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  • Day1086

    Vilnius Day 2

    June 17 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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