New Year’s In The Baltics

On the way home from Lithuania, I was re-reading my guidebook to pass the time, when I came across a passage that I had previously missed: “It’s not unusual in the Baltics for winter temperatures to drop to -20C.” It’s a good thing I hadn’t read this little nugget of truth earlier, or I may have skipped what turned out to be a fantastic trip.

It was a different kind of excursion. I’ve done the sleep in the car and subsist on peanut butter backpacking. I’ve done the “joiny” hostels with a ping pong table in the hallway. There’s also the European city-break, the romantic getaway, the family vacation…I could go on. But, no, this was a new style of travel for me. The Polish university drunken all-inclusive package tour. And it’s not for the faint of heart.

We piled on a freezing cold bus. There were fist fights, off-key patriotic singing, serious boozing, someone even threatened to call the cops…all before we even left the parking lot. Ten hours later we arrived in Vilnius and were welcomed to our all inclusive hotel by the owner, and obvious mafia member, whom I lovingly refer to as Big Mama.

The city itself is less than spectacular at first glance. It’s charm surely lies, not in photo friendly buildings and monuments, but in the details. The back street hobbit-hole of a restaurant that welcomes you from the cold not only with comfort food but also with warm blankets. The stories of resistance fighters taking refuge in the forest for nine years, refusing to join the USSR. The bizarre self-proclaimed nation of Uzupio, whose constitution includes “the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.”
All of these details add so much color and character and soon a city whose surface seems bland and generic, becomes unique and full of life.

As a place to welcome 2007, I say why not? In fact I hope to celebrate every new year in such random locations. Of course New Year’s Eve is more about the people than the place and these people did not disappoint. In Poland, with every shot of vodka comes a friend for life. Judging from my headache the next morning, I have many new friends.

And now to all my old and good friends where ever you are, in keeping with tradition, I have to say:
Wszystkiego Najlepszego! (which could potentially be spelled wrong)

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