Travel with Baby
Restaurants were very accommodating of our son, and they all had baby chairs. People were friendly towards him, smiling and waving at him, especially the old women.
Getting about was a bit difficult, though, like in the rest of the Baltics. The old town had some really bad pavements that were hard to push a pram along. But in the popular areas, where there's been a lot of money spent on renovating the city, it was as good as anywhere in Europe. The buses were difficult - even the modern ones were hard to get onto with a pram, but the locals were always quick to help out.
The most bizarre thing was at the train station. Here they actually have a lift, but it's locked away behind a door (with no sign on it to advertise what it is). Only by negotiating (in Russian only) with the train staff were we able to get access to it.
Don't get lost
You mustn't think that, even if you have a map of Vilnius, you will find your way easily. This is because the local authorities seem to assume that everybody knows the city well and have put street names in as few places as possible, with some streets left unnamed altogether. Driving along the river to Sts Peter and Paul's Church we didn't see any street names at all and the street in the picture didn't have a name - there was only a trace of the sign on the wall. Don't even dream of signposts to most of the tourist attractions, which you can usually find in other cities. Here there are very few.
This may not be a problem, as Vilnius is lovely and discovering all its secret corners can be pure pleasure but the point is that many tourists are here only for a day or two and may not have enough time or energy to meander or go in circles.
If you are driving, the one-way streets make it very complicated and we didn't see any maps where such streets would be marked. Even getting out of the city in the right direction is a problem as there are hardly any signposts. A total maze, and our second visit to Vilnius only confirmed it.
- Road Trip
Pavements - watch where you are walking
We hadn't been in Vilnius long before we released that there was plenty of potential to trip up/fall over.
Not just from the uneven paving slabs/cobbled roads, but also from concrete slabs etc.
Some pavements have gullies running across them. We also came across a few deep steps that appear from nowhere.
So, while you are looking up admiring the architecture etc, be aware of the paving at your feet!
- Hiking and Walking
We had a few days in Vilnius before it rained, but we'd already spotted that the drain pipes just opened onto the pavement, and not into a grate/drain.
Also, many of the roads/pavements are uneven with the potential for big puddles.
One night the heavens opened, and we were soon surrounded by puddles - we decided to stay and eat in our hotel
I'd heard a few bad stories about Vilnius before I arrived, most involved pickpockets on Pilies street in the old town, rampant taxi rip-offs and some nastiness in the suburbs. But aside from the first few moments walking around the run down bus station, I felt more than safe - I felt completely relaxed. People in Vilnius were, in general, friendly, polite, welcoming and helpful. Even returning to the station after a few days in the city, I felt none of the discomfort I had when I arrived. I think it all stemmed from the look of the place, and not from anyone's behaviour.
The taxi problem does seem to be real, although I never used one, so it's probably worth calling a reputable company. It doesn't seem like a city where grabbing one off the street is a good idea.
There are two major languages in Vilnius, Lithuanian and Russian, although only one is official. It's obviously a political minefield, just like it is in the rest of the Baltics, and you can see that from the signs about the city. From signs in English and Lithuanian (but not Russian) in the old town, to signs in Russian and English (but not Lithuanian) in the train station, there's clearly some problems. It doesn't help that for me, unlike in Estonia, I had difficulty telling Lithuanian from Russian as it sounds similar to my ear (although they are not related linguistically). So I was often confused whether to attempt to use my limited Russian or even more limited Lithuanian. I think trying English, although often considered arrogant in itself, is a safer bet than guessing.
There are far fewer Russians in the Lithuanian capital than in Estonia or Latvia, but they seem to be heavily concentrated in certain areas, like the train station.
EXTREME NIGHT TIME DANGERS-VILNIUS
After being dropped of by a taxi at night time from an afternoon flight, I arrived at a hostel whose doors were closed, they had moved (I should have booked). Two tall guys stopped in a car and got out to look through an adjucent window.I approached with bags in hand to gain directions. I'll mention I'm 5 foot 11 slim/medium build. They motioned that they didn't know where the other hostel/backpackers was I was looking for so I started to walk up the street. I looked back and saw one of them contemplating mugging me, he started to walk towards me, than changed his mind and got back into his car. Close call.
After arriving at the backpackers I headed down towards a restaurant on the main square of the old town. As I approached the enterance a guy who had a few to many grabbed me by the shirt and drew his fist back to punch me. ***. I changed his mind. Alot of people I had no problems with.
Later that night after my meal I took a taxi to collect some grocerys. Standing at the checkout, a group of 4 guys congregate around me. One guy flashes his knife hidden in the rear of his belt to say hey! look what I got. A message to say this is my turf ??
More to come.
Few days later approaching nightfall walking up the street towards the postoffice up from Mcdonalds I spot a white parked pannel van. Inside are 3 skinheads with denim gang patches eagerly looking out the front window over the dash board ready to pounce upon...a tourest ?...a wondering female ?? who knows.
Not to forget getting ripped off by a taxi. This happened in 2008, pehaps things have changed. Only problem I had at daytime was a drunk who tried to share my table while I was eating my meal. This all happened in a two week period.
Guidance on photography in churches: Homer's Rules
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the culture which has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists need to bear in mind that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF the 'focus assist' light!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
Photographing the blessing of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!
Vilnius under construction
When we were in Vilnius in August 2006, quite a few buildings and squares were under construction. Among other sights, even the belfry of the cathedral was completely scaffolded. Also the wonderful Rotuses Square just in front of Vilnius Town hall was undergoing massive construction.
Most of the renovation were taking place due to the fact that Vilnius became European City of Culture in 2009 and hosted the Eurobasket Championships in 2011.
In summer 2011, when I visited the Lithuanian capital for the second time all constructions were finished and the city was in full bloom.
- Budget Travel
Closed chapels :-(
There were 10 chapels inside the Vilnius Cathedral but all were closed when I visited this the most famous Lithuanian church.
The most impressive St. Camisir's Chapel was closed because of renovation works. Well, we and a few other visitors were allowed to get inside for a moment thanks to guys who worked there and... thanks to Phoenicians who invented money :-). Small coin was enough...
I could see a few chapels only through closed metal gates/fences like the Chapel of Exiles (St. Mary) on my picture. Luckily they opened them one by one for a group of Lithuanian speaking youths with hired guide (school trip), so... I could see a few of them (like the chapel of St. Vladislaus with world famous shroud of Turin).
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Avoid Airport Taxis
Outside of the airport, taxis are waiting to take passengers for a ride--for their money. The quote I got to go to the Gates of Dawn--according to Google, a 4.5km drive--was 50LT. I asked the bus driver if he was going to the train station (both destinations were close to my accomodation), and the price was 2.5LT.
To get to the bus/train station, take the No. 1 Bus, and when it says, "Stotis," that's where you will get off. But don't take the taxis. Alternatively, check out the train too, it's a 7 minute ride and 2.4LT.
dont bother much of looking around for this 'service', sneak into any coffee shop or restaurant, have cup of tea or coffee and visit the WC there, will be cleaner, faster and hopefully you will get some toilet paper too :) But still would be handy to buy some tissues and carry with you, as never know :)
Look under your feet.
Vilnius is full of surprises, not only pleasant ones though. While you are looking up admiring the architecture, esp. in the Old Town, you can easily trip on an uneven pavement, a rickety or broken slab, a stone sticking out. So wear comfortable walking shoes and don't get so absorbed in taking pictures as not to see where you put your foot next. I even noticed a pothole the size of half a football right at the entrance to a large shop in Pilies Street. I had nearly stepped in it.
And in winter look up at the roofs ahead of you as well and don't pass under icicles hanging from them. Although they say the authorities make every effort to remove them, it's a never-ending job in their climate, which only the spring can do properly.
- Hiking and Walking
Do not transit through Kaliningrad!
Arriving from Northern Poland one would assume that the short drive through Kaliningrad would save some time, but that is not the case. Waiting times at the Russian border exiting to Lithuania was eight hours, and the attitude of the officials there was simply disgusting.
Hence the drive around Kaliningrad will save all the hassles and ensure a smooth journey into friendly Lithuania.
- Business Travel
- Road Trip
Toilets communist style
Looking for toilets in the grand-looking Katedros Square, we followed a sign directing us to the castle park nearby. The toilets were down in the basement. I went down there and, on paying a small fee, was given a piece of toilet tissue. I remember toilet tissue being a luxury in Poland during martial law so wasn't too surprised. Further on, I saw three cabins with doors in the style of an American bar, starting about 0.4 m above the floor and reaching no higher than an average person's head. My tall husband told me later he could actually look into the cabins over the door. It reminded me of the toilets in the student hostel in Leningrad in the 70's, where the seats were not separated from one another and you saw all the people using them on coming in. Here in addition there were no toilet seats, so one had to squat. I left, not even asking for my money back.
Outside, I met Chris who couldn't help laughing. He had never seen anything like it before. But he had been luckier as he'd been able to use the urinal. I had to look for another toilet and found one in the summer cafe pavillion nearby. This one didn't lock from the inside so I had to ask my husband to stand outside to prevent anyone from coming in. It was free for the patrons so we decided to get a drink from the grumpy barmaid, who obviously assumed that we should know the names of all the drinks. It was like stepping back to the communist times.
It seems to take a long time to learn to smile. Polish bar personnel and shop assistants have somehow learnt that already, perhaps the Lithuanian ones will too.