Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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The Center of Europe Vilnius, Lithuania, Wednesday, 19 June 2013 11:03pm

Yesterday's frustrations are mostly gone today. I called the museum that's only open by appointment and they actually picked up! They told me that I couldn't visit today because they're installing new exhibits, but that I should give them a call tomorrow at 11, and I can probably stop by at noon. Here's hoping. I also got my SIM card working and topped up and selected a mobile Internet plan that costs 5 LTL (2 USD) for 1 GB instead of 0.90 LTL for 1 MB. In theory, this card should let me roam throughout Latvia and Estonia as well. Here's hoping. I also picked up a transit card good on the local buses and trams.

I have a history of being vaguely interested in places at significant geographic locations, for example the northwestern most point in the Continental US, or the geographic center of the US, but not bothering to actually go to them unless there's something interesting there (like the Oracle at Delphi or the Royal Observatory).

One of the (many) claims about the "Center of Europe" is that it is near Vilnius. This varies a lot based on what area "Europe" is considered to encompass (Portugal to the Urals? Not Russia? What about Turkey? Do island possessions count?) and what method is used to calculate it (East-West midline and North-South midline? Center of the smallest circle that includes everything? The centroid?), and is pretty pointless in any case. But who ever let that stop them from putting up a monument? Actually, the people involved in Europos Parkas don't even claim that their monument is at the relevant center. But they've got one!

There is something interesting there, in this case: a sculpture museum in the forest. I caught a minibus out there with only a little bit of trouble (the relevant bus route didn't appear on the stop's sign, so I wasn't sure I was in the right place), and enjoyed the ride out of Vilnius and into the forest.

Equipped with a sketched map (the official map) of where the sculptures were, I spent several hours wandering around, looking at sculpture. The sketchiness of the map actually contributed to the experience, because it gave you just enough detail to imagine what each sculpture might be ("Oooh, I want to see the giant head", "What's that cylindrical thing?"), but not enough to spoil the surprise. And finding each sculpture along the unevenly marked paths was a little challenge to itself. Some I could see from afar across a meadow, others I would catch a glimpse of through the trees, but there were some I had to hunt for in the undergrowth.

My favorite pieces included a geometric Sol Lewitt piece next to a pond ("Double Negative Pyramid"), a set of egg-shaped boulders ranging from large to towering by Magdalena Abakanowicz ("Space of Unknown Growth"), some stainless steel shapes that moved interestingly as you pushed them ("Mobile Games" by Mindaugas Tendziagolskis), and a human-sized hamster wheel (Marius Zavadskis's "Carousel"), which once had a brake, but no longer does.

The setting was great too. Central Vilnius is not a shabby city by any means, and there are trees and rivers and little bits of nature, but it was very nice to be in the actual forest. There were ponds and marshes, hillocks and dells, and lots of wildflowers. I caught sight of a raptor and a number of small frogs, in addition to the songbirds.

When I got back to town (amusingly, the minibus driver was the same one who drove me out, but he was driving a completely different minibus on the way back), I took the funicular up to the (single remaining tower of the) castle on the hill overlooking the town. There were great panoramic views of the old town. I had dinner in a local brewpub. Sauerkraut, boar sausage, and potatoes, and a sampler of the beers they brew (my favorite again: the unfiltered light beer) made for a tasty meal. For dessert, I had sweet cottage cheese cream in a pastry shell, with strawberries, and "hot beer grog", which seemed to be sweetened beer with lemon.