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Phespirit goes to Lithuania
Vilnius     August 1999

Phespirit makes his first incursion into what was once a part of the old Soviet Union. In Lithuania he finds a country now proudly independent; and in its capital city, Vilnius, he finds a small and colourful old town, oozing charm and character.

On a cool evening after a hot August day, a walk along Pilies Street - running almost the length of the old city from the Cathedral to the UNESCO-listed Town Hall - is ideal for sampling some pastel baroque architecture and browsing the wares of Lithuanian street pedlars. Top of the list is crafted amber ..... it's almost impossible to go anywhere in Vilnius without passing a shop or market stall selling amber.

Whilst prepared to spend his litas on a lump of amber, Phespirit was less keen on the local food. All meals put in front of Phespirit appeared dominated by raw tomatoes, with cold sausage and shredded cabbage always in attendance. Bleugh! So Phespirit sought the safety of western restaurants. In Prie Parlamento (Gedimino 46) he found some dodgy cod and chips, a much-hyped apple crumble (70,000 sold each year), and a pleasant Rioja.

In McDonald's (yes, shameful to say, McDonald's) the uniquely Lithuanian slant came in the form of the Crazy Dix Band rockin' in the foyer. Five lads on trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and drums, going down an absolute storm with the locals. Could it happen in the West? Probably not, but then it is also probably not possible to buy Utenos lager at 32p a bottle in the supermarkets of the West.

The most important site of pilgrimage in Vilnius is not, in fact, McDonald's but the 'Gates of Dawn' - a 17th Century Catholic chapel built above a renaissance gateway in the old city fortifications. Phespirit has never witnessed such devout religious observances anywhere in the world as he saw at this place.

A last word to give a further clue to the character of the people: when the newly elected (current) prime minister of Lithuania - Rolandas Paksas, a professional aviator - commenced his term of office on the 22nd May 1999, he marked the occasion with a daredevil flight in a red turboprop Yak-50 to tremendous cheers from assembled electorate below.

Strange politics - nice country.

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