Bagels, bodies, and badly written puzzles – that was the day in a nutshell.
We started our day with breakfast at Beigelių krautuvėlė, a Jewish restaurant run out of the Jewish community center. We had shakshuka and a bagel with fig jam and cream cheese, and they did not disappoint. The bagels were chewy but light – pretty different from a New York bagel. We enjoyed lounging around and waiting out some rain. Then “we” treated “ourselves” to a visit to the yarn store down the street, where a friendly older Lithuanian lady helped Kat pick out some nice yarn.
Tomorrow, we’re doing a food tour with a local guide company. They started the company right before the pandemic, so they haven’t really had to tackle guiding folks from outside Lithuania. One resulting hiccup is that they don’t currently have a way to process a credit card – in Lithuania, these sorts of purchases are handled with digital bank-to-bank transfers. While technically I do have a Lithuanian bank account (cough), actually funding it would have had some complex tax implications. So, instead we agreed to meet up with the director of the tour company today to give her cash. Easy enough – we met up at the old Armory to say hello. She gave us the unlock code for an “orienteering game” they run – more on that in a moment.
Since were near Užupis, we decided to wander through for a second pass. We still came away underwhelmed – maybe the cool art is just extra well hidden, or maybe it’s less of an art district and more of a marketing pastiche. We did get some great ice cream though.
Next, we went down to the Cathedral square to start the “orienteering game”. It’s a web-based puzzle game that takes you on a tour of sights through the city, set in a specific time frame in the 16th century. The puzzles mostly involve typing in numbers you find on placards, however some of them rely on either a serious amount of outside expertise or time spent on Google. As a fan of this type of game, I have … suggestions. Eventually we hit a roadblock with a question that wouldn’t accept our answers no matter what. We’re hoping for a hint tomorrow!
We had a quick lunch (another bagel!) and then went for our main activity for the day – an “extreme” tour of the cathedral catacombs. The tour had all kinds of warnings about the tight and dirty spaces it covered, which sounded right up our alley. Technically it’s only offered in Lithuanian, so we booked a private tour with an outstanding guide – taking folks on this tour is her real passion.
We began with an overview of the history of the cathedral (like so many, built on top of earlier churches and possibly pagan sites). We learned about the structure of the crypts, the tendency of the Soviets to throw any random bones they found in Vilnius under the church, and the unfortunate side effects of mass flooding on underground burial vaults.
Donning hardhats, we entered the water management system that was built to try to keep the crypts dry. This small tunnel runs around the perimeter of the cathedral, with narrow sections, low sections, muddy sections, and mushroom-y sections. There are no big surprises waiting – mostly utility lines and the remnants of various attempts to stabilize the building. But it was a blast to get to explore such a little seen part of the structure.
After the underground tour, we went the other direction, and went to the top of the bell tower, which offers great views and an impressive structure of old timbers. One gets the sense that the health and safety lawyers haven’t taken all these tours yet.
We wrapped the day up with dinner at a Ukranian restaurant, which seemed fitting.