We arrive, or should I say return, to Vilnius just as the sun is starting to rise. I spent most of the night nodding off then being shaken awake by some rogue nerve that senses fear then jerks me awake. I am tired, but not yet exhausted and as we weave through the deserted streets to our hostel downtown I begin to feel nauseous. The early-spring Baltic pollen has been seeping into my airways and I begin vomiting up mucus and stomach acid into the brush every ten or fifteen feet. After mapping dozens of cafes, we finally find one that is open before 10 am and we walk in, ordering coffee and what can only be described as fruitcake without the trademark stale-taste that all fruitcakes seem to have. The coffee shop offers a variety of mysterious coffee items with words like “nitro” and “compress,” but the barista seems to understand what my dad is talking about when he orders an “Americano, black.” We sit, eat our cake, and listen as the barista puts a vinyl of experimental German rock on the turntable. Perhaps my mind had softened, or been pickled by some sleepy neurotransmitter, but the German rock is one of the best things I have every heard and my heart crumbles like a fruitcake when I can’t find it on Spotify.
Eventually, we leave the cafe and find our hostel, which is locked. We are let in by a guest/ social media intern for the hostel, who informs us we can put our bags behind the desk, but that we have to wait until the owner gets in at 10 am to check in. This is no problem because the hostel has a large, soft, and clean couch in the lobby. I stow my bag behind the desk, take my shoes off, and quickly fall into a restful pseudo-sleep, which I break a half-hour later.
We walk to the town hall, where we begin the free walking tour of the city. The sun is out and I am elated to be on the last walking tour of the trip, which promises to be indistinguishable from the other Baltic walking tours in a few days’ time. The group is the largest yet, and we are immediately harassed by fellow Americans (from Minnesota of all places). Upon reflection, the most powerful nugget of truth came from our Polish tour guide who said that “the last thing he would do when traveling to another country is take a tour for Polish people, because when I am away from home the last thing I want to do is meet people from Poland.” Truer words have likely never been spoken; when I meet an American my first instinct is often to run. What if they want to talk about how quaint that city is? What if they cling to you and you don’t know how to get rid of them? What if they watch Fox News? Many scary things can happen when you travel, folks, be prepared. If you see an American sports team on a shirt or hat, act like you are Canadian.
We see statues, churches and places where synagogues used to be. We discuss Vilnius’ role as the center of Jewish learning and culture in the 1800s, and talk about Lithuanian culture and tradition. Then, the coolest part of the tour begins. The guide mentions that Vilnius is home to one of the largest and most legitimate micronations: Užupis.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.