Charming Old Vilnius - Jewel of the Baltics

While some people I know are scared to fly, or at least don't like a hassle of connecting flights and stopovers at different airports...

While some people I know are scared to fly, or at least don't like a hassle of connecting flights and stopovers at different airports, I see those as additional opportunities to have fun and experience something new. Within two weeks in the summer 2016, I took 10 flights, 2 long-distance train rides including the famous Eurostar between Brussels and London, and visited 5 countries for a price of a round-trip flight between Canada and Ukraine. Vilnius, Lithuania just happened to be one of the stopovers on my way back to Canada, because I could not resist to buy a ticket for a price that low.

For those who were curious enough to find out more about my itinerary, below is my flight map for these two weeks. All flights were with low-cost carriers including WestJet (round-trip Toronto - London), Ukrainian International Airlines (mutli-city London - Istanbul - Zaporizhia and one-way Kyiv - Vilnius), RyanAir (one-way Vilnius - Brussels) and Pegasus (round-trip Istanbul - Denizli, Turkey).
I was really thrilled to visit Lithuania, because it has so much in common with my home country  - Ukraine. 
Not only did we share "a membership" in Soviet Union, but also we had very deep historical ties dating back to 14th century. I deliberately picked a picture of this Czech trolleybus as Kyiv used to have hundreds of them too between late 1980s and mid-2000s. 
Apart from the historical centre, Vilnius looks like any other Soviet-era city, albeit with much better roads overall comparing to Ukraine. Even though Lithuania has been a European Union (EU) member since 2004, for those 9 hours I spent in Vilnius and its suburbs I felt like this country had not gone too far in terms of embracing western european values. 
I found people that I interacted with in Lithuania, especially those from older generations who lived much of their lives in the Soviet Union, to have a classical 'Soviet mentality'. And, I have to admit, as much as all my Ukrainian friends hate Ukrainian airports, the one in Vilnius was much worse. I literally spent over an hour waiting in line at the passport control in the small room with turned-off air-conditioners. There were three working wickets, two of them servicing EU citizens. An officer in a third wicket kept spending about 3-4 minutes for each passenger, hence the long waiting time. When the two "EU" wickets were free, i.e. no passenger were waiting in line, I came over and asked in English if they can check my passport. A lady, 50+, with a classical Soviet facial expression pointed me to the third wicket where I was standing in line and didn't want to listen to my rationale. A complete lack of common sense and zero care about customers are the two strong traits of the 'Soviet mentality'. 
Another example was at the Bank where a cashier, 50+ and fluent in Russian, refused to change my slightly torn ten-dollar bill to euros. 
And how about this? Polish people were openly drinking beer on a public bus, and no one told them anything. I don't think those Polish guys would dare to do the same in Poland, but maybe I'm wrong. 
But aside from those few unpleasant moments, I really liked Vilnius, especially the old town. It reminded me about Lviv, a beautiful city in western Ukraine, with its tiny streets, quiet courtyards and baroque churches.  
UNESCO recognized a historical and cultural significance of Vilnius as a political centre of Great Duchy of Lithuania in 13-18 centuries and designated its historic centre as a World Heritage Site in 1994. 
Vilnius historical centre is rather small with all main attractions located within its boundaries. 
Many tourists in Vilnius appeared to be from China, Russia and Belarus. Chinese people with ever-expanding middle class are now travelling everywhere, so it's a norm. But for people from western Russia and Belarus, Lithuania is a weekend destination.
One of the biggest draws in Vilnius is its elegant baroque architecture from 17-18 centuries which is characterized by complex details. 
But Old Vilnius has fine examples of other architectural styles, such as this Russian Orthodox church built in 19th century in the medieval Georgian style.
Many creative people found their way to Uzupis, a small neighbourhood in Vilnius also known as The Republic of Uzupis. 
 Its name means "the other side of the river" in Lithuanian language. 
 Among about 7,000 residents of Uzupis, 1,000 are being artists. 
 Such a high concentration of creative people ensures that Uzupis is a living museum of art.
I particularly liked the exterior of the St. Anne's Church - one of the oldest churches in Vilnius with its striking red-brick facade.
The church was built in 1500 and is a great example of both Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic styles. 
A stairway leading to the Gediminas Tower, a remaining piece of the Upper Castle. 
The Cathedral of Vilnius is the main spiritual centre of Lithuania. Built in 1783, it is the finest example of the Neoclassical architecture. 
I was lucky to capture this picture of a light coming from a setting sun and reflecting from the cross. Now imagine a deeply religious person seeing this for the first time in late 18th century. Pretty convincing, eh?
Unlike London or Brussels that I visited on the same trip, Vilnius was not busy at all which I really liked. 
These young ladies, supposedly celebrating the end of the school year, asked me to take a picture on my camera. Ok, no problem, but I still don't understand why :) Have a good day, everyone!

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