Vilnius and Trakai

[October 2016]

For my fall break, I booked a trip to the Baltic capitals. I flew into Vilnius and out of Tallinn for just over $100 with Turkish Airlines. Great deal. There are hostels in Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. When traveling alone, I tend to prefer hostels as they are a great way to meet other travelers, but I chose to use AirBNB this time. All three of my hosts were fantastic, the apartments were in great locations, and were very affordable. I recommend using the Like a Local maps. You can get hard copies or you can download the app.

Vilnius, Lithuania:

I took my first Uber ride from the airport to the apartment, as my host had recommended. The ride was about 15 minutes and cost under 4 euros. I couldn’t believe it. The Baltics continued to be a far cheaper holiday than I had anticipated. Cheap food, free tours, little to no transportation…Hallelujah! Sometimes my soul needs exploration of new lands while my pocket book needs a break.

My first half-day in Vilnius was very low key. It was cold and rainy, so I walked down the main old town road to get acquainted with the city. I stopped at Forto Dvaras for a delicious meal. I highly recommend this place if you’re after more traditional food. Delicious and reasonably priced. It is located near Cathedral Square on the right hand side if you are walking towards the square from the Gates of Dawn. After about four hours of aimless wandering and 12 Amber stores too many, I went home to rest. I cuddled up in bed at about 6pm and didn’t walk up till morning. Gee, was I tired?

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Vilnius is a great city to wander without an agenda. It’s small and walkable. In the morning I walked over to the Town Hall Square, veered left, and made my way up Stikliai Steet, over by the Church of St. Catherine, the little Pasaka theatre, and lunch at Cozy. There were lots of winding back streets and colorful buildings to enjoy.

Afterwards, I walked up to cathedral square, then up to the Gediminas Tower. The Baltics are wet. If you walk up to the tower, make sure you have grippy shoes. The stones were very slick. My host had recommended that if you’re into good views of the city, Three Crosses was another good spot. Given that it was cold and rainy, the tower was enough for me.

When you leave the Tower, walk along the Vilnele River. It’ll take you towards the Bernadine Gardens and then finally towards the well known St. Anna’s Church and the Bernadine Church. The gardens leave something to be desired in the cold season, but the church structures will take your breath away.

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Next, a stroll through the Uzupis district, a self-declared republic. Art lines the river banks, a swinging bench hangs from the bridge, and a constitution translated into several languages prompts a good laugh as well as a good think. A personal favorite: “A cat is not obliged to love its owner…”

 

If you have a hankering for something sweet, do yourself a favor and stop by Birzu Duona. This little bakery had incredible pastries, sugar cookies, and tea. You’ll find it up the main road. You’ll come across a fork in the road. Hang left and you’ll spot it right away. There is a little park in between the roads.

My feet were done at this point, but I pushed through a little longer to see the Literatu Street. Hanging from the walls is an art collection that focuses on famous Lithuanian writers. The well-lit street is charming at night. After this, I turned in for the night.

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In addition to the Old Town and Uzupis districts, the Like a Local map suggests the artsy Stotis district by the train station and the Zverynas district just across the river featuring old wooden houses and the giant Vingis Park. If I’d had more time, I would have made my way to those two areas. To the left of Cathedral Square is a more modern shopping area as well, if you’re into that.

Trakai:

I woke up early the following morning to catch the train to Trakai. My host and a colleauge had recommended this day trip. It is unbelievably easy and cheap to manage this on your own. I don’t remember the exact cost, but I do remember it was under five euros each way. The tourist office in the Town Hall also sells a tour, but I believe it was about 50 euros. The only downside of the train is the schedule. There was too much time in between the first train to Trakai and the first train back to Vilnius. That said, there are also more frequent buses, and I met someone who took an Uber to Trakai for about 11 Euros, so you have plenty of options.

I can imagine Trakai would be stunning on a dry day with a bike. The area is green and has five large lakes. When you get off the train, cross the road and follow the walking path to the left along the water. You’ll pass the bus station. Stay right and head straight until you stumble upon the welcome center and bridge that leads you to the castle in the lake. You’ll pass old, beautifully colored, wooden houses along the way.

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Keep in mind that the castle museum (to go inside) is closed on Mondays and there are not many places to eat. Stop at the grocery store to pick up something simple.

Next, a bus to Riga, Latvia!

 

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