Lithuania and Latvia

Recreation center, around Vilnius

I visit Eastern Poland quite often with my family. This time my dad thought of visiting his cousin which he haven’t seen for about forty years. That’s pretty long period of time, isn’t it? Mati, a friend of mine, joins us and we set off for the trip to Lithuania. Sometime before I got to know a Latvian girl named Linda through the service. I gives me an idea. A few e-mails later we decide to meet up in Riga. Seems to be an interesting trip. We will visit the frontier areas of Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. Well, let’s move on the road!

Labas Rytas Lietuva!

Cliff on the Niemen River

We cross the border. Good morning Lithuania! First impression – roads are much better quality than those in Poland. Major part of the road to Vilnius is a very well maintained two-lane highway. At some point the standard is getting worse, but still not so bad. Our attention is attracted to some random roadside stop with a wonderful view.

I see a cliff on the turn of Niemen river surrounded by tall trees. This is truly an amazing view. Nature is unpolluted by human activity. In this place there is a cozy restaurant. We sit comfortably on the terrace to enjoy the fresh air in this pleasant summer afternoon. I have a tasty fish and a cold beer.

Later in the afternoon we reach the town Skaidiskės located southeast of Vilnius. It is an intensive search to find the allegedly right address within lots of blocks of flats spread across  huge area. The houses are arranged randomly in such a way that No. 3 is right next to No. 46 and No. 15. The family meeting starts a bit awkward, may it be like that after forty years, however it instantly turns up and whole evening becomes very enjoyable. We hear stories about life in Lithuania, connections with Poland, their  traditions and custom. We have a very popular in these region not pasteurized beer and Starka, a local specialty, the color of whiskey alcohol. Tastes sensational with coke.

Panorama of Vilnius

The next morning we visit the immediate surroundings of Vilnius. The first thing to see is a newly built set of buildings of historic mansion resembling a tiny kingdom. All the houses carefully finished, accompanied by a wide range of different objects; carousels, bridges, waterfalls, streams and scenic points.

We head towards Vilnius. The first pleasant surprise. The very first church we visit serves a mass in Polish. The language is very popular in Lithuania and it is often heard in the streets. I ascend to  the fourteenth century tower to see the entire panorama of the city. There is also a knights museum up here. Vilnius is a very vibrant developing city. You see a big influx of investments, plenty construction sites and nice parts of the urban landscape.

Most of the buildings despite quite an old age are very well maintained. The city is surrounded by an increasingly positive image. Vilnius has a lot of monuments, churches and chapels; thus too many tourists.

Lithuania is linguistically very different from other Eastern Europe’s countries. Their language is completely unrelated to both Russian and English so it is incomprehensible for most of the Europeans. Just to make things easier I learn some basic phrases. Labas Rytas means good morning, visa gero for goodbye and du alus for two beers. In the evening we play backgammon with Lithuanian friends, talk, laugh and take delight in the warm summer evening .

I Svei Kata, namely ‘Cheers’

Riga and the best events on the Baltic

Once in Riga we instantly find babushka offering us cheap accommodation.  We live in the city center, basically we can walk everywhere from here. Our hostel hosts lots of the people from all parts of the world. Soon we are ready to head out towards the city. Thinking of an easy place, we decide to meet Linda and her friend at the stylishly finished train station. This object seems to be the city pride, also a frequent meeting place. The girls show us an interesting way around the city. Slightly tired we reach nice bar John Lemon. Linda’s friend works here so we are in no hurry. The bartender recommends us to go to Pulkvedim, which is located across the street. The next day Linda leaves for a one week camp, so there will be no more opportunity to meet.

The event at the Pulkvedim club

Something drew my attention right from the beginning. Latvian girls are shapely, pretty and smiling. Moreover, it’s quite easy to make a casual acquaintance. Just as easy as in the daytime on the street. At this stage of tourism expansion the capital of Latvia does not see too many foreigners. By far not such a hordes of party tourists as in Prague. Latvians hadn’t had time to get bored by the presence of visitors and their curiosity. Very friendly people. Every time I mention Poland it brings a positive response.

On the street get a leaflet informing about the event in the club Nautilus. We ask pretty looking girl standing in front of the store if she knows where the place is. She answers, I will show you, but we have to wait for my friend. A few minutes later her friend comes up. Two girls show us the way to the club. It turns out that the place is still closed. Therefore the Latvian girls suggest to have a pizza and ice cream dessert together; so we did. The event in Nautilus starts. The premises interior looks like a big pirate ship. So we stay till the end; right after we visit the only open bar in the city. We meet several people over there, including Elliott, an English guy, who spent the last six months surfing in Australia who consistently argues his case for repeatedly shouting out loud ‘Australia is the future!’.

The forgotten golden city

Freedom monument in Riga

We take a trip to Ventspils. The initial plan assumes to stay there for at least a few days. On the spot, it turns out that the city is sparsely populated. Though it is very neat, clean, renovated and perfectly prepared for visitors. I have no idea why, it is impossible to meet anyone on the street. Walk around the city itself is quite an experience. Ventspils is a very rich port city, whose the wealth comes from the maritime trade with Russia and other countries. You can see a substantial financial expenditure for each smallest detail of visible parts of the city. Streets are aesthetic and neat with a bit of original decoration ideas, such as the cow statuette hanging down from street lamps. Lawns are meticulously trimmed, evenly colored with flowers. Statues, sculptures and monuments are here there and everywhere, all of them quite original. Promenade by the sea reaches the port, all way down is paved. This is by far the most neat city I’ve ever been to.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, do not speaks English. I assure this is not an exaggeration. Residents do not even understand the word ‘camping’. After considerable effort we are able to get a room in a student dormitory. The building, like the rest of the city is also deserted. This time a meet several people during the walk. We ask them about a place to eat. It comes out to be a lavishly expensive-looking restaurant, the only one open at this time. It turns out that the restaurant prices are very cheap. Affordable style and class is a Ventspils profile.

Just before our bus leaves we order a beer in the bar at the bus station. The conversation looks like this. Mati says: ‘two light beers from freezer, please’. The saleswoman says ‘Sure’ and she pours us two ale beers. This is a last funny thing to happen in Ventspils, so we go back to Riga. A bus stop after having a beer could be necessary. I talk to the driver who hardly understands what I mean. I manage to convey the message finally, as a few minutes later we make a short stop in the middle of a field, right in the hole of a place. A bus full of passengers is waiting patiently. A big plus for the kindness of Latvian drivers.

Enchanted by Riga

Jurmala is a town situated on the Baltic coast, slightly north of Riga. There is a modern Aqua Park. The main temptations are super fast slides with timing exit and a water bar with bubbles. It is hard not to hard have fun here.

One of the many cosy streets in Riga

Every hour in the evening gives Riga more and more charm and energy. Center is quite packed together, but thanks to that almost all of interesting places are within a short walk. People actively spend time in the city center. They keep going from bars to cafes, from restaurants to clubs and from one place to another. Riga engrosses completely, causing us to lose the sense of time. It is one of those places where you can easily spend a lot of time. Initially I planned to visit Estionia during the trip, however we agreed that Tallinn and Estonia can wait.

A few interesting facts

  • Lithuania is a country with a particularly rich cuisine. We have small dumplings stuffed with raw meat stuffing cooked in a soup and zeppelins, fluffy potato dumplings stuff with meat
  • lucky enough you be given a special plate of treats in some bars in addition to beer, which I found far better than Spanish tapas. Typically this would be a heavy dark bread slices with a garlic spread, various types of cheese, raw sausages, and my favorite, smoked and fried pig ears cut into small slices, an indispensable element. Yummy!
  • Riga has a different vibes than Prague and other tourist cities. Here you can easily mix into the background
  • most of the words in Lithuanian and Latvian end with the letter-s
  • short-haul trains in Latvia do not have toilets, which one time I unfortunately had to find out
  • there is no chance to drink more alcohol than the Russians do
  • in both countries prices are a little lower, but in general comparable to the Polish

August 2004