Europe | Lithuania – Eurotrash
Sunday night Sexton and I had a row. “I hate travelling!” “Then you can go home tomorrow!”. By Monday night we were united against a common enemy: we decided that if Lucy were food, she would be a crab vol-o-vent. Which is totally unfair for someone not even 2 years old who is being dragged along like a piece of whining, crying, excess baggage.
I don’t know what Sexton was so upset about. OK, the hotel sucked compared to Marius’s flat and to the air brushed pictures on the Internet. And I’d somehow missed the word “rehabilitation centre” on the website. We were surrounded by pensioners and one-legged people in wheelchairs. Marius had first recommended something in the town centre but then admitted it would be “noisy” in high season. And after just a couple of hours of boardwalk bombardment, we’re grateful for quiet. But we’re just that far out of town to walk. So we have the hassle of getting the baby, buggy, stuff, shopping, etc on a bus (40 UK pence each for an 8 minute trip) or in a taxi (Â?1.40, 3 minutes, plus hassle of folding buggy, etc).
Anyway, I don’t know when things went wrong. We left Vilnius without a hitch. In fact everything about Vilnius was fine. I’d be hard pressed to find any complaint. Marius and Birute were just as wonderful hosts as if I’d been there yesterday, not 8 years ago. I worry about some of the brutal honesty I’ve written in previous entries of this journal
(then why put it online?) but in this case I really can’t say we found anything at all difficult about Marius’. Ok. The 7 flights of steps maybe. Or puppy piss – but parquet and stone floors are certainly easier to clean than carpets, and the family was on top of it.
So, anyway, I couldn’t see what there was to upset Sexton there. On the train we had a sleeper compartment. Lucy and Sexton both slept most of the 5 hour journey to Kretinga, while I thought about the train’s origins in Moscow, and dreamed of future trips when I, too, might take a sleeper train to Russia. The Lithuania countryside rolled by, flat like a pancake. People tended their gardens, milking cows in fields, cutting grass with scythes, pulling water from wells. Lithuania was still Lithuania. I took great comfort in that. Though I felt sad about not visiting my ancestral land this time. Both previous trips, in 1996 and 98, I travelled by bicycle or private car. The really rural areas of the country simply could not be reached any other way. It was a big enough adventure taking public transport from Vilnius to the Baltic coast.
It was a bumble getting off the train, queued up in a narrow corridor, folded buggy wheels tripping over an unnecessary carpet, somehow bumping poor Lucy on the way down so she was crying by the time we reached the platform. We looked for a bus but everyone seemed to speak only Russian, not even Lithuanian. (Palanga is still a popular Russian tourist destination).
One Russian who spoke English said that there “might be a bus in half hour”. We took a taxi instead, 25 litas or Â?5, from Kretinga to Palanga. It must have taken less than 5 minutes in total from train to being inside the taxi on our way.
The hotel is rather grim, especially from the outside. The paint is peeling and stained, like any typical old Soviet tower block. The lifts have not been refurbished and still have buttons in Russian. There are so many people walking around in bandages it feels like a war has just ended. We have a view of a construction site.
The room is clean, however, and the shower is powerful and hot. The bed is hard and perfect. But there is nowhere near the space we had at Marius’s. The place is very cramped. There is no bathtub for Lucy (who screams at even the word “shower”) and no balcony for Sexton to smoke on. There is no way to heat baby bottles and no way to wash them*. We are on the 10th floor, so even if we hadn’t left part of the baby monitor in Vilnius, we still would not be able to go anywhere. We have no choice but to all go bed at the same time. Which means a very stroppy baby staying up very late, and very stroppy parents going to bed early.
But in travel terms, this still is not all bad. It’s the best we can afford, and far cleaner and nicer than anywhere we stayed on the Romanian trip (dogs barking all night, dirty sheets, more dogs etc). I had expected that having a few days on our own in a hotel would be a treat. We had dropped off our stuff, settled in, ordered extra pillows and towels for Lucy, and headed for town. I’d chosen Palanga over more cultural towns like Klapeda, for the benefit of Lucy – and benefit her it did. Although Lucy had enjoyed Marius’ place, his youngest daughter Agne is nearly 13. Lucy missed seeing kids her own age. As much as she loved the dog show we went to in Vilnius, her favourite animal there was a fellow one-year-old human.
Palanga was full of toddlers. All the restaurants had play areas with toys. And at that age, language doesn’t matter much. Lucy had so much fun playing she hardly ate any lunch. We got to the beach; there was a beer bar right there (Â?1.20, quite expensive for Lithuania where its usually about 50 p – in the centre of Vilnius one day we had 1 1/2 pints of beer AND a pack of fags for Â?2.50 – on the most touristy street). The water was icy but Lucy met toddlers and played and had a great time.
But she was in a mood when we left the beach at 7:30. Our lunch had been very late, 4 pm, so the parents weren’t hungry. But the little on needed food NOW. The first place we tried had no toilets- no good for beer drinking adults. We ended up in the upmarket Zuvis something, “Fish Restaurant.” In the terrace out back we could get away from the 8 million variations of bad Euro trash disco coming out of every other bar on the main drag. Until a guy started playing the electric piano… badly.
The staff were incredibly patient with us, we only ordered beer and one plate of food for Lucy. And the food was excellent. Fresh trout with steamed vegetables. Miss Fussy pants ate almost half the fish herself. It was worth all for the Â?8 it cost – a lot for Lithuania, where we can usually order most of the menu for that. It was also great for me to eat something that wasn’t fried or smothered in cream – as a fish but not meat eating person, I end with a lot of heavy cheese here. I recommend the place, and we later discovered a great play area with big wooden blocks in an old boat. Kids were making towers. It all looked rather dangerous but lots of fun. Lucy loved it.
Sexton was still moaning about the awful piano man, but he was good by Palanga standards. At least he wasn’t singing. As we made our way out in search of a supermarket to buy milk, Euro trash emanated from all sides.
Sexton and Lucy waited outside while I braved the very hot and crowded store. A plastic bag broke before we got our cab but that can happen anywhere, not just when travelling. The total supermarket bill was Â?4, for beer, salami, fruit, milk, Halls and yogurt snacks. Getting in and out of the cab was a hassle, as was finding one in the first place.
Getting Lucy ready for bed was hassle since she wouldn’t go in the shower but we had to get the sand off her somehow. She refused her milk. And then Sexton started going on about how he hates travelling and never wants to go anywhere again. But was it really so bad? Ok, it will just be me and Lucy after this year, but I will miss him, even in his misery.
(*later I got into the hotel kitchen; staff turned out to be very helpful, and the price of the hotel was much less than I had though it would be, which would have made me less annoyed from the start if I’d known.)