Welcome back to my blog!
After the first week full of funny stories, interesting places to see and new friends that I made along the way, I was ready to move on with the plan and continue my journey to the North. If you haven’t got the chance to read about the first week, you can do it now and continue with this one after.
Started up super early in the morning so I can get there on time for check in and catch the afternoon in the city. Last border control it took some time to pass it and wanted to make sure I got there during daylight. The forecast for the entire week was set to cloudy and rainy with temperatures ranging between 7 and 12 degrees. I was mentally prepared for this and it’s normal to become colder and colder once you go far in the North.
Stopped at gas station to get a quick Subway for the road and ended up working on some of my tasks for 2 hours. What can you do when you have urgent matters to attend to? I kinda like it this way when I have to do something spontaneously.
When I got to the Lithuanian border I was surprised to see no physical border and it was refreshing to continue the journey without any other stops.
Lithuania has lots of woods and you’ll start noticing them from the border all the way to the capital. The roads are great and the gas price is higher than in Poland, but not by much.
At the time of writing, you need to be vaccinated in order to get access into malls, coffee shops and restaurants. For a couple of years now, the conservative party had been ruling in the parliament and they passed an interesting law make it different to other countries in the EU.
Apparently, you need to be 20 years old to be able to drink alcohol. I have read some stats before judging the book by its cover and it looks like Lithuania is the 3rd country with the highest rate of alcoholism in males. If you ever try their Lithuanian mead, you will truly understand why 😛
The education here is still free, but you will need to learn Lithuanian to attend the courses.
The houses here are very much like the ones in Canada with no fences to surround them. Some of them might have natural fences formed by thin long trees.
In the villages, you will see lots of bumby roads similar to the ones in Bulgaria intentionally set to decrease speed.
When I got to the city I was mesmerized by the beauty of the well-preserved buildings. And then I had to find where to park and was surprised to see so many free slots…I wonder why. The price at the time of writing is €0.5/12 mins which is €2.5/h. Quite a lot when you’re on budget. I have paid about €6 just so I can have enough time to check in, get some food and find for a solution.
When I got to the hotel, they offer their parking slot for €5/day, which I immediately accepted.
The rest of the evening I spent it searching for a nice traditional restaurant and strolling in the Old Town area. I am beginning to believe this trip is deflecting from its main purpose and is becoming a culinary trip instead. 🤤
God I love this hotel room – so far is my favourite. Clearly it has the most comfortable bed of all the hotels I have stayed it, and this is really important. Being away for so long and swapping hotels weekly, it might become frustrating and troublesome if you have sleeping issues (as I do 😣).
I find it important to relax my mind before I get to sleep reading a good book and falling asleep with it. It helps a lot if you don’t eat anything 2-3 hours before bed time and to keep away from coffee and sweats after 4pm.
Thrilled to get a light breakfast and do some overdue work (cuz this started to happen lately 😅), I headed to Elska Coffee from which I heard from the super nice people from the hotel reception that is quite cozy.
And indeed it was – chia seed with mango & raspberry puree and some cinnamon tea for me. With such a chill vibe and artsy atmosphere I was able to be productive and deliver some pretty big chunk of work in just about 2 hours.
I was so proud of myself for ticking off some tasks that were in my list & in my mind for quite some time and was ready to 100% enjoy the free city tour. I was just about to get late and missed the chance to get introduced to the group, but it was amazing again to see such a big crowd given the cold weather.
The tour took about 2 hours and it covered most of the important city highlights, starting from Cathedral square, Presidential palace, Gothic corner, following some secret courtyards & passages, but the one impressed me the most was the self-proclaimed republic of Uzupio (located in the middle of the Old Town, but somehow separated by the river).
To me, it looked more like a separated island of 100 houses, but apparently they tried to create a government, using their own currency with an army of 11 people. They even had an elected president, a prime minister and also tried to have their own passport. If you see below, you will also see their constitution translated in 35 languages – proud again to find the Romanian version, but still, kind of a funny story.
Now it’s more of a dream that didn’t come through, but the residents living in the area decorated in a very nice way the entire neighborhood and delimited the area with public signs. If you ever walk by the riverside, make sure to take a picture of nomad Jesus.
According to the public sign, entering the “new country”, you need to comply with some strict rules:
- is mandatory to smile everywhere
- speed limit is 20kmh – trust me, with the old stones paving the street, it would be insane to even speed it up
- having a sense of art is mandatory
- jumping into the river is forbidden
From the tour I have learnt that Vilnius is the very center of Europe (geographically) – something that I haven’t taught about in the past. In the past, the capital was set to Trakkai, which is now an island with a castle that can be visited and people used to come in this area for hunting.
As for every tour, I got to hear some funny stories and some sad ones. Will start with the sad one, so we can cheer up after 😁
Lithuania suffered a lot during WWII, same as Poland did. They’ve been also conquered by the Nazis for 3 consecutive years and then when the Russians took over and all Europe celebrated the end of the war, Lithuania wasn’t exactly celebrating it. For them it was the same, just different dictatorship.
The tour guide’s grand-grandmother was deported along with other 20,000 people to Siberia in the middle of the night to colonize that land and to make sure there won’t be any troubles in the future politically speaking. Sadly as it sounds, the only reason why she was deported, was because she owned a big house (which was very common reason to become deported).
20 years later when Stallin died, all the deported Lithuanians cried out of happiness and they returned back to their lands. Following up the story, when her grand-grandma got back to the house, it was inhabited by her neighbors and she was only allowed to stay in one room of her mansion.
Now for the funny story, the tour guide cheered us up introducing us into how the country became catholic from an atheist culture. In the past, Lithuania covered a lot of ground including what is now Poland, Germany, part of Russia and the northern Baltic countries. As for every big empire through history, the only reason that couldn’t hold it together was having enemies trying to conquer from West to East.
From west, there were the German crusades and from the east side, russians where attacking. So to have a strong hold, they needed to make truce with some, so they can focus fighting the other ones. So they made truce with Germans which were catholic and Lithuania became catholic was well.
A priest was anointed to convert all pagan souls and the king joined him from city to city to proceed with the religious ritual. Not many people actually believed in the the new religion, they didn’t understand a word the priest was saying and they all thought it was a joke. 😂
Only then the Germans revolted and asked the king to think of a way to persuade them to convert willingly. After a while, the king came with an effective marketing solutions that works even nowadays.
Every person that comes willingly to be baptized, they will get a wool coat. In those times, wool was keeping people warm and it wasn’t cheap. So people were coming by numbers, some of them going through the process even twice or three times. 😂
Was getting hungry after so much information in such a short period of time and went straight to Leicai to get some warm traditional food.
For this day, I didn’t have anything planned to work for, so I went to the nearest mall to get my clothes washed. I used for the first time in my life, a self-washing laundry machine with coins like I saw in the movies which was kinda cool. I was afraid not to shrink the clothes, so I used the dryer to delicate clothes and I got them out partially wet, but it was ok. Once I got to the hotel, I have set them to dry until the evening. Problem solved. 😬
Later that day, I was interested to see the old capital of Lithuania, Trakai Island. It’s located at about 30kms away and it took me 20 mins to drive there. Once arrived, I tried to find a free parking place, but apparently there is no such thing in Lithuania. The parking costs €1/h, but there are houses that you can negotiate the price if you choose to use their garden. I have talked with a lady and negotiated the parking slot for €2 for the day. Really don’t want to get into details of the negotiation process, but it was kinda fun. 🤪
From fun to awkward, there was just one step… Once I locked the car and stepped over, someone saluted me in Romanian and I was amazed and happy at the same time, to see a Romanian guy. It felt so familiar to have someone speak the same language as you, especially when you are traveling alone abroad.
The guy introduced himself as working for the Romanian Embassy and he introduced me to the ambassador and his colleagues. They all came for a diplomatic mission in Lithuania.
Now the awkward moment was when the guy actually introduced me to the ambassador telling him about my ‘negotiation skillset’ and I started to blush and became speechless. Everyone was laughing about my ways of dealing with the situation (hell, I would have), but in the end, we all had a really good short time together.
I was caught by the moment and forgot to take a picture, but you will see below the beautiful landscapes.
There was a nice restaurant in Trakai where I had an amazing tomato soup and some gira (their non-alcoholic traditional drink) and then headed back to the hotel.
In the evening, I planned to chill over some hot hops tea in a nice coffee shop which apparently can cure pretty much everything – from sleep disorder to plain cancer.
For my last day in Vilnius, again I had no other plans and nothing outstanding from work that needed to be fixed. With this in mind, I was full of energy since early in the morning and I took the liberty enjoying it.
Walked all day through parks until I saw a hill from where you can see a 360 degrees city panoramic. You can see below how beautifully the Old Town and the City centre blend in.
Stopped for a moment to fully enjoy the view and continued reading from my Kindle in such a quiet atmoshere.
Was getting hungry and I asked around where would I be able to get some nice breakfast and I ended up at a restaurant in Uzupis Republic. 🥷
The breakfast was absolutely great and it was the first time for me to try out the italian-type of plum tomatoes. They look quite like a small-size watermelon, but taste exactly like a plain tomato.
The rest of the day it rained a lot and I didn’t have much of a choice but to spend the afternoon in a cosy library-like coffee shop where they played classical music. Ordered some cinnamon tea and I really forgot how time passed.
I planned to have my last meal in the city at a vegetarian restaurant called Rosehip. The burger was insanely good and for a second I almost believed the ‘beyond meat’ they serve was real beef. You can’t tell the difference if you don’t know from the very beginning what you are ordering.
I left the hotel early in the morning so I can spend the afternoon in Riga. The road trip to Riga lasted for about 4-5 hours and it was nice to view all the landscapes and listen to some good pop music. 🎶
Latvia is not much different than Lithuania. They share the same baltic culture and style and you won’t even notice you are in a different country.
The language is very similar as they both have Indo-European roots. They both celebrate twice the independence day, although in Latvia they do it 3 times because the actual independence document when the Soviet Union collapsed was signed in a different day.
Once I got to the AirBnB I booked and managed to get a free parking slot (blend in like a local 😎), I was craving for something vegetarian thinking about the last night burger 🤤 I got to a really nice Indian restaurant and got this beautifully colored plate where everything was made out of plants (even the tea 🤪)
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy eating meat. Quite a lot. It’s just after a long road trip, a was craving for something light. For the first day in the city, it was quite refreshing to see the sun again after such a cold week spent in Poland and Lithuania. You can see below how beautiful the buildings are.
Walked for quite some time and I felt the need for something sweat and some coffee. On my way to the Market Hall, I found a really nice corner coffee shop and got 2 macarons and a decaf cappuccino.
The Central Market is one of the largest ones I have seen so far. I got some very interesting seasonal fruits that I haven’t tried yet. You can see below a bowl of moon grapes and lingonberries.
In the evening it started to rain again (as expected) and settled to get back to the flat and chill over some poker tournament videos on YouTube.
Last night I had a bad experience with the AirBnB flat I rented. Initially I didn’t realise it will affect me that much being located at the semi-basement level, but in the middle in the night I woke up unable to breath. The humidity level was unbearable and I have also discovered some parts of dump and mold between the bed and the walls.
I am happy I was able to find a room quickly late in the night and booked it for one night so I can get a good night sleep. Early in the morning I evacuated the flat and the host was kind enough to give me a refund for the remaining days that I had.
A cup of coffee later and I was ready to join the Free tour in the Old Town. During the tour, I had the chance to hear the similar story in regards to the WWI and how that affected Riga. Is pretty much the same as it was in Vilnius, so I won’t be keeping you with this. Although, there was a funny story I heard:
Story of the black cat
After this, I realised I missed my breakfast and really wanted something warm to eat. The tour guide recommended Malma for it’s traditional food and I went straight to it. They really got a fancy menu and the waiter was super kind to give me some chicken pate with 2 types of traditional in-house bread from the house (so nice of him).
The soup was kind of interesting. I didn’t know what ‘porcini soup’ was, but I found out after that ‘porcini’ is a type of mushroom used in pasta, rice dishes and even soups for its rich and woodsy with subtle nutty undertones. The soup itself was served from a sweat type of bread which contained cranberries.
The rest of the day I chilled in the parks, tried some local sweats and then Netflixing all the evening.
This day the sky was bright and temperature at about 15 degrees. The weather was just amazing, I choose to go out and possibly get a nordic tan. All morning I spent it in the park tanning and enjoying my oat milk coffee until my stomach asked for it deserved – a much expected English breakfast (but with a vegetarian sausage this time).
After that, I realized there was a better place to get the most sun from. And that was the beach. So I walked back to the hotel to get my car and drove for about half an hour until I got to the beach. The highway was full of people trying to get there, but I expected that to happen. Even though, the traffic was quite alright.
When I got there, I literally felt like home. I found a place where to put my blanket and chilled all afternoon at the sun. Important note: if you ever plan to visit Jurmala, queue at the pay points available on the highway. Funny story incoming:
I happen to trust the system and saw there were multiple ways available of paying online. At the time of writing there are 3 more ways to do it:
- On the website (which didn’t work for me, because they had the server down)
- On the app (which again it didn’t work for me, but I will tell you in a second why)
- Via phone text (which again didn’t work for me…)
Let’s start with the first version. I tried on the website a couple of time using different browsers and also tried from my phone as well, but their server seem to go down and couldn’t go to step 2.
I then went to option no 2 and downloaded the app. Apparently, to create an account you need to have a Latvian no…ahh.. I was able to find a Latvian next to my hotel room and he was kind enough to help me with the situation. He let me use his number and I was ready to add my credit card. I tried a couple, failed with all and called call center. On the phone, they told me I need to have a Latvian card number as well, and no other international cards won’t work until the next day when someone can take my call during work hours. I was pressed by the time and if I wasn’t able to pay €2 until 23:59, then the penalty would be €50…
So obviously I tried to pay the guy who waited with me to sort the situation (again, very kind of him) and asked if he can text and I will pay him €5. He topped his pre-paid SIM and tried to send a message, but guess what…it failed..again..
Over the last call with call-centre, they told me the text only work from a Latvian SIM with a plan activated. Fuck that.
At that moment I had 3 available options:
- Drive there 40kms in total and pay €2 at the counter. It would have been cheaper than the fee anyway.
- Find a Latvian with a Latvian SIM with a magical plan on it. This started to sound like a 4-leaf clover to me.
- Don’t bother and expect to pay €50.
What do you think I choose to do at 10pm in the night? Obviously to find the 4-leaf clover haha. On my way to the car, I found someone who looked like a Latvian (blond hair, pale skin, blue eyes) and my first question to him was literally (do you have a phone?). The guy look at me strange and responded back saying “Yes”. With that, he confirmed to me he was able to understand and speak back English. In the end he helped me sort out the situation, saved me a night ride and I offered him €5 for the help. See below the screenshot I took to keep as backup.
Common phrases in Lithuanian
|Good Morning||Labas Rytas||(lah-bahs ree-tahs)|
|Good Evening||Labas Vakaras||(lah-bahs vah-kah-rahs)|
|Goodbye||Viso Gero||(vee-saw gheh-raw)|
|Sorry / Excuse me||Atsiprašau||(ah-tsih-prah-shaoo)|
|How Much Does This Cost?||Kiek Tai Kainuoja?||(kyek tai kai-nwah-yah)|
Common phrases in Latvian
|Sorry / Excuse me||Atvainojiet||(at-va-noiet)|
|How Much Does This Cost?||Cik tas maksā, lūdzu?||(chic tas masa lu-zu?)|
This week I scored a bit higher than last week, partially due to the unexpected event with the AirBnB in Riga, but I had set a budget of €100 per day (which should includes accommodation, gas, food, any taxies, any road tax/parkings).
I went spending €530 out of €700 budget and that was just great again!
Will continue to save for the upcoming weeks in Norway 🤞
- Get a medical insurance you never know when you need it.
- Join an international community of travelers and make new friends
- Try local food from local areas (you might get cheaper this way)
- Pay by card wherever you can. If you need cash, try to avoid Euronet ATMs as much as possible.
- Look out for Free Tours in the capital that you plan to visit
- Use AirBnBs first. Then Booking.com if no other options. Is cheaper this way, but make sure you look at the location.
- Walk more and explore the capitals by foot. Is good for your body and your wallet. It was funny when I looked over the stats, the average walk for this week was about 11 kms per day, which is not bad at all.