A new road had been built since the last time I had driven to Kaunas in 1998.
It was so luxurious
and still very little traffic. In certain places the road was 1 or 2 metres higher than the surrounding farmlands and the setting sun
cast a complete shadow of the van and us against the fields as we drove along.
We travelled about 50 miles from the border to Kaunas and I headed for the
Lietuva Viesbutis - Lithuania Hotel - in the centre. I knew they had a secure
car park(extra cost!) and it wouldn't be too expensive.
In fact they were repairing it and the prices were all low - £14/night for 2-bedded room! No breakfast was available because the restaurant was being rebuilt. You could take breakfast in another hotel - The Neris - just around the corner, however we had all the food and tea for such events and settled into our room to enjoy a nice cuppa.
I noticed the cars were more modern with imported Opels, Fords and Mercedes replacing the Ladas and Moskvitch, and the noise from the adjacent carpark of security bleeps and alarm systems going off occasionally, now 'old hat' in England, was their latest status symbol, a sort of two fingers to the old repressive Russian times.
I telephoned a couple of friends and arranged to meet them tomorrow(Tuesday).
Tuesday 13th April
Again, the day began with clear skies so I took Nathalie for a walk to the very old part of Kaunas.(map) The older part of the city, lies mainly in the valleys at the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas, Lithuania's main rivers.At this point they were both about 100-150m wide, and came together at the end of the old town area to the west of the centre, then on to the Baltic Sea.
The hotel opened out onto a wide side street adjacent to the main street, all
pedestrianised and tree-lined. We walked right towards the main street, the
Laisves Aleja -Freedom Avenue. It stretched for at least one kilometre, dominated
by a Russian orthodox church 150m from one end. The litter bins, smaller in
diameter than usual English ones were sunk into the pavement, just a 4"
rim sticking up to warn you.
You could only hear the sound of people walking. The traffic was too far away to be noticeable.
I called in to the Post Office - Pasta - as I had done 11 years ago, to buy
some stamps. It was still the same. Built like a railway booking hall, spacious
and high ceilings, the cashiers in old style Russian booths all around the walls.
At the far end the road curved around slightly to the left and passed under a road busy with cars. The attention was taken by many old ladies kneeling, clutching a picture of Christ hoping to get a few coins for the daily bread.
After the underpass the road changed into a cobbled street, 'Vilnius gatve', still with traffic restrictions, the quasi-mediterranean architecture, with red tiles or only corrugated roofing where, allegedly, the Russians had taken the tiles back to their houses in Russia and left the poor Lithuanians with only steel corrugated sheeting.
Vilnius Gatve heading towards the town hall(one tower visible) Further on from
the town hall is where
the rivers meet.
It finally opened out into a large square dominated by the twin towers of the
town hall. I took Nathalie around the back of one of the buildings to show her
where the first recording studio I visited in 1993 to work was and to have lunch
in the Skliautus. A nice back street cafe/bar with a good selection of food,
not fast food, but high-level cuisine.
In 1993 I stayed for 5 months and it was common to see only small portions
of salads, fish on display, two halves of Lithuanian black bread - tasty! -
apart from a beef stew called Troskinys. The Troskinys was still on the menu
alongside fillet steak, chicken breast, and other exotic dishes as would be
found in high class London restaurants.
We took the Troskinys. I was transported back in time and thought about the numerous times I had visited this place in '93....
The rest of the day was spent first with Giedrius, a sound engineer extraordinaire who took us out for another lunch.
I took the opportunity of snapping some sleighs outside the restaurant.
Things had definitely changed although there was still an economic crisis. I couldn't work out how everyone had managed to buy new cars. The wages were appalling. Average is £250 month(APR2004).