15 April 2010

Lithuania and Latvia (no time for Estonia)

After a nine hour train journey, we arrived in Vilnius on the evening of Sunday the 11th.  We’d set out that morning at 7:25 from Warsaw Central.  In preparation, we’d got supplies the previous evening for the journey.  I managed to pick up the following beer, which I had as the train set off (as it was just out of the fridge of the hostel, I didn’t want to chance it getting any warmer):

Strong Irish Style Stout.  It was strong, 8.1%, but a stout?  Poland doesn't seem to know the meaning of it.  I managed to polish (no pun intended) it off regardless.  Just about.

We got talking briefly to a couple from Poland (well, just the lady, as her husband didn’t speak any English).  She told us that they had just got back from Katyn the night before, where they’d been waiting for the president to arrive for the memorial ceremony.  It was a sombre few moments as she told us about it, and how they were waiting around wondering where the dignitaries were.

Shortly afterwards we had to move to another part of the train, as it splits to go in different directions.  We sat in a cabin with just one lady in it.  Audrey being Audrey eventually got talking with her.  Her name was Maria, and she had been an English language lecturer at Vilnius University, but was now working in Warsaw, commuting a couple of times a month.

Maria proved to be very interesting and informative about Lithuanian history and culture.  (Including fascinating info, such as we were passing through her actual village on the way to Vilnius that she had been born on the day the Nazis were driven from her village by the advancing Red Army).

She gave us her card, and we agreed to meet the next day at 12 in the centre of Vilnius.  What we ended up getting was an amazing tour of the University (getting into bits only an ex-lecturer can get you into), plus a number of other pieces of the old town.  This was followed by a walk out into the Polish part, following by Stalinist-era Vilnius, and finally being invited to her apartment in the “re-inforced concrete” (post Stalin era) blocks towards the outskirts of town.

There we had coffee, ice-cream and jaffa cakes along with a continuation of our discussions on all aspects of Lithuania and her experiences.  The apartment blocks were as you might imagine them, rather dull and somewhat run-down, but the area of town was on the edge of a forest, and would be quite green once spring kicked into action properly.  Hers seemed to be partially run-down, partially refurbished, and had all the hallmarks of a woman of her age.  Side-boards with lots of crockery, tables decked with table cloths and doilies etc.  And best of all, an old record player, with a huge communist era amp (not sure if that what it was back then).  But there was also the vestiges of modern life, a new looking dell pc hooked up to the internet.

The next day we got up, and had a quick walk around town before departing for Riga, on the most comfortable bus I’ve ever been on, the complete opposite of what I’d expected.  We hadn’t seen that much of the known Vilnius, but we’d got to see so much more thanks to Maria, and those other things are an excuse to come back.

The hostel we had booked in Riga was called Friendly Fun Franks.  Crap name, but it’s the best hostel I’ve been in yet, everything was great, from the free beer on arrival and being given a quick run-down of things to do in Riga to the free walking tours and the hot ladies working there   J   You could also go off shooting AK-47s, which is something we hadn't expected to see until SE-Asia.

I loved Riga, will definitely be back, and it’s currently the front runner for my brother’s stag party which I’ll be organising with him when he picks a date.  The beer and food was great, and there was loads of stuff to do, both touristy and fun (not that they are mutually exclusive).

A few things I’ve noticed:

  1. It was great to be back in countries that have banned smoking, Poland was terrible, every time we went out for a drink our clothes we stinking.  Germany was nearly as bad, despite having a smoking ban which most places contravene by pretending to be a “private club”.
  2. Vilnius was full of Audi 80s, it seemed like a retirement home for them (quite a few had German stickers advertising the original showroom where it was bought).  I’ve a penchant for these cars, since my Audi convertible at home is based on that model, didn’t see a single soft-top though.
  3. Toilets in the bus station in Vilnius gave me an indicator of things to come.  All the male cubicals were all squat toilets.  Luckily, I only needed the pissoir.  I still haven’t grasped the idea of not sitting on the toilet, and as some of you know, reading material is something I always have with me.  Can’t imagine reading while trying to keep balance like that.  I noticed that the disabled ones had a normal toilet, and, as cheeky as it may sound, perhaps they could be my saviour...
  4. Beer in the Baltics was brilliant.

We got the night-train out of Riga at 7:30pm yesterday evening.


Maguire said...

I'm following regularly amigo - love it!!

Need to know thou, how's that beard coming along???? It was looking good at the start...

Unknown said...

This was a much better blog. You are getting good at it. Small silly details are the key, although you should specify your reading material for the bog.

We met an old lady like your Baltic Maria when we stayed in a B and B in Gort, county Galway. Her name was Mrs. (twenty) Marlborough and she kept disappearing behind her bookcase and returning again. We're still not sure if we actually stayed there. I think she might have been a ghost.
Good luck in Russia.

Got our attic done last week. Jeremiah and Uncle Lenonard performed heroics as did cousin Dermot, who can eat no less than eight scoops of potatoes and two pieces of fish for his dinner. Some eating feating.

Only four week till new baby.

By the way, would you fancy doing a beer blog for the Star Sunday. Small rating for a particular beer. Might mention it in work. Saying as you will get so many in the next few months. We could collaborate on it, use what you've written so far and use your pics.


Anonymous said...

Good job I've already been to Riga as I'm not getting an invite to the stag I assume!

Ray said...

Looks pretty awesome man, hows you and Audrey finding the food the further east you go?

Niall said...

That Maria looks a litle crazy, i'd run a mile from her, or at least get to the other end of the train, whichever is longer! She reminds me of the woman we did a bit of work for in upstate New York, she lived in an apartment block cluttered with shite for 60 years of single life. We had to seal every single crack, crevice, skirting board, door frame etc with silicon as she claimed the guy next door was blowing smoke through the walls to her apartment! We even visited the guy next door, not even a whiff of smoke in his apartment, he said he hadnt smoked for 2 years!The old lady tried to make us feel at home by playing the Wolfetones which was nice lol.

Niall said...

PS many lada's about? Does it feel like Swatragh circa 1990 back in the pre-all Ireland champions era?

King prawn said...

That's some good blogging, keep it up. Maria was a brilliant find, well done to you Shoe Shine Tam. Will she be visiting you guys in Ireland when your back?
Well the Romans moved out peacefully. Now I have the the new guys in who just told me that they cant pay the rent until next month!! Goddamit!