I arrived here in Vilnius at about 7am and conveniently enough the bus station is only five minutes from the old town. Filled with beautiful churches, various items made of amber and the Vilnius Madonna located in the Aušros vartai also known at the ‘Gates of Dawn.’ Pilgrims from different areas come to see the dark face of the Vilnius Madonna hoping for consolation from the Mother of Compassion. The Gates of Dawn…Mother of Compassion painting is the only one of miraculous images in Lithuania that is so widely renowned for its healing power. Amber is indigenous to the region and is a popular element seen shop windows and sold on the streets by vendors.
Vilnius is an amazingly beautiful city, relaxing and I really felt at home here in Lithuania. Given that some of my family on my dad’s side of the family is originally from Lithuania I did not find this very surprising. I trekked up one of the hillsides to where the Gedimino Castle resides. As I reached the top I could feel the lack of sleep set in from the past few days and with it being so early and no one around I found I place where I could climb over the wall surrounding the castle, with impressive panoramic views of the city, to take a nap before further explorations. I woke up to kids climbing on the wall to look over the edge and giggling. As I opened my eyes they were watching me sleep, amused that I was sleeping on the hillside and that nobody knew I was there. I felt so refreshed and ready to take a tour of the museum and see even better views of the city from the top of the castle. It was impressive to see the river flowing through the city with a couple bridges stretching form one side to the other, church steeples and various parks; absolutely remarkable! After returning to the city below I came to a restaurant known as Forto Dvaras; traditional Lithuanian dishes and outside dinning grabbed my attention. I glanced at the menu and decided to order Vichy (bottled still water) and Didzkukuliai su mesa irg which is a potato dumpling filled with meat with a sour cream sauce on the side. Marvelous! Probably one of the best meals I have ever had in Europe…I would just love to learn how to make this at home.
After lunch I decided to search for something made of Amber for my mom. Store after store, the search went on as I struggled to find that perfect something for my mom. I had browsed in nearly fifteen different stores looking for that perfect item made of this unique stone; until I found a dragonfly pendent with various shades of amber which was a little different from what I wanted but would be great none the less. I also got myself one so we could have similar pendants from this beautiful country. Of all the amber deposits in the world, probably the most famous and certainly the largest is that of the Baltic region. It represents some 80% of the worlds known amber resource and the deposits range between 35 to 40 million years old.
I then set off in quest for the Three Crosses Hill to see the views and take pictures of these beautiful crosses. It was a hike up to the top but I finally made it. The sky appeared fascinating with the sun out, deep grayish blue sky and you could feel the moisture in the air as if nature was holding back its tears of joy as I beheld something so beautiful. To add to this moment I was the only one on top of this peak; giving the ambiance of pure serenity. With these views of the city I could see the castle where I was only a few hours prior and the balance between nature and humanity is in perfect unison within this captivating European capital. I then continued to hike through the mountainside, down unknown paths eventually coming to an old track stadium where young cadets in uniform practiced marching and took commands. “Left, right, about face…forward march,” yet all in the native Lithuanian tongue which I could follow since each statement commanded the cadets in a specific direction. Reminded me of my days in high school when I participated in JROTC and learned to be part of a team, take orders and give commands as I received the training to potentially become a soldier in the United States Military. I relaxed on the benches in the open air arena and just watched as I took in my surroundings and enjoyed the fresh air.
I continued on crossing a few bridges and exploring the newly developed downtown with modern architecture and high-rises which included the business district, Opera house and theatre; modern and yet uninteresting since it does not depict the cultural influence and uniqueness compared to the other areas of Vilnius. I then continued on to the area better known as Uzupis; supposedly they developed their own constitution and their own district is considered an official yet unofficial breakaway state as of 1998. It is known to be the home of artists, dreamers, squatters; young Lithuanians chatting in cafés or reading books. On the bridge crossing back into the old town there were locks on the bridges, many in different colors, styles, shapes and sizes with the names of two people and a date as well. This in itself seemed artistic and intriguing as a depiction of love between two people; the whole little area gave the feel of Bohemian life.
I really enjoyed Vilnius and continued to explore some more before I made my way back to the bus station. This was one of my favorite locations in Eastern Europe and I would just love to return and plan to one day soon.