…is the term I used to describe the area surrounding our hotel in the city of Panevėžys, situated halfway between the two Baltic capitals of Vilnius and Riga.
Short, square buildings lining every street like something straight out of the Eastern Bloc; freezing cold, grey, the odd pine tree dotted about, old ladies in their winter coats and headscarves returning a pleasant greeting. The midst of winter, when usually there is at least two feet of snow covering the ground, but not this year. A different town altogether in summer, as the leaflets in the hotel lobby show us: when the sun is out, the skies blue and people perhaps smile more.
At the airport, crowds of striking fair-skinned blondes wearing huge warm coats, prepared for the wintry climate. Coming from the North East of England, it’s something of a phenomenon to see so many people dressed appropriately for the weather.
Like many experiences of staying in mainland Europe, perfect hospitality. And unlike the familiar Premier Inns of Britain, our stay is in a truly unique, romantic, rustic hotel with corridors that go on forever, with automatic lights constantly switching off at the same moment a silent handyman steps down from his ladder, as if to deliberately scare you, and the spookiest artwork lining the walls. If anywhere is haunted, it’s here. And while the hospitality is excellent, it’s almost too good: we each get a huge room to ourselves (a rare luxury) yet suddenly long for the company of a roommate, for fear of disappearing in the night.
Fortunately, no disappearances to report. Breakfast of kings; a small bunch of rowdy drunks at the bar at night; a game or two of chess to fill the time in between. Typically for us, very little time to spare.
The trip is for an arena gig – a bizarrely large venue for a private event in a seemingly quiet place, with an outrageous number of acts for one night of entertainment. Here I have listed some of them:
- laser man
- electric function band
- famous Lithuanian popstar
- balancing cube man
…and the list goes on.
This is all organised by four extremely efficient (and young and beautiful) event planners. Our dressing room is an example of perfection, and what a difference that makes to putting on a smooth show! It must have been one hell of a Christmas party from front-of-house.
As ever, it’s a flying trip, almost as if we dreamt it. Between our hotel and the airport there were brief glimpses of beautiful countryside peppered with cosy homes and Christmas lights, which one imagines can only get prettier in the January snow. Riga and Vilnius, I’m coming back for you with a little more time on my hands.