Vilnius, Lithuania

I got back from Lisbon on Sunday night, went into the office in Monday, and spent Tuesday working from home. On Wednesday, I had a meeting in Reading, then it was back to the airport to get back on a plane, and I was off to Lithuania. 

Lithuania is another of the Baltic countries, situated below Latvia, and bordering 

Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast, and Poland. Pretty close to Estonia actually. My flight got me in around 9:30 pm, after which I caught a taxi to the hotel which was ideally suited at the edge of the old town and near the main street. I didn’t have a chance to see much during the drive to the airport, but from what I did see, there were some interesting buildings to check out. After settling in my unusually large room (it had an upstairs…), I wandered out and found something to eat. Not really much to say about the evening. Food was OK, beer was pretty good.

Thursday, I had a couple of hours free in the morning before I needed to be involved in the conference. I met up was a colleague, Callum, and we went for a walk. For a change, the weather was amazing! We had perfect, clear blue skies and temperatures in the high teens. It was perfect weather for a stroll around the old town. The first and most obvious stop was the main cathedral, across the road from the hotel in the main square. The thing is massive! Very impressive; with a large, independent bell tower that we later discovered used to be a tower as part of the original town walls. Situated on a hill over-looking the square, was the remains of a cool-looking castle, so we headed that way next. We ended up circumnavigating the whole hill, before finding the entrance.

Transient
The old castle on the hill in Vilnius. 

The old castle on the hill in Vilnius. 

The castle was part of a larger complex that included the local museum. There was a funicular that whisked you up to the top of the hill. The panoramic view from the top of the hill was fantastic, providing a view over the whole city. At the top of the hill were the remains of the walls, plus what was left of the castle – basically one tower. Inside the tower they had a small museum that had a great display that reconstructed what the fortifications looked at, at a couple of different points in time. There was also a small display of arms and armor from the 16th – 18th centuries. Climbing a narrow, winding staircase brought us out onto the top of the tower, for another stunning panorama. 

After checking that out for a bit, we headed back to the hotel, and had lunch. After lunch was the pain of sitting though a bunch of presentations that I didn’t really care about, until it was time to give my session. No big deal – 30-odd people, but it seemed to draw a lot of interest. Afterwards, the sessions dragged out for a bit until the end of the day. At that point, the group of us all went out for dinner.

The Cathedral and Bell Tower - day and night. 

The Cathedral and Bell Tower - day and night. 

Transient

We ended up at this very authentic, local restaurant for a traditional Lithuanian meal. The restaurant, which from the outside looked like just another hole in the wall, turned into this amazing labyrinth of rooms the snaked out underground, after descending this small, narrow staircase that I could barely fit into. The place was amazing – it looked like it was in the original catacombs of the city or something. It was a series of rooms of differing sizes, each more unique than the last.

Inside shots of the restaurant; the very entertaining entertainment on the evening. 

The meal was something else as well – seems the Lithuanians like to eat. We started with traditional Lithuanian liquor, where our host made a number of toasts. The stuff was interesting; kind of herbal in flavor and very strong. Then it was antipasto course made up of a number of different salads (pretty standard stuff), as well as a couple of boards of different mixed meats, cheeses, bread and pickles. There were some odd things – smoked eel and a pigs snout. And yes, I did try both, but neither will be making a regular occurrence at my table… 

The next course was boiled potatoes stuffed with different kinds of meat. Not sure what kind of meat and I don’t think I want to know. They were OK. We then moved into the “main” course that was made up of a couple of different dishes that were made up of an excellent pastry, stuffed with salmon and another mystery meat. They were good, but I was so full by that point that I could only try a bit of each. Should have skipped the eel… Desert was orange sherbet, served in the orange skins. Very tasty. Amazingly, the meal stretched out over four hours, and it was after midnight when I got back to the hotel.

Friday morning I skipped out on the conference – I wasn’t presenting, and didn’t need to meet with anyone. It was another glorious day, so I went wandering again. I went away from the old town this time, and checked out more of “everyday” Vilnius. There are a lot of churches in Vilnius – seems that there are lots of different faiths. All of them are beautiful, and they add a certain charm to the city. I wandered most of the morning, before heading back to the hotel.

The churches of Vilnius (well some of them...) 

It’s a really pleasant little city. It does remind me of Tallinn, Estonia a little bit. The old town in Tallinn is nicer; older I think. Vilnius seems to be undergoing a bit of a rebirth – they seem to be spending a lot of time and money cleaning up the city. And it is very clean, and in many ways very modern. The main street has a lot of high-end stores and a number of shopping malls. It is kind of the best of both worlds. The people all seemed very nice and friendly, and the city seemed very safe, even late at night. All in all, it was a very pleasant little trip, and it looks like I can rack up another city that I’d like to go back to visit again.