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Sad

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"Good Old Days"

"Good Old Days"

With Brexit fast approaching (or not?), and massive queues through baggage check and passport control, it’s clear that dream died. R.I.P. that E.U. utopia

I had a depressing exchange of views on Facebook last week with a friend - mid 40s, and well educated - who was having a girn about how long it takes to get onto Eurostar in London.

Her comment about “that dream” relates to the expectation of the EU enabling frictionless travel and the Channel Tunnel facilitating it for the UK. When I suggested the freedom of movement dream is alive and well elsewhere in the EU, but the UK has turned its back on it, I got a snotty response…

… it’s only the privileged few who travel who would have noticed.

Being very aware of having just a few days left as an EU citizen, her comments and attitude were a reminder of the twisted attitudes of so many in the UK, much of it just based on abject ignorance and whipped up by xenophobic politicians and the media.

Democracy?

Democracy?

Scotland is much less affected by it than our cousins down south, but we have our bampot minority.

Her comments made me think of the masses of people in Ireland (north and south of the border) who drive across the open border freely as if it doesn’t exist - perhaps just folk in the south going shopping in the north because it is a bit cheaper. Or the people who live in County Donegal and commute across “the border” into Derry to work.

The Future

The Future

For the benefit of those who have not had the privilege, the border does not exist except on paper. When you drive across it, only the different road signs give it away.

People who live in the south of Bavaria don’t even think about there being a border with Austria when they drive across it for a weekend of hiking in the Alps - except for buying a vignette if they have to go on an Austrian Autobahn.

Kitzbuhel Alpen

Kitzbuhel Alpen

Again, only the change of roadsigns marks the border.

Those living in the east of the Freistaat might think about “the border” with the Czech Republic when they drive across to fill the car with fuel, but only because it is cheaper on the Czech side.

Folk in Vilnius don’t think they are crossing a border when they jump on a bus to Rīga to visit friends or family. The bus doesn’t even stop at the border. There is no security or customs or passport control.

Rīga

Rīga

Aye, the “privileged few who travel”.

Perhaps I wound her up with my comment about flying from Helsinki to Vilnius via Rīga in December, without showing my passport once? Well, she was taking the train to Paris to catch a plane to Martinique.

Posted by IainT 07:55 Archived in Scotland Tagged people helsinki scotland germany ireland finland transport riga vilnius bavaria lithuania derry brexit Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (4)

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View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

L'Apéro

L'Apéro

Category 4 of the awards is for restaurants. Really I spoiled myself again this year in the eating out category.

In Girne - well I knew where to go, and had plenty choice! However the best was a new place. Beşparmak Bufavento was amazing - spectacular in terms of the quality and quantity of the food, plus a fabulous view.

Wonderful

Wonderful

I seem to have become a creature of habit in Istanbul. Can Restoran (in Fatih, close to the Blue Mosque) for a main course followed by Mado a few doors along for a dessert. It’s a great habit.

Baklava & Dondurma

Baklava & Dondurma

I know Toulouse so well, and the food is so good everywhere! So is the wine. Le Dahu in rue des Blanchers was the best during my 2018 visit.

Le Dahu

Le Dahu

The same can be said about Vilnius, and of course I had three visits during 2018. Sunday lunch revolving around the TV Tower was amazing. Good food, good company, amazing views and great memories. It is called the Paukščių takas restaurant (Milky Way) and it is at a height of 165 metres.

I also enjoyed fantastic Georgian delights at Chačapuri Sodų.

Hvezeli

Hvezeli

I had a superb lunch in Kaunas when I returned to the place where I ate in 2015 - Medžiotojų užeiga on Rotušės a. Great traditional food and a lovely location.

In Copenhagen I really enjoyed the smørrebrød. There’s a wee place called Centrum on Vesterbrogade, opposite the front entrance to the Central Station… Excellent. Nothing fancy - just great food.

Copenhagen Dinner

Copenhagen Dinner

Café Rouge In Sheffield is a place I’ve eaten before and they did not let me down. It is solid French bistrot type food.

Sympa

Sympa

An Lanntair in Stornoway was the best out of the few places I ate while traveling in Scotland. Good food, a relaxed atmosphere and a view out over the harbour.

Christmas dinner was Middle Eastern food (think about it) at Fafa’s in Helsinki. Delicious!

Beşparmak Bufavento has to be in the top 3. Medžiotojų užeiga too. The last slot goes to Paukščių takas.

Moving

Moving

OK. Decision time! The winner is Paukščių takas. The food was great. So was the place, and the company too.

Posted by IainT 13:43 Archived in Scotland Tagged food helsinki scotland france restaurants turkey island istanbul finland cyprus denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania lewis toulouse kibris sheffield kaunas stornoway islandlife girne steòrnabhagh leòdhas best_of_2018 Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (3)

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View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

This award category is for accommodation.

My hotel in Barra - the Castlebay - was the year’s only disappointment but this did not come as a big surprise. The place was below average and the prices very high. Poor value for money. The view from my room was the only positive I could find.

Bedroom View

Bedroom View

Bergen was a big success all round, and the Magic Hotel was part of it. An ideal location, good food and excellent comfort. Add to that the excellent value for money, and there we are.

Magic Entrance

Magic Entrance

On my way to Bergen I stayed at the Jury’s Inn at Aberdeen Airport. As airport hotels go, it was just fine.

I also stayed in the Jury’s Inn in Bradford. Among the budget brands it is one of my favourites. Bradford is no exception.

My stay in Stornoway was excellent - just what you expect from a good Scottish B&B. Comfortable, quiet, friendly and a great breakfast.

In Klaipėda I had two nights at the Memel Hotel. It was lovely. The location is good, close to the city centre but not in it. I enjoyed a comfortable room and an excellent breakfast.

Memel Welcome

Memel Welcome

I had Airbnb stays in Toulouse and Vilnius - and both were ideal. They were just what I expected from their listings. I also had two Airbnb experiences in Northern Cyprus. In Girne it was an apartment I’ve stayed in before so obviously it was good. The Nikovlita Garden Hotel in Kumyalı was wonderful. Just so laid back, welcoming and… different.

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

In Istanbul I had a few nights at the Terrace Guesthouse. It is truly special and a past winner.

The year had begun in the Novotel in Casablanca - I like it for all kinds of reasons. Location is a big part of it - on top of all the usual things I like about the Novotel brand. It is almost across the street from the Casa Port railway station and so really convenient from the airport.

Dawn

Dawn

I also stayed in a Novotel in Glasgow on my way to catch the plane to Barra - I like the brand and the Glasgow version lived up to the usual standards.

My third Novotel stay (some kind of record, I suppose) was in Sheffield. It was just what I expected. Excellent.

Helsinki in December meant 2 nights in the Vaakuna Hotel across the street from the central railway station. The hotel was completed in 1952 to house athletes at the Helsinki Olympics. Although refurbished since then, of course, it retains some 1950s style features. I loved it.

Hotel View

Hotel View

When I’m trying to decide on my favourite, step one is usually to choose my top three. This time it is tough. The Airbnbs in Toulouse and Vilnius have to be in the top three. I think the Vaakuna Hotel in Helsinki has to be the third.

Apartment - Front

Apartment - Front

Ultimately I have gone for the Toulouse Airbnb as the winner. It had pretty much everything I could have wanted. Quiet. Comfortable. An ideal location.

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Posted by IainT 23:13 Archived in Scotland Tagged bergen helsinki turkey island istanbul finland morocco norway cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania lewis toulouse casablanca kibris barra sheffield klaipeda bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh leòdhas castlebay barraigh best_of_2018 Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (2)

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View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Skyss Catamaran

Skyss Catamaran

This annual award category is for transport other than flights.

In 2018 my ferry trips were quite limited by comparison to previous years. I took very short crossings between Klaipėda and Smiltynė, Barra and Eriskay, and Bergen and Kleppestø. I also took a vapur up the Bosporus in Istanbul.

Tight Fit

Tight Fit

The one in Lithuania hardly counts as a travel experience as it lasts 12 minutes. I did it twice, of course (there and back).

The Barra /Eriskay trip was a massive 35 minutes (each way), but it was the first time I’d taken a ferry as part of a cycle trip.

MV Loch Àlainn

MV Loch Àlainn

The Norwegian one was fast and efficient. It was a great way to see the city from the fjord too.

The vapur brought back memories of my first Bosporus trip, and no end of vapur crossings between Kınalıada and the city.

As far as trains go, I took a couple of good ones in Lithuania. I had a day trip from Vilnius to Kaunas, plus the one between Vilnius and Klaipėda - a 4 hour journey.

Comfort

Comfort

They were great.

In France I had a day out in Albi while I was in Toulouse. A local train, but modern and comfortable for an hour each way.

Toulouse

Toulouse

I also used the RER in Paris - an old friend.

I used Danish trains to get travel between Copenhagen Airport and the city centre, but also for an outing to Helsingør. It was all very modern and efficient - compared to the UK.

In Helsinki I used the train to travel from the airport to the city centre - 35 minutes for €5. Good value, as well as being quick and comfortable - oh, and warm. It was -12⁰c outside.

My main train trip of the year was from home (Fife, in Scotland) to Bradford, then on to Sheffield, and home from there. With such fragmentation of operators under the UK’s privatised franchise system, I used at least 4 train operators in 3 days.

I rented cars in Cyprus, Klaipėda and Stornoway. The Lithuanian one sticks in my memory because the rental staff were so friendly and helpful.

Solorent's Best

Solorent's Best

The Cyprus one holds memories of some crazy roads and crazy drivers.

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20

I rented a cycle on Barra. It was a fantastic way to get around the island - and over to Eriskay.

My Transport

My Transport

Trams - I used the Bergen “light rail” a lot, including the line to/from the airport. It is great and good value for money. I also used the trams in Toulouse - again, ideal for the city/airport journey.

I suspect I also took a tram in Sheffield…

The metro in Toulouse is ideal to get to the main railway station from the St Cyprien neighbourhood where I was staying, so it is on the list. I took the metro in Copenhagen too - from the ice arena back to the city centre. As in Toulouse, the trains are driverless.

In Helsinki I also used the Finnair Citybus to travel from the city centre to the airport - €6.90 each way, fast and comfortable. They run every 20 minutes most of the day.

Well, it is decision time. My top three are my cycling experience on Barra and Eriskay, the vapur in Istanbul and the rented car in Klaipėda. Any of them would be worthy winners.

The Dune

The Dune

In the end I have gone for the Klaipėda Toyota because the whole trip with it - ferry across to the Curonian Spit and then driving as far as the Russian border and back - was just an amazing day.

Posted by IainT 09:11 Archived in Scotland Tagged trains bergen helsinki scotland paris france ferries istanbul finland transport norway cyprus denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania toulouse kibris barra albi sheffield kaunas klaipeda helsingør bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Vilnius - Travel Tips

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View Vilnius 3 on IainT's travel map.

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)

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