Today was a day of travelling. Our ultimate destination was Ignalina, a small town in northeastern Lithuania which is situated on the edge of the Aukštaitija National Park. It's about 100 miles from Kaunas, but our journey took most of the day because it's not possible to get there by train without going via Vilnius.
Our train from Kaunas to Vilnius was at 11.00. We left the apartment with plenty of time to spare because, while we knew it was about a 45 minute walk to the train station, we didn't know how difficult it was going to be to purchase a ticket. It turned out to be remarkably easy; Kaunas station seemed bright and modern, there was hardly a queue at the ticket desk and the lady understood Tim's broken Lithuanian Best of all, the price of the journey to Vilnius was a mere €4 each!
It remained to be seen, of course, what Lithuanian trains were going to be like. We knew from past experience that Latvian trains left a bit to be desired in terms of comfort, and so we were a bit apprehensive about what Lithuanian railways might have in store. We needn't have worried though, because the train to Vilnius surpassed all our expectations. Waiting on the platform was a modern, double-decker train of a standard that you would expect to find in Switzerland rather than Lithuania. The 90 minutes to Vilnius passed in a flash as we travelled across a flat, forested landscape, interrupted every now and again by small towns.
We have been to Vilnius before, of course, and we're also spending the last three days of this holiday there, so when we arrived there around 12.30 our main priority was just to get some lunch, before catching our connecting train to Ignalina at 15.10. We had a rough idea of the direction of the old town, and assisted by some helpful signs we soon found our way to some places which looked very familiar.
We remembered a lovely place where we'd sat outside and eaten pizza in 2013, so we headed in that general direction. We found it without too much difficulty, although it appeared to have changed hands and the menu was less pizza and more Eastern European variations on the theme of dough and pastry. I had something which was essentially a pizza-sized cheese burek, while Tim tried something which was a bit more doughy and involved meat and egg. Both meals were lovely, but extremely filling!
After sitting in the sun for a while, we made our way back to the train station for our connection to Ignalina. This train was not quite as modern as the previous one and didn't benefit from any air-conditioning. This shouldn't theoretically have been a problem as it was possible to open the windows, so there should have been a nice breeze as the train sped through the countryside. Unfortunately, this wasn't a train which was going to do a whole lot of speeding. Vilnius to Ignalina is a distance of about 70 miles, which took the train the best part of two hours. It was a very hot two hours!
The closer we got to Ignalina, the more forested the countryside became and we began to get some tantalising views of lakes and rivers. We arrived in Ignalina around 17.00 and made our way to the apartment we had booked, which was only a 10 minute walk away from the main train station. This one was a bit of a gamble when we booked it because it was a new listing without many reviews online. I don't normally go for anything that doesn't have a history of extremely good reviews, but Ignalina isn't exactly a tourist hotspot (although Lithuania is hoping it might become one) and so there wasn't a great deal of choice.
It turned out to be an apartment in a rather dingy, Soviet-style tower block. The owner met us outside and let us up at least five flights of stairs at a swift pace. She didn't seem to speak any English at all, so as she showed us around the apartment we had to resort to communicating in Russian, an eventuality which we weren't really prepared for! We managed to grasp the basics; there was a lake down the road where we could go swimming, there were some teabags in the cupboard and she didn't need to see our passports. Phew.
Luckily the apartment is really nice and spacious We've got two big rooms - a sitting room with two armchairs and a little conservatory/balcony....
...and a larger kitchen/dining room with a bed at the far end.
Somewhat bizarrely, we also have 11 potted plants! It's excellent value, at a mere €30/£21 per night and we even have a lakeview from our balcony.
We had passed a supermarket on our way here, so we set out to explore Ignalina and buy some provisions. The supermarket was an interesting experience, with the food labels in a mixture of Lithuanian and Russian and far more jars of pickled things than seemed necessary. We managed to find some pasta and sauce, which was a relief Then we strolled down to the nearest lake to look at the view.
It seems really pretty here and we're looking forward to exploring more and going for a walk in the forests tomorrow