Goodness me, yesterday was tiring. Thank goodness we had no reason to be up at all, since I'd informed the lady that we would be checking out at 11:30, the latest we were permitted. Unfortunately, things went awry. As often happens, I generated tonnes of my own heat, such that changing ends of the bed, sleeping on the floor and even opening the window and trying to sleep whilst standing next to it all failed. I'd even bought two USB fans (fabulous invention!) especially for this trip because I knew we wouldn't have any air conditioning, but unfortunately they both ran out of charge within a couple of hours and I couldn't find the lead in the dark. So, after walking 14km yesterday through woodland, marshes and even a desert, I would have to get through the day on two hours' sleep. And it was going to be a long one because our flight wasn't until 22:45. We'd be returning home, we calculated, at about 02:30.
My state of involuntary alertness in the hourly hours meant I got to witness a torrential downpour. Unexpectedly, it turns out that July is the wettest month in Lithuania and so we, being on holiday in early August, had been extraordinarily lucky to have the heatwave that we'd been met with all week. This downpour stopped as suddenly as it had started, but it would be back later on.
We left right on 11:30 with still a full day ahead of us, so we decided to rid ourselves of our suitcase using the lockers at the station. Whilst we were there we noticed a huge map on the wall with something novel about its appearance; it was written from Lithuania's perspective, and so that country was central and everything else seemed slighly distorted from what we were used to. We spent quite a bit of time planning future holidays whilst we were there. It looks as though Hungary into Romania might be an option for us next year, depending on what the train travel within Romania is like. We also revisited some of our previous holidays' routes on the map, until a cleaning lady asked us to vacate whilst she was polising the floor.
We decided to head out to the Gate of Dawn, an entry to the Old Town. It's relatively inconspicuous compared to similar gates which we've visited elsewhere:
Things suddenly appear grand as you walk through it though:
Some of these buildings are astoundingly pretty:
And the gate itself does seem to appear larger when you're on the inside facing out:
Every building on the street seemed to be competing with its neighbours:
All of a sudden we chanced upon the lovely pink building that we always pass. Usually we head to it from another street but it tranpires that the Gate of Dawn leads straight to it too:
And so we were back on familiar territory:
We knew were going to get a coffee, since we had so much time to kill. I spotted a bookshop right next to a coffee sign and I can never resist popping into one to see whether there's a local translation of Asterix the Gaul; I currently have copies of that one book - the first in the Asterix series - in six languages, though, curiously, not in the original French nor my native English. Whilst we were in the bookshop failing to located a copy of Asterix, this morning's torrential downpour returned. Fortunately for us, this bookshop also doubled as a coffee shop and we had just purchased a couple of frappes, so we were already seated and able to sit there whilst the storm passed before other people fleeing the rain got there first:
The storm was determined to keep us rooted so I bought Clare an Apfelschorle and myself a Rhabarberschorle so that we wouldn't be thought as taking the mick. As the storm abated somewhat we headed out again, heading back round to the cathedral:
Over Clare's shoulder you can see Gediminas's Tower. Given the weather and our heavy backpacks, we didn't expect to climb up to it:
We did, however, walk past it to climb up the Hill of Three Crosses. On our first visit we'd struggled up a lengthy staircase only to notice once we had arrived that other people were coming from another direction. So this time we emulated them and took the easy route:
And behind Clare you can see our friends Gediminas's Tower and the cathedral:
Even with the dismal weather they look beautiful. You also get an idea of why we didn't want to climb up to the tower!
Bear in mind that the Hill of Three Crosses isn't in the centre of Vilnius. It's at the edge, meaning that you can see all of Vilnius sprawling in front of it, rather than just a part of it with others behind. This gives an impression of Vilnius's size - remember that it's a capital city!
Strange to think that for the Lithuanians themselves Vilnius is a metropolis. We'd visted settlements this week which consisted of just a few houses, so for a time it was for us too.
Following from this, we decided to get lunch. We weren't particularly hungry at the time but we knew we wouldn't be eating later that day, so it made sense to stock up. Whoever thought tinned peaches would work in a salad? I wouldn't have, but for the second day in a row I ordered it. I'll be making my own at home too; it's a fabulous concoction.
Although we were still 12 hours from our day ending, there really isn't too much to tell from this point. The rain was still threatening to return periodically and the sky didn't suggest to us there would be any respite, so we made the decision to head off to the airport early. At least we would be dry there. And so we took the train for its seven-minute journey between the station and airport (all for 0.77€, I think), settled down with out books and read for a few hours. Checking-in couldn't have gone any smoother, the security check was rapid, and a few hours later we were back in dismal Stansted on the bus to the car park. I can't say it was fun to be home; the Essex accent and customary aggressive scowl the locals all seem to adopt was a far cry from the pleasant sounds and friendly faces we'd spent the last week in the company of, and there's always a total idiot who doesn't realise that he's ringing the bell to stop the bus every few seconds, last night not being an exception. But we located the car and about a couple of hours later were at home, with our alarms informing us we'd be getting up in under four hours for work. A hectic end for us but what a lovely holiday. Lithuania's splendid and we'll definitely be going back.