My first Baltic stop
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Where I stayed
Couch surfed with Lina
The ride from Minsk was a short 3 hour ride on a seated train. Even though it was only three hours, I still slept!
Very close to the train and bus station in Vilnius was my hostel. However, their online prices in Euro's were much lower than their actual prices in Lithuanian currency. I noticed it straight away and made a point to pay in the Euro's I was quoted, although they preferred I paid in their inflated local currency price. What hostel charges for sheets? Now come on. What am I paying for then? A mattress, with some boards underneath? Poor. Very unusual for a hostel to charge for sheets. I asked her if the bed came with anything and she said no, but when I got their (with paid for sheets) there was a pillow and duvet (without cover). I could have easily slept under that.
Vilnius is quaint, pretty, friendly and relaxed. One enters the city through gates, similar to that of York, though the city is much smaller than York. As you walk along the narrow passages, you pass Russian churches, restaurants, plenty of cafes and basketballs! Everywhere there is some reference to basketball. Of course, the European Basketball championships are being held in Lithuania and tonight is the final.
The city is lined with tourists, all photographing some building or scene. I stroll through the city, enjoying the freedom and fresh (yet cool) Vilnius air. Bikes whip past on the pedestrian streets, the pavements are lined with cafe seats and the pavements are also lined with street sellers, selling Russian dolls, Russian fur hats and other Russian gifts. I walk far enough to find the bus stop from where I will catch a bus to meet my host for the night. The bus stop happens to be near the main central square. A terrific square, birds flying around, kids running around, teenagers riding around and adults strolling around. I love these open plan squares.
I continued on, still waiting to hear from my host. She was out of town for the weekend but kindly offered to put me up for one night when she returned to the city on Sunday evening. I crossed the river dividing the city and walked along the otherside towards a famous bridge. There were many people out on afternoon walks, or helping young children ride their bikes. Such peace and beauty all in one place.
I got the nod from my host and headed back to the hostel to grab my gear. Lugging it through the city, I caught my bus and four stops later, there was Lina waiting at her bus stop. We greeted and walked the seven minute walk to her apartment. Lina has just finished her Masters in Clinical Psychology. When I see her room, there is a portion of the room dedicated to studying and she admits to having not touched that space since she graduated. I can hardly blame her. She made me a tea and we sat and chatted for hours. During this time her room mate came and went. Lina is a very friendly individual, very generous, open and warming. We would have a beer in the city before dinner but she made us a small garden salad, with fresh vegetables from her parents garden. I was very excited about this and it tasted great! I told her my mum will be happy!!
On our walk into the city to grab a beer, I ask her about USSR times. She was only about 5 but remembers having to queue for food, with a ration book and also holding blocks of cash. Similar to Germany with hyperinflation after World War I. We walk through the back streets to get to the city, pass old communist style apartment blocks and alongside the small national football stadium.
We found a small place to have a beer and sat outside. During the five minutes we sat outside, two people begged for money, one more asked for cigarettes, and the last one, begged for money, then lost his/her balance, fell on the table and rolled onto the floor. Then kept rolling on the ground. Lina seemed embarrassed, I blame myself, I seem to be a magnet for people asking me for things. We moved inside and discussed at length couchsurfing and some of the interesting stories that go with that term.
We head back to Lina's, grab some more beers from a shop then she makes me some pasta with tomato and again, very delicious. In my mind, it tastes better when cooked for you. Lina is also a great cook and great company. Her boyfriend was keen to meet me after seeing how many places I have visited, but he works for a news desk and every month has to work all of one weekend. Tough, but he can work from home. Lina is busy applying for jobs in the city. She tells me that the population has reduced from 3.6 million to 3.1 million. With Lithuania open to the EU, people can be paid more in say the UK or France so in some respects that may help her with her job hunt. If the hunt is not successful, she may consider doing a PhD.
We stayed up chatting till late and I was grateful that my bus the next day was not till midday. Before I go to bed, Lina offers a shot of some 999 drink. It tasted great and meant I did not move in the night.
In the morning, we made coffee, ate a small cinnamon bun then sadly had to depart for the bus station. I love the people I meet on couchsurfing. So friendly, so welcoming and so helpful. I think it helps that I'm super easy going and I have some pretty good references to back that up.
I was thinking as I left Vilnius. It's a shame that I need a bunch of references and some security checks to trust someone, and vice versa for me. But it's the generation we live in. Hearing Ed and Solange tell me their stories in the 60's when I was in Panama made me think about how far away we are now from that generation.
I had a great time in Vilnius, thanks to Lina. Such a great host and great company, thank you so much.
Next stop, Riga, Latvia.