The road to Vilnius
(avoiding the big unmapped blob of Belarus)
I’ve just returned from a business trip to Vilnius, Lithuania. Thanks to ghastly choice of flights, well, choice is the wrong word as there was no choice – fly to Vilnius at 14:00 ish and fly back at 06:00 ish were the only options – I decided to drive.
As an aside, it’s a terrible shame that this recession is killing off our options when it comes to smaller airlines. Ignoring the fact that they were cheaper one of the main advantages is that they were more convenient, offering more flights to more airports but as people reduce their spending such airlines are amongst the first to disappear. For example; when going to the UK we used to make use of either Easy Jet to Luton or BMI Baby to East Midlands, neither route exists today. It seems that most airlines have either chopped routes altogether or have only retained the most popular “stag party” destinations – Krakow, Prague and Riga. That leaves us with only one choice of small airline and that’s Wizz Air so good luck to them!
The route I took you can see on the map above – the Białystok road out of Warsaw then Łomża, Augustów, cross the border at Ogródniki and in Lithuania I chose the quiet route via Lazdijai, Viesiejai (devil worshipers), Leipalingis, Merkine and then the A4 to Vilnius. Viesiejai is worth further investigation. I looks quite cute compared to most of the other places you go through but there are many strange carved wooden figures and piles of stones scattered throughout the town so I wouldn’t recommend having your car break down there at night!
I know this is a little unusual for me but can I praise the work that’s been done on the Warsaw – Białystok road. I turned off at Ostrów Maz, but the improvement on the stretch I did use is amazing. Those new parts were the best roads of the trip by a long way so if we could repeat that all over Poland and build a few actual motorways I’d be very happy (in my retirement).
I chose the quiet route in Lithuania partly because it looked like a pretty direct route but also as it was unlikely to attract many trucks or police and I’ve heard that Lithuanian police award special bonuses to those who collect the most Polish scalps. It proved to be a good choice and although you need to pay attention to road signs more often it’s actually a very pleasant drive. There were a fair number of police cars on the way back although they appeared to be looking for something specific as they were camped out at all the major road junctions. A noticeably high visibility of Polish border/customs police as well, on the Polish side.
On-board computer statistics of the drive for all travel anoraks:
Distance – 455 km
Drive time – 5 hrs 25 mins
Av speed – 84 km/hr
Av consumption – 7.1 l/100km
Last Polish fill up – there’s a ‘Blisko’ (Orlen) in Sejny
As for Vilnius itself, it reminds me of a quiet, medium-sized Polish town. Far smaller and calmer than Warsaw but then that’s to be expected when it has roughly a fifth of the population. I’d compare the size and feel to Krakow but with fewer people than you’d see on Krakow’s streets. The old town is well worth walking around and the cathedral is in my opinion one of the best you’ll find.
INSERT PIC OF CATHEDRAL WHEN PBASE IS WORKING AGAIN
Had two excellent meals while there. One was at the “El Gaucho Sano” at Pilies 10 where the steak was just superb. The other was an Italian with equally good cuisine called “Da Antonio”, this is a bit of a chain in Vilnius but don’t be put off by that, try the one called “Restoranas Da Antonio” on Vilniaus Street 23 and you won’t be disappointed.