So, after two full days of travel (roughly - it depends how you want to count it - but it was 11:00 at night where I was when I stopped traveling) - I finally made it to Kaliningrad. In the airport, the baggage claim was an advertisement for a casino, which also doubled as a convenient way to spot where your own bag was located on the belt:
After finding my suitcase, I went outside to wait for my Yandex Taxi (one of the competitors to Uber in Russia). While waiting, this little guy came up to say "Привет" (Hi).
Finally, I ended up at the Apartment where I stayed the night. A wonderful person from the office for the company was there to meet me and walked me up to the apartment, which was pretty well organized and decorated, despite being small.
After *finally* getting some real sleep - lying down, stationary, and all those perks, I ended up getting started on my first full day in Russia, which was chiefly marked by leaving Russia.
In the morning, after waking up and packing up my things in the apartment, I had an apple and a cup of coffee (from my friend in the office), then headed over to the bus station in Kaliningrad. One thing that I noticed - many of the Russians don't speak (much) English. If they're bilingual (which would be expected in Europe), English wasn't the chocie of languages to learn. This made it a challenge for me to get by, being a non-Russian speaker. But, that's more my fault than their fault - they're in Russia and they speak Russian... so, yeah.
At the bus station, I eventually figured out where I needed to go to get onto my bus, not without a little bit of looking around and panicking/practicing how to read the languge:
Once it was time to board the bus, from Калининград to Вилнюс (Kaliningrad to Vilnius), I finally had a chance to see Russia in the daylight and to get to put reality against the mental images that I had. In no particular organization beyond chronologically, here are some photos of leaving Kaliningrad:
The biggest thing that struck me about the housing in Kaliningrad is that most of it was cheap, utilitarian architecture. I started to think back through things, trying to answer a "why" to all of it.
For the most part, all the apartment buildings went up during the 1950s and 1960s, when Khrushchev was in power and was initially building the Soviet Union. At the time, there was a LOT of reconstruction needed - after all, they had just been in a war. Also, the USSR was ramping up its efforts to be a military power, so most of its money was going into the military and not into its people - so they had a need to be able to build a lot of housing, quickly and cheaply. This is what they ended up with. When you consider the duration of the Cold War - the 1950s through the 1980s - it's basically 2-3 generations, or nearly 40 years of Society/Russian citizens growing up without investment in art and architecture because of the government's obsession with military spending.
One of the big things I learned about the Russian language is that many of their words (and especially brands) come from English, German, or French words, just with a Cyrillic spelling. For example, in the photos above, the LukOil gas station is still LukOil, just spelled ЛуkОйл - yes, you would still speak "LukOil").
As the journey went on, we left the urban center of Kaliningrad and traveled through the countryside. It was no different than a journey between cities in the US, seeing the farmland and rural areas that fill the gaps between cities. It appeared that much of the land was undeveloped, not all established as farms. Also, the forests that we passed through looked beautiful, even in the winter - although I imagine they would be great in the summer, when the flora and fauna are full of leaves.
Towards the end of the portion of the trip in Russia, we passed through another town - less urban than Kaliningrad and also with a little more character to its architecture.
The next part of the trip was crossing the border from Kaliningrad (the state) to Lithuania. It really was no different than any other international border crossing I've gone across (either driving, flying, or by trail), at least where passports are checked. It was a little more nerve-wracking because Visas are involved with travel in Russia. It took quite a while, but eventually we made it through without any issues.
Once in Lithuania, I really didn't take a lot of photos - mainly because I was napping (it was an 8-hour bur ride).
After arriving to Vilnius, I met another friend from the office, we got to my AirBnB, then went out to dinner - and it was snowing!
This blog started to talk about travel and food. Now, it's slowly expanding to cover some other topics. Stick around!