Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trip update


The blogger app doesn't work well on mobile, and it's annoying to add photo captions and wiki links and so on. So I'll update the posts with better pics (non cell phone quality) when I get back.

I'm in Riga now, and soon heading to Rezeknes in eastern Latvia. We'll be in the middle of nowhere, so wish us luck.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this picture of a lady who wanted us to take her picture, and didn't want it for herself.



One of the motivating factors for choosing the Baltic countries was the cheap airfare. The other interesting one though was my nerdy need to keep noting how north I have been. Until now, the northernmost city I had visited was Hamburg.

On this trip I've already been more north than before, right since day one. It's surprising how little we (in India) ever hear of Lithuania. The guide books and the tourist info points talk about a rich 1000 year history for many cities. Napoleon sacked the city of Kaunas twice; wished he could take the church in Vilnius back to Paris. It's surprising to me how religious Vilnius is. There are literally hundreds of churches (I mean metaphorically) and thankfully almost all of them survived Soviet rule. A few of them are orthodox Russian, and those ones are the most interesting to me. The guide book also told us to visit Trakai nearby, so we took the 30 minute buys ride there.

The Trakai castle is in the middle of a lake, in a small town surrounded by lakes. It feels quite touristy, and the houses by the lakes give the impression that affluent people have a summer home here. Our next stop is Kaunas, about 2 hours away from Vilnius. It's the next biggest city, and is very different in feel compared to Vilnius.

Kaunas falls more Soviet like. It has large featureless buildings, buildings with garish colours and buildings in the centre of the city in various states if disrepair. It also feels like fewer tourists drop by here. We hear more Russian here than in Vilnius, even though we are not father away from Russia. Kaunas lies at the confluence of two rivers, with the old town right next to this spot. We spent less than 24 hours in the city and it didn't feel like we missed out by not staying longer.

Next up, we headed to Klaipeda, a city on the north-western coast, close to the Russian border. At this point I expect you to do a double take unless you know about Kaliningrad, and then wiki up the info on it. I wanted to visit the Curonian Spit ever since reading about it in Michael Palin's "New Europe". The sands dunes here feel like they should belong to the Sahara. The town Nida is beautiful, with pretty houses by the Curonian lagoon. The waters of the Baltic were a chilly 18°, freezing my toes and driving away any thoughts of taking a dip.

We heard the most Russian in Klaipeda, which is not strange considering the border is nearby. Cashiers speak either Russian or German, and when the lady clearly meant that I could leave after I'd paid the supermarket bill,  I hilariously got told, "Get out".

Each of these cities felt like they belong to a different culture/country. I didn't realise there was so much diversity in these small countries. I was told 5 days would be more than enough to see Lithuania, but I guess most people only know about Vilnius. I could easily see myself coming back to see other smaller sights, and also go back to the dunes in the Spit.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Summer trip

The way you document a trip, is to begin with a photo of stuff you put in your bag, laid out nicely in an almost-rectangular grid.

And then you list all the items in it:
  • 5 T-shirts in a Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Half Cube.
  • 1 Shirt
  • 2 Trousers and 2 shorts (it's summer!)
  • Socks and underwear in a Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube.
  • Swimming trunks, light t-shirt and ultra-light towel.
  • Cheap sunglasses, painkillers/over-the-counter paracetamol/meds.
  • Toiletries bag (soap, shaving kit, roll-on deo).
  • Cocoon Grid-It Organizer for electronics (should've got the bigger one):
  • GoPro 3+ Black with extra battery backpack, waterproof housing, a floaty mount and selfie stick (don't judge me, it's useful).
  • Canon 1000D with two lenses:
    • Tokina 11 - 16 mm f/2.8 (a heavy lens to build your neck muscles)
    • Canon 40 mm f/2.8 (weeeee pancake lenses)
  • Summer shoes and beach flip-flops (hidden in the plastic bag top-left).
  • Rain jacket and a super light pull-over for slightly-cool nights.
  • A small card game to occupy us on the boring bus trips. 
The whole thing (minus the cameras, and lenses) weighs around 9.5 kgs with the bag. Pretty good for a RyanAir flight. And notice that I'm not cheating by stuffing my pockets full of stuff to avoid going over the weight limit.

I'm pretty proud of myself.

Where am I going?

Draw a Z-shape on a map, starting from Vilnius, going through Riga and ending in Tallinn (or Helsinki, we haven't decided yet). Maybe that's a N-shape. I'll let you decide. S will join me directly at Vilnius, and then we'll do a combination of buses/trains until we reach Riga. Then we hire a car and visit eastern Latvia (going close to the Russian/Belarussian parts) and the natural parks of Estonia.

Let's hope this time I actually post updates on the trip... unlike last time where I just wrote the first entry and promptly gave up. (Sorry?! (if you are looking for an apology))