Travel Diary: Vilnius

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4th July 2017 –

I woke in a weird mood. There was the usual anxiety of making sure I woke up early, to pack my stuff and get to the bus station on time, and there was a hum of nervousness in my stomach, a caffeinated melody played by the mug of instant coffee I’d drank with breakfast. But there was something more.

I felt a sense of unfinished business here, as though I hadn’t quite achieved something I’d set out to do. But this wasn’t the case. I’d enjoyed my time in Riga. I liked the city, I liked my hostel, I’d had a lovely time meeting with my friend. And it was my time to leave. So why the sudden separation anxiety? I should be used to leaving places behind by now.

I’ve read so many articles about people making friends whilst travelling, particularly in hostels. And it’s not an experience I’ve had. The curse of the introvert strikes again! The friendships I’ve had, whilst travelling, are with people I know from Glasgow, meeting them in their home countries. And it’s strange, because it’s people I’m used to seeing at least relatively frequently, whereas now I see them once and then I up and leave.

And sometimes the brevity of travel sucks, because time works differently, and you can feel closer to a person within a few hours than in all the time you’ve known them. But there’s not the day-to-day interaction, and suddenly you just want to hang out with this person and get to know them even more, but you won’t see them for another two months. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the cause of my feelings of unfinished business. Rant over.

Alas, the rant is not over. You see, travel is pretty much a miracle cure for my social anxiety. So I’m like “wut, I can actually be myself??” and then it’s like nope, time to go to a different country.
And now the rant is actually over. Pinky promise.

I’ve been wondering a lot today why I blog. Why not just write a diary if I need to vent? I generally put it down to the fact that I require a lot of attention to function at my best– the same reason I’m drawn to improv and performance poetry, or anything that’s public and dramatic. But today I realised there’s another factor to it too.

I don’t know who reads my blogs. My general reaction when people tell me they read them is “well shit, now I have to censor myself”. Because I am very open and honest, and I use this blog as somewhat of a shout into the void. Except it’s not a void, there are people on the other end: reading what I write. And I can use that as a tool, the same way I use performing poetry: writing as a substitute for bravery.

By writing a blog, or performing poems on a stage to an audience, there is a degree of separation that allows me to communicate openly, and say what I want to say, even when it’s a little too real or too embarrassing. As I mention in literally every blog, I am an introvert and I have social anxiety (and I also seem to really love to label myself!), and this often means I’m too scared to say things directly. I also have a huge fear of rejection, probably because of my anxiety. It’s not always easy for me to just say to people “hey, you’re important to me, I want you in my life for a long time” (admittedly, once I get to a certain level of comfortableness with people, I say it every other sentence). Just as it’s not easy for me to randomly message people like “hey, I was just thinking about you, how are you doing?” There always has to be a question or a reason, because then there’s more chance of a reply. So instead I shout into the void. Anxiety is fun, kidz.

It started raining as soon as I reached the bus station. I sat under the covering, listening to “another suitcase in another hall” from Evita, watching the sky pour.

The journey was decent, as bus journeys go. There were little TVs to watch movies on, so I watched “confessions of a shopaholic” and “Jane Eyre”, my eyes intermittently flitting out the window to watch the countryside fly by. Lithuania is beautiful.

My hostel was 6 minutes walk from the bus station. You wouldn’t think I would get lost on such a short walk. But I took the wrong turning, ended up somewhere completely random, without wifi so I couldn’t use Google maps. And on top of all this, it started raining. Not just any rain, but possibly the heaviest rain I have ever experienced in my life. I wasn’t wearing my raincoat, and my clothes were soaked within minutes. Rivers of rain ran through the gaps in between the cobblestones of the streets in a constant stream of water.

When I finally arrived at my hostel (soaking wet), I changed quickly into an almost-dry outfit, and bundled myself up into my raincoat, before heading out to meet a friend who lives in Vilnius. She’s one of my bestest friends, and I hadn’t seen her in almost two months, so I was very excited. We met outside the town hall. It took us a few minutes to see each other, but when we finally did there was the inevitable exchange of running into each other’s arms and squealing.

We went for dinner at a falafel restaurant, which was nice. The falafel was good, and there was lots of hummus. I love hummus, and hummus has been pretty hard to find in most of the places I’ve been.

After we’d eaten, my friend took me to a place called the Hill of the Three Crosses. Which (you guessed it!) is a hill with three crosses on top. There was a set of wooden steps for most of the way up the hill. It was steep, and we had to keep stopping every few minutes. We had not reached the top of the hill before the rain began. The further we climbed, the more it rained, and by the time we reached the top the rain was incredibly heavy, and a strong wind blew. We huddled under an umbrella and stood at the crest of the hill, watching the view of the city below. It was beautiful, even through the mist of rain and clouds.

We didn’t stay atop the hill for long, as the rain refused to subside. We didn’t want to risk going down the steps, as they would surely be slippery from the rain, so we walked back down through the forest instead. We then went to a cute little tea shop. They had a type of tea called “philosopher tea”, which is so cool. They also had vegan cakes. I got one which was blueberry, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. It was wonderful! I don’t tend to eat cake in my normal life, because I generally try to be relatively healthy. But the concept of healthiness had completely gone out the window in the past few days, and I didn’t miss it.

5th July 2017

I met with my friend again, and we went to a cafe called Holy Donut which were giving out free donuts in exchange for checking in on facebook. They had a variety of vegan donuts, and a vegan banana milkshake, which was possibly the most beautiful drink I had ever seen. The milkshake had a scoop of vegan icecream in it, topped with vegan whipped cream and a slice of banana, with a crumbly chocolate mixture stuck to the top of the jar. It cost almost 7 euros, but it was so worth it. We sat at an outside table and ate our donuts whilst we waited for the drinks to be made, and a tiny bird flew up to our table and tried to eat my friend’s donut. She held the donut out and the bird came and ate it from her hand; it was so cute!
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After Holy Donut we walked around the city for a while, and ended up in a peaceful park on the edge of the Old Town. We sat on a bench and watched ducklings swim around a pond.

We then went to this really cool place called the Republic of Uzupis, which my friend translated as “the land beyond the bridge”. In spite of sounding a tiny bit like a euphemism for death, it turned out to be my favourite place in the city. The republic (which is not officially recognised as a republic, apparently), has a constitution with points such as “everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat”, and “everyone has the right to have no rights”. We came across a bookshop, with a cute ginger cat outside. He had a purple cast wrapped around an injured paw, and lay resting in the sunshine. Inside the bookshop they sold postcards of his furry butt. His name was Ponulis.
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We wandered around Uzupis for a while, and rested by the river for a while, chilling and chatting. It was so good to spend time with a friend after so long travelling alone. Lithuania felt like a completely different experience to Estonia and Latvia, because I had the one thing I’d consistently been lacking: companionship.
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We went to a vegan bar for dinner. I got a veggie burger, which was very nice, and beer. I’d never drank beer before, because it generally isn’t vegan (they use fish in it. Ew). But because it was a vegan bar, this meant the beer was vegan, so I decided I should try it. It was not pleasant. Apparently it was decent by beer standards, but it cured me of any desire to try beer ever again. From now on I’ll stick to cider and gin.
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6th July 2017

It was one of those days where it felt as though literally everything went wrong. I’d decided to cancel my bus to Prague, because I had zero desire to spend 23 hours onboard a bus. I planned to stop for a night in Poland to break up the journey. However this meant I had to book transport to Poland, plus a hostel, and then transport from Poland to Prague. A bus journey would be very lengthy, so I decided to travel by train instead. I found two websites from which I could book Polish trains. One of them didn’t work, and the other was entirely in German, and wouldn’t translate. I grew extremely frustrated. Eventually I decided to book a bus from Vilnius to Warsaw, and then go to the train station and pray that fate would be kind and allow me to buy a ticket on the day.

The next thing that went wrong was my failed search for an internet cafe. My laptop was refusing to connect to the hostel wifi, and I wanted to upload my blog from when I was in Riga. I decided to look for an internet cafe. However, three times in a row, Google maps sent me to places which didn’t seem to exist. I eventually came to the conclusion that these places must no longer be internet cafes, and that google maps hadn’t updated the location. By this point I was in a foul mood.

I headed back to my hostel, as I needed to do some laundry. I’d asked last night about the hostel’s laundry facilities, and I’d been told that I needed to buy my own laundry powder. So, after spending 4 euros on laundry powder, I went to my hostel. Only to be told that the hostel did not have laundry facilities. Whaaaaaat? Furthermore, it was a public holiday, so I doubted any laundrettes would be open, even if I could be bothered to drag my laundry half way across the city. This left me with only one option: to do my laundry by hand.

I spent the next half hour or so on my hands and knees, washing my clothes in the bath tub. Let me tell you, this did not improve my mood.

I went to the supermarket and buy some chocolate to cheer me up. I found some vegan dark chocolate with orange flavouring, and some tomato flavoured crisps. I then noticed that the store sold kvass (the weird bread drink I’d had in Latvia), though it went under a different name in Lithuania. I decided to buy a bottle of this, too, as it would make me feel nostalgic for Latvia. I forgot to buy a bag, and as I was trying to balance the items I’d purchased in my arms, the bottle of kvass fell to the pavement, and exploded all over my trousers. Could this day get any worse?

When I returned to my hostel (after buying another bottle of kvass, which mercifully didn’t explode), there was a group of young men in the common room. I glanced at them, and one of them said “Hi”. It didn’t properly register until I’d already left the room, because I was still mentally crying over spilt kvass. And by this point it was too late.

I considered going back downstairs, apologising for ignoring them, and starting a conversation. I even walked all the way down the two flights of stairs, but I couldn’t force myself to open the door. I was in a bad mood, I’d had a sucky day, I didn’t want to talk to strangers. But I didn’t want to waste an opportunity. I was so angry at myself for being so pathetic and shy.

I used to think I was brave. In some ways I am. I’m brave enough to travel solo across Europe. I’m brave enough to get up on a stage and perform in front of strangers and friends and everyone inbetween. But when it comes to socialising, I am not brave at all. And I can’t stand it! I can’t stand feeling so weak and worthless in social situations.

Naturally, an existential crisis ensued. I feel like I’m constantly letting myself down, like I’m not brave enough to be the person I want to be. I’m not brave enough to make big changes in my life. I’m not brave enough to go after what I want. And so much of the time I tie my self-worth to outcomes that I can never make happen. I was so frustrated, and so furious at myself for not meeting my own expectations. I felt like my life was a mess.

I sent a series of long, rant-filled messages to my best friend, and then dealt with my feelings in the only way I could: with poetry. If I felt like my life was a joke, the best response to that was to exploit the irony of my situations, and find humour within them. I wrote a poem about how I’m a serial crusher (i.e. I get a lot of crushes. And I mean A LOT). Normally I write sad poems, but this was a humorous one. I could see the funny side of my sitcom-esque life. At least that was a start.

7th July 2017

Sometimes you have to be tough with yourself. This morning (after a long lie-in), I told myself that enough was enough: time to stop moping about things beyond my control. I am in a damn beautiful city, full of awesome vegan cafes, I get to spend loads of time with one of my best friends. The sun is fucking shining and it’s a beautiful day for me to grow the fuck up. (Forgive my language, I inherited it from my mother).

I made myself get dressed, and put my hair up in my “power ponytail” (yay, it’s finally long enough!). The power ponytail is a self-confidence trick I’ve been using on myself since I was in school. Every time I put my hair up in a high ponytail, I picture myself as a super successful 30-something-year-old showrunner on a TV show (my dream job). Because obviously successful women need to wear their hair up so it doesn’t get in the way of them and their busy successful lives. It sounds silly, but it’s worked since I was 17. Power ponytail means I’m ready for business. And today’s business is learning to make myself a priority again.

The next item in the Strong Empowered Woman Starter Pack is a large, soy cappuccino. High Functioning Eliza’s personality is 90 percent coffee. So it was logical to take a trip to Caffeine.
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With my chin in the air, and my power ponytail bopping along against my neck, I marched through the sun-dappled Old Town. I listened to Lady Antebellum’s song “Heart Break” on repeat, as a power anthem to remind myself that I’m going to go through the rest of the summer without thinking about men – whether it be friends, or my inevitable crush-of-the-month, or my male cat, I am so sick of investing too much energy and effort in people who don’t fight for me. Part of knowing my worth is knowing when to call it quits, or at least take a step back, because I am worth so much more than wanting people I can’t have. I am so done with that pattern. I’m leaving it behind to rot in the dustbin of history, because I DESERVE BETTER.

The other day I changed my phone screen background to an image of the quote “you get what you settle for”, from Thelma & Louise (my all-time favourite film), because sometimes I need reminding. I settle too damn much, and I am DONE settling. I deserve the best, and I should accept nothing less.

I’m making my fucking dreams come true (again, blame the language on my mother’s influence). I have wanted to travel for years. Travelling across Eastern Europe has been a goal of mine for so long. And at the end of this month I’ll be going to Paris, which I’ve wanted to do since I was ten years old. That’s almost half my life! I’m so furious with myself for not appreciating how amazing this journey is. I want to slap myself across the head with something painful, and tell myself to grow the fuck up and stop sulking. If I absolutely HAVE to be miserable about things beyond my control, I can at least have the grace to postpone those feelings until I return to the UK. For now, I’m putting that self-pity on pause, because I have so much life to live.

As I was in a “treat yo self” mindset, I decided to take a trip to Holy Donut. I bought a banana milkshake and a gorgeous chocolate donut. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps the “treat yo self” concept was just another form of self-sabotage. Loading my body with sugar was hardly the most productive method of becoming my best self. But this didn’t occur to me at the time.
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After I’d finished consuming beautiful sugar-filled unnecessary calories, I headed towards Uzupis. I took a different route to last time, and met a few cats, and discovered some cool grafitti-covered abandoned buildings. I walked across the whole republic, until I came out on the motorway on the far side, where there were views of dark green forest in every direction.

8th July 2017 –

Today me and my friend went to one of the most marvellous of institutions: a cat cafe! As in, a place full of ten furry babies, which also happened to sell some really good spring rolls, and kvass. The cats seemed unrealistically tranquil. But they were beautiful and soft and furry, and it was so nice to play with cats again, even if they didn’t seem remotely interested in the attention they were getting.
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After we left the cat cafe we climbed up a hill to a graffiti-covered building on top. We sat between the columns at the building’s front, taking refuge from the heat of the sun. On the way down, we passed some men, who heard us talking in English, and called out “Hey girls!”, trying to get our attention. We ran the rest of the way down the hill, to get away from them as swiftly as possible.

9th July 2017 –

I met with my friend again today. We walked around the Old Town for a while, before heading to a bar for dinner. There was a really cute bartender, and he said I had a pretty accent 😀 He was very tall and very pretty, with dark hair and a flirty personality.

Me and my friend sat outside in the bar garden to eat. The fries were very good; I am a big fan of fries. I also discovered that I am even more of a lightweight than I previously thought: I was drunk after half a glass of cider. Drunk Eliza is like Sober Eliza without any filters: extremely honest, extremely affectionate, and extremely talkative. If you think I don’t shut up when I’m sober, you really should see me drunk. I just say whatever crap comes into my head. And I say it loudly.

This later inspired me to write a poem called “the cider side of me”, which is one of my favourite of the poems I’ve written, so clearly good things come from the consumption of alcohol.
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10th July 2017 –

We went back to the bar from yesterday. Sadly the hot bartender wasn’t there. But the fries were still good, and I was still a lightweight. As usual, Drunk Eliza was very talkative, except this time drunk me had a new aspect. Whilst I can often be a very philosophical drunk, this was the first time I’d been a poetic one. I was spouting all kinds of poetic crap about many different topics, and not all of it even made sense. According to Drunk Eliza, life is like a hill. I’m not quite sure how the analogy went, but it seemed logical to me. Perhaps because by this point we were about to climb a hill. The hill had some kind of little castle atop it, and the path up was made of cobblestones which were uncomfortable beneath my feet. I was out of breath and thirsty for most of the way up, but it was worth the climb. Not just because we saw three cats at the top.

We sat on a bench and watched the city grow dark beneath us. It’s moments like that which remind me what I love about cities. Seeing all the lights, and all the thousands of people that they represent, makes me think of how the energy must be, of all those people combined. Each person has a life, each person has their own story…and a city is thousands or millions of stories all squashed together within houses and apartment blocks.

It was strange to think I’d be leaving in the morning, heading to a different city once more, alone again.
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11th July 2017 –

I hardly knew I was leaving Vilnius until I was already gone. The act of getting on a bus has become so routine by now that it’s practically muscle memory, and all of a sudden I’ve left another city behind.

As I waited for my bus, I got talking with a man who was perhaps in his 70s. I heard him talking in English, asking someone if it was the right platform for the bus to Riga. I interjected because the woman he was asking didn’t speak good English. He was a friendly man, with brown skin and white hair and beard. His accent sounded Caribbean, and he said he lived in England. He smiled a lot.

For someone who constantly claims to hate small talk, I find myself appreciating it more and more. I’m grateful just to be able to communicate in my own language. Back in Glasgow I could have conversations with people who served me in shops, etc – I could be charming and polite, and it’s nice. Here I don’t have that. I know that a smile is the same in any language, but I miss using actual words.

The bus from Vilnius to Warsaw lasted 9 hours. It passed by quickly enough, as I watched movies the whole time. But I arrived with a dreadful headache, and I got lost and took ages to find my hostel. When I finally rid myself of the Evil Backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell, I went out to find food. I was surprised to see that there were vegetarian cafes on seemingly every street corner. But I’d promised myself I would make a concerted effort to be healthier once I left Vilnius, so I went to a supermarket instead. It took me absolutely ages to find a supermarket, and my headache was increasingly rapidly.

I find myself feeling more and more weary of travelling. It’s been over a month now. I’m tired of living out of a suitcase, of not spending more than a week in one place. I love travelling, and this is such a cool experience. But the truth is: travel is exhausting. I’m tired of buses, of walking around all day, of the constant pressure to be doing something because I don’t want to miss my chances, when all I really want to do is have a day off so I can REST.

I feel bad for complaining, because I know I should be grateful that I am able to travel for so long… But this isn’t some kind of vacation from reality. This is real life, and I am a real person, and I am goddamn exhausted. I’ll be home in three weeks from now. I know it will fly by, but right now it feels like forever. I miss stability, and certainty, and routine. I miss privacy, and not sharing rooms with slightly-dodgy-looking strangers who speak at me in languages I can’t understand. I miss creature comforts and a feeling of belonging and a feeling of home.

Perhaps I’m just tired. I have a very long day of travel ahead of me tomorrow. Maybe once I’m in Prague I’ll rest properly and feel differently. All I know is that right now I’m desperately homesick.

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