Vilnius & Trakai, Lithuania
The exploration of Vilnius continued. Next on the hit list was the Museum of Genocide Victims, covering Lithuania's occupation by the Soviet Union and Germany over the last century. It was located in an old prison and included underground cells that we could wander through. The cells came in all shapes and sizes: there was the holding cell (0.6 metres square), the padded cell, the isolation cell, the torture cell, the torture cell with water and, finally, the execution room. This last room showed a video re-enactment of an execution in that occurred in that room, including how they disposed of the body and blood. Haunting.
Somehow we were still able to eat after that experience, so for lunch we headed to Lokys, a fine dining restaurant that Danny was keen to try. It was situated in an old merchant's home, complete with exposed brick walls and arched roof, narrow stairways and small entrances. We sat in a tiny alcove and had the whole lower floor to ourselves. The big drawcard for Danny was their meat, specifically their game meat. He had read about it in our guide book and had his heart set on it straight away. We both decided to be adventurous and try something new. I ordered beaver stew, which was dark and gamey (a little too gamey for me) but overall the stew was beautiful. Danny chose roast wild boar fillets with cheesy potato nuggets, marinated pear and cowberry sauce (whatever "cowberry" is). The meat was dark, tasted similar to pork and was also delicious. In the end our two meals, two glasses of wine and a tip came to €35 – a bargain for a restaurant of that quality.
After lunch we wandered over to Uzupas, a breakaway district with its own constitution, written on plaques and displayed around town. The area itself was fairly boring (nothing like Christiania in Copenhagen) so we didn't stay long. On our way back to the car we stopped in at another couple of churches (you can't go two minutes without seeing a church here), then drove off to our next destination.
North of Vilnius is Europos Parkas, an outdoor contemporary art museum located at the geographical centre of Europe. It was set in a huge national park, and we were required to walk about 100 metres between each piece of art. It was so spread out that we ran out of time to see everything. Our main reason for going was to see what was at the centre of Europe - it turned out to be a nondescript, small, grey pyramid, inside a fenced off area so we couldn't even go near it. The rest of the artwork wasn't particularly exciting either.
Our final stop for the day was Trakai, south of Vilnius and set on a large lake. On our drive it started bucketing down so hard that the roads turned into rivers and the splashback from other cars was going over the top of our van. I was glad Danny was driving.
We eventually made it safely to Trakai, where it was impossible to find a car park that was free. We relented, paid for parking and walked over to see the Island Castle. Set in the middle of a huge lake and connected to the mainland by two drawbridges, it was a lovely place to wander around and watch people sail and paddle along the water. The sunset from the island was fantastic, with hot air balloons dotting the sky. A perfect end to a not-so-perfect day.
We were woken up early the following morning due to construction work somewhere near our van. They began early; we did not. It was 10 a.m. before we finally got up, not in any hurry to get started on the day. As we commenced opening the blinds we heard a knock on our window. Danny stepped out and a construction worker asked if we could move our van. Once we looked out the window we realised the construction was actually on the pavement right in front of and beside us. No other cars were parked on this stretch of road. Slightly embarrassed, we quickly packed up the car and moved along, secretly happy that workmen were nice enough to let us have a sleep in.
We went back to the lake for another walk around the edge, this time past all the souvenir shops and the thousands of tour groups that had arrived. The overcrowding took away from the beauty and tranquility we experienced last night, causing us to leave Trakai earlier than we anticipated.
Next we drove towards Druskininkai, stopping just before the town at a park called Grūtas Park. It was supposedly set up like a Siberian concentration camp, but we didn't really feel that vibe. The park displayed all the former Soviet statues that were erected in Lithuania while under occupation, collected together here as a reminder of darker times. They also exhibited a ton of Soviet propaganda, most of which was of Lenin. The park itself was beautiful, yet the stories that were told were horrific.
Adjacent to Grūtas Park was a small fenced off field containing wallabies. That's it. Random.
On the way out of Lithuania, Danny stopped on the side of the road to buy freshly picked mushrooms from a roadside stall. The stallholder wanted about €40 for a kilo. Not a chance.