From 5 May to 9 May, I went on my second overseas trip after I moved to the UK. I only visited a single city on this trip, Vilnius.
This trip, which is my 4th time visiting Lithuania, marks the completion of my travel list to all Baltic capitals, i.e. Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn, and also completes my visit to the 3 biggest Lithuanian cities: Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda.
This was also my first trip after Europe returned to normality. There were no longer any COVID-19-related measures in both England and Lithuania, and I planned my trip like what I did in 2018 and 2019.
Day 0: departure
As there were no airlines flying direct between Bournemouth / Southampton and Vilnius, I had to travel to a further airport to make this trip. I travelled through Southampton and London to Luton Airport Parkway by train, then the shuttle bus to Luton Airport and flew to Vilnius. I used a low cost airline and also Rail Sale train tickets, which made the travel very cheap:
- South Western Railway train from Bournemouth to Southampton Central, GBP 3.45
- Southern train from Southampton Central to London Victoria, GBP 1.75
- London Underground from Victoria to King’s Cross St. Pancras, GBP 1.65
- East Midlands Railway train from London St Pancras to Luton Airport Parkway, GBP 1.15
- Luton Airport Shuttle from Luton Airport Parkway to Luton Airport, GBP 2.4
- Ryanair flight from London Luton to Vilnius, GBP 22.99
The total above is GBP 33.39 only, which is less than one off-peak single train ticket from Bournemouth to London.
However, because of cheap ticket availability, I didn’t allow the official connection time between London Victoria and London St Pancras, otherwise I would need to depart an hour earlier in order to have enough time to arrive at Luton Airport before my flight. The official connection time to cross London from Victoria to St Pancras is 41 minutes, which includes 15 minutes in Victoria, 11 minutes by tube, and 15 minutes in St Pancras. However, in practice, such connections can be done within 15 minutes less than the official time, and the connection time between my booked trains was 31 minutes, 10 minutes less than the official time. Such a connection was perfectly doable if all trains were on time.
Unfortunately, due to an earlier disruption near East Croydon on that day, my train was delayed after Gatwick Airport as trains queued on the congested track from East Croydon to London Victoria. When there is a connection to catch, every minute seemed forever. The train finally pulled into Victoria 10 minutes late, leaving 21 minutes before my next train at St Pancras departed. I ran into the Underground into the Victoria line, got out at St Pancras, ran to the EMR platforms and got into the next train just 4 minutes before the train departed, with the gate close time 2 minutes before departure there. If I couldn’t make it, the cost to buy a new ticket would be GBP 10.8 as my Rail Sale Advance ticket would have no value after the train departed, and I was not on an official connection. The Delay Repay I would receive if I was 15 minutes late into Victoria, the point when I would definitely miss the connection, would just be GBP 1.3 based on 25% of the total ticket value from Bournemouth to Victoria.
After landing Vilnius, I used the app “Trafi” to pay for public transport. Every new user got a free 30-minute ticket to start with, which I used to take a bus to the city. Trafi is a comprehensive transport app which has information on public transport, bike and car sharing schemes. During my trip, I stayed in a hostel in the old town.
Day 1: Užupis, Jewish Museum, PreO 1 & FootO sprint
I went across the “border” to Užupis (lit. the other side of the river), a self-declared “republic”. The “constitution” consists of 41 articles with translations in dozens of languages, which mentions some “rights” which no longer exist in real-world Hong Kong such as no. 4: “Everyone has the right to make mistakes.” (in Hong Kong, a developer making a simple mistake of connecting UAT into production can be arrested)
I had planned to visit 2 museums during my visit, Jewish Museum and Museum of Genocide Victims. Both museums were just outside the competition area of the sprint race, but due to time constraints I couldn’t visit them just before I did the sprint race, as the PreO race was before the sprint race.
I visited Jewish Museum first, before I went to the PreO race. From the visit I learnt what happened during the 1941-1944 German occupation of Lithuania, when Jews suffered systematic oppression, from being ordered to wear a sign at first, denied admission to public transport, to forced relocation into ghettos. The ghettos eventually turned into concentration camps and, when the Germans were going to be defeated, those camps were burnt killing all still inside who weren’t killed earlier. Only very few Jews remained when the communists “liberated” Lithuania in 1944.
Afterwards, I travelled to the northern side of the city near Akropolis shopping centre to do the PreO race. I got 19 correct out of 25 controls, the 4th place in the competition.
Immediately after the PreO race, I went back to the city centre to do the sprint. There was live GPS tracking in that race for the M21E class which I participated in. Although I was an elite in Hong Kong for a few years, the level in Europe is much higher that I finished 14th out of 15 finishers, 22 minutes and 30 seconds compared to 14 minutes and 52 seconds by the winner.
Day 2: TempO, PreO sprint, Museum of Genocide Victims
The TempO race, with WRE status, was held in Botanical Garden of Vilnius University. There were 5 stations with 5 tasks each. My result was 558 seconds, placing 20th out of 44 with the winning result being 249 seconds, and 6.17 WRE points. The PreO sprint race was immediately afterwards with 18 A-Z (true-false) controls, which I got 14 correct and placed 15th out of 45, with 2 competitors getting a full score.
After the race I went back to city centre and visited Museum of Genocide Victims. The museum is a former KGB prison, where we can visit the cells and even the execution chamber, where a movie depicting how the executions were done is shown.
Day 3: PreO 2, Balžis
The race was held at the same place as Day 1, opposite Akropolis shopping centre. I got 22/28 correct and 12th out of 45, 7.83 WRE points.
The largest Maxima hypermarket in the Baltic States, branded Maxima XXXX, is in the shopping centre, and I went there to buy sushi for lunch.
Afterwards, I travelled out to Lake Balžis. It’s an official swimming lake within city limits, but it was out of season when I went there.
The weather was nice but not hot, and there were just a few people there and I saw two went for a dip. I put my thermometer into the water and it read 14°C so I decided to swim across it, which was about 750 m in length, to see how fast I would be in a calm freshwater lake.
As I don’t usually have a chance to get in a freshwater lake, on the return I swam to the middle, relaxed myself and enjoyed the lake.
My open water swimming all life has been in the salty sea as I live in a coastal city. The lake gives me very different enjoyment compared to the sea.
I like the taste of seawater and also the feeling when the swells go over my head and the waves break on my face. However, the tide will carry me away when I totally relax and have to swim before I am carried too far away by the tide. Also, I naturally float on the sea as well without effort, and I have to let go about half of the air in my lungs before I start to sink, limiting my enjoyment in the water.
Here, in a calm freshwater lake, I could just relax without worrying about being carried away by the tide. Also, in freshwater I barely float even with full lungs, once I relax and let a little air out I sink, and I absolutely love the sinking feeling. I got to the middle, stopped swimming, and let myself sink beneath the surface.
Unfortunately I freaked out just a few metres under the surface as I hit a thermocline, and at 14°C it was actually too cold for enjoyment once I stopped swimming, and I started to feel cold not long after I stopped swimming and started enjoying sinking underwater, forcing me to swim back to shore as fast as possible, so it was a pity that I never got to deep water on that day, and I still haven’t experienced the feeling of sinking into a deep freshwater lake yet.
Day 4: return
My trip to the Baltic capital finally came to an end. I packed my stuff, took the 88 bus back to the airport and left the EU. My return flight was for Luton, the same airport as my departure flight.
I used a through advance purchase train ticket, priced at £13.95, all the way from Luton Airport back to Bournemouth, including the shuttle bus from the airport to the train station, and the cost of the (useless) cross-London Tube travel. This was the lowest-priced through ticket for this journey so it was a real bargain. As it was an advance purchase ticket, I had to wait for the exact trains shown on the ticket in order for it to be valid, which included a Thameslink train from Luton Airport Parkway to London Blackfriars, and a South Western Railway train from London Waterloo to Bournemouth.
Thte official way to make the transfer from London Blackfriars to London Waterloo is by Tube, however, as the southern exit of Blackfriars station is just 1 km from the entrance of Waterloo station, and no direct Tube line linking the two stations, it wouldn’t make sense to actually take the Tube in peak hours to make such trainsfer when I could just comfortably walk it on the surface. Therefore the Tube validity of the train ticket was useless.
I was scheduled to take the 17:05 departure from London Waterloo to Weymouth, however it was delayed without an ETA given with the fastest direct train to Bournemouth shown as 17:48 expected. As a result I took the next available service to Winchester, the 17:09 departure to Portsmouth Harbour via Eastleigh, and hoped that there would be another service to Bournemouth from there. In the regular timetable all trains to Bournemouth in the daytime stop at Winchester, with some starting there and the CrossCountry ones joining the line from Basingstoke, so the worst case should just be getting back onto the delayed train there if there weren’t another service picking me up before.
However, something unexpected happened. Not long after I boarded the 17:09 departure, the delayed 17:05 train departed from London Waterloo with just 24 minutes of delay, and with all intermediate calls before Southampton Central (Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton Airport Parkway) cancelled! And while I was waiting at Winchester for the next train to pick me up, that delayed train which I was supposed to be on passed the station non-stop!!! A CrossCountry service, which had normal station calls, ran immediately afterwards which I boarded, but it was for Southampton Central only and by the time it arrived at Southampton Central, the delayed train was gone and I had to wait for the next one which was about 15 minutes later. Adding to the insult the next train was a stopping service for all 10 coaches, unlike the train I was supposed to be on which had a fast portion running non-stop to Bournemouth, so I got home about 50 minutes late compared to the schedule.
My trip was completed and I got some good world ranking results, which brought me back to the top among all Hong Kong TrailO athletes. However, I still hadn’t returned to the level in 2019, and as the 2019 results had expired I now only have 4 out of 6 valid results in my world ranking score. I wish I can get 2 more better races later in the year to get me further up in the world ranking list.