Vilnius, genocide and the white Christmas.Β 

So there were some very sore heads this morning but we managed to make it to breakfast and, after an extra hours nap we departed minus 3 of the group who were still feeling the effects. 

Our main goal today was to go to the Genocide Museum and learn a little local history. Conveniently it was only a 15 minute walk away from the hotel, down near Gediminas St. It’s 4E for entry and the main floor gives you a detailed back drop to what happened under Soviet rule. It doesn’t hold back at all, it’s heartbreaking to read about the families sent to the work camps in Russia and learning about the resistance to Soviet rule. 

There’s a lot of reading but also some really interesting parts, we enjoyed the mini model of a bunker and some of the pictures were harrowing. 

The most interesting part of the museum is the prison in the basement, filled with tiny jail cells, torture chambers with think padded doors so no one can hear you scream. While we were there they had an interesting exhibit on Belarusian activists and their stories, a stark reminder that there are still issues in Europe around freedom of speech. 

(Belarusian activists)

We followed a corridor through to the courtyard which was freezing enough for us, hard to imagine what it would have been like for the prisoners. This led to the most gruesome part of the exhibit…the execution chamber, a video showed just how cold and clinical the officers were, and how terrified the prisoners must have been in their final seconds of life. There were even bullet holes in the wall. Our other friends who arrived later found it really difficult to even be in there.

Things were made even harder with the lingering hangover affecting us all. The top floor has some interesting bits on Soviet spying techniques with people being watched and tapped…imagine a world where you can’t trust anyone or anything!? After some more information on the resistance we were ready to go….walking out it was difficult not to feel for the 20,000 or so Lithuanians who died during these tragic times. 

(Big brother is watching you Sarah)

(Propaganda)

We agreed with the others we would find a restaurant to have a late lunch and wait for them there, so we walked out past the monuments and onto the main Gediminas St. 

As we walked along, the one thing we had wanted happened…slowly little flecks of snow started tumbling down. It was lovely as night was falling and when we checked it was due to continue all evening. 

We stopped in Can Can Pizza restaurant as they did a variety of dishes amd it was super cheap. Sarah and I shared a 50cm pizza, Sarah tried a dodgy oily dumpling filled with meat, and Calvin and Stef had chicken pot pie and gnocchi. Not very Lithuanian but after a hard day hungover and walking round a very depressing museum it was just what we needed. 

The others arrived as we were eating and had their food before we set off down the street back towards the markets. 

The streets were all beautifully lit up as the snow started to come down.

We arrived at the markets to merry Xmas tunes and the locals smiling and laughing. Grabbing a table we all got hot drinks, mainly mulled wine…Took some pictures of the impressively lit up tree and relaxed in the cold. 

(Calvin and Stef)

(Liz and I)

It’s a lovely way to spend an evening and the mulled wine was lovely I think the snow always makes things seem that bit more magical too. Everyone soon started to feel the chill however so off we went to find warmth and shelter. On our way I had read about the Stebuklas tile which, when spinning on it clockwise, would grant you a wish. 

We all had fun spinning on the tile making our wishes. 

After this Calvin and I remembered seeing a bar called Craft and Draft which is housed underground on Gediminas St and is pretty cool with a vast array of well priced whiskeys and beers. I had honey beer for 2E and it was excellent. There is a really good craft ale scene in Lithuania and it was nice to sample some of the local beers while we were there. 

Next up was to find a late night dinner. We had spotted a place called drama burger earlier in the day and it was in the general direction of the hotel. 

(The art of imitation) 

(Footprints in cathedral square) 

These footprints represent the 25th anniversary of the Baltic way, where a human chain was created that spanned the entire Baltic states from Tallinn to Vilnius to protest Soviet rule! 

The burgers were delicious at drama burger, Liz even making the outrageous statement that they were the best she had ever had! With that bold announcement we made our way back to the hotel where snow had started to settle. 

The next day was uneventful as we made our way to the airport post breakfast, but I would just say that I try to avoid Uber because of certain ethical points but the taxi was 5E rather than the 14.50E we were charged on the first night! So maybe my morals will be tested from now on! We also got the bonus of a young Lithuanian expressing his disappointment at the pagan conservative government currently in power in Vilnius, and I always think it’s interesting to get a locals perspective on politics. 

Vilnius and the bar crawl.

We had booked three rooms in the Grata, with me getting to share with Sarah as I’m the best sleeper in the group and she snores like a trooper…so we woke up early the next day and went for an immense breakfast. 

It didn’t quite hit the heights of Riga as there was no sparkling wine…but the little potato balls went down a treat with everyone, as did the curd wrapped pancakes. It was a great mixture of hot and cold stuff. Enough for variety every day. Filled up on breakfast we headed out into the cold, and it wasn’t too bad as we went past a lovely church. 

Saw some random writing….could do with a translation….

…and descended into the old town. We stopped on the way to get warming cups of coffee and hot apple drinks. Wrapped up warm we wandered past some beautiful old buildings and past the university. 

We had learnt thank you in Lithuanian – Aciu (aa-choo) and found the graffiti very polite. 

We turned down a street towards Cathedral Square and, trying to ignore the huge Christmas tree to our left we instead walked towards Gedimimas Tower, placed on a small hill in the middle of the tower. It used to have Vilnius castle perched on top but now just has the tower and some ruins. 

There were some spectacular views to be had and you can pay 5E to go into the tower. The cold wind was biting on the exposed hilltop and we walked over to look at the three crosses on the opposite hill before we made the descent back down. My lonely planet guide had mentioned a funicular but sadly it wasn’t in service when we were there. It would have been useful as it was quite steep and slippy going down the hill. 

Walking along the river we looped round the hill and passed by King Mindaugas statue, the first and last King of Lithuania. 

We then emerged into cathedral square with the tower, Christmas markets and cathedral all waiting to be explored. 

It was all very grand and pretty as we walked over to a nativity scene  (minus baby Jesus, Mary and several other characters. 

We went into the cathedral which was free, and even though I’m not a religious person I always find their buildings very peaceful. There were some interesting sights and the possibility of a crypt tour which we didn’t end up having time for. 

We had been walking for a couple of hours now so we decided to enter the markets and have a nice mulled wine. The markets themselves were just the sort of thing you’d find in ones back in the UK but the wine and waffles/donuts were cheaper and tasty.

While we drank our mulled wine we planned on our next course of action…to go and see some more churches, there was meant to be a cool street leading to St Anne’s Church with lots of pieces of artwork from local artists, but either it had been painted over or we were on the wrong street. The churches were nice and coincided with being close to the Uzupis district. 

The Uzupis district is an artsy area which in 1997 the residents declared it as a free republic with their own president and constitution. It’s compared to the famous freetown christiana in Copenhagen. 

(Angel of Uzupis)

Although it is not known whether they are serious about independence or not, their national day is April 1st (Fools day) which may be an indication. There wasn’t a lot going on when we were there but they have their constitution in several languages on one street. 

“A dog has the right to be a dog” 

Powerful stuff! Anywaaay we walked down through the district when Stef was googling where a famous graffiti piece was. Working out we were pretty close to it we took a 20 minute walk to Keule Ruke, a cool little burger/rib joint with impressive graffiti art and excellent food. 

Famous Putin-Trump kiss. 

We had a beer and some food and Stef found a map with some cool sounding bars which seemed to be leading back towards the hotel. So after a quick discussion we agreed to do a mini bar crawl. The first bar was actually a gents barbers, the second wasn’t open yet…so we ended up in a small local bar with a weird smell and an unimpressed barmaid. It was super cheap but Liz struggled to ask for a blonde beer, using a few terms for it, eventually the barmaid disappeared for a bit before returning with no answer. Whiskey and local lager it was then. 

We quickly left after warming up and tried the next bar, Bukowski’s. This was more like it, extensive range of beers and spirits, food and cocktails. It was a cool bar and we sat having a few drinks when the realisation dawned on us, this was going to be it for the night. No going back to the hotel, just good food and drinks for the rest of the night. 

(Something funny clearly happening here)

Once people had lined their stomachs our excellent bar guide took us to Apoteka, a trendy ‘speakeasy’ type place which did cocktails and not much else. It was more expensive here but still less than prices in the UK. Around 8E per cocktail. They were all super tasty and we got bat snacks! 

(Espresso Martini)

After this we were unsure of where to go, so after some awkward conversation with the bar man we walked in the general direction of the town hall where we were told we’d find bars and restaurants. Lo and behold we did! The square was lovely with lights and a tree and we met an old Lithuanian man who recommended a traditional restaurant, so we piled in and sat down. A little tipsy we decided to order some traditional things, so we got some bread and cheese sauce again, Lithuanian liquors and Pork ear. 

The breadsticks were amazing. The pork ear came however, and it didn’t have us diving in with our forks. It was a huge ear boiled and slapped ontop of some barley and bacon bits. 

It’s the first time I’ve ever gagged on food, and I’ve eaten tarantula and bbq’d frog. It was fatty, full of crunchy cartilage and the only thing to do was wash it down with the spirits. 

The spirits were almost as bad! They burned as they went down, with a couple tasting like paint stripper. It was fun to try these things though, especially seeing other people’s faces eating/drinking it. We got chatting to an older group of Norwegians, being Welsh went down a lot better than the two English girls on the table! 

After this we went next door to a bar I had read was Star Wars themed…however there was nothing to do with star wars in there, instead a collection of carboot sale items were nailed around the room. I think it was called Who Hit John and it was tiny inside but quite cool only with a scary mannequin thing in the bathroom! 

Liz then made a Russian friend who recommended a bar called Paparazzi, so we walked over there, not realising it was over 20 minutes away, but Stef did a great job finding it  

(Scary statue on the way) 

This was our final destination and a few more drinks were had before it was clearly bedtime and some sore heads were due in the morning. 

Liverpool to Vilnius and the quest for food.Β 

Next up on the bucket list is Lithuania! After convincing some friends with cheap flights and accommodation we set a date and here we are. 

Although we all live in Manchester, Liverpool is the closest airport to fly direct and after meeting up in Piccadilly station we set off to South Parkway…The closest train station to John Lennon airport. We pre booked tickets for a fiver each for the 13:37 train over and picked up pizza and booze for the 40 minute journey. 

A quick taxi journey from the station and we were in departures waiting to go, flight delayed we squeezed in another pint and then spent a 2 and a half hour flight being thrown around in turbulence! Once we landed it was easy to take a taxi to our hotel on the outskirts of the old town. The Grata hotel was really cheap, and the rooms are great with breakfast yet to be sampled. 

As we arrived at 10pm not much was going on but we were told of a traditional restaurant nearby so off we set only to get there too late, it was closed! Not to be deterred Stef in our group found a couple of nearby places and the first one we stumbled onto did the trick. 

We ordered some traditional  (and not so traditional) food and local beers and spent the next 2 hours feasting, laughing and generally having fun….until the lights had been turned off and we were finally asked to leave! The food was so good with my garlic fried bread with cheese sauce going down a treat.

With no real plans and nowhere looking open we went back to the hotel ready to explore properly tomorrow.