On our last night in Riga, our hotel gave us a breather from the heat: an electric fan was finally available for us. We slept soundly that night and woke up to another warm day, packing our bags and getting ready for another trip on a bus. We're on our way to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Since our bus wasn't leaving until noon and the terminal was just nearby, we went on an aimless walk around the old center of Riga after enjoying our free continental breakfast at the hotel.
We poked our heads inside the Occupation Museum of Latvia and finding out that there's no entrance fee, we got ourselves absorbed for an hour looking at displays that chronicle the country's tortured past under both the Nazis and the Soviets. There's even a faithful re-creation of gulag barracks where people on forced labor camps lived. Just looking at the numerous photos on display give one a sense of how brutal the KGB have been.
After passing through a pedestrian underpass, we got into the realm of weekday madness (at least by Riga's standards): on one side, people crossing the bridge across Daugava River either by foot or by bike and on the other, the bumper to bumper traffic of cars, buses and lorries. We could have easily walked all the way to the other side of the river but then the thought of forgetting that we have a bus to catch made us think otherwise. We walked back to the hotel, checked out and went straight into the bus terminal.
Our bus tickets were booked online through Eurolines for 17 euros each. Although travel time to Vilnius is just the same as the journey from Tallinn (about 5 hours), we booked the Lux Express service for some added perk that we really could use: free Wifi and unlimited hot beverage. I'm usually not fond of drinking hot beverages while in a bus as it makes me want to pee often but with a toilet available onboard, I reckon I'll drink as much all the way.
Buses in the Baltics do tend to depart on time and our bus was no exception. On the dot, like the ever-efficient Swiss trains, we pulled away from the bus terminal and crossed the Daugava river. From my window seat, the Riga Radio and TV Tower lords it over a distant view of downtown Riga. Built by the Soviets, this tower is Europe's 3rd tallest at 1,209 feet.
Shortly after escaping the last vestiges of Riga's suburban landscape, we found ourselves gazing at bucolic scenes, mostly of farms and fields in what is typically a flat land around this region . No sight of any mountain at all.
As soon as I felt I had enough of green fields and open spaces, I took my laptop out, hooked it into the power port and got connected to the world beyond the farm lands of the Baltics - the Internet! There were emails to check and even a blog update to do but then I wanted to know what's going on back in the Philippines. For some years now, I've been subscribing to the online edition of TFC, my preferred way of watching Pinoy television shows, whether I'm home or on the road.
With free unlimited hot beverages onboard, I was on my way to caffeine overload. What was surprising was the choices offered through this self-service Starbucks: caffe latte, caffe macchiato, cappucino, espresso, hot chocolate and hot water for tea lovers (with a variety of tea to choose from). For five hours, we took turns giving ourselves a shot at being a barista.
The journey was soon over and just like our hotel in Riga, we merely walked from the bus station in Vilnius, crossed a small park and into the lobby of Panorama Hotel where we checked in. As usual, there's no aircondition but this room is way better as we could actually open the window wide enough to let the breeze in.