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Tuesday, 01 September 2009

Vilnius: The City of Dark Humor - Page 2

Written by Belinda Hogan
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After a difficult overnight journey across the Baltic Sea, my traveling companion and I finally arrived in Lithuania. The ferry we took got us to our destination in one piece, but it was far from comfortable. Sleeping on the floor of the boat in a room full of drunken men was not the most luxurious experience, but it did serve its purpose. We docked in Klaipeda, a town in north-west Lithuania in one piece with a few marriage proposals to boot. From Klaipeda we caught a bus to Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city and, after a few days of rest, made our way down to Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

The best way to start a visit through this World Heritage site (this program conserves important world locations), is at the ‘Ausros Vartoi,’ also known as the ‘Gates of Dawn.’ This is the only gate tower that was not destroyed during the Soviet occupation. It also houses a little chapel in its arch where people pray to the gold icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary who supposedly grants miracles. Older gypsy women dressed in black surround the gate, begging to those who pass by.

Once through the gate, visitors can walk onto a narrow cobble-stoned street that is lined with various shops. The shops sell items made of amber, or ‘Baltic Gold’ as it is referred to. Lithuania is the amber capital of the world and there are two museums dedicated to it – one in the town of Palanga and the other in Vilnius. Collecting amber on the Lithuanian seaside is like collecting shells on any Australian beach. One of my favourite purchases from Vilnius was of this ‘Baltic Gold’ --- a beautiful silver and yellow amber bracelet that has the remains of insects inside the fossilized resin.

Vilnius: The City of Dark Humor,  Jerusalem of Lithuania, travel Vilnius, travel Lithuania, Ausros Vartoi, Gates of Dawn, Ausros Vartu Gatve, bohemian and cozy city, Old Vilnius, Lithuania, Museum of Genocide Victims, Belinda HoganFor anyone who tours through Old Vilnius, it won’t take long to realize that the city is one of the best locations in Europe to go church-gazing. Over forty churches reside in close proximity throughout the city. I started my tour on Ausros Vartu Gatve, the oldest street in Vilnius where I visited the Baroque Church of St. Theresa. This church was painted in shades of pink and boasted a sandstone alter that is one of the highest in Europe. It was as elaborate inside as it was out with its ornate stucco work and intricate murals depicting the life of its namesake. Next door was the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit which could be reached by walking though a Byzantine gate. The interior was painted a wide range of colors with gold trimming and flamboyant columns. Across the road was the Basilian Gate, a magnificent yellow and cream baroque archway which lead to a decrepit old monastery. The street ended with the Church of St. Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania. The church’s baroque dome could be seen all over the city and was the oldest of its kind. Of all the churches, my favorite was the cream and rustic-red painted Russian Orthodox Church of St. Michael which is now a museum focusing on the 1918-1919 architecture.

Along with the churches and its rich history, Vilnius was also a very bohemian and cozy city. Many of the cafés could be found by venturing down alleyways and steep stairs that went underground. There were also other bars around the town which were very popular throughout the city. One in particular was simply called ‘The Pub.’ ‘The Pub’ was a regular watering hole frequented by university students and artistic types. Its dark red walls and heavy wooden furniture made it a haven for me during my days in Vilnius – at times the warmth inside was the only thing that kept freezing weather outside at bay. ‘The Pub’ was decorated with white fairy lights attached to green tinsel ropes swinging from the ceiling. The bookcase it housed was jam packed. There was only one English book in the whole collection – needless to say I became quite an expert on British poetry. It served comfort food and Lithuanian beer-which I warn is very potent.

Another fabulous bar in Vilnius was the ‘Uzupio Kanine,’ which sat by the Vilna River in the bohemian Uzupis. This part of town has declared its own republic and it is a wonderful place to meet the hippy locals who live in the artistic shacks nearby. A third notable tavern was called ‘The Republic of Angles.’ ‘The Republic’ was on a main street with about150 resident vendors. These people made a living by selling their artistic wares in the run down courtyards. I made it a daily habit to sit on the benches outside. I loved the bartering process between vendor and tourist and watching the teenagers fish and race their handmade sailing boats down the small rapids nearby.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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