Lithuania: Vilnius

Lithuania is the Baltic’s southernmost country and we headed towards its capital city Vilnius from Riga on this Ecolines bus. For 4 hours we were comfortable, perched up top enjoying views of green fields. An agricultural country, nearly half of Lithuania’s land is given to growing potatoes, barley, wheat and rye.

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In Vilnius, we were yet again nicely surprised by what the Baltic offered. Vilnius is by and large a baroque city, its architecture strongly reflecting the ornate trends of the 17th and 18th centuries.

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Vilnius is an easy city to navigate your way around on foot and there’s lots of cobbled alleyways, squares, arches and fabulous baroque buildings to enjoy.

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Three Muses on top of the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre. The three figures represent drama, tragedy and comedy.

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These photos are of the Palace of Grand Dukes built in the 1700s. There’s a pretty good museum here which details the history of the Gediminas royal family.

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View from the top of the palace.

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Lovely and alluring as Vilnius is, its history is a sad one. The city was a strong Jewish city in the 1800s and enjoyed considerable stability. However, with the advent of Hitler in WWII, the Jews’ days were numbered. The Nazis killed 90% of Lithuanian Jews in surely what must go down as one of the worst genocides in history.

After Germany’s defeat, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania and exacted its own form of terror upon the Lithuanians right here in this ex KGB building. The Museum of Genocide Victims is sobering that’s for sure; a good reminder that life here has been tough; it has not been all baroque froth and bubbles. It goes without saying that we were in awe of the progress that Lithuania has made since its independence in 1991.

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In a cafe, I struck up a conversation with a Lithuanian businessman and commented that I did not expect to see so many luxury cars (Maseratis, Porsches). He smiled knowingly and replied that despite being occupied by foreign powers for many years, some Lithuanians actually did well. Say no more. He added that in Lithuania, there’s the very wealthy and the quite poor. I enjoyed the conversation and his honesty.

A strong bohemian community thrives in Vilnius at Uzupis Republic. Artists created a breakaway state in 1998 and it comes complete with its own president and constitution. Lots of galleries and cafes dot the area.

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Parliament House

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More baroque on show at Vilnius University.

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Like the rest of the Baltics, the cafe scene is good.

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This is our last stop in the Baltics. We’ve seen a lot and learnt that there’s more to this part of the world than what we’ve visited. We focussed on seeing the capital cities, but when we were bussing through the countryside, we realised there’s a wealth of other sights to see. Always another trip though!

Tomorrow we fly to Crete Greece for a couple of weeks. Loads of kicking back and doing pretty much nothing is definitely on the agenda.

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