“Ah, my beloved Vilnius, how I miss you.”
That’s how it begins, the first line in my novel, Love Songs of the Revolution. Martynas, your not-so-humble narrator, is in love with his city, even after he is so many years gone from it.
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, the southernmost of the three Baltic nations (the other two are Latvia and Estonia). It’s 115 miles northwest of Minsk in Belarus, 283 miles northeast of Warsaw in Poland. For those of you watching the news these days, it’s 450 miles northwest of Kiev in Ukraine.
Grand Duke Gediminas established the city of Vilnius in the 1300s. While out on a hunting trip, Gediminas dreamt of an iron wolf howling on a hilltop, which a priest interpreted as a call for him to establish a city on the hill. Today, the downtown historic center of Vilnius is officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, for its beautiful mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings.
Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe to convert to Christianity. It’s said that Napoleon called Vilnius the “Jerusalem of the North,” as it was a flourishing center of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe for many years.
It's is one of those cities like Reykjavik or Kinshasa that you’ve never thought of visiting, though you probably should. TripAdvisor says there are at least 165 different things you can see and do, from the "miracle stone" in Cathedral Square to the statue of Frank Zappa in the Užupis district. (Yes, that Frank Zappa.)
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