A Brief Tour of Klaipeda

One of the highlights of this trip was having it unplanned and going with the flow. We spent an evening in Kaunas deciding our next steps, and we decided on Klaipeda. From there we could visit the Curonian Spit (and see Russia) but also have an easy bus route to Riga, where we had rented an AirBnB for a week.

Because it was unplanned, we ended up last-minute booking a suite at a hotel, Friedrich Guesthouse, in Klaipeda. It turned out to be a great deal because we had a small sitting area, a small dining area, and a kitchenette! Plus for the first time on the trip, we weren’t sharing the bathroom with the rest of the rooms.

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Hotel sitting room

We did our standard walking tour of the city the first….including the walk from the bus station to the hotel, which should have been aboutt 20 minutes, but took us closer to an hour, as we walked through a sculpture park, past a war memorial, and beside a river. Our hotel was very centrally located – about 20 minutes from the bus station, and 10 from the harbour.

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Hotel sitting room

After checking in at the hotel, we dropped our bags, snagged a ‘What to do in Klaipeda’ travel guide, and headed out. We noticed that there was a blacksmith museum, and a brewery tour, of the Svyturys brewery (which had been our beer of choice throughout this leg of the trip). Alas, the brewery (once we figured out where the entrance was) didn’t look too inviting to guests, and after reading the local brochure more, we found out that tours need to be arranged in advance through the tourist office.

So we continued to wander around, trying to find the blacksmith museum, coming across a tourist market in the town square, where we loaded up on some amber souvenirs. I had previously gotten an amber necklace in Czech Republic, so I picked up a pair of earrings to match, and the Fiancé got an amber die. 20160804_185721

Of course, it rained, so we popped into a pub’s patio, before heading back to the hotel. Where we found the blacksmith’s museum across the street from the hotel. So much for paying attention!

Our evening plans were put on hold when we had a massive downpour of rain. Thankfully the hotel had a series of restaurants attached along an alleyway, with several tables covered by awnings, so we had dinner and drinks there, while watching the rain come down…..and trying to avoid getting wet.

 

 

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Kaunas

Our second stop of our Baltic adventure was Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania. We arrived by bus, and walked to our hostel, the Monk’s Bunk. (It’s an easy 15-minute walk from the bus station to the hostel, with only one leftturn)

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Follow the backpacker to Monk’s Bunk

We had been told that the hostel could be difficult to find, and they weren’t kidding. Located on Laisves, it’s actually behind the buildings on the street. You walk through an archway, and you’ll see a hiker painted on the wall, with an arrow pointing towards the hostel. It’s located on the second floor, with their private rooms being in a separate apartment on the fourth floor. (There’s no elevator, so be prepared to carry your bags!)

During our two-day stay in Kaunas we toured the castle, as well as did our own little walking tour around the city. And we made up for not visiting any museums in Vilnius by going to a gem museum and the devil’s museum.

Our walking tour of Kaunas began at our hostel, down Laisves to Zemenhofo, where we saw a sign post pointing to a ‘Gem Museum’. So we headed down Zemenhofo to the end, went back to Laisves….no sign of a ‘Gem Museum’. It turns out that the ‘Gem Museum’ is actually a jewellery store with quite a few different types of gemstones on display. It’s located at the corner of Zemenhofo and Kurpiu.

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Relaxing on the pedestrian street, Laisves

From there we headed back to Laisves and walked on to the old town hall, which is now the city museum….and which was never a church by the way. It may look like it started life as a church but it wasn’t. For a nominal fee you can tour through the town hall, seeing the history of the city. Worth a pop in, especially if it’s a gray overcast day!20160803_034557

Our next stop was the castle, which is incredibly interesting, with a dungeon that you can explore (but it’s tiny, so there’s not much exploring.) The stairs leading down to the dungeon are on a steep angle, but it’s short. At the bottom, there is a round chamber with stocks, and chains, which you can play around with (although there is no way my head and hands are going into a set of stocks.) An archway leads you into another chamber, with a few placards that give the history of the castle and prisoners that were held there after various wars.

From the dungeon you climb up the narrow, stone, spiral staircase of the central tower (and only tower….) into various rooms that display period clothing, archaeological items, paintings…you can even step out at one point for a view of the rivers and city.20160803_102355

Walking back towards the hostel, we took a different route, taking Gertrudos and then down Daukšos, and stopping in at Hop Doc for some beer and food, before spending the evening in.

The next day, we headed in the opposite direction. We headed down Micheviciaus to the funicular, taking it to the top of the hill.

We then walked down Zemaiciu, to a set of stairs, with a fountain at the bottom, leading back up the hill, which we explored. Back at the bottom, we headed along Putvinskio to the Devils’ Museum – which started off as a private collection – consists of artwork from around the world (paintings, masks, statues) depicting various versions of the devil.

That Time I Bussed to Riga

From Vilnius to Kaunas, and Kaunas to Klaipeda, we had arrived at the bus station and just bought our tickets then and there for the next bus. And we had had no problems. The buses were coach buses, large enough to accommodate 40 to 50 people (I’m guessing) with free wifi, outlets to charge phones, and space to stretch out a little.  We envisioned no problems with our proposed Klaipeda to Riga trip – buses definitely ran the route (we had checked before deciding to visit Klaipeda).

The first bus was at 10 am, so we arrived at the bus station around 9:30 and walked up to the ticket counter.

“Hi, two tickets to Riga?”

“At 10?”

“Yes.”

“One ticket.”

“Oh, no, two tickets. We need two tickets.”

“No, one ticket. There’s one ticket for Riga. Maybe, ask the bus driver. Maybe. MAYBE.”

“Ok, I guess we’ll ask the bus driver.”

How, we thought, had the bus sold out? Is the route extra popular? Was it because it was a Saturday? Was it because it was the first trip that day? Maybe it was because it was the first trip of the day on Saturday on an extra popular route!

It turns out that it was nearly sold out because it was essentially an extended mini-van/mini-bus. Able to sit about 20 people. We waited until all the passengers with tickets had boarded, and approached the bus driver to find out if maybe, just maybe, there was enough room for the two of us.

He stood there doing calculations (If 2 people get off in the next city, but one person gets on, and if 4 people get off at the second stop, but only 1 gets on…) before deciding that yes….there was juuuuuust enough room for the two of us. So we loaded our bags onto the bus, clamored aboard, and realized……the only two seats left together were at the very back, between a very tall man, and a man with the widest shoulders I’ve ever seen. (This includes football players I’ve seen on TV).

Right after we got on, another passenger (also English speaking) asked for a seat on the bus, and (somewhat) badgered the bus driver into giving him the one open seat on the bus. When he finally boarded the bus, we headed out towards Riga, with the two of us squished in the back.

The bus stopped in Šiauliai and a few people got out to stretch their legs. We briefly changed seats (they came back, we had to move back to the squished seats), and then it happened.

Someone new got on.

And walked to the back.

And walked to the front.

And started debating with the driver.

And someone turned to us (having heard us speaking English to one another) and said “Too many tickets sold, haha.”

I have no idea what happened with the woman who had bought a ticket but had no seat…she wasn’t on our bus as we headed out towards Riga. All I know is I spent 4 hours crammed into a seat and had to unfold myself when we finally arrived.

But we made it!

 

Vilnius, Rain and Relaxing

Things were hectic for me this summer, starting a new job, and getting ready for our European vacation. After our African safari adventure, we decided to go back to Europe for a vacation focused more on relaxing than on daredevilry. So we settled on a tour of the Baltic states – starting in Vilnius Lithuania, heading up through Latvia, and ending in Tallinn, Estonia.

Our first day in Vilnius was full of errands – buying some clothing (our bags had managed to miss the flight from Toronto to Warsaw), and getting a sim card for our phone. That was definitely worth it – we paid a few euros, and had internet all the time, not having to rely on wifi (that may or may not work) at cafes and restaurants.

20160801_093723While looking for a (relatively) cheap clothing store, and place to buy a sim card, we got to wander around Old Town Vilnius, including the Republic of Uzupis. Once one of the roughest parts of the city, it’s now an artists haven, and full of quirky charm. Walking into Uzupis, you walk past their constitution which has been translated into quite a few languages. The mirrored plaques line the street as you walk towards the main square of the republic.

20160731_093842We ended up spending a lot of time in Uzupis, simply because we got a lot of rain while in Vilnius. The third day of our trip, we headed out towards the bus station, our intention being to visit Trakai, but alas, it began raining while we were halfway to the station. We ran under an arch to take a look at the weather forecast…..and it was going to rain all day. So instead we meandered through the Old Town, and then back over the bridge into Uzupis, where we sat on a (covered) patio at a pub along the river. We also conveniently looked across at an art installation of a swing under the bridge.

After some food and drinks, the rain had abated somewhat, so we headed to the main square, where we stopped into a little cafe/bar/pizzeria, which was thankfully toasty warm inside, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  Because on the patio, across every second seat, were fleece blankets. For the next three weeks of travelling, it was a sight we would get familiar with. (And it’s seriously something we need to get on here in Ottawa!)

Our last day in Vilnius we took a hike through Bernardine Park, which borders Uzupis.  We started at St. Anne’s Church (or The Spikey Church, as I called it before I googled it for the real name) and wandered along the well-tended paths along the river, before crossing over to the other side, and doing a u back in the direction we had come from. The path here was a little rougher, closer to a hiking trail than a walking path. We finally came across a little used trail heading up the hill at a steep angle, and we decided to head up back to the street. Luckily for us, we came out behind a post office, so I could pop in and send off the thousands* of post cards I had written.

20160801_095918‘Lithuanian Post’ in Lithuanian is ‘Lietuvos Pastas’ so I was going to make a joke about sending my postcards by penne….but I figured I probably shouldn’t.

When we had arrived in Vilnius we had grand plans of visiting Trakai, a small historical town close to Vilnius, that includes a castle on an island in a lake. (In fact, I saw it as we approached Vilnius on our flight) as well as Grutas Park, where Soviet-era statues have been relocated/erected.  We never ended up getting to either location, unfortunately, but I guess that just means that we’ll be going to Lithuania…perhaps on our way to Belarus?!