VILNIUS - Walking around Vilnius' Old Town, the blue sign marked Uzupio Respublika never fails to cheer you up, with its incredible quirkiness and optimism.
The sign is actually a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) declaration of independence for this miniscule and picturesque part of the Old Town, which has its very own constitution written out on a bronze plaque for all to see, as well as its own council.
It's little surprise that the republic's Independence Day falls on April 1, and equally little surprise that Uzupis totally goes to town every year to celebrate this special day. There will be all manner of events going on, from parades and concerts to whatever else takes people's fancies. One thing Uzupis' residents definitely don't lack is imagination.
On Independence Day, the main bridges leading into Uzupis are specially decorated and "controlled" by border guards, who happily stamp your passport with an official seal of the republic.
The breakaway "republic" first declared independence in 1993, under the guidance of the Uzupis council, which is located in the Uzupis Cafe near the river. The district is only officially independent once a year, every April 1, although in its wonderful distinctiveness you could say that Uzupis is permanently independent.
The place will be thronged on Independence Day and the atmosphere will be one raucous party, if past occasions are anything to go by.
Uzupis was first mentioned in the 15th century and during Soviet times the quarter became popular with local artists, who put their own indelible stamp on the hilly terrain and made it their home. The district has retained much of its unique character, although it's become an increasingly fashionable place to live in recent years. But it's still good to see that after 11 years of independence the spirit of Uzupis is alive and well.
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