After ringing in the new year in Riga, I caught a coach bus to Vilnius, Lithuania.
Cost: 5 euro for the four-hour journey with Lux Express
The bus station is conveniently located next to the Riga Central Market, which has lots of cheap to-go items, like this kartupelu pica, a.k.a potato pizza.I liked how many of the Latvian words sounded similar to their English counterpart (citronu=citrus)Upon arrival in Vilnius, I took a free walking tour, where I learned many facts about Lithuania that make it unique from the other Baltic States.For starters, there’s the language. Lithuanian is one of the oldest languages in the world, and closely resembles ancient Sanskrit. That being said, our guide joked that many words sound like English words with an ‘as/us‘ added on to the end of them. (i.e. tortas, idealus, mobilus, kristus, Bradas Pittas…and the list goes on and on! Hah! (tort, ideal, mobile, Christ, Brad Pitt) 😂😂😂Now there are also many famous celebrities that you wouldn’t realize were Lithuanian. For example, Pink, Charles Bronson and even the fictional character, Hannibal Lecter…although you won’t see that advertised on many billboards. 😲
Fun fact: During the harsh Soviet occupation they didn’t have access to Hollywood movies, so they decided to shoot a few Soviet-style movies here instead. One film’s location was supposed to appear like the continent of South America. Since they didn’t know what South Americans looked like, apparently they just chose the shortest Lithuanians they could find, and covered them in lots of dark make-up. 🤦
Fun fact: Lithuania is the only country in the world with their own scent, which smells of ginger, raspberry, and sandalwood.
They also have a unique cuisine, including cepelinai, which is a heavy potato dumpling, filled with minced meat, and topped with sour cream and bacon. It’s supposed to pair well with beer. To me, it seemed like a food coma waiting to happen, so I steered clear, but I did find a nice image to share with all of you. 😉
What I did try out was this unique little igloo bakery located in the main square of Vilnius.
They had some interesting ganache truffles, covered in local flowers, herbs and spices. They also sold delicious teas, like one I tried with notes of chocolate, cinnamon and orange. Perfect on a chilly night in the city!
Anyway, on the other hand, just like Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania was one of the last countries to be Christianized, and they have very strong Pagan roots.
The best evidence of this recent Catholic conquest can be found on the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.
It’s a pilgrimage site, which has over 2,000 crosses, and had been used as a faith support during the harsh Pagan era, and also during the Soviet occupation.
Side note: the Hill of Crosses is 2-3 hours from the capital of Vilnius, so I chose to visit the Hill of Three Crosses instead.
It’s only a 20-minute walk from the city center, over a river, and up a hill.
It may not be as impressive as the Hill of Crosses, but I found it to be a peaceful, woodsy site, offering a great panoramic view of the city as well.Also, just like the other Baltic states, they have a devastating history of Soviet and Nazi occupation.
Apparently, 96% of the Jewish population was killed in Lithuania, and almost 100 of their killed synagogues were destroyed, with only one left standing.
As well, during the Soviet and Nazi occupation, over 70,000 Lithuanians were deported to work camps in Siberia. Apparently our tour guide’s grandmother was one of them, and she still keeps an extra loaf of rye bread in a box in her cupboard, in case she is suddenly forced to leave again for Siberia. It’s devastating to see how trauma affects people around the world.
Anyway, as a result of this harsh oppression, the country of Lithuania created something very inspiring and unique when they finally became independent.
Užupis is an independent republic of Lithuania, which was created by a group of local artists.
Fun fact: the have an anonymous swing foundation here, which randomly installs swings around the city. 💗 That’s enough to make anyone smile! 😊 Don’t underestimate them though. The Republic of Uzupis has its own president, a 12-man army, a flag, and a constitution, which they created at this local bar. The bar is now the Republic’s parliament, and sometimes called a ‘barliament.’ 😂 🍺
There is even a street in Uzupis that is dedicated to notable artists and writers.
Heck, the republic even recognizes Jesus as the original backpacker.Anyway, the republic is obviously not taken very seriously on an international level. You can at least understand why it was created though, in an effort to provide comedic relief after such harsh oppression. Their cause is really quite admirable, and their constitution is definitely something I could stand for! ❤
Sadly though, this area is now becoming incredibly trendy, and is experiencing a wave of gentrification.
This means that prices here as escalating, and many artists are being forced out of the neighborhood. I guess only time will tell what the future of Užupis holds.
Anyway, as an American, I found it interesting to learn about our diplomatic relations with this country as well. Historically, the U.S. has always supported Baltic independence, and has never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania as legitimate. As such, America is seen very positively by the majority of Lithuanians.
That being said, it is obvious that the current national leader and his suspected Soviet relations are not sitting well with the people of Lithuania.
Anyway, overall I found Lithuania to be an incredibly interesting country, with a troubled past, and a refreshingly positive outlook on the future. It’s definitely a country I’d like to come back and explore further! I guess that’ll have to wait until next time. 😉
Anyway, now that I’ve returned from the Baltic States, I’m preparing for my next big adventure. Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then! 😀
Where to Stay:
While in Vilnius I stayed at HostelGate for an incredibly cheap 8 Euros/night. The building had a very unique layout, with an old fireplace in the dorm room, and a strange spiral staircase leading to the communal kitchen/attic. The staff there was super friendly though, and I’d highly recommend them for an affordable short-term stay. 👍 Getting Around: Aside from the incredibly walkable city center, where public transit was not required, I did take the train to the airport. The journey took a whole seven minutes, and cost 0.70 Euro! ❤