I made it to Vilnius without issue, arriving just after noon. Daylight savings time ended here yesterday, so I’m now UTC+2, not UTC+3 (seven hours ahead of Omaha, until daylight savings time ends there November 3.).
Two firsts accomplished today: first time in Lithuania (country #35), and first time renting and driving a car in another country besides Canada. I didn’t do much of that, though, as basically was in the car long enough to get from the airport to my hotel, and then to their parking lot about 500 meters from the hotel.
The hotel I stayed in, the Moon Garden, is quite comfortable. It’s an older building, but the rooms are nice and very well maintained, and it had a very good breakfast included with the room.
After checking in, it was time to explore Vilnius. I walked around the corner through Aušros vartai/the Gate of Dawn, then north into the heart of Old Town Vilnius. It was cool (upper 50s Fahrenheit/14-15 Celsius at the start), overcast, and there was light rain at times, but overall it was quite comfortable.
My plan was to go to Cathedral Square, which has a lot of famous landmarks around it. On my way I saw a sign for the Presidential Palace, so I walked by that, first. The building and the grounds surrounding it are massive; I don’t think the photo I took really does it justice.
From there, I walked by a few of the embassies in the area, and finally reached Cathedral Square. The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus, as it is officially known, is the main Roman Catholic cathedral in Lithuania. It was really quite beautiful. From there, I walked past the Lithuanian National Museum to Gediminas’ Tower. While there is a cable car you can take up the hill, I decided to walk. More money for beer later, right? But, that served as a reminder of how I need to start exercising more. It was a pretty long hike, and I was pretty tired once I got to the top.
The tower normally has a small fee to enter, but was free for some reason yesterday. There are quite a few exhibits in the tower itself, including pictures and video from the Baltic Way, the 1989 political protest marking the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. That treaty resulted in the three Baltic states being annexed by the USSR in 1940. Approximately 2 million people joined hands along 420 miles/675 kilometers, linking the three capitals. Quite an amazing feat! You can go up to the top of the tower itself, which gives you a spectacular view of the city.
After that, it was starting to rain a bit harder and getting dark, so it was time to find something to drink. A small brewpub called Craft & Draft was not too far away, so I stopped there and had a dunkel. The beer was quite good, and I really liked the atmosphere. I could easily see that place being a regular haunt if I lived in Vilnius. But, there were lots of other places to see, so I moved on to another brewpub, Alinė Leičiai, for a couple more beers and dinner. The beer there was only so-s0 (and they were out of a lot of them), but I really enjoyed the šmotmėsis (pork dish) I had for dinner.
From there I went in search of the famous Trump-Putin mural from a few years back, but has been painted over. In its place they have a statue of Donald Trump as a boy. Behind it, it says, “make empathy great again – give little Donald a hug!”. I declined.
I went to a few more bars, then ended the night at Apoteka. The staff there was very friendly (that said, I was also the only one there), and they pay a great deal of attention to detail in the crafting of their cocktails. The bartender working that night said they are constantly experimenting and revising their menu, so there is always something new to try. I had what they called a “Penicillin Old-Fashioned” (a mix of Monkey Shoulder whiskey, honey, ginger and a touch of peated whiskey), followed by an “Autumn Fog” (rum, dry sherry, plums and blueberries). This is based on a drink at another bar that is a staff favorite, Alchemikas. I was tempted to go there, too, but decided to call it a night. By the time I got back to my room, I had walked 20,000 steps (10 miles/16 kilometers, according to my watch), and I was pretty tired.
Today I drive to Kaunas, the former temporary capital of Lithuania between the world wars. That is only a little more than an hour away, near the center of the country.