July 2-5, 2000
Each of the Baltic state’s capital cities have their own flavor. Vilnius, for one, is a very green city. Trees are all about with amazing churches peeking over all the other buildings with their pink, white, gold and red brick spires.
From my wanderings through the town here, I've found the crumbling plaster/brick buildings that are falling apart have been vacated and are awaiting renovations, but people still use the some of the courtyards to tinker with their cars. There’s a decent amount of small black boxes with wheels (they look like tiny Volvo’s) that were made in Moscow and a few others in Nizhny Novgorod from the “ole” days.
The large somewhat rundown wooden buildings that remind me of what the Old West was like in the USA and the sick & maimed looking toward the gleaming icon on Sunday’s old street could have been something out of the bible.
I took an overnight train into Vilnius and spent my first night in the first hostel in Lithuania trying to join the Hostelling International network. The hostel owner was extremely nice and let me take a nap (it was still before 6am) before worrying about any other details. A Japanese girl there told me, “He is known to never turn anyone away – if there’s no bed, he will make one. And he speaks all languages.”
I mentioned this to him one night and he said this was not true, although I did find him speaking fluent English, Lithuanian, Russian, German, Finish, Polish and Japanese the two days I was there. Aside from the musty smell of a dozen sleeping travelers that haven’t brushed their teeth for a few days, the place was alright and the guests were fantastic while I was there. I went to breakfast with two girls (American & Japanese), then off into the country with a bunch of them, moved into a bigger/cheaper/cleaner place with an Aussie and a French couple and had some great laughs with another Australian, who later came to London (unfortunately, I was too sick to see him during his 24 hours there).
It was such a friendly place, and not far from the train station, that other travellers would drop by for tea. The jolly Irish fellow I met in Estonia that went out to Moscow showed up! It seems every backpacker is making the same route once they make it here. Poland <-> Lithuania <-> Latvia <-> Estonia.
During this time I was looking very much forward to meeting up with friends from back home. We played phone tag leaving messages at hostels for awhile, then we finally met up for a day.
It was great seeing someone who I’ve known for more than just a few days for a change. Long before this trip, I worked and camped with Alek, Yanna & Nick in America. Now I’m in their country.
Not much has changed in the way things look from when they were there apparently, except for the billboards, commercialization and slightly less maintained buildings since privatisation.
I visited an old friend of theirs with them who offered me some beer and I declined at first. I could see the look on his face that reminded me of Russian culture, it’s rude to decline any offers of food or drink. So I changed my mind and he happily handed me a full glass. And another. And another. He was the owner of the Irish pub in the town center and this was the best brew in the country!
I heard a funny story about this about an American girl visiting a Russian family. She heard of this tradition and knew that they would stop offering her drinks when they thought she had her fill. The family was told that where she comes from, it’s OK to say no and she’ll tell you so when she doesn’t want anymore.
She went on getting stumbly drunk with her hosts commenting (in Russian), “she sure does drink a lot!”
The bunch of us headed off to a musical concert in the old university building. While no one else seemed very excited, it was a surprise to me that just 50 feet away from me was the Lithuanian president!
Afterwards we went back to the rented apartment. A big table with cheerful expressions, although I didn’t understand the Russian or Lithuanian it was fun to be there for a little while. After 15 minutes though, I excused myself and played a charades for the rest of the night with the kids (running into the other room for translation from time to time).
Alek and his family, and friends too for that matter, showed me a great time. They are people that have a genuine and classic style that I see a little more of each time we end up on an adventure together, but even while exploring on my own or with some Australians here, it appears that the Lithuanians (and Lithuanian Russians) are a bit more sociable than their Baltic counterparts.