With Lithuania becoming the newest Eurozone country this year, a few people have told me they’d like to visit Vilnius on their next city break. I quickly looked through the pictures I have, considered my impressions from the last visit home and, for starters, came up with three things that are worth noting on a short visit to the capital.
Churches and more churches….
When I lived in Vilnius, I worked as a tour guide for a while. It was interesting to see what visitors from abroad thought of my hometown. One common complaint we tour guides used to hear was ‘stop showing us so many churches’…
Well….sorry… but you are visiting Vilnius and, like ancient ruins in Greece or Rome are an inseparable part of historic, architectural, religious and political heritage, so are churches in Vilnius.
Not that Lithuanians could be called terribly religious. It’s just that historically Vilnius used to be an important capital and people of all denominations and religions flocked to the city from surrounding and far-flung regions, each carrying their own version of faith.
So architecture now simply reflects this history of the strength of adherents’ religious sentiment, the depth of their pockets as well as their political influence…
I always tell visitors to simply lift up their eyes to the steeples and think of the skill of craftsmen who, all those centuries ago, took a piece of ordinary rock or a grey beam of metal and turned it into a masterpiece, which you are happily photographing today and uploading on Instagram.
No trip to Lithuania will be complete without a visit to an amber (‘Lithuanian gold’ as it’s popularly called) shop, or even better, an amber gallery or museum.
There’s an interesting Amber Museum-Gallery in Vilnius showcasing different Baltic amber varieties and telling the visitor about its history – apparently ancient Greeks and Romans called it ‘Nordic Gold’ and attributed a higher value to a small amber statuette than to a young healthy slave.
Amber jewellery is a fitting souvenir from this Baltic country – it will adorn your outfits during the day and in the evening.
Cakes, pastries, sweets and treats
If you think France is the only fitting place to indulge in desserts, a visit to a few Vilnius cafes might expand your horizons – it is a fascinating place to visit for those of us who just can’t (or won’t) resist sugar craving induced café crawls…
Torte Napoleon is considered one of the most delicious cakes by most Lithuanians (including me) and not an easy cake to make. We seem to have inherited the recipe from the French during Napoleon’s passage through Lithuania in the 19th century, hence the name.
By far the best (to my taste) Napoleon served in Vilnius is in ‘Pinavija Café Bakery’.
This café has also a varied choice of other cakes, sweet and savoury pastries as well as a traditional Karaite dish kibinai, which is thought to have arrived to Lithuania in the Middle Ages together with Karaite ethnic group.
There are, of course, numerous other places to see, dishes to try and souvenirs to buy in Vilnius and Lithuania. I hope to continue highlighting some of the more note-worthy aspects of this beautiful place by stepping into the visitor’s shoes every time I go back home.
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Visit Vilnius, enjoy your life!