First Time Baltic

It seems like most of the travel I’ve been doing lately are spur of the moment. I see a cheap fare, I buy it for the cheapest dates, I put it aside until a week before I travel, and then I start going crazy researching for accommodations, important sights to see, and must-try food places.

This month, I’m taking a break from traveling abroad to collect my thoughts and write blogs, to possibly explore my current country of residence more, and because 2 groups of friends are visiting in late March. Just thinking of all the things I need to accomplish in March makes me wish it was April already. Too many extra-curricular activities, and I know I really need to work on getting papers published if I want a shot at keeping this lifestyle I currently have.

Last month though, I had an amazing time in Kaunas, Lithuania. It’s my first Baltic country and I did not really know what to expect. Unlike hyped up western European countries, there was nothing that I knew of Kaunas off the top of my head, except that it was once part of the Soviet Union. So, like the good researcher that I am – a few weeks after buying a spur of the moment ticket for Andrew and I to Kaunas – I went online and googled for places to see and places to eat in Kaunas. I told Andrew it was going to be a relaxing vacation, as opposed to a hectic touristy vacation. And just like the seasoned travelers that we are, we packed our bags, took a train to the Copenhagen airport, and waited for our flight to Kaunas.

The mood was dreary when we first landed. The sky was overcast, there was a slight drizzle, and it was cold. Since it was a RyanAir flight, we had to walk for a few minutes to the main airport building after disembarking from the plane. The Kaunas International Airport (KUN) was small and vaguely reminiscent of the airport I landed at in Bishkek, except I didn’t need to go through immigration.

Since Andrew and I did not have any checked baggage, we headed straight to the bus terminal. Airport buses that take you from the airport to the city center run daily. They have buses for the earliest flight out of Kaunas and for the latest flight into Kaunas. I find it quite amazing that they have this. A single journey bus ride, no matter how long, costs 0.80 EUR. For those who want to travel conveniently (although, I don’t see how traveling by bus in Kaunas is inconvenient!), there are cabs available right outside the arrival exit. Normally, a cab from the airport to the city center costs 15 EUR. Make sure the meter is flagged before the cab goes. Or, if the cab driver refuses to use the meter, make sure you negotiate your fare +/- the average cost to the city center.

We stayed at Hotel Ibis Kaunas. It was less than 50EUR per night with free breakfast for two people, 10 minutes walk from Akropolis (the big shopping center), and 30 minutes walk from the city center. The Kaunas old town is 45 minutes walk from our hotel, but one can easily take a bus for 0.80 EUR. There is a bus stop right beside the hotel that takes you to the city center, the old town or back to the airport.

Since our trip was a relaxing vacation, we decided NOT to leave the city of Kaunas (although we could have very easily taken a train to Vilnius or a bus to either the Hill of Crosses or the Curonian Spit). We stayed in on the day we arrived and on our third day, consuming our free breakfast and either ordering room service or walking to Akropolis and getting take out. We visited the city center and the old town on our second and fourth days. We left very early on the morning (as in, freakin’ 3:45am bus ride to the airport!!!) of our fifth day.

Our second day started off with a lunch at Berneliu Smuklė at the city center. Berneliu Smuklė is a highly-recommended restaurant chain that serves traditional Lithuanian cuisine with servers dressed in traditional Lithuanian dresses (sorry, I don’t remember seeing male servers). I ordered a Kiaulienos Išpjovos Kepsnys Su Traškia Skrudinta Rûkytos Šoninės Plutele (Barbeque Sauce Glazed Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin) for 6.90 EUR while Andrew ordered a rabbit stew (Smetoniškai paruoštas triušienos troškinys). Both were delicious and filled us to the brim. I was so full that I just wanted to go back to the hotel to sleep. I should have recalled this feeling for dinner that day. We had dinner at Medziotojai at the old town. The restaurant was decorated like a hunter’s lodge. Inspired by the decor, Andrew and I ordered a meat cocktail and a beer each and surprisingly, paid less than 20 EUR. At the end of the meal, suffice to say we decided to walk back to our hotel that night, intent on burning all the food we binged on.

We walked most of the day too. After lunch, we walked to the nearby garrison church of Kaunas, St. Michael the Archangel’s. It was fascinating to be in a Roman Byzantine style church built in the 1890’s and used as a Russian Orthodox garrison. The church has also been used as an art gallery and is now used as a Roman Catholic Church. St. Michael the Archangel marks the start (or the end, however you look at it) of the Laisvės alėja, one of the longest pedestrian streets in Eastern Europe. The street is lined with shops on the both sides and trees in the middle. Charming. Picturesque.

So we walked the entire stretch of the street, entering interesting shops every now and then while Andrew repeatedly asked where all the people were. Kaunas, during the time we were there, was a sleepy town. Even though most stores were open, we hardly saw people out and about.

We visited the Devil’s Museum, unique for its collection of art pieces and home furnishings with depictions of the devil. A block away from the museum was the Žaliakalnio funikulierius, an old funicular that takes you up to the Christ’s Resurrection Church where you can pay to go up to the terrace and get a lovely view of Kaunas. All worth it. 0.50 EUR for each funicular ride and 2.50 EUR to go up to the terrace using the elevator (cheaper if you take the stairs :p).

We also walked through old town’s Vilniaus Gatvė, an old medieval road that used to be all wood and later replaced by red bricks. Very charming, with its cobblestones and quaint houses. On the street is the Kaunas Basilica Cathedral built in the 1400s. It’s the largest Gothic structure in Lithuania and the only church built with a basilica floor structure. It’s intricate and amazing; maybe even awe-inspiring.

Our fourth day was spent visiting Kaunas castle and the House of Perkūnas. Both were interesting places. I can imagine how charming Kaunas used to be before all the houses were burned down. Too bad. I wish all of that got preserved. 🙂

On our fourth day, we also unintentionally rode the wrong bus from our hotel and ended up doing a city tour. Tired, after our unplanned escapade, we decided to eat a very late lunch at a Chinese restaurant and dinner take out from Akropolis. Akropolis is an amazing mall. The grocery store is flooded with all sorts of Lithuanian chocolate sold by weight. It also has cooked food and more grocery choices than Denmark will ever have!

Now, back in Copenhagen, this is what I have to say of Kaunas: sleepy, charming, very very cheap, friendly people, good service, great public transportation. I will definitely want to come back again. 🙂

March 05, 2017 | Copenhagen, Denmark

Took a Plane. Off To Bruges.

Hooray to Ryanair. I am in one of my spur-of-the-moment-buy-a-Ryanair-ticket-to-somewhere moments again. It hasn’t been a week since I arrived from an exhausting trip to Bergen. I haven’t really fully recovered yet and I’ve really only begun to slowly get back into my Copenhagen rhythm. Yet here I am out of the country again.

I am now in Belgium. My husband and I arrived today from an 8:40 am Ryanair flight out of Copenhagen to Charleroi and waited an hour for a 2-hour bus ride from the Charleroi airport to Bruges (see Fibco here, if you are thinking of following in our footsteps). Both the flight and the bus ride were uneventful (which is a good thing!). The bus had a toilet stall, which, for the duration of the entire ride, was kept locked. Hence, the recommendation (emphasis included!) to use the toilet before boarding the bus.

Like my so far gone teenage years, I am currently staying a hostel. Having lived and grown close to home, Andrew has never stayed in a hostel (there was never a need for one) and I wanted to give him that experience. Hostels are also a great way to save money on non-conference trips that are not funded by grant money (*cheeky grin*). We’re currently staying in an 8-bed dorm at  St. Christopher’s Bauhaus Hostel. The walls are thin and people from the bar below can be heard from the room, but the place is clean, breakfast is free, there are lockers to safe keep belongings, a magnetic key is available for each hostel resident, and toilets are stuffed with toilet paper and hand towels. I can totally live here for a few days. Our roommate experience has also been good so far.

We didn’t really get to do much today since we arrived later afternoon. We had late lunch at Artie: Andrew had Fleming beef stew and a dark dead skull beer (Artie’s local beer) while I had ragout chicken and a blonde dead skull beer. Portions were ginormous! I was so full, I wanted to roll back to the hostel. But the food was definitely worth it and the server was courteous and friendly. If you’re in Bruges, I definitely recommend having one of your meals here.

After a very late lunch, we went on a 30-minute canal tour. It was nice to see the city from the water for 8 EUR. Our our guide spoke in three different languages while driving the boat. The views were fantastic, but, to be perfectly honest, I did not find the verbal part of the tour satisfying. I hardly got anything from our tour guide. He spoke fast, mumbled a lot, and it definitely did not help that his speakers were creaky. Too bad for us. Especially  for me, since I was very eager to listen and learn from a local.

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View during the canal tour

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What a charming little door by the waterfront!

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I could stare at this forever! So pretty!!!

Our canal tour was followed by a short walk to the Brug Square and the Grote Markt. We saw the the gothic town hall, the belfry of Bruges, and the Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, among many other things. We had dinner at a cozy restaurant called One, which seem to be owned by a genuinely friendly couple. I had Flemish beef stew and a dark Trappist beer while Andrew had meatballs and a blonde Trappist beer. Now, the husband is unconscious (and possibly snoring) on Bed 3 and I will soon be unconscious on Bed 4. So far so good.

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Old buildings at the Market Square

 September 8, 2016 | Bruges, Belgium