22: Vilnius, Lithuania

This week I’m posting from Vilnuis, Lithuania.

I’m sat in the common room of the hostel enjoying a (free) breakfast of coffee and waffles whilst listening to the orchestra of accents, dialects and languages around me.

Minutely hungover, mostly dehydrated really…I went out with a few of the other travellers/backpackers for drinks in the Old Town last night. There were a couple of Aussies (one from Sydney and one from Adelaide), a New Yorker, a Canadian, E and I. There were so many anecdotes flying around that I almost couldn’t keep up. I think my favourite was the Canadian’s story (which he told in his very Canadian accent) about his brother, a medic back in Canada, who attended the report of a person in a car. Not so unusual. Well this car had been buried under the – typical – meters of snow for an unknown amount of time. It had only revealed itself in Spring after the snow had melted. Anyway, the emergency services attended and a crowd had gathered. A plucky fireman, new to the job, volunteered to check on the person in the car. He was fully dressed in a suit and a mask. The crowd waited, with what I imagine to be baited breath, as he tromped across the snow. He pulled the door open and put his hand on the person’s chest only for his hand to sink straight through the rotted matter of a long dead human. The fireman fell backwards, pulling his arm out, and spun around to face the crowd – his eyes wide in horror. He then proceeded to vomit in his mask which he quickly pulled off flinging it to the side and consequently spraying the crowd.

I laughed loudly as he told this story, although morbid it was a surreal description of a Canadian winter.

The Australian told us about his shock and horror moment, whilst in Edinburgh, when he ventured out into the woods with some German backpackers. They walked for a while until the Germans left the path and darted into the woods to explore “what are you doing? ‘” he cries “you don’t leave the path!” In Australia leaving the path means injury or, at worst, death, the table is laughing at his descriptions of poisonous plants and “random animals that you don’t even know what they are” that want to maul or kill you.

I laughed because it’s the UK… At worst we have midgies and stinging nettles.

A good night was had by all.

The weather has been beautiful. Bright skies and sun from early morning until late evening.

Whilst exploring Vilnius I’ve spotted a number of interesting pieces of street art + sculpture. The strangest probably being the NSFW parody of American Gothic by Grant Wood that I saw in a beer garden.

We also stopped by the Putin / Trump kissing mural, painted by local artist Mindaugas Bonanu. Now, instead of kissing, they are smoking a joint whilst one blows smoke into the mouth of the other. I learned that “The image is a riff on the famous 1979 photograph that showed Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker locked in an embrace.” and apparently “kissing on the lips, was once a form of fraternal greeting between socialist leaders.”

We’d spent the morning at Trakai.

Trakai is a town in southeastern Lithuania, west of Vilnius, the capital. Part of the Trakai Historical National Park, Trakai Island Castle is a 14th-century fortress in the middle of Lake Galvė. Once a home to Lithuania’s grand dukes, it now houses the Trakai History Museum, with archaeological objects, coins and crafts. On the lake’s southern shore are the stone ruins of the Trakai Peninsula Castle.

It was just a half an hour bus journey from Vilnius then around a half hour meander from the bus stop to reach the castle. It was just beautiful.

We went with a small group from the hostel which was fun.

The area has a really interesting history so its well worth a read on wiki.
The first settlements in this area appeared as early as the first millennium A.D. The town, as well as its surroundings, started developing in the 13th century in the place of Senieji Trakai(Old Trakai). According to a legend after a successful hunting party, Grand Duke Gediminas discovered a beautiful lake-surrounded place not far from Kernavė, then capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and decided to build a castle in the location. That is how the Old Trakai Castle was built in Senieji Trakai

We ended the night in a traditional Lithuania beer house / food place. €2 a dish obviously meant we massively over ordered. I wasn’t keen on the pigs ears (And neither was anyone else, even though between us we’d all eaten some pretty exotic things like tarantula, dog, snake and crocodile to name a few) or the dumplings but the pork stew was delicious and the potato pancake thing. I also really enjoyed the cold beetroot soup served with hot potatoes. There was a lot of prodding and questions like “what is it?” but overall it was pretty nice.

We took the free walking tour (always highly recommend) which took us into Uzupis. On April 1, 1997, the district declared itself an independent republic (The Republic of Užupis). Notice anything about the date? Yep. They declared themselves independent on April fools day. They’ve got a sense of humour these guys. They celebrate every year and have border guards who give you a visa and stamp. They will swap your money for Uzupis currency which you can use in the bars. It’s similar in ethos to Free town Christiana in Copenhagen, Denmark which I visited a few years ago.

These guys have a Constitution translated into around 29 languages, they have a flag, a president (the same guy for 21 years) and also a “barliment” where all the important decisions are made. The picture above is a parody of Jesus the first backpacker apparently.

Above you can see the Republic’s guardian angel. They did have an army of ten but quickly realised it was a passive and peaceful place. Anyway on August 15th i Lithuania celebrates assumption day or Zoline day (literally grass day) but in Uzupis they took it literally and put a huge amount of weed (actually I just googled it and it wasn’t weed it was a smoke grenade – not as amusing but hey it’s the symbolic gesture) in the horn of the angel and for minutes you could see and smell smoke in the republic. It was a protest fighting for cannabis legalization.

We walked up to the hill of three crosses.

Vilnius thanks for being great now onto Riga, Latvia.

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