Vilnius planning failure

By Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 23 of the February 2021 issue.
Vilnius’ Gates of Dawn date back to the early 1500s. Photos by Stephen Addison

In the letter “Lux Express in the Baltics” (Dec. ’14, pg. 12), I extolled the virtues of Lux Express, which operated the buses that my wife, Paula Owens, and I took from Tallinn, Estonia, to Riga, Latvia, and then onward three days later to Vilnius, Lithuania, during a September 2014 Baltics trip.

At the end of that letter, I wrote, “In Vilnius we exited our bus at the city-center Panorama stop, which is much more conveniently located to the northern part of the city than Vilnius’ bus station.” There’s a cautionary tale associated with our arrival there, which I only alluded to previously.

Our day had begun in Riga, where we arose well before sunrise. The plan was to board the 7 a.m. bus to Vilnius, where we would arrive four hours later at what I expected to be the Panorama bus station.

From our hotel, we carried our luggage out into the rain for the half-kilometer trudge over slippery cobblestones to Riga’s coach station. There was no English signage and no English-speaking staff available at the station, but we found our way and checked our luggage a few minutes before our bus arrived.

A few minutes after 7, we were on our bus crossing the Daugava River and watching the sun rise. We settled in and enjoyed our tasty breakfasts followed by cups of hot tea from the onboard free hot drink dispenser. We could relax.

Our bus was scheduled to make two stops in Vilnius. The first, our stop, was named Panorama. The second was Vilnius’ main coach station in the Old Town.

Before the trip, I did not find much information about the Panorama stop, but I assumed it was like the other stations we would be using. They all had the usual facilities: WCs, ATMs, water fountains, taxi stand, etc. We would need all of those, the ATM to obtain a supply of litas (they switched to euros a few months later), since we had only euros and US dollars. I knew our hotel was two kilometers from the stop, too far to walk with our luggage, so a taxi would be required.

Our bus entered Vilnius and traveled along a wide street through a modern, upscale district. From my seat on the right side of the bus, I subconsciously noticed that we were passing a massive, multilevel structure with the names of many stores mounted on the front façade.

Just as we finished passing the block-long building, our bus turned right onto a small side street, traveled a short distance, then stopped. The driver stood up, made an announcement (not in English), opened the door and stepped out. This had to be our stop.

Area near Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania.

We got up and exited the bus while all of the other passengers remained in their seats. That seemed a bit unusual. The bus driver opened the luggage compartment, retrieved our bags, climbed back into the bus and drove away.

I made a quick, 360-degree observation of the area, but there was no indication of anything remotely resembling a bus station. The Panorama bus station/stop was just a sign at a small shelter like those for local buses. There was nothing nearby but commercial buildings and parking lots.

It was 11 a.m. on Wednesday, and we were standing alone on a side street somewhere in Vilnius. We didn’t speak the language, and we didn’t have any local currency. There were no taxis nor a taxi stand in sight. Most urgently, after all of that hot tea, we were in dire need of a WC.

Neither Paula nor I had said anything since the bus left. As I considered our situation, she turned and gave me that look that spouses give you when you’ve messed up.

But I had an epiphany! I picked up my bags, motioned for Paula to pick up hers, and I led the way to a nondescript door in a blank façade of the nearest building as if it were my plan all along. This was the same building that I had barely noticed before our bus stopped.

To my great relief, the door was not locked. We entered and proceeded along a dim passageway, which eventually opened up into a large, modern shopping center. That was exactly what we needed. It was certainly better than a bus station.

We promptly located a directory, which enabled us to find clean washrooms and a water fountain. Next, an ATM provided us with litas. After a little more walking, we found an information desk staffed by two English-speaking women. They directed us to a taxi stand, where a single taxi awaited. Within minutes, we arrived at our hotel, happy and ready to explore Vilnius.

Despite my detailed planning, I had clearly fallen short. I should have further researched the Panorama bus “station” instead of making assumptions. We were very lucky that we arrived during business hours; otherwise, our story may have had a less happy ending.

As someone who has worked as a professional long-range planner, I’m a big believer in the Roald Amundsen quote “Adventure is just bad planning.”

Charlotte, NC