Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was our first stop with the luxury of a night in a hotel. For me (Vicki writing today – hello!) this really was luxury as she didn’t want to qleave the most comfortable bed she has slept in for a long time. Sightseeing waits for no one though and the Old Town of Vilnius was calling. One the largest surviving medieval old town in Europe, Vilnius offered a lot to explore and seemed to tick all the boxes: Cathedral, Presidential Palace, many churches and lots of little bars set in pretty squares (note – next time we should come when the weather is actually nice enough to sit in the little bars in the squares!).
Lunch was traditional Lithuanian fare – Rich got stuck into some “Zeppelins” (thanks Rob for the recommendation) whilst I had a bread bowl full of soup (which was so good I had it again the following day).
Lunch was very good, but it also very heavy, and so in the afternoon we walked it off with a trip up one of Vilnius’s 2 hills – this one had a small castle on it. It was a steep walk up, and probably the not the best way to let lunch settle, but the view from the top was amazing, and well worth the slog up.
On the way back to the hotel we came across some trees and lamp posts that had covers thoughtfully knitted for them. No idea why, but they looked pretty funky. One even had a knitted RFID, but sadly, it didn’t work.
Dinner that night was in a specialist beer bar which was hidden down a small street, and without Trip Advisor directions, we would never have found it. Rich seemed to enjoy the beer, and the food was definitely an experience (Lithuanian food seems to involve a lot of pig’s ears).
Early the next morning, it was run time! We planned a route that would take us to the “Uzupis republic”, a small area in Vilnius which has its own constitution and where, on April Fools Day, the police will stamp your passport. Whilst the run was very scenic (it is always a good way to see a city) it was distinctly hilly, with one part being a gigantic set of wooden steps (in various states of disrepair) up to the highest point of Vilnius.
The post-run breakfast was provided by the market across the street from the hotel. It seemed to sell everything from hundreds of varieties of sausages, to clothes to wooden souvenirs – and the traders didn’t even bat an eyelid at 2 sweaty runners wandering around.
The afternoon saw a trip to the Genocide museum, following the brutal history of Lithuania from the 1940’s up to independence in the 1990’s, housed in the ex-KGB building. The most chilling part was the KGB execution chamber, where you could still see the bullet holes in the walls.
That evening saw the most torrential rain I think I have ever seen – we practically had to swim to the station to get our train. It meant that we were getting an overnight train with soggy clothes and shoes, which were already a bit on the pungent side. This would have been fine if it was just the two of us in a compartment, but this was one of the few times we were sharing a 4 berth cabin.
This second night train to St Petersburg was very different to the first (Cologne to Warsaw). The antique train had corridors with dark wood panelling and burgundy patterned carpet. The cabins had a net curtain, and a lace doily on the table. After a nodded hello to our cabin mate we settled in for a quiet evening as our Lithuanian / Russian wasn’t yet at a conversational level.
As this train was to take us into Russia, we had been advised that at the Russian border, the guards would come aboard to check our tickets. Having heard various horror stories about Russian visas, I would say that this was the bit I was most nervous about of the whole trip! About 2am, a guard came aboard the train and checked our visas, closely followed by a sniffer dog (I’m not kidding – at 2am it is very odd to have a dog’s nose thrust in your face – next time I am taking the top bunk!). Having thought that was all sorted, I went back to sleep, until at 3am, the door opens and another guard wants our visa – and this time takes it away with her. 30 minutes (and two more cabin inspections) later, we finally get our passports back and I can breathe a sigh of relief – we made it in to Russia!