Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hippo in the Baltics - chapter 1 - Lithuania the Intimate

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:49 PM
journey to the first Baltic capital

It's 10 past 2 and we're still havent started boarding yet. The KLM plane from Amsterdam was 20 mins late. Finally at 2:30, they've started calling the row numbers. by 3 we're still havent taken off. The pilot said they couldnt start the engine. Oh no, not again! At 3:30, the pilot announced they'd finally manually started the engine. huh, how else can the engine be started? 'and there's no safety issue' the pilot added. whew!

The flight was accompanied by a Norwegian couple. The hubbie was a skier and lamented not being able to visit Squaw Valley while in the Bay Area. We talked about skiing, snow, and the olympics in Squaw and lillehammer. They were delighted to hear the Hippo's been to Norway and loved the fjords. Coincidence had it that the hubbie was from the Lofotens. When the Hippo proclaimed the islands were her most favorite place in the world, their eyes widen with glee. dont you love Norwegians! We were stuck inside the plane for 20 mins after landing. They couldnt get the door to open. never had any trouble flying KLM before. sigh.

Getting to my next gate at Schiphol required going through passport control. 'what is the purpose of your visit?' the passport control officer asked. eh, layover? gosh, dont they know they're inside the security area? The Air Baltic plane to Vilnius was a 2x2 propeller, tiny tiny but the flight was smooth and very on time. My luggage came out quickly on the carousel and there was no passport control at Vilnius airport. EU to EU I guess. So I got no stamp on my passport to show I've been to Lithuania!

Vilnius

The ride to the hotel was, as always, full of curiosity. Always loved the first ride in a new country. The hotel Congress was situated by the Neris river and my room on the 4th floor faced the river and the bridge. Beautiful view. When I've turned on the TV to EuroNews, I've learned the macaca lost to Vinci in the semis. Quite a shock but a good shock. never happier to see macaca lose. This has promised to be a wonderful trip indeed.

The hotel breakfast proved to be extensive and satisfying. Croissants! smoked salmon! bacon and eggs. pickle herring too of course.

Trakai

The morning was overcast and cloudy. The wind was strong and piercing on the island of Trakai. Long row of souvenir shops, elegant wool jackets! The Trakai castle was a beauty of red bricks, surrounded by the clear waters of the lake Galve. Perfectly maintained, every room stainglass on the walls, tapestries, chandeliers, gorgeous medieval paintings of the duke. Loved this castle. The town Karaites houses were wooden cottages, each with a different color. Well preserved. Very quaint. If not for the fowl weather, would have love to spend more time there wandering around the tiny dirt roads surrounded by houses of a bygone era, a step back in time.

Back to Vilnius in the afternoon, we visited the St Peter and Paul cathedral, not big but every inch adorned in white. not the Hippo's liking.
After the Trakai famous karaite dish, the Kibinai (meat pie - i had the lamb) and a cup of tea (it was so cold), we entered the old city. Probably the most un-old old city I've visited in Europe. narrow cobblestoned lanes yes, in the Jewish Quarter, but otherwise everything renovated and looked bright and brand new. One thing though caught my fancy. Every building with a courtyard!

Vilnius, like its Baltic sister cities, was full of churches. Here they were predominantly catholic. Very pretty churches but nothing too special. St Anne's in particular, was built entirely in red bricks, sight for sore eyes. Today was Vilnius marathon and the runners donned bright color tshirts. The cathedral square was packed with spectators. Dinner was inside the old town, with Vilnius famous potato meat pie for starters, followed by a savory pork dish and of course, their famous apple strudel for dessert. yummy!

back at the hotel, had wanted a cup of tea before bed. There's a kettle resting on the electric plate on the table. however, the power chord was very short and I found no outlet except one in the bathroom. I sure wasnt going to lug the entire electric plate to the bathroom. Reminded me of the hotels in the Stans. Lamps with power plugs that didnt match the outlets. some day these countries will learn to do things right in the hospitality business.


Kaunas

Standing on a small hill across the Nemunas river gazing across to Kaunas, was freezing. I couldnt believe it could be so cold in Sept. The small town of Kaunas was quite pretty with the river running next to it. The tiny castle was again in red bricks. Many catholic churches again. The pedestrian main drag had a few souvenir shops and mainly just restaurants and cafes. Not much to sing about.

On our way to the Latvian border, our bus anti-freeze exploded and all the coolant leaked out. We had to wait 2 hours for another bus. Thus we arrived at the Hill of Crosses just before sunset. This place was Maddening. so many crosses! big and small, wooden and metal, ornate and plain. We could skip this site if you asked me.

Lithuania? Mm, all I saw was Caucasians. No imports. Not many tourists. Small and not very sophisticated capital city but it had an intimate feel to it. The hotel and restaurant services were good, people were friendly. Not my favorite Baltic country tho.

See photos of Lithuania:

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