Military Men (Lithuania #1)

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My friends would often inquire, in the past few weeks, “why are you going to Lithuania?”, a tone of lack of any kind of logical understanding dripping from the line. I would respond rather bemused, “Flights were cheap”. Surely enough, that is a great reason for any escapade. Combine the fact that I had never been to Lithuania nor any place near the Baltics, and you have a compelling reason to do anything.

Getting in from the Airport

I had never been in such a bizarre airport. If you have ever traveled in Europe, you know many European train stations tend to have a certain look – large columns and statues and a certain stone grandeur. To the opposite of stations I place airports – glass and steel and a look of modern. Not in Lithuania. The airport looks, in certain parts, like a train station – and not in a bad way, just in a very unexpected way.

There are several ways to get into Vilnius from the airport: bus, train and taxi. Because Kai “doesn’t do public transport” we went for the taxi version, which should cost you about 30 litas (or, if you are lucky enough and enter a taxi where russian music plays on the radio, you will be paying 40).

The city very much reminded me of the post-communist buildings I see in my own home country, many of them in a state of neglect and decay. Fortunately, this was for me the sign of cheap prices, especially compared to London, which I graciously embraced.

We booked our stay at the Congress Hotel, a lovely 4 star twin bedroom with a view of the river, hopefully close enough by foot to anything we would enjoy seeing. Exhausted by waking up at e ungodly hour of 5 am to actually catch the flight, we decided to just roam around and forage for food before taking an afternoon siesta.

The city was in a state of celebration, Gediminas Street (not even 5 minutes from the hotel) being invaded by stalls selling sausages, wool socks, baked goods, nuts, everything one can expect from a proper Eastern European country. It felt oddly familiar; the food was extremely similar to what you would get in a Romanian market, and they were even selling “slanina” (smoked pork fat), one of my favourite things to eat back in the countryside.

As we sat down to eat our ribs of pork and god knows what Kai actually bought, a pair of ladies sit right in front of us at the table and start laughing and talking to us. In Lithuanian. I was, I presume, asked if I speak polish. I do not.

I have always been used to eating the “organic”, fresh products everyone covets now in London. My grandparents all live in the village, so we would always be supplied with amazing eggs, meat, milk, veggies and fruits. A bit shock when moving to London was the fact that everything tasted bland. So you should understand my joy when we buy raspberries that actually smell like raspberries (and I don’t have to pay a gazillion pounds for them). The food – and fruits – was hearty and tasty, and extremely cheap!

Lithuania also seems to be a country of many, many, many churches; of cheap vodkas in plastic cups, and, rather unexpectedly, of a proud military that likes going to parks to show people how to use rocket launchers and machine guns. I assume that last part is due to the fact that Lithuania is about to receive the Presidency of the EU; not that I am complaining, if you know me you know I go gaga for weapons and men in uniforms.

Later in the day we roamed the wet streets (it had rained during our afternoon siesta), a young boy with an accordion playing bits of “Ochi chernye”, adding a wonderful Russian vibe to the dark, lonely streets.

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