Friday, February 1, 2013

Lithuania: Vilnius in (Mostly) Photographs

Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, doesn't have the easy quirky fun of Tallinn or the stylishness of Riga. The Baltic states are usually grouped (and visited) together, though I went to Vilnius this January, two years after visiting Estonia and Latvia. But while Russia proper is further from Vilnius than the other cities, the USSR feels closer in Vilnius than anywhere else I've visited. Tallinn has its bars and Riga its art nouveau facades, but history weighs heaviest on Vilnius.

I don't have time to properly research Vilnius, plus I was reading about cognitive overload the other day (appropriately enough, I can't remember what I read because there is too much in my head) so I'm trying to focus more on my own impressions and less on acquiring all the facts there are to acquire.  But Vilnius was wonderful and covered in snow and I thought I'd gather some of my photographs, impressions and recommendations here. 

The city didn't have a totally coherent identity; every area was different (save for all the snow). I'm pretty curious about the suburbs, which were hidden from us by fog and the short duration of the trip. We didn't even really glimpse the TV tower in the distance.

But we did see and do lots of great things. We went to an exhibition on art nouveau fashion at the Museum of Decorative Arts, which feels as if it's built into caves underneath a hill. We went to the Russian Market, which is remarkably large and colourful against the drab backdrop of soviet housing estates. I loved the nearby area, known as Shanghai, where wooden houses and barking dogs sit under the shadows of the financial district's shiny towers. We had the National Art Museum almost to ourselves.

Everything was really cheap, too, which meant we could dine at lots of lovely places. The best places we ate were Sonnets and Osaka, both of which felt fairly lavish after three days in Lithuania but which were really pretty cheap by British or Australian standards. We went to one (strikingly empty) restaurant with awful mains (and very good dessert, surprisingly... except not that surprisingly, really, as the In Your Pocket guide had noted this fact) but amazing Soviet fifties interiors including a tiled fountain beside the bar. Apparently it was a favourite of the nomenklatura forty years ago, which meant I spent most of the meal thinking about the implications of dining at such a restaurant as a 21st century tourist.

We also visited the little museum in the castle, which was warm and interesting and had amazing views of the city, and we went to a lot of churches. This is really the city of churches and I can't count how many we visited in the Old Town, though we missed the Church of St Peter and St Paul (which is meant to have the best interior). My favourite was St Theresa's, though the Polish Orthodox Cathedral was also pretty spectacular and (while not a church) the Gates of Dawn were really astonishing.

I feel like this whole post has just been superlatives, and I sort of hate using adjectives this way, writing posts which are nothing but "THIS WAS GREAT". I might expand on this later and look up some details I'd like to include save for the minutes of research which inevitably expand into hours as I read the entire history of every street I walked down.

As far as first impressions go, Lithuania in winter felt like a secret universe full of questions and covered in gold leaf. While I'm not sure I'd obsess over Vilnius as I do Tokyo, New York and Riga, I would be happy to spend a few more mornings eating salted salmon with pancakes for breakfast and putting on six layers before stepping outdoors.

I'm still addicted to instagram, so there are lots of photos of Vilnius (including places I mention but didn't photograph with my digital camera, like the Russian Market and Polish Orthodox Church) on there; my username is lookitsanna.


  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful photographs - you make this virtual traveller and ex-design history student happy!

    1. Thank you! I'm so pleased that you like them.

  2. Wow I'm so glad to get to see your photos of Vilnius with snow everywhere. I agree, it's no Tokyo or NYC but it had a lot of character. Did you check out Uzupis? That was my favorite part.

    1. Yes, I loved Uzupis! I just spent half a morning there and wanted to go back and see more (as I really just saw the central few blocks) but sadly didn't get a chance -hopefully another trip someday!