I was rather lazy on my first day in Vilnius. I’d taken an early bus from Riga and so arrived in the early afternoon, leaving in theory plenty of time for me to get acquainted with the city.
I did have a walk around, albeit a rather brief walk around with the intention of locating somewhere I could acquire some cheap food. After filling my roaring stomach with the fluffiest mashed potatoes man has ever seen – as soon as I saw mashed potato on the menu I was sold – I trundled back to the hostel, dutifully taking a couple of pictures and grabbing a couple of cans of cider on the way back. I enjoyed a wonderfully uneventful evening, with a Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends marathon. I’d been made aware of Louis Theroux shortly before departing Australia [thanks Allan] and had spent the previous week downloading 18 GB worth of highly entertaining documentaries. Sometimes it’s really nice to just do nothing. Besides, I planned to stay four nights in Vilnius so I figured I had plenty of time.
I’d decided to do the free walking tour of Vilnius the next day, which may or may not have been a Tuesday. Unlike the free tours in Riga and Tallinn, which attracted a huge group, this particular tour included a grand total of four people. It was brilliant. The girl leading the tour was great fun, and stopping at the pub halfway through for a few drinks was a very good idea. We could ask plenty of questions, and it didn’t feel like we should all have been wearing matching lanyards and name tags. She pointed out little bits of graffiti and street art, including a sign we were to see over and over again:
We wandered through the town, including a visit to the self-proclaimed Republic of Uzepis [more on that in another post] and an interesting street with a wall dedicated to Lithuanian literature. It had hundreds of tiles or other pieces of art each designed to represent one writer and their contribution. I guess you probably have to know the writer to understand the false teeth below…
We climbed up a hill to get a view over Vilnius, which was quite nice, before heading back down through the park to St Anne’s cathedral.
When the walking tour finished, three of us decided it was time for a late lunch, so we found a restaurant specialising in Lithuanian food and tried some of the local cuisine. Like Estonian and Latvian food, it’s very heavy. I tried the ‘zeppelins’ which were basically giant potato dumpling things. Mine came topped with crispy bacon. They don’t make my top ten favourite foods list, or even the top fifty, but they were edible and to be fair tasted okay.
We decided to go and see the Frank Zappa monument – yes, Lithuania has a Frank Zappa monument yet lacks even most tenuous link to the legend. The guys – England and Brazil – had confessed their complete lack of anything resembling a sense of direction, and their inability to read a map, and so it fell to me to lead the way. I was shocked to hear that they had actually managed to get lost in Vilnius without even trying [and in Riga, and in Tallinn] and so was more than happy to not be relying on them to get there.
My unable-to-get-lost streak continued; about fifteen minutes later we found ourselves in a car park off one of the bigger roads looking up at a bronze bust of Mr. Zappa on top of a tall metal column. It certainly wasn’t the most dignified of locations, behind some unspecified building and in front of a concrete wall covered in music-related graffiti.
Once Frank had been found and photographed, we headed back into the Old Town, my excellent sense of direction taking us exactly where we wanted to go but by a deliberately different route. Back at Town Hall Square we parted ways; me to hit up the supermarket for some sandwich materials and cider, England and Brazil to their hostel to watch Baseketball.
My third day in Vilnius I visited the Museum of Genocide Victims. I assumed this museum would relate primarily to the German occupation in the 1940s, however only a small part of the museum was dedicated to this. The bulk of the museum related to the Soviet period and the resistance of the Patriots – Lithuanians fighting against the Soviet occupation and control over their country. It seems I only ever visit depressing museums, but then it’s an important and of course very recent part of Lithuanian history. It was just awful to see and learn about how people were treated; exiled, imprisoned, murdered. One thing that made me feel sick was that the Soviets would position the bodies of the resistance fighters they killed in places everyone would see them, as yet another tool of control. There was a board of photographs of fallen patriots, in the positions they were dumped in by the Soviets and one, of a woman who appeared to be staring right at you but without any eyes, was particularly disturbing.
The basement of the building was used by the KGB as a prison. I was surprised at how clean and sterile it felt. It didn’t seem like anything extreme, just a green cell block with some pretty nifty doors. Maybe I’m becoming immune to prisons, but it was actually quite dull. Then you go into what was the execution chamber. Like the rest of the prison it seemed to me to be quite devoid of any creepiness or character, as though all the misery and suffering of the prison’s inmates had been scrubbed right out of the walls. Then you notice that they’re playing a film showing the prisoners being executed, shot in the head without any messing about – just drag them in, stand them up, shoot them in the back of the head, throw the body on a chute to be dragged up into a truck. It was a little bit of a shock, and I’m not sure whether it was actual footage – I don’t know whether they would be allowed to show such a thing.
When you go back outside, there are giant boards up covered in young children’s artwork – current schoolchildren who are obviously studying the history of their country and representing it using textas and crayons.