We wake up before our alarms even go off, we’re anxious to reach escape velocity of Krakow. This time there are flights on line. On account of way too much heavy, greasy meat the last few days, we smell atrocious…
“Unleash the meat farts!”
Rather than screw around we just Uber to the airport, named after the 80s Pope from this neck of the woods, John Paul II. I tell Murphy he should’ve been going by “John Paul” the whole time we’ve been here (middle name is legit Paul), maybe get some perks from the name.
“I’m kind of a big deal bro. I’m more of a John Paul Jones though”
Janusz is on his way to pick us up in a grey Toyota Aura. Uber moves our pickup point to a more accessible location and as is customary we begin by walking in the complete opposite direction. Shit. 180. Gonna be race. We rock up just as he does. The car is a hatchback. My extremely large but still very practical and stylish bag will barely fit in the trunk, so Murphy is forced to bring his into the back seat with us.
We get to the airport around 6:30. It’s too early to even check in since this first leg is domestic. Too early to fuck it up, though? I guess we’ll see. Grab some coffee and wait.
Normally I eschew luggage tags – difficult to explain why – but today I’m feeling paranoid. Before leaving the apartment I stuffed a large piece of paper into the main compartment of my bag with my name and flight number, Murphy’s phone number, and the name of Vilnius in three languages. Surely I’ll get this back. I double down and buy an “I Love Poland” tag for the outside too.
This airport’s pretty nice. Super clean and easy to navigate, outside security it has ping pong, foosball, hop scotch, giant chess and Twister.
Super easy security. Enjoyable almost, the uniformed Polish guards are smokeshows. We’ve got an hour and a half to kill, might as well get a beer. Is it too early for a beer? Nah. This plan really worked out well, better than our initial plan. Taking a bus in the middle of the night sopping wet to get dropped off at 3 am would have sucked. The first flight is a breeze too, even get some shut-eye since I’ve got a row to myself (Murphy isn’t so lucky).
During our layover in Warsaw Murphy has some zloty to ditch so he hits up a place called “Paul” by the gate to get a girly cocktail and a croque monsieur. Might as well get girl drink drunk before the flight.
We look into the weather in Vilnius, out of curiosity… It’ll be overcast and 8 degrees. Things are gonna start getting colder. The two pairs of shorts and pair of swim trunks I packed don’t seem terribly practical now but the gloves sure do.
Announcements on the plane are only in English. Interesting accent. Different from Polish for sure. The main dude sounds like a radio announcer. Are all Lithuanians this silky smooth in English?
We go to the tarmac and on the horizon I see a huge tower that somewhat resembles the CN Tower in Toronto. It must be the local TV tower – gargantuan TV towers seem to be the defining feature of former SSR capitals.
At baggage claim I tense up and hope for the best – I hate checking bags except for direct flights… I can’t see it anywhere… “Well at least you’re finally rid of that stupid fucking bag”, Murphy helpfully contributes. It thankfully does show up though.
The front of the airport is kind of a mess and there’s construction everywhere so we toss on our bags and hoof it half a mile to the nearest place we can grab an Uber. This place looks a little more rustic (or run-down, if you want to be a dick about it) than the Poland we saw, not just what we’re seeing right now but even during descent – the roads, rooftops, infrastructure in general looks positively ex-Soviet.
The drivers here don’t really give a fuck it seems. Some guy pulls a brutal u-turn in a mini-van, runs out of turning radius, holds up like twenty other people. Our driver shows up and rips shit up illegally reversing directions to grab us.
We’d known coming in that the Lithuanian language wouldn’t have much in common with any we were familiar with, but it’s totally incomprehensible to us.
It’s not a long drive from the airport into the old town where we’re staying and we start comparing what we see to what we just left. Definitely more disrepair, but also seems to be more ostentatious signs of wealth, like extremely high end BMWs and Mercs (or maybe they just stand out more). We try to relate it to other places we’ve been, perhaps Sofia is the closest. Also, definitely fewer smokeshows. The fall colours here are quite nice though.
We get buzzed into our hostel Mikalo House and we’re greeted by a super friendly host who speaks great English, gives us the lowdown on the city. Smart money looks to be on jumping a bus half an hour out of town to a place called Trakai. It’s got a castle and shit. We’re in.
Go get situated. Place is decent
The bus station is on the other side of old town so we get a better look at the place. Strangely one of the first things that jumps out at us is a poster for Tanya Tagaq, a Canadian Inuk throat singer. Less than a block away was a store (or cafe or something) converted with art that looked typical of what you’d see on the Canadian west coast. Where are we??
Navigating or way through the bus station it seems like everyone has at least some grasp of English, buying a ticket and finding our platform is a breeze. We grab the coolguy back seats.
The graffiti on the way out of the bus station is interesting – a lot of “ULTRAS”. One “Welcome to the Ghetto”. It’s definitely rougher around the edges than Poland – a lot of derelict buildings and yards with razorwire-topped fences. Many of the apartment buildings are Soviet-style block houses. Overall though, the feel of the place really isn’t as foreign as we’d expected, given our experiences in other parts of the former Soviet Union. There are “Hesburgers” everywhere, presumably a Lithuanian Mickey D’s? There are even Circle Ks here.
The bus pulls off the highway into a little bus station – this is Trakia, let’s check it out.