So just a bit after midnight Dave and Lauren arrived in Vilnius. Tauck was tracking their travel and had a driver at the airport. I was expecting them earlier (Dave was in the wrong timezone when he gave me their arrival time Lol) Also on their flight from Madison-Chicago-Frankfurt-Vilnuis was couple from Middleton, Art and Jean. Art and Jean are also on our tour and they too were coming in a day early. This is the first time we have had other Sconies on our Tauck tours. Typically it is East Coasters with a few Californians. Usually we may get one or two people from the suburbs of Chicago but this is the first time we have ever had someone from Wisconsin let alone Middleton! Tauck is a family company started in 1925 that is based in Connecticut and is primarily marketed through word of mouth thus the big east coast following. Tomorrow night we will meet the rest of out group at a welcome reception and dinner.
Morning came way to soon even though we slept in and had a late breakfast at 10:30. Because we booked an extra day in Vilnius we have the whole day free before our welcome dinner tonight with our Tauck Tour Group. First stop was to hit the bank to get more Lits the local currency. Lithuania and Latvia EU member states but have yet to change to the euro. They are in the process of moving to the Euro and in many stores the price is in Lits and Euro.
The bank was on the town square and which is the center of Old Town. The old town is beautiful with cobble stone streets, most buildings and churches are in a baroque style of architecture with an occasional gothic or Russian Orthodox Church mixed in. Speaking of churches there are many in the old town which I found surprising. Lithuania was Soviet occupied for over fifty years and religion was at best repressed, also Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe. Unfortunately like almost all of Europe the once thriving Jewish population was decimated during WWII and only one Synagogue, Pylimo, remains. Vilnius had over 100 synagogues and was once known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”.
We started walking down one of the main streets to show Lauren and Dave the places we have been and specially where we ate the first night. As we walked along you can see a tower on a very steep hill at the end of the street.
This tower is the remaining part of the upper castle. As we approached there was a park with lots of large trees and a paths that wraps around and up the very very steep hill. We walked up and it was a serious work out. We found that on the other side of the hill there is a tram to the top of the hill, but where’s the fun in that right… No matter how you get up it is worth it. The view is incredible.
Old Town with the hundreds of church steeples the more modern town ( from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s) and the truly modern from the soviet era.
The river is the real dividing line between old and really old and the new and you can really appreciate this divid from the vantage point on this hill. Also I felt the significance for the strategic placement of this tower with the river below any invasions would be easily visible from this place. If walking up seemed difficult going down might have been more treacherous as the hill was very steep and you are walking on big cobblestones. After walking down the hill we went looking for the Vilnius University which was started in 1579 by the Jesuits. St. John’s church with the beautiful tower Jordan and I had eaten by our first night in Vilnius in on the Campus. On our walk from the hill past St. Anne’s the gothic church which Napoleon said was so beautiful that he wanted to carry it back to Paris in the palm of his hand.
While walking and yes we were a little lost we found a fun side street with artistic tiles that represent important people in the history of Lithuania, it was sunny and pleasant out and there was a cute cafe where we had lunch. J & I had gazpacho. Lauren had a vegetable soup and Dave had a caprese salad. One of the great joys of traveling for me is the food and when you can eat outside in such a picturesque setting that to me is perfection.
While we were waiting for our food a cat walked right by my feet. I picked the cat up thinking this will be a surprise but really the cat didn’t like me at all and I had to wrangle the cat to keep it on my lap long enough for Lauren to notice. Everyone was pretty shocked to see the cat, and it quickly ran off as soon as I let it go. After lunch we made our way towards the Vilnius University. As we were walking along the streets towards the University I kept seeing people carrying flowers, lots of flowers, beautiful beautiful arrangements of flowers and I was wondering why. Apparently it’s quite common for the people in Vilnius to get flowers for almost every occasion. Either you buy them at the market or grab wildflowers from your own garden. We found the University and went to the bookstore which had a beautiful painted ceiling which reminded me of the Strahov Monastery Library in Prague.
I love libraries and I would love to have that in my own home. After the bookstore we walked out and we could hear beautiful music coming from the St. John’s Church which is a part of Vilnius University so we peeked our heads in and saw all the students in caps and gowns.
It was graduation which explained all the dressed up people with flowers. We made our way back to the hotel popping in every interesting store that we passed along the the way. In the Evening we had out Tauck Welcome Dinner at the Astorija hotel. The food and drinks were fabulous. During the Cocktail hour our Tauck director Anne Marie had us all introduce ourselves and answer an ice breaker question. Usually on past trips the question is “how many Tauck trips have you been on?” this tour the question was “Where would you take people if they came to visit you in your hometown?” It had to be one place and of course the New Yorkers had trouble just picking one place. It was a great question and now I have lots of new places I would like to see in NY and DC especially. Our group consists of 38 people and my kids were not surprised that they not only were the youngest on the trip, but that the next youngest people were there parents. This is typical of the Tauck Tours we have been on with the exception of the Tauck Bridges Tours which are almost half kids aged 8-18. The Bridges tours are wonderful and extra fun for kids but as of right now they do not go to the more offbeat locations that we want to go. Our last tour was mostly retired people and the kids made lots of “older” friends and I am hoping that will be the case this trip. During dinner we sat with Jules and Margie, doctors from Merion Station PA, and Albert and Bonnie from Northbrook, Il. Merion Station is where the US open was held this year so golf was the topic de jour just like at home. No exploring after dinner, Dave and Lauren are jet lagging and we just wanted to get to bed at a decent hour since we have lots planed for tomorrow.