This short trip to Lithuania was actually my second attempt. Last year, I had booked for the same bank holiday weekend only for Wizzair to cancel the flight on which I was booked and replace it with one which left very little time to make going worthwhile. I admit that, this year, this played on my mind wondering if the same would happen again but, instead of flying to Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, I went instead to Kaunas. With, I am happy to say, no such trouble.
I flew from Luton and spent the evening before in the Premier Inn in the centre which was very nice. I wish I could say the same of the airport but I have always found it a place to grin and bear and the experience was no better than previous occasions. A £9 taxi ended up at £12 despite the fairly recent barrier fee being included and, if even if you go by train, there is a further fee to pay for the bus if your ticket does not say Luton Airport. Small points but it always strikes me as being a pricey experience before one even reaches the airport! Anyway, I see that there is a refurbishment starting at the airport which can only be good.
The flight was delayed for reasons which weren't immediately obvious but, having booked an exit seat, I was more than comfortable and the flight still arrived pretty much on time. Kaunas Airport was also experiencing some development and, after the painfully slow immigration process, everything went smoothly. There is a city bus which serves the airport and takes around forty-five minutes to reach the centre. The cost was, well, nominal: 80 cents. It dropped me pretty much outside the Hotel Magnus where I was staying.
The Magnus is good. The room was maybe simple but had everything which I could have hoped for. The receptionist and I had a misunderstanding about breakfast which was always included but, having doubted myself, we enjoyed a laugh about it. The receptionist pretty much realised that this was an important aspect of the stay and I am very happy to say that their breakfast was an excellent way to start the day.
Kaunas is a rather nice city. The main and very attractive shopping and eating street leads from St. Michael the Archangel Church which is distinctive and large and fairly typical of Eastern Europe. Closer inspection may show that the paint is flaking in places but nonetheless it is a memorable building. Plenty of restaurants lead from the church and I later ate well, reasonably and outside. Although I really only had that afternoon to explore Kaunas, I did come away having found it a most enjoyable place. A walk along the river was also very pleasant.
On my only full day in Lithuania, I went to the capital, Vilnius, by train. Buying the ticket was, in itself, exciting. I had been warned years ago in Poland that, if the ticket staff did not speak English, find out what to say, write it down and present it at the counter. Google Translate therefore appeared a day or two before I left, a few motley words were written down and, lo and behold, understood and my 10 euro return ticket - for around three hours travel - was quickly printed. The train was modern, very comfortable and passed through lovely countryside and small towns and villages. It was most enjoyable.
St Michael the Archangel Church in Kaunas
Park in Kaunas
The Kaunas to Vilnius train
Vilnius Cathedral and Bell Tower
Vilnius Castle
Vilnius's Old Town
I must make a frank admission that, having seen a lot of Eastern European cities, I was not actually that convinced that Vilnius would stand out any more than the others. The weather was gorgeous, though, but I am happy to say that I was wrong. The Old Town was as good as anything I have ever visited and I visited three churches, all of which had services at the time I entered. There is a good deal of Catholicism and, in the entrance of the first church, I received the holy waters as the priest entered. I later lit a candle in the most impressive Vilnius Cathedral but was sad that the bell tower is closed on Sundays, the day of my visit. As a ringer of modest ability, let's say, it is my ambition to ring some bells somewhere in Europe but it is not at all common, England being the main centre.
I had a climb to the Vilnius Castle behind the cathedral. It doesn't look that high and isn't especially so. The walk up is pretty gentle but the views are wonderful. As I said, the weather was perfect and I consider myself fortunate to have had such a nice time in the Lithuanian capital. There was a local show going on with singers dressed in their traditional costume and the whole place exuded warmth and enthusiasm. It was a most happy place to visit.
I returned to Vilnius by train and enjoyed another nice meal along the main street. I wondered, though, why others, unlike me, sat slightly back towards the doors and windows of the restaurant. It wasn't the heat merely beggars who pestered and even those by the door weren't immune to their requests. A waitress soon shooed them away.
I decided to play safe on my return to Kaunas Airport so was there a little early. Actually, everything was fine and went smoothly, the flight was good and, despite railway works near Reading on my return, I still did well to be back in Swindon at a decent time. All things considered, my short weekend in Lithuania was most pleasant and interesting.