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By this Author: alexchan

Exploring more of Vilnius

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large_5550_14712860963835.jpgWhen Lithuania joined NATO, Bush gave a speech to this effect which made them feel special. But he gave a similar speech to other countries that joined NATO too.
Ii woke early due to the time zone which I had just come from. Breakfast was self-catered from the supermarket. I went for another walk around old town to try cover areas which I hadn’t yet touched, then got some food from the supermarket for a park-bench lunch.

At midday I joined he free walking tour starting at the Town Hall. There was a large crowd so it had to be split into several groups. I was led by a young lady Milda (a pagan name).

We went to German St (where the Germans originally settled), the Jewish (where very little remains), the quiry “Republic” of Uzopia (where the parliament is a pub and the constitution was written over a few drinks), the University area and finally Cathedral square.

I got to see a few places which I hadn’t discovered on my own. But more interestingly were the insights I got from Milda, which included:

1. Lithuania and the Baltics were the last areas in Europe to be Christianised.large_5550_14712860943324.jpgGate of Dawn.

2. In the country, the minorities of Russians and Poles are 6% each but within Vilnius itself minorities are more significant. However, Lithuania doesn’t have a sizeable Russian population as in Latvia and Estonia.

3. Surprisingly, Milda says she can’t distinguish between Lithuanians and Russians if they didn’t say anything. I thought I personally could have a good guess. In Latvia, people may be more experienced at this, and those I asked said that they could have a very good guess.

4. The Lithuanian language along with Latvian are the last remaining ones in their little family. They’re not mutually intelligible; some words are same/similar but you not at a sentence level.large_5550_14712861103638.jpgInside the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn; the icon of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn.The language was banned during Soviet times.

5. Lithuanian has always been written in the Roman script (rather than Cyrillic). I said “That makes sense as it is a Catholic rather than Orthodox country” (eg. Serbia writes in Cyrillic while Croatia in Roman). She thought about it and said “Yes, but I had never thought about it that way”.

After a rest I had dinner at Cili Pizza of two ginourmous potato dumplings. There was time to fit in a free organ concert at St Casimir’s which was very over-subscribed (many standing) before an early night to bed.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Lithuania Comments (0)

Flying cheaply to Vilnius

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large_5550_14711496917448.jpgChurches of St Anne & St Bernadine near my guesthouse.
I moved from the Louis Tavern lounge at Bangkok Airport to my departure gate about an hour prior to my flight to Vilnius [Vilnius-travel-guide-1046243]. The gate didn’t seem that crowded but once everyone was on board the old 767, it was packed. Ukraine International Airlines puts 8 seats across instead of the usual 7 seats; it is a very rare configuration. The seats and aisles were narrow (like AirAsia X) but the recline was also poor. But the fare was very cheap.

There was quite a roar from the ventilation duct in the wall one row behind me (where the window was missing). Fortunately this annoying aspect wasn’t apparent when airborne. The two inflight meals weren’t too different from the standard one gets between New Zealand and Australia, or on US carriers.large_5550_14711496931479.jpgSt Michael's near my guest house.

I managed to doze for 5h30 (out of the relatively short 10h10 flight time today) with the aid of two half-tablets of sleeping pills. That made the flight relatively bearable.

We landed into Kiev’s Boryspil airport about 30 mins early. It was a pleasant newish terminal. However, the queue for security to go back to the departure level was long. It took a little less than 30 minutes but due to our early arrival, it still meant I had time to go the lounge for some snacks and sparkling water.

The connecting 1h20 flight to Vilnius was on a 737 pre-loved by Lufthansa apparently. It was in about the same condition as the ones running domestically in New Zealand until recently, so again I have no complaints about Ukraine Airlines bearing in mind its pricing.large_5550_14711496954603.jpgSt Catherine's Church.Water was offered with buy-on-board meals.

We flew past the south side of Vilnius’ old town before touch down. It was a very pretty view but I didn’t have a window seat to get a decent pic.

It was a long and weird walk at Vilnius Airport. Two storeys up to get to immigration then a long corridor and finally two storeys down to baggage claim. Perhaps the airport is more for flights within the Schengen zone and ours is a rare International flight which had to be parked in an “afterthought” part of the building. Also strange was the baggage claim for our international flight being in the same area as the Schengen ones.

Everything else was quick after that and I was out landside in no time. The new modern terminal gave way to a cramped historic-looking (but well maintained) foyer area.large_5550_14711496975104.jpgSt Casimir's church.It was so strange and I couldn’t work out why until I was outside the building. It appeared that the new airport was built behind the facade of a historic terminal.

It was a short wait for Number 88 bus to Old Town for EUR1, followed by a short walk to Litinterp Guest House. I learnt my first and only Lithuanian words from the driver; the word for "Thank you" is "Aciu" (like sneezing). It was midday when I arrived at Litinterp. I showered then rested/napped for a couple of hours.

When I woke, the cool day had turned into a scorcher. I was starved and the mooncake I had bought with the leftover Baht saved my day. Just one quarter of it filled me right up and I was bloated till dinner time.

I went for a wander around the Old Town. It was relatively compact and very beautiful and I managed to snap away some of the highlights all within an hour.large_5550_1471149699662.jpgSt Casimir's church.Just as well, as the gloomy weather the next day didn’t offer the same lighting.

Breakfast wasn’t included at the Litinterp B&B (strange considering it is a B&B!). So I found a supermarket. Now, nothing is in English. I worked out the milk and the yoghurt. But then there was “Kefyras” which appeared to be like yoghurt. I found one brand which had some English on it and it was translated as “Kefir” which didn’t help. I bought it anyway and googled it to find that it is a yoghurt-like drink made with some grain culture which differs from normal yoghurt culture.

There were a few restaurants that did traditional Lithuanian food. One of them was very reasonably priced but very full (through my entire stay actually). I chose another restaurant and ordered duck breast with sauerkraut which turned out very nice.large_5550_14711497016478.jpgLooking up at Gediminas Castle.

I later found a franchise restaurant called “Cili Pizza” which did very good traditional meals as well and dined there three times (in three different branches) through my stay in Vilnius. I kinda dismissed it too early as a lot of the pictures in the menu and windows relate to Pizza which I wasn’t interested in.

Despite the night flight and 4h time difference with Thailand, I didn’t sleep till 2200.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Lithuania Comments (0)

Half-day in Bangkok

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large_5550_14705399799449.jpgThe border to the east does look a bit low.
I had booked a private transfer from Patong [Patong-travel-guide-1312477] to Phuket airport that was cheaper than most. The driver took the coastal road north before cutting inland closer to the airport. It was slow but still gave me plenty of time at the airport.

That gave me some time to chat to the driver who was Thai Malay (known here as “Yawi”) originally from the troubled Muslim south-east, the home of the separatists. They are distinct from ethnic Thai Muslims who are very integrated into Thai society.

As with many from the area, his Thai wasn’t as good as his Malay dialect. Actually he says his standard Malay was even better than his Thai. We spoke for about an hour in Malay and I learnt a bit about the life in the south-east.

Historically parts of northern Malaya had degrees of Thai control at various times, but the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 (which superseded other agreements) settled it once and for all. It appears the final border between Thailand and Malaysia left a lot of Malays north of the border. The eastern-end of the border does seem a bit low.

From Wikipedia:

The agreement effectively divided the northernMalay states [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_states]into two parts.large_5550_14719802759450.jpgHehehe!The area around modernPattani [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattani_province](Malay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_language]:???? (Patani)),Narathiwat [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narathiwat_province](Malay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_language]:????? (Menara)), southernmostSongkhla [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songkhla_province](Malay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_language]:??????? (Singgora)),Satun [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satun_province](Malay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_language]:???? ??? (Mukim Setul)) andYala [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yala_province](Malay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_language]:??? (Jala)) remained underThai [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thailand]control, while Thailand relinquished its claims tosovereignty [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereignty]overKedah [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kedah](Thai [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_language]:??????? (Saiburi)),Kelantan [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelantan](Thai [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_language]:??????? (Kalantan)),Perlis [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perlis](Thai [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_language]:????? (Palit)) andTerengganu [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terengganu](Thai [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_language]:???????? (Trangkanu)) ...

At the airport, I managed to bag-drop swiftly avoiding the check-in queue with Thai Airways. The short flight to Bangkok [Bangkok-travel-guide-632148] felt awfully long, strangely. We were offered a hot spinach wrap, presented in a cardboard wrap plus drink. We parked at the furthest gate which meant a long walk to the carousel. Luggage finally arrived about 50 mins after arrival and mine turned up about after an hour.

I had a 12h transit before my night flight to Kiev and Vilnius so I stored my bags and took the time train to the city before returning to the airport around 2200. I took the train to town, then the MRT. I even got around by motorcycle taxi before using the same cheap modes of transport back to the airport.

Back at the airport, even though it was 3h30 till departure, the check-in desk was open. As I had done a web-check, I could bag-drop straight away (not that there was a queue otherwise).

Security and immigration was relatively swift, but distances at Suvarnabhumi Airport [Suvarnabhumi-Airport-travel-guide-1336847] are long. I got rid of my excess Baht, converting them to Euros. But I was left with about 100 Baht which could buy nearly nothing at this overpriced airport. I finally found some mooncakes at 100 Baht, which is surprising as it is cheaper than bags of shit like Kit Kat.

Once I had that over and done with, I went to the Louis Tavern lounge closest to my gate for a glass of wine and a snack. I didn't have that much time left despite having bag-dropped 3h30 before departure. This airport really does eat up one's time.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

A week disappears quickly

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large_5550_14719802117114.jpgPatong Beach on a good day. It is the wet season and there are some rainy moments and big crashing waves.
Today we finished our last day at Absolute Bangla Suites. The week went quickly. Just as a recap, this was our fabulous deal of NZD99 for 2 pax for 7 nights in a 3.5 star hotel including daily breakfast and nightly 4 course dinner. Yep, all up - not per person and not per night. We paid up a year ago for travel now, and the "catch" was that we had to attend a 90 minute timeshare presentation, which we did. The timeshare didn't interest us and they weren't worried. I've never had such a cheap week. It would have cost more to stay at home!

Lesson: Never be too cynical but read the fine print.

I checked out at midday while Kim was at his follow-up at the hospital. We grabbed lunch upon his return and took a tuktuk to his new hotel Seaview Patong where he needed to stay for another 10 nights for his operation warranty.

The property had nice facilities but the room wasn’t as flash as what we had become accustomed to.large_5550_14719802134268.jpgPatong Beach on a good day. It is the wet season and there are some rainy moments and big crashing waves.It was still very nice though.

I fitted in my last massage before meeting up with Andrew and John for dinner. I had met Andrew in Vanuatu just over a year ago and he was here coincidentally.

My eight days in Phuket [Phuket-travel-guide-631910] just flew by. Some memorable aspects:

1. I went for ashtanga yoga most mornings and worked out at the gym most afternoons.
2. We had many nice hotel meals included in the unbelievably cheap package.
3. Kim finally tried durian. While he didn’t find it revolting, he didn’t finish one piece. He appreciated the texture though.
4. Transport is pricey; more expensive than developed countries like Singapore.large_5550_14719802096571.jpgThe NZD99 deal was for a studio room with a spa pool and kitchenette. We chose a centrally located hotel rather than the more upmarket sister hotels (same price) which are more resort-like in less accessible locations.Minimum of THB200 to go anywhere.
5. It was the wet season and we had several days of wet weather. With Kim’s post-op condition, we didn’t have any plans to go do much anyway. Being our third time, here we had no pressure to go do stuff.
6. Our next door neighbour on one side was very “talented”. There were near-daily and long moans of ecstasy from a female voice. Evening, afternoons, 4am etc.

Other aspects:

1. Patong and Phuket has changed a lot. There are lots more high rise than previous visits. The growth of tourism seems unstoppable, taking its toll with people's lives (in particular those who are in the sex trade).
2. Unbelievably, the beach umbrella / sun lounger business is no longer. As a workaround, locals build lounger beds out of sand so that people can throw a beach towel on it and lie down!
3. I was around on a day when alcohol sales were prohibited (day before voting on yet another new constitution). I didn't have the chance to see the impact on this on the gogo bars!


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

In a car accident

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large_5550_147005980686.jpgMy taxi.
Today I fly to Phuket [Phuket-travel-guide-631910] for over a week of hopefully doing very little. It all started with an online promo for a 4-star hotel going at NZD99 for 2 pax, 1 week including breakfast and dinners. The catch is that we need to attend a timeshare presentation for 90 minutes (and it is low/wet season). We've had experience handling these pesky sales pitches.

Kim, coming from New Zealand arrived in the morning whereas I had a leisurely departure after lunchtime from Singapore. I left for the airport from aunt's at 0930. The kiosk for AirAsia was a bit crowded but it was actually quite quick giving me plenty of time in the lounge.

The short flight went quickly and immigration was swift.large_5550_14700598108458.jpgThe car behind.I turned right exiting to take a metered taxi into Patong. Then a minor hiccup struck. The driver made a noise and then a loud thud accompanied a shunting forward motion. Then I swung back and my head struck the headrest, which was very fortunately properly adjusted for my height.

Stepping out, I realised that the car behind had run into ours, and the car behind it had gone into it as well. Due to the distance between the third car and the second, I guessed the third car ran into the second which propelled it into ours.

We waited in the traffic island while the ambulance and cops came. The passenger in the third car had an ankle bandage put on and was taken away. Not sure how that an ankle injury could happen from such an accident. The cops came and did their report.large_5550_14700598147029.jpgThe car behind.The drivers wai'ed the cop and the cops wai'ed back.It was all very civil between the three drivers and also with the cops.

All in all, there was a hold-up of about an hour. Soon after the crash, my driver called for a second taxi to pick me up. Due to the congestion we had created, it took quite a while. They boot of my car wouldn't open, trapping my luggage in it. The driver tried levering it and eventually dismantled the rear seats to access it, achieving it only after my second taxi had arrived.

I got to my hotel thankful that I was safe and also happy to see Kim after a month. The lesson from today is to ensure that the headrest is always properly adjusted.

We had dinner at our hotel, the Absolute Bangla Suites. We had bought a voucher which entitled us to 7n including breakfast and dinner for 2 pax, all up for NZD99 (not pp). It was an awesome deal that came with a catch of having to attend a 90 minute timeshare presentation. The included dinner was 4 courses but a little on the light side, so we wouldn't feel overfed after all the courses.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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