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Vilnius, Lithuania

Cathedral during the day

Among the Baltic states, Lithuania seemed the least similar to Western Europe. Many parts of the country are still devoid of western influence. My hostel happened to be in a residential district and it gave me the chance to see some of the local life in the area. After getting a facelift in 2003, the city center in Vilnius looks like any other busy European promenade. The residential areas however bear a striking resemblance to Asian suburbs, especially those in Mumbai, India. Lithuania has been a role model of sorts in the region. It was the first country to take a bold step and declare itself an independent state, freeing itself from the agonizing grip of Soviet communism. Its other claim to fame is that it was within a basket of beating the US Dream Team at the Athens Olympics.

Vilnius itself, is a rather small city and most of the attractions are centered around Old Town. I took a hike up to Gedominas Castle, where you can get some good views of the city.

Vilnius's financial district

Vilnius Financial District

View from Gediminas Castle Tower

View from Gedominas Castle

Vodka is everywhere in this country. The brand marketing gurus figured out that to sell anything, you need to add some “vodka” to it. So, even water is now sold in vodka bottles ! These are made of glass and are quite cumbersome to carry. I doubt they would sell elsewhere, but here they seem to be disappearing off the shelves.

Vodka or water?

 

Trakai

Trakai is a quant little town about 30 kms west of Vilnius. In the 1400’s, the king brought some 380 “Karaites” families(rare middle eastern sect) from Crimea to serve as bodyguards. Today only 63 of these families remain in Trakai. These people have been guarding the Island Castle, which is Trakai’s big tourist draw. The castle is very picturesque and on a sunny day, can be a photographer’s delight. I wished I had a better camera, but I went berserk anyway, shooting many pictures of the castle view. I settled in a restaurant on the other side of the river with a perfect view, was clicking away, sipping a latte and reading a book. Oh, joyful times.

Coffee at Island Castle

Inside the castle, for a small fee, they give you some archery classes and teach you how to aim.

Can you aim?

Vilnius is also home to Uzupius Republic ( a district that calls itself a country) and the KGB Museum. Both of these were intriguing and I’ll write about them in a separate post.

More photos are on flickr. Click on this picture Coffee at Island Castle

Characters

My hostel could not be described as social, so I had to venture out to meet some folks.

Raj Choudhary

One of the best things about soccer, is that it is a loved sport all over the world. And it has been a great avenue to make friends. Vilnius was no different. On my way back to the hostel, I saw a few people playing soccer near the city square. I went by and couldn’t resist playing. So I did. Turns out that these folks were waiters at a nearby Indian Restaurant. After an hour of soccer and much needed exercise I headed home. The next day, I visited the restaurant called Sue’s Indian Raja. For being in Vilnius the food was exceptionally good and service was lightning quick. Anything I ordered (starters, mains) arrived within five minutes. The owner Raj Choudhary is a retired Wing Commander from the Indian Air Force. He is married to a Lithuanian lady and is settled in Vilnius. I later learnt that he has a chain of Indian restaurants in the Baltics.

What’s interesting is that the restaurant also serves as the Indian Consulate in Lithuania. Mr. Raj has a framed letter from the President of India appointing him as the Indian Consulate General for Lithuania.I am quite sure, I will never see two boards like this in such close proximity again.

Indian Consulate at Sue's Indian Raja Restaurant

 

Indian Software Engineers !

Had I seen them anywhere else, I would not have been surprised. But here, in Lithuania? On two separate occasions I ran into a group of Indians on the streets. They were working for IFlex in Bangalore and are currently on an assignment for the SEB bank. Russell Peters was not joking. Sooner, rather than later, we are going to take over the world !

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