A visit to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania
Vilnius is a city which is worth visiting. This is a capital of a country which used to have worse times and better times. Vilnius has seen the times of flourishing when the country was a part of a Great Lithuanian Principality and the country was fighting for the domination in Europe. It has also seen the times of Soviet occupation and numerous buildings built is a Soviet time remind about not the brightest page of the history.
I visited Vilnius several times and I can not say that I fall in love with this city just from the first glimpse. The city is full of contradictions and it depends only up to you which side of the city you want to see. My first visit to Vilnius was in winter 2011. Of course winter is not the best time for wandering around and I was deeply disappointed by the city. I was trying to apply my knowledge and understanding of how should the old city look like in this city, but it did not work.
If you ever had a chance to see the Prague or Krakov you would agree that the old city and downtown there are quite predictable. The old historic part is separated from the rest of the city and it is absolutely evident what to see and where to look. I expected something like that from Vilnius as well and was deeply disappointed by not seeing that.
My next visits to Vilnius were almost the same. I was trying to get something exact, like “this is Prague and if you come to the central square you will see the clock on the left and the dome on the right”. It did not work in Vilnius and I could not understand why. But this summer my opinion of this city changed.
As I said before the impression of the city depends on what you actually expect to see. This time I came to Vilnius almost like an experienced worker comes to work. He knows what to do, he knows what to expect and the same was with me. Now I did not expect to see anything special, just another visit to an old city … And this was the time when a town was colored in other shades. I understood that Vilnius demands not a hasty running across looking for some historic celebrities. It needs calm and quiet walking along the streets and admiring of views.
If you want some more historic accents take a bus city tour and for a couple of hours you will try to absorb oodles of information about different Kings and Knights of different times. But city tour and walking along the streets are different things.
You will hardly remember figures of years when this or that was built, you will definitely not remember which knight conquered other knight many centuries ago and you do not need that.
Better walk aimlessly, stop if you want to make a photo and you see much, much more. In this case I bet you will cherish reminiscences of a small café where you stopped to drink some local beer or coffee, you will remember roads and pavements made of stones, yet comfortable for walking and people eager to help if you are lost.
I live in Ukraine in Cherkasy city which has a rich history. But if you come to Cherkasy I can hardly find anything to show you. We have just a couple of buildings built in 1900. A policy of Soviets to break everything which can remind of capitalism and Tsar actually destroyed the best architecture relating to 17-18 century. Our local authorities were not interested in preserving of old buildings. Why, it is easier to break and build a new one from the scratch. As a result my city, as old as Vilnius, is not able to attract tourists.
Vilnius is different and I want to express my deepest respect to its authorities which managed to keep the heart of the city unbroken. Not all buildings in the city are refurbished and some of them definitely need attention of owners but you know, they let you feel that you see the frozen history.
I always tried to compare Vilnius with Praga. It was a wrong approach. These are two absolutely different cities and cannot be compared. Old city center in Praga is like a toy city as if built especially to welcome tourists. Everything is aimed just to attract guests and pump out their money. The old city of Prague is beautiful but is not alive. The old city of Vilnius, on the contrary, is a living being. It is not limited by exact measures. It is “integrated” in the city and sometimes it is hardly to define if you are still in the old part.
If you look at the yards of the buildings you will see mothers with carriages and linens on the ropes, you will see kids playing and other “secrets” which are hardly revealed to the foreigners in Prague. These little secrets and these little details make you “to understand” the city and people who live here.
The city is growing as well and new roads are built in the new parts of the city. Some new buildings made of glass appeared on the river Neris banks. They do not make the city look worse. This city must grow, but the beauty of Vilnius is hidden somewhere between old buildings along old curvy streets. Come to Vilnius and try to find that beauty. If you are lucky you will come home and say to your friends: “I wish, you were there”. That would be the best award the city may have – your love and admiration.
Must see attractions:
- Gediminas Tower with a picturesque view of the city
- Central cathedral of St. Stanislav with the Tower
- Money Museum of the Bank of Lithuania
- St. Peter and Pauls Church
- Old Town
- KGB museum
- Television Tower
- Belmont Park