was good, with cold beetroot soup and dumplings for Will and a feta and beetroot salad for Vicky, which she accompanied with a freshly blended mango smoothie - yum!

    Since seeing the 57m high bell tower in Cathedral Square the previous day, Vicky had been keen to climb it. The interior was mixed. A super narrow, spiralling stone staircase led to modern platforms of glass and metal with electronic displays, including CCTV feeds of the surrounding area. Joysticks, zoom buttons and presets allowed you to control their direction and see specific sights. Steep wooden stairs gave access to higher levels with a row of bells for you to play, a couple of old clockfaces leaning against the walls
    and solid timber frames surrounding the huge hanging bells, which we were strictly forbidden to play, however tempting! The top deck had arched windows open to the elements, with just some nylon mesh accross and good views of the cathedral and mainstreet.

    Exiting the tower we took a few minutes to search for the Miracle Tile set into the pavement. Legend has it that those who turn 360° on the tile and make a wish, will have it granted. In fact, this was the point from which, on 23rd August 1989, 2 million people formed a human chain, stretching over 370 miles, through three countries and three capital cities, ending in Tallinn, Estonia. This peaceful demonstration was a stand against Soviet rule. Two years later the Baltic countries gained independence. Further round the tower was another understated installation commemorating this incredible, revolutionary stand. A second tile with two huge footprints was layed in 2013 with a time capsule underneath. Identical 'footprints for freedom' tiles link Vilnius with the two other capitals through which the chain passed; Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. When they were layed the Mayor of Vilnius made a speech: "Famous French writer Victor Hugo once said that we all walk the same roads in life, but that not everyone leaves the same footprints. The footprints of those people who stood here 24 years ago in the Baltic Way will remain for all time".

    From Cathedral Square we wandered the short distance to the cobbled streets of the old town, lined with trinket stalls, terraced bars and buskers. After a while searching for groceries (harder than it sounds) we ticked off another of our aims for Vilnius: to find and eat black vanilla icecream as Sue and John had done on their visit last year. Vicky cheekily sampled some of Will's double scoop in a black cone. It was tasty, but its flavour paled in comparison to the servings of mango and strawberry vegan icecream with 'natural ingredients' that she ordered from the stand over the other side of the street.

    There was one last stop on the way back to Martha; Vilnius Castle on Gediminas Hill. During our time in Lithuania we've appreciated the lack of commercialism and advertising, but we could really have done with some better signage for the entrance to the castle grounds! After what seemed like an age and with some help from a local, we found our way to the base station of the small funicular railway. Vicky said hello to the attendent and asked if he spoke English. An exasperated 'PLEASE!' was his reply- she was only asking! The glass and metal carriage was more like a diagonal escalator, with a self service call button and internal control pad. Standard entry to the broad round tower was €5. We thought this a bit steep in comparison to other Lithuanian attractions, but our decision was aided by a sudden downpour and the fact that as an OAP Will got in for half price, so we coughed up.

    The quality indoor displays validated the price. While rain torrented down we sat half way up the tower, watching images projected onto screens in front of each large, arched window, creating the illusion of a view to the outside. Images told the story of historical events taking place outside the castle over the centuries, of wars and development. There was also a whole level dedicated to the freedom movement and the human chain, with moving photos and video footage.

    The weather had driven others away, so when the front passed, we were lucky enough to have the open air platform at the top of the tower to ourselves. There were amazing panoramic views of the surrounding hills, old town, Neris River, the modern and residential areas. We found it all the more interesting having investigated a little on foot. It was a great way to end our exploration of Vilnius! We love how compact it is. There is so much to see within a small area, yet it doesn't feel crowded. Whilst we spent two days here, you could easily spend longer and enjoy disvovering more.

    That evening there was a knock on the door. David was a Brit travelling in his motorhome from Switzerland, where he lived with his Swiss partner Marlyse. He invited us round for a drink and nibbles! When we were settled, there was a knock at their door from their Swiss neighbour Leila, who was travelling with her Springer Spaniel Kiki. They had the same make of van, so each was interested in taking a look 'through the keyhole'. David and Marlyse were good hosts and the 5 of us spent a relaxing evening chatting about vanlife and travelling to far flung places like Russia, Iceland and Morocco. Vicky especially enjoyed having Kiki with us! If any of you are reading this, then thank you, we wish you well on your future voyages!
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  • Day152

    Vilnius im 5er Pack

    September 29, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    Wir mögen die Gesellschaft von Jane, Markus & Clara so sehr und buchen zusammen ein Airbnb in Vilnius. Der Ankunfts- sowie Folgetag sind so verregnet, dass wir uns neben Spieleinheiten mit Clara eine gute Portion Netflix gönnen - die Miniserie „Spy“ ist sehr zu empfehlen - und uns in der Nachbarschaft kulinarisch verwöhnen lassen (einmal litauische und einmal asiatische Küche). Der heutige und letzte Tag in Vilnius bringt etwas Sonnenschein, die Free Walking Tour sowie die Bekanntschaft mit einer interessanten und hübschen Altstadt😊
    PS: Markus und Jane, wir alle sollten uns mal schämen, kein Gruppenselfie gemacht zu haben 😝
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  • Day3


    July 7, 2018 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Heute gab es eine kurze Anreise. Vilnius ist gerade mal 141 km entfernt. Ich trödelte etwas herum, um nicht allzu früh da zu sein. Ein spätes Frühstück hier, ein Lebensmitteleinkauf da, und nicht zu vergessen die Umleitung, die ich angewiesen worden bin zu fahren, weil die Zufahrtsstraße gerade instantgesetzt wird.
    Am frühen Nachmittag kam ich in Vilnius an. Ich hatte mir einen Platz fast im Zentrum ausgesucht, eine coole alternative Location mit internationalem Publikum. Hier richtete ich mich häuslich ein für die nächsten zwei Tage und machte anschließend eine kleine Erkundungstour durch die Altstadt von Vilnius. Ganz gefällig das Städtchen, hier und da etwas abgeranzt aber ansonsten jung und weltoffen. So zumindest mein Eindruck.

    Tageskilometer: 141 km
    Gesamtkilometer: 943 km
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  • Day4

    Vilnius Tag 2

    July 8, 2018 in Lithuania ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Sonntag ist Ruhetag. Dementsprechend machte ich heute erstmal nüscht. Also fast nüscht. Bis zur Ankunft meiner beiden Mitreisenden am Abend. Erfreulicherweise kamen sie pünktlich und vollständig und das Hallo war entsprechend groß. Nach einem ersten Begrüßungsgetränk schlenderten wir einmal durch die Altstadt, die in der lauen Abenddämmerung einen besonderen Charme versprühte. Ja, hier in Vilnius kann man es wohl aushalten. Zumindest im Sommer ;-) Bezeichnenderweise existiert hier die weltweit einzige gewaltfreie unabhängige Republik Užupis (župis).

    Später saßen wir noch lange draußen im Garten unserer Behausung und freuten uns, dass die Reise nun endlich gemeinsam weitergeht.
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  • Day5

    Vilnius Tag 3

    July 9, 2018 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Wir haben beschlossen, noch einen Tag hier zu bleiben, um Vilnius nochmal bei Lichte zu betrachten. Das hat sich durchaus gelohnt. Nach der obligatorischen Frühstücks-Camperpfanne (treue Leser von Mattis Reisen kennen sie bereits) machten wir uns auf eine ausgedehnte Erkundungstour. Wir schlenderten durch das Stadtwäldchen, erklommen den Aussichtspunkt der drei Kreuze, durchquerten nochmal die Altstadt, erstanden eine Straßenkarte für das gesamte Baltikum, besuchten eine Ausstellung von zeitgenössischen litauischen Künstlern in einer ehemaligen Kirche und ließen uns mehr oder weniger immer der Nase lang treiben durch dieses immer noch charmante Städtchen. Zum Abendessen in der Republik Užupis probierten wir uns durch diverse Litauische Spezialitäten. Ein rundum gelungener Urlaubseinstieg!Read more

  • Day1

    Day 2 in Vilnius, Lithuania

    January 18 in Lithuania ⋅ ☁️ 0 °C

    Today I had a nice lie in and checked out of the hostel at 10.30am. There was nobody on the reception so I just left my key with a note.

    Then I did a hike to the three crosses which is on top of a hill. It was a VERY steep walk up high through a forest. It was freezing cold and the temperatures were definitely below zero. To be honest I was quite scared walking through this deserted hilly forest. I am an ethnic minority in a very "closed" country that is not known to be welcoming to foreigners. But a random Lithuanian guy smiled at me and said hello so I started to feel a bit more relaxed.

    By the time I had climbed down my hands were so red and numb. I couldn't even open my jacket pocket. So I went to get a light breakfast in a cafe, and then headed to Užupis.

    Užupis is actually considered an independent republic...but it is also not recognised as one by many people. It is a very bohemian area with lots of artsy things dotted around. I got my passport stamped with the entry... but forgot to get the exit stamp. Oh dear! Hopefully this will not cause any problems at the airport. The woman warned me that some people have problems with this stamp. But what is the worst they can do? I already have a stamp from Kosovo...and that is WAY more controversial than Užupis.

    I found a local pub/restaurant and had the cold beetroot soup for lunch. This is actually a summer dish but I got a hot drink to warm myself up. The thing I like about Eastern countries is that the waiters leave you in peace. If you have ordered something then the table is yours for however long you want. You could sit there for 3 hours if you wanted to. In England they are in a rush to get you out once you have finished, because the city is so crowded and they want to make money.

    So...I have now visited all the Baltic countries (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). They are all very different and some I have enjoyed more than others. My favourite would have to be Latvia. Then I would say Poland. In 3rd place comes Lithuania. In last place comes Estonia.
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  • Day32

    22.9.2016 Vilnius

    September 22, 2016 in Lithuania ⋅ ☁️ 8 °C

    Kilometer: 7.741

    Vilnius - das Rom des Nordens mit all seinen barocken Kirchen und den aufwendig restaurierten Häusern! Schon beim Reinfahren in die litauische Hauptstadt sind wir beeindruckt. Wie immer haben wir vor, nur schnell unser Gespann auf dem Campingplatz zu parken und uns ins Getümmel zu werfen. Aber erstmals stehen wir vor Ort und hören von einer verwirrt wirkenden Mitarbeiterin: Sorry, there is no pitch free for you! Krass, end of season und wir werden abgewiesen?
    Nunja, vorsichtshalber vergewissern wir uns, dass der andere Campingplatz der Stadt wirklich geschlossen wurde am 15.9.. Jepp, ist zu! Ungefrühstückt sinkt die Laune nun ein wenig, aber Google weiß bescheid: ein bewachter Parkplatz muss her. Und so stehen wir 10 Minuten später für 9 Euro direkt am Burgberg mit Blick auf beide Flüsse Vilna und Neris UND die Altstadt. Gut, das Ambiente könnte besser sein, aber wir freuen uns über diese Fügung und auf das verdiente Frühstück.
    Was sollen wir schreiben? Auch Vilnius ist wunderschön. Im Gegensatz zu den anderen Hauptstädten im Baltikum sind hier "Touri-Ecke" und echte Altstadt nicht getrennt. Vilnius wirkt auf uns lebendig und sehr modern - auch wenn modern irgendwie "schief" klingt, wenn man zwischen all den alten Kirchen und Gebäuden steht.
    Wir entscheiden, nicht alle 42 Kirchen zu besichtigen, sondern suchen uns die St. Kasimir-Kirche als erste von Vilnius und das sog. Gotische Ensemble aus.
    Anschließend geht zum ehemaligen Gerichtshof, der während der Besatzungszeiten sowohl von der Gestapo als auch dem KGB als Kommandozentrale und Gefängnis genutzt wurde. Nun befindet sich ein KGB-Museum darin und der Keller zeigt, was in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten hier passierte. Bedrückt blinzeln wir uns nach 1,5 Stunden wieder ins Tageslicht.
    Bei unserem Spaziergang durch die Altstadt bemerken wir in einer kleinen Gasse, dass alle Geschäfte deutsche Namen besitzen. Auch die Straßennamen und Beschriftungen sind deutsch. Als wir weiterwandernd im Reiseführer blättern, stehen wir plötzlich mitten in einem Filmset mit fleißigen Requisiteuren und Verantwortlichen mit Headsets. Überall stehen Oldtimer mit Münchener Kennzeichen und endlich sehen wir ein Banner "München 1972". Es geht also um die Olympischen Spiele und sämtliche Schilder wurden überklebt!
    Nach einem leckeren Abendessen in einer quirligen Studentenkneipe geht es für uns gegen 23 Uhr nach 13 Stunden Stadtbesichtigung am Neris entlang zurück "nach Hause". Erschöpft, aber zufrieden beschließen wir, Vilnius nach einem Tag und am nächsten Morgen wieder zu verlassen: Nach genau einem Monat im Ausland und 12 Aufenthalten in verschiedenen Städten merken wir, dass es immer schwerer wird, all das in unseren Köpfen - und Herzen - noch richtig sortiert zu bekommen.
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  • Day8

    Gediminas Hill

    January 8 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 0 °C

    We slather words,
    We pour down feelings
    Like coins jingling on church-porch...
    We all are human beings!

    Like Old and New Vilnius I'm staying on top of Gediminas Hill and drawing a line between Old and New Alex as that very river in front of my eyes

You might also know this place by the following names:

Užupis, Uzupis, Ujupis, Ужупіс, République dUzupis, זרצה, Ուժուպիս, Užupe, Zarzecze, Ужупис, Ožopis, 對岸共和國

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