So… I got into Riga late last night. The bus station appears to be in the less salubrious part of town (the Maquis De Sade nightclub, hotel bar and restaurant is just down the road). I noticed large groups of men standing around scowling at each other, I had a moment of realisation when I heard one of them yelling at the other “Fred over here mate” that they were all in fact British stag parties doing a traditional rampage through Eastern Europe. In fact the man doing the shouting had a Yorkshire accent which was both strangely comforting and homesickening. I decided to get off the streets and out of the rampage (and as far away as possible from the Marquis de Sade hotel) as fast as I could and ended up staying in an exhorbitantly expensive hotel. Being tightfisted I decided to make the cost back by doing my laundry in the bathtub in my room. It’s the first uninterrupted sleep that I’ve had on this trip so it was worth the cost.
I’ve started to shoot “Yorkshireman Displaced – The Movie” on my camera phone. If I can find a way of uploading it you can join in with my adventure. Tonight I travel on the sleeper bus to St Petersburg. More blog action soon.
Today (my final day in Lithuania) I visited Trakai, which has a castle in the middle of a lake. I saw some (fake) knights fighting. I’d post pictures but I’m running out of time – I have to get to St Petersburg through Riga in Latvia so I’m catching a bus up that way soon. Expect a proper update in the next couple of days. Oh and Lithuania does amazing pasties but rubbish cups of tea
1) Goths happen. Incidents of goths can occur anywhere: Liverpool; New York; Bangkok; Cairo; Beijing. They can appear in the most unlikely of circumstances, inprobably attired and waiting to scowl in your direction. I have often wondered what happens as Goths get older. Do they lose their essential Gothiness and morph slowly and respectably into bank managers and accountants?
2) Someone will snore. In any given dorm in a Youth Hostel filled with N* backpackers (*where N is any number of entities called Serge, Ilyana, Sean, Nico or Dwight (invariably Dwight comes from Illinois and has a neck like a roast ham, he is a jock)) one person will make the whole room shake with their sonorous snore. It will sound like blue whales echolocating and it will keep YOU awake.
3) If you are travelling alone you will stop for lunch in a pavement cafe. The cafe will have red and white checked table clothes and umbrellas poking though the tables. The cute waitress (or waiter if you are a girl traveller) will take a shine to you and one beer with your lunch becomes three. This will make you slightly tipsy. You will spend the whole afternoon working up the courage to say to the cute waitress “You are better than these thugs, these dregs of humanity that you are forced to serve. Run away with me, we will live in motels”. You end up fantasising about the life you will lead with the cute waitress, about how she will get a job as a nightclub singer and you will earn money through some petty crime, maybe minor drug dealing. The motel you live in will have a small swimming pool in the centre of a courtyard filled with unswept leaves . Eventually one of you will upset the local mobster and you will have to tearfully part ways and your love will be doomed to tragedy. But instead your courage fails you and you leave the cafe without asking her…but as you pay the bill you give her a smile that you hope says everything that you couldn’t say out loud…
4) Everywhere you go plays dire Euro-pop or techno on a beat-up stereo system.
*[I’m hoping that at least one of my readers knows where this quote is from]
When I was a teenager, one of my favourite books was “On the the Road” by Jack Kerouac. Unfortunately being a teen in the 90’s U.K. was not conducive to epic road trips. The problem being that if you travel for more than about 8 hours in any direction in Britain you have a tendency to fall into the sea. I think one of the reasons I’m making this trip is that cheap air tickets to the Baltics, the end of the Cold War and the thawing of diplomatic relations with China suddenly make trans-continental travel across Europe and Asia a totally feasible concept. I can suddenly fulfill my teenage dreams (except J.K. wasn’t renowned for his advocacy of public transport systems as he preferred ripping up the road in his convertible)
So anyway. I’m now in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and I’m hoping from here I should with out much of a hitch make it across the border to Russia in the next couple of days. Vilnius is a much more happening place than Kaunas on a bank holiday was. More people seem to speak English too. I’m staying in a Japanese style style capsule hostel so I have a wooden box the same size as a mortuary slab to sleep in. Oh and the guy in the box next door is The Loudest Snorer In The World. And the sink doesn’t work. Still the lighting in the dorm is made out of funky coloured L.E.D.s.
On a grimmer note, I went to the Vilnius Genocide/KGB Musuem yesterday. As the name suggests the former KGB headquaters here have been turned into a memorial for the people killed by the KGB when Russia invaded and annexed Lithuania (from around 1945 to 1991). Lithuania is unfortunately placed in the heart of Europe and has historically been invaded by Swedes, Germans, Poles and the former USSR. The museum was quite eye opening, especially to a man such as myself to whom the KGB were merely the comedy villians to James Bond’s superspy. It goes without saying that some of the museum was kept intact from the KGB days as a reminder of what happened there, this includes the sound-proofed torture chamber and the execution room.
On a lighter note to that, this morning I located the Frank Zappa monument. It appears that the late Mr Zappa had a huge fan base in the Baltic region and they erected a statue in his honour in the centre of town. I should be meeting a friend-of-a-friend who lives here tonight so hopefully I’ll get to know some of the locals.
Only 9,900 miles to go before I reach the Pacific (at this rate it’s going to take me three months)
So behind me (somewhere) is the Atlantic Ocean and in front of me (somewhere) is the Pacific Ocean. I need to cross the intervening vastness by spend as little cash as possible. I’ve currently got as far as Kaunas, in Lithuania. Unfortunately it is Orthodox bank holiday (it’s the Feast of the Assumption I think?) here so almost everything is closed. I had a look around the Castle which took all of 20 minutes then went to look at a couple of the churches and an antique shop selling Ikons, war memorabilia and what looked suspiciously like Leon Trotskis glasses. Kaunas is a wierd mix of European influence (Trolley cars, primary colours everywhere and pavement cafes) but coupled with the sort of Soviet architecture you normally only see in Andrei Tarkovski movies. Indeed the bank holiday meant there was no one on the streets, which was faintly disturbing until I worked out why.
The only other ‘tourist’ attraction that I could find advertised in English, read something along the lines of ‘Hot evening with Exotic Ladies’. I wondered if the Exotic Ladies in question with their obvious grasp of the English language might be able to help me find a train to St Petersburg. However something about the advertisment bothered me. Perhaps it was the way they winked coquetteishly from the poster that made me think the Exotic Ladies in question might have other things on their minds than linguistics and train timetables. Hmm.
I found the bus station in the end so tomorrow I’m off to the captial Vilnius and from there to St Petersburg. Incidently the reason I thought that The Nondecomposing Corpse of Lenin might be in St Petersburg, was that the old name for said city was Leningrad, thusly making it a good place for storing him.
Still only 10,000 miles to go…
Tonight I will be landing in Lithuania, from there over the I will be crossing the border into Latvia and then on to St Petersburg to see the Non-Decomposed Corpse of Lenin(TM). After that I will head to Moscow where (hopefully) I shall catch the train across Russia and Mongolia to Bejing. I will fill in the details as my haphazard adventure unfolds.
In less than one week from now I will be starting out on my epic adventure to cross Northern Europe and Asia using only the train network. You, dear reader, have probable noticed that I’ve been suffering from chronic case of writers block, add to that the fact that I have to use the library internet which is on a timer, and you have a deeply unsatisfactory reading experience.
Help however is at hand in the form of Yorkshireman Displaced’s blogging adventure. I’m soon to become very displaced indeed. The catch is that although I’ll have loads of time to write and sight see, I won’t be able to blog on the move very easily but keep checking in. I fly to Lithuania on Tuesday and from there I’m going to Beijing, via St Petersburg, Moscow, Irkutsk, Ulaan Batar, The Gobi Desert and the Great Wall of China. I’ll be in touch…
My Yorkshire tea (which comes in leaf form) is too fine for the size of tea strainer so I ended up with silt in the bottom of my mug. Oh well.
I’ve got lots of Yorkshire pudding batter stashed in a cupboard though so I’m going to be eating that later (once it’s cooked).
On a completely different note – does anyone remember me saying that I was planning on doing the Tran Siberian Railway? Well my visa is nearly complete and should come through next weekend… Stand by for Trans-Continental blogging action