No matter how many times it happens, the feeling of waking up alone in a country without a plan is something that never gets old. With no friends to suggest what to do, no appointments to keep, no job to show up for, nobody expecting your call (not even a cell phone with which to make calls from). Just you. And maybe a map. Or a book of train times. Nothing in the distant future that might cause you to make an informed decision as to your next destination. Nothing except choice. Choice, straight up. Double, with a twist.
The first morning I woke up after Sal left for London (on that flight I’d also bought a ticket for but didn’t take), I remember asking myself hey wait a minute – why am I still in Latvia again?
Because here I am, in Riga (a place I’d only recently discovered even existed), with a couple changes of clothes and no plan.
Wasn’t this what I wanted?
Did I think this through?
Nope. Then again… that’s really no surprise, is it.. (shut up)
But what this random last minute decision offered me was the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do in this city in which I knew nothing about. So, I went exploring. I went exploring like it was my job. I explored the dark, cold, desolate and rainy streets of Latvia in the winter. I stumbled on the most amazing remembrance ceremony I’ve ever seen. And when I was done, I went to the hostel common room and started googling the shit out of Eastern Europe. Because apparently this is where I am.
Lithuania borders Latvia, I discover.
I’ve never been to Lithuania.
Shall we go to Lithuania?
A grand idea!
As luck would have it, after several days alone in Latvia, I came across three other travelers in the same hostel (The Naughty Squirrel, for those of you looking for a fun place to stay in the Old Town) who were heading to Lithuania. Done, I thought. I’ll go with them. A few clicks on the internet machine, and I was booked, on a one-way-bus-ticket, with a couple of strangers, to a country I knew nothing about.
A few more clicks of the internet machine later, and I found a girl on couchsurfing.com who was offering her home as a crash-pad for homeless travelers like myself. Perfect, I thought, should I ask if these other strangers I’m traveling with can stay with me at this stranger’s house in this strange country? I asked, and it was okay, and that’s how Julien and I shared our first air-mattressed night together. In Lithuania.
So 4 hours and 40 minutes later and the bus transported us from Riga to the dignified, European Capital of Culture (together with Linz, Austria) – the majestic city of Vilnius. Now what I didn’t know then is that, because of its Jewish influence until the 20th century, Napoleon named it the “Jerusalem of the North” as he was passing through in 1812. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. Cool eh?
It wasn’t long after arriving in Vilnius that the three of us were dressed in our finest backpack attire and out exploring all that Lithuanian nightlife had to offer. Armed with Vilnius’ finest “irish whisky” beers (syrup of the cream of the Irish sitting in the bottom of your lager, give’r a good stir and you’re in the company of something uniquely delicious), and a local who knew where to go and what to do, we partied til the wee hours of the morning. We met some other couchsurfers, exchanged contact info, and from the dancing ache in my legs and the high ceilings of Raminta’s old soviet style apartment that I woke to the next morning, I can only assume that we managed to stumble home at some point.
Lithuanian people are gorgeous. Perhaps the most gorgeous people on the planet. Tall, fit (I don’t think I saw a single overweight Lithuanian), fluent in English (…and Lithuanian, and Russian, and usually one or two other languages too), and ferociously friendly once you’ve broken through the stony facade. Eastern European stereotype to a tee. Wow.
I officially need more Lithuanians in my life.