VILNIUS - Few would describe me as the conventional tourist. Not once have I bought a tour guide, I'm seldom aware of the historical sites I undoubtedly wander through - although breathtaken by my surroundings nonetheless - I eat in the most anonymous cafes, most of which are actually registered under the name "Cafe," I wouldn't consider buying tickets to a show and I never, hardly ever go shopping. In fact, I'm the only person I know whose suitcase is usually lighter when returning home.
But my recent weekend getaway to Vilnius was different, and I can only blame Hollywood.
On my second night in town, two dear friends and I decided to see a movie. The list playing at Coca-Cola Plaza that weekend was torturous. It came down to "Ant Bully" and "The Devil Wears Prada." We chose the latter.
All I can say is that I'd never been exposed to so much fashion fla-la-la in my life. Although my native language is English, subtitles would have served me well as the designer dialogue was beyond me. I left the cinema vowing to never betray my lovely mainstream brand wardrobe. Little did I know, I had been brainwashed.
The next morning, I pulled on a musty smelling sweater (for the second day running) and jeans, stuffed my tangled hair into a plastic clip and marched, bleary eyed, out the door looking for coffee.
Since the flat my boyfriend and I were renting was just north of Gedimino Avenue, Vilnius' main area for shopping, this was the first street I fell onto. And that's when I realized, Hollywood had hypnotized me.
Everywhere I looked, I saw fashion.
I've lasted my entire adult life walking past department store windows, impervious to their beckoning glow. And here I was on Gedimino, eyes lingering on gorgeous satin shirts, leather boots, silver-buckled belts and plaid autumn-line jackets, my fingertips suddenly tingling with the desire to spend.
Before I knew it, I had popped into every department store on Gedimino, was already wearing three new accessories 's price tags still attached 's and had shopping bags dangling from every appendage. To make matters worse, I kept seeing Meryl Streep's pretentious nod every time I tried something on "that worked." I even stopped at Double Coffee for a non-fat latte - never done that before.
As a pathologically rational person who craves an explanation for every uncharacteristic decision I make, my unprecedented shopping blitz could only be explained by two things: 1) I was brainwashed by "The Devil Wears Prada" (I place the blame on Hollywood) 2) Gedimino Avenue is tragically well-designed for shopping.
My second conclusion, I later realized, is actually quite credible. According to the international real estate company Cushman & Wakefield Healey & Baker, Gedimino Avenue is ranked number 38 of the world's 44 most expensive retail locations.
Grand Duke Palace is the Macy's of Gedimino Avenue, that is before Marks and Spencer opens its doors this winter. The tower of capitalism boasts almost every Western brand name in Europe 's Diesel, BGM, Alla Moda, Quicksilver, Karen Millen, Pietro Filipi and more. The floors are waxed, the windows are spotless, and the escalators are as chic as they come. Plus, there's a fancy new Pizza Jazz 's one of the trendiest restaurant chains in Vilnius 's on the shopping center's first floor.
After spending some 400 litas (116 euros) in Grand Duke Palace, plus another 60 litas at the Zara a couple blocks down, I came face to face with an old Gedimino friend - Flagman Shopping Center.
Staring at the department store's rotating doors, I remembered how five years ago, caught in a sudden Baltic snowstorm, I had dashed into Flagman to buy a wool hat. For memory's sake, I decided to look inside.
Flagman is the antithesis of highbrow shopping. The three-story mall is as basic and drab as they come. The place still resonates with its early '90s "One day I'll be a famous Lithuanian shopping center" dream, which was almost realized when Terranova, Adidas and Seppala opened their doors a couple years ago. But if it weren't for this trio, Triumph underwear would be the mall's only recognizable name.
Truthfully, Flagman is the black sheep of Gedimino's glossy line of department stores. Besides the first floor, the place is made up mostly of clothing and accessory kiosks that close promptly at 8 p.m. behind pull-down cage doors. The droning echo of Russian-language radio and the cashiers' flaccid expressions may kill your shopping high with a wave of melancholy, but at least the truth is transparent.
As one of Gedimino's first shopping centers, Flagman struck a chord of nostalgia in my heart for that early '90s Lithuania. But more importantly, it snapped me out of my Anne Hathaway designer-obsessed hypnosis.
Thank you Flagman, you gave me back my soul.