I’d been in contact with a friend I had met whilst backpacking in Cambodia. Dz and I would have chats over facebook here and there and he happened to mention he was making his way back to Europe.
I remarked it would be good to catch up, at which point he suggested:
“Well, I’m back home for a few months, why don’t you come and visit?”
So I thought fuck it, why not? I’ve never been to any of the Baltic states so maybe I’ll take a little trip.
I booked a week off work and got some cheap flight tickets and popped over to Dz’s hometown – the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.
My connecting flight from Riga (Lativa) flew over a snow dusted landscape, the bright white snow dotted with wooden panel houses and the black silhouettes of trees.
I got the window seat and no one else in my row so I was pretty pleased. I stretched out, rolled up my coat, and leant against the window, watching and drifting to sleep as we glided over a serene visual lullaby of clouds in the sunlight.
Then the plane jolted and I bit into my tongue and had a mouthful of blood so you know, off to a good start as per usual!
As we descended to land in Lithuania, a young woman opposite me started to whimper, made the sign of the cross on her chest, and started to flop around in her seat, before placing her head between her knees.
I was not quite sure what to make of it all or how to comfort this complete stranger, so I did the mature adult thing and looked out the window as no nothing happened.
Dz met me at the airport and we barely recognised each other under the swathes of cold winter layers as opposed to the summer dresses and shorts attire of Siem Reap.
We hopped on an express bus and headed to his mum’s house where we would stay for the week.
Now I have to say, I was quite in love with N’s house. She’s an artist and the whole place is colourful and quirky and covered in art and I would spent ages perusing through all the paintings.
I had arrived late afternoon after a lengthy wait and change at Riga airport, so we decided to have a chilled evening.
Dv & N kindly made me dinner, and then we sat in the kitchen, sipping cranberry liquor (which sounds nice and sweet but is actually strong enough to put hairs on your chest!), chatting and listening to music.
In the morning, we got dressed and grabbed some breakfast.
Firstly, I want to take this moment to tell you that I have never been so weather prepared in my entire life and was feeling quite proud of myself, I had thermal socks and snowboots and everything.
Secondly, I was given pickled herring and boiled egg on toast for breakfast and it was actually very nice.
I used to turn my nose up at my ex boyfriend for enjoying such food and refused to try it! So yeah, apologies that I made fun of you and threw your pickled fish away and told you that you’d eaten it all already.
We got dressed and took the bus to the train station where we got tickets to the historical town of Trakai. We grabbed a coffee and wandered around the station where we came across this remarkable fellow.
I really don’t know who or what he’s supposed to be or why he’s there.
We hopped on the train, my face glued to the window for the majority of the journey, as we sped passed snowy fields and little wooden houses.
We arrived in Trakai and walked down the steps from the station to a large frozen lake. Snow gleamed in the sun, silence filled the air, and the outskirts of the lake were dotted here and there with pastel coloured wooden houses in the distance.
Apparently in the middle of winter when the ice is very thick – games, events and festivals are held on the lake.
We walked up through the town, which is quite charming, and walked along the main street where small wooden hearts in the colours of the flag dangled from every tree.
We walked up hills and around lakes, where bright little wooden boats were dragged up onto the snowy banks, and strolled passed half tumbled down old stone walls and buildings.
The castle eventually came into sight and we strolled over the wooden bridge and through the gates, purchased some tickets and proceeded to wander inside.
Through the drawbridge, we then entered a courtyard, where small patches of snow still lay on the cobbled stone floor.
We explored room after room with glass display cabinets housing various artefacts and citing historical events. In each room, one person sat (or on one occasion dozed) in the corner, to supposedly answer questions and protect the objects on display.
After we had wandered through each room, we made our way down some dark, winding stairs to exit the castle…
We took a stroll around the perimeter and then decided to head up to the further bit of town for some kibinai.
Kibinai are a traditional pastry somewhat similar to a cornish pastie, and are famously associated with the town of Trakai.
Dz took me to the restaurant which is said to make the best kibinai, a cosy little place with a wooden interior, we made our way upstairs where we ordered two each and beer.
They look quite small but are deceptively filling; I had one with a vegetable filling and another with cottage cheese and spinach.
They are pretty delicious and felt like the perfect snack after all the walking we had done, served piping hot to combat the weather outside.
We finished our beer and realised we did not have long until the train departed, so we walked as fast as our legs and full bellies would carry us back through the town.
Lithuania is probably the only other country I have been to where the weather is more unpredictable than England. As we raced against the clock to get to the train (they are not very frequent) we experienced a hail storm, gale-force wind, rain from all directions, hail again and even a flurry of snow.
As we power walked up to the station, the afternoon was drawing on and started to throw shadows over the frozen lake.
Foot prints on the ice lead our eyes to a man in the distance, sitting crossed legged on the ice in the middle of the lake with a fishing rod.
I shook my head and laughed and we quickly ran up the flight of steps to catch the train.
We collapsed onto the seats of the train with only minutes to spare, overheated but at the same time soaking wet, and hung our clothes on the little radiators by the seats to dry somewhat.
We sped off from the town of Trakai, heading back to Vilnius for a little wander before dinner.