A Travellerspoint blog

Lithuania

University celebrations and calm before the home coming

Although very sad to be back in Europe and the trip definitely winding down, I was delighted to return to Lithuania. Vilnius has long been one of my favourite cities, and whilst it has started to be discovered more and more by backpackers (who more or less without exception have either come direct from Krakow or Warsaw and then heading to Riga and Tallinn, or are going the opposite direction) and stag do's etc, hasn't yet really taken off and been affected in the way that Riga has. Part of that is that Ryanair only fly to Kaunas, an hour away, and with Vilnius airport at capacity and not due expansion for a few years it should stay that way, and at least keep some of the stag-do horrors away.

The weather was beginning to get decent after a few dodgy days in Russia, and I was looking forward to seeing some friends again. With a few people away at summer camp, and others in the middle of exams or in the process of moving so unable to let me crash, i found myself an excellent (if bizarrely full of Aussie's) hostel in the centre and spent a couple of days wandering around happily, catching up with some friends and generally relaxing. Amongst others, I managed to spend some time with wonderful Vaida who i had met on my way through last time, and who after a very tough few weeks was in the middle of her final course commitments and about to finish, with, hopefully a pass from her Thesis presentation, which ends their course and after which they will know straight away whether they had passed or failed everything. Plus a few others who I knew from various places, and one or two commitments which I won't go into, which were necessary but sadly not the most fun.

Even though it isn't all that big, I never manage to have enough time in Vilnius. I think perhaps I just need to move here for a few months, which would be easier. And I can never tire of watching the girls wandering around, as they are almost to a fault all universally stunning.

In the middle of my time in Vilnius, I went to Kaunas for a couple of nights. Vilnius's second city is about 80minutes West of Vilnius, but despite passing through maybe 20times, I'd never managed to stop off for even a couple of hours to see it, and was determined to rectify the situation. Admittedly my timing was bad - the weather changed so that it was mostly wet or rainy, it was right in the middle of end of year (or course) exams so few people were about, and I arrived Sunday with only Monday as a full day there, which with most things being closed meant they were are the worst days possible. Oh well. But I had managed to find myself yet another (as they all have been) great host, in the shape of Ina - of the many Lithuanian girls with an Italian boyfriend - and we had a look around town. I also spent a day walking through the old town, and out to the convent by the lake, which despite the weather was very pleasant, and I'm more than happy to have finally managed to see Kaunas.

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Central Kaunas, the old town, and covent by the lake


Ina also gave me a chunk of Lithuanian music to add to my growing collection of World Music, and introduced me to a hither unto unknown Italian liqueur, which whilst admittedly on the sweet side, had the totally unexpected quality of tasting more or less perfectly like liquid Bakewell Tart. I used to love Bakewell tarts (a kind of English pie/cake, originally from Bakewell in Derbyshire, for the many of you know wondering what the fr1ggin heck Bakewell tart is) and haven't seen or tasted one in many years, so was both stunned and delighted when the realisation of the taste hit me. I also had an extremely strange experience with 3 young-ish girls in a kebab shop (and another Uni celebration) which for your amusement I should probably expand greatly on, but in this case i really won't.

It's just better that way.

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Progress is building new things right next to old buildings; Kaunas by night; art or really bad parking depending on your point of view, and proving just how safe Lithuania is!

Back in Vilnius it was midweek, so the hoards of English speakers there at weekends and the stag-do mob that do exist had all gone, leaving the city much quieter, more relaxed, and mostly composed of Lithuanians. WooHoo! Vai had had her Thesis presentation that morning with excellent results, and thus we celebrated both her graduation and imminent move to London to join her English boyfriend and start a new life there. Later and deliberately, if a bit more randomly, i hooked up with my old Norwegian friend Tina and one of her friends, who had just finished their exams in Trondheim and who had just flown in to start a well deserved summer holiday.

I've said it before, but I wish I could stay longer.

However, I had another semi-commitment to take care of, and so i took the bus to Klaipeda on the coast, and after wandering around for a couple of hours (the old centre is OK, but I've never liked the city in general), went to the port to get the ferry to Karlshamn and my return to Sweden. The ferry was boring, and I had very little of either Litas or Krona so restricted myself mostly to watching the water pass by. It was the calmest ferry I think i have ever been on, with not even a hint of rocking, and if i hadn't known i would never have guessed I was on a boat or moving. I watched Sweden appear the next morning, feeling very strange about my return, even if only a brief one, and after negotiating one slight problem (Karlshamn port is nowhere near Karlshamn, and there is no public transport to it) with the help of a couple of nice Lithuanian lorry drivers, we passed through Sölvesborg and the Swedish rock festival and I was dropped in Kristianstad.

I was finally back.

Why? I'll explain next time.


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Klaipeda central square

Posted by Gelli 05:35 Archived in Lithuania Comments (1)

Vilnius feat. the adventures of Oleg, and a female penguin

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.

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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?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Typical cobbled back street in Vilnius

Posted by Gelli 15:38 Archived in Lithuania Comments (1)

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