Monday, June 18, 2018

Grįžti į tėvynę (Return to the fatherland)

The 20th day of the trip was another one I was eagerly anticipating. My return to the fatherland. My Dad's (and increasingly my own) beloved Lithuania. This is my tenth trip to Lithuania and every time I come here it gets better and my love for Lietuva grows stronger.

I had to get up ridiculously early again, in Minsk, at about 6 am, to be ready for the taxi ride I'd booked to the airport. That all went smoothly. In fact my internal circadian clock woke me up just 3 minutes before my mobile would have. Weird how that happens. I was in the middle of a profound dream too, one I can't remember much about but it involved being stressed about teaching and also world geography.

The taxi driver was very nice and friendly and (again through the use of Google Translate) we were able to have quite a deep conversation in the 40 minutes it took to get to the airport. He has three sons. He does remember the Soviet times, darkly. He was a military cadet stationed in Kyiv when the Chernobyl disaster happened.

"We knew nothing. You know. Everyone though it good."

I paid him with credit card which was a relief as I'd run out of Belorussian Rubles.

Belavia check in very smooth

Airport Gate number - very smooth

PC Zone waiting - very smooth

Getting from the gate to the plane - very smooth

It all started to go wrong about here

Oops, wrong plane!
Everything went smoothly at the airport until we were literally getting on the plane. Most of the airports I've been to have buses to take you from the airport gate to the actual plane which is parked a few hundred meters away. So it went this time. You do have to spend a few too many moments waiting when doing so but when that happens the best past time is "people watching". For me, I must admit, this usually involves looking for the prettiest girls and trying to guess the personalities of the rest.

Anyway, as usual, the bus arrived at the plane and after another irritating wait the doors opened and everyone got off the bus and started to board the plane. At least ten people had got on when something seemed to have been a problem for a couple of passengers. One, long haired, cool-looking dude came back from the cabin, faced the crowd below with a big grin, shaking his head. Then, behind him others followed. Thinking a group had been turned off the plane for some reason, a few others tried to climb the stairs but it soon became apparent that no, we'd been driven to the wrong plane!

Back on the bus, I went up to the long haired guy.

"Govoritye Po Anglisky?" I asked

"No. I'm Aussie, mate. English!"

We had a laugh at Belavia's expense as the bus rolled off to the correct plane. He was part of a group of aussies who, like me, had come for the World Cup. They were, like me, heading to Kaliningrad for the Serbia v Switzerland game. But they were only staying one night in Vilnius before heading for Klaipeda where - get this - one of their mums lived. These were aussies but a couple had Lithuanian ancestry, like me.

"Whereabouts in Australia are you from?"

"Perth" They said.

What a coincidence! They're from Joondalup!

Safely boarded on the right plane now. I had to squeeze my back pack at my feet and put my jacket over it to hide it from the air hostess as the overhead locker was far too small.

In front of me were a row of four Dutch lads obviously on tour. They kept laughing as they showed each other humorous images of each other on their mobiles, presumably taken the night before under the influence of drink.

"Hey"  (Shows phone)


Repeat x 20.

This was, I think the shortest flight I've ever been on. It's only 5 times further to fly from Minsk airport to Vilnius than it is to drive from Minsk city center to the airport. It was all over in about 25 minutes.

Too short for Google to give a flight opion

Here, speeded up eight times, is about 20% of the whole flight...

I love Vilnius airport - it feels a bit like coming home to me now. It's a bit cramped and when you get through security you come out to an old Soviet style building that is bizarrely like a corridor with lots of small rooms coming off it. It's a bit like going to an old school.

I gave the Perth Lithos my email address and headed off.

Anyway I found the place to exchange my Ukrainian Hryvnia to Euros. At last a country with a decent currency.

20th Day - 38% complete

What a great idea that is. Unfortunately 680,000 or so British voters didn't agree and decided to stick the finger up to one of the greatest institutions in modern times. Grrrr!!

Quickly changing the subject...

So, my 10th visit to Lietuva. Here's a full list of the towns and cities I've been too, when and with whom. I am so glad that I have shared the Lietuviskos experience with each of my four children.

Maybe, thanks to Brexit, we will all become Lithuanian citizens soon.

My 10th visit to Lietuva. The first under Andropov, the last seven as an independent country again

Then, for the first time, I caught the bus to the city. Usually relatives have give me a lift or I've hired a car or caught a taxi. It was a great opportunity to do this on my own. And great value for money - just 1 Euro.

I arrived in the city center feeling that I knew where to go intuitively now. Love Vilnius. Such a beautiful city.

I walked along the Nemunas river past the iconic Gedimino Pilis and to the end of Gedimino Prospectas and decided to chance my arm and see if the hotel would be ready for me. I was ridiculously early but it's happened before (in Yerevan) so why not here?

My hotel is literally at the back of MacDonald's on Vilnius' version of Oxford Street. You get to it by going through a gate leading to a secluded court yard. Very nice.

My luck was in and my room was ready.

So it was in for a shower and get changed and then I skype Leb, as I hadn't been in touch for a while.

Lietuvoje, dar karta

The old airport still has it's character

Troll -AY - bus

And I love you

By the Nemunas

Lots of these on the path

Let Unity Blossom! last line of the National Anthem

Gedimono Pilies under repair

Hello, Hello... Algis is back, Algis is back!

Gedimino car-free

Once I got back and unpacked - this would be my longest stay in one place, five nights - it had to be Lietuvoje - I was absolutely starving so I needed some good old Lithuanian food,

So I set off for the one place I knew in Vilnius that reliably does filling Lithuanian cuisine, "Forto Dvaras". However, once I got on the street my hunger told me to go to another restaurant I'd never tried before, "Katpedele".

I'm on my way to Forto Dvaras, but I will be moved

I had herring soup and one cepelinas. Magnificent. I loved the menu description of the potato sausage...

Bliss to be in Vilnius

Cold Herring Soup

One Cepelinas (Zeppelin) Two would have been too much

Scrummy Yummy

After that, I stopped at a shop to try to find some new pants (running out of those) and a new T-shirt to replace my scraggy LIETUVA one.

Then, having dumped my stuff off here, it was out again to find a bar to watch the first of three matches today: Serbia v Costa Rica.

Match No 9 wasn't the best, I have to admit. It was largely dull, but before you arty snobs start having a go and thinking "what did you expect, football is sooooo boring!" It's long been my opinion that football is very much like an opera.

Here's my first (and probably only) attempt at an opera score...

(Opening salvo)

Imagine rather contrived, awkward, but tolerable orchestral music playing as a dull conversation is "sung"...

"We are Serbia and we should win. Do you agree?" (Serbia players)

"No. We are Los Ticos and we will not allow it" (Costa Rica players)

"Yes we will win"

"No you won't"

"Yes we will"

"No you won't"

"I insist, we will"

"You can insist all you like. You won't"

Imagine an opera going on like this for almost an hour. There's no tune really, just dressed up ponces singing a dull conversation as the over-elaborate, but highly skilled, orchestra ring out some kind of music that kind-of fits, but it's not pleasant.

Then, on 55 minutes, it changes.

The orchestra pause for a second and play 40 seconds of the most exquisite music. It is beautiful. Imagine something like the duet in the marriage of Figaro. The crowd are hushed and then enthralled as the soloist, Aleksandar Kolarov, steps up.

"I am going to show you..."

" is how it goes"

and he whips in the most beautiful free kick into the top corner beating the sublimely diving goalkeeper and makes the net ripple like a wave on the ocean.

Gediminas, the barman, forced me to drink a glass of this

After watching the rather dull win of Serbia it was time to get ready for the big match today, Germany v Mexico.

I decided to show my (albeit almost infinitesimal) support for Mexico by going to bar called "gringo". I was unashamedly going to support the Latin Americans, no matter what; Even though I surrounded by a group of German fans, it did not deflect me from my selfish instinct to back ABG.

In one of the great World Cup football games Mexico beat Germany 1-0 to really upset the predictions. Mexico stayed strong right to the end, preventing the usual, expected German equaliser and winner in the 87th and 89th minute.

Diesmal nicht, Deutschland!

Lovely Rum cocktail

Mexico 1 Germany 0

I was not proud of myself watching the game. I was a little too "pro Mexico" and too "anti Germany" and as the game finished I couldn't help but turn to the German fans I'd been sitting with and try to justify my partisanship.

"I love Germany" I pleaded.

"My mother was German" I added unconvincingly

"But Germany are just too good at football. I want them to lose"

"Seven out of 13 World cups have been won by Brazil, Germany or Italy. Six by the rest of the world."

"I just want more equality, that's all."

The German fan sat behind me seemed to nod in agreement but maybe he was just thinking...

"Drunken Inglander fool".

Not many Gringos in Gringos

I had a lovely couple of rum (sweet and bitter) cocktail.

Anyway, with unexpected joy on the streets of Vilnius (a group of Brazilians were, like me, delighted with that result) I headed to another new pub on my list.

I say "new" but I had been here before. Busi Trecias ("There will be three") is the place I decided to watch Brazil v Switzerland.

It wasn't a great match but at least Switzerland showed plenty of spirit and ended up with a deserved point.

It was a great night as I ended up sitting next to the owner and founder of the pub. He was a little bit older than me and was able to regale me with lots of stories about Lithuania's history.

Maybe a third - me with the owner

Here\'s how that was prepared...

Regard La bella Luna

He showed me around the back and strongly recommended my son, Kestutis, should visit Lietuva to meet someone to marry, perhaps a lovely one smiling one in front of me (whose name I sadly cannot remember.)

What a great night, again. Labaniktis Viluius!