We’re finally back in Lithuania, where our Baltic trip began, what now seems a couple of months ago. In actual fact, it hasn’t quite been a whole month since we drove off the ferry in Klaipėda. It is, however, one month to the day that we set off in the car from Amsterdam.
This time, we’re in the south-east of the country, the capital, to be precise: Vilnius.
Today’s 181 km drive convincingly demonstrated Lithuania’s claim to be the European country with the greatest density of stork pairs. Supposedly, the country is home to 13,000 white stork pairs and 500 of the much more unusual black variety. We saw innumerable nests en route today, as well as fields with eight to ten individuals at a time.
After the last couple of one-night-stand towns, Gulbene and Daugavpils, it’s nice to be back in a place deserving of more time. On this stop, the earth will rotate about it’s axis four times before we seek pastures new. That should allow us to see the capital at a nice, slow pace and free us from the rigours of driving, such as they are on the easy, open roads of the Baltic countries.
Vilnius is, like Rīga and Tallinn, a charming city, more than worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage List status. Lithuania’s capital boasts one of the largest old town areas in Europe, and it shows. The city’s greatest pleasure is, perhaps, wandering its cobbled streets and alleys, chancing upon courtyards and snug, hidden treasures. It’s the ideal place for a romantic midnight stroll, or would be, if leaving one’s children alone in the hotel room were a safe thing to do.
There’s a profusion of churches here. I can’t think of another European city with quite so many of them in close proximity to one another.
Dinner tonight was at the excellent Bistro 18 on Stikliu gatvé, whose service was as top notch as the nosebag dished up. Full marks for a delicious meal.
Another gastronomic mention must go to the Coffee Inn, which, whilst being a chain, avoids the pitfalls that make chains something to steer clear of. For example, the food is made on the premises, fresh each day. The coffee, I’m happy to report, is very good. There’s also free WiFi, so you can check your e-mail as you sip your peppermint mocha.
Unusually for us, we’ve also opted for a chain for ours digs. We’re staying at the Ramada Hotel Vilnius, because of its location and the rave reviews we read during our research. Now we’re actually here, I’m also relieved to find that the hotel has a character and atmosphere all its own; seemingly no attempt has been made to assimilate the place into homogenised global corporate pulp.
Further exploration of the city is on the agenda for tomorrow.