the beauty of the city
Vilnius is not much of a going out city for travellers. The main focuses of this city is the beautiful old town, the main square and the fortress on the hill. I found Vilnius to be a romantic city for couples who can stroll the gorgeous courtyards of the hundreds of pre-WWll buildings.
The many small streets of Vilnius
Vilnius from Gediminas Tower
The many beautiful courtyards in Vilnius
Vilnius has so much to offer in terms of beauty and elegance. The budget traveller will have a wonderful time taking candid photos of this alluring Baltic city. This stunning city easily tops as the country’s most visited area, drawing thousands of tourists each year.
The capital may be a bit out of the way while heading north through the Baltic countries, but it's highly recommended for the ultimate photographer or the romantic couple. Vilnius is Europe’s largest baroque old town, which made UNESCO's World Heritage list. And don't forget the exquisite cobbled stone alleys, decaying corners of buildings, grand hill top views and gorgeous courtyards on every street.
Vilnius hasn't always had bright moments in its history. There are constant reminders of terrible times, from the despicable acts by the KGB to the Jewish ghetto where the Jewish community lived before their they met their fate during WWll.
Yet, Vilnius is an up and coming city with a lot to offer. The rich history of this Baltic city will make you want to come back more than once. I found it to be quite charming to sum it all up.
the republic of uzupis
Užupis, a unique neighborhood of Vilnius, is characterized as its own country. Technically this area of Vilnius is completely separate from the Lithuanian statehood as well as Vilnius. It has similarities to Monmartre in Paris and Christiania in Copenhagen. Užupis is recognized as the “republic” of artists. Just like an other country in the world, Užupis has its own anthem, constitution (on Paupio Street), president, church, graveyard (Bernardine Cemetery) and seven bridges that connect Vilnius.
This district or "country" is one of the oldest parts of Vilnius - pre-dating to the 16th century.
In the early days of Vilnius, the land where Užupis stands today was considered the slums of the area. Only poor craftsmen set up shop in this area due to the neglect by citizens. During the Soviet Ruling, Užupis was considered the most dangerous part of town with thieves and bandits roaming the streets for pray. Once local artists starting buying up the cheap land in the mid-20th century, Užupis opened up as a gentle peace loving area for anyone who wanted to create a new culture.
There are two symbols that best summarizes Užupis. The first one is a bronze mermaid that lies near the Vilnia River, which is the starting point of the republic. It is said that the mermaid is there for vistors to renunciate their love and charm for the republic. Once that is done, the visitor's soul is forever welcomed to Užupis. The second symbol is a bronze angel that was created in 2002.
The name Užupis means “place beyond the river." The Vilnia River runs right next to the opening of the republic making the name quite suitable.
The symbol of Užupis. It is also on the Republic's flag.
This video below will explain more about the uniqueness of Užupis.
Visit the site of the video here
Overall, my time in Užupis was a learning experience. I had been to Christiania in Copenhagen prior to this visit, which made me prepared for the outlandish ways of life in The Republic of Užupis. I have the upmost respect for people who do live this way because they seem content with their lives as craftsmen, artists and entrepreneurs. But the life style can get overwhelming after a while. Maybe I would fit right in with this society. I can't say much without trying!
P.S. The constitution in The Republic of Užupis states that dogs must love their owners for who they are. But, cats are allowed to "only" tolerate their owners. What an interesting motto to live by!
Trakai national park and town
I had heard great things about Trakai, a town 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, Lithuania. I took a bus from the main bus station to the town square. There, I walked around the quaint little town for the next three hours.
The old town of Trakai, which is extremely popular for foreigners and locals, sits between beautiful hills, forests and a few lakes. The town is famous for its picturesque views of the lakeside and forests surrounding the area as well as the mythical Trakai Castle. The castle has been around quite a long time dating back to the 14th century. The castle was intact while Trakai was the capital of Lithuania. The castle was also an important military and political center during the early years, and the headquarters and home of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes. Now, Trakai Castle is a museum/monument of Lithuania.
Here are a few photos of my encounter of Trakai and the Trakai Castle.
The quiet town of Trakai
The views from the opposite side of the lake near Trakai Castle
An old boat between two trees
The clouds glistening off the lake
Trakai Castle situated on its own island across from town
The front entrance to Trakai Castle
The main square of the castle
The walls protecting the castle
My time in Trakai was spent touring the castle's outer parts (for free), walking around the town and taking photos on such a gorgeous day. The budget traveller needs to see Trakai. It's a measly 3 Euros round-trip to see this incredible part of Lithuania. It's a must see in my books.
Food and beer walking tour
Today I went on a walking tour of Warsaw's beer and food neighborhoods.
My first stop was at Bambino's Eatery in the center of town. Bambino's Eatery is one of the last known restaurants that uses communist rules to serve food. Everyone has to stand in line to order their meals at an open window. Once their number is called, the customer picks up their food. When the dish is consumed, the customer buses their own table. This may sound like a cafeteria style way of eating, but it is the normal way for communist countries to serve food. And, Warsaw being a former communist run city, the tradition still lives on at Bambino's.
I enjoyed an old Polish tradition, beet soup. It was quite sweet with a bit of a salty aftertaste.
Bambino's Eatery menu
My next stop on the tour was Dzik Malina Restauracja i Sklep Wiejski. This restaurant is a traditonal Polish eatery with charm. I enjoyed cold polish sausage and Polish dumplings.
Dzik Malina Restauracja i Sklep Wiejski eatery
The third stop was at another traditional Polish eatery called Zapiexy Luxusowe. Here, the eatery is known for its cheese toast with different varieties of meats, veggies and cheeses. I had the most popular toast with Polish cheese and mushrooms. To wash it down, I had a soda that was created pre-WWll. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of it.
Our fourth stop was a bar off the mains trip in Warsaw. There we all took a shot of Polish vodka with a chaser of Polish pickles. What a weird combination!
The fifth stop was at a famous donut shop in old town, Cukiernia Pawlowicz. I enjoyed a Polish donut with rose jam in the center. The rose jam literally tasted like eating a rose petal!
Cukiernia Pawlowicz donut shop
The last stop on the tour was a bar called, Beer Heaven, with more than 200 different kinds of beers on tap. We tried five different kinds of beer. These five will be up on the beer review page in the near future.
Overall, the tour was insightful. It's highly recommended when in Warsaw.
5-star restaurant with two friends
While on my tour, I met a Australian girl who was also a solo travel blogger. We hung out the rest of the night with one of my friends from Hong Kong. We both met up with Hubert at one of his favorite restaurants in the city, U Kucharzy w Arsenale. Here, we all had a 4-course meal with wine, beer and veal tartar. I had never tried veal tartar before. What a delicious appetizer. Or other dishes consisted of salmon spread with bread, pickled herring, veal neck in cream sauce with sage, spatzle and pickled carrots. All in all, we had 7-8 dishes of food... I was considerably full.
The three main courses, pork with mashed potatoes, red beets and potato dumplings with veal neck.
The veal tartar being finely chopped up in front of us.
Every dish is freshly prepared in front of all the guests.
After a wonderful meal the night before, Hubert had another surprise up his sleeve. All three of us went to a wake boarding spot in the middle of a farming community in Warsaw. Here customers could sit alongside a man-made beach with cabanas, beds, beach chairs, a bar, pool tables and a wake boarding area. I, unfortunately, didn't get a chance to try the wake boarding due to a long line and Hubert having to leave for work. I did, however, enjoy a beer while sitting in the sand under the sun.
Overall, my two days in Warsaw were delightful. I enjoyed getting to see my friend Hubert after three years. As for the city, I prefer Krakow over Warsaw due to the preserved culture that still exists in Krakow. Warsaw was completely demolished during WWll, which makes 99% of the buildings post-war. There are plenty of things to do in Warsaw. It's a pretty inexpensive city. But, if I had to pick between the two cities, I'd go with Krakow.
Heading to Krakow one more time
As my time in Humenne was up, I wanted to check out Krakow, Poland one more time on my way to Warsaw. As I rode in my BlaBlaCar to Krakow, the driver picked up two Polish hitchhikers looking to get to Wroclaw. I ended up making friends with the couple (hitchhikers) who proceeded to invite me to their home town when I had a chance. The things that happen when travelling!
Once I got into town, I would stay with a friend for the night. The next morning I found myself walking around the main square on a gorgeous day. While strolling the square, a farmers market was in full swing.
A bread cart in the middle of the square
A beautiful day in Krakow
Another market inside the main building of the square
After the square, I went and checked out the Jewish Quarter. I had to get a Polish hot dog to make the day complete.
A polish dog with mustard and spicy chili sauce
This memorial, in the Krakow Ghetto, can be found on the outskirt of Kazimeriz the Jewish Quarter. The chairs represent the tight cramped apartments the Jews were forced to live in after WWll. The chairs are pointed toward Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkeanu concentration camps.
A restaurant in the Jewish Quarter
Krakow’s city center was spared by the German's in WWll. Because of that, the main square and Jewish Quarter in the photos above are completely intact. Krakow has gorgeous Catholic Churches that run along the main square. In the Jewish Quarter, Jewish Synagogues peak out of the numerous restaurants and bars. Roaming around the square of the city’s "Old Town" gives off beautiful views of these churches, as well as towers and statues.
Several tour busses and golf cart tours will take you to the World WarII related historical sites, including the Krakow Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory. A must see is the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camps.
Overall, Krakow has plenty to offer for the budget traveller. It's a must see city while travel to the Baltic States.