Saturday, April 28, 2007

Man patinka Vilnius

With May day approaching, many people are taking the upcoming weekend as a vacation, bridging Monday to the actual holiday on Tuesday. With that in mind, it was really necessary to get an early start from Warsaw, because the single lane "highway" to the northeast was going to be choked pretty quickly.

I tell a lie: it's more of a 1 1/2 lane highway, with the centre part of the 300km+ to the border, a continuous overtaking zone, with the overtaking vehicle seeming to have right of way. This means that if you're behind a few trucks, then you have to be super-alert to dodge to the right, following the ripple in traffic as a vehicle comes down the middle of the road towards you (and because of the trucks, completely unseen). A side-effect of this is that you either drive along the shoulder (as a few do) or you become a freeway shark, overtaking constantly to stay awake and alive.

That aside, it's an unspectacular drive, and after crossing into Lithuania, the countryside contrives to become even flatter than Poland. The border crossing itself was uneventful (more passport stamps!), with the stern Lithuanian lady asking for my "bus pass", which I understood to mean my car registration papers.

Vilnius is tucked away in the southeast of Lithuania, and is the most easterly point of my entire journey, yet is next to the geographic centre of Europe, according to the National Geographic Institute of France.

About 30km before Trakai, the terrain becomes a bit more interesting, and we stopped for a break by a lake, and to allow Bondi the opportunity to get on sniffing terms with his 24th country.

Vilnius itself turned to be a very pleasant surprise. although with an alarming amount of traffic for a city of some 600,000 people. It has the largest old town centre in Eastern Europe, and by the looks of it, the best preserved and maintained. As the first of the old Soviet satellites to throw off the chains, it got a good headstart in re-establishing its long cultural heritage, and despite being the last country in Europe to adopt Christianity, it is nicknamed the city of 100 churches with its plethora of such in baroque, gothic, orthodox and other styles.

After a week of not-easy-to-get-around-with-a-dog Poland, Vilnius is a dream for Bondi, where everyone is happy to see him. Lithuania and Poland were united historically, although the Lithuanian language is not a Slavic language. It is closest to Latvian (no surprises there) and now-extinct Prussian. The title of this post is "I like Vilnius".

Just after we dumped gear at the hotel and got out onto Gedimino street, the very long "main drag" of Vilnius, a girl asked shyly if he was a Laika. "No, but he's like a laika". I suppose if one were a Lithuanian theatre/film enthusiast, one might similarly say "Man patinka Mandy Patinkin", or then again one might not. (According to Wikipedia, he was classmate of Kelsey Grammar at Juillard and put forward his name to the producers of Cheers.)

Duomo and Campanile, I mean Cathedral and belltower.

Balloon over old town; philosopher and his faithful bull(?)

Vilnius will a European Capital of Culture in 2009, and even though there is obviously some further (not obtrusive) beautification going on, it's already an interesting and easy place to visit. There are a number of places just around town that I won't get time to visit. I think you need at least 3 full days here.

Wishing square; Town hall

Panpipes or chocolate?

1 comment:

  1. heather9:43 am

    I guess you're not the only one, the new york times came up with this article...


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