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Sunday, August 6, 2017

A tour guide without any tourists

Cathedral Square: (from left to right) Cathedral Belfry (no, it doesn't lean like a certain Italian tower - it's a camera-created distortion), Vilnius Cathedral, Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Gediminas Castle (poking out from behind the palace) and, on the hill in the distance, the Three Crosses

It got busy last week at work, especially as the workweek was coming to a close. That's what happens sometimes when the end of the workday in Lithuania unfortunately roughly corresponds to the beginning of the day in Washington, D.C. Anyone who works at an overseas branch of a multi-national corporation could probably sympathize. On the other, on weekends I still have more time on my hands than I know what to do with, and will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks before my daughter and wife come back from visiting family in Taiwan. It can be a challenge trying to give myself something creative to do, but this past Saturday I think I managed to use the time well. My Lonely Planet guidebook to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has a suggested walking route through Old Town it describes as "The Best of Vilnius". I've seen most of the sights already, but I thought it would be interesting to combine the course with a bicycle ride, something I haven't done since before our trip in late June to the United Kingdom. The weather on Saturday turned out to be ideal for just such an excursion, so in the late morning I rode down to Cathedral Square, the starting point for the city walk bike ride:

Gediminas Castle & Museum. There are serious concerns as to the stability of the hill and work is going on to shore up the mound.

Next I entered onto Pilies gatvė, before turning left onto Bernardinų gatvė and zigzagging along Volano gatvė, Literatu gatvė, Rusu gatvė and Latako gatvė to Bokšto gatvė. On this latter street is the M.K. Čiurlionis House, the former home of Lithuania's greatest artist and composer. I haven't yet had the chance to go inside, as the building is inexplicably open only on weekdays.

The former town hall, which Amber and I have ventured inside once, on the occasion of a Christmas bazaar.

The Basilian Gates. Notice the couple in the corridor having their wedding photos taken. There wasn't much to see in the courtyard as the Church of the Holy Trinity (Uniates) is undergoing renovation work.

Also being renovated is the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit. I've previously photographed the exterior, but I haven't gone inside yet as Orthodox churches aren't always so camera-friendly.

St. Teresa's Church, where a wedding was taking place on Saturday afternoon. A beautiful day for it.

The Contemporary Art Center, another as yet-unvisited museum, but an oversight that will be rectified before we leave next spring.

Taking a lunch break and plotting my next move at an outdoor restaurant on Vokiečių gatvė. Chili soup (pictured above) and a pulled-pork sandwich. And beer, of course. Don't drink and ride?

Diners, shoppers and/or tourists at the intersection of Stiklių gatvė and Gaono gatvė

The Library Courtyard outside the visitors' entrance to Vilnius University

I retraced my route back through Cathedral Square, then rode on Gedimino Prospektas to the chilling Museum of Genocide Victims. The names of some of the victims executed inside by the KGB are inscribed on the exterior walls.

The Lithuanian National Opera & Ballet Theater. I've been critical of this Soviet-era building, both for its design and for the way it clashes with nearby Gedimino Prospektas and Old Town. I was astonished, however, to learn that my Lithuanian language teacher thought it was attractive.

The walk/bike ride ends on the opposite side of the Neris, at the Radisson Blu Hotel Lietuva, where Lonely Planet recommends the traveler sit back with a drink and enjoy the panoramas from the 22nd floor Sky Bar. Shu-E and I plan on doing just that the next time our daughter is away on a sleepover.

According to the guidebook, I rode almost 5 kilometers, which doesn't sound like much, except that a good portion of the route is on cobblestoned streets, which played havoc with my knees. In any event, I'm now prepared to play tour guide in the event someone pays a visit to Vilnius.

On Saturday night, with nothing better to do, I did most of the course for a second time, this time on foot, covering almost the entire route except for the last part across the Neris. It was a beautifully lit evening, though my camera wasn't able to capture the full moon in all its lunar glory:

 The white streaks at the top of the photo are insects in flight around a lamp

 Aušros Vartų gatvė art gallery/souvenir shop

And this is how I discovered that Vilnius has a very active nightlife, with restaurants and bars packed and spilling out onto the streets well after midnight. Lithuania's capital looks like it could be a fun place in which to spend your twenties!

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