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BH in Vilnius: 2

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With my feet tired and my spirit low I took a taxi to my hotel, and that evening walked to better things. At the city concert hall a group were putting on “Maria de Argentina”, a composition around and beyond the tango, solemn in parts, upbeat in parts. By turns, a balding man, I think the poet who wrote the piece, recited in Spanish (inaudibly, I’m afraid), two singers sang well, and a six piece band played with feeling, led by the accordionist, and enlightened (I think that’s the word) by a percussionist who could play anything, including a corrugated bottle and an articulated spring. We held them for two encores, and I went to an open-air supper and so to bed.

Next day was simpler. After a good breakfast I went to the national museum of archaeology and of the history of the Lithuanian region until 1300, when they finished becoming Christians. No great surprises, but excellent displays, fully labelled in English and Lithuanian, and models of ancient Estonians of the first millenium AD dressed correctly in wool, linen, some fur, and some jewellery. They look human, and comfortable. They didn’t dye much, so with flax and wool the main colour was white. I was struck by a find from the tenth century which included two dirhems, coins from Baghdad. Around then there was quite a trade with the Baghdad Caliphate, up and down the Volga and other rivers, with Vikings leading – as traders, not as raiders. It all died way 200 years later, and I’d like to know why.

Next lunch, pick up my bag, and to the railway station for the 1515 sleeper to Tallinn. No restaurant car, so I bought a good takeaway supper, with a Cornish pasty (I bet it had another name in Lithuanian) and a delicious cake. The sleeper, and so the conductor, were from Ukraine. I was lucky in my dates: it runs every four days, and the alternative is a night on as bus – ugh. The only contretemps was that I had a bottle of beer opened before I found I had not enough Lithuanian money to pay for it. I was missing forty US cents. British and Polish money would not do, nor euros, so I walked along the corridor begging, and an American couple kindly bailed me out. They had been visiting Lithuanian relatives, and were on their way to Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. We agreed that they would tell all their friends, with or without east European relatives, how pleasant and how cheap Lithuania is.

Ben Haines, in Riga

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