Sunday, July 15, 2007

The last episode from Daphne's Trip

I said in my last report I had no idea of what was happening on the last night in Poland apart from the fact that we were going out to dinner together. It was such a surprising evening. We were taken to a very ethnic restaurant - in fact it was like going back in time. We were the only people there and we were entertained with Polish song and dance. It was such a lovely evening and we were all sad when it came to an end. That evening back in the hotel and again the following morning there were many fond farewells from all the people we had been with over those 2 weeks, a number of whom were there for the same reason as us, to go back to their roots. There were actually a few Polish people on the trip and one of them had thoughts of returning to Poland with her husband to live, however, I think, although she really enjoyed being back in her homeland, she had decided that maybe staying in America was the best option as, I think, it is probably not that easy for the elderly in Poland.

The next morning found us at the airport once again, this time Warsaw to Vilnius. We arrived there mid afternoon, offloaded our bags at the hotel and went for a walk. It was very hot so I only got as far as the river and sat there while John investigated the town a bit further. From where I was sitting I didn't get a great impression of Vilnius and wondered what we were letting ourselves in for. My first impression changed however when we met with our tour leader and some of the rest of the group for dinner that evening. Jona said it was just a little walk into town to the restaurant where he wanted to take us. I soon found out that his little walks were never that little for me and I was always tailing along behind. However, we had a very enjoyable dinner and then strolled back, with the Australian member of the group, through the town back to the hotel. Mike, you talked about having a hot chocolate. I had a hot chocolate in Vilnius and that was exactly what it was - hot chocolate. They gave you a little spoon to eat it. Very nice but not quite what I'd expected. After that we we wandering along the street and John, the Australian, pointed out a little church. It was a Catholic church and at 8.45pm on a Sunday there was Mass going on. I went in but sadly the Mass was just about finished. It seemed to be a more modern church nestled in amongst cafes and shops but the last hymn I recognised as one we sing at SFX and I even shook hands with the priest on the way out.

The next day all the group, a very different collection of people, set off on our first walking tour of the Old Town of Vilnius. Jona's walking tours though were more like marathons for me. In the afternoon we visited Trakai and the island castle sete in a gorgeous position in the centre of a lake. We were both really tired that afternoon so did a lot of resting on the island over the afternoon and then met the others for dinner before returning to the hotel.

The next day we left for Grutus Park and on to Druskininkai which is a famed spa town. Jona told us he could book us in for a spa, sauna, mud bath or several other delicious things. John and I opted for having a mud bath to sooth our tired bones. John enjoyed his mud bath but because of my swollen legs I had to resort to a mineral bath instead. It was luxurious!

We then went on to Kaunas and Kretinga. A very interesting visit was made to the Kovno Ghetto and NInth Fort. The Nazis reduced the Jewish population of Kaunas from 37,000 to 2,500 in the course of 3 years. The fort was built by the Russians but fell to the Germans during WWII.

Kretinga was a very interesting place to stay. It was like a glorified farm stay, with 2 restaurants, and was so nice that John and I opted to stay there for a day of rest while the others explored the Curonian Spit National Park. It was really mostly beach and the others said we didn't miss all that much and we benefitted from our day off. Some other interesting places we visited were Witches Hill and the Hill of Crosses at Siauliai. We then proceeded on to Riga, the party town, and Parnu and finally Tallinn the capital of Estonia. I really loved this town and John and I after doing an Off On Bus Tour climbed up a tower and walked along part of the wall of the Old Town. There were also many interesting shops to poke around although I resisted the temptation of buying the lovely handcrafts they had for sale.

We then travelled to Tart and then onto Sigulda. In Sigulda we went on a gondola, after walking up about 800 steps, and crossed the very heavily forested valley which was very beautiful. From there we went on to our final destination being the national park. Jona was keen for us to go canoeing or kayaking on the beautiful lake. My family would have loved it but it wasn't for me and, as it turned out, not for anyone else either when they discovered they had to be out there for 4 hours. Jona was a little disappointed. However, we went for a walk and then missed the bus back to our hotel which turned out to be another 5km walk - that I could have done without! However, I made it but next day I stuck with the bus and had a much more leisurely day visiting the bee museum - very interesting - and a little walk up the hill to view the 4 or 6 lakes which was very picturesque.

That was the final day of the tour and we arrived back in Vilnius mid afternoon. Went out for our final dinner and back to the hotel early to have a little sleep before having to rise at 3.30am to leave for the airport. Actually nobody had much sleep as the Vilniu hotel has a dog over the road which barks all night. I won't be going back there in a hurry.

For me then it was off to Washington to see my family where I had a nice relaxing week with Peter and Ollie and Rachel a little bit as she was working.
The photo is of the old town in Vilnius.