Sunday, February 15, 2015
I mentioned last week how my buddy Kaitlyn and I took a massive adventure over our winter break. The grand journey began in Vilnius; we were staying with some family friends.
If you had asked me the capitol city of Lithuania before this trip, I certainly wouldn't have been able to tell you. That's one of the biggest things I took away from traveling this time around: there's so much I don't know. The top of that list is languages. I have found that being an English speaker allows you pretty wide freedom while traveling (in Europe especially), because most people speak it, but think about what that means. In Belgium, almost everyone I met spoke at least French, Dutch, and English. That's insane, coming from a place where it's not expected that you know more than one language. I'm about to graduate from college, and most of the Spanish I've learned is already faded, having been sacrificed for other pursuits. Traveling is such an eye-opener to priorities in different parts of the world, and how different those priorities can be from the ones we assume at home.
The first day we arrived in Vilnius, we way overslept. Winter is a dark season there, and the sun never got bright enough to wake us from our jetlag. But the next couple of days, we got out and explored the city. It's UNESCO protected, and it's easy to see why; so many of the buildings are really old and beautiful, particularly the Eastern Orthodox churches that brighten up the skyline in their series of pastel colors.
My hands down favorite part of the city is a little difficult to describe. It seems like it's part artist commune, part quirky neighborhood. It's called Užupis, or the Republic of Užupis, and it even has its own constitution. Some of the unusual laws are pictured above, and they seem like a particularly good set of ideas on how to live your life: for example, "Everyone has the right to be happy" "Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation." We ate lunch in a little restaurant there where they were playing some odd English music that sounded like 1940s covers of modern pop songs. But the crepe and mushroom pasta were just as good, regardless.
Some other highlights from our time here: we climbed a tall hill at the center of the city, where the three white crosses are, and saw an incredible view of all the orange tiled roofs. We went with our friends to a cool pub in an underground bunker from the war, and figured out the hype about Kinder eggs and explored a Lithuanian grocery store, hung out with our generous hosts and eased our way in to our travels with style. We were struck by how fashionable and good looking most of the people walking around the streets were, which was something we noticed again and again in eastern Europe. We had our work cut out for us to keep up. On our last night, we said farewell to our friends, and took a taxi with a wonderfully friendly old cabby who spoke no English, and went to wait for our overnight bus to the Czech Republic. On to Warsaw!