What You Risk Reveals What You Value #9: Vilnius II – Vilnius, Lithuania

9: Vilnius II
I arrived in Vilnius at about 8pm, it was getting late. The sun was gone. I had called earlier about getting a hostel reserved but the hostel I called didn’t take reservations. They wanted me to call when I got there. So, I’m here in Vilnius and I buy a phone card.

I get to a kiosk and I point to the IYP Vilnius and she gets it for me. Then I said, “Phone card” and she immediately gets three different kinds. I picked the one that had the least amount of minutes – 50, it said. In my confusion, I gave her 50 latis by mistake. She smiled and I immediately gave her more money. She took what she needed and left me the change.

I go to a phone at the bus station and opened the IYP under hostels. The hostel I called earlier was listed but there was another hostel that caught my eye. It was the Academy of Art in Vilnius’ dormitory. I thought to myself, how bad could it be? Art students dormitory. It said it was located right smack in old town. Good enough. I called and they had room. I walked what felt like a long way to this hostel. It felt like the bus station was outside of Old Town. There were streets that made me a bit uncomfortable. It really made me stick out like a sore thumb. Imagine being the only Asian with a backpack on a roller. I don’t know, it made me just stick out.

I entered what seemed like Old town because the cobblestone streets started. I also started seeing a lot of religious signs, churches, etc. I remembered reading that Vilnius was 80% Catholic or something like that. In my mind I was thinking, “Hey, how bad could they be? They’re catholic!” It was a bit ridiculous to think at that time but I needed something to comfort me because I was getting a bit anxious that I wasn’t in my hostel yet.

I walked a little bit more and almost instantly I saw the sign that said Hostel. So, I followed the sign and I rang the door bell. I was let in by a very young man who spoke good English. I asked for a room for one night and he verified if I was the one who called from the station. Yes, I answered. I wondered, “How is that important?” but didn’t say anything.

He gives me the key and directs me to the fourth floor. Four flights of stairs. I carried my backpack up the stairs, walked into my room and found four young Japanese men. Hmmm, I knew I was room mates but four Japanese boys? I asked if there was room for me. (I guess I was half kidding because I knew that there must have been a mistake) The boys, a bit frantic said, NO, all beds are taken. So, I left and walked all the way down to catch the man who checked me in. I notified him of the mishap. So, he gives me another room. Up the four flights of steps I go, again. I enter my room and I am immediately saddened. My room is empty (which I was informed in advance) and the room was very bare, not to mention a slight odor. It smelled old, I guess. I immediately knew I could live with it, though, which was good. I placed my bags down and just sat down on my bed. I looked around. There were four beds total with four desks and four closets. Everything was worn down, there was no artwork to be seen. I was a bit nervous being by myself. The door locked. Not good enough.

I left immediately to grab some dinner. I went around the corner and sat outside at an Italian place. I wasn’t in the mood to find an authentic restaurant to eat Lithuanian food. I would be more adventurous tomorrow.

The Italian restaurant was nice, it was nice to sit outside. Spaghetti ala Carbonara, my favorite. I ordered that and a Lithuanian beer. I peruse the IYP Vilnius and checked out what I would like to see tomorrow. I am truly enjoying my meal and my beer. It was getting a bit chilly for me in my tank top, so I paid for my meal and go back to my hostel.

In the hostel I checked out the bathroom facility. Oh my gosh…well, the showers are open, no privacy there and the toilet, well, I guess it will do. This was a very uncomfortable situation for me. So, I’m alone and uncomfortable. I take this as a challenge. I washed up and went back to the room. I read a book a bit until I got sleepy. All the time thinking about my friends, my husband, my black lab, Amos. I think I was most sad tonight since I left. I was all alone and had just come from four nights of wonderful company. I assume that was it. I was also alone in an unattractive room. I found myself talking me out of this depressed state, saying that tomorrow will be exciting. This is where the old me would panic and start crying, missing everyone I left at home, etc. Just stupid stuff like that. But amazingly, I was calm and ok with things. I just told myself to go to sleep and that things are just fine. I was being a big girl and it was great to have control of things.

I tried to sleep but it was tough because people were noisy downstairs. People still awake, partying. There were also mosquitoes in the area that I had to deal with, not as much as in Latvia but they were there.

I woke up the next day, sleepy from not sleeping very well. I discovered that my arms had about 30 bites from the last two days. Some of them were swollen from the bite and being scratched. I discovered that my thumb, on the other side of the thumbnail, had a bite too. I was shocked but I move on with the morning.

I get ready, take all my clothes and my shower bag to the shower room. I get in there, I look around. There is nothing to put my stuff on. The shower stalls are open, no privacy and no place to put your soap either. What the? I don’t get it. What were these art students supposed to do? Well, I went back up to my room, got rid of everything except for the bare minimum. I figured I have to wear my same clothes that I am wearing right now and just change into my clean ones when I get back to my room.

So I go back down. By this time, there were already three other women there. At first I was feeling weird. As soon as I felt that hot water, I was completely lost in my shower. After the shower, I was a new woman.

I was out and ready to start my day at 8:30am. I checked out the visitors information center but they didn’t open until 9:30am, so off I go to have breakfast. I walked around a bit to find a place that looked good but I end up at the Italian place AGAIN. A bit embarrassing since you’d think I’d find another place to have breakfast. Oh well, I sit down and study my IYP guide book again. I order bacon and eggs and a capuccino. I took out my list phrases and started to practice them. I notice there was a gentleman on the next table. I looked at him, he smiled at me. I smiled at him and looked back down to my sheet. I thought, if he’s Lithuanian, he can help me with pronunciation. So, I looked back at him and asked if he was a local. He said yes! So, I asked him to help me with some of the words. He was a very gracious gentleman and very nice. I finished my breakfast and off I went.

Later on, I thought, I should have talked to him. This IS why I am travelling on my own, to talk to locals. This is not a good time to be introverted, I told myself. Okay, that will be the last time that would happen, I promise myself.

I go into the Visitors Information center and I have three goals today. I am in desperate need of a pedicure because my heels were very dry. I also need to get a couple of souvenirs for my American friend who has ancestors from Lithuania, and of course, see the town.

So, I got a map of Old Town and the lady in the center pointed out the places I could get a pedicure. She said, that’s easy, anywhere that it says ‘salon.’ I said, oh, that should be easy, I have seen tons of places that have the word salon in them. So, I immediately rushed out and entered the first place that had the word ‘salon’ in the name. I go in and there’s clothes everywhere. I thought to myself, hmm….this is an unusual type of place. How could they sell clothes and give manicures? Maybe this is the way it is here. I was very doubtful, so I left and went back to the information center. I told her that I entered this salon place but it has clothes in it. She says, “Oh yes, that is a clothing store.” no-duh! I knew that. Salon must mean store or shop too. I made her mark on my map exactly were I should go.

I won’t go into the challenges I faced finding a place that gave pedicures. In this area, more places give manicures only, not pedicures. I went to five places before I found one. Someone is either on vacation or they just don’t offer the service. Finally I found one and a girl named Alana gave me my pedicure.

I sat down and immediately pulled out my map and this walking guide book I bought from the visitors center. I started to read it and thought, “I am missing a great opportunity to talk to a local. She’s sitting right in front of me.” So, I put down my guidebook and started talking to her.

Alana is married to a Police Officer whose specialty is training police dogs. They have three german shepherds, all trained by her husband. She has a daughter named Rebecca. I didn’t realize it but she told me her 9 year old daughter is crazy about Britney Spears. I guess Britney’s face is plastered all over Lithuania too and the girls are just dying to be like her, dress like her, etc.

It was great getting to know her. She’s also experienced the internet and stayed up all hours of the night, chatting with unknown people. This, I thought, is typical of a country that is slowly discovering new things. It was a bit funny that I was getting to know her and I was really not going to see her again, unless I come back. Many people talk to bartenders in bars, and I talk to a nail technician. Oh well, you take what you can get.

After my pedicure, I started my walking tour. I was very excited about my walking tour. I didn’t want to go on any organized tour. I wanted to go on my own pace and see the things I want to see. This book had three different tours you can take and they have three different lengths too. So, I took the shortest one that took about four hours. I saw the Cathedral and took a picture of it. It looked like a wedding was going on. I went and visited the St. Anne’s Church. These churches were Gothic in style and I have never really seen Gothic style in person. Very cool. I saw St. Bernadine’s church with an unbelievable history. There were lots of photographers taking pictures of newly married or about to be married couples.

It was nice walking around town. I did a little window shopping too. There were two lovers in this store, I swear, this came from an old movie. The woman runs out of the store and hides on the side. The man runs out and she jumps out to scare the man. They hug and kiss and they just stand there hugging…very, very cute. My goodness, it was so romantic.

Kept walking and I saw St. John’s Church. This church was turned into a warehouse during the Soviet times. I thought about that and wondered how a beautiful church such as St. John’s Church would be turned into a warehouse by anyone. Such a waste of beauty. But I guess being that the Soviets just wanted everyone to conform to them, they had to devalue everything else.

The one thing I noticed and didn’t realize until Karyn pointed it out was that in the Soviet times, the stores were a bit different. You go in a store and all the merchandise is behind the counter. You go in and you tell them what you want and they’ll get it for you. It’s not like in America where you grab a basket and you shop for stuff, put them all in the basket and then go up to a cashier to pay. Nowadays, you can still see stores in that Soviet style set up but some have changed to the modern style.

Walking along the streets of Vilnius, you see vendors but one that caught my eye was this girl, probably about 7 years old, playing a plastic flute. I was digging in my pocket to give her money when I saw a boy, about 7 years old too dropping some coins in her hat. That was soooo cute. The little boy took a good look at the girl before he left. That just touched me.

Throughout my tour in Vilnius I would see this one tourist with a Superman t-shirt. I wonder where he’s from. Where in this world would a Superman t-shirt still be cool, I wondered?

It’s 3:30pm and I was hungry. I looked for this place recommended by IYP called Amatininku Uziega. Had a Potato pancake dish with meat and Lithuanian beer called Kalnapillo. Another successful choice.

As I was eating I noticed there were children and adults that would come up to people in the restaurant’s outside seating and beg for money. Some tourists would give them food, others would just ignore them. This was a bit weird for me since I haven’t seen beggars really in the two previous countries I have been. This reiterated to me the fact that Lithuania is the least developed between the three Baltic states.

Before dinner, I bought a piece of artwork from this artist named Alejandro. In the beginning of my walking tour, I stopped and looked at his work. He showed me all his pieces of watercolor and ink pantings. I liked them but told him that I would wait to see if there’s a post office that I can mail the painting from. He particularly wanted me to buy this painting of the St. Anne’s church. After I saw the church in person I was really looking forward to buying the painting but when I got there, it was sold. I was really disappointed. He convinced me to buy this other one of just one of the streets of Vilnius. It was still pretty and I liked it but it was nothing like the St. Anne’s Church. Anyway, I bought it and carried it around with me.

After dinner, I bought my souvenir chocolate and postcards and headed for the bus station. The walk from Old Town to the bus station was a bit uncomfortable. I was getting outside the tourist area and there were less people in the streets. It was getting a bit late, about 8pm and it wasn’t as bright out. Nothing happened but anything could have and I guess that’s the risk I take when travelling alone.

I sat waiting at the bus station until the bus was ready to go. I lined up to get in to an already filling bus. I looked at my ticket to see if there is a seat assignment but I didn’t see any. When I got in the bus, there was some sort of problem but I didn’t know what it was since no one was speaking English. The only deduction I made was that there were not enough seats for passengers, like they were overbooked. I was a bit nervous. I didn’t want to stay in Vilnius another day. But a man was standing in the way, I so I couldn’t just get a seat and stay there.

They were counting seats, counting people and I was sure we were overbooked. When the deal with this man in front of me finally got resolved, I rush over to the first chair I saw and asked if that seat was taken. The lady beside said, “Yes, my friend.” I thought, darn, they are saving seats for their friends outside in line. Darn! I was getting upset. So I go to the next seat and the man motions that it’s ok. So, I sit there and I’m done. Minutes later, the driver comes up to me and talks to me in Polish. I don’t understand and he says, “billet.” Miraculously I realized he wanted to see my ticket. So, I show it to him and he shows me that my seat number is 41. I immediately said, “oh!” out loud and got ready to leave but the man beside me and the driver both motioned for me to sit back down and they said, “it OK.” And told the other man to sit in my original seat. How embarrassing. I smiled to the gentleman beside me, motioning with hand signals that I didn’t realize it was assigned seating.

I relaxed back in my chair and tried to sleep. It’s a long night bus to Gdansk, Poland and I will need to wake up to show my passport in the middle of the night. So, the earlier I sleep, the better. I set my alarm for 9:45am which is the arrival time to Gdansk. The adventure continues.

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