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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
View from Cafe Tores, Uzupio, Lithuania
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 3,585,906 Area: 65,200 sq km Gov't: Parliamentary Democracy Religion: 79% Roman Catholic, 4.1% Russian Orthodox, 1.9% Protestant View Map
View from Uzupio, Vilnius, Lithuania, September 14, 2003  

Lithuanian Flag LITHUANIA


August 30. VILNIUS We arrived into Vilnius in late morning, gaining an hour due to the time change.  The border checks throughout the night had been painless.  We were prepared for customs or immigration hassles with the Russian border officials but they didn't even ask for us to fill out a customs form or check our registrations stamps during our stay in Russia.  Technically we should have registered in Irkutsk since we stayed there for more than three days but since we stayed in a B&B we didn't get a stamp and decided not to seek out the Police Station to find one.  We were worried that the gap in our registration stamps might raise eyebrows but the immigration officer didn't even pause to look.  They had just finished another train as ours pulled up so perhaps they were just tired and ready to go home.  Going in and out of Latvia was simple and entering Lithuania didn't even require any forms at all.  It all started at around 2:30 in the morning and didn't finish until around 8:00, stopping at a different border every one or two hours.  We were so relieved to just be out of Russia that the lack of sleep was inconsequential.   It was like having weight lifted from our soldiers.  We had been anxious to leave Russia for weeks and after the panic we went through getting robbed right before we left we couldn't have been happier to out of there!

It was raining in Vilnius when we arrived but we didn't care.  When we stepped off of the train and into the station we could tell that it was a different place.  The woman at the money change window was pleasant.  The woman at the tourist information office was helpful and friendly.  The people at McDonalds, across from the station, were smiley and spoke English.  We waited there for about an hour since it was still too early to check into our hotel.  Even the people on the street seemed so much more pleasant than the impression many people gave us in Russia.  Of course they are different countries and the people are different but being bordering countries having suffered through Russian occupation it is hard to believe how different the place felt to us.  In just over ten years of total independence from the Soviet Union Lithuania seems to be doing a whole heck of a lot better than Russia.

We took a taxi to our hotel and winding through all of the little old streets of Vilnius we knew that we were going to enjoy our stay.   It was a charming and warm little city, a complete contrast to the frilly beauty and unfriendly hospitality of St. Petersburg.  Our hotel, The Uzupio Hotel and Hostel, was just on the edge of the bohemian area of Uzupio, within the old town.  However, the district of Uzupio, a hip little artists' community with galleries and cafes, has declared itself a Republic and installed border signs where you and enter and leave.  In the center of the area a constitution was posted in Lithuanian and English.  Click here to read Uzupio's constitution.  I can appreciate several of their constitutional points like No. 3, "Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation." and No. 42, "Everyone has the right to understand nothing."

Our hotel was simple but comfortable and welcoming.  After enjoying a nice hot shower we ventured out to explore the winding old streets of Vilnius.   We were heading to a cafe recommended by LP but came across a modern little pizzeria tucked in amongst the old buildings of Uzupio and stopped there for a very good lunch.  They served Italian style pizza with thin crusts baked in wood fired oven.  We had a Hawaiian style with ham and pineapple and a salad of fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.  It was simple but well done and it had been some time since we had enjoyed anything close to good Italian food.  After lunch we continued on to the cafe that we originally had set out for and had a couple of large lattes in the Uzupio Kavine, a pub like cafe with a large wooden deck that over hung the river.  From across the river bank a statue of a mermaid peered up from her seat in a drainage tunnel.

Well fed and caffeinated we had new energy to continue our exploration of Vilnius.  The rain soaked us as soon as we left our hotel but having dried out in the cafes we enjoyed a break in the rainy weather as we entered the center of the old town area.  There was one little cafe or restaurant after another, many with modern interiors that somehow complimented the surrounding old buildings.  We made a quick stop at an Internet cafe to update our families on our whereabouts.  The main street of old town was lined in cobblestones or stone bricks.  A handful of little souvenir booths selling mostly amber, which Lithuania is known for, were scattered throughout the central old town area.   

As we strolled from street to street and popped into cafes we found ourselves quickly easing into the comfort and charm of Vilnius, even the rainy weather couldn't dampen our spirits.  It was a quiet afternoon and as we headed down towards the university of Vilnius we saw a wedding couple happily parading down the street.  The university was founded in 1579 by Jesuits and is one Europe's oldest.  Just opposite the main entrance to the university was the President's Palace, the courtyard in front was full of life with an orchestra and festivities as a new school year began.  We spilled out into the center of town at the Cathedral and walked leisurely around Gedimino Street in the old "new" town.  People seemed relaxed and happy as they strolled through the Sunday afternoon.  The whole city gave us a warm feeling.

TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY Ulan Ude Aug 6-7 Irkutsk Aug 4 Aug 5-8 Yekaterinburg Aug 8-10 Aug 11-12 Kazan Aug 13 Nizhny Novgorod Aug 14 Golden Ring Aug 15 Aug 16-17

MOSCOW Aug 17-19 Aug 20-21 Aug 22-23