Tails of a Travelling Cat
The Finland-Baltic Edition
Greetings, humans! Today is our final day! How can time have gone so fast, yet at the same time our wander around Töölönalahti Bay way back in Helsinki seems eons ago. Anyway, today we left our swanky AirBnb in Riga to catch another Lux Express coach onto our final city of Vilnius and what a city it is. But before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you how we got there.
We returned to Riga Bus Station, with a detour via the statue of Roland by City Hall, seeing as we’d forgotten to take a picture of it yesterday in all the excitement of, well, life I presume.
Picture taken, we made it to the station in plenty of time and boarded another comfy Lux coach. This one was a bit noisier than yesterday’s, due to the fact that more people seemed to want to travel from Riga to Vilnius than Tallinn to Riga. We settled down to enjoy the ride which, apart from the sun being in our eyes for the majority of the journey, featured a lot of farmland (much fewer forests than yesterday), which all seemed to be rather flat – where are the mountains? I’d take a hill, I’m missing elevation.
About an hour into our journey we passed into Lithuania, I forget what exactly it was that made us realise this, as there wasn’t a border crossing (redundant or otherwise) in sight, but we felt we’d entered our fourth and final country and sure enough, we soon found some LT number plates. Lithuania is also a lot of farmland, but seems to have more towns and villages. We should know, we drove across it for three hours. Vilnius, which seems to have a variety of spellings – Vilnia, Vilnija, Vilniana – is geographically quite close to the border with Belarus. This is the second time we’ve come to a country sharing a border with Belarus and not actually visited it, due to the fact you need a visa to enter. (The first country, in case you were wondering, was Poland, in the Eastern Europe Edition).
Anyway, we drove through the least touristy part of Vilnius one can imagine and disembarked at the bus station, to the south of the Old Town. As we would be flying home in the evening, we decided it would be a good idea to eat out for lunch and so, that’s where we headed, walking through the Old Town, stopping to marvel at the many fantastic buildings on offer, including those along Pilies Street, which were exceptionally wonderful.
We arrived at the Rose Hip Bistro, one of only two fully vegan places in Vilnius and settled down in preparation for a gigantic lunch and believe me it was, my human decided a three course meal would be the way to go. Charlie started with a pink hummus platter. It was very pink, so I was indescribably happy. This platter, which could have been a main meal in itself (if you weren’t too hungry), had a pot of pink hummus for its centre and circling said pinkness like an ancient tribe worshipping a god (Charlie was reading the Viking book again), were toasted tortilla triangles, red olives, carrot sticks, pesto-drizzled cucumber and red pepper. The cucumber was arranged in a semi-circle almost like a smile, one could say it was grinning like a Cheshire Cat, seeing as we’re on the subject of pinkness. Finishing this, Charlie moved straight on to the Mexican burger and wedges. Yes, another burger. This one featured a lentil and bean patty loaded with gherkins, jalepeñoes, tomatoes, cheese, tortilla chips and sauce. This was as large a portion as the starter, but this didn’t stop Charlie wading into dessert. This was a chocolate brownie – yes another one of them as well! With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a liberal dollop (or veritable sea) of peanut butter, goji berries and another form of dried berries. Unsure if these were edible, Charlie decided to eat them anyway. All this food went down very well and only cost 16€, not bad for a huge three course meal.
Thoroughly stuffed, we then decided it would be a good idea to walk up a hill, in quite strong wind. This was in seeking Gedaminas’ Castle, high on its own hill. Most of the Castle had been destroyed, leaving only the tower and some ruins. A lot of renovation work was going on, meaning some of the paths were closed, because of this we didn’t get to investigate the ruin but the tower was still accessible. From our windy vantage point we surveyed the city below us. It was so windy that when I ventured out of the bag for a picture, it was so strong Charlie had to hold onto me as I was genuinely taking off. No thank you, I like my flights to be well controlled, like on a plane (which coincidently, is where this Tail is being written). When we decided we’d had enough of the wind, we hurried back down the hill to investigate the grounds of the National Museum where we found a cat who was rather shy and didn’t want to say hello. Then we headed off in search of the Cathedral (that’s the only name it seems to have) via a statue of a king (sorry, I don’t remember which one). The Cathedral, made almost entirely in white, is gigantic and the belfry is an impressive sight as well. We then sat on a bench to admire the view of a rock commemorating 650 years of Vilnius and a statue of Gediminas and a horse.
We then passed through a nice garden, crossed a scary bridge over the River Vilnia and found the most inconveniently placed embassy I have ever known, located quite far off the main streets, the Dutch Embassy. From here, we ascended many, many steps to the top of the Hill of Three Crosses (Triju Kryžiu kalnas. The three white crosses are a monument to fourteen Franciscan monks who were allegedly crucified and thrown from the hill into the river. Although crosses have been on this site since 1613, they have had many reincarnations, corroding or being torn down over the centuries, but now made of concrete, they’re a city landmark and it seems they’re here to stay. The views from the hill top captivated Charlie and I, we both sat simply enjoying the view for a long time. The city is home to a huge array of architecture. A green building at the foot of the hill suggests Budapest, a pink building in the distance (probably another church) seems almost Middle Eastern, maybe something you would find in the desert. Another ornate church has hints of Italy about it and there’s clear Russian influences in some of the other churches. Yep, like the rest of our trip, there are a lot of churches here.
After deciding it was time to leave the amazing view (we could have ended up sitting there until we had to leave for the airport it was so captivating), we headed for some more hills. We visited Table Hill, which the Russians decided needed a flat top (I don’t know why), Mound Hill, Altana Hill and Gedaminas’ Grave Hill. That’s its actual name. I don’t know what they called it before Gedaminas was buried there, but I do know Gedimans was a Grand Duke of Lithuania, who died in 1341.
It was nearly time to catch our flight, so we left the hill by our incredibly steep path, that noun I use as loosely as the ground we walked upon. We had climbed up this way, but failing (mostly by not looking) to find any other route down, took the precarious route. Needless to say, we both survived and headed to the bus stop, via the Užupis Republic, an area of Vilnius which has proclaimed independence although from what I’m not sure as several buildings still flew Lithuanian flags.
The Republic might get its name from Užupis Gate (Street), or it could be the other way round, who knows which is the cause and which the effect. The Republic had a chilled atmosphere to it, but soon we had to cross back over the river and visit the Gates of Dawn, located conveniently right next to our bus stop, from where a bus would take us to the airport.
Unknown to us previously, the Gates of Dawn were the entrance to (another) church meaning we walked passed them at first, without realising what they were. Mistake corrected, we had an observation, then headed across the road to the bus stop. We were impressed that a single ticket cost just 1€, contrast that with the 6.90€ we paid to get from Helsinki Airport into the city!
The bus took us via Ikea and pulled up in front of the fanciest airport façade we have ever seen. We queued for only a couple of minutes at security, passed through straight away and on checking the departures board for our gate were horrified to see our flight was boarding already, an hour before take-off. Fortunately, the airport is tiny and our gate wasn’t far away. Horrid airport needlessly worrying us, there was still a long queue of people waiting to have their boarding passes and passports checked and once we were through that, we then were stuck in the tunnel type thing for at least half an hour. We were then cramped into the world’s slowest moving buses which took us in a loop around the terminal, passed the cargo section and the private jets until we began to wonder where our plane actually was. Finally we saw a WizzAir plane and eventually we were allowed off the buses to queue on the tarmac. After another long time, we finally made it onto the plane. Despite boarding beginning an hour early, we took off thirty-five minutes late. How is that possible? It seems quite an achievement.
Anyway, the flight was uneventful and we settled down for a nice nap. We landed almost on time and then had to queue for far too long at a ticket machine to buy train tickets before we were allowed on the coach to take us to the train station. As a result, we missed the first coach and a few trains, but finally we made it onto a coach. After a wait of fifteen minutes, we finally got on a train which took us from Luton into St Pancras, a train that took surprisingly longer than we had expected. We then had another half hour wait for our connecting train but finally we were on our last leg of the journey home. And then that train was late.
I’ve decided I don’t like British trains, only those in mainland Europe, they’re nicer. Anyway, that’s the end of our latest adventure. We’ve seen and done so much!
Here’s to the next adventure!
Until then folks,