Kaunas, Lithuania is another city in a long list of places I found myself visiting last year solely for a good hotel deal stay at then Club Carlson category 1 Park Inn Kaunas. I enjoyed the city enough to bring Kelley here this summer for three nights booked before Park Inn Kaunas went to category 2 in Radisson Rewards on March 1, 2018. The main feature of Kaunas is a long pedestrian street lined with pubs, restaurants and shops. A pub crawl along Laisvės Alėja was our kick off for World Cup Russia 2018 viewing near the Russian Front.
On the Russian Front
Kaunas is only 60 miles from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast. This is my third trip to Lithuania in three years and every time I have encountered U.S. military troops in places around the country. There are military troops from other nations in Lithuania too. The King of the Netherlands was here this week visiting Dutch troops stationed in the country. That is why I say we are vacationing on the ‘Russian Front’.
Kaliningrad Oblast is a Baltic sea coast region about the size of Connecticut sandwiched between the NATO allied nations of Lithuania and Poland, and nearly 400 miles west of the contiguous nation of Russia.
One of the little alterations of being in Lithuania are Russian TV channels. I have watched a couple of Russian movies and tried to piece together the story line from visual cues only since I don’t understand any dialogue.
My second time in Lithuania’s second city
In April 2017, I traveled for a week from Vilnius, Lithuania to Kaunas to Klaipeda, then to Riga, Latvia. I wanted to replicate that trip with my wife to show her some of the interesting places I found.
Park Inn Kaunas is located in the main part of the city one block away from Laisvės Alėja, one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets. The street from St. Michael the Archangel Church at one end near the Park Inn hotel extends for about one mile, then merges into Vilnius g. to Kaunas Town Hall in Old Town for a total 2.5 km (1.55 miles) pedestrian walk.
This area is lined with shops, restaurants and pubs. The place is a center of activity as people promenade along the pedestrian walkways.
Vilnius, Lithuania is a city Kelley and I visited in April 2016, motivated solely by an IHG PointsBreak deal for Crowne Plaza Vilnius at 5,000 points per night. Kelley was initially reluctant to visit Lithuania in 2016, but the pleasant experience made her more open to expanding her European horizons once she realized that people are friendly, English is spoken widely, shopping is cheap and eastern European cities seem safer and cleaner than most cities in the USA.
After trips to Krakow, Poland in summer 2016 and Bratislava, Slovakia at Christmas 2016, followed by four weeks in Poland and Czech Republic in 2017, she has warmed up to the idea of traveling in eastern Europe where the two of us can eat and drink all day for about the same price she pays for her weekly after-work social outing with colleagues and girlfriends at her local upscale hangout.
Evenings around the summer solstice are a blast as darkness does not settle over the city until around midnight.
Jan Zwartendijk was a Dutch businessman for Philips in Lithuania during WWII. He is credited for saving over 2,000 Jews through diplomatic visas issued for travel to Curacao.
Kaunas rolled up the sidewalks for our stay
Kaunas was an infrastructure mess during our visit. Sidewalks all around the city were torn up for repaving. It literally looked like miles of sidewalks were missing, including the sidewalks on the main road outside Park Inn Kaunas.
Stretches of Laisvės Alėja were dug up for other infrastructure work. Entire blocks were fenced off in the middle of the pedestrian street in a couple of sections, preventing access to some shops without walking all the way around the fence perimeter to reach a place normally accessible from one side of the street to the other in 30 meters.
Please, can I have some more?
After paying an average $7 in Copenhagen for a pint of beer and most places charging about $18 to $20 for a sandwich or hamburger, it was tourist budget relief finding most pubs and restaurants in Kaunas charge around €2.80 per pint with full meals priced from €5 to €10.
Food was good at every place we ate.
Need to Know: Alus = beer; Baras = bar.
In Your Pocket has a Lithuanian beer guide for those who prefer more varied tastes.
Starting the day with breakfast at 10am, then strolling down Laisvės Alėja around 11am to Old Town for a leisurely day of shopping, drinking and eating is just the kind of minimal activity vacation Kelley settled into quickly after another school year teaching first graders. She says the European sidewalk cafe leisure lifestyle suits her.
World Cup Kick Off Russia v. Saudi Arabia June 14
Turned out finding the opening game of World Cup on a TV in a Kaunas bar was much more difficult than we anticipated. The problem was Lithuania is a nation with a love for basketball and Kaunas has one of the best basketball teams in the European league.
Kaunas Zalgiris was playing Lietuvos rytas, a team from Vilnius, at the same time as the World Cup match.
Fortunately the basketball game was only four 10-minute quarters and we were able to see the latter part of World Cup while seated at the bar in RePublic. A man seated on the stool next to me at the bar overheard our English and started talking with us about basketball and the two USA players on Zalgiris and how Zalgiris won bronze in the recent European Championships. We had our own bragging rights to share about the Golden State Warriors champions. Zalgiris won.
He said the basketball stadium was only 500 meters away and the street outside would fill up in about 10 minutes once people walked from the stadium to the bars of Laisvės Alėja. And sure enough they did.
Friday, June 15 offered many more opportunities to watch World Cup matches at Kaunas pubs and we successfully lounged our way from pub to pub to catch all three Friday matches.
World Cup excitement seemed to spread its way around Kaunas.
Park Inn Kaunas
Park Inn Kaunas was a category 1 hotel in the former Club Carlson loyalty program at 9,000 points per night. The hotel changed to category 2 reward night for 15,000 points on March 1, 2018 when the new Radisson Rewards loyalty program went into effect. I booked three nights for a June 2018 stay prior to the category change increase.
Premium room upgrades with Club Carlson/Radisson Rewards cost 50% more points. A junior suite with breakfast buffet priced at 13,500 points per night before the category shift on March 1. The same room type now costs 22,500 points.
While I already had over 250,000 Club Carlson points to spend, the real deal here was any Club Carlson member could have bought Club Carlson points in 2017 during a couple of promotional sales for $4 per 1,000 points. Essentially that made Park Inn Kaunas upgraded hotel nights available for $54 per night to buy a junior suite room with breakfast..
More on the hotel to come in a separate post on Park Inn Kaunas.