After a couple of days, i was able to leave Warszawa again, although unfortunately it required having to get up waaay too early to get the train (night tran cancelled, bus ticket office closed the previous evening and leaving at short notce gave me only one option, the only train – with change – of the day). I was so early that I actually even broke my own vow of avoidng western fast food places n order to get a McDonalds breakfast/coffee to set me up for the 10 hour journey.
Oddly, my abiding mental associaton with Warszawa is squeeling tires. There is always the sounds of long skids and squeeling tires (although strangely, never a bang indcating that it hadn’t quite worked) for whch i can’t qute account, but to me seems to just mean “Warsaw”.
Orginally I had planned to stop in Kaunas for a night or two and then Vlnus for 2 on my way North. Unfortunately that idea overlooked one slght issue. I had forgotten just how much I love Vilnus. For assorted reasons I had regrettably dropped Kaunas from the plan and headed straight to Vilnus, still intending to stay just the 2 nights (and i even got my onward ticket), but 5 days later i was still there and only left under duress and due to an increasingly desperate lack of time, if i was gong to make St. Petersburg on tme.
Vilnius Cathedral square, currently undergoing restaoration before the cities upcoming anniversary
Due to the short notice of my arrval, i hadn’t managed to sort out any accomodation, free or otherwise, so ended up n a dodgy place near the staton – wth an evil landlady - I found by chance on arrival n the pssng down rain at 6pm and the info place shut (although t had a TV and Brazl were playng Argentna that very night so not all bad…).
Vlnus has a great feel to it – very relaxed and laid back with an old town at least on a par with many of the Central European hghlghts, cheap to live/stay/eat, stll relatively undiscovered n comparison to most smlar ctes, amazingly friendly people and stunning women. What more could you ask for?
Archway to the Old Town, looking out
On the second day i found myself a better (and cheaper) place to stay, and then checked my mails to dscover that as well as a couple of ‘sorries’, I had also received an offer of a freebie through HC. I tried the number and got a fax machine (impersonating fax machines is not my specialty), but I replied to the mail and left my # anyway, and soon enough received a msg from Vaida, and although i turned down her offer a floor space – partly because I had already pad for the night and partly because she already had a guest – we agreed to meet in the afternoon to take a bit of a tour.
Vaida, a cultural journalist for Lithuanian TV, is definitely one of the most amazing people i have been lucky enough to meet on my trip so far, and we spent a large chunk of the days I was there just walking (and looking for an outdoor shop – my rucksack was fecked and n need of replacement), talking or drinking and bascally enjoyng Vilnus. I got introduced to the Oleg story. Oleg is an Amercan with a Lthuanan father who had come back for summer, and whom a week or so previously Vaida had randomly met and invited to accompany her to HC Summer camp n Riga. He seems to have misled her a little, as she only found out at the border that he was actually only 17, and as such she was illegally aiding a minor to flee the country. Then at camp, Vaida had njured herself the frst nght and had been forced to leave on day 2 leaving Oleg to his own devices, where he somehow ended up n a mental hospital after beng pcked up drunk (and under age), appearing n a Latvian TV show as a warning about the dangers/temptations effecting todays youth, and fnally beng bribed out after 3 days and htching back to Lithuania penniless.
That evening we also met up with another HCer, Juste, who had also subsequently offered me somewhere to stay, and then later on with an Englsh couple from CS, Cas (on placement n Vlnus by, i think, the Royal Academy of Arts) and Simon, who had been unable to have guests, but were more than happy to meet up and show me around that evening. Between them, they (relatively easily) convinced me i should stay one more day, and to stick around for a big HC meet happening that weekend, whilst Juste was more than happy to put me up. The night moved on in its own way as it does – getting scarily serious and deep at one point later on – through different establishments and with people drifting off, before Vaida and I ended up in a pizza place around 4am, notable manly for the fact it was patrolled by serious looking armed guards, whch is a rare occurrence at Pizza hut and non existent in Mario‘s…
Juste, Vaida, Cas and Simon
The following day, after checking out I grabbed breakfast wth Vaida, where also met Oleg himself, and her other guest, a Venezuelan named Raymond (neither of whom could really understand my accent. Bah!), before meeting up with Juste and heading to her place. That afternoon, with the weather good, Juste and I took a trip out to Trakai, about 30km away. Trakai was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th century, and today conssts of a knd of strung out vllage on a peninsula into a large lake, with a large castle on an island in the middle connected by footbridge. It s a great place to just relax and take things easy, which is precisely what we did.
That evening we wandered back to the city and to a HC meetup includng a visitng Kiwi, Spaniard, a couple of Fins and Latvians (one of the Latvians being Maria, the girl who had bribed Oleg out of the looney-asylum), Raymond and Oleg and a good 15+ locals whch turned into a great evening. Juste left early (I wonder if i can find my way home?) not feeling well and down after following the worrying trend of failing an exam within a day or so my showing up. As others all started to drift off, a remaining core of about 7 wandered off to pay our respects to Frank Zappa, who’s statue adorns a small public garden near a church [scarily, 5 of the other hadn’t even heard of Frank before. If you think that’s bad, it gets worse] and then down to a small after party place. It was set up in a really interestng semi basement type of place which looked more like somebodies lounge than a bar or club, although with a few DJs (apparently really bg names n the national scene, but dsgracefully i‘m not as up to date on my Lithuanian DJs as I should be) and so laid back that 2 of our party ended up working behind the bar. And yes, somehow i did find my way back through the concrete suburbs alone as by that time, the trolleybuses were working again, although scarily managed the impressve trck of walkng rght through the central government parliament complex – I only discovered what it was a couple of days later – without even seeing a guard, let alone beng stopped.
Churches in Vilnius
The following day, I again failed to leave, instead gettng conned into dong something so wrong and dangerous that I should have known better. I played football. Another HCer, Gorcha, had invited a load of us to join him and some friends n a park to play football, and somehow i had been talked into it. In the end, i was the only one stupd enough to join in, as we played aganst some random strangers. Great fun, 3 hours and we even won, but despite my stretching, being the most strenuous exercise I had done in probably 2 years, knew i was gong to hurt the following day.
I was quite right. I did. In many places. And I continued to hurt for the subsequent 5 days…
After a quick shower back at Gorcha’s, we rejoned the girls and a couple of others in town (notible manly for Vaida not being overly impressed by my alternately callng her poncho a carpet and rug, my amusement at peoples constant use of the phrase ‘much more better’ and for Juste getting a serous attack of hiccups near the end, which lasted well after we had got home and gone to bed). But as with the Oleg and other stores i had heard in the previous days and from past hosts, that simple thing once again showed what an amazing and powerful thing HC/CS is. Gorcha’s non Englsh speaking parents didn’t bat an eyelid when he brought back a random sweaty foreigner (who wasn’t even his guest at the moment, as Ilona – one of the Latvans - was with the girls elsewhere) to have a shower and instead showed amazing hospitality and went out of their way to force as much food/drink into me as possible. I know many parents who wouldn’t do that to their kids frends who they had known for years, let alone random foreigners who they didn’t even know exist before they walked through the door! Another example s that Juste had been converted to a vegetarian (and in turn, her mother), just because of somebody she had met once through HC. And to me, that’s just scary.
Is it a carpet or a rug? Answers on a postcard...
In fact, the sheer hospitalty (yes, I know that’s what the H stands for) can be one of the clubs/ideas biggest problems – all of the parents etc I had met were so amazingly accomodating and friendly that they sometimes went too far to try and please or ‘mother’ me. Juste’s mother really did try and force food and drink into me at every opportunity, and i felt really awful at having to refuse, smply because i couldn’t eat any more or in cases, even at all. Some people can force extra food down, smply to be polite. In my case, I just throw up, and prior experience has taught me that that is much worse and causes sgnfcantly more problems/embarrassment all around than breechng rules of polteness and etiquete and refusing food to begin with.
Very dodgy pic of Main Street in Vilnius Old Town
For the final day, I didn’t leave. Partly i wanted to keep enjoyng Vilnius and the company of so many great people, Juste and Vaida chief amongst them – I really hope can meet up with them again somewhere on our 3 respective travels, as they are 2 amazing people - and partly because my body smply would not let me. Parts of my body which I didn’t know I had (and bones I hadn’t even previously broken) hurt like heck, together with the more expected places for aches and pains. The day was spent just relaxing and wandering around Vilnius trying to loosen up and just looking. Later on met up with Vaida in a great lttle tea house and talked for a while. All was good – she had discovered that she had been given support by her parents and boss to leave work for 4 months to go on a Journalism course in Denmark as the sole Lithuanian representitve, and also go to the main HC summer camp in France. Juste joined us a while later on and had more good news as she had got a perfect 100% on her English exam (more than the sum total of some years marks for me…) and was going to get a trip to India in autumn to visit relatives. A final trip to Bix bar by the 3 of us that evening uncovered something staggering, or to me at any rate. Do you remember earlier that I said that most of the group at the Zappa statue had never heard of him, and things got worse? It was here. The TVs were showing edited versons of the Live 8 concerts, and i was utterly staggered to learn that not only had neither of them ever heard of the Boomtown Rats, but nether had heard of Midge Ure, Bob Geldoff and most scarily, Band Aid/Live Aid. I know that it was 20 years ago, but i was stunned that neither had ever heard of it (even though it would have been n Soviet times), let alone knew anything about it. And the only thing scarier I had come across in Vilnius was the discovery that HC can turn members mothers into Vegetarians…
Typical cobbled back street in Vilnius