Hey guys Douglas here and I hope you enjoyed my first article on Poland, Rzeczpospolita Polska: God, Honour, Fatherland. I can’t wait to share with you guys my thoughts on two beautiful places, the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania. I hope you guys would enjoy this article as much as you enjoyed my previous one! 🙂
I left Poland feeling too comfortable about where I was. I love Poland and I just want to indulge more into the country and be more integrated to it. However, the great journey must continue and I am on to Kaliningrad in Russia!
I am confident that most of people do not have a clue where Kaliningrad is. Even if they do, they did not believe such a part of Russia actually exists. Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave bordering Poland and Lithuania. It is the most western part of Russia.
The city used to be called Königsberg, or the City of Kings, and it used to be a major city and capital of Prussia before Berlin. Königsberg was annexed by the Soviets after the Second World War and it was renamed Kaliningrad after one of the Soviet heroes.
It was my first time going to a country which requires a visa and honestly speaking I was nervous. I entered the bus filled with Russian citizens and I saw myself holding up the customs because of my uniquely Singapore Red passport. I was damn right, I held the entire bus for an hour myself. Clearly a moment of fear and anxiety. Thank goodness I befriended a local, Olga, who gave me much needed assistance through the customs. Olga also helped me find directions to my hostel which made me feel so thankful for her help! 😀
Kaliningrad is famed for their half-German and half-Russian architecture. However I saw more Soviet-era buildings instead. It was unexpected but it was such an eye-catching experience, like I was being wrapped back in time to the Soviet Union. I never thought I would be surrounded by the living ghosts of communism anywhere else but North Korea.
Fun fact: I heard there is a statue of Lenin by a McDonald’s.
I met up with my friend, Melissa, who came from Lithuania and we went to this work of nature known as the Curonian Spit. The Spit is a small strip of land mass facing the Baltic Sea and around it, beautiful forests.
After the Curonian Spit (where we were accosted by vodka-fed gold diggers on the way), it was time to finally see the famed city proper.
We moved to the Königsberg Cathedral, the most Germanic icon of the city. The city’s strongest Germanic icon was amazing, for the sacredness of God is felt. The Cathedral is also the tomb of Immanuel Kant, the legendary philosopher. Students of the Humanities should definitely visit his tomb to pay your respects. 😉
There was a building in Kaliningrad which has a large impact on me. It was called the House of the Soviets. It was not a beautiful sight but rather it was a sad one.
This building was supposed to be a mark of communist victory over the German fascists. They razed the illustrious Königsberg Castle and build this over it. I felt if anything, it was a real shame and pity. Yet it is beautiful in its own ways, in being a tragic ending of the site of a gorgeous monument. I am really happy that the castle will be reconstructed soon.
It was on to the city square and I saw for myself the first Orthodox Church ever and I am impressed by how new and beautiful it looked. It was really orthodox in design.
The city square felt so amazing. I am seeing a blend of capitalist and communist influences and it is eye catching and a feeling which I will not forget. After dinner, with Russian vodka of course, it is time to leave the city, with Melissa to Vilnius and me onward to Klaipeda.
Kaliningrad is a city which I will never forget because I felt most challenged there. I cannot understand Russian and that was the biggest pain in the arse to me. One day I have to return but I will make sure I can manage the pyccknñ language.
Next up is to one of the three Baltic states, Lithuania. Lithuania is pretty unknown to me before that. I only know the country as being the other half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the pre-modern era. My first stop was the city of Klaipėda, by the beautiful Baltic coast.
The city was formerly the city of Memel, a German city. There are many German tourists over there, mainly descendants of the Germans who resided in the Eastern most city of the German Reich.
At Klaipėda, I took a boat ride to the other half of the Curonian Spit and landed at the small beach town of Nida. I admit, it was a rash decision to go to Nida because what I did not realise was I had only 30 minutes to cycle around the spit before the catching the last boat back to the main land.
At Nida, I could only venture so far into the Spit. It was a pity and I blame it on my own poor time management for not being able to explore this artifact of nature. Still I manage to get some lovely views of the Baltic. It was like being in a state of seclusion away from the horrors of reality. A land in which no being or entity can touch me.
In a rushed move I returned to Klaipėda and went to explore the Old Town. The Old Town was unlike any other. It was small and chilling and strangely quiet. The Town Square was empty. It was definitely a nice walk around, to feel so separated from most of humanity, to be my own person in pure beautiful solitude.
It was just about time to watch some football. The Euros had began and there was no better way to spend the night with beer in a hand. In the pub I met some Lithuanian students who were there for a great night to. They were Dominikays, Julius, Gedas, Bruckus and Aukse (if I miss out any of you I’m sorry 😦 ). We had some great banter over the table and learning about each other and I was so pleased and happy that I made some friends over the table so easily. They were really friendly and interesting people and Domi even knew Singaporean history (better than many Singaporean students as a matter of fact).
They brought me on a pretty sweet midnight joy ride around the city and I was like so awed, amplified by my slightly intoxicated state. The merry gang brought me to the northern part of the city, which was essentially a dock and I had one of the most beautiful night views of the ocean.
They were nice enough to bring me back to the hostel and meet me again the next day and definitely I said yes to their awesomeness.
The next day I went to the beach town of Palanga, just a few kilometres above Klaipėda. The beach town was definitely not some Kuta Beach in Bali. It was pretty chilly and sunny at the same time. I love the combination and for the first time I saw so many sea gulls! The whole town was so peaceful and it is definitely a place I would go to give myself extended alone time.
I spent a few hours just sitting on the soft sands of the beach reflecting all I have done and why did I do so. I never felt so at ease and assured with myself. I sat there and absorbed the serenity until I felt satisfied with myself. I then returned back to Klaipeda to meet up with the gang of friends I made the day before.
We watched two matches of Euros and had good beer as always. I tried some Lithuanian beer snacks. One was deep fried bread while the other was smoked pig ears. Thank the gods for my Chinese genetics, for being able to savour the pig ears.
That summed up the adventure at Klaipeda. It was really awesome and happening for me, considering it was just a quiet seaside town. I loved how peaceful it was and seemingly detached from society. Klaipeda would be the place to live your own life and dwell and embrace in solidarity. Can’t find any way to go there than to go there alone.
Thank you my friends from Klaipeda for being there to make my time there so great! I really really want to meet you guys again so badly and I believe a chance have come for me to do so. I am planning to go to Vilnius University for a student exchange in two years time and I hope I do get to see you friends. Ačiū my friends! 🙂
From Klaipeda, I move on to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. I entered Vilnius depressed. It was the final stop of my grand journey and the end of the greatest moment of my life. I was more than determined to enjoy myself and make the best of it.
The city is filled with religious sites and beautiful architecture. Orthodox and Catholic churches could be found so close to each other. It was pretty much like Singapore’s blend of faiths within the city.
There was so much to see and to learn at Vilnius and I was so amazed and enthralled by the beauty of the city. Granted, it is not a Paris or London with iconic landmarks, but the city itself have such rich culture and uniqueness inside that is definitely not comparable with any other land.
I would not have been able to understand the historical significance of the sites at Vilnius without the help of Domi, who showed me a cute animated rap of Lithuanian history. Thanks mate for the video! 😉
The city folk are so friendly and warm, even though it is a little chilly there. Also the city is extremely friendly to non-Lithuanian speakers as there are English directions around the Old Town. It is a very comfortable city to spend time at. I visited Vilnius University and actually toured the library there and embrace myself in that house of knowledge. It was definitely enlightening for me to explore the university and it is so different compared to the overly modern structure in Singapore.
What I thought was the most significant part of Vilnius was the starting point of the Baltic Chain at the Gediminas’ Tower. The point started a massive human chain bigger than any seen in Zouk, involved 2 million people from Lithuania, through Latvia, ending at Estonia. It was to protest the Soviet rule over the Baltic states and I felt so honoured to have visited a site of freedom from the arms of dictatorship.
From Vilnius there was a site similar to what I have seen in Malbork in Poland. There was the small town of Trakai, which has a medieval castle by the lakeside. Over there I met two students from the nearby city of Kaunas, Melek and Xinwen from Turkey and China! We decided to travel together for the day and explore the beautiful castle of Trakai.
Meeting them was really a joy and I definitely enjoyed their company! It was so nice making friends across the world. While not as impressive as Malbork, the beautiful lake where the castle stood beside definitely fulfilled a lot of my medieval fantasies. It was made better with new friends. 😀
I returned to Vilnius after Trakai and was getting ready to end my final night in style, with a huge party. Always the best place to make friends, I definitely did not want to waste my final hours in isolation. What’s better more to do it with drinks of course.
It was definitely a night to remember and I am so grateful to met all my new friends, who taught me so much about themselves. Love the way my night ended. 🙂
Now that my night have ended, you might think it was the end for good. Not true. I met a Lithuanian who was visiting the university named Vaidas. He was a fellow historian like myself and we had good chats before. On the day of my departure, this bloke brought me to a pub and of course we did the only obvious thing possible there.
As taught by a German historian I met, Kein Bier ist leichter als ein Bier, for it is so difficult to stop after the first, we had a few rounds of quality Lithuanian beer. In essence, I ended my trip on a high note. Finally I made it to the airport and it was farewell to my adventure.
I left Europe feeling pretty damn great about myself obviously. It was not because I went to Europe, or I made it cheaper than it looked (less than SGD 3000 total), or the exoticism in the trip, or maybe because it was hipster. It was because I truly found myself in my travels and manage to savour the true meaning of independence and freedom.
I was responsible to myself and no one else. I had the leisure to be the person I want to be without the prying judgement of society. I was no one to anybody. I loved that feeling of being honest to myself in who I am. I also valued the interactions between the people I met. Such openness and respect for one another can barely be seen in Singapore. I doubt I can find this anywhere at home and I will only be able to experience this as a traveler.
I have learnt so much during this trip, both knowledge and skills. I cannot be ever grateful for being able to travel alone by myself and gain so much from it. I remember myself leaving Singapore in tears of fear. I returned in tears of joy, as I waited for my flight at Frankfurt-am-Main.
I strongly encourage everybody to travel alone at least once. It allows people to find themselves and who they truly are to themselves. This trip has to be the ultimate self-reflection I’ve gotten. I am left with amazement at what I have accomplished with this first trip and this is without doubt my greatest achievement and the best thing I have ever done with my life. With this I conclude my personal entries on my first every solo travel.
Thanks to my family once again for giving me the support for making this dream a reality at the age of 21. Without all your help, I surely wouldn’t be able to make it through. Special thanks to Melissa as well for inspiring to kick start my solo backpacking account.
To all my readers, I hope you have enjoyed my articles on my first ever travel account. If you got anything you would like to know more feel free to ask me about my trip, drop me a comment at the bottom of the post or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Thanks for spending the time to read this and I hope you enjoyed this! 😀