Baltic Log 1: Half The Fun Is Getting There

Last fall Embry signed up for a choir tour in several Baltic countries organized by her former choir director at All Souls Church. I volunteered to go along as a groupie. We are supposed to meet up with the choir in about a week in Riga, Latvia, but we are starting with time on our own, which we are using to visit Lithuania. I am writing this first installment sitting in a graffiti enriched, deteriorating , ancient courtyard in the Old Town section of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. We have been sitting here all day waiting for our bags, which we have been without for two days, and there is no assurance when we will get them. 

The reason we are sitting outside in the courtyard rather than in our basement Airbnb apartment, the “best value” Embry could find in Vilnius at $45/night, is that when and if the Finn Air driver ever shows, he won’t have a chance in actually finding the door to get into the vestibule leading to the treacherous stairs down to our subterranean unit. It took Embry three phone calls to the owner and more than an hour for us to figure it out ourselves.

The reason that we do not have the bags is that our Finn Air flight from JFK to Helsinki (business class, thank heavens, so I can’t complain) was delayed by six hours, though to be accurate it was not actually delayed, we just had failed to note the change in departure time. In any event this put us into Helsinki with less than an hour to make our 11:00 AM departure to Vilnius, so we were placed on standby for an overbooked flight leaving at 4:30 PM. The nice lady at Finn Air, taking pity on a straggling septuagenarian couple, bribed a couple of passengers to take another flight and squeezed us in. But the bags never made it. 

The last two days we have spent over 12 hours in airports and 12 hours in airplanes—longer overall than it took us to get to New Zealand! So here we are, exhausted, jet legged and wondering when or if we will get our toothbrushes, razor, and other essential stuff. Fortunately I had the good sense to put my meds in my backpack. 

But  life could be a lot worse. The weather is drop dead gorgeous with temperatures in the mid 70s, Carolina blue sky, and a gentle breeze. When we were informed that the bags would probably not be delivered until the afternoon, we got a chance to stroll along the narrow, cobblestone streets in Old Town, buzzing with activity, catch a bite to eat at an outdoor café, and stick our head in the largest (Catholic) cathedral, which, being Sunday, was jammed packed with worshippers. I guess no one has told them that God is supposed to be dead in Europe. And our first impression of the city is that while old and decaying in some neighborhoods, it is charming and provides a glimpse of one of the rare medieval, European towns that survived World War II bombings.

The most unique aspect of our journey so far at this early stage is our Airbnb  “apartment.” When we finally got all the  lock combinations right and found the right door in the courtyard, we made our way down a rickety, narrow stairway which led to a spacious room with 20-foot ceilings and four-foot stone walls. The information that Embry consulted on the internet described the room as being the basement of a castle, a bit of an overstatement since there was no castle anywhere near. I thought to myself that “dungeon” would have been more accurate. However, the owner had gone to some lengths to brighten up the place—terra  cotta floor tiles, good lighting, a six foot, modern stone statue of a nude woman and a large, baroque painting of a bare-breasted woman holding a scull along with several other unframed, impressionist landscapes, which I presume had to  be painted by the owner since I could not conceive anyone actually paying money for them. The room felt musty and damp and at first glance did not appear to have any windows. Upon closer inspection I spotted at the corner just below the ceiling one tiny window which measured about two feet wide and two feet tall, but was covered so that only a tiny ray of light entered the room. Small relief for a claustrophobic like me, but, hey, you take what you can get.  

At 8:30 PM just about when we were about to give up and turn our jetlagged selves in for the evening, Embry got a call on her cellphone that the driver was five minutes away. We waited outside as a very large van edged its way up the narrow street and stopped to unload. I noticed that there were at least a dozen other bags waiting to be delivered and could not help asking the young driver how many bags he had already delivered.

“Oh not all that many today,” he replied, smiling, “About 150 bags and 100 stops, almost finished for the day.” 

If you ever travel Finn Air, do not forget to take your essentials in a carry-on.

We inched our way down the steep stairs with the bags, holding on for our life, relieved and wondering what surprises Lithuania would have for us.