Rediscovering Vilnius (with heaping spoonfuls of sour cream!)

We’re a bit behind on our blogging at this point in the trip. The travel’s starting to wear us down. Our energy is lagging. We spend more and more time relaxing in the hotel, and intersperse our sightseeing with more frequent cafe and pub stops. I think we’re getting ready to be home! (Or at least, ready to stop carrying our suitcases everywhere!) BUT, onwards! The trip isn’t finished quite yet … and we have some interesting cities to visit still in Europe…

From Tallinn, our next stop was Vilnius, but there wasn’t a train available. So for the first time since Hong Kong, we have to take a <gasp!> BUS to our next destination. (Actually you can take a series of three connecting train from Tallinn to Riga, but then you have to take a bus from Riga to Vilnius. So we decided to save time and energy and just take the bus the entire way.)

The bus was SO much better than expected. And much more comfortable than our previous train ride from St. Petersburg to Estonia.

Our Luxe ride from Tallinn to Vilnius

LuxExpress is kind of like the luxury Chinatown buses that you get in America. Comfy faux-leather seats, in-seat entertainment screens at each seat, wifi, toilets and a free hot drink machine!

In seat entertainment!
Hot drinks on the LuxExpress … I agree with the sentiment! Zak in the background finding a film to watch…

8 hours later … we arrived in Vilnius.

It’s Finally Above Freezing!

A moody shot through the bus window…

We’re on a kick with quirky, historic hotels (which is one of my favorite things of traveling around Europe) – this time at a British themed hotel called Shakespeare Boutique Hotel. All the rooms are named after famous writers (our room was Voltaire), and there are books everywhere to peruse during your visit.

Breakfast room/bar at the Shakespeare Hotel, Vilnius.

We especially liked the breakfast room. Their “Lithuanian Eggs” were SO tasty. An individual skillet with onions, mushrooms, bacon and greens sauteed till crispy, with two fried eggs in it. YUM.

Lithuanian Eggs – yum!

While everyone in Vilnius was dressed for winter, to us, it felt like summertime. For the first time since Tibet, the temperature was above freezing!! Amazing. Our visit to Vilnius started with a nice dusting of snow…

Snow on the ground outside the Lithuania National Museum. You can see the tower on the hill in the background…

But then turned into melting slush. We still had to wear our snow boots because of the slush … but at least it felt warm (to us!)

Slushy streets of above-freezing Vilnius.

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

We’d first visited Vilnius five years ago, and a lot has changed. It feels a lot more ‘hip’ now – with cafes (and bearded men!) everywhere. There’s also a new museum which traces the history of Vilnius Castle which was the best museum we’ve been to in a long time – it’s called The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.

Vilnius Castle has been destroyed many times, from when it was first built in the 1200s to the present day. So there are layers and layers of archaeological ruins. They’ve rebuilt the castle around these ruins, and as you go through the museum, it takes you through time showing you the original layout, materials and lots of household goods, clothing, jewelry, money etc, whatever was found at that layer during the dig. It was really fantastic.

On the second floor of the museum, looking down into the archelogical site (which you walk around on the 1st floor)

There was also a Virtual Reality area where you could really experience the different iterations of the castle over time.

Zak trying out the virtual reality exploration of Vilnius Castle.

Would You Like Sour Cream with that?

Zak was especially looking forward to the food in Vilnius. He’s half-Lithuanian so has good memories of his grandma’s traditional cooking.

Most traditional food in Vilnius seems to be some combination of pork, butter, sour cream, beets, and sauerkraut/cabbage.

One of Zak’s very favorite Lithuanian food memories is cepelinai which are potato dumplings. The word cepelinai translates to the English word “Zeppelin” – because these big dumplings are shaped like a Zeppelin (or I think they’re shaped like an American Football…)

Cepelinai are made from a shredded potato dough, which is formed around a filling – either cottage cheese or more often bacon and butter. Then they’re boiled and served on a plate with more bacon and butter on top, and a good scoop of sour cream. They are SO filling.

Cepelinai – Lithuanian Potato Dumplings!

Here are some other foods we ate during our time in Vilnius…

This was my “light lunch” one day: sauerkraut soup! With 3 roasted potatoes on the side. Fortunately I love sauerkraut, so happy to eat it with every meal…
Our old favorite – crispy garlic bread strips with sour cream!
This wasn’t a very appetizing looking lunch – but was it cheap! Each of our main dishes cost 3.50 EUR (around $5 USD!) They’re both variations on pork – sauerkraut – potatoes.

Uzupio Republic… founded April 1st?

We visited an area of Vilnius called Uzupio Republika. Whether it’s a joke or not, this area has declared their independence (on April 1st…) and is their own ‘country’. Apparently on April 1st you can bring your passport there and have it stamped! It’s such an artsy, creative neighborhood.

Entering the Uzupio Republic…
This bridge is covered with locks from newly married couples. They lock the lock to the bridge, and then throw the key into the river. Many locks are engraved with their names and wedding dates.
There was a piano on the side of the river … guessing it was an art installation?
Street art!

Zak and I have a little competition going about who can visit the most countries. So the question is … does the Uzupio Republic count as a new country for our list? Maybe only on April 1st… 🙂

On the Road Again…

We spent four relaxing, comfort-food-filled days in Vilnius. But then it was time to move on again…

Time to say goodbye to Vilnius… for now.

 

We’re hoping to come back to Vilnius next summer to do a bit of genealogical exploration into Zak’s ancestors (and eat more sour cream, of course!)

Next up, we’re taking another LuxExpress bus ride to Warsaw. Then we’ll spend 24 hours in Warsaw, and then take a train to Berlin. Stay tuned!

 

 

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