When I ended up with a week's holiday in August, we didn't know where to go. There are lots of places which are nice at this time of the year, but we were conscious of how expensive flights and accommodation can be during school holidays in any country which is a popular tourist destination. This is where the new flight finder on the Ryanair website came into its own, enabling Tim to discover that flights from Stansted to Kaunas in Lithuania were surprisingly cheap despite it being high summer. We went to Vilnius in August 2013 as part of our tour through the Baltic states and absolutely loved it, commenting at the time that we would like to explore more of Lithuania one day, so it seemed like a good choice. We knew from our previous experience that Lithuania is a very cheap country for travellers from Western Europe (definitely the cheapest country in the Baltic), so a week in Lithuania would help to offset our rather more expensive trip to Italy and Switzerland in June on my holiday costing spreadsheet
It was another early start for us, with our flight leaving Stansted at 07.55 this morning. We were parking in the Long Stay Carpark this time, which is a bit of a way from the main terminal, so we needed to be there for 05.30. We were slightly disconcerted when, having dragged ourselves out of bed and embarked on the long drive, the sat-nav persisted in taking us a very unusual route through the Leicestershire countryside rather than our normal route down the M1, which made it feel like we'd driven for a very long time without getting substantially nearer to Stansted. I'm assuming it knew about some motorway roadworks which we didn't, because it eventually brought us out on the A14 near Kettering and we were able to resume our normal journey.
I was a little bit apprehensive about quite how busy Stansted was going to be on a Saturday morning in August, given the chaos we had experienced last time we flew on a Saturday morning in June, but actually it seemed slightly better rather than worse. There was the usual mindless crush at the Ryanair check-in, but we survived and got through security without any issues, even having time for some toast at Wetherspoons before it was time to board our flight.
Not for the first time, I got confused when I was planning this holiday and discovered that our flight would leave Stansted at 07.55 but not arrive in Kaunas until 12.35. Was there some sort of Bermuda Triangle over Poland? Eventually I remembered that Lithuania is on Eastern European Time, so two hours ahead of the UK It still felt like a long flight though, and we were noticeably some of the very few non-Lithuanian people on the plane. There was plenty of clapping when the plane finally landed, rather bumpily, in Kaunas.
Kaunas airport is small, although not the smallest airport we've ever been too; the passport control and the solitary baggage carousel are at least in separate rooms, which makes it bigger than Skopje or Split There were plenty of taxis waiting outside the terminal building, but I had read in the guidebook last week that one taxi company has a monopoly on the airport route and that the cost of a journey to the town centre would be around €18. That's a lot of money by Lithuanian standards! Luckily, the local bus number 29 also runs from just outside the airport to the main railway station in Kaunas. We made our way to the bus stop, passing other coaches and minibuses with exotic destinations like Minsk. The decision paid off when the bus arrived at 13.00 and we discovered that the fare into the city centre was a mere €0.70 each!!!
The journey into Kaunas took about 45 minutes. I was surprised to hear a lot of Russian being spoken on the bus (unlike the other Baltic countries, Lithuania's Russian population is only about 6%) but most people got off at the bus station so possibly they were just passing through Kaunas on their way to Latvia or somewhere further afield. We had a walk of about 3km from the train station to the apartment we had booked, but it was quite a pleasant walk along the side of one of Kaunas's rivers. The weather had seemed quite windy and chilly when we first got off the aeroplane and it was clear from the big puddles everywhere that it had rained heavily recently. The day seemed to get progressively warmer and brighter as it went on though, with the clouds giving way to a bright blue sky. I was glad that I had my suitcase with its heavy-duty wheels as we started to make our way through the bumpy streets of the old town.
The navigation went suprisingly well and we found the correct street without any problems. We'd arranged to meet the owner of the apartment at 14.30 and we were only about 5 minutes late, which seemed impressive when we'd travelled so far. The system of writing addresses in Lithuania is a bit unusual, so the addresss of our apartment was given as 33/7. We found number 33 quite easily but we were confused about what the "7" bit of the address meant. After a bit of wandering around we realised that there was a courtyard behind number 33 with a number of flats and the lady was there waiting for us She spoke excellent English and commented that people didn't normally manage to find it.
She took us up to the apartment and it looked beautiful. We've got a nice little kitchen/dining room...
...and a lovely sitting room/bedroom.
All this for the bargain price of €40/night, which works out as about £28/night with the exchange rate how it is at the moment!
We were fairly tired after our early start and I accidentally managed to fall asleep until 19.00! When I eventually woke up we had some coffee and went out for a preliminary stroll around Kaunas. Our apartment is in a great location, just off what seems to be the main street in the old town. As we were walking along we found these rather cool Lithuanian phone boxes
The street led into what we're guessing is the main square, with this large white building that looks like it might be the town hall.
We were surprised to see quite a few buildings made of red brick, which seemed quite reminiscent of home.
The cathedral was also pretty, though it looks liked the facade might be overdue for some restoration.
Overall Kaunas seems like a really interesting place and we're looking forward to exploring properly with the guidebook tomorrow