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Lithuania

Vilnius - Travel Tips

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Joanos Carinovos Smuklė

Joanos Carinovos Smuklė

My 3rd visit to Vilnius in recent months was for New Year 2018-19.

I flew in with Air Baltic from Helsinki (via Rīga) and it was a delight. The cost was £118, including a checked in bag.

I left for Edinburgh on SAS via Stockholm. Apart from an irritating 90 minute delay to the Stockholm/Edinburgh leg, it went well. £184, also including a checked in bag.

I stayed with a friend, so I had no accommodation or airport transfers to sort out in Vilnius. It also meant I was seeing life as a local, as compared to a tourist.

We went to see Bohemian Rhapsody at the cinema one afternoon. It cost €5.50 at the Forum Cinemas in Savanorių pr. The film was in English with Lithuanian subtitles.

VFM

VFM

Another outing was to MO - the city’s new modern art gallery on Pylimo gatvė. It was very enjoyable, although I’m not a huge modern art fan. They had an excellent photography exhibition on - black and white from the country’s 1970s and 80s Soviet times. The cafe is excellent.

MO

MO

The city’s reconstructed Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania had been on our wishlist for a while, and that box is now ticked. It is impressive and for someone of my friend’s generation a lot of the country’s history on display is still a revelation. It was suppressed during Soviet times.

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

Gastronomy was high on my wishlist too! Well, year end festivities…

Top marks go to Joanos Carinovos Smuklė in the Belmontas area. Absolutely wonderful local food. I had pork sausage, stewed pickled cabbage, horseradish, pickled cucumber and roast potatoes, washed down with kvass. It was great value for money too - €6.90 for my main course.

Traditional

Traditional

It is away from the city centre but €3-4 for a taxi if you book by phone (much, much more if you take one on the street).

I can award top marks to Chačapuri Sodų too - a very basic Georgian cafe close to the railway and bus stations. I had megrelian kharsho (a soup) and hvezeli (a pastry which is almost like pizza). I also had a glass of their excellent Georgian wine. €18.40 for lunch for two.

Hvezeli

Hvezeli

The place is tiny and lunchtime is best avoided unless you are willing to queue. They do takeaways and deliveries, but they close at 8pm.

After many failed attempts to get in during previous visits, I finally got to eat pizza at Užupio Picerija in Užupis. It is tiny too, but always full even when they have tables outside in summer. I can see why. The pizza was fantastic. You can reserve a table except on Saturdays and Sundays. It is at Paupio g. 3.

Two pizzas and two beers set us back €24.30.

I had a taste of nightlife in Bardakas. It is relaxed and friendly in the early part of the evening but gets busy later on. We ate there too, but it will not feature on the gastronomy section.

For Hogmanay (or New Year’s Eve for less cultured societies) we took a bottle of Laurent Perrier to Maironio g., where you are on the side of a hill overlooking the Old Town, to watch the fireworks. It was fantastic, but busy and traffic Armageddon. We walked.

Old Town

Old Town

“Happy New Year” is “Su Naujaisiais Metais” in Lithuanian.

Posted by IainT 13:48 Archived in Lithuania Tagged art food stockholm helsinki scotland edinburgh restaurants sweden finland transport flights riga vilnius lithuania airlines Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (1)

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Wait in Lounge

Wait in Lounge

The first category in the annual awards is for airlines.

This year has brought a lot of variety and - like last year - a new experience.

Widerøe is the airline I used for the first time, on its Aberdeen-Bergen route. As I blogged at the time, it was very positive.

On Approach

On Approach

SAS is the airline I used most - 8 flights - but the reason really boils down to a couple of trips to Vilnius via Stockholm or Copenhagen. All those flights were good.

I had two trips with Loganair (Barra and Stornoway) and they are a lot of fun to travel with. It helps that small airports and small planes are so user friendly.

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Turkish Airlines featured 4 times - to and from Ercan (in Northern Cyprus) via Istanbul. I was very happy about all of them and of course with a longer flight (4+ hours between Edinburgh and Istanbul) you have more chance of finding something to be unhappy about!

I flew 4 times with KLM too - not so positive, but most of the negative aspects relate to a missing suitcase. It arrived eventually, but the delay and absence of anything resembling customer service was appalling.

I renewed acquaintance with easyJet and Norwegian on my weekend away in Copenhagen. In a direct comparison of two of the better low cost, no frills operations, Norwegian is a clear winner.

Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air

Air France took me from Casablanca to Edinburgh via Paris on 1st January. It seems like so long ago… It was good.

I flew Finnair from Edinburgh to Helsinki at the end of December. It was another renewal of old acquaintance. My only other flight with Finnair would have been over 20 years ago. They had reindeer on their inflight menu.

Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport

My journey from Helsinki to Vilnius via Rīga on Air Baltic went so smoothly it was a pleasure - an excellent airline and three excellent airports.

Rīga Transit

Rīga Transit

My top three out of all these is not an easy selection, although conversely the winner is. My top three are Air Baltic, Turkish Airlines and Loganair.

Loganair Disembarking

Loganair Disembarking

This year my decision for a winner is really easy because flying in and out of Barra is a unique experience - the tiny airport, the beach as the runway, the weather… So, yes, this year’s award winner is Loganair to/from Barra.

Posted by IainT 02:45 Archived in Lithuania Tagged planes bergen helsinki france turkey istanbul finland transport morocco flights cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen sas vilnius lithuania klm airlines casablanca kibris barra stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh Comments (0)

The Tower

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The Tower

The Tower

We had a trip down memory lane on Sunday afternoon. Lunch at the TV Tower, in a reprise of my first visit in 1993. It was wonderful.

Superb Views

Superb Views

In those days it was a compulsory part of any visitor’s agenda, partly for the views from the top - certainly not for the food or service back then - and its recent history.

Afternoon Refresher

Afternoon Refresher

The tower was completed in December 1980. The construction was funded by the 11th Five Year Plan of the Soviet Union, which had earmarked funds for strategic investment in the then Lithuanian SSR. The 19th floor observation deck 165 m (541 ft) from the ground houses the cafe Paukščių takas (“Milky Way”) with a rotating platform which revolves once every 45 minutes.

The tower played a major role in the events of 13 January 1991 soon after independence, when 14 unarmed civilians lost their lives and 700 were injured opposing the OMON (KGB paramilitaries) seizure of the tower.

The timing of our visit on Sunday was absolutely perfect - but completely accidental. A lazy morning led to a late breakfast, followed by some shopping for R’s 93 year old mum, and her mum’s apartment is close to the tower, so…

Dusk

Dusk

Dusk was approaching by the time we finished our (very) late lunch.

Moving

Moving

The food and service were excellent. Progress.

Suburban Life

Suburban Life

It also gave me a reminder of how life is in the Soviet built suburbs of the city, where most people still live.

Posted by IainT 00:53 Archived in Lithuania Tagged vilnius lithuania Comments (0)

The Provinces

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A wet October Saturday afternoon in Vilnius. What could we do?

Ikea? A museum?

We ended up driving to Kėdainiai (population 24,000), 80 miles (130 km) to the northwest. The reason - a Scottish heritage.

Grėjaus Namas Hotel

Grėjaus Namas Hotel

The Scots arrived in Kėdainiai in the late 16th and 17th centuries, serving in the army and personal guard of Prince Radziwill. Encouraged by the conversion of his wife Anna to protestantism, the community exerted considerable influence in the city and persisted until the mid-19th century.

The historian Kaminskas wrote: 'The Scots are still arriving, and settle near the big market, They settle for a long time, as walls of a house, are thick, strong and smell of stability'. Eleven of the main market square's nineteen grand properties were once owned by Scots merchants.

At their most dominant in the 17th century, Scots reached exalted positions, including mayor, court members, clergymen and academics. At the Academy of Vilnius, John Hay was the master of rhetoric and Scots contributed to collections of published poetry. By the 18th century the ascendancy of catholics in the Counter-Reformation in the area led many Scots back to their traditional strongholds in ports such as Prussia's Königsberg (now Kaliningrad).

The names of Scottish settlers often naturalised, and it is possible to find names such as Andersonas (Anderson), Benetas (Bennett), Diksonas (Dickson) and Gordonas (Gordon).

It was interesting - although I could see no signs of Scottish architectural style in the main square - and I got a flavour of town life "off the beaten track".

Town Square

Town Square

Oh, and an excellent coffee and cake.

Posted by IainT 20:59 Archived in Lithuania Tagged lithuania kedainiai Comments (0)

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)

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