Part of my Lithuania visit involved a complete change of scene. I took the 16:45 train from Vilnius to Klaipėda. It’s on the Baltic coast, 3 hours 45 minutes away. The train was modern, fast and comfortable, but not high speed.
I saw more trees in those 3.75 hours than I’d see in a month in Scotland, but nothing you could call a hill.
Railways in this part of the world were built (mostly) under the Russian Empire, and treated St Petersburg or Moscow as the centre of the network. Russian gauge too, so wider and much more spacious than a British train.
Having said that, the city’s route into independent Lithuania in the 1920s was via the German Empire rather than the Russian one. Long story, as usual.
I had two nights “away” to see Klaipėda itself (the country’s port and 3rd city) and a bit of the coast. In all my many visits to Lithuania I had never made it to Klaipėda is spite of doing a pile of work in 1998 for LISCO – the state shipping company – which was based there. My colleague Ramunė did the traveling.
It was fascinating. The look and feel of the city is different again to that of Kaunas or Vilnius.
It was only when I got on the train back to the capital that I realised a couple of things. First, everyone I came into contact with was friendly and helpful. Everyone.
Secondly, the quality of all the services I used was top quality. All of them. Hotel. Restaurants. Car rental. The ferry company. Even the Circle K petrol station where I struggled with the automatic pump – the checkout operator came out and “coached” me.
Forto Dvaras is a chain of traditional style Lithuanian restaurants. It is a good way to dip your toe in the water, and they have “international” food as well. In the Klaipėda one they have specialities of that region too.
Whilst I wanted to see Klaipėda, and I liked what I saw, it was also my gateway to Nida. More on that later.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2018