Here is the story about how passionate Chris Potter’s performance of “Viva Las Vilnius” piece (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSzm1OI-Di8) suddenly made me check out the Wizz Air website, find the tickets for around 70 euro here and back, buy them, and go to the Lithuanian capital. One friend of mine said, I should have traveled to any other place, because Vilnius could be similar to a lot of places I’ve been too, but I don’t regret about my decision at all. There are several reasons…
1. It’s a veggie heaven. Despite of the fact, that the Lithuanian cuisine is meat-based, Vilnius appeared to be a vegetarian paradise for me. On the very first day I discovered two veggie restaurants next to each other (at Totorių street 3), and saw many more in the city. The food in the first one, Vegafe, was so good! I just gave in to tasting the dishes and alcohol-free wine, and then found myself full and happy. The restaurant next door, RawRaw, is for raw food lovers, as you can understand. Fresh natural ingredients, wide variety of dishes and simple minimalist design – this all instead of meat pies and traditional decor I was expecting in the historical center! Very much recommended.
If you look for authentic things, check out the breweries! Vilnius is one of the best destinations in Europe for enjoying multiple local beers. I will give you some tips.
The first one is Leičių Bravoras at Stiklių 5. I think, I tried all five authentic sorts they have. Red beer was the tastiest, and Indian Pale Ale appeared to be a delicious headshot (I suppose I am unsure about quantity of sorts I’ve tried because of this very beer). Staff was superfriendly there – they let me in to the rooms where beer was made, explained the taste of each sort and entertained me all the time.
Beer bar Būsi Trečias at Totorių 18 was something I would like to have in Tbilisi. Young and funny audience, plenty of beers and beer based drinks, and also good choice of food (Bremen Musicians shashlik impressed me with its name and ingredients at least). The bar is popular: on weekends it’s very difficult to find a seat.
The most “authentic” of all authentic breweries was famous Šnekutis (I visited the one at Šv. Mikalojaus 15). The owner and the symbol of the place is an old funny man, who has been pouring beer himself and entertaining visitors since a really long time. Local dishes like potato pancakes with different dressings are very cheap and very big, so it feels and tastes almost like at grandma’s. If my grandma could brew such beer as they brew in Šnekutis, I would never leave home, maybe.
3. It’s more than amber!
Usually people bring from Lithuania linen and amber. My advice would be – accessories. There are several shops selling local handmade jewelry, accessories and clothes – many of them are really stylish. And you definitely won’t find such things anywhere else!
Two shops I liked were Moustache (Stuokos-Guceviciaus 3) and Vitražo manufaktūra (Stiklių 6/8). Both relatively new (not older than 3 years), they offer plenty of beautiful things, which will remind you on Vilnius in a more exquisite way than a wooden magnet or amber accessories, which often look very oldschool.
And yes, how could I forget! 4. Chocolate.
Walking on Pilies street, which is a touristic artery of Vilnius, I spotted that chocolaterie, but though it was for non-locals only.
The next day I was not that cautious and walked closer. The smell of fresh natural chocolate just dragged me in, and the thoughts vanished, leaving more space for feelings…
All this furniture is made of chocolate!
Well, lyric apart, Pilies šokoladinė is a great shop and café with huge choice of dozens or even hundreds of chocolate sorts, delicious spicy ginger tea and strong coffee. It is very difficult to leave without buying or tasting something, and I think the sweets made by AJ šokoladas are also a great local present from Vilnius.
5. Free museums and cheap bicycles
My heart filled with hope, as I saw big bicycle rental stations everywhere. Cycling through the beautiful streets, enjoying the weather and burning above mentioned beer and chocolate – what can be better?
Unfortunately, I had to walk almost all the time: both car drivers and pedestrians just ignore the cyclist there, and a lot of streets are very narrow. Very. So I had to walk with the bicycle almost 30% of the time, which can also count as burning calories, but with lower level of pleasure.
Still, if you want to rent a city bicycle, you’ll have to get a card for free in an info center and register on http://en.cyclocity.lt – 30 days subscription costs 3.90 euro only, the first 30 minutes of cycling are free, and stations are literally everywhere. Have fun (and patience)!
Another weird, but funny thing was free entrance to many galleries and museums. Art gallery of modern Lithuanian artists at Pilies str. was free, galleries at Literatų street too, and even money museum didn’t charge a coin!
Like in Tbilisi, there are many small galleries of fine arts, ceramics and other handcraft, where you can walk in, talk, and sometimes participate. Lithuanians seemed to be extremely kind and friendly people, ready to show you around and tell everything they know, if you need it.
But what impressed me most, was Užupis, the only self-proclaimed republic which has great values, in my opinion. A neighbourhood where creatives and artisans live, it looks like a small part of Berlin, but a bit soft-core.
Užupis has its own constitution and flag, and celebrates Užupis Day on the 1st of April. Former mayor of Vilnius also lives here and participates actively in Republic’s life. The constitution is a masterpiece of human attitude towards each other. You can read the full text here:http://tinyurl.com/mm29j8s, but the mottos “Do not defeat. Do not fight back. Do not surrender” and lines as “Everyone has the right to love. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily” made me sob for no reason.
Hope those reasons were enough to attract you to Vilnius and come visit it once. I left major sightseeing points outside the post. Or… Maybe, here you go: a view from Gediminas Tower :))
And beautiful golden icon of Virgin Mary, which can be spotted several times a day:
Actually I’ve seen a bit more of the country and experienced local trains, buses and hitchhiking, so… stay tuned 😉