To be honest, there’s not a lot to report back on from these two places!! So expect this to be a fairly short post 😛
We arrived in Vilnius early morning, dragging our bags for 15 long minutes along a main road to reach our Couchsurfing host for the next two nights. We were greeted at the door by both Alex and Anna who welcomed us into their apartment and handed us both a large fresh smoothie each – just what we needed after an overnight coach!
A quick shower later and we were ready to walk into the centre; around 20 minutes on foot from the apartment. We decided to hit all of the main attractions in the first day, to allow for a more relaxing second day. First up was the Old Town and Cathedral Square via some beautiful old churches and cute, colourful alleyways.
We then decided to climb the nearby hill to the Vilnius Castle complex and Gediminas’ Tower. It was a short walk to the top and was another great view (we’ve climbed a lot of hills and seen a lot of great views over the last few weeks!).
Afterwards, we headed to Užupis, a neighbourhood in Vilnius which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Užupis means “the other side of the river” and is an area with a laid-back, bohemian atmosphere, popular with many artists. The story behind this little community is a strange tale which shows what can happen when a collection of eccentrics and artists are left to their own devices! In 1997, the district declared itself an independent republic; this tiny area has its own flag, president, constitution, anthem and army.
We walked to Užupis via the famous ‘Literatų’ street. The street walls are decorated with over one hundred ceramic, wooden, metal, and glass plaques which was pretty cool to see! At the end of the street, we crossed over the bridge and stopped for a drink in a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river. Even the river walls were covered with artwork and sculptures, and there was a swing hanging underneath the bridge which could be reached if you were brave enough to paddle to knee-depth in order to get on it! We weren’t…
In the afternoon we passed by St Anne’s church, and relaxed in the charming Bernadine gardens before meeting up with our Couchsurfing hosts to climb the Cathedral Bell Tower. The gardens are a popular spot for wedding photos and we were dodging brides left, right and centre as they elbowed each other out the way for the premium spots!
Climbing the Bell Tower of the Cathedral was hard work but a cool experience – especially as we ended up being inside at 5pm, when the bells were rung. The stairs inside were old, wooden and really steep, with big gaps between steps which was slightly terrifying. Gary and I were both clinging to the sides as we crawled our way up to each of the platforms. The bells ringing whilst we were inside was great to experience, but we all left a little deaf afterwards!
Day two was a much needed chill-out day. I spent the whole day in a cosy coffee shop, equipped with a large soya latte and my laptop, and attempted to plough through the ever-increasing number of blog posts I had to catch up on! Gary headed straight to the Hill of the Three Crosses before relaxing with his book in the park. The Three Crosses is a sizeable hill in Vilnius Old Town where according to legend, seven Franciscan monks were once crucified. It’s now a popular climb, supposedly offering the best views of the city below and home to a statue of three crosses at the peak. There’s not much else to report back from this particular day – it was wonderfully lazy, at least for me!
Unfortunately, there is even less to report from Riga thanks to an exceptionally heavy bout of rain which drowned our one day stay! We arrived in the evening and went straight out for a few drinks which luckily meant we got to enjoy a few of the sights as the following day was a solid write-off! We stayed with another Couchsurfing host in Riga – a pro host called Elvis who has had over 150 strangers stay with him in his classic Soviet apartment, 30 minutes walk from the centre. We loved his laid back approach – he talked through the map with us when we first arrived, then handed us a key and left us to it!
We pretty much hid in cafes all day on our next (and final) day – starting with lunch, a mid afternoon smoothie and some video editing for me, followed by dinner… So yeah, not much to say for Riga!