We woke to a really magnificent day–sunny, warm and breezy, and no humidity. We strolled though Uzupis and Old Town, stopping at
A couple of the ubiquitous cafes and doing lots of people watching. Lithuanians are a remarkably attractive people–many of them resemble Scandinavians ( since they are neighbors, my guess is they’ve intermarried).
Lithuanians also seem fairly prosperous. They dress well and I have been impresses by the tidiness and condition of their public spaces. I’ve seen very few abandoned properties and many, many buildings under renovation.
If there has been one disappointment, it has been the lack of evidence–historic or otherwise– of a Jewish presence in a city that was half Jewish before the second World War. I had hoped to learn more about the community from which my great-grandfather emigrated in the late 19th century, but at least in our brief time here, we’ve seen nothing reminiscent of the community once known as a center of Jewish life and scholarship.
We leave tonight for Dublin. (Our itinerary is an odd collection of places we’ve previously missed–after Dublin comes Berlin!)
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.
It has been a couple of days since my last post, because we’ve been traveling…I am writing this from the bar in our hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania–the Shakespeare, a hotel I enthusiastically recommend. Vilnius is a wonderful city, alive with cultural actvities, buzzing with commerce, and very walkable, at least in the old city. There is even an artists’ area they call the Montmarte of Vilnius.
We flew to Chicago, then Heathrow, then Copenhagen, where we discovered our direct flight to Vilnius had been cancelled and we had to fly through Riga. All in all a very long travel time–we calculate about 36 hours in all.
people are much thinner in Europe.
customer service has been uniformly excellent–everywhere we’ve been, airline personnel and waiters, etc., have been helpful and courteous and multi-lingual.
it is hard to miss the degree to which the world has truly globalized.
To the naked eye, everyone looks American–we dress alike, shop at the same stores, express common mannerisms….True, we’ve lost a great deal of the charm of indigenous cultures, but it is impossible not to recognize how rapidly globalization is homogenizing the world–at least, the western world.
blogging will be sporadic, as we will be traveling pretty consistently for the next month.