So I took a train to Warsaw, then I had an hour or so layover until my bus to Vilnius. I must have looked incredibly helpless because when I asked for directions, the woman at the information desk actually CAME OUT of her little glass box and walked me to the stop. So I was good to go. Of course, I was hungry and set out to find food, which wasn’t an easy task at 22:30. I did find a McDonald’s but I was feeling rebellious (I was in Warsaw after all) and thought they were price gouging so I didn’t eat there. My bad. I ended up having potato chips and Coca Cola Zero for dinner. Yum!
The Bus finally arrived and I sat next to a guy named David. David was cool, from Canada by way of Prague (where he’d been working for the past month as a waiter) but his lineage was all over Europe – which meant he could speak like 146 different language (okay, maybe only three or four, but still) including Russian (This will come back later).
David has no Hostel booked for the night (he only needs one night since he’s leaving for Riga early the next morning and from there, St. Petersburg), so he decides to see of my place has an extra bed. I have directions, which involve a bus, but after waiting for a bit, we decide to walk. (This is after we get the wrong bus to drive us to where the right bus is supposed to come – thanks to David being able to speak Russian to the driver.) So we have a really poor map in my “Let’s Go” guidebook which we follow (Again, for those of you who have been following along, you know my map reading skills leave much to be desired – and this time, just to make matters worse, the Hostel is off the grid of my in book map) to finally get to the place. It’s a hike, let me tell you, but we do see a good part of town (and a pet hospital when we overshoot the Hostel itself and I insist on walking further).
Of course, when we get there, they have no extra beds for the night, but they do say they’ll hold David’s name for a cancellation just in case. They also hold his pack. So now, unburdened, we head out to explore Vilnius. We know a couple of things we want to see (we have been staring at a guide book all morning plus we’d gotten some recommendations) so we immediately head out for The Museum of Genocide. I know, fun way to start the day, huh? Again, we get lost trying to find the place, which is in the former Soviet headquarters, and end up double backing a couple of times but finally, we find it! And, lucky us, there is no
entrance fee! So we go in and it mostly covers the soviet occupation and the resistance movements. There’s some rather interesting things inside but the most fascinating is the Holomodor, the systematic starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Stalin. Estimates put deaths anywhere from 9 to 30 million people over the course of a dozen years or so. It was like a man-made dust bowl. Just terrifying.
Down in the basement, though, they have the prison and torture areas left mostly how they were. The Russians were almost as good as the Germans when it came to torture. So good,
in fact, David and I started devising Survivor: Russian Prison. Our favorite was the room which would fill with water and the small metal island on which the prisoner could stand. In the winter, the water would freeze and of course, the prisoner would have no shoes.
And just to show it wasn’t all evil, check out this sign for the exit! I swear I thought it was leading towards the Ministry of Silly Walks!
Upon leaving the Museum, we walked down the main street,
passing by the national theatre for the second time. This time, though, I had to snap a picture of the sculpture which over looked the entrance. Just amazing in its power and majesty. Further on and we made it to the remaining tower of the castle on the hill in the middle of town. Again with the stairs to get up,
but it was okay. The view was spectacular! So there we were, looking over the city, and checking the guidebook. We decided we wanted to find Frank Zappa’s head. What’s that you say? What is Frank Zappa’s head doing in the capitol of Lithuania? No one is really sure. All we know is that someone in Vilnius is a fan and created a 4 meter high metal pole upon which rests a bust of the leader of the Mothers of Invention. So we’re on top of the tower,
looking out and trying to figure out where this bust might be when we get to talking with another tourist. Turns out, he speaks Lithuanian and when he hears about Zappa’s head, immediately calls his friend to ask where it is. He gives us directions, takes a double picture for us, and heads out. We follow shortly and our quest for Zappa’s head begins in earnest.
Now, if this was a Hollywood movie, there would be lots of subplots, an act 3 complication all leading up to success in the last 10 minutes, where we would find the sculpture and get there at the same as Harold and Kumar and the ghost of Neil
Patrick Harris. Thankfully, though, this isn’t a movie and the guy’s directions were pretty spot on. We found the head with no problems and then spent a good twenty minutes pondering its existence, which may in fact be why it was built there. What better tribute to
Zappa than to have people coming from all over the world to stare up at something and think “Why in the world is this here?” Personally, I believe it would have appealed to his sense of humor and general moral philosophy.
From there, we were both a bit tired so we thought we’d head back towards the Hostel, grab a beverage along the way, and maybe check out UZ, the independent republic in the middle of the city which broke off in the late 90s and declared itself an independent nation, complete with constitution and military (twelve guys – enough for a minion). Ahhhh… if only plans worked the way you intend them to.
Just before we crossed the bridge over the stream (which was covered in Padlocks, which are put there by couples, engraved with both their names – a cool tradition I think) we see a troupe of performance artists, about a dozen or so, singing and dancing around a man on a gurney. Before we can ask what’s going on (or get out of harm’s way) the guy on the gurney is replaced by, you guessed it, me. There are people singing, throwing chicken feathers,
taking pictures and video and one guy drawing a caricature. There’s someone rubbing my head and someone else feeding me grapes. This goes on for about ten minutes, after which I’m helped up and told that now I will have a beautiful day. I
thank them, take my caricature, and David and I go looking for a bar. Now it’s definitely time for a drink.
Just on the other side of the water is a great looking little bar which would be perfect for our needs. Great scenery, not too crowded and on the way home. Unfortunately, there are no seats available and the wait staff can’t be bothered to help. So we walk by a couple of times and nothing. We start to walk home. We stop and decide to try again. Still nothing so we walk past the bar and end up in an artist enclave where we get pressed into adding our own color to a painting in progress by a Lithuanian girl who was all set to move in with artists right then. But still, no drinks so we walk back past our bar. Do you think there were any seats available?
You’re right. There were none. Again we start for home. We get about 10 meters, maybe, and David says “What about asking someone if we can share their table?” can you tell we REALLY wanted to enjoy this place? There was a reason , I’m sure. So we go back and see the back of a dark haired girl, sitting by herself. We approach cautiously and I ask if she’d mind if we joined her. “Not at all,” she said. So we sat. While we were waiting for another ice age…I mean for our waitress, we started talking. The girl’s name was Tiina and then we were joined by her boyfriend Antti. They were from a city in Finland called Vassa and before you could
say Teemu Selanne, we were fast friends, talking and jabbering away. A few beers later and we all decided to check out the independent republic. Much laughter ensued and by this point, we were all hungry. Antti’s guide book mentioned a view spot up the street which was attached to a restaurant. So we went looking. The outside wasn’t much, but inside, the place was fantastic! We got a table near the edge and watched the sunset over Vilnius. Then we ate and drank and moved inside when it got cold. At some point, I promised to go to Vassa (I’m gonna head there on the 19th or so, where a party is being organized to meet the American). In the
midst of all this, Antti handed over postcards to me and David, asking us to write them out to his friends and family. So we did. Imagine writing a postcard to the sister of someone you’ve only just met. In fact, don’t imagine it, I encourage you to do it next time you’re traveling. If you meet someone, and you’re hanging out, ask them to write a postcard for you, especially if they speak a foreign language. It’s completely random but just crazy enough that no one’s going to think you’re completely off your rocker.
We closed the place down (they actually had to ask us to leave, silently, pleading with their eyes – very different than the rude guy in Prague), said goodnight and David and finally headed back to the hostel, where we still weren’t sure if he had a bed. Turns out he did, in the bunk above mine, and we went to sleep, knowing we were both getting up early.