Vilnius

September 7 – October 15, 2019 (Fall)

Lithuania! As is tradition, we returned to Vilnius for our third visit in as many years. It’s getting to the point that nothing short of a global pandemic could keep us from coming back. And yet, try as we might, it’s hard to articulate the hold it has over us. We still get funny looks when answer truthfully that most common question, “what’s your favorite place you’ve been?” Where else but Vilnius?

This post is about our 2019 visit to Vilnius. Read about the original 2017 stay here↗, and our 2018 return here↗.

Angel of Uzupis, Vilnius, Lithuania

And what better neighborhood to stay in than Uzupis? This quirky corner of town was one we’d come to love on past visits. It feels out of the way, but is just steps from the very center of town. The windows of our Airbnb↗ looked over the narrow Vilnia River toward Tymo Market. With the famous Constitution of Uzupis just outside our door, it seemed the only downside was just how in the way the throngs of tourists gawking at it were!

At Alaus Namai, Vilnius, Lithuania

Of course, we never passed up a chance to appreciate the spectacular beer. We made frequent stops at our favorite bars. Alaus Namai. Snekutis. Smagus Raugas. Nisha Craft Capital. And we added a new favorite in Alaus Kolonėlė🌐. From farmhouse brews that follow ancient recipes to the newest craft styles, Lithuanian beer is always a highlight of our stay.

The city is the perfect place to take it easy. We went on lots of long walks. Through the Old Town

Buildings along the Neris, Vilnius, Lithuania

…along the Neris…

…back to Bernardine Cemetery

Song Festival Grounds, Vilnius, Lithuania

…as well as Vingis Park and the Song Festival  Grounds.

New Roof for the Apartments, Vilnius, Lithuania

A few days into our stay our quiet, airy apartment started getting loud. Our host warned us in advance about roof work. Unfortunately, it was less “repair” and more “adding a whole new level to the building.” Some days the crew was in-and-out; many others they’d be jackhammering away all day. We could stop around the corner at Špunka and listen for when it was safe to return.

Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vilnius, Lithuania

There were plenty of other escapes on the worst days. The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul provides a welcome sanctuary for quiet reflection. The stark all-white interior is particularly striking.

Remains of the Jewish Cemetery, Vilnius, Lithuania

Up the street from the church, the Old Jewish Cemetery provides a different sort of quiet, or perhaps disquiet. Soviets demolished the cemetery as an intentional form of cultural erasure, appropriating the tombstones for building material. Scattered cracked bases and a memorial gathered from the few remaining specimens stand in defiance.

Danielle and the Death Coaster, Vilnius, Lithuania

The National Art Museum takes a couple hours to visit, and charges only a couple of euros for admission. We come back every year. This time it was undergoing renovation (very on-brand for this month). But the best pieces were luckily still on display. New additions, like a Death Coaster, were equally enthralling.

World Food Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania

One weekend the Nation’s Fair took over Gediminas Avenue, with booths stretching from the Cathedral to Lukiškės Square. Visitors sampled cuisines and crafts from around Europe and the Caucasus region. Vendors sold knitted socks, beer, coffee, honey, and traditional dark bread. We picked up some remarkable Georgian smoked paprika, and enjoyed stage performances by a troupe of Polish dances.

Fried Bread and Garlic Sauce, Vilnius, Lithuania

Plenty of foodstuffs took the edge off the autumn chill. The most ubiquitous is deep fried bread slathered in garlic and dipped in cheese or mayo, a delicious local take on garlic bread. It’s a simple pleasure, but one we’ve only seen here in the Baltics. Peas (not little green ones, but larger and yellow or brown) and cracklings are so filling that it is hard to put away even a small bowl. Cepelini topped with bacon and sour cream fills out the slate of filling local dishes.

Thousands of Crosses, Siauliai, Lithuania

We also finally made our way to the famous Hill of Crosses near Siauliai. It’s really more like a small mound. But it is very literally covered in crosses.

Abandoned Book on the Hill of Crosses, Siauliai, Lithuania

The first ones probably were put up in the 1830s, but the spot became more important as a symbol during Soviet-era repressions of religion. Authorities bulldozed it several times, only for more icons to appear in their wake. Now they number in the hundreds of thousands. We arrived between tour buses and had the site nearly to ourselves.

New Construction in Snipiskes, Vilnius, Lithuania

Closer to home, a lot changed in the year since our last visit. Most noticeably, the large grass field/park along the Neris was completely stripped for renovation and rebuilding. Images of the plans are nice, but there’d be no balloon launches there this year. New apartment redevelopment along the Vilnia now reached to the highway. Electric scooter-share has taken over the city. Scooters are sometimes found in groups but they are more often are abandoned singly along sidewalks, beeping displeasure at low batteries or being tipped over by wind.

View from Gediminas, Vilnius, Lithuania

At Gediminas Castle Hill, the funicular was finally back up and running. Shoring-up and earthworks were limping along at the top the hill, but it was once again open to climb and most of the work around the base was finished.

St. Anne's Church, Vilnius, Lithuania

Once again bidding adieu to lovely Lithuania is always heartbreaking, but we vowed to return again next year, and in greater numbers for even longer. Wild horses couldn’t keep us away.

Pathogens on the other hand…

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