We’ve been in Vilnius two days now–hardly enough time to see a city in any depth, but enough time to form impressions, so here are mine:
Unlike many other historic cities, Vilnius is a genuine metropolitan area–not a museum. While there are scads of tourists, you don’t get the feeling that the city or economy revolves around them. It isn’t a place that seems fixated on homage to the past.
This is an enormously attractive, sophisticated, urban place. Why? Much of the city is walkable; there is ample public transportation and taxis are plentiful. There are lovely parks everywhere. New buildings blend well with the old, without aping the older, and the architecture is generally very good. And there is ample evidence of attention to the city’s infrastructure–not just maintenance, but use of quality paving materials to begin with. As a result, the built environment has held up well. (This is a pet peeve of mine in most of the US–we tend to use the cheapest possible materials for public improvements. It’s a phony way to look frugal, because the work doesn’t last, and re-doing it is expensive.)
We walked a few blocks to one of the quirkiest parts of Vilnius–an area that proclaims itself “the Republic of Uzupis.” It was established by artists, who wrote a ‘constitution’ and posted it in several languages. The constitution proclaims ‘rights’ like “a dog has a right to be a dog,” and “everyone has the right to be an individual.” it is an area filled with galleries and cafes. Vilnius has cafes everywhere, and most have outside seating. That, too, adds to it’s charm.
We also visited the Holocaust Museum, and were surprised to see how much more emphasis was placed on the soviet occupation than on the Nazis–even though the latter murdered 240,000 people–200,000 of whom were Jews. (Admittedly the soviets were here much longer.)
Finally, I have to repeat an earlier observation–people here are thin! I don’t think I realized just how obese Hoosiers have become until I watched people here. Lithuanians are attractive people to begin with, and I have yet to see anyone truly fat.