Oh where oh where did the day start? Vilnius Lithuania! Although it remained in the 40s all day, today was the first time I’d seen the sun in over 2 weeks. Long overdue! That’s excluding the brief interlude at 30,000 feet after we got above the rain clouds in New York and before the night set in.
I started the day at the local coffee shop around the corner, Boulangerie. Today I discovered the cherry and raspberry filled crescents. Delicious!! All homemade and delightfully paired with a cappuccino. It gave me time to catch up on emails and writing.
First on the list for today was completing the old town highlights. I made my way past the town hall and down the one of the main tourist streets to cathedral square where two large churches dominate the horizon. Walking up the large hill behind them was Gediminas tower, and old castle remnants with incredible 360 views of the city, perfect for photography or if you had to defend your city.
Making my way back down the hill is an easy segway over to the Bernardine Gardens which was filled with school children on field trips. Adorable! Having encountered a few field trips thus far, I find it brilliant they make the kiddos where bright yellow reflective construction vests. The gardens were lush and green, but the fountains and flowers were already put to rest for the season.
Walking past the Uzupis neighborhood from yesterday, I stumbled on a farmer’s market clearly for the locals. Less pretty, more real. Everything looked so tasty – vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, fishes, and even a cappuccino truck! I ended up buying a slice of fresh cheese for less than 1 euro. Perfect snack! Seeing a pretty church up on the hill, I made my way up to stumble upon yet another fortress looking structure – the Barbakanas bastion. All brick and certainly medieval but not open to tourists.
From there I was able to see one of the city gates which was gorgeous and ornate, the street was clearly more modernized with freshly stuccoed facades. There’s nothing I love more than exploring without a map or watch, it’s like curiosity heaven – follow cool shiny object until you see another cool shiny object, rinse and repeat. I will admit I’m pretty good with directions so tend not to get lost (my body kind of naturally tracks my movements against north-south-east-west, not sure why or how, but it’s proven to be a super handy skill when traveling!).
I wandered along the city wall until it started to look familiar until I stumbled upon the Hales Market, which looks like an old train station but is filled like a flea market meets farmers market. At that point the large church by my hotel came into full view and I figured if I went left I should run into the bus station at some point – and I did! Realizing I’d only had cheese since breakfast and it was nearing noon, I got an apple, bag of peanuts, and water for the bus to Trakai Castle. It was around 30 minutes outside town and only 2 Euro each way. The bus dropped us off at the beginning of Trakai town and after a 20 minute walk through the little ‘island’ town the castle came into full view on the horizon. The sun was in just the perfect spot for it to glow in the distance in a very warm and welcoming way – I’m sure that’s probably not what they were going for when they built it!
The castle tour cost 7.50 euro (which included the photography fee) and has been fully restored after significant destruction over the centuries. The castle is located on an island slightly larger than the castle itself (pretty impressive ‘mote’ – plop castle in middle of lake – nice thinking!). The tour takes you through the castle where almost all the rooms were open to tourists and then along to the surrounding castle walls. They had period furniture and artifacts along with interesting narration on the last few hundred years. Definitely worth the visit (and many thanks to my Lithuanian friends back home for recommending it!).
After soaking up some amazing castle time, I bought a basket of raspberries from a street vendor for 1 Euro, so fresh and delicious. I’m not normally a street vendor person, but for fresh raspberries… Oh now that’s a weakness. They seem to grow wild here and it’s certainly the season. Works for me!
By the time I got back to the hotel room it was almost 6pm and time to start thinking about dinner. Looking to Lonely Planet, they had three top picks – Lokys, Senamiescio Krautuve, and Balzac. Balzac was French and I was looking for local food and Lokys sounded more like a pub, so I ended up with Senamiescio Krautuve. However, first time ever, Lonely Planet failed me!! This place was not a restaurant and should have been categorized under food shops – super cute and definitely deserved a call out, but not a restaurant. I then stumbled back to the hotel looking at every restaurant along the way…too pub like, too crowded, not local food, etc…eventually I ran out of options and ended up at this little Italian restaurant named Trattoria da Flavio. The owner was charismatic and passionate about his food – local producers, old style simple Italian cooking, all fresh, all made to order. The wine and food were delicious, even if it wasn’t Lithuanian. For after dinner, there was certainly a number of clubbing options or pub options for going out, and despite the cold weather, it didn’t stop anyone.