Vilnius; the capital city of Lithuania
I left Riga on my own, taking the four hour bus ride across the border and into Lithuania. I arrived at the bus station and after tramping around for half an hour I finally found my hostel. I was hot, bothered and thirsty but with every step I was thanking my lucky stars for my new Osprey backpack which is so well balanced that it was (almost) a dream to carry.
The hostel was just one side street off the main town triangle so I dumped my bag and I went straight out for food and a bit of a wander.
Following the recommendations of the hostel owner I found a lovely little place, with floorboards, long wooden bench tables and over 20 artisan beers. They did VERY cheap Lithuanian food too and after opting for an extremely pink soup and a dumpling stuffed with meat I began to feel a bit more human again.
And then as the afternoon sun turned the buildings a soft warm gold I walked around the old town on a whistle stop tour to get my bearings before heading back to the hostel for an early-ish night. It was lucky that I did get to sleep early because at four in the morning a group of young American students arrived back from a bar crawl and proceeded to have a loud conversation in the middle of the dorm. If you follow me on Facebook you will be more than aware of my displeasure at this, but after nearly two years of sleeping in large dorms, it thankfully happens very rarely.
After a lovely free breakfast of waffles and jam I decided to join a free walking tour of Vilnius. A very large group was led stoically by Raminta who somehow managed not to lose any of us in the drizzle and she pointed out tons of things of interest on our tour. She led us into lots of the little courtyards that Vilnius is famous for and at the end she recommended a place for lunch and joined us so that she could continue to chat to us.
Recommending traditional Lithuanian food she arranged to send those of us who were interested additional information via email about some films that we had discussed on the tour and she also included a clip of the mayor of the town who, to demonstrate the the negatives of obstructing the highway, drove a tank over a car (I believe it was his own car) which was illegally parked! As I have mentioned before in my previous articles about the Baltic countries, you have to admire the way that people simply go out and get things done.
After lunch, I tagged along with a group of Dutch students to visit the bell tower and later we all had a coffee together. As well as intelligent, fun company I got a student priced admission ticket by just being with them – a discount is always a bonus. The stairs inside the bell tower were quite hairy – open and wooden but they were nothing to the fright we all got when the bells suddenly rang out alongside us on the quarter hour. Once the bells had stopped it was incredibly peaceful looking down on the town and over at the castle and the three crosses on the hill.
Vilnius is stuffed full of churches, many painted in pretty pastel colours, whole others are derelict and falling down. The Palace is grand as are the University buildings and outside the Parliament Building anti-tank barricades have been left as a memorial and a reminder of the time when the country were fighting for their independence yet again.
There is a very interesting district in Vilnius old town which has declared itself to be an independent republic. Home originally to artisans and free thinkers it now attracts many who want to live by different rules. Street signs on the bridges into Uzupis proclaim that it is necessary to smile at all times and a wall has the constitution written up on glass mirrors in many languages; which includes such gems as ‘Everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty‘ or ‘Everyone is responsible for his freedom’. You can find the constitution written in full at the end of this article. It is worth read.
The following day happened to be April 1st – the National Day of Uzupis when the water from the fountain in the square would dispense free beer instead of water (it did) and you could get your passport stamped on entry (I was too early for this). They have their own flag (actually four, one for each season) and some hilarious street art and decorations including a statue of Jesus as a backpacker.
After two nights at my hostel with the noisy American girls and the free waffle breakfast I had to change rooms as they had advance bookings and no room for me. I never mind the actual changing but getting the timing right is always a pain as check in and check out never match up so I am sort of in limbo for a while with my bags stashed somewhere hopefully safe. In the meantime S had arrived in town, having caught up with me in his van. It was lovely to hear from him so we met up for a drink and agreed to drive on together into Poland two days later after he had visited the dentist for some work.
On my final day in Vilnius I caught a bus and went to the castle on an island at Trakai. S had planned to come with me, but he was still being dogged by bad luck – he was kept awake for most of the night by a Romanian gang who were operating out of his hotel and the police who were called to deal with them. The weather threw everything at me while I was at the castle. The sun would shine and then the sky would darken and flurries of snow would whirl down, there was a biting wind and then rain. The castle was good though, and it contained many interesting displays inside its renovated rooms.
Arriving back at the hostel I discovered that I didn’t have a room at all for the night so I had to go and find somewhere else to stay. I found a gem of a place – the Hostelgate -with a cute little winding staircase which led up to the kitchen, a massive common room with some very fun, interesting people (a bottle of red vodka always helps to oil the wheels of friendship), a TV with loads of films and a massive dorm. I wish that I had found out about it earlier but better late than never and I know where I will stay again when I return to Vilnius.
I spent my final night in Lithuania drinking vodka with some Spaniards, a Swiss guy, a Norwegian and a Dane and a drop-dead gorgeous Brazilian lady who was living in Russia with her boyfriend and was on her three monthly visa run. And while talking about travellers, it was also at this hostel where I met an Australian couple who were travelling long term with their three daughters who were I guess all under the age of ten and were perfectly adapted to hostel living. It was a happy hostel.
The following day I checked out and walked over to meet S. After his dental appointment we climbed into his van and I drove us across Lithuania and over the border into Poland.
Continue down to continue reading the Uzupis constitution and tell me if you don’t smile
Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
Everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty.
Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
Everyone has the right to individuality.
Everyone has the right to love.
Everyone has the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.
Everyone has the right not to be distinguished and famous.
Everyone has the right to be idle.
Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
Everyone has the right to look after a dog till one or the other dies.
A dog has the right to be a dog.
A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times.
Everyone has the right to sometimes be unaware of his duties.
Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not a duty.
Everyone has the right to be happy.
Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
Everyone has the right to be silent.
Everyone has the right to have faith.
No one has the right to violence.
Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.
Everyone has the right to encroach upon eternity.
Everyone has the right to understand.
Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
Everyone has the right to be of various nationalities.
Everyone has the right to celebrate or not to celebrate his birthday.
Everyone shall remember his name.
Everyone may share what he possesses.
No-one can share what he does not possess.
Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
Everyone is capable of independence.
Everyone is responsible for his freedom.
Everyone has the right to cry.
Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
No-one has the right to make another person guilty.
Everyone has the right to be personal.
Everyone has the right to have no rights.
Everyone has the right to not be afraid.
Do not defeat.
Do not fight back.
Do not surrender.