Kaunas is Lithuania’s “second city” – and was the capital in the years between the world wars when Lithuania was briefly an independent country, while Vilnius was still controlled by Poland. Kaunas is an easy day trip from Vilnius by train or bus – just over an hour each way by the fastest trains. Besides wanting to see another Lithuanian city besides Vilnius, But the biggest draw for me was to see and photograph the Vytautas the Great Bridge. Because I wanted to photograph it at night, a day trip was not practical in late May with the long days.
The Kaunas train station is a few kilometers from the center of town. I took a mini-bus into town and checked into my hotel, the Amberton Cozy, a small, modest hotel near the center of the old town and the bridge.
My first impression was that Kaunas felt smaller and less obviously interesting than Vilnius. The locals in Kaunas seemed more laid back, more relaxed than those in Vilnius, where people really seemed to dress more formally. Kaunas has nice green areas and there seems to be enough going on, plus it’s easy to get to the “big city” of Vilnius when you want to, so it would probably be a nice place to live.
I visited a small museum, the “Great War Museum.” My primary interest in this museum was to see the airplane wreckage of a failed flight of the Lituanica from New York to Kaunas in 1933; pieces of the doomed plane are displayed in the museum. This flight was one of the longest continuous flights at the time, crossing the Atlantic Ocean but crashed in Germany, just short of Kaunas. (Don’t feel bad – I hadn’t heard of it either before I started reading about Kaunas.)
After heading back to my hotel, I hiked up to the spot across the river from where I’d shoot the Vytautas the Great Bridge at night. I walked across the bridge itself and then up the hill on the south side of the river, where there are steps up to a popular viewpoint. There’s also a funicular, but it’s not a steep walk up (not even sure it was running while I was there). I wasn’t going to wait up there three more hours until dusk, so I hiked back down to my hotel and explored the area by the river some more. It’s kind of a green park and recreation area with a small castle in it (It seemed under some renovation but I didn’t even try to go inside.)
After dinner at an Italian restaurant next to the hotel, I hiked back up to the viewpoint at about 9:30…and waited. Finally, the bridge lights came on just before 10:30, I took my pictures. There were a few people at the viewpoint just enjoying the sunset – just locals. I felt completely safe, other than fears of tripping in the dark with my camera gear. Finally I hiked back down and took pictures by the river as I walked back to the hotel.
Kaunas was pleasant and didn’t feel touristy at all – though Vilnius didn’t exactly feel that touristy either. I’d hesitate to recommend even a day trip to Kaunas unless you have some specific interest in the place or just want to see more of Lithuania than Vilnius. If you have a car, Kaunas might make an easy stop on the way to somewhere else, but by public transportation it’s less convenient as quick stop. I stopped for the night on my way from Vilnius to Šiauliai and it worked out OK.
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