Kaunas was unknown to me as the train pulled into a smoke stack covered cityscape with metal waste yards below the elevated level of the railroad tracks. The industrial sites seemed too near the east side of the Neman River for a healthy environment and not too many miles from the main train station. Kaunas is Lithuania’s second largest city at nearly 300,000 residents.
Santakos Park, Kaunas
I rode in from the east with the smoke in my eyes.
The imagery seen from the train matched my forebodings of a visit to eastern Europe prior to coming to Lithuania for the first time the year before. Most of my time in Europe since traveling to Vilnius, Lithuania in April 2016 has been exploring places in Central and Eastern Europe that were part of the Soviet Union until the 1990s. Poor air quality has been my major negative experience of these trips this past winter and early spring. I did not notice air quality issues last summer on my travels through Poland and Slovakia.
My travels have taken me to Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia. Enjoyable experiences has me longing to explore more places, despite air pollution issues. I have considered travel to Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and Georgia in my Europe planning.
One common feature for me traveling in each of these countries is finding wonderfully pleasant tourist-friendly city centers. Life looks relatively harder outside the generally small geographic and commercially vibrant spaces of the city centers in most of the cities I have traveled in Eastern Europe.
The other common aspect for me in these former Soviet Republic countries are the friendliness of the people and a popular culture firmly rooted in rock music and English language conversations I hear.
As a tourist I generally find myself in a chain hotel like Park Inn Kaunas in or near the commercial and historical city center where I spend most of my time sightseeing, dining and drinking beer.
In Lithuania and Latvia, beer is ‘alus’.
In Kaunas, 500 ml beer was 2.20-2.70 EUR in most pubs.
Skliautis just happened to be a pub I passed around dinner time when walking down an alley in Old Town after visiting Santakos Park, where the two main rivers of Lithuania, Neman and Neris Rivers, merge on their way to the Baltic Sea.
While drinking a beer I looked up Kaunas pubs and Skliautis pub was listed as one of the best in the city. Looked like the entire alley becomes the pub in summer, but only a small room behind the large heavy door was open on this early April day.
Walking into a bar can be an intimidating experience when you don’t know what is behind the door. What I found behind the large heavy door was a scene similar to one I commonly find in pubs in these places – the pub tables were mostly occupied by couples and small groups of friends and family with the majority of the patrons being young women in their 20s. The lady behind the bar did not understand my question when I asked which of the tap beers was a lager. Two college age women at the bar translated my question to the puzzled beer pourer and I got the kind of beer I wanted. Fast talk in Lithuanian and a bit of laughter among the patrons is also common to my experience walking into a pub of locals and speaking English. I didn’t take it self-consciously since I had no idea if I was the subject of pub amusement.
Santana played over the stereo speakers as I sat outdoors drinking my beer.
The beginning of Vilniaus g. in Old Town Kaunas, Lithuania is one endpoint of the longest pedestrian street in eastern Europe at more than one mile in length.
The reason I had come to Kaunas was simple. I wanted to try the Park Inn Kaunas to find out what kind of deal this hotel provides as a Club Carlson category 1 hotel at 9,000 points per night. I splurged and paid 50% more points for a Business Class room upgrade and breakfast. I basically had a junior suite, free breakfast and a hotel room for $54 in points, based on the cost to buy 13,500 points today.
Loyalty Traveler – Park Inn Kaunas Lithuania is Club Carlson Category 1 gem
Loyalty Traveler – Club Carlson Bonus Points Sale to May 15 ($4 per 1,000 points).
Park Inn Kaunas was near the other end of the pedestrian shopping street in Kaunas from Vilniaus g.
Homer Sykes – England 1970-1980 photography gallery exhibition
A couple opened a door and walked into a photo gallery where there was a hosted show. Free wine too. I rarely drink wine, even when it is free. The exhibit fascinated me for its photos of London punk rockers in the 1970s, along with socialites and working class street scenes and festivals.
RePUBlic #3 is a pub with several rooms and a bar at street level and a second bar in the basement. The walls were covered in LP albums and other memorabilia.
Friends (1971 movie with Elton John soundtrack) is a film I adored in the 1970s as someone who wanted to get away from it all and live peacefully with a partner in the countryside. My wife and I tried that lifestyle in Maine in the mid-1990s, but we find small city living easier these days in Monterey, California.
RePUBlic #3 mural beside stairs to basement level.
Hanging out reading a free English language magazine The Red Bulletin entertained me for an hour after a day of walking for five hours around Kaunas.
Two notable takeaways from the magazine stuck in my head after more than a month has passed. One was the Iggy Pop interview where he says collaboration with others keeps him going. I take that to heart as I have become increasingly disengaged from travel bloggers and travel industry people in the past couple years. My interest is more on travel and less on selling and promoting to and for others.
The other article was about Dr. Julia Shaw, a memory hacker and psychological scientist in the Department of Law and Social Sciences at London South Bank University, who says many of our memories are false or inaccurate.
Dr. Julia Shaw – This Woman Can Hack Your Memory
As I contemplated buying another beer, a beautiful Lithuanian woman with waist length blonde hair sat down at the next table three feet directly in front of me. She was friends with one of the pub waitresses and the two talked for several minutes. It was all foreign words to me. They were too captivating for my eyes. Time to move on.
Of course, my memory of the blonde Lithuanian beauty may well be inaccurate or false, although, I am certain she had long blonde hair to her waist.
A quick walk down the street took me to RePUBlic #2 for another happening Kaunas pub on a Thursday night.
Inside looking out RePUBlic #2, Kaunas.
Eventually making my way back to Park Inn Kaunas, I sat in the large room for about 15 minutes before deciding I wanted to continue my pub crawl. I found another pub on the pedestrian street one block from the Park Inn where a large crowd was watching basketball. Basketball is the national sport of Lithuania.
For readers too young to remember the Olympics in 1992, and I read an article today stating the median age of Americans is half born since 1979, the Lithuania national basketball team for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona was sponsored by the Grateful Dead who supplied their tie-died jerseys.
Hanging out with a hundred beer drinking patrons at midnight watching Basketball Club Žalgiris win their league game was a fun cultural experience.
Lovely Lithuanian dreams filled my head in a deeply buzzed sleep.
Waking up to reality the next morning knowing I had to travel several hours by bus to the seaport city of Klaipeda, Lithuania on the Baltic Sea coast was not so fun.
Leaving Kaunas by bus on a bridge over Neris River.