Our first day in town
19th June 2014
It had been a long day yesterday and as everything was very new we were not rushed in our efforts to get up and out onto the streets.
The area in which the Barbacan Apartments is located does not look very exciting. From my window I looked out onto a wall which was all that remained of the building next door, and there seemed to be a lot of work going on here and there. There was also a lot of graffiti on the walls. That said there was a nice park right opposite, the Barbican has been rebuilt just a hundred metres away and from our hilly street we could look out across the city.
Five minutes walk and we were in the town hall square, where I needed to get some cash and we started taking our first photos. Today was supposed to be reasonably sunny all day and we had decided that we would remain outdoors for as long as possible leaving the museums for tomorrow when by all accounts it was going to rain on and off throughout the day.
We stopped for a moment at St. Nicholas’ Orthodox Church as I couldn’t remember having been inside the last time, there were a few benches at the rear for us poor visitors to repose upon, the thing about Orthodox churches is that there aren’t any seats — you stand or kneel.
I like the ornateness of their churches and the smell of incense, but dad was not so impressed, he felt it lacked a presence. Never mind our next sit was only a few minutes away. We were obviously not well prepared for breakfast on arriving so today we needed to get ourselves sorted for coffee and tea. The cheesecake looked good as well so mother and I indulged — well it was time for elevenses.
Pilies gatvė or Castle Street is the main street in Old Vilnius and leads down to the main square. The cathedral of Saints Stanislaus and Ladislaus dominates the square alongside Gediminas’s Bell Tower.
The tower has recently been reopened to the public so I went over to see what you could do. First things first : a lot of steep winding stairs, so that meant I was going on my own. At the top it was wooden ladders between the bells, that confirmed that I was going on my own. Oooh ! Er ! We’ll just go for a walk in the park then !
The first part of the climb is winding brick stairs, then you arrive at the upper platform and from there it is wooden stairs, hand-carved by blind monks five hundred years ago. Some of them look fairly well worn and the ladders that climb beyond where we the great unwashed are admitted didn’t look as though they would support a church mouse — unless you were talking food.
The view from the top of the bell tower is splendid and I am glad to say that they only ring the hour at certain times of the day — I had worried a wee bit about climbing between the bells as it struck midday.
Although you are well enclosed the windows are open so that you can get decent photos that do not contain children’s palm prints or the outline of feathered cruise missiles. My photos taken I began the descent and went in search of my happy wanderers who had been for a stroll along the front of the National Museum.
Now the climb was upon us. The old castle of Gediminas sits about forty metres above the square. The path is cobbled and presents good exercise for the lungs. We laugh at cobbles.
Alongside us were a number of studenty types with a camera team, they were carrying letters on poles; as opposed to a Pole carrying letters. We were intrigued as the letters were of different sizes and didn’t seem to spell anything obvious. They weren’t ‘long-haired hippies’ so whatever it was it was unlikely to be Lithuanian for roll your own.
The sun had mounted in the sky and jackets had come off as the temperature began to soar. It was a lot nicer up on the mound than I had witnessed two years ago — when the rain had started and then continued for the remainder of the day.
We paused in the sunshine to look out over the battlements and watch our students gambol on the grass. The secret was revealed : the phrase was “So Neris”, reminding us of the river flowing down below.
Stomach’s were rumbling and we cheated by taking the funicular railway down to base camp. The restaurants were heaving with people and we wouldn’t eat where I had wanted to but opposite was something similar.
I have mentioned before that I like the fact that the national dish seems to be potatoes. So we ordered our Zeppelins and I had the cold beetroot soup for a starter. A shame that nobody else wanted to try it — has it got yoghurt in it ? Our main course was quite some time in the coming, and I rather had the impression that we had been forgotten. When they arrived though, our stuffed spuds were enough to stuff us.
I did manage both of mine but that was in part on a point of honour. You can’t leave potatoes. Our waiter did say, on clearing the plates, that many foreigners found them very heavy. He also gave us a reduction on the meal because we had been required to wait so long. We weren’t really complaining because it had given our legs time to recover and it was cool inside. I was very good and tipped him the reduction.
All morning we had noted lots of people dressed very properly (though at times with some dodgy looking footwear of the — I’ve forgotten my good shoes variety) and carrying flowers. The reason for this we were about to discover was because the University was holding a graduation ceremony inside its St John’s Church.
I was a little bit disappointed that the University’s tower was only open to those prepared to climb – the lift wasn’t working (it wasn’t two years ago either). Other members of the family gave a sigh of relief.
Never mind, we followed the sound of some person giving a speech and discovered the church filled with students in gowns at the front with adoring misty eyed parents behind. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the idea that tourists were wandering about taking photos. The ceremony did mean that we could not visit the entire church which is one of the world’s great baroque churches but the jubilant atmosphere certainly gave the building life.
We could not help but compare the very staid ceremonies that we had been to in England with this quite lively affair. A musical ensemble of about fifteen musicians provided the music and were treated to renditions of the Anthem from Chess (written by the Abba duo of Benny and Bjorn) and Hey Jude from the Beatles.
Well this is all very good fun but it is not getting breakfast sorted. Moving back up the street on our way home we stopped at the supermarket in the Town Hall Square and went shopping. The joys of foreign languages. Hmm! Looks like butter. This is probably milk. That is definitely cheese. Bread and cereals easy, must remember we need coffee. Do they have any cider and decent beer. Good grief look at the price of wine. Ah, now this is that Estonian liqueur that you like mother so we will have a bottle of that as well.
That evening Vytautas suggested a small restaurant not far from where we were staying. Mama’s Café has featured a number of times on his Facebook page. They provide food for the airline catering service that he works for so he is a regular. There was a big party going on downstairs so we were seated upstairs. No alcohol, but the freshly made lemonade was fine. The meal was excellent, but once again we did have to wait a moment on one item. Vytautas swore that he only telephoned them “perhaps a little bit” to remind them.
The chocolate pudding was as he had advised : excellent. A full ten out of ten, and a twenty minute walk required to help walk it off giving us a chance to watch balloons over the Barbican and some dog training in the park (No matter what the language : Sit ! is understood by all dogs as — run off and hide) as we returned to our apartment.
So where’s that bottle you were talking about ? I need to make sure I still like it.
More to come…
Posted : 19 June 2014