Monday morning I took a taxi to the bus station in Riga--wasn't dealing with those underpasses at 7 am in 30 degree weather, no thank you--to head to Vilnius, the last stop on my Baltic agenda. I'd wanted to see Riga & Vilnius for a long time and decided to make it happen this year, very glad I did as they are beautiful cities with excellent and cheap food, so much shared history, lots to see and do and while I would love to see other areas aside from the capitals, as a solo traveler I find I like to start with the main cities and get a feeling for the country that way, possibly to return to see other parts another time.
One alarming moment re the bus--driver checked me in, went to find my seat #53 at the back of the bus and it only went to seat #52, so I get off to ask him and it seems he speaks not a drop of English, though he understood what I was on about pointing at the seat number and said something that made others laugh, probably "Get on the bus and sit down somewhere, American lady." I did, and it was fine...another 4 hours of stork watching!
Another easy 10 minute walk from the bus station to the Moon Garden Art Hotel, at the edge of old town and steps from the Gates of Dawn. Their old town feels different from Riga's, more Baroque architecture and lots more churches. I just wandered all over, found the Frank Zappa statue, walked in the park and fed the hooded crows, early dinner at Etno Dvaras--I was really looking forward to the food in Lithuania as we have a restaurant in my town and I knew exactly what to expect--meat dumplings and potato pancakes, all sorts of yummy things, and I was not disappointed. I had a gypsy style pork steak with cabbage and potatoes and some meat dumplings with a bacon & sour cream sauce, and beer...and waddled back to my room. Despite eating fairly heavy meals I was walking 8-9 miles a day and actually lost a few lbs :)
First full day was good weather for exploring, so I was all over old town, the parks, especially the Bernardine gardens with the river running through, and over to the Uzupis district, famed for being a republic of its own and an artsy area. Toured the Holocaust Museum in a small green house up a little hill, walked Gedeminas back to old town. Dinner was at Amatininku on the square, excellent chicken Kiev.
Final day and I toured the Grand Duke's Palace and Lithuanian National Museum, lots of wonderful folk art items. Rode the funicular up to the lookout at the old castle--beautiful sunny day, perfect for viewing. Dinner was at Katpedele on Pilies, pork shank and potatoes and beer, mmmmm.
9 days and I was happy with the time spent in the Baltics, but Riga & Vilnius felt very similar to each other, Tallinn again standing out as something utterly magical and unique. Thoroughly enjoying what I planned as a low-key trip--no big-ticket items or need to move at a fast pace and I needed that, just time to explore very pretty towns and sit in a park with coffee and a pastry as needed--weather permitting, that is--or retire early to read or knit, and eat incredibly delicious food.
Finally it was Thursday and time to head to the airport for the last stop--my beloved Budapest! The hotel called me an Uber-type car and it was just 5 euro to the airport at 7 am. Air Baltic was an easy experience, smaller prop plane from Vilnius to the hub in Riga, bigger plane to Budapest that was filled with a large group of severely inebriated--at 10 am!!--Finnish soccer fans. They were so obstreperous that I think the air marshals were waiting for them in Budapest.