The day I left Vilnius for Berlin, I took one last walk around the Old Town. As you can probably tell, this little burg has stolen my heart, and I hope to return before too long. This set of signs, however, standing just outside yet another amber souvenir shop, speaks volumes about Lithuania today:
You will quickly notice that *only one of the signs points east,” and this is significant for many reasons. More than any other of the four post-Soviet countries I have visited so far, Lithuania (and probably its neighbors to the north) have thrown off the physical and linguistic shackles of its ~45 year tango with the Soviet Union and has unequivocally faced west, towards Europe and North America. There are no signs anywhere in Russian in Vilnius, even though there are still a goodly number of Russian-speaking citizens and many visitors from Belarus and Russia. All the signs are in Lithuanian, and if they’re bilingual, it’s with English, and I mean all the signs, everywhere. Not a Cyrillic character to be seen, all torn down, pained over, chiseled off the wall. And it doesn’t stop at the written word. Every charming young service person I interacted with spoke nearly flawless unaccented English, which was amazing. (The older folks were, for the most part, grateful I spoke a little Russian.) They.have.moved.on.
So, with that in mind, the Lithuanians are also enjoying their official return to Catholicism with great gusto. Here’s a shot of the little Christmas market in front of the main cathedral. It doesn’t hold a candle to the big boys in Berlin, but it was plucky and fun and people were having a grand time. You’ll note the belfry is decked out in greens, and apparently Santa’s inside and ready to be photographed with the little ones:
A little further on around the corner and nestled in a bend of the Vlina River, one reaches one of the indeed quirkiest parts of the city, the Republic of Uzupis:
Wiki tells us “in 1997, the residents of the area declared the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution … an anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). They celebrate this independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1. Artistic endeavours are the main preoccupation of the Republic…Copies of the 39 articles of the Republic’s constitution and 3 mottos – “Don’t Fight”, “Don’t Win”, “Don’t Surrender” – in 23 languages, can be found affixed to a wall on Paupio street in the area.”
Sort of its own little Montmartre in Paris or Christiania in Copenhagen, as it were. I strolled around for a bit, but it wasn’t too compelling on a drizzly afternoon, so I left after taking this shot of perhaps the republic’s mascot:
I love browsing bookstores, even when I can’t read a word of the language, and I was particularly touched to see this picture in every bookstore I visited:
This is Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of the country, encouraging people to buy books for Christmas (I think; it could be something far more sinister). You can see Malala looking on approvingly from the side. How cool is that?
So then it was time to head to the airport. On the quick train trip (seven minutes, .70 Euro), I took one last endearing picture. Lithuania, you’re fun and you’re gutsy and and you have a vision about who you are and what you want to become. I salute you.
On to Berlin.