St. Anne's church, a treat even for the non-believer!
Aside the status of the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius as European capital city of culture for 2009, its' relative obscurity is always a plus sign for myself, as any place shrouded in a status of relative mystery is always going to intrigue me right from the word go. Background reading on Vilnius served to suggest that if you weren't fond of churches, shopping malls, basketball or cities ceding to the onslaught of capitalism then this place could never really appeal, but from my angle I wanted to give Vilnius a fair hearing. Despite the rainy weather, I found a great deal to commend this place, and its compact, but well-endowed status, and earns its place in the upper bracket of Europe's most pleasantly walkable cities.
Vilnius town hall, replete with medieval-style goings on in neighbouring square.
Staying at the well-equipped hotel Sarunas (owned by former national basketball hero!) was a decent choice, since its location was convenient enough for access to the cathedral square, main shopping drag (Gedimino boulevard), and the charming-looking Old Town. A casual stroll to the nearby Europa shopping mall on the first evening revealed just how far Vilnius has come along in recent years, and that emerging business district is a sign that money has flowed into the city in the same way as their irresistible beer flows down the throat - i.e. with an effortless sense of ease. The main tourist draw card to the city is, in my book, the ornate-looking cathedral and lighthouse-resembling clock tower, and from there, a stroll through Pilies street and its numerous souvenir shops led this impressed tourist to the Amber museum and gallery (worth calling in at, even if the amber culture does not seem so appealing), and onto St.
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul - another perfectly-formed place of worship.
Anne's church, which is impressive in all its' redbrick detail. From there, a short walk takes the visitor to the independent 'republic' of Uzupis, which is an enclave of artists, their stores, as well as being the city's bona fide 'bohemian' district, with one or two off-beat quirks, for which the city is famed. Walking the length of the pristine-looking Gedimino boulevard will bring you to the Museum of Genocide Victims (or KGB museum), which is somewhat chilling, but a must-see on the Vilnius tourist itinerary, especially if you've ever wanted to be made fully aware of the conditions in which those victims resided. The following day entailed a trek to the outlying Gariunai market, which impresses mostly in terms of sheer size, but only really suited to the 'clothes shopper'.
An amber shop - yet another reminder of Lithuanian amber culture!
Since the weather really was trying to prove that I was actually holidaying in Lithu-rainier, I did not actually make it to the enchanting nearby castle on Lake Trakai (traveller's cardinal sin, I know!), and instead made fuller use of the time at the Polynesian-themed water park 'Vichy', which just about offers the final word in the best of what Vilnius has to offer when it comes to family fun. Further strolls around the city on an evening, and a dinner at the commendable 'Bruce Lee' restaurant ensured that my desires to travel to unknown lands were cemented even further. As I boarded a plane at the airport with the Lithuanian experience behind me, and a lifelong attachment to a miniature 'amber tree' purchased at a souvenir shop, it never ceases to amaze me how cities of this ilk do end up being somewhat overlooked, but if any of the above musings appeal to your senses, then you'd do yourself a sizeable favour by visiting the place and seeing for yourself how much of an undiscovered gem of a city Vilnius really is.