Cathedral Tower, Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania

Vilnius, the city of contradictions

Being a tour guide of Vilnius and being obsessed by it I always strive to collect impressions that my city leaves on its visitors. The most common comment is "This is absolutely different than I expected it to be". So far I have not met one single person who was not fascinated by it.

This is a city that delayed Napoleon by two weeks during his invasion of Russia in 1812, spelled doom to his Grande Armee, witnessed the tsar Alexander I rushing away from a ball after being charmed by it's ladies and allegedly saw Peter the Great baptizing the grandfather of the great Russian poet Pushkin.

It is a city with a cultural heritage jealously claimed by Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Belorussians and Jews.

Gates of Dawn street, Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania

Holy Spirit Street, Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania

Despite the huge historical baroque old town it is not a polished museum - like city. Here even the most time - forgotten, sometimes derelict backyards breath life.

One of the most precious things for a tourist in Vilnius is that one does not feel like a tourist and this has underlying reasons in the fact that Vilnius was never truly dominated by a single religion or nationality. Everybody is a foreigner in time here and yet every foreigner is a local.

The main street - Gediminas avenue, had it's name changed 9 times during the last 100 years, depending upon who was in control of the city and yet the tradition of tolerance prevailed.

Over 40 ancient Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches stand as a monument to that. Religion is still an important part of life here but it is not very important what religion it is.

Church of All Saints, Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania

Town Hall, Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania

One more important aspect for visitors is music. Vilnius has a lot to offer - from chanting monks and nuns in a XV th century Russian orthodox monastery, to Te Deum in the XVIII th century Catholic cathedral, an opera and ballet house where tickets costs less than half in its European counterparts and a lot of big and small, but ever - busy concert halls. And of course a wide range of excellent but affordable restaurants to top the evening.

Today Vilnius is a capital of a small nation, but for hundreds of years it was a capital of a state that spanned the continent from the Baltic to the Black sea. The empire is long gone but its spirit is still here.