Sunday, October 16, 2011

Exeter - Lithuania

Cast of Characters for Kaunas, Lithuania:

Toby: My travel companion.

Ieva: Lithuanian couchsurfer, possessing a huge crush on Toby.

Jon: Swedish traveler on “business”, staying at the hostel.

Andreas and Andreas: Traveling Greeks staying at the hostel.

Bret and Felicity: A kiwi couple

I was creeped on again on my way out of Exeter and back to Bath for the night before my flight to Lithuania. I was sitting on a bench at the Exeter train station, waiting on my train to Bath on Sept 30th. The platform was fairly crowded, but there was an empty space next to me. A rather normal-looking guy came and sat down, greeting me with a “’Ello, love” as the English are want to do. I smiled and replied with a “Hello” before going back to reading my book. Honestly, I don’t know why I say anything to men anymore. I’ve run into a lot of creepers and it seems like all they need is a reciprocated greeting before they launch into their pathetic life story.

This guy was no exception. Not only was he no exception, he jubilantly informed me that he had been released from prison that very day and was on his way back to Bristol to reclaim his flat, turn his gas back on, get himself “smarted up” and out to the clubs to hopefully find a good lay for the night. Oh, and by the way, the reason he was thrown in prison was totally not his fault, and that security guard just fell on his fist and he had nothing to do with all that fighting stuff they accused him of. Really.

He was very happy and friendly, but the situation was so sudden and his story was so bizarre that I was too stunned to tell him I was married or something. I had been wearing that wedding band as a normal ring around Exeter because I didn’t think I needed it. Obviously I just need to permanently travel with a symbolic MARRIED: DO NOT ENGAGE proclamation on my finger.

Actually, it might only keep the nice, attractive, respectable men away and have no effect on the creepers. Damn.

A little old lady sat down next to him and he greeted her with the same happy “’Ello, love!” I thought I was free at that point, so I started to gather my things under the guise of a restroom visit. I had a thought to rescue the little old lady, but before I could make my decision he jumped up and told me he was visiting the toilet. Then he asked if I would watch his stuff. I agreed out of politeness. He then pointed to a grocery bag and said, “There’s candy and a newspaper in there if you fancy some of that. There’s also a magazine in there – oh, but on second though it’s a lad’s mag, so you probably won’t want to read it. Or maybe you do . . .” and walked off.

Did an ex-con really just offer me candy and a porno at a train station? Yes, this stuff happens to me.

After he came back he thanked me and I made my great escape with a smile and a “Good luck!”

I really need to get rid of this creeper magnet I have hidden on me somewhere.

So I caught my train and made it back to Bath a few hours later. I was greeted with a “Welcome home!” by Rob when I walked into Bloomfield House, and spent the night regaling the Barnard-Westons with stories of my last two weeks and listening to their own news about Rob’s trip to Uganda, Finn’s plans for his school break, and Kari’s experiences with the guests. I really feel at home whenever I’m there. I absolutely love that family. Finn convinced me to make enchiladas for them again, and we busted out a bottle of wine and had a great time. Thankfully no knife fights were had.

I woke up at 5am the next morning and got a lift from Finn to the train station at 6am. We parted with a hug. I then spent the next four hours riding trains and buses across the countryside and navigating London’s subway system, which was a singular kind of hell. There’s not much to say about it other than that it’s annoying as all get out when they close the lines for maintenance.

I spent six hours in London Lutin’s airport before I left for Lithuania.

Ryanair flights are crap, and Lithuanians treat flights as a kind of party. The seatbelt lights were flashing on and off the entire flight without any reason. We stayed at the airport for thirty extra minutes before takeoff because forty bags were somehow mislabeled. You don’t have seat designations – you just pick where you want to sit, so people are constantly getting up and trading places and wandering around. The flight attendants are contracted to try and sell you tons of useless shit. The pilot is probably using this as a chance for experience before signing up with airlines that have higher standards, because he couldn’t land smoothly for anything.

I arrived in Lithuania feeling groggy, tired, gross, and thoroughly sick of airlines. I stood in the queue for my passport check with a feeling of apprehension and dread. However, the woman only looked at my passport, glanced at me, and then stamped it and sent me through. BAM! Europe at your feet. I freaking love being American. There’s an agreement between most of the EU countries that if you’re accepted into one EU country, you’re automatically accepted into all the others. It’s called a Shengen Visa and it’s badass. I now have access to any EU country coming from any other EU country with no hassle.

Toby was waiting for me in the airport. We caught a bus back to the hostel and he told me all about his experiences during the week and the people he had met. We arrived at our hostel in the middle of Kaunas city center, a mixture of modern architecture and fountains and old Cold War type buildings. The Monk’s Bunk was hidden in an alley behind a Hezburger (Lithuanian equivalent of McDonalds) on the main street. It looked dark and ominous from the outside and I was pretty skeptical at first. The inside was beautiful and cozy though, and the accommodations were way better than what I had experienced in Cork. You remember the French chicks. Ugh.

My bunk in "The Monk's Bunk"

The wall of visiting countrymen - each visitor paints their flag on the wall if it isn't already there

I took a shower and promptly passed out. The next morning Toby woke up early and got us a breakfast of pastries and suspicious milk. Then he took a nap while I explored Lithuania a bit.

Tasty pastry breakfast with suspicious milk brand

Kaunas is a little eerie. It’s an odd mix of old architecture and new, shiny buildings. One street will be new and modern and bright, and the next will be a dark, depressing stretch of Cold-War era buildings and scary-looking graffiti.

In Lithuania they don't just give chocolates, they give feelings.

Not many Lithuanians actually speak English fluently. Many speak Russian, but obviously that doesn’t help me out. English has become popular with younger Lithuanians and especially academics, but the majority of the over-35 population doesn’t speak English. Asking for directions is a pain. If you start talking to an older person in English, they generally just glance at you and keep walking as if they haven’t heard. Some will stop and smile and then start speaking rapid Lithuanian and making extravagant hand gestures that make absolutely no sense. After a few seconds of encountering a blank look they give up and walk away.

I finally found a hairdresser in this huge mall and chopped my hair off. The woman didn’t know a lick of English, but I had searched for a reasonable hairdresser in England for about a month and I just didn’t care anymore. I’m traveling. I don’t need to look pretty.

Thankfully she did a good job because, no lie, I probably would have really regretted it if my hair looked terrible. I say I wouldn’t, but I would have. We all know it. Also, that haircut turned out to be about $5. Amazing, I know.

Side story: Toby informed me that morning that he only had a pair of big hiking boots with him and that he needed to apologize because they tend to smell at the end of the day. Bastard decided to inform me of this after I actually arrived. He thought it was funny as hell. So I left that morning with a mission to fix this problem.

I bought him some Eastern European shoe spray and presented it as a gift to him later. Haha, sucker! I don’t suffer smelly man feet.

After exploring Lithuania for the morning and half the afternoon, I returned to the Monk’s Bunk and hung out there for a while with Toby. We decided to try a traditional Lithuanian restaurant for dinner. We ordered cepelinai, which as is a traditional potato dumpling dish. They refer to them as “pancakes” when speaking English, but I have no idea why as it’s really a stuffed and boiled or fried potato that is distinctly un-pancake like. Toby had the traditional kind, which was boiled and stuffed with minced meat, sour cream, and “bacon sauce”. I ate Žemaičių blynai, which was a “grated boiled potato pancake filled with cooked and minced meat, sour cream, and butter sauce”. It was actually fried, so I’m not sure if that was a typo or what. It was okay, but not amazing.

Lithuanian "pancakes"

We met Toby’s cute Lithuanian friend Ieva at the hostel after dinner because she wanted to go out. We decided to hang out and chat for a while. Jon, a Swedish guy who was staying in our room, happened to pass by with a bag full of booze in hand. According to Toby he had been there for a few days but didn’t seem inclined to hang out with the other guys that had been there before I arrived. Naturally I called him over and introduced myself, and asked if he wanted to join. Much to Toby’s surprise, he accepted and sat down to share his beer.

We had a great time chatting about what everyone was doing, our plans for life, where we were all traveling, etc. Jon seems to lead an almost charmed life. His luck is simply impressive. He was an electrician in Sweden, but bagged his current job as some kind of customs salesman (it was confusing) for Scandinavian airlines by going to a bar and meeting and drinking with his now current boss. Now he travels all over Europe and works a few hours a day in meetings with representatives before spending the rest of the time binge drinking and partying on company money with his boss’ consent.

Ieva is a pretty Lithuanian girl that just got her degree in graphic design and plans to go and make it big in London. She wants to go over and work as a waitress in the most popular area of London, First Zone, and apply for jobs around there. Lots of Lithuanians have this idea. Toby and I didn’t tell her that this probably wouldn’t work out. Hopefully she’ll beat the odds and actually make it.

Anyway, we set out for to a pub after we talked for a bit and loosened up. Poor Ieva wore heels for the first time in five years. She was having a bad time of it, and her walking resembled some kind of epileptic gazelle. We went somewhere called the B.O. Bar. I’m not kidding. They had no idea what they were advertising.

We spent the rest of Sunday night at that bar, with Ieva and I watching Jon and Toby get absolutely smashed. Toby and Jon spent a lot of time wandering around the bar making friends with people at other tables (somehow successfully), while Ieva told me how much she liked Toby.

I was jealous of those two. I spent most of the night convincing Ieva that it was probably a bad idea to try and start a relationship with travelers. Especially British ones.

Eventually Ieva and I decided we wanted to leave. Jon was beyond plastered at this point and had found a rowdy group of English-speakers to entertain. I felt a little responsible for him, so I went to ask if he wanted to leave yet. He said no, but also decided that his best course of action was to reach around me and grab my butt.

I slapped him.

Then I gave the person next to him a pen and told them to write “The Monk’s Bunk” on Jon’s arm and deposit him into a taxi at the end of the night. Thankfully I waited a few seconds before high-tailing it out of there, because they wrote “Frank’s Bunk” instead and I had to get them to cross it out and write the correct name before I left. There’s no telling what would have happened to Jon if I hadn’t waited. Do Lithuanian’s name any place “Frank”?

I deposited Ieva in a taxi with a hug, and Toby and I walked back to the hostel. Jon showed up a few hours later with bloody knuckles, so I had to patch him up before he passed out in a chair. We think he fell on the stairs outside the hostel. Poor guy.

Jon after a long night out. Check out his arm.

The next day we bought tickets for a night bus to Warsaw, Poland, and spent the day playing table hockey with a couple of Greeks named Andreas and listening to a newly arrived Bret and Felicity tell us about their trip around Europe and Africa. You meet all kinds of interesting people in hostels.

We packed our bags, settled our accounts, and left the hostel to catch the bus at 10pm and begin the next phase of our journey.

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