Lithuania is the Golden child of the Baltics. Vilnius has been proclaimed to be the Paris of the East and it does not disappoint. Not only are there magnificent churches, twisted alleyways, and cobble-stoned streets, but Lithuanian cuisine hits the spot after a long day of exploring. Topped off with delicious beer and garlic bread, a visit to Lithuania is definitely alluring. So much so that Becky visited over 6 times (some for work but mostly for pleasure)…something about those easy on the eyes 6 foot men!

Becky enjoying a brew with Lithuanian friends in Klaipeda View of the 19th Century Klaipeda Theater (famous because Hitler spoke from the balcony). A sculpture of Ann from Tharau stands in a fountain in the middle of the square Souvenir stand, Klaipeda old city Main street in Klaipeda A Klaipeda naval poster greets visitors to Lithuania's 3rd largest city Group dinner at a Rescuer/Medcuer pre-exercise meeting; Klaipeda New found friends from Rescuer/Medcuer; Klaipeda View of downtown Vilnius Entrance to the Lithuanian National Drama Theater; Vilnius Interior roof decor of the grand Cathedral, Cathedral Square Cathedral Square (Katedros aikste), Vilnius Statue of Grand Duke Gediminas The path leading up towards Gedimino Hill Gediminas Tower Lithuania's flag on proud display outside the town hall Rear view of the Cathedral Square, Vilnius Bird's eye view of Vilnius new town View of the Vilnius skyline as seen from Gediminas Tower Hike up to Gediminas Tower for a fine vista over beautiful Vilnius A stroll along Vilnius' cobblestoned streets is a must when visiting this lovely city "Pot in the wall", Vilnius Becky checking out tea pots embedded in the wall; Vilnius The Orthodox Church of St Nicholas is one of the oldest Orthodox churches in Vilnius. It was originally built in 1340 (and has been subsequently rebuilt several times since then) A quaint portal in old Vilnius View of St Teresa's Church The Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit; Vilnius Interior dome of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, Vilnius Religious icon at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Vilnius Gates of Dawn, Vilnius Another view of the Gates of Dawn The beautiful Church of St Casimir; Vilnius Detail on the portal of the pink, baroque church of St Casimir "Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America" - George Bush, Nov 23rd, 2002 View from Vilnius' Town Hall Blessed Virgin Mary of Consolation; Vilnius Locals prepared for the dreary weather in Vilnius Vilnius is an easier city to navigate on foot instead of car (check out its narrow streets) There are a whopping 65 churches in Vilnius alone, and we found one on almost every corner The 14th Century St Anne's Church, one of Vilnius' most recognizable landmarks Hmm, which way to go? Lithuanian humor spray painted on Vilnius wall Robby standing in front of Lithuanian Parliament building, Vilnius Lithuanian Parliament building, Vilnius Brass door to the library of Vilnius University The belfry of Saint John's Church of Saint Catherine; Vilnius Cobblestoned streets of Vilnius after a downpour View of the All Saints Church The baroque style All Saints Church View of Gediminas Tower from Vilnius Old town Wedding photos taken in front of Vilnius Cathedral, the most important Catholic building in Lithuania Souvenirs for sale, Pilies gatve (castle street) Orthodox church on Castle Street, Vilnius Paintings for sale, Castle Street Lithuanian license plate, Vilnius Ornate portal, Vilnius old city center An old church belfry is quite a common sight in Vilnius which boasts dozens of churches Facade of a fading church in old Vilnius Bridge decor, Vilnius Becky standing in the middle of a rape field, Lithuanian countryside foto gallery lightboxby v6.1

We had an early start to drive towards Vilnius today. Our aggressive plan was to drive from Riga to Vilnius (avoid getting pulled over by the traffic police) and make a mad dash back to Riga late that evening. However, for the first half hour, we drove circles around Riga and simply could not find the A7 signs leading out of the city. Once we gave up on finding signs and relied on navigating by geographical landmarks, we made significant progress and finally made our way out. (Now that we both have struggled to drive within and around Riga, we can definitely claim to know that city like the back of our hands.) We were cautious about our speed as we didn’t want yesterday’s repeat performance with the police but fortunately, it started raining. We eventually found our “white rabbit”, a speedster who was zooming towards Vilnius and we followed in hot pursuit. Amazingly, it only took us slightly over three hours to get to Vilnius (including our little detour) and we were there just in time for lunch before kicking off our walking tour.

Parking in Vilnius is a breeze and we parked a block away from the Katedros aikste (Cathedral square), our first stop. The square was used during Lithuania’s campaign for independence in the early 90s but it has long played a prominent role. Back in the early 19th century, the square and cathedral used to be part of the lower castle and a moat ran around what is currently the square’s perimeter. The 57 meter tall belfry that still stands today used to be located within the moat! The immense cathedral has amazing statues and frescoes to admire. It was also the scene of an ugly battle that remains unresolved till today. Back in 1985, workers in the cathedral discovered a $10-million treasure. It is believed that the stash of 270 religious jewels were stowed away and hidden by Russian soldiers back in 1655. Today, both the church and state dispute who should benefit from the treasures.

Inside the cathedral, a baptism was being held so we didn’t linger too long inside and walked over to the statue of Grand Duke Gediminas. This controversial statue depicts the Duke wielding a sword despite the fact he was never a warrior! However, he is widely acknowledged as the founder of Vilnius. From there, we took the footpath up to Gedimino Tower (located on top of Gedimino hill). From the tower, we had a fabulous view of Vilnius: the old town to the South, the Three crosses hill to the East, the river to the North and the newer part of Vilnius to the West. The rain started to downpour while we stood on top of the tower, but we decided to enjoy the liquid sunshine while wandering through the old town on Pilies gatve (Castle street). There are tons of tourist shops selling amber jewelry, lace and souvenirs along the length of Castle Street, which expands into a daily handicraft market at the southern end of the street. We weren’t in the mood for shopping and opted to check out Vilnius’ oldest street, Gates of Dawn Street, instead. This street was originally named Greater Castle Street but during the soviet regime, it was renamed Gorky Street. There are several amazing churches conglomerated along the street and our first stop was at the Holy Trinity Basilian monastery, after which we saw the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit. Inside the church, three 14th-century martyr’s perfectly preserved bodies are proudly on display. Maybe it was a good thing we got indoctrinated with some mummified remains first as the next church, St. Teresa’s Church, was a bit of a shocker. We didn’t realize that below the entrance is a chamber for the dead. We wandered right in on two funeral rituals, where entire families, huddled in separate rooms, surrounded their newly departed. Becky is definitely queasy around the dead so we made a beeline for the exit immediately and found ourselves at the Gates of Dawn (this is the only one of the original gates in the town wall that is still intact). Apparently it scraped by with a close call as it was scheduled for destruction during the Soviet era plans to build a highway from Minsk to Moscow. We stumbled upon a nice surprise at the Old Town Hall who was hosting a photo contest gallery. Local photographers (professional and amateurs) had submitted their favorite photos, broken down into various categories, to be scrutinized and voted on by the public. Some of the photos were absolutely amazing…we spent quite a bit of time going through each section and wishing we could take similar pics. After hitting most of the highlights within the old town, we decided to grab a bite for dinner before the long drive back to Riga. We strolled through Vilnius’ nooks and crannies before settling on a traditional Lithuanian restaurant, that was unfortunately out of cepelinai (Becky ate this in Vilnius a couple of years ago and was a huge fan of the glutinous potato dough/ cheese/meat & mushrooms concoction). However, there were plenty of other traditional dishes to try and Robby has his first taste of Lithuanian garlic bread (awesome but everyone has to eat it simultaneously cause it is STRONG). After dinner, we enjoyed a beautiful drive back to Riga. While Becky voted Riga as her favorite Baltic capital, Robby enjoyed Vilnius more but was holding off his vote until after visiting Tallinn (our upcoming June 04 trip).

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