Vilnius, The Most Beautiful City
Taking an overnight bus from Poland, arriving at the Vilnius bus station at 5:00 AM, no guidebook in hand, no map in hand, sleeping for 3.5 hours in the train station on a wooden bench with your bags locked to it, morning coffee at McDonald's, waiting for the tourist office to open at 9:00 AM to obtain a map...........PRICELESS!!!
That was just the beginning of my welcoming party in Lithuania....after obtaining a map and finding hostel accomodations, i and a german gal that i had just met left the train station by city bus to go to the hostel. we found it, they had beds, and i could take a shower....Yippie!!!
I left the hostel at mid-morning to walk the city streets and to see what Vilnius had to offer. To my surprise, Vilnius has a lot going on with its architecture, history, vibrant activity, and many art galleries and boutiques throughout the old town. Vilnius is the capital city with a population of around 542,287, similar in size to the Boise area, but offers a top-notch living and tourism environment.
As I walked around the city over the next few days, I found Vilnius to be one of the more safer environments of all places that I visited. People were friendly and helpful at the cafes and on the streets. The women smiled throughout the city and I ranked Lithuania as #1 for beautiful women. The men seemed cheerful and did not seem to carry the look of aggression that I was accustomed to from Poland and the Czech Republic.
Why am I so positive about this city? Lots and lots of history and architecture that is so beautiful and classy spread thoughout the city.....The Old Town was developed between the 13th and 18th centuries and consists of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture. In the old town itself, houses over thirty buildings of historic significance, ranging from The Church of Sts Peter and Paul to the Town Hall and Square to the Upper and Lower Castles and many more to see.....:) Parks are scattered throughout the Old Town and into the suburbs and the Neris River runs along the northside of the Old Town with several bridges and multi-lane roundabouts guarding the ends. Up on one of the green, forested hills, three white crosses sit for everyone to view in the city below. The crosses, titled Trys Kryziai have been in existence since the 13th century. It is believed that three monks were crucified here in the 13th century. The crosses are a symbol of Christianity in Lithuania, the country that was heathen longer than any other European country, all the way to 1387. When the Soviet Union occupied the country, the crosses were blasted, removed and buried several times.
Two pieces of other grand history that I was not able to check out include the KGB Headquarters and Museum (every 4th Lithuanian citizen has suffered directly from Fascism or Stalinism) and the Frank Zappa Statue (a little brief about the statue and Cary, I apologize for not taking photos -- Saulius Paukstys, a civil servant and member of the Vilnius bohemian set, saw the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition. He founded the Frank Zappa Fan Club and commissioned a socialist realist sculptor to create a statue of Zappa on a patch of land in front of a children's hospital in the centre of the city.
"We were desperate to find a symbol that would mark the end of communism, but at the same time express that it wasn't always doom and gloom," Paukstys recalls. He now holds the post of national security chief.
At first the authorities criticised the plan, particularly after discovering that Zappa was a bit of a leftie. "They said: 'What has he got to do with Lithuania anyway?' We said: 'Nothing really.' Then someone convinced them that Zappa had Jewish features and seeing as Jewish history is very important to Lithuania, they plumped for that."
The statue was erected in downtown Vilnius five years ago. The most famous of modern Bohemians, Czech president Vaclav Havel, was invited to the unveiling, where a military brass band played Zappa hits. Membership of the fan club ballooned; a radio station allocated airtime for a weekly Zappa broadcast, which included doses of Zappa philosophy; and a Zappa Love Letter Club was set up to bring Vilnius's lonely hearts together.
The fan club and the city's artistic community are practically synonymous, so when the artists started drifting back to their old haunt of Uzupis, Zappa was the natural candidate for patron saint. And last spring, when the local artists and young people decided to take a stand against the city council's neglect of Uzupis, he was the figure they rallied behind. "The spirit of Zappa made us see that independence from Moscow was not enough and persuaded us to declare independence from the rest of Vilnius," says Paukstys.)
In closing, Vilnius is a truly, grand city that I recommend you visit to see for yourselves and learn about the tragedy that occured here during WWI, II, and Cold War, and than the excitement and passion that led to their independence in 1989. The city is renovating many areas of the city to get ready for the 20th anniversary in 2009, a good time to plan your visit to the city.