If you think of Eastern Europe as a drab Soviet era anti-paradise, you will be shocked. Back when I visited Prague in the late 90s, you could still see communism in action but these days you are more likely to wonder if you are in a parallel universe where you could be in New York City, London, Sydney – or Vilnius! In some ways I find it disturbing – the globalization of culture… but you have to be careful to check your western privilege.
There is definitely an unconscious bias for prosperous citizens of developed countries to want to find cute cultures that allow them to be nostalgic or surprised. Culture is a very complex subject and I am definitely not a fan of the homogenized American propaganda marketing machine but I am a fan of development and prosperity.
In an ideal world, different cultures will adopt new technologies but in a way that makes them special and true to the region. It’s a tough ask and one needs to be open minded.
Some of my greatest travel experiences have been in luxe safari lodges in Africa where the companies seem to be making responsible decisions about the environment, the wildlife and the local population, appreciating it’s an ecosystem and behaving honorably will create the best results for all involved. The US seems to have gone bonkers and corrupted capitalism but it wasn’t always that way. Some of the early American entrepreneurs actually cared about their employees and their communities. There are pockets of a return to that vision that should be embraced by consumers.
I really hope that kind of capitalism can see a broad resurgence in the country that defines itself by that moniker but I have been more enthused by capitalism in developing economies.
I’m pretty good at research and seem to have a nose for finding cool things so, once I had seen the Old Town, I looked for 21st century Vilnius. It’s the capital city so I really saw only a tiny acreage of its possibilities but you can wander just a few metres from the storybook Old Town and wonder if you have wandered into Brooklyn…
It will be cooler than Brooklyn, though, as there will still be cobblestone streets and old houses… but there will also be cocktails, tapas and live music.
The great part is that if you have only one night, it can all happen on one street and environs. You can eat there too but I found it a little hit and miss on the service front so you are likely better advised to follow my lead from my first night in Vilnius. Zuvine in the Old Town showcases the seafood of the Baltics. There is even a scientific chart! I am a huge seafood fan and one of the really cool elements of that is that seafood is a regional thing so you can eat it all over the world but you should try the local delicacies rather than sticking to stuff you already know.
When I lived in Germany, one of my favourite fish was Zanderfilet. What I loved even more was that there wasn’t a precise English translation. It was just awesome fish from pristine German fresh water lakes. That’s really all you needed to know. At Zuvine you can also sit outside and dine across from a fabulous church and you might get lucky and see hot air balloons as you munch on your fish.
Once you have a full belly, you can head to Vilniaus and start your bar crawl. I started at Distilerija and had the Smoked Manhattan – the showcase cocktail. It was fine. I am very spoiled when it comes to cocktails so you might think it better than fine. It’s worth checking out just to people watch. It’s definitely young happening Vilnius. I tried to order salmon tartare but it was going to take about an hour so I gave up.
supposedly a very serious cocktail bar, but they were too quiet, so chose the Rhum Room instead. It was mostly a large boisterous birthday party but they gave it a lively vibe. According to my lovely server, it opened in November 2015. She carefully constructed an excellent mojito and was very pleased when I told her it was better than the ones I’d had in Cuba.
I also managed to get some food. The menu was limited but the jerk chicken lollipops and sweet potato fries were excellent.
I also caught a band at Vasaros Tersasa. It’s only open in summer months but there is a big, boisterous courtyard and the cover was only two euros. It felt like you were in real Vilnius rather than Vilnius aspiring to be Brooklyn or London. I ended the night by popping into a crowded pub on the way back to the hotel for a beer since I was in Eastern Europe and you really should drink the local beer. It was the most authentic (and cheapest) experience of the evening, proving there are options at different price points.
So, check out aspiring hipster Vilinius (sans most of the curated facial hair) or revel in authentic Vilnius. Or sample both. Just make sure you go before it’s as packed with tour buses as Prague!