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If you want to skip the queues at King’s Cross station, get there at 4.20 am on a Saturday morning: most Londoners will be far too busy fighting each other or diligently sowing the streets with chicken bones, to be harvested at daybreak by the local council. As I stumbled away from the ticket machine, I realised that the only other person on the concourse was a French friend. He told me that he was off to Strasbourg on his stag do. I mustered a rather pathetic “stag stag stag” into his face and pointed at him; it just seemed like the right thing to do, although I’m not sure he really understood. I then told him I was travelling to Lithuania for the weekend, on my own, for no reason in particular. He looked rather confused, so I muttered “stag stag stag” again and wished him all the best.

The very green city of Vilnius is surrounded by earth mounds, over which tourists are encouraged to ramble in order to get a better view of the city itself. Germanic, red-roofed terraces hug narrow alleyways as they snake around a low key old town. Despite all this, most people scale the steep, muddy steps to catch a view of a neighbouring viewpoint and then trudge towards it to snap its giant cross, before gazing back at a former viewpoint to capture its tower from a different angle.

These days, European cities tend to offer free walking tours: an informative mixture of historical snippets, amusing anecdotes and complete bull***t. Our guide was a bright, beanie hat wearing student with a marked interest in post war Europe. With a trained ear for the bull***t element of the tour, I was relieved when our guide gathered us at the entrance to the Church of St. Anne, a pleasantly symmetrical gothic number completed in the year 1500. We were then told that ‘according to legend’ (the bit where the story always appears to trail off into the realms of improbability), Napoleon Bonaparte remarked, on a visit to Vilnius during the Franco-Russian war of 1812, that he was so taken by the church that he expressed a wish to carry it home to Paris ‘in the palm of his hand.’ We were then told that Napoleon never actually said this, and probably never even saw the church. Relieved that our tour had delved into the bottomless vaults of European bull***t, we walked on, enriched by yet another far-fetched tale, lovingly passed down from generation to generation.

Vilnius is home to the self-declared, independent republic of Užupis. The constitution of the Republic of Užupis records various rights which the 'quirky' and 'arty' inhabitants of Užupis hold dear. For example, a dog has the right to be a dog, as well as the rather confusing trio of: do not defeat; do not fight back; and do not surrender. Užupis has a president, a cabinet and a flag, as well as a currency, which can be used on April Fool's Day (which was incidentally when Užupis was founded). Užupis also smells strongly of cannabis. Having visited self-proclaimed autonomous commune Christiania, in Copenhagen, which also smells strongly of cannabis, I wondered what it was that Europe's self-proclaimed territories exported to the outside world.

After all was said and done, and I had stuffed myself full of dumplings again with a friendly Hungarian/ Romanian couple currently living in Stevenage, I crossed the road to a boutique cinema and bought a ticket to see a film. The film had just started, but the usher insisted that I could still watch it, so she opened a side door and in I went. I watched the film. It seemed to document the curation of a museum in Vienna. I decided after a while not to listen to it, as it was in German. And I couldn't read the subtitles, as they were in Lithuanian. The usher reappeared and whispered that the film was not in English. I nodded. She offered me a ticket to a screening later that day. I explained that I would be on a flight. She nodded, gave me the ticket anyway and walked off. I nodded off and then made my way to the airport. Twenty two countries to go...

Posted by Peter.Moules 13:05 Archived in Lithuania Tagged lithuania

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