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Published: August 7th 2019
or Trans-Siberian Adventure – Prelude 1: Lithuania (and a bit of Poland and Latvia)
This trip actually began in Poland but, seeing as that leg involved only a train from Puszczykowo to Warsaw immediately followed by an overnight bus to Vilnius, I shall spare you the few details and commence this series of blogs in Lithuania.
As can be surmised from the subtitle, I have finally gotten around to taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Europe to Asia. I’ve been wanting to do this for as long as I can remember. As a kid who was very much into geography facts, there was something alluring about the longest train ride in the world, across the world’s largest country, skirting the bottom of the world’s largest forest, past the world’s oldest, deepest, and most voluminous lake, to the country with the lowest population density in the world then on to the country with the highest population in the world.
It is an engineered gap between contracts that has provided the time to undertake this trip. We should be on the road for about 2.5 months with the first week spent just getting to
Russia. The return will be via the ‘Stans – another part of the world that has been high on my list to visit for a long time.
We devoted an entire two days to Lithuania. Admittedly not a lot of time but I’m sure I’ll return to Lithuania and it’s the coast – which we missed on this trip – that appeals to me the most in this little country.
We spent a day wandering around Vilnius. Much of this we accomplished like zombies after not sleeping much on the overnight bus from Warsaw and being unable to check in to our hotel until the afternoon. It’s a pleasant city with a small UNESCO recognised old town and plenty of green space.
The Užupis neighbourhood of Vilnius is compared in the city’s tourist literature to Copenhagen’s Christiania and Montmartre in Paris. Clearly these comparisons were made by someone who has never been to either. Even though, it is a bit “arty” and it does have its own written constitution on some of its walls (e.g. “#21 Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance, #26 Everyone has the right to celebrate or not
celebrate their birthday.”). I am slightly biased against the place after being served pig bone pie in a hipster bar in an old wooden house. That’s not how it was described on the menu, but it should have been as there was little else under the thin veneer of potato.
Vilnius doesn’t have any particularly memorable sites (writing this two weeks later on a 21-hour train journey somewhere near Yekaterinburg) and there was some rather aggressive “restoration” of ancient monuments that I would more appropriately term “rebuilding”. Don’t let me put you off, we liked it, though I think you’d struggle to fill a weekend unless you do some side trips.
Which is what we did on our second day as we took a train 40 minutes to Trakai. Trakai is famous for its castle and it’s a pleasant walk around the lake from the train station to get there. We continuously dodged showers putting rain-jackets on then off again then on again then off. Taking photos was similarly frustrating as bright sunlight would shine through beautifully illuminating everything we had just taken dull photos of under grey cloud 5 minutes ago meaning we went back
to repeat the snaps.
Trakai is a popular day trip from Vilnius and as such has plenty of little shops (mostly full of amber that I have always found quite ugly – unless there is some kind of prehistoric insect in it) and restaurants. Here we tried the local Cornish pasty-like kibinai as well as the cold beetroot soup šaltibarščiai. These restored my faith in the local cuisine after the pig bone pie.
A recommended additional side trip from Trakai, which few seem to take, is over a wooden bridge near the castle to the village of Varnikai. From here there was a really nice marked hike of about 6 km mostly on duckboards through bogs, forest and lakes. It was lovely, we hardly saw a soul, and there was an abundance of bilberries growing beside the path that kept us going on the sprint back to the train station.
Back in Vilnius we collected our bags and boarded another overnight bus to Tallinn. Latvia was skipped altogether unless you include the 15 minutes in Riga bus station at about 3am; where I did get out as I remember the adjacent Zeppelin hangar market fondly
from our Riga weekend in February 2017. In our minds that previous trip (see “Keep your arms inside, or you may lose them”
) justified us whizzing through the country this time.
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