Monday, December 23, 2013

The Best Playgrounds For Kids In Vilnius Old Town

It has been a long time since I have posted here and it seems that so much has changed. Probably the most important is the renovation of Sereikiškės Park, the Vilnius park near Cathedral Square.

When my son was born four years ago, there was one very pathetic playground for kids in the old town located near Zydu Gatve. Now almost magically, there are several nice playgrounds scattered around the old town but the nicest of all is Bernardinai Garden. In Bernardinai Garden, there are no less than four play areas, for babies, toddlers and for older children. The toys are built on quality mats which will help keep children safe if they fall. The quality of the equipment is very high.Bernardinai Garden features lovely water fountains, one of which dances in time to music during some hours of the day. You can see photos of Bernardinai Garden at this link. If you have been to Bernardinai Garden, please leave a comment with your impressions below. Bravo Vilnius. This is a job well done.

Other Vilnius Old Town Playgrounds for Children are located (click the name below to see a google map image):

* Rudninku square
* Konstantino Sirvydo Square
* S. Moniuškos Square 
Žydų gatvė

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cheap Flights From Vilnius To The Sun?

Vilnius is beautiful in the summer. Usually, summertime in Vilnius is sunny and warm.  The old city comes alive with outdoor cafes, street musicians and festivities everywhere.  But in the winter, the sun seems to abandon this place. It can be cold, dark and dreary for about 5 or 6 months a year. Somewhere around February or March, you start to crave sunlight.

Recently, I contacted some travel agents to inquire about flights to some winter sun destinations such as Tenerife. I was shocked to learn that charter airlines are demanding euro 600 PER PASSENGER!!! A family of 3 has to pay nearly 2,000 euro for flights alone??? Say WHAT?!? Who can afford that?

I do not get it. Ryan Air and Wizz Air compete to fly Lithuanians to virtually the same destinations, including Barcelona, Milan, London, etc. But neither offer an option to escape the long cold icy period. Go to Germany or the UK and there are countless low-cost airlines offering flights to the sun.  From this part of the world, nothing, zip, nada. So, naturally the local charter companies can charge whatever they want. 

When will Ryan Air or Wizz Air offer a low priced flight to a winter destination from Vilnius? My guess is that if they did, those flights would sell out immediately.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Visit To Riga, Latvia

We visited Riga in mid-August 2012 and had a wonderful time.  One of the things that impressed me about Riga was the nightlife. Walking down the street, live music was pouring from the open restaurant windows. In Vilnius, it is unusual to go to a restaurant which features live music. In Riga, it seemed to be everywhere.

There were many opportunities for outdoor entertainment including cafes, outdoor restaurants and parks with play areas. While we visiting, there was an outdoor festival going on featuring a variety of musicians and performers.

We had no problem finding good food. One of the places we really enjoyed was called Ribs & Rock. There are two of them in Riga. We were impressed with the delicious ribs and the quality live music. At the time of our visit, the musicians were a talented guitar trio. We were well entertained and well fed.

The Ribs and Rock  Website says it all:

"Every big city has a place that specializes in the art of BBQ; in Riga, that place is Ribs&Rock restaurant". 

Where is that place in Vilnius? If Ribs and Rock came to Vilnius, I would be the first in line.

My impression of Riga was that it was a much more active city, perhaps a bit too commercial, but a nice change from sleepy, calm little Vilnius. Definitely worth a return visit.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lux Express: Travel The Baltics In Style

Recently, our family visited Riga Latvia for the weekend and discovered a new way to travel the baltics, Lux Express.

In my university days, I traveled by bus because it was cheap. But it was far from comfortable. The bus seats were cramped, the journey was boring and every hour or so, the bus would make a "comfort stop" so the travelers could use the toilet. The bus stop would always be in the worst part of town. I could not imagine using the term "Luxury" and "Bus" in the same sentence.

But Lux Express has changed all of that! Wow, what a way to travel. When you get inside of a Lux Express Bus, you feel that you are sitting in a business class section of an Airbus. No kidding. The seats are large and comfortable with plenty of legroom. There is entertainment console on the back of the seat in front of you, with games, movies, music, etc. You are given headphones so you can listen to whatever you choose. There is open wifi so you can work on your computer. All of the information is available in several languages (I believe it was Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Russian and English). The bus driver was very friendly and "service oriented" and was able to speak a variety of languages.

There is a toilet on board which has the feel of an airplane toilet (a bit cramped, but clean). There is even a hot drink dispenser, giving out free cappuccinos and tea.

When you travel with airplane you have to arrive at the airport an hour early, go through security and after the flight you have to get from the airport to the city. With Lux Express, it is a much easier voyage because you arrive in downtown Riga. The taxi ride to our hotel took about 5 minutes. The seats are much more comfortable and with all of the entertainment on board, the travel time goes very quickly. I am sold on Lux Express and plan to use it exclusively for any voyages between Vilnius and Riga. For more distant journeys, I will probably stick with plane, simply because it is faster. But because there is probably very little time difference in traveling between Riga and Vilnius by airplane and Lux Express, then I would certainly choose Lux Express, because it is a much more comfortable way to go.

So, what did I think about Riga? More about that on a future post.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Best Pizza Restaurants In Vilnius

Vilnius has no shortage of pizza places. But which are the BEST pizza restaurants? Probably like most people, I like to consider myself an expert on Pizza. I have tasted pizza in many places around the world and have even attempted to make my own. The best pizza I have ever eaten was in Northern Italy in a suburb of Milan and perhaps the worst pizza I have ever eaten was in Athens, Greece.  That was more like a soggy cheese sandwich.

Here in Vilnius we have the entire spectrum from good to not so good to really bad. Let's stay positive and focus on the best. Here are my favorite Pizza places.

The two best pizza places in Vilnius:

* Davino's Trattoria on Didžioji 19/2. If you like a crisp crust like I do, ask it to be cooked "well done". If you are looking for a good Pizza in the old town, this is your best bet.

* Vapinao's Restaurant in Europa Mall. What I like here, is that you order the pizza directly from the Chef so you can get your pizza exactly like you ordered it. I have enjoyed several pizzas here and all have been excellent. Further, prices are great and atmosphere is relaxing.  The location in the Europa mall is not ideal and I keep hoping that Vapinao's will open a location in the old town.

Least expensive pizza in Vilnius:

* If you are on a budget looking for the best pizza at the lowest price, try Charlies Pizza. There are two locations in the old town, one on Pilies Street and one on Vokieciu. Now these are not great pizza, but they are not bad, and some of them are really inexpensive, around 5 or 6 litas, or a fraction of the price you will pay at most pizza places.  It is also a very kid friendly restaurant and I come here often with my guy to play and eat. This place is so popular that it can often be difficult to find a seat.

The best non-pizza

Ok, it is not really a pizza but it is good anyway! At the Ida Basar cafe, you can get a "Tart Flambe", which is sort of like a pizza and very tasty.

The best atmosphere in a pizza restaurant.

Pizza Jazz on Vokieciu has a classy feeling for a pizza restaurant, and if you are not too picky about your pizzas you may enjoy listening to Jazz music while dining. If you do not like their pizzas try the ribs. They are usually very good.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pathetic Playgrounds Of Vilnius

Playgrounds for children in Vilnius are, unfortunately, poor quality. There is some improvement underway. The Mayor of Vilnius, Artūras Zuokas, has announced a plan to build and improve over 200 playgrounds in Vilnius.

But it is not just about quantity, it is about quality. As an example, here is one of the playgrounds in the old town of Vilnius, located directly behind the post office on Vokieciu Gatve.

See the graffiti in the background? Here is a close up of that:

By comparison, children's playgrounds in other countries are much better quality. On a recent trip to Stockholm, my son really enjoyed playing in a playground called Parklek Humlegarden. Here is what that looks like:

You can also see Parklek Humlegarden on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

Parklek Humlegarden is located in a public park in the center of Stockholm and has no fees, it is just a normal public playground. But Parklek Humlegarden offers incredible facilities for the fortunate children of Sweden. There are not just the usual swings and slides, but also all kinds of wooden trains, houses, and buildings to climb in and on. In addition, there are tricycles, bicycles, wagons, balls, games and other kinds of entertainment. When the weather is nice, it is packed with children and parents playing and enjoying the park and its facilities.  A park staff is on hand to take care of the playground and the children. When something breaks, a member of the staff attends to it immediately. I was there when one of the slides broke and was considered dangerous, so one of the staff members immediately blocked it off so that the children could not get injured.

We were staying in a Scandic hotel located directly across the street from the park and perhaps a five minute walk from the playground. We asked at the hotel reception if there was a playground nearby and we were told that there was nothing that they knew of. We discovered this playground on our our own by researching the internet. My point? This playground is not considered exceptional in Sweden, so the staff at a nearby hotel was not even aware that it existed. If there were such a park in Vilnius, it would be such a miracle that nearly everyone, and certainly everyone at the local hotels, would know about it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Lovely Courtyard Restaurants Of Vilnius Old Town

Often people ask me why I live in Vilnius.  Of course there are many reasons, but the beauty of the old town is just one. As an example, there is a beautiful old church on Vilniaus Street, called St. Katheryns. At the very foot of the church, there is usually a summer courtyard restaurant

On a beautiful summer day, it is really nice to enjoy a drink at the cafe and watch the world go by:

The peacefulness and beauty of living in an old town is very difficult to describe.