Vacation in Vilnius
in Vilnius, Lithuania on 27th September, 2010

Thursday I caught the bus from Tallinn to Vilnius via Riga. They had power plugs and wireless internet which made the eight hour trip fly by. Unfortunately, they also had an music video "entertainment" (or punishment, depending on how you look at it) system playing over speakers which was powered by Seitse. For anyone not familiar with Seitse, it's an Estonian music TV channel which plays music exclusively from 1989 to 1992. It's absolutely shocking, cheesy stuff. Most of the videos shown were the ones Beavis and Butthead used to make abusive comments about on their show. I thought the system had been "Rick-rolled" after seeing "Never going to give you up" for the third time.

It was late when I got to Vilnius bus station. I got into a cab and asked to go to my hotel. The cab driver waited a few minutes before saying "What country do you come from?". Within a few sentences he was telling me about how he was snuck into America by smugglers from Mexico in 2001 for $1,000 because he couldn't get a visa. If only we could all be so open in our communication with strangers.

The hotel was nice. It was €35 a night and came with 10mbit symmetrical internet access. I couldn't believe how fast it was. Most jobs I've ever had haven't had such fast access to the net.

I took a walk around the town to get the feel for the nightlife. The first stop off I made was in a Chinese restaurant. I greeted the waitress by asking in English if she was still serving dinner. She looked at me like I was about to rob the place and said "Sorry, we only speak Lithuanian and Russian". I had learnt a bit of "Restaurant Russian" in Moscow a few weeks prior. This was enough to get me fed dinner and a beer without too many complications. I also struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler by the name of Cliff. He's a South African who's just finished a documentary he'd been making in Poland.

The nightlife seemed very relaxed and lively in Vilnius but there were almost no foreigners to speak of. I'd put this down to the very limited number of flights to the airport there. Vilnius was the most isolated capital in Europe a year ago when there were no scheduled flights to the airport due to a lot of airlines going bankrupt or pulling out all at once. A friend of mine commented on how cosmopolitan Tallinn was compared to Vilnius. I guess it is, last Saturday I bought a kebab off the street in Tallinn and the three customers behind me all ordered in different languages.

In Tallinn and Riga, you don't have to look to far before you find neighbourhoods where the road is coming apart or the sidewalk is made mostly of rubble. Vilnius looked flawless, all the sideways were the same quality you'd expect in any urban city in Canada, the roads were like F1 tracks and there wasn't any garbage lining the streets. The facades of the buildings were in excellent shape and I hardly saw anything in need of repair.

I also got to meet with a friend of a friend while I was there. She was a lecturer at the University in Vilnius and the daughter of an election commissionaire for Lithuania. She did a fantastic job of shedding insight into political and everyday life in the country.

Lithuania is the 29th country I've visited and it reminded me of how I really enjoy the feeling of traveling to a new city, dropping my bags as fast as possible and just exploring. Everything is new, interesting and full of surprises. I notice more on my first day in a new place then I will on any subsequent day and the cities charms shine the most then as well.

I used to walk around happy and excited every day here in Tallinn and now most days I just stare at the ground when I'm walking from point A to point B. It's amazing how places go from stunning to stale within a short while of being there.

On Friday evening, Tuborg was sponsoring events in a lot of the bars and clubs, offering free entrance. It was a very busy night out but I hadn't seen any anti-social behaviour as a result. The only downside of the whole trip was that there are a lot of multi-lingual beggars in Vilnius.

The bus ride back to Estonia was interesting. There was a group of Italians and one of them had been punched in the nose and kept bleeding throughout our bus trip. Technically there should be no border controls between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia but our bus was stopped at each frontier. When the Latvian border guard came on board he inspected the injured Italian and quizzed him on what had happened. He eventually let us all into Latvia and greeted us farewell by saying "Good Luck!". The Italians replied "Good Luck?! Where are we going?!". The bus then stopped a kilometre into Latvia by an empty dirt field and opened the door. The Italians then made a remark "Hey, we are here in Riga now".

I was given an Estonian ID card when I moved to Tallinn and for Estonians the card is also a passport in Europe. I asked if I could also use it as a passport and the ID card people said I should "test" it and find out. When we got to Pärnu in Estonia, we were being followed by the border control services. They boarded the bus and said they were doing a "document control". I asked them if Estonian ID cards were good enough not realising the tone made me sound like the cards aren't real ID, it's just a fun-and-games thing for Estonians to keep themselves busy.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

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