A Travellerspoint blog

Lithuania

A Glimpse of Old Vilnius

overcast 5 °C

Vilnius - This once Communist capital city has more bling on its store shelves than we have loo rolls in our dollar stores. The wide tree-lined boulevards are home to the ritziest of couturiers, perfumeries, jewellers and purveyors of diamond knick-knacks. We are among the many who would have to ask the price before we bought. For instance: two thousand dollars seems to be the starting price for a pair of flimsy sling-back stilettos in one shoe emporium, (the word “shop” seems too prosaic here). These are the magnificent buildings along the main shopping street...
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But behind the fancy facades, haughty hotels and haute cuisine restaurants, there is a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets that once formed the Jewish ghettos...
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The ghettos have been tarted up and no longer show the scars of the Nazi horrors that occurred here, and there are many handsome little shops specialising in all manner of local products, especially amber and linen. These are a couple of cute flower shops...
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As we walk the narrow backstreets we sometimes glimpse an older, more secluded, world, through ancient archways. The atmospheric courtyards hidden behind the posh frontages still have memories of a much darker time, although they are brightened by the colourful autumn foliage...
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This part of the world has been fought over for millennia and it is still on the front lines between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, so it is difficult to know what is original and what has been rebuilt. The Russian Orthodox church (circa 1345) has been rebuilt so many times that Czar Peter I who visited in 1705 wouldn't recognise the place today...
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Vilnius has much to offer but, as in the other Baltic States, we have been a little disappointed that so many of the people serving us are clearly graduates of Kim Jon-un's North Korean School of Diplomacy. However, we enjoyed our time in the Baltics and enjoyed learning about the famous Lithuanian Sakotis – a multi-occasion celebration cake that is made on a spit,,,
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Now we are flying south to Warsaw in the hope of catching up with the retreating sun.

Posted by Hawkson 08:21 Archived in Lithuania Comments (3)

Brave New World - Lithuania

overcast 8 °C

We all have stereotypes about peoples and places that are often extremely difficult to dispel. For instance: Russians are rude; Japan is expensive; English food is terrible and it is always sunny in Paris. None of these statements are true today, in fact the opposites are nearer the mark. But, unless you travel to these places and meet the people it is unlikely that you will be convinced. So – for many people the ex-Eastern Bloc countries are probably still grey, dour and controlled by dangerous men. This is the Lithuanian Presidential Palace in Vilnius – not a jack-booted guard in sight and the twice-elected President is a woman, Dalia Grybauskaitė
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The Baltic countries that emerged from behind the Iron Curtain a quarter of a century ago are now thoroughly modern Western democracies with first world infrastructure.
However, with few exceptions, our sightseeing is dictated by online travel guides who steer us to the historic hotspots and we rarely visit the places where ordinary folk live, work and play. Would we visit Rome if it weren't for the Colosseum and St. Peter's? Would Paris be a draw without the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame? But in a few centuries time will future generations stare in awe at today's modern apartment blocks in Vilnius?...
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Maybe they will take guided tours of this giant shopping mall...
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and wonder what madness led us to believe that we needed 15 different shoe shops?...
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Or will they question our need to have 40 different coffee makers and more than 60 different electric kettles on offer in a single store...
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Beyond the old city centres of Tallin, Riga and Vilnius there is a new world that is, if anything, more advanced than our own. All three Baltic countries have world-class internet, a well maintained network of roads and excellent public transit. There are giant new factories, big box stores, dealerships of Audis, BMWs and every other car maker and the farmland seems well utilised. There are still vestiges of the recent past. Not all the old buildings have been renovated or demolished but, unlike in our own cities, we have not witnessed beggars on the streets or the homeless sleeping in shop doorways. We have been impressed by the cleanliness of the streets and the neatness of the parks and people's gardens. We have certainly been impressed with the food and our Thanksgiving Dinner in Vilnius started with stuffed Lithuanian potato dumplings, followed by Pork loin in mushroom sauce...
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For desert we had fruity black bread pudding – delicious.
Tomorrow we tour old Vilnius.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our Canadian friends and family.

Posted by Hawkson 11:02 Archived in Lithuania Comments (9)

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