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  • Day1085

    Vilnius Day 1

    June 16 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: https://youtu.be/jJ33YD6Douc

    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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