Vilnius, Lithuania — Pre-tour!

by Mar 15, 20210 comments

Here is one more pre-tour that I never got around to posting. I hope it gives you ideas for when we are all able to venture out and explore again.

It is rarely possible, but on trips with lots of travel time, I like to arrive a day or two in advance to get oriented and get my head in the right time zone. On this trip from May 2017 we did just that!

This extra time, gave us a pre-tour of Vilnius before we joined our group, for a cultural-photography tour of the Baltic States. I’m traveling with a photographer friend, Vivian. Our first day we took it easy and walked around Vilnius. Vivian and I had a detailed itinerary of the upcoming tour and we were careful not to explore areas that we would be seeing with Ralph, our group leader.

Getting oriented in Vilnius, Lithuania

Our hotel was located near the Gate of Dawn. This put us in a great location to walk to everything! We started at the visitor information center to get maps and information on some of the local sights. Then we explored the University, walked to Antakainto Kapines cemetery, and tested out the local trolley system.

Vilnius University is small by US standards but has been around since 1570 (it was founded as a Jesuit College)! The school was shut down and used for other purposes during political upheavals, but it is back to being a place of learning once again. There are some interesting murals on the buildings —some of them are quite old. There is also a beautiful church on the property.

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A forest in the city!

The walk to Antakainto Kapines cemetery led us into a dense forest in an urban neighborhood. The cemetery itself seems to be a fairly popular place to walk for the locals. The late hour creates dramatic lighting through the trees (or challenging, depending on your viewpoint)! At the end of the day we had a beer and meat plate at the restaurant next door to our hotel before calling it a day. The place was so inviting — open air with string lights, candles and flowers.

Breakfast in the hotel is a buffet set up to appeal to every taste. There is a variety of meats, cheeses, breads, eggs, fish, fruit, cereal, yogurt and more!

It was rainy today but we were eager to get out and explore anyway. We walked through the small Jewish ghetto, then found a park with colorful painted steps that we had seen the night before from the trolley. There was also some really colorful graffiti along the wall surrounding the park. It is not unusual to see graffiti in US cities, or even some suburban areas. But we did not expect to see it all over the Baltics. The three capitals all are Unesco World Heritage sites, and all of the old walls and alleys are coated in spray painted names and symbols (you might think that such a national treasure would be kept a little more pristine). For the most part it is not art, just ugly scribbles and words (I actually love artistic, creative wall art). At home graffiti is generally linked to an increase in crime in an area. The locals said that was not the case, but was the result of bored kids with no work.

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Making friends in Vilnius

Our efforts with public transportation were a mixed bag! We got on the wrong trolley to head to the TV tower, instead we saw a few neighborhoods outside of old town. The driver was super nice to us and brought us back into town at no extra charge. He showed us how to use the machines to validate our tickets. A good thing to know, since later that week inspectors showed up on our trolley and we had the properly stamped tickets (the first night we used the trolley we did not stamp our tickets)!

Exploring outside Vilnius

We made a second attempt to get to the TV tower and hired a car from the hotel. This worked out great and our driver even waited to take us back to the hotel. Fourteen unarmed civilians lost their lives trying to stop the Soviet military seizing the tower on January 13, 1991. There are monuments and a museum to record this historic event. Vivian and I had a wonderful lunch at the top of the rotating tower. The observation deck is 541 feet from the ground and rotates 360° every 45 minutes. The food was really wonderful and the weather cleared up while we were up there, so we got to see some great views from our perch in the sky.

We met Ralph back at the hotel, and had a beer while getting to know the rest of our group, and our local guide, Orinta. A couple of our fellow travelers had done trips with Ralph before and were enthusiastic about Ralph’s tours. It sounds like we are in for a wonderful adventure. Check back for posts on the rest of this trip.

Make your own footprints…

These resources can help you plan your own trip

Check out Ralph Velasco and Photo Enrichment and see if they are a fit for you. I really like the smaller group and the mix of culture and photography. This is not a photography workshop — you don’t spend the whole day focused on the camera. Ralph offers tips along the way while giving you a more intimate experience with the locals. I found his trip a great value.

Also, check in with the tourism board in Vilnius. If you were making your own plans it looks like a great place to start. We found the tourism offices quite friendly and eager to help with ideas, maps and directions.

While we are waiting for real travel to start up again keep making plans. I am hoping it won’t be too long before we can execute some of this plans and get out there again again!

Enjoy the journey!

Karin H Wilson

Karin H Wilson

Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller

I'm Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.

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