Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, 1316-1341, founder of Vilnius and expander of the country from the Baltic to near the Black Sea.
Poor Mr. Gediminas had his hands full. Most of his country was pagan, as was he himself, but the German Teutonic Knights swarming in from the west were intent on Christianizing his country. He ordered his pagans to kill any proselytizer. Professing an interest in being baptized, as a good politician might do, he was helped by the Pope to gather in territory from the Roman south. Orthodox folks to the east threatened to kill him if he converted. So he married his son off to the daughter of an eastern Galician Orthodox prince and thus gathered in vast new territory. To make peace to the west he married his daughter off to the Polish king’s Roman Catholic son. Meanwhile he invited citizens of all the mercantile Hansa cities throughout northern Europe to settle his lands and continue whatever religion that pleased them. And so amongst all the political and religious dust, Vilnius was established.
To get his city of Vilnius off to a good start, in 1320 Gediminas built a fortification on a hilltop overlooking the confluence of two rivers. We waste no time in hoofing it to the top.
Our goal is the castle.
The remains of the Gediminas castle and fortifications
It’s quite a climb over harsh cobblestones.
View over the new part of the city on the other side of the River Neris.
After leaving the castle we cross a small stream, the River Vilnia, and climb up to another hilltop. There we discover three large white crosses, which we find out are emblems of the city of Vilnius. From this height we have a clear view down onto the tiled roofs of the old town, where we will spend all our time exploring. The way up is paved, more or less: our way down is by steep trail.
We cross the River Vilnia, source of the city’s name and water supply.
We avoid discarding litter, especially over the shoulder.
Somewhat paved route up.
The Three Crosses
View onto the Old Town
We descend carefully.
Along the way, we meet these ladies who are on a religious pilgrimage to the cross.
You might ask where we stay when traveling? Well, we avail ourselves of Booking.com and Airbnb mostly, looking for apartments with decent kitchens, wifi, and preferably with two bedrooms when Suzi is with us. Some places are jewels, some pretty plain. Here’s our apartment in Vilnius, overlooking a quiet plaza, a block off the main square.
We are on the top floor.
Suzi’s bedroom, in royal purple.
Our typical bathroom with inconvenient shower and no place to put anything.
Quite functional kitchen with full fridge, four burner stove, better than average.
Typical European breakfast for us – low carb but tasty.
View from our kitchen across to the pastry shop, Crustum, and a cafe
We enjoy looking out the window, first in the evening when imposing buildings in the distance are lit up, then in the morning as dawn is breaking, when early vendors are distributing their wares and pets are being exercised. Then folks on bikes head off to work, the fountain begins to play and school children with their satchels head off to a long day. Men get their newspapers and taxis fetch their first fares. The coffee and pastry shop owners across from us turn on their lights, open their shutters, place their tables and chairs outside and open their doors for eager customers. The day starts.
Baked goods at the pastry shop, sold by weight. “I’ll take a 100 grams, please, of this and that. And 200 grams of brownies.”
Let’s go downtown and look around.
Tourists on the prowl
A place to sit a spell
Fine church probably dating from the 15 century during high-flying Hanseatic times.
Tall church in need of a serious facelift.
The famed violinist, Jascha Heifetz, born here to Jewish/Russian parents, lived most of his life in the U. S.
Somehow, Frank Zappa is memorialized in a tiny park where concerts are regularly given. A statue of Lenin here was torn down to make way for Zappa.
Here’s a happy guy.
Three assertive nuns
Three ladies ready to be kissed
Let’s go hear some music.
Lunchtime for the pigeons
We are always getting hungry. Suzi finds a nearby place using her favorite app – Pocket Earth. We probably wouldn’t notice this place otherwise but it surely does serve up some good local fare.
Not much from the outside to beckon us in.
A bit dark for reading the menu but the atmosphere is great and the beer is as good as always.
A late lunch for the guys
A bit of bathroom humor
Up the way apiece we come by one of the large markets, dating from 1906, a fine brick edifice in the style of the day.
Huge indoor market now over 100 years old
I think this means thumbs up, or maybe he’s about to slug me.
Across the street is a whimsical hostel.
Now we are hungry again and Suzi knows just where we should have lunch, around the corner at a beer joint.
How would you know that this is even a restaurant – no sign.
Plenty of atmosphere inside
Beer is good for you.
Tall and cold
Cold borscht for me
Potato dumpling for Eva.
Potato fritter for Suzi
Anybody ready for a haircut?
Yup. UPS delivers worldwide. Look at the license plate.
Lovely Poniu Laime Cafe
Three tourists (us) taking a selfie. Note the store hours.
Again it happened. We found ourselves ready for lunch. So we stopped a businessman on the street and asked for a recommendation. He sent us here. How unassuming can a place be on the outside?
Could this be a restaurant?
Restaurant or hotel lobby? We aren’t sure.
Bread and butter. And water! Good start.
Main course. These folks sure know how to cook.
After a full day of sightseeing we take in an afternoon coffee across from our apartment. It’s a nice day so we sit outside. At one point someone walks by who looks familiar. Now just how many people do we know in Lithuania – like none. But they recognize us, too. We had met two weeks before on the Curonian Spit, on a sand dune. They live here. What was the chance of our ever meeting again? We had a nice chat. Made our day.
Our pastry shop opposite the apartment.
Too late for even a crumb.
Our days run out. It is time to leave for another country and another capital. Our bus is waiting to whisk us off to Riga, four hours away. We leave sadly.
LUX is the way to go!
But wait! I’m not finished with Lithuania yet. As we went along on our 14 days in Lithuania, we began to develop a few photo themes. I will cover these in the next five short blog posts, so hold on. Latvia is coming soon enough.
Oops, Down the Drain got published ahead of schedule.