Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Vilnius and Užupis Vilnius, Lithuania, Wednesday, 19 June 2013 1:49am

We started out the day trying to do the Lonely Planet's walking tour of Vilnius's Old Town, but we quickly got distracted.

Tinny had us stop in to the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit (not to be confused with the Polish Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit), because she'd read that they have the incorruptible bodies of three martyrs there. That is, there are three corpses there that have been there since 1347 but which have not decayed. They're under a covering, so all you can see on visiting the church is three body-shaped lumps under cloth, but Tinny was pretty excited. The church is interesting for itself as well. It's painted in very bright colors, including a lot of blue-green, and there's a bunch of iridescent metal in various of the decorations.

We wandered on, vaguely keeping near the tour path, visiting various other churches (Gothic and Baroque, Catholic and Orthodox), and then decided to take a detour into another country. We walked across the bridge into the Užupio Res Publika. The "Republic of the Other Side of the River" declared its independence on April 1, 1997 and posted an entertaining Constitution, which includes the right to not celebrate your birthday. The Republic is a neighborhood full of art galleries, so we spent some time poking around, looking at art, eating pastries, buying postcards, and trying to find out where to get our passports stamped (answer: when you cross the bridge on Uzupio gatve, continue past the cafe and then make a left into the alley. Pass the Tibetan center, and then find the Galera. Walk past the statue, through the arch and turn to your right and look for the sign for the Post Office).

After checking out Užupis, we looked at some more churches, popped in to a tea shop with teapots stuck to the outside walls, and then took a lunch break at a kitschy restaurant that served traditional Lithuanian food. I had a sauerkraut soup and a couple "Zeppelins", giant potato dumplings.

We walked over to the Cathedral, and I left the others to go off to a local mobile phone company's store to get a SIM card for my phone. They have a machine that gives you a number when you arrive, and a system where they call numbers to various staff locations. I got number 191, while 177, 178, and 179 were being served. When I left twenty minutes later, 177, 178, and 179 were being served. I found a kiosk that sold SIM cards, but they didn't have any that would fit my phone (micro SIMs are physically smaller, though electronically identical to standard SIM cards). There was an Apple authorized dealer across the way, so I dropped in there to ask if they knew of anywhere I could get a SIM card, and they told me that they didn't, but they had a punch that could cut down a standard SIM to micro SIM size. So I went back to the kiosk and bought a SIM card, and then back to the store to have them punch it, and then back to the Cathedral to meet up with the others.

The reason I really wanted a SIM card was that I wanted to call a particular museum that was only open by appointment, but when I tried, I got a message that told me to choose a language, and then a message that told me that the number I'd dialed was not reachable. This morning, I'd noticed that our hotel actually had SIM cards at the desk from one of the phone companies (the one whose store I tried to visit), but I'd given mine to Tinny, since it didn't fit my phone. She gave it back to me, and I got the guys at the store to punch it too. That one could at least make the call (the museum did not pick up), but wouldn't let me use it for data. Ugh.

Jarek wanted to visit the University, and it was closing in an hour, so we headed over there with only a few wrong turns. The main sightseeing draw of the University is supposedly their decorated courtyards, which were nice, I guess. The astronomical observatory has astrological signs carved in stucco, and there are frescoes of scholars in the main courtyard. But what really impressed me was a fresco in a room in one of the buildings. "The Seasons of the Year" by Petras Repšys, which contains a lot of surreal imagery that Wikipedia claims draws on Baltic mythology. Nothing was familiar to me, but it was very evocative.

We had more Lithuanian food for dinner (beetroot soup and potato pancakes and a beer sampler for me: best beer is the unfiltered), and then made our way back to the hotel stopping at every amber shop on the most touristy road in Vilnius (there are a lot of them).