After what turned into quite a much rowdier night partying in Tallinn we took the bus south – 9 hours to be exact passing back through Riga, and getting into Vilnius late that evening. I was lucky, I was able to get a little sleep on the floor of a bus – the easiest place to sleep.
When we finally got to Vilnius I resisted the urge to sleep instead joining a friend we met from Dublin – Wei Jen. Travelling is a remarkable thing, you meet people who you never would have imagined in ways that you never would have imagined. We spoke to Wei Jen one night after quite a bit of partying, perhaps for 10 minutes, but liked each other well enough to exchange details. We coordinated and Wei Jen met us in Vilnius to party a little and see the city.
We started our night with a couple of Lithuanian beers and Zalgris (75% alcohol) followed by a double shot of a chaser (50% alcohol) while we enjoyed a traditional Lithuanian food, including the Sepelinai – a potato dumpling with meat, served with bacon and sour cream.
After this we headed out (minus Wei Jen who had been partying all afternoon) to do the Vilnius bar crawl. This was a fun way to meet a great group of people from across the world, all of them good folk – in particular we had a lot of fun watching Eurovision (well the voting really). I was amazed firstly because Eurovision was literally in every bar that we went to, and secondly I was even more surprised to see Australia winning for most of the night, ultimately finishing second. I am not sure that we will get invited back after that outstanding performance.
We met a great group of people some of who we were able to catch up with, and potentially some we still might. Got some neon face paint and enjoyed a great night out, even celebrated Australia’s seemingly insurmountable lead before the final round of Eurovision votes came in – although a little too early as it would be revealed.
Our next morning, we headed out on a walking tour with yet another cool group of people, discovering the beauty of the city, learning about the history, throughout the war, and the different ethnicities that lived in Lithuania throughout the war. In particular, there was quite a large Jewish community that was almost entirely driven out or exterminated during the Nazi’s occupation.
We also took some time out to explore the community of artists in Užupis, a beautifully secluded and creative area within the city, complete with its own constitution. There were many brilliant rules, namely the requirement to be happy, and that “everyone has the right to love and care for the cat”. It is a beautiful part of the town, and oozes trend, style and creativity. Littered with unique sculptures this town burrow was a place where you could explore and relax in, where freedom was encouraged so creativity could blossom.
A short walk back through the city as we stopped at several of the key landmarks churches and the president’s palace, surprisingly unguarded – highlighting the safety of these countries, where terror is not as much of a concern as what it is back home.
After the tour we enjoyed a long lunch with a couple of German friends from the walking tour. We took a recommendation and landed in what looked like an extremely fancy restaurant but was incredibly well priced. We were also treated to the musical talent of Wei Jen, who impressed us with his skill on the piano.
Our next stop was the KGB prison just outside the city centre. It was a fascinating insight into the old soviet times, but for me at least, the biggest surprise was how little the building looked like a prison, certainly from the outside. Inside was a different story, reading about the different prisoners who had served time, but also the conditions and the torture that they were exposed to and, the unbelievably brutal manner that was demonstrated through an extremely graphic video.
That night we sought out the bar area of Vilnius (something different for a change) and landed on a bar called Piano Man. Piano Man is a quaint little bar that does great ribs for 6euro, they also have a piano (or two) as you would expect.
We enjoyed a lovely evening of music from the musical styling of Wei Jen who blew us away with his skills on the piano once again. Nothing brings people together like music and very quickly our group of 3 grew to include another 3 travelers from our hostel, a brilliant Lithuanian couple and a few overly ambitious Norwegian revelers. Within 5 minutes Wei Jen had the entire place on their feet, singing the night away, well at least until we decided to leave. An amazing experience, and yet another brilliant night spent with friends literally from all corners of the globe.
I want to make a special mention to the Lithuanian couple the we met, Marius and Elgé two locals from just outside Vilnius who so very kindly offered to take us to Trakai Castle. The castle is a gem about 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, incredible in its appearance and completely rebuilt from ruins.
Among some of the more interesting information from the castle was how it was built, designed so that if you wanted to attack the castle you had to go room by room, they were never interconnected. Throughout the castle were a number of different exhibitions showcasing castle life, and different facets of Lithuania, jewels, pipes and official seals. All ornate, in particular a beautiful collection of mereshawn pipes.
After spending a beautiful afternoon exploring the castle, we went to one of the cool local restaurants to enjoy a spectacular lunch with some brilliant new friends. The food in this part of the world has been nothing short of brilliant. There is a lot of flavor and the meals are incredibly hearty, and this little restaurant more than lived up to its reputation.
That night we dialed it down a little, enjoying a more relaxed night of cocktails at the Skybar with a few friends new and old. A great way to see out our time in the Baltics.
Next stop…well this is a little surprise – unexpected for us too. Stay tuned.