A Travellerspoint blog

June 2018

Travel Tips - Lithuania

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Aušros vartai (Gate of Dawn - at Sunset)

Aušros vartai (Gate of Dawn - at Sunset)

Right then, how about the nuts and bolts of that trip to Lithuania.

My flights were with SAS - Edinburgh to Vilnius via Copenhagen, and the return flight was via Stockholm. The cost was £190, booked a couple of months in advance, and the price included a 23kg checked in bag. The flight from Copenhagen to Vilnius was about 30 minutes late and either the airport or SAS was very poor in communicating about it, but we got there in the end. Apart from that everything was on time and very good value.

EDI Boarding

EDI Boarding

I had looked at Ryanair’s Edinburgh to Kaunas service, but by the time you add Ryanair’s extras (like a checked in bag) and the cost of getting from Kaunas to Vilnius, the price was almost the same. The time involved in getting from Kaunas to Vilnius meant the SAS option was quicker too.

Stylish

Stylish

I had an Airbnb apartment in Vilnius, for £26 per night - which included a discount for staying more than a week. It was excellent. Almost just what I was looking for. It is in the Naujamiestis area - New Town - close to where I stayed on my last visit. It was a comfortable and relaxing base.

Soviet Exterior

Soviet Exterior

It is an easy (25 minutes) walk to the railway station and on the right side of the city for the airport - less than €5 in a taxi from the city. It was much more in an airport taxi at midnight when I arrived - €15 I think - but it would be easy to arrange a cheaper taxi by booking one in advance. Ideally the apartment would have been a bit closer to shops. The nearest mini-market was a 10 minute walk. On the other hand, takeaway pizza (for example) was only 400m away.

In Klaipeda I stayed at the Memel Hotel, just on the edge of the Old Town. It was €70 per night in a spacious twin room (for single occupancy), including a buffet breakfast. I was very happy with it. The room was great, the staff were friendly and helpful, the breakfast was delicious, and the location was perfect.

Memel Welcome

Memel Welcome

I rented a car in Klaipeda from Solorent. It was €55 for 24 hours, including fully comprehensive insurance. They have a cheaper offer if you’re willing to take a chance on a €450 excess. They also have a base at Vilnius Airport, and a few other places. I was upgraded to a Toyota Corolla automatic (from a Yaris) and an upgrade always makes new friends (often at no cost to the company). Their Klaipeda base is at the Toyota dealership just outside the city centre - a 25 minute walk or 5 minutes in a taxi. The person I dealt with was friendly and helpful, and his English was excellent.

Solorent's Best

Solorent's Best

Trains? The services I used were excellent.

Between Vilnius and Kaunas the service runs virtually every hour during the day. Certainly the slower trains stop a lot, but the express ones only once. Journey times vary between 1:06 and 1:40. The trains themselves are modern and comfortable - better than the equivalent in the UK and on a par with Germany. It’s €4.80 each way on the slower off-peak trains.

Comfort

Comfort

On the Vilnius - Klaipeda service I spoiled myself and went 1st class. Most days they run 4 trains in each direction. Journey times are between 3:47 and 4:18. Again the trains were modern and comfortable. My fares were €22.10 and €25 respectively, and that included a sandwich, coffee/tea and water. In 2nd class it would have been €14.50 or €17.40 (no sandwich, obviously).

Those fares were for tickets bought on the day. I’m not sure if you can get a discount by booking in advance. You can buy tickets online, which saves dealing with things at the ticket office. I never had to wait in a queue, and the staff were always helpful, but didn’t speak much English. My Lithuanian is less than their English of course.

Posted by IainT 12:31 Archived in Lithuania Tagged planes trains transport flights denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania airlines kaunas klaipeda Comments (0)

Nida

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Baltic

Baltic

One part of Lithuania which had been on my wish list for a visit for 20+ years was Nida and the Kuršių nerija (Curonian Spit).

Nida House

Nida House

It is a 5 minute crossing by ferry from Klaipėda to Smiltynė on the other side of the Curonian Lagoon. Then I drove south heading for Nida, a 47 km trip along the Curonian Spit. It is just a long (98km), narrow sand dune, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its southern part is across the border in Russia. Nida is 4km from the border.

The Dune

The Dune

It was a very relaxing place to spend half a day. Sun. Sea. Sand. Lunch.

Lunch, Nida

Lunch, Nida

One highlight among many was climbing the Parnidis dune, which rises to 52m above sea level. They’ve build a walkway and steps so that you can get to the top without disturbing the very fragile environment.

That Dune, Again

That Dune, Again

Nida is a laid back fishing village turned into a summer resort, but largely undeveloped.

During the Soviet era the Spit was virtually off limits to ordinary citizens. After some Lithuanians escaped to Gotland in an inflatable dinghy, you needed permission from the KGB to pay a visit.

It is not easy to express how beautiful the Curonian Spit is. Pine trees. Sand dunes. Sea. Sun. It was like some kind of fantasy driving through it for mile after mile.

Tight Fit

Tight Fit

The ferry cost me €12.30 return (1 car with 1 passenger) and you pay on the Klaipėda side. The ferries run every 20 minutes during the day, but it is a 24 hour service with hourly crossings during the night. You also have to pay €5 to take your car into the Kuršių nerijos nacionalinis parkas (the national park which takes up much of the Lithuanian side).

Border Ahead

Border Ahead

The regulations about crossing the border into the Russian side should be checked carefully if that is part of your plan. My brief homework on the subject revealed very quickly that obtaining a visa would be a tiresome and expensive project.

Posted by IainT 13:46 Archived in Lithuania Tagged beaches ferries lithuania nida klaipeda Comments (0)

Klaipėda

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Recovery Time

Recovery Time

Part of my Lithuania visit involved a complete change of scene. I took the 16:45 train from Vilnius to Klaipėda. It’s on the Baltic coast, 3 hours 45 minutes away. The train was modern, fast and comfortable, but not high speed.

I saw more trees in those 3.75 hours than I’d see in a month in Scotland, but nothing you could call a hill.

Trees, Trees, Trees

Trees, Trees, Trees

Railways in this part of the world were built (mostly) under the Russian Empire, and treated St Petersburg or Moscow as the centre of the network. Russian gauge too, so wider and much more spacious than a British train.

Railway Station Clocktower

Railway Station Clocktower

Having said that, the city’s route into independent Lithuania in the 1920s was via the German Empire rather than the Russian one. Long story, as usual.

I had two nights “away” to see Klaipėda itself (the country’s port and 3rd city) and a bit of the coast. In all my many visits to Lithuania I had never made it to Klaipėda is spite of doing a pile of work in 1998 for LISCO - the state shipping company - which was based there. My colleague Ramunė did the traveling.

Meridianas

Meridianas

It was fascinating. The look and feel of the city is different again to that of Kaunas or Vilnius. It was only when I got on the train back to the capital that I realised a couple of things. First, everyone I came into contact with was friendly and helpful. Everyone.

Atgimimo aikštė

Atgimimo aikštė

Secondly, the quality of all the services I used was top quality. All of them. Hotel. Restaurants. Car rental. The ferry company. Even the petrol station where I struggled with the automatic pump - the checkout operator came out and “coached” me.

So, in no particular order a big thank you to Solorent, the Memel Hotel, Lietuvos Geležinkiliai, Forto Dvaras.

Forto Dvaras is a chain of traditional style Lithuanian restaurants. It is a good way to dip your toe in the water, and they have “international” food as well. In the Klaipėda one they have specialities of that region too.

Teatro aikštė

Teatro aikštė

Whilst I wanted to see Klaipėda, and I liked what I saw, it was also my gateway to Nida. More on that later.

Posted by IainT 06:24 Archived in Lithuania Tagged trains ferries transport vilnius lithuania klaipeda Comments (0)

Melnikaitė

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You Know Who

You Know Who

Well, that was interesting. 



On Tuesday Ramunė wanted to take me to see Grūto Parkas, near Druskininkai, about 100km southwest of Vilnius, close to the border with Belarus. 

It is a museum and sculpture park hosting relics of Lithuania's Soviet era.

Vladimir Ilyich

Vladimir Ilyich

This surprised me, because in the past she has never spoken much about the first half of her life as a citizen of the USSR. 

I was even more surprised when we got there. She talked non stop telling me about various aspects of it. Fascinating.



Stuff like at high school everyone having to pass a test to take apart and re-assemble a Kalashnikov. Boys had to do it blindfold in 60 seconds. Girls had 90 seconds and didn't have to be blindfolded. 



Collective Farm Leader

Collective Farm Leader

When the Moscow Olympics took place in 1980, thousands of "undesirables" were expelled from the city and relocated to the 3 Baltic States. Whole housing schemes were built. Of course the people were Russian and not Lithuanian. 



Melnikaitė

Melnikaitė

Among the sculptures, the three of Marytė Melnikaitė drew Ramunė’s attention in particular. She's the only Lithuanian woman to have been awarded Hero of the Soviet Union. She was shot by the Nazis in 1943 (aged 20) after being captured in Nazi occupied Lithuania while operating as a Soviet resistance fighter.    

She became a cult figure with a film and opera made about her. Ramunė's ex husband's grandmother was her best friend in the resistance.

The park is certainly about more than sculptures and the kvass tanker drew my attention, reminding me of my schoolboy trip to the USSR in 1968. Even better, the park’s cafe even sells it’s own homemade kvass. Nectar... When we visited Moscow and Leningrad the kvass mini tankers were on every other street corner. 1 kopek a glass, if I remember right.

The Grūto Parkas trip was a little bit far taking account of the limited time we had, and it would have been better if we could have gone into Druskininkai as well. However, it was 7pm by the time we’d seen the park.

Posted by IainT 12:46 Archived in Lithuania Tagged lithuania druskininkai Comments (0)

Rūta and Ramunė

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The Ladies

The Ladies

Vilnius was like a second home to me for a few years during the 1990s, to the point where I had an apartment to stay in when I was here rather than using hotels. How much of the expat lifestyle people eschew in favour of living as a local is always a personal choice, and depends on circumstances as well.

In my case the choice was limited, as I would be working all week and then heading off back to the family in Scotland on Friday or Saturday. Only very rarely could I participate in Lithuanian weekends. Partly for this reason the past weekend has had extra interest for me, and Sunday in particular. I spent most of it with Ramunė who was a work colleague in the 90s and became a friend as well.

Her plan for the day was to go to visit Rūta who is the mother of one of her friends. Rūta lost her husband recently, and the friend lives in Munich so she can’t visit as often as she’d like.

Rūta lives near Molėtai, 60km north of the city, and has a holiday home business on Lake Bebrusai.

Easy Drive

Easy Drive

We spent the afternoon sitting admiring the lake, swimming in it, and eating. Well, I did the eating and they talked. Lithuania is a country of lakes and forests, and we were in one of the most beautiful parts.

Nature

Nature

Vilnius almost emptied over the weekend as the locals disappeared into the countryside to enjoy nature and the good weather - to their summer cottages, to visit friends or family at their summer cottages, to go camping or just for a day trip. Fortunately the population is small relative to the size of the country, so apart from a few hotspots (Trakai, for example) it is easy to find quiet places.

Trakai

Trakai

I was impressed with Rūta’s holidays homes - we got to use an empty one to change for swimming - although I have not yet investigated prices. I would certainly think about a week there for next year’s summer holiday.

Attractive

Attractive

My day out had lots of highlights. The swims. The scenery. An insight into a Lithuanian summer Sunday afternoon. The smoked ham. The home made bread. The weather. The special calm you only get when you’re in the middle of a forest.

Peaceful

Peaceful

Another was the look of delight on Rūta’s face when I thanked her for her hospitality in Lithuanian. Two of my 10 words...

Posted by IainT 05:04 Archived in Lithuania Tagged landscapes lakes trees vilnius lithuania trakai molėtai Comments (0)

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