Vilnius, Lithuania

I’ve now made it to the center of Europe. Really. Turns out, the geographical center of Europe is actually about 12km outside of Vilnius, Lithuania. Weird huh? There’s some good trivia for you. It’s hard to tell on a map, but look at Europe on a globe and it makes a bit more sense. They built a nice sculpture park there, with some cool art, and a little pyramid thing right on the spot. It’s kind of a difficult place to get to as there are no easy busses that go there or anything — I had to walk for a while along a highway — but I figured if I made it this close to the center, I might as well go all the way. So I guess that now if I’ve made it to the middle, I must be halfway done with Europe. But considering this is just about the most north and east I’ve ever been in Europe, there’s a lot I’ve got left to see. Just shows you how enormous the European part of Russia actually is, and Scandinavia.

Vilnius really is pretty far north. It’s like 11:00 right now, and still not quite dark out. My natural rhythms are all messed up. And I didnt even know I had natural rhythms.

The city itself is really beautiful. They say it has the largest “old town” in Europe. I’m not exactly sure how they judge that, but the old town was pretty big, if a bit less old-looking than other “old towns” I’ve been in. There are lots of cool forested hills, and a couple rivers (the Neris and Vilnia) which meet in the middle of town. The southern entrance to the old town is through an archway called the Gates of Dawn, which is an awesome name, and which houses a miracle-working painting of the Virgin. There were always lots of old ladies there in funny prostrating poses wailing about things. One of the churches, St. Anne’s, is this gorgeous gothic deal made all of brick — I hadn’t seen a brick gothic church before.

I almost stayed in the Šar?nas Hotel, owned by Šar?nas Mar?iulionis, but then decided that it probably wasnt worth the extra money, considering I’m not much of a basketball fan. Now we all know that he owns a hotel, though. Good for him.

Vilnius also has a really cool, funky side. From what I can tell, there’s a really thriving art scene and student culture. It also seems to be a big weekend destination for Danish party people, for some reason. I ran into lots of bizarre things in Vilnius. Like there’s one courtyard with the world’s only Frank Zappa monument in it. My guidebook made a big deal out of that, but it’s really just Frank Zappa’s head up on a pole. Still, not what you would expect to find in Lithuania.

Vilnius is also home to Lithuania’s very own breakaway republic, called Uzupio. It’s kind of like Christiania in Copenhagen, though slightly less oriented towards selling pot to tourists. Uzupio is basically a hippie art colony/squat, though it’s in the old part of Vilnius, so there are lots of nice buildings and it feels more like a city than “art colony” might make it sound. It’s just across the Vilnia river from the main old town, and has the border marked with a sign, and the 41 points of its constitution posted on a wall. They’re awesome. Things like: “Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnia, and the River Vilnia has the right to flow by everyone,” “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation,” “Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance,” “Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.” Or my favorite: “Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.” I guess they have a national cat. Uzupio is awesome.

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