VILNIUS - Tourists in Lithuania are often offered a visit to the Soviet Bunker 's a specially designed reality museum near Vilnius, staffed with real actors 's to get an idea of life before independence. Yet there is a cheaper way to live the good life from the USSR: just visit a local bus station.
The Vilnius bus station has improved a lot since Soviet times, so if you want to have a taste a real Soviet experience, smaller stations should be visited. Nevertheless, some good old-school service and facilities can be still found in the capital.
"Members of the Parliament served first," read signs at service desks until very recently. The MPs could, until late spring, avoid long and slow queues by using their priority rights as enshrined in Soviet heritage regulations. Very recently this rule, which had been used frequently, as the station administration staff reported, was abolished by Transport Minister Eligijus Masiulis.
The bus station participates in "Vilnius 's cultural capital 2009" programs, thus there is a large information stand in the middle of the station. You might think it is a good place and time to find out about planned events in the city. It is if you have a time machine, because the leaflets invite visitors (only in Lithuanian) to the events planned for December 31, 2008.
As for actual traveling by bus, never completely trust the timetables presented on the Internet. It might very well be that a bus simply will not come, come early or late, or the timetable has been changed just for that day 's especially if the previous day was holiday. Nobody will know why. Be ready to wait for hours in wintertime, and know that the consignment office, situated at the waiting platform for international routes, will not let you inside to get warm. Under any circumstances.
If you need to send your friend a birthday present pronto, prepare to pay for it. The price for a consignment of 20 kilos to Riga is 52 litas (15 euros), 92 litas (27 euros) to Tallinn. Consignments to other Latvian cities, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic cost two or three times as much. You might try approaching a bus driver with a smaller pecuniary offer, but recently the bus station has hired security guards to prevent such deals.
The security firm should also chase away illegal carriers, which Lithuanians call "dushmanai." Nevertheless, dushmanai can still be found near the entrance of the station, shouting out places of destination that they offer to drive to.
Sometimes you cannot get a bus ticket in advance 's for example when the carrier is a non-Lithuanian company or it is late and the office is closed, or when the bus will be leaving in less than 30 minutes. Then you can only buy a ticket on the bus. In that case the drivers take only cash, and preferably in the currency of the carrier's origin 's i.e. a Latvian carrier will demand lats. They will often take litas in worst case though.
As for entertainment at the bus station, there are three betting offices in the underground corridor connecting the station and "Iki" food shop. The homeless are usually not allowed in but gather at the doors, peeking at TVs displaying some crucial sport games. They at least feel at home in the waiting hall, enriching it with strong odors and scenes too peculiar to make any sense of.
If you are looking for some last minute souvenirs 's there's a kiosk that sells huge plastic clocks at the station. Surely you'd like one on your living room wall, to remind of your journey to Lithuania. Another alternative is the biggest shop in the bus station, which sells wigs, artificial braids, hair dye, some hats and scarves.
So if Interpol is looking for you for some reason, the Vilnius bus station has ideal conditions to foul the trail: get a wig, then pick up some glasses at the shop next to it (prices are as low as 1 litas 's 0.3 euros per frame), and get a new untraceable mobile phone at one of the mobile phone shops at the station.
However, if you are not a secret agent or a mafia agent, just relax. You might get to your destination today, or maybe not 's there's nothing you can do to improve the situation.
Once on the bus, be humble and quiet and place no demands, requests nor inquiries. Pretty much anything can happen, and the usual rules on service provision will not apply. So prepare for anything and may the luck be with you.