Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius

What happens when a warm weather person ventures into the Baltics in winter? A lot of complaining about loss of feeling in the extremities of the body. I will never understand how people can live in such horrible temperatures! But I had heard that the old world charm of Vilnius in Lithuania was something that I really needed to experience first-hand. So I put on 20 layers and got myself on a plane.

Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius – Airport or Train Station?

As far as international airports go, the Vilnius International Airport, or Vilniaus oro uostas in Lithuanian, is a bit on the smaller side. It is still the largest of four airports in Vilnius and sees about 5 million passengers through its halls a year. Upon entering the terminal, you could be excused for mistaking it for a train station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport

The nice lady at the tourist information centre indicated which bus went to the old town and where it left from. Luckily the bus stop was just outside the terminal building. So I waited inside, away from the cold, where I could see the bus stop. It was already dark at 5pm.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport Bus Stop

The number 88 bus didn’t take long to arrive. Unlike what I’m used to at home, where you enter a bus through the front door, this bus took passengers through the back door. In my tired state, I just sat down without paying. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realised I hadn’t paid. The driver didn’t seem fussed about this at all and nonchalantly took my €1 when approached later.

The Old Town At Night

Upon arriving at the bus stop near the old town, a short walk from the main road took me to a cobbled street. As lovely and old-worldy as it looked, it really wasn’t easy to walk on. The cobbles were the biggest I’d ever seen. A few metres of walking on that was annoying enough to make me switch to the narrow footpath to the side of the road.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cobbled Road

I went to the old town centre to search for some food. Almost everything was closed except a small supermarket, that looked like a convenience store, and a Hesburger. Hesburger is like a Finnish version of McDonald’s. It actually outsells McDonald’s in Finland and the Baltic states. As options were running low, I settled on the €1 Cheeseburger. It was as disgusting as I thought it’d be.

I grabbed some supplies from the convenience store/supermarket. I didn’t want to eat another cheeseburger the next day. Most groceries were reasonably priced, which was great for the budget. The old town did have a certain charm about it, but it was also a little boring. At the time I thought it could be because it was night and many things were closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Empty Streets During the Day
Maybe it’ll be a bit more lively during the day, I thought. It was not.

Exploring the Old World Charm of Vilnius by Day

I was struggling to get myself out into the cold, but I really wanted to see the city. Just as I was ready to go, it started snowing! I wasn’t going out in that, so I decided to stay inside a bit longer. I ventured out about 20 minutes later to find not one trace of the recent snow anywhere. Where did it go? Did I imagine it was snowing? No, I’m 100% sure it was snowing. Obviously snow works in mysterious ways incomprehensible to the mind of a warm weather person.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Where's the snow?
Where’s the snow?

Magic snow aside, the cloudy skies seemed to accentuate the beauty of some of the buildings. But they didn’t seem to do much for the mood of the locals. I’m quite used to people being friendly and approaching me wherever I travel. Things were a little different in Lithuania. People just didn’t seem to want to talk. I mean, they would interact with me if I asked for directions, but they’d give the shortest answer possible. They would constantly look like they were uncomfortable with the situation and waiting for any opportunity to get out of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cloudy Sky

This happened with just about every Lithuanian I tried to engage with. All except the smoking lady at the bus station. She never actually spoke to me but her interactions with others were quite hilarious. She shamelessly interrupted conversations smokers were having with their friends to get a cigarette.

The hilarity leveled up when she approached a smoking tourist. She didn’t speak English, so she just stood near the tourist and his friend. Then she started nodding her head and looking at them while they were talking. When they stopped to look at her, she pointed to the guy’s smoke and put her hand out in a ‘give me’ kind of fashion. Needless to say, the poor guy was a bit dumbfounded and handed her a cigarette. He then watched her walk off towards her next victim.

Street Art

I’d heard that a famous political mural with Trump and Putin kissing was near where I was staying. I wanted to find it! Of course, things didn’t quite go to plan. All I had was a street name, so I found that street. The mural was nowhere to be seen. I did find some other art along the way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Street Art

That mural was right across the road from this interesting statement hung on the side of a train..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Train Statement

Was it a sign of a dystopian future? Or are the people of Vilnius really not able to express opinions after 10pm? It would explain their stoic demeanors and standoffish ways. Anyway, back to the art. Once I’d given up on finding the famous mural, I came across this in a back street.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Alien Street Art

If it hadn’t been for this, I’d have never noticed the drainpipe next to it. The thing I had been searching for was there. Sort of.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Putin Trump Mural Sticker

As I couldn’t find the original, this was the closest I’d get to seeing it. Then I spotted an embroidered car. I wondered, how many months would that take to make?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Embroidered Car

The last arty thing I spotted, while not strictly street art, was still cool. What’s the best way to make something stare-worthy? Use coloured lights!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Light Art

Bernardine Park/Bernardinų sodas

On the west banks of the Vilnia River lies Bernadine Park. It has an interesting history that has seen it closed and reopened under different names by different regimes. These days it’s mainly full of manicured beds of flowers and fountains. From there you can access two historical monuments. The Trys Kryžiai or Three Crosses and the Gediminas Castle Tower.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Three Crosses K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Gediminas Castle Tower

I had intended to climb the hills for both of these. The path to The Gediminas Castle Tower from the Bernadine Park was closed for repair. This was also the path that was needed to access another path that led to the Kalnų Parkas and the Three Crosses. That meant that both required a longer walk around the outside of the park to reach their other access points. So I chose to just do the castle tower as it was rapidly approaching sunset.

Experience the Old World Charm of Vilnius – Gediminas Castle Tower at Sunset

The tower is actually a part of the Lithuanian National Museum, the main building of which is a few minutes walk from the tower. The path up to the tower is short, but steep.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Path to the Gediminas Castle Tower

A lot of the path is cobbled too, which makes it a little bit more difficult to navigate. I guess that’s why a funicular has been built to take people to the top of the hill for €1, or €2 for a return trip.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. City View From Gediminas Castle Tower

You can see almost the whole city from the top of the hill. I’ve got to admit that it was a pretty amazing view. The top of the hill was very windy. It was already quite cold without the wind. So you can imagine how difficult it was to take pictures with numb hands. But I just had to get a shot of this amazing sunset!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Sunset View From the Gediminas Castle Tower

Experiencing the Old World Charm of Vilnius at Night

Winter in Lithuania brings about an early sunset. So it starts getting dark before 5pm. The cold seems to really kick in after the sunset too. But that didn’t stop me from checking out the city after dark. Well, that and the fact that I was on the other side of the city from my accommodation and had to walk back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River

The river looked so pretty and peaceful after sunset, even though there was a main road running either side of it. It actually looked quite amazing at dusk.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River After Sunset

I walked alongside the river for as long as I could, before heading back into the city via an intersecting road. It wasn’t long before I came upon another park, so it seems like there’s a fair amount of green spots in the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Lights in Park

This park was lit up with lights that changed colours at intervals. You don’t want to know how much time I spent staring at them! Let’s just say that I was so distracted by the lights that it took me a while to realise that there was an ice rink right behind me. Complete with a disco ball!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Ice Skating at Night

Luxury Bus

Once it was time to leave Vilnius, I got myself a €16 bus ticket to Riga. I was not at all happy about paying that much for a 5 hour trip. But I guess that’s just par for the course in Europe. I remember wondering, when I purchased the ticket, what was so special about this bus? Was there a reason it cost so much?

Well, it was the most luxurious bus that I took in all of the Baltics. Or anywhere for that matter! The seats were roomy and comfortable. The heating was set at just the right temperature. And there was a hot drinks machine that dispensed coffee, hot chocolate and tea! I tried to drink €16 worth of tea, so I think I got my money’s worth!

Stay tuned for the continuing adventure in Latvia.

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Beautiful Baku

Why Beautiful Baku?

When I say Beautiful Baku, I mean it’s beautiful in every possible way. It could be described as a little bit of Europe, a little bit of Asia and a whole lot of love. After travelling in Central Asia for 2 months, Baku presented a totally different aesthetic to what I had become accustomed to. While Central Asian cities are fairly low rise and spread out, Baku was definitely rocking a lot more high-rises, but it was also fairly spread out. Even though it’s a huge city, it’s still had a very homely feel to it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Flame Towers From The HIll

Baku is definitely impressive from the first time you lay eyes on it, even if that time happens to be 2am. That’s when the coach transporting us from the port of Alat arrived. Even at that time, there were middle-aged taxi drivers ready to hassle us to get into their taxi. But in a friendlier way than most around the world.

Myself and my new friends, who had crossed the Caspian Sea with me, decided that we would walk to our hostel. It was only a 10 minute walk away. We were surprised when we arrived at the address and the hostel didn’t seem to be there. We saw a small convenience shop that was opened and asked if they knew where the place was. They didn’t, but they let us use their internet to see if we could find the correct address. We had no luck there, but a local found a phone number and called the place, then gave us a lift there!

Where is it?

When we moved the next day, we encountered another hostel that wasn’t at the location that the map indicated. I also came across this anomaly when I’d booked a hostel across town. A wonderful local saw that I was looking a bit lost and asked if I needed help. He and his friend ended up finding a phone number for the owner and called him for directions.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Graffiti Near Where a Hostel Should've Been
Graffiti near where a hostel should’ve been

The helpful locals also had difficulties finding the place when following the numbers on the street. After speaking with the owner, they explained that the street numbers had recently been changed in some areas of the city. They weren’t sure what the reason for this change was but agreed that it was kind of weird. In essence, the numbers found on the buildings, as well as maps, are the old numbers. The new numbers, which for some strange reason were not sequential, were nowhere to be seen. I’m glad to say that this was really the only quirk of Baku that could be a tad annoying.

Beautiful Baku – City of Wind, Fountains and Parks

I met the owner of my hostel, Farid, and he was only too happy to give me information on the city’s history and the best places to go. He informed me that the word Baku, or Баку́ in Russian, came from the old Persian word Bad-kube, which when roughly translated means windy. This probably gave rise to the city’s modern nickname, City of Wind.

I was lucky to not be subjected to the city’s infamous strong winds during my stay, but I did notice there were fountains everywhere.

Fountains of Baku

Most were found in parks that are scattered around the city. They were nocturnal and slept during the day.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Sleeping Women's Fountain K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Big Sleeping Fountain K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Group of Small Sleeping Fountains

Then woke up in the evening.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Fountain at Night K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Spiney Park Fountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Group of Small Fountains in Action

Some were huge.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Huge Fountain

And some had pretty lights.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Lit Up Fountain at Night

Parks of Baku

Baku is blessed with many parks. It’s hard to walk more than 5 minutes in the city without stumbling upon one. One of the major parks in the city, located on the shore of the Caspian Sea is Denizkenari Milli Park. It is also known as Baku Boulevard and is a popular hangout for locals. You’ll see many people sitting by the sea, or eating ice cream from one of the many vendors there.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park On The Caspian Sea

There are many things to do in the park. Like visit the carpet museum there, which locals will tell you is a must see. They really do love their carpets.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park Carpet Museum

Or you could take a train
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park Train

Or play chess under the Azerbaijan flag
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Denizkenari Milli Park Chess and Flag

Beautiful Baku – Old and New

Apparently, when developing the city, a Parisian-style aesthetic was envisioned. To achieve this coveted look, European architects were brought in to design the city’s buildings. This is why the old city could easily be mistaken for a quaint European town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Old Town.

The old town, or Icherisheher, while lovely, has become a bit of a tourist destination these days. This means that some areas in it have been overrun by expensive hotels, cafes and restaurants aiming for the tourist dollar. It is however, still free to walk around the town’s narrow walkways and cobbled streets.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Old Town Street

There are also many souvenir shops selling local arts and crafts. Some of these still seem to have reasonable prices and very friendly shopkeepers that are eager to have you in their shop. The old town is also home to the Maiden Tower. This tower has a viewing area at the top which is said to offer a fantastic view of the city. Unfortunately, they charge a ridiculous entry fee.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Old Town. Maiden Tower

Baku is unique in that it’s the only metropolis in Azerbaijan, as well as being the largest city below sea level. It is also a city where old and new have blended together seamlessly. If you walk just outside of the old city walls, you’re standing in a 21st century metropolis surrounded by mountains and hills. I guess everything’s a hill when your city is 30 metres below sea level. One of these hills has a viewpoint that offers a panoramic view of beautiful Baku.

Beautiful Baku from Above

The mysterious hill with a view doesn’t seem to have a name. All the locals refer to it as ‘the hill’. It’s about a 700m climb up a decent amount of stairs from near Denizkenari Milli Park/Baku Boulevard.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. First section of the Climb to the Hill

To be honest, the walk up to the hill could be a little overwhelming during the day in the summer if you’re not used to the Baku heat. But there are plenty of places to stop, rest and admire the view on the way up.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View on the Way up to the Hill

There is a road that intersects the path just before the last section of stairs. Many people choose to take a taxi to that point.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Last Lot of Stairs to the Hill

On the last sections of stairs, I came across some locals selling fresh fruits. I also noticed some rest points on the way up, for anyone that needs a bit of a break from climbing.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Rest Area on the Way Up the Hill

There were incredible views from a few levels going up the stairs, I made sure I checked them all out!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View Before the Top of the Hill

Of course the money shots were at the top. From there you get a panoramic view of the city and the Caspian.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill

It’s almost enough to make you forget for a moment that you aren’t anywhere near an actual sea. You are in fact probably the furthest inland you could be on almost the entire earth.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill. City and Sea

While it was lovely during the day, I had a thought that it would be even cooler to see at night when the city is lit up. So I walked back up just before sunset.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. View From the Top of the Hill. City and Sea at Sunset

It is much busier at this time, but watching night descend upon the city was pretty awesome.

Then just after sunset, at about 21:30 during the summer, you’ll get to watch a light show for free!

There’s Something Quirky in Qobustan

Farid had advised me that if I do only one thing in Baku, it should be a trip to Qobustan, pronounced Gobustan. When I looked on the map, I realised it wasn’t far from Alat, where I had entered Azerbaijan. I decided to hop on one of Baku’s very modern looking buses to get to Bina Ticaret Merkezi, which is an interchange station about 30 minutes from the city centre. From there, I hopped on the 195 bus which stops in Qobustan. Both buses cost only 0.30 Azerbaijani Manat/US$0.18 each.

The bus dropped me off on the side of the road, where there was of course a taxi driver waiting. This taxi driver initially wanted to charge me 20 Manat/US$10 to take me on the 10km round trip to Qobustan’s main attraction. I was firmly against that and said I would pay no more than 10 Manat/US$5. That was a bit of a fail on my part, because I was tired and confused about the exchange rate. It should’ve cost less.

He said his fuel would cost 10 Manat/US$5, which I totally didn’t believe. I knew Azerbaijan had a lot of oil reserves under the Caspian Sea. I’d seen the oil rigs on the way in! He wasn’t budging and neither was I, so he took me to an area where some other taxis had gathered and one of them agreed to take me.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Mud Volcanoes, Qobustan

So what’s the main attraction of Qobustan? Mud Volcanoes! I kid you not. I told you there was something quirky in Qobustan!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Mud Volcano, Qobustan

Okay, so they’re not really volcanoes in the true sense of the word, but the mud ‘erupting’ from them has shaped them into volcano-like structures. The mud being expelled from the mounds is actually being pushed to the surface by bubbles of natural gas trying to escape from the earth. Perhaps the most surprising thing was about them was that despite the ambient temperature being above 30 degrees, the mud was pretty cold to touch.

When I was done taking a million pictures, the taxi took me back to a road. The first driver, Fazid was waiting there to take me back to the road where I could catch the bus. He took me to his barber shop first, which is situated in front of his house. He said I could wait inside for the bus, but as there was a wall between us and the main road, I wondered how we would see when the bus was coming.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Road Wall, Qobustan

Back to Beautiful Baku

After making sure he got a photo with me, which I was clearly not into, Fazid and I went out to the road. Another guy on the side of the road flagged down a car and was also going to Bina Ticaret, so Fazid said I should get in. The driver wanted 1 Manat for the ride, which is about double what the bus would cost. It was more comfortable though. When we arrived, he didn’t have change for a 20 Manat note, so he said not to worry about it.

From Bina Ticaret, I hopped on the 125 bus heading back to the city. I had one more stop I wanted to make before I went back to the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Baku Road Sign

Bibi-Heybat Mosque

The Bibi-Heybat Mosque is still a little bit outside of the city, but it’s absolutely amazing. I was in awe from the moment I stepped off the bus.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Graveyard Across the Road From the Mosque

The first thing that caught my eye, was the graveyard across the road that had been built into a hill. Some of the graves looked better than my house!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Bibi-Heybat Mosque From the Side

Once I walked into the grounds of the mosque, I was captivated not only by architecture and stature of the mosque, but also by the view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Bibi-Heybat Mosque From the Side

As if the building itself isn’t impressive enough, it’s perched right above one of the shores of the Caspian Sea.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Caspian Sea Behind the Mosque

Bye Bye Beautiful Baku

As always happens when travelling, it has to come to an end at some point. Although I’m not usually a big fan of cities, Baku and its people had left an impression on me. From the people that helped me find my accommodation, to the airport bus driver who left his bus to show me how to use the ticket machine that had no English display. But you know what I’m going to miss most of all? The purple taxis. A city has reached next-level coolness when most of their taxi fleet is purple.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Beautiful Baku. Purple Taxi

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