Saturday, July 29, 2017

[VILNIUS] Old Town Funk You Up

The border crossing was not that complicated as I expected it to be. The journey from Minsk took exactly two hours. From there, Vilnius was a mere 35-minute drive. It was the hour that we spent at the two immigration checkpoints that took a while because there were 43 of us on the bus. If you go by car, I’d say you can arrive at the Lithuanian capital in less than two hours and a half. The Belarusian IO was flipping through the pages of my passport over and over again but she was smiling all the time so that was a good sign.

I thought entering the Schengen zone will be more time-consuming but the Lithuanian IO just flipped through some pages, saw the visa, and stamped a page. No questions asked. I also love how she maximized the space, making sure that the stamp was really on the edge. I guess they are used to citizens of both countries coming in and out so often for them to be that considerate. Anyway, Lithuania! What’s up with that? What am I doing here of all places? Well, it’s the nearest capital to Minsk if you travel by land.

I originally intended for Vilnius to be a weekend trip from Minsk given the short bus trip it entails. When the Belarusian embassy in Jakarta told me that a single-entry visa was all they could give me, I decided to just turn Lithuania into a cheap entry point to the Schengen zone. There are no direct flights between Berlin and Minsk on Belavia anyway, and I have three days free in between courses so why not, right? Based on the Wikitravel page, though, there doesn’t seem much to see here.

McDonalds and I kissed and made up when I arrived. Pretty much like Minsk, you can survive cashless in Vilnius. If you need an ATM, there are several accepting Cirrus and Visa at the bus station. After a quick breakfast, I walked until I reached the old town. “Senamiestis” they call it. This part of the city is said to be rather fortified back in the day. Once you see a wall and a decorated archway, you’ll know you’ve reached your destination. The place gave me flashbacks of Latin America. Why so?

I think I’ve already established my theory that most Euro influenced town centers are the same anyway. They just differ in terms of architectural style and cultural nuances. The narrow cobble-stoned alleys are a common feature as well as the churches and plazas. The primary difference, I guess, is that on this side of Europe the town hall facing the square is the center of the attraction. In the Hispanic world it’s usually a church or a cathedral. After some time you’ll realize how they all tend to look similar in terms of layout.

I guess this is also my glitch whenever I travel around in Europe. Once I see the old town, I’m done. Vilnius’ is said to be one of the largest in the continent but it felt compact to me. I’m sure that if you spend a couple of days here you will eventually find a new alley or street corner worth the photo-op and admiration. That’s how you truly discover the charms of a place. But if you are just passing by and only interested in the main attractions, then there isn’t that much to tickle your fancy if you’ve already been to many other old towns.

This is how you start to appreciate different aspects of a new city when you travel a lot. I take photos of elegant façades by default for my Instagram feed. Other than that, I usually just find my own spot and sit somewhere doing nothing for an hour or two. Here in Vilnius, I think the square in front of the town hall is the best spot because there you see a lot of people come and go. If you are a fan of people watching you’ll find that area to be a good vantage point to observe the steady flow of tourists and locals alike.

The University of Vilnius is a few minutes away on foot from the main square. The Presidential Palace is a stone’s throw away from their campus. You can join a free tour of the palace interior on Fridays and weekends. The place itself has a remarkable history, having been visited by heads of empires and states through the decades. I found out an interesting piece of trivia on how the president of the country’s presence inside the premises is determined by which flag is flying high in front of the palace. Cool.

My final stop for my last day was the Vilnius Cathedral area. This is also a hotbed of tourism. The church traces its roots back to the 1300's and the huge park and hills behind it seem to be a good option for a daytrip. Too bad this grandpa didn’t have the strength to climb anything today! But it was also chill. There were kids playing around, a teenager practicing his skateboard skills, and a very eager dog playing frisbee with his humans. And yes, of course, there were tourists here and there but it wasn’t that crowded.

For those who want something different, you can always visit the other side of Vilnius. Referred to as Uzupis, the area across the river was once occupied by a bunch of eccentrics who ended up declaring their own republic, according to Wikitravel. Legend has it that if you go there on April Fool’s you can even get a passport stamp! I also saw a photo of their constitution on Google Images! Sounds legit. LOL. I didn’t go. I need a reason to come back to Vilnius. Join me next year on April Fool’s? Extra passport stamp, y’all! XD

[VILNIUS] Old Town Funk You Up

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