travel back in time

Sunday 9th January, Vilnius, Lithuania


Another smooth border crossing, another stamp in my passport, another change of currency, and another challenge (or two).

From Warsaw to Vilnius isn't such a long distance- only 400 kilometres or so- but they sure have a knack for turning it into a slow old journey. Poland, it seems, doesn't believe in highways. In fact, the country only has a few hundred kilometres of roads that could be classified as modern highways. I remembered the three guys we'd met on the trin from Krakow to Warsaw. When we met them, they were actually on business. Although each of them had a company car, it was much faster to travel by train, they said- three hours compared to five or more by driving... up to seven hours by bus!

So we boarded an old silver and red bus in Warsaw station yesterday morning, and clattered out of the city onto the narrow, bumpy road that stretched north from the capital. It was soon obvious that the residents of northern Poland had implemented a co-ordinated plan to kill us and our fellow passengers, or at least prevent us from reaching our destination. It seemed that along every stretch of road, and around every corner, soem suicidal maniac lay in wait, and at the first sight of our old bus they would inevitably lurch out in front of us and then slam on the brakes. Failing that, there would always be someone waiting to overtake us on a blind curve, forcing our driver to veer off the road to allow them to cut in front of us. Finally, it was better if I closed my eyes.

in front of Vilnius Cathedral.

Our hosts in Vilnius were actually absent, a little like Berlin and Prague. Are they trying to give us a hint? Vladas, a friend of our hosts met us at the bus station and drove us to our new home- a huge old apartment right in the city centre. Vladas and I had been in touch two years ago, when he helped to run the Hitchhikers Home Base, an internet database of people who offered assistance to hitchhikers. In fact our hosts Andrius and Aura were busy hitching around somewhere in western Europe at that moment. Hitchhiking seems to be an accepted means of travel in Lithuania, and doesn't have such a negative stigma in this part of the world that it has in many western countries.

Vilnius Cathedral

Vladas took us for a wander around the Old Town, and dropped into one of his favourite bars for a dark Lithuanian beer and a snack of yellow peas with pork and garlic, and fried bread with cheese and mayonnaise.

This morning, Maria went out to see the KGB museum. I stayed in the warmth of the flat and caught up with my journal updates. I was to meet up with Maria at 1:00 at a little restaurant we'd seen the night before, but of course I got lost and wandered almost every street in central Vilnius before I bumped into her outside the restaurant, which was mysteriously in closed darkness. Lucky for me, Maria is used to my total lack of direction, and wasn't too angry with me. We found a great little bar and relaxed into a tasy Lithuanian lunch, of course with another couple of tall, dark, foamy Lithuanian beers.

the world's only Frank Zappa memorial!

We moved onto another bar, but neither of us were motivated for a big night out. In fact, the city of Vilnius wasn't having a big night either. We sought out one particular tourist attraction, the world's only memorial to the musician Frank Zappa. By seven o'clock, it seemed that the population were all at home, so... when in Rome, do as the Romans do!