Travel broadens the waistline

It’s a fairly long way to Vilnius from Spain.

You have to go via Warsaw or Helsinki or even Moscow, but Moscow involves a transit visa, and it means flying over Vilnius in order to come right back again, several hours later. Such graceless inefficiency offends me.

And … if there is one cast-iron rule of travel it is this: never take a route that requires a visa unless you have absolutely no choice.

I could have gone via London or Amsterdam. These options were somewhere north of 27 hours each way. My computer presented them anyway, with a straight face, as if I might seriously consider them.

No sense of the ridiculous – one of the many problems with Windows 10.

vil1

From my analysis (I looked out the plane window as we came in to land), I’d say that Lithuania has a lot of trees.

I got to my hotel (The Congress) late afternoon on a Sunday.

I am not the sort to dismiss a hotel as little more than a place to sleep. I spend a lot of time in my room because if I didn’t I would be in restaurants eating and drinking too much.

For the business traveller, there are two choices in the evenings: too much food and alcohol, or sitting in your room watching CNN.

I travel enough that each trip does not feel like the only opportunity I’m ever going to get to eat out in a restaurant … and so I ration that pleasure … and believe it or not, I like going for a run and then sipping nutritional powder dissolved in 200 ml of water in my room while watching the news in Lithuanian.

I would prefer to have a beer and a burger but you can’t live life that way, you have to have the self-discipline to avoid immediate gratification, force yourself to do exercise and limit your access to things that you know are bad for you.

Although in this case I was knackered and starving, so I went to the restaurant and had a beer and a burger.

Books from different places

It was in Vilnius that I started my quest for books from different places. I decided to buy a book from everywhere I visited, ideally a novel by a local writer that gave me some insight into the place, the idea being to deepen my understanding of where I was without having to visit any boring museums or talk to anyone.

It started well, I got the excellent little Vilnus Wilno Vilna by Kristina Sabaliauskaitë, three short stories that offer views of the city from three different perspectives: Polish, Jewish and Lithuanian. I bought it at Vaga and read the whole thing on the flight home.

Runs in different places

To paraphrase Mark Twain, a run is something I want to have done, but not something I want to do.

I am only able to run because I never decide to go running. Instead I put on my running togs, walk to the place where the run is set to start, and then start running. At no point do I ask myself “Shall I go for a run?” because I know the answer will be “No, of course not, there’s the news in Lithuanian on, and I don’t want to miss it”

Once I start running, my body fights back, making it clear that running is not on its priority list. If I push past that, I get into a rhythm and soon I’m enjoying myself and able to feel smug in the way only people doing cardio exercise can.

I also love running as a way of seeing a different side of a city. It is a simple low-tech way of getting around, so much more straightforward and under my control than public transport or even riding a bike, although both can be fun too, depending on the traffic and the hills.

And so, as I finished the first day’s work in Vilnius, I decided to go running by the river. Some people were going for drinks after, but as I am not into the consumption of vast quantities of alcohol, and had already traced the running route I wanted to do, I decided to skip drinks and stick to my plan.

The river was not so nice. It was trapped in a concrete channel as it looped through the city, strictly kept in its lane, unable to make new meanders that might disrupt the city structure. This was a few metres below the city proper, meaning all but the most abundant floods could be held within its banks.

I took the steps down to the river level and started jogging west, toward a large park I’d seen on the map. There weren’t many people around as I followed the gentle curve of the river, and it was nice and peaceful to be plodding along, hearing the traffic noise in the background, but feeling far away from it.

After about three kilometres the path rose away from the river toward street level, and I gently jogged upwards, pacing myself, unsure how much of a hill this was. It wasn’t much, and soon I was running next to a busy road but I could see the park ahead, and in a minute or two I was in it and away from the traffic again. It was wonderful, peaceful and beautiful in the evening sun. The part I was in was heavily wooded, although it seemed to open out up ahead, so I ducked down a path to the right that went back downhill toward the river and deeper into the woods.

I was guessing the route, but had guessed correctly, and after about ten minutes of glorious peace, I emerged by the bridge I had been aiming for. I crossed the river and turned right into a small green space, hoping to trace my way back on the opposite bank of the river. This wasn’t so easy, there was no way down and seemingly no path. I ran on, feeling increasingly unsure of what I was doing, but confident I knew more or less where I was. There were dogs, large black labradors I think, and no owner, and I suddenly worried that they might attack me, and if they did, I wouldn’t have many options other than to shout “sit” at them and hope they were domesticated enough to pause for thought when a human barked an order at them.

I ran around the back of a school, and deep into some more woods, this time they were wilder, with thorny brambles everywhere. This was the kind of place people might come for obscure sexual trysts or drug taking, although there was no evidence of either. It was feeling more and more like a dead end, and so as soon I could I made it onto a street, and ran in the general direction I imagined the river to be. This is not so obvious because rivers don’t run in straight lines, not even ones held in concrete channels, but I found it … although the river was on three sides of me at that point, so finding it was probably less of an achievement than it sounds.

Thankful to be back by the river, and now running along its bank at the lower level, it was easy to get back to the hotel. This side was less well-maintained, and so I had to be more careful in spots, but, with the sun shining and the castle in the distance, I felt elated at having almost made it back, and having done enough exercise to justify a beer and a pizza.

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