Vilnius, Lithuania: UNESCO World Heritage Site

There are many reasons to visit the Baltic States. One is that they are oozing with history and beauty. Another is that they are good value. And lastly, it is interesting to see what these tiny nations are like today after years of domination, the last being Soviet and brutal.

In green, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia compose the Baltic States, bordering the Baltic Sea.

There are many reasons to visit the Baltic States. One is that they are oozing with history and beauty. Another is that they are good value. And lastly, it is interesting to see what these tiny nations are like today after years of domination, the last being Soviet and brutal.

It was Lithuania who first declared independence from Russia in 1990. Latvia and Estonia followed in 1991. All took place after 2 million Baltic citizens held hands and sang their native songs together from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia in the North to Vilnius in the South in 1989. This was a potent demonstration of nonviolent resistance to their Russian occupiers.

A vivid memory of Lithuania’s painful past is the KGB or Genocide Museum. It is a reminder that Lithuania was ping-ponged between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the 1940s. First, Russia invaded it. Then in 1941 Germany took the country. In 1944, this reversed and the Soviets came back as victors. From then until 1990, what is now the KGB museum was used as a prison and interrogation center. More than 1,000 prisoners were executed there between 1944 and the 1960s, many for simply resisting occupation.

The well-worn steps leading down to the KGB basement museum. It was used by the Russian occupiers as a prison and interrogation center after WWII.

On a happier note, there are so many historic sites to see in Vilnius that lighten the soul rather than burden it. For those who like shopping, amber is a local specialty. Stores that sell the organic substance (it is not a mineral) abound.

Amber advertised in a Vilnius store window.

For sightseers, Vilnius University is an excellent choice. It has more than 13 courtyards and numerous buildings. One is Aiscial Hall which features frescos by P. Repsys.

Aiscial Hall with P. Repsys frescos.

Among the many other attractions of Vilnius are the National and Radvius Museum plus the Picture Gallery. Of the 3, the National Museum was by far my favorite. It is modern inside within an external historic building and air-conditioned, which is of enormous help on a hot day.

The Picture Gallery is my second choice, though it appeared not to have any ability to cool.

Lastly, visiting the Radvius is like taking a time machine to the past. For those who enjoy a museum left virtually untouched since the Soviet era, it will fit the bill.

The entrance to The Picture Gallery is difficult to find. This is the exterior. Entry is inside and to the right before the iron gates. A model of the Radvius Museum displayed within the museum.

Some Traveler Tips

Finn Air

Getting to Vilnius is easy from New York City on Finn Air. It is approximately an 8-hour flight over and a 9-hour return, both nonstop. I must warn you about 2 potential hitches, however. Finn Air does not accept traveler redress numbers so those with this advantage will lose it when boarding the plane. The line can be long without it. Additionally, if there is a snag in travel plans, Finn Air is anything but forgiving. We had to change our return trip from a different origination point because our Visas for Russia didn’t come through. So, our Moscow to Helsinki to NYC trip had to be re-routed Helsinki to NYC. Getting this done took over a week with threats of charging us $3,000 apiece. Our representative kept referring to a “higher power” who was reluctant to give us any slack. This was frustrating as well as annoying.

The Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square in Vilnius

The Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square in Vilnius where we stayed couldn’t have been lovelier. The room was large, well thought-out and the service good. It was the best hotel on our entire trip, though not the most expensive. It was $200.00 per night.

The welcoming lobby of the Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania.

All photos by the author. Map (edited from original) via Wikipedia user Hayden120/used under Creative Commons License.