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About Me

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  1. We've got some expensive holidays coming up later this year - most notably Iceland in September - so we didn't want to spend too much money on our Bank Holiday breaks. When we were browsing flights for Spring Bank Holiday and saw cheap flights to Kaunas from Luton, it therefore seemed like a really good idea to book. We'd had a fantastic week travelling around Lithuania in 2015 and decided that it was both a very beautiful country and a very cheap one It almost turned out to have been a dreadful idea, however, when a few weeks ago I read a news article saying that there were multiple strike actions planned at Luton airport over the course of the Bank Holiday weekend, which were expected to cause significant disruption. We've hardly flown from Luton at all over the past couple of years, and so it seemed like extremely bad luck that the one time we did book a Luton flight there was going to be a strike. Happily, it all blew over in the end and the strikes were, if not completely cancelled, at least postponed until after the Bank Holiday. Phew! Compared to our trip to Malta from Gatwick at the start of May, the flight to Kaunas was at the rather civilised time of 9am, which meant that we didn't have to leave home until 5am this morning. The drive to Luton was fine, although I was slightly concerned when we got to the long stay carpark that we weren't going to be able to find a place to park in because it was so busy! The airport itself didn't seem outrageously busy, though; security was a bit chaotic, but we were soon through and having breakfast in one of the few eating establishments in the departures hall. Our flight ended up being slightly delayed, perhaps because it was so misty outside, and so that, combined with the two-hour time difference between the UK and Lithuania, meant that it was around 2pm local time when we finally landed. Kaunas airport is one of the smallest we've ever been to, and Tim observed that our plane was nearly as long as the airport was wide. I certainly didn't get the impression that they had many flights landing per day, as they let us all get off the plane and walk across the tarmac any way we felt like, rather than having to keep to strictly marked-out pedestrian paths like at most airports! The benefit of it being a small airport was that it didn't take us long to get through passport control and out the other side. There is a direct bus which runs from the airport into the centre of Kaunas (bus 29), but it only runs once per hour and the next one was due at 14.25. If our flight had been on time then we would actually have had to spend quite a lot of time sitting around waiting for it, but as it was we pretty much walked straight out the door of the airport, found the bus stop and got on the bus. I thought Malta's buses were good value for money, but Kaunas definitely wins the prize for the cheapest airport bus; a single from the airport into the town was a mere €1 each, despite the fact that the journey took approximately 40 minutes. The bus actually terminates at Kaunas train station, which is a couple of kilometres from where we are staying, so we'd decided to try to be clever and get off the bus partway along the route, as some studying of Lithuanian bus timetables last weekend had revealed there was actually a stop on the same road as our apartment. I was a little bit dubious as to whether we were actually going to manage it, but it turned out that the bus had a helpful visual display announcing the next stop, and so we succeeded We'd notified that apartment owner that we would arrive some time between 3 and 4, so we set out to find the apartment. Lithuanian addresses can be a bit confusing, and the address of the place we were staying in was given as 16/10 on this particular road. A bit of googling revealed that this meant building 16, flat 10. We found building 16 quite easily, but it looked like there were some sort of local government offices on the ground floor so we didn't really want to go wandering around. Tim called the apartment owner instead and she said she would be with us in a minute. She was true to her word, showing us up some steps to a pleasant little apartment on the first floor. It wasn't the biggest apartment in the world but it looked fine for one night, and it was great value for money at only €36 The only thing which was slightly odd was the bathroom, with the toilet somehow being located in the middle of the floor rather than up against a wall! Oh, and the fact that we had no running water! The lady explained that the water had been turned off for the whole area between 9 and 3 today for some sort of work, but that it should be coming back on soon. We had seen some men doing roadworks as we walked up the road from the bus stop, so it looked like the work was running over a bit! She offered to bring us a bottle of water, but there was a shop just round the corner so we set off to get our own supplies. Once we'd stocked up on the essentials, we headed back out for a stroll around Kaunas. It was a beautiful sunny day here, and we enjoyed walking around the pretty little streets of the old town. There was one street in particular which we remember from our visit in 2015. This was L. Zamenhofo gatve, named after the creator of Esperanto, who apparently lived on this street at some point. It had taken us completely by surprise in 2015, because we had no idea it existed, but it was less of a surprise today Once we'd taken some Zamenhof photos, we continued on our way towards the main square. We soon found ourselves outside Kaunas' cathedral, which is rather unusual being completely made out of red brick. The main square is just across from there, with the town hall on the right and another, arguably more impressive, church on the left which we had initially assumed was the cathedral itself on our previous visit. We walked across the square and around the back of it, trying to find our way to Kaunas castle, which we were sure we had found somewhere around here on our previous trip. We soon came across this slightly scary statue, which definitely looked familiar... ...and then we were there. We didn't go into the castle itself, but followed a pleasant path around the edge of it, which leads through a park alongside the river. There were some lovely views back towards the centre of town... ...and we also found the place where the rivers Nemunas and Neris converge. It was getting towards 6pm by this point, so we decided to walk back into the city centre in search of something to eat. We found the long pedestrianised avenue which we remembered from last time we were here, where there are plenty of cafes and restaurants I had a nice pizza and Tim had a burger, though he wasn't entirely happy about the ratio of burger to salad/gherkins! We were feeling pretty tired by this point so walked back to the apartment to cool down and have an early night. Happily, by the time we got back we found the water had come back on and was running normally! We are travelling to Vilnius tomorrow, but our train isn't until 13.46, so we will have some more time to explore Kaunas in the morning
  2. 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
  3. Yesterday was rather tiring so we didn't make a terribly early start to today, not heading out to explore Kaunas until nearly 10am. Luckily this didn't really matter, because the old town is literally right on our doorstep. The main street looked beautiful in the morning sunshine and today looked like it was going to be a much warmer day than yesterday. It turns out that this red-brick building which we walked past yesterday evening and assumed was just a normal church is actually Kaunas's cathedral! This church which we thought last night was the cathedral (purely on the basis that it was in the main square near the town hall and had the word "Dom" written on the front!)... ...actually turned out to be the church of St Francis Xavier. It appears to have had rather a chequered past, being originally built by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, then converted into an Orthodox church under the Tsarist rule of the nineteenth century but returned to the Jesuits following Lithuania's independence in the 1920s, before being used as a technical school and a sports hall(!) during the Soviet years and finally returning to the Jesuits in 1989. In comparison, the actual cathedral doesn't seem anywhere near as exciting, although the guidebook says that it does have the honour of being the oldest Gothic church in Lithuania. Slightly more exciting (to me at least!) were the floral displays of ladybirds outside the town hall We walked round the corner from the main square... ...and found a rather strange sculpture of giant insects. One disadvantage of being in Lithuania is that it's pretty must impossible to understand any of the explanatory plaques on the monuments, so we have absolutely no idea what these were for! Round the corner we found a less disturbing statue of the Lithuanian poet Maironis, who lived in Kaunas. At the edge of the old town is Kaunas castle, believed to first have been constructed in the mid fourteenth century. This was the only place where we really found any evidence of other tourists in Kaunas; there was a coach party of elderly Germans listening to what sounded like a very dull lecture on the history of Lithuanian fortifications from their tour guide. There was another rather strange monument here, but we couldn't work out what it was commemorating. The flag in the background is the city flag of Kaunas. The castle is set in attractive grounds, and so we were able to escape the (admittedly small number of) other tourists and wander through a shady park overlooking the river. From there we were able to continue onto a riverside path beside the river Nemunas, passing on the way the church of Vytautas the Great. This is another one which has had a turbulent past, having been first built by Vytautas (a leader of medieval Lithuania) in the fifteenth century, and subsequently destroyed by floods, burned down by French troops in 1812, temporarily reopened as an Orthodox church in the nineteenth century, then used as a barracks and a warehouse in the twentieth century before finally being returned to the Catholic church. We walked along the river for quite some way, because I wanted to find a different church which I had caught a glimpse of yesterday on the bus from the airport to the railway station. This is the church of St Michael the Archangel, unfortunately slightly obscured by some ongoing road works, but nevertheless rather stunning. It was built in 1891, when Kaunas was part of the Russian empire, as a Russian Orthodox church for the use of Russian soldiers who were stationed at a nearby fortress. It was also supposed to symbolise the Russification of the city. It was converted into a Catholic church, which it remains today, during the interwar years, albeit having had a spell as an art gallery under the Soviets. Just outside the church is the start of one of the longest streets in Kaunas, Laisvės alėja (Liberty Avenue), which runs for 2km back towards the old town. The entire street is lined with trees, which makes it a nice shady walk on a sunny day, and there were some beautiful views back towards the church. This is the new part of town, where a lot of the buildings were constructed during the 1920s. Lithuania regained independence after the first world war, but was in the unfortunate position of having lost Vilnius as its capital, with that city first being occupied by the Bolsheviks and then annexed by Poland. Kaunas was therefore declared the "temporary capital of Lithuania" until Vilnius could be liberated. This presented Kaunas with a few practical problems, as it didn't possess all of the infrastructure which would be expected of a capital city. A big programme of building was undertaken to construct new government and administrative buildings, as well as a sewage system and a public transport network. Today Laisvės alėja is full of shops and restaurants, which was fortunate for us because we were absolutely starving. We managed to find a pizza restaurant whose menu had useful pictures, and settled down to eat with a nice view of the avenue. Tim had a chicken burger with a side order of sweetcorn, I had a hawaiian pizza and between us we had three drinks... which came to the startling price of €14, or about £10. Wow. After lunch we explored some of the streets parallel to the main avenue, finding a monument ot Vytautos the Great... ...as well as Unity Square, where there is an unusual war memorial. We had seen in the guidebook that behind this square there was a funicular running to the top of a small hill, where there was another interesting church. Lithuania is a predominantly flat country, so the guidebook did warn that the hill hardly seemed worth building a funicular up and that the authorities had considered closing the steps up the hill after the funicular opened to encourage people to use it! Just by chance we found the steps leading upwards before we found the funicular entrance, so we decided to try walking. It only took five minutes before we got our first glimpse of the church of Christ's Resurrection. This rather unusual-looking church was designed after 1918, when Lithuania wanted to build a new church to express its gratitude for independence. Kaunas was chosen as the location for the church in its role as temporary capital. Due to various difficulties with the funding and the construction work, the church was not substantially completed until 1940. This was rather unfortunate, as it was just on time for the Nazis to use it as a storeroom and Stalin to declare it should be used as a factory. Following the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in the 1990s, work on the church continued and was finally consecrated in 2004. It's a truly enormous structure and difficult to fit all of it into one photo! The area around the church seems to be an affluent suburb, with lots of pretty wooden houses. We wandered around it for a while, looking for a park which we had seen on the map. It proved to be rather elusive and when we did get there it turned out to be more of a forest than a park. It was nice to walk under the trees for a bit though, and we did find a memorial to the Lithuanian aviators Darius and Girenas, who tried to fly non-stop from New York to Kaunas in 1933. They successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but crashed and died in Poland, just short of their destination. We were getting tired by this point and had walked 10 miles, so decided to head back to our apartment for a rest. Kaunas is an attractive city with a really pleasant atmosphere and we would definitely come back. Tomorrow, however, we are heading to Ignalina, a small town northeastern Lithuania near one of the country's national parks
  4. 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
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