Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vilnius and Lithuania -- NYT article

Here's a nice piece in the NY Times about Jewish Vilnius. A predictable "roots search" piece, but nicely done.

Frugal Traveler blog, July 16 08

In much of Europe, the Old Town is the only town that matters. Centuries-old stone houses, crammed into shoulder-width alleyways that swerve at random and wind uphill toward ancient churches dedicated to forgotten saints — this is, to many of us, what Europe is all about. But Old Towns often give me pause: Will the quaintness mask a lack of vitality? Is it a museum for tourists, or a place where locals live, work and play? And if the Old Town is boring, will the New Town — the less-densely populated, less charming sprawl outside the medieval city walls — be any better?

In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, I needn’t have worried. Its Old Town is easily my favorite in Europe (sorry, Dubrovnik), a vast, fun web of alleys lined with elegant, straight-backed buildings that reminded me of Scandinavia. (Danes, I’m told, see them as very Russian.) Modern-day pilgrims — women sporting severely fashionable bangs, men who’ve mastered geek chic — flock to the 18th-century neo-Classical Vilnius Cathedral in the heart of the Old Town, not to pray but to hang out in the broad piazza. From there, they proceed up glossy Gedimino Prospect or cobblestoned Pilies Street, perhaps ducking under a low, concealed archway to grab a beer or three at one of the innumerable courtyard cafes.

It was in one such cafe that Regina Kopilevich sat across from me last Thursday and asked the question I had been waiting a lifetime to hear. Placing her hand atop the pile of papers in front of her and opening her clear blue eyes extra wide, she leaned forward and said, in slightly accented English, “Would you like to know your name?”

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