Another early flight out of Riga meant that I had another early taxi reservation and my first of two waits at the very small Riga Lidosta International Airport. Oh, man is it small. At least getting there in the morning means you can find coffee and sit and just try to wake yourself up but I had a layover a few days later in the afternoon. But anyway, these are the boring parts. Know before you go that Riga is a small airport. I departed early Tuesday morning - along with what seemed like the rest of the festival goers, marathoners, and early-summer vacationers.
It was busy, I was glad I was early. I kept seeing the Kazakhstan Muay Thai team throughout my stay in Riga and they were at the airport when I left too. They were constantly in their uniforms which were the Kazakh colors of baby blue and yellow so they were really easy to spot.
I grabbed a coffee and a chocolate croissant - real protein-rich breakfast options were lacking, a theme in most takeaway options in Europe. Upon sitting down at a table to enjoy my latte and carby-breakfast, I started chatting with a man who was behind me in line and carrying a Dutch passport and the Riga marathon bag. He lamented his 3:30 finish and then told me he was a triathlete too and I’m guessing he was mid to late 50′s. During our conversation, he asked where I’d been and where I was going. He told me he lived in a very small town in the Netherlands so he was glad that I was going to be visiting his country. After our pleasant conversation, he went out to the smoking terrace to have a cigarette. No joke.
After the shortest flight and nap ever on Air Baltic, I touched down at Vilnius airport (just as small as Riga!), got some money from the ATM, got a taxi, and was on my way to my Airbnb. I met my wonderful host, Milad, outside of the apartment. In Vilnius, I rented a private, one bedroom, top floor apartment that was modern, fully equipped with a washing machine, tasteful furnishings, and was extremely clean. The contemporary furnishings were my favorite style as well. I like a clean, uncluttered look. He showed me the maps and guide books he had, talked me through a layout of the neighborhood, then asked me what time I departed a few days later and offered me a ride to the airport then. Score!
After talking to Milad, I freshened up a bit and set out to find a second breakfast and walk around. I had plans to just be in the outdoors that day and find out what I needed to see. I like to get a lay of the land upon arrival, make note of my favorite sights or things to go back and see, and just see the city on foot without a real plan. So I did just that.
Vilnius seemed more grand and sophisticated than Riga, but I suppose that is the difference between a capital port city and an inland capital. Vilinius had sidwalk cafes all around just like Riga, but there were more of them - I got the idea that the summers were longer, more sunny, and less rainy. I don’t want to compare capitals of Europe to one another but if I could make a comparison, I personally felt like Vilnius reminded me of a small Paris or a city in Italy. Riga reminded me more of Reykjavik - I have yet to visit another Scandinavian capital but if I were to classify cities, that is how I would do it. Strange, how that works.
The river that cut through the city (the Neris) was much smaller than the Daugava and I saw fisherman at certain points in a smaller tributary of the river - it just seemed more quaint than the Daugava. Walking around and chatting with people, it did feel a tiny bit more Russian than Riga felt, Riga had a more Scandinavian feel overall as well. But I want to emphasize that the Lithuanians as well as Latvians have their own unique and wonderful identity, they are NOT Russian. I just saw more signs and menus in Russian in Vilius than I did in Riga.
Stay tuned for more photos of beautiful Vilnius tomorrow.