Sunday, 23 October 2016


10th Oct 2016

The Lithuanian Flag

As mentioned previously, Vilnius is such a pleasant city which tastefully merges the old with the new. Smart little boutiques line old medieval streets with excellent wine bars and restaurants intermingled with many ancient churches and other historic buildings, and all so impeccably clean without being over-manicured. The place has a prosperous feel to it and most of the local citizenry appear well-heeled and  remarkably civilised.

Right: An example of one of the dozens of churches of various denominations. Perhaps Russian 'Orthodox', which seem to feature prominently. Didn't notice any 'Unorthodox' ones, or mosques for that matter...or muslims.

Left: An example of another typical little cobbled street leading down to Cathedral Square.
Right: Across this little square is the Amber Apple, a delightful brasserie which I frequented on a couple of occasions. Good nosh and good value. Talking of amber, the Baltic region is renowned for amber jewellery. Loads of shops sell it. The difficulty is knowing whether the stuff is genuine amber or cheap amber coloured plastic. There are ways of telling; one of which is to hold a flame to the stuff when genuine amber will give off a characteristic resinous smell. Having said that, if cheap plastic imitations look exactly the same, why pay a big price for the genuine article?

On down to Vilnius Cathedral (left) or more correctly known as the Cathedral of St Stanislav and St Vladislav. The belfry to the left dates back to the 13th century. It also houses a clock, the original mechanism being made in 1672. The clock face only (intentionally) has one hand and a bell is struck on the hour.

You can climb up inside the belfry, which of course I did. The last three stories are reached by a wooden ladder-like structure. In the top floor are the old, and replacement, mechanisms (right).

....and from which you get a good view of the city. Left: The view to the north-east over the Cathedral towards Gediminas Castle, on Gediminas Hill. The castle dates from the 13th century and was ruined during the Russian occupation between 1655-61. As you can see, it has been restored.

There is a good zig-zag flagstone path up to the castle which houses a museum of medieval armour and weaponry. If you are feeling idle there is also a funicular railway to take you up.

The castle and surrounding fortifications protected the original city from the unwelcome attentions of Teutonic and Tatar raiders.

Left: A view of the city up the hill to the south. My hotel was somewhere near the top.

Right: Looking west along Gedimino Prospektas along which is the ex-Gestapo/KGB HQ (see previous blog) and at the end of which is the Lithuanian Parliament building. Some very upmarket shops as well.

Left: Looking west along the Neris river from the castle. To the north (right) of the river is the newer commercial district.
In the summer there are gondoliers and other touristy boat trips on the river.

Legend has it that the city was founded in the 1320s by Grand Duke Gediminas after he had a dream concerning an iron wolf, or something like that. I listened, but got a bit lost in the detail. He probably played a part, but the site had already been settled in some form for the previous 1000 years.
At the east end of the Cathedral Square, ouside the Palace of the Grand Dukes, stands his statue (right). Looks like he has just been unseated and his horse is about to push him off the edge.

Left: The Palace of the Grand Dukes. Repeatedly re-modelled, destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries, it now houses a large museum displaying artefacts from the history of the Palace and city. It was a Monday when I was there and it was closed. 

Right: To the north-east of the city is the Three Crosses monument, erected in the 17th century in memory of some monks who were murdered by pagans many years previously. In fact the Soviets bulldozed the original monument and this is a replacement. I didn't walk up there.

Left: At the western end of Gedimino Prospektas is the Soviet built Lithuanian Parliament. It must keep the window cleaners busy.

Right: Nearby, the National Library.

Across on the northern side of the river are some flash high-rise hotels, commercial buildings and several very modern and well appointed shopping centres. I went into this one (left), called the EuroCentre (I wonder who paid for that?). Lots of top designer shops in evidence and good eateries. I had a delicious, and inexpensive, lunch there at a trendy place called 'TakeWay' which specialises in Oriental cuisine. Strongly recommended if you pass that way.

Right: The Vilnius equivalent of London's Boris Bikes. They are sponsored by Aviva, and were being well used. I couldn't work out how you pay for them, so I didn't try one out.

Altogether I was much impressed by Vilnius. A great place for a 'getaway' long weekend, if I may suggest.

I think it is a very fashionable city, although perhaps this colourfully attired lady (left) was going a little bit over-the-top. Either that or she had just raided a trendy clothes shop.

Next, on south to Warsaw. Again, no direct rail service so it will be another bus, but hopefully of the same high standard as the previous ones. By the way, the cost of these buses is remarkably reasonable and they go, more or less, once an hour. 4 hour journeys have cost me on average (and there is a 20% dicount if you are over 60) about 16 Euros. Not bad.

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