A Travellerspoint blog


Outing to Trakai

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large_5550_14712867885681.jpgCardboard Karaim and their cardboard kibinai.
I woke early to a gloomy morning. I had planned to go to Trakai [Trakai-travel-guide-1318702] for the castle today. It was a toss up between cheap public transport or a tourist bus at 1100 at EUR20. As I was up so early, I decided on the public bus which only takes 30 minutes. It was the walking to/from the station at both ends that makes it a little more of an effort.

The Trakai Island Castle wasn’t yet open when I arrived. I walked around it and waited briefly before it opened at 1000. It was starting to drizzle.

I explored the inside for about 35 minutes reading the various information sheets in English. The castle is largely rebuilt (as with many things “restored” for tourism). I found the information on the Karaim and Tartars interesting though.large_5550_14712867918905.jpgHouses in Trakai.Both groups are Turkic, the former being adherents of the Old Testament but not Jewish (which spared them from the purge as they “did not kill Jesus”) and the latter Muslim.

I donned my poncho (purchased in Machu Picchu) and walked back to the bus. I saw the remains of Trakai's Peninsula Castle which only has part of a facade with modern offices behind. The couple of kibinai (Karaim pie like Cornish Pasties) stands were not yet open and I was hungry. Fortunately there was one open when I finally got to the bus station.

Back in Vilnius [Vilnius-travel-guide-1046243], it was still wet. I found a branch of Cili Pizza near the bus station and tried out baked dumplings with lots of shredded ham, topped with white sauce and cheese. So good and so so bad. Heart attack material I think.

The market was nearby. There was also a supermarket. It was funny to see locals selling produce in very small quantities, all lined up outside the supermarket in competition with them.

I rested for part of the afternoon before walking up to Gediminas Castle (but didn’t enter). The hilltop vantage point offered a good view of both Vilnius’ old and new towns.

I knew I shouldn’t but I did. I had dinner at Cili Pizza again, this time at another branch, trying out their crispy potato pancakes. They do make a variety of authentic Lithuanian food at reasonable prices so it was a good choice as far as I was concerned.


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

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)

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