Arriving in Lithuania
Lorries bound for Baltic destinations accelerated past us in the dusk. Their ease at thundering over pot-holes without a second glance contrasted with our caution. “Pot-hole,” I shouted to Stuart again and again. He was right behind me and couldn’t see the road in front. Often my warning had to extend to some of the other immediate dangers, “Pot-hole, puddle, dog, pot-hole!”
“That pothole is the size of a mini,” Stuart exclaimed taking a triplet sized detour around it. “And that dog is the size of pig,” said Cameron, as a tiny creature with a shaved back made a noise in the roadside gloom. “Is it a dog or a pig?” I wondered as the creature made a fresh din as Stuart trundled by.
Potholes, pig-dogs, bats and drunks?
Bats zig zagged overhead as we took on the dual carriageway in the dark, worried that the trucks might try to turn right in front of us and knock us into the gutter. Stuart was doing his best to navigate through Lithuania‘s third biggest city with a map the size of his hand, few road signs and a torch with flat batteries. You could safely say we were tense. The children, on the other hand, were excited, playing their new game of ‘bat and ball, grabbing the captain’s shirt in their hands, pummelling our backs pretending they were basket balls, and dissolving into giggles.
It was Sunday night, nearly Monday morning and taxi cabs were ferrying partied out youngsters to street corner kiosks for food and cigarettes. High rise blocks towered above us, washing draped from every balcony taking advantage of the hot summer air. Two drunks stood at a street corner with cans in their hands, singing loudly and hugging each other. As we approached they tried to hug us. “It says in the guidebook Lithuanians are an outgoing and gregarious people,” said Stuart stoically. I counted to ten in Lithuanian and hoped they would disappear. They did, as we sped up to get past them. A kilometre on, Stuart realised drunk corner was the place we were supposed to turn off at get to our hotel. So back we went for a hug. Thankfully, the drunks had moved on to hug someone else.
Blindly guided by Google
The hotel had given me specific directions. ‘Look for a white brick house with a number 3 on it. Then make your way to a house labelled number eleven. If the white door is closed, ring the bell.’ But we hadn’t seen any houses since arriving in the country; only tower blocks.
“I think we’re looking for a tower block called number 3,” said Stuart as we wandered up and down the same road playing I spy a white house.
“Do you think they mean that vets’ clinic,” said Matthew, pointing to a sprawling discoloured building.
“No, I don’t,” I said as Stuart turned into a shabby street and the kids began to count down the tower blocks in odd numbers.
This really doesn’t feel right
“I really don’t think it’s here,” I called to Stuart as we pedalled straight into what appeared to be some kind of sink estate. People smoking cigarettes shadily dotted burnt out washing covered or graffiti ridden balconies. The communal scrub was littered with paper and broken paving stones. Storey upon storey of Lithuanian life towered above us, making our bikes seem small and vulnerable. Stuart pulled up at a brick wall labelled number eleven.
“That’s not a house, and it’s not even a door. It’s a wall,” I argued.
He told me to go around the corner and take a look. The corner brought a fresh pile of rubble, half built steps and broken paving. I negotiated mounds of builder’s sand, to reach a white front door. I rang the bell and two plump women in spectacles beckoned me in, babbling in Lithuanian. I listened for the numbers one to ten, the only local phrases I knew but recognised nothing.
No, this really is it…
One of the women grabbed Hannah and drew her into her ample arms for a kiss. To my surprise Hannah rewarded her with a smile and took her hand as they showed her a huge room that was a mixture of euro trash bling and hostel shabbiness. The whole of one wall was a printed mural of an American skyline, the chic skyscrapers a somewhat unflattering contrast with our hosts tower block skyline. Black sequined scatter cushions on the beds spelt out the words ‘LOVE,’ red blinds and curtains draped the windows keeping out the view, and a series of beds lined the room covered with blankets embroidered with black and yellow snowflakes.
The women busied themselves making a sofa into yet another bed, and together we carried out a jolly conversation in pigeon German, our only common language, while Stuart scattered tandem, triplet and trailers around their hall and reception. They informed us we would have pancakes brought to our room at nine a.m. At least I understood the nine. Then, with yet another kiss for Hannah, the women swept out of the room, leaving us looking at the skyline of Manhattan and contemplating our time ahead in Lithuania.