• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

Travelogue: Vilnius (Lithuania), Part I

Now, normally I travel Business Class only when someone else is paying for it [g], or when conditions seem to warrant the extra expense. In this case, it was the latter.

Vilnius is one of those places where you can’t get there from here–wherever “here” is. It takes a minimum of three flights (and 22 hours) to get there, and two weeks before I left, the nice person who was making my travel arrangements apologized for the delay, saying that it was -30 degrees F., and “too cold for anybody to do anything.” Nothing daunted, I put gloves and wooly hat in the pockets of my big down coat, loaded three new novels onto my Kindle (Deborah Crombie’s NO MARK ON HER, Kim Harrison’s PERFECT BLOOD, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE–all really good books, btw), put three Russell Stover Coconut Cream Easter Eggs and a hairbrush into my book satchel, with an ARC of Louise Penny’s THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY for takeoffs and landings, and set off into the wild blue yonder.

The adventure started off in typical fashion–which is to say that the first flight of this carefully-arranged hegira was cancelled (thus ruining all the other connections). You don’t do a lot of this kind of travel without developing a certain philosophical outlook, though, so I merely ate an easter egg (with Diet Coke; you don’t get through this kind of thing without some source of caffeine, either) and spent a tranquil three and a half hours in the Phoenix airport (flying Biz Class helps the philosophical outlook, since you can go hang out in the airline’s lounge on these occasions; the bathrooms are better, and they usually provide daily papers, snacks, and alcohol), reading NO MARK ON HER, before flying off to Newark (rather than Washington Dulles, as originally scheduled). Began THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY, which is very good, though somewhat different from Penny’s usual, in that it involves Chief Inspector Gamache, but is not set in the magical town of Three Pines. Returned to NO MARK, though, as I didn’t want to finish the ARC too soon–a lot of takeoffs and landings still to come.

Well. The connection in Newark to the next leg—to Frankfurt—was only 40 minutes to start with—a long shot, considering that it takes about ten minutes to get to the gate and _off_ the bloody aircraft before even beginning the dash to the next gate (and Newark has roughly 175 gates). But the plane was put in a holding pattern, and by the time we finally landed and taxied _for miles_, my connection time had shrunk to nine minutes, and I was resigned to spending the night in Newark, rebooking _again_, and emailing Vilnius from my iPad to let them know I’d be a hair late.

BUT, what to my wondering eyes should appear, the instant I came out of the jetway, but a nice young gentleman in a suit and a German accent (I was technically on a Lufthansa flight, even though operated by Continental), who seized me, stuffed me into a waiting electric cart and—assuring me that my suitcase was being hastily excavated and would make it, too—dispatched us on a wild career down the terminal, the iron-lunged young lady at the wheel shouting, “BEEP-BEEP-BEEP!” at the oblivious walkers, several of whom avoided instant death only by an adroit leap sideways as we shot past.

I dived into the plane to find the whole German cabin crew standing in the doorway, impatiently glancing at their watches, and thirty seconds after I fell into my seat (leaping over the supine body of my seatmate, who had already put on her sleepmask and reclined at full-length under her blanket), we took off for Frankfurt. Another perk of flying Biz Class is that they offer more or less nonstop alcohol, and a good thing, too. White wine doesn’t really go with easter eggs, but you know, what the heck.

Lufthansa is really just about my favorite airline—insofar as it’s possible to contemplate the word “airline” without shuddering. The food was excellent, the service both amiable and efficient (beyond the alcohol and the warm nuts, one of the little amenities I like flying Biz is the napkins, which are cloth, dazzlingly white, and feature a buttonhole in one corner, so you can button it onto your shirt rather than laying it across your lap and dropping bits of arugula and glazed walnut into your décolletage, or tucking it into your collar and looking like you wuz born in a barn), and the seats really cool: each one was sort of sequestered in its own little cocoon of plastic, within which it adjusted everywhichway, so it doesn’t make any difference whether the person in front of you reclines or not.

I’m so accustomed to random sleeping that I don’t bother trying to readjust my metabolism when flying; I just take homeopathic No-Jet-Lag tablets and sleep when I’m tired. I wasn’t tired at this point, so went through the available movies—new to newish releases, but a pretty dismal looking crop—and watched Part I of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Boringly incoherent, with indifferent acting and good special effects. Let us just say I now have zero desire to see Part II. After all, I read the book; I know how it ends.

Astonishingly enough, we landed in time for me to make the connection with my _original_ Frankfort-to-Vilnius flight, in spite of having to go through Passport Kontrolle in Frankfort and make my way from one end of the place to the next—pausing _en route_ to purchase a small bottle of Cola Light (this is supposed to be Diet Coke, but it really isn’t; it’s Coke Zero. Still, it works, and I’m not inclined to be fussy after twenty hours on the road) for the extortionate price of three euros (one small benefit to constant travel is that I have small amounts of all kinds of odd currencies on hand, emptied out of my pockets after trips, and therefore usually have enough on landing to get me a snack and a cab-ride before I have to change money–_really_ useful, if landing at a small airport in the middle of the night. Frankfurt is _not_ a small airport, btw. It’s about like O’Hare in terms of size and complexity, but much, much better run. They were having a ground strike at the time—this is what caused my first flight to be canceled; the plane I was scheduled to be on couldn’t get _out_ of Frankfurt—but were moving people with great dispatch, little congestion, and no public riots. Or maybe they just don’t let members of the public abuse the staff).

And so I landed in Vilnius pretty much on time, to find that the temperature had risen, the snow was slushy, the skies gray—i.e., much like February in Flagstaff (where I grew up), as I kept reassuring my apologetic hosts—and the baggage claim area sported a large poster proudly informing all and sundry that Vilnius is “the Gender-Equality Capital of Europe!”

And the morning and the evening and the morning again and part of the afternoon were the First Day. _Now_ I was tired.

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108 Responses »

  1. I’ve just booked a trip to Vilnius in May for the World Congress on Environmental Health, so I’m looking forward to installment 2. Getting there from Australia was a challenge- my partner and I are flying via Tokyo, Amsterdam and Prague. Sadly, I’m NOT travelling business class!

    • Oh, goodness, Lisa! That will surely be an amazing trip, and I send you all the best wishes! Plus, I’m only a little jealous! Prague is so special, I hope you can manage a few days there.
      No Jet Lag is a great homeopathic (little mint-tasting pills) from New Zealand. They are readily available at local health good stores, or eBay. I’ve used/dispensed them many times, and they really help – a lot. You get to your destination after 20++ hours of long flights, and you’re exhausted (should be!), but not wiped out, not sick, and still (generally!) maintain mental capability. Be well, be safe!
      Kitty, San Diego, California

  2. Dear Diana…

    Please go to sugar saturated pop… all those artificial sweeteners are nothing but chemicals that WILL kill you. Plus if you’re eating an Easter egg at the same time, what exactly is the point of the diet pop? It’s kind of like super sizing MacDonalds and ordering a super sized diet pop… doesn’t make any sense at all. Plus the sugar pops do taste a lot better. Really LOVE all your books and can’t wait for the next Jamie and Claire release.

    • Dear Anne—

      Mm. As the first Duke of Pardloe would say, “Not logical.”

      I do hear this line of reasoning—if you’re eating something with sugar, what’s the point of diet soda?—now and then, but….well, let’s look at it, shall we?

      1 Russell Stover Coconut Cream Easter Egg = 180 calories.
      1 can of Coke = 170 calories

      Total = 350 calories (or about what one would eat for a reasonable breakfast or lunch)

      1 Easter Egg = 180 calories
      1 Diet Coke = A big fat ZERO calories

      Total = 180 calories (a reasonable snack that will keep me from starving en route to someplace with food, but leave me the additional 170 calories for a small salad or a chicken thigh with a meal when I get where I’m going.)

      I.e., 170 calories are the point of drinking Diet Coke, no matter _what_ the heck you’re drinking it with. What on earth would be the point of guzzling sugary soda with something else sweet, anyway, calories quite aside? Cloying to the taste-buds, I mean—to say nothing of the effect of sugar Coke on dental enamel, or the effects of too much sugar in the diet overall.

      As for the chemicals in Diet Coke killing me…[g] well, I really _do_ appreciate your concern, but—fwiw—if you read the labels, most of the same chemicals are present in full-sugar sodas, bar the aspartame (and I assume that’s what you think is universally lethal). As one sensible doctor I know said, apropos cell phones giving people brain cancer: “Given the number of people using them, and the period of time over _which_ they’ve been using them, if there was a noticeable effect—we’d have noticed it by now.”

      (Don’t tell me the one about how if you leave Diet Coke in the sun you get wood alcohol and you’ll go BLIND (or insane) if you drink it—I’ve heard that one, too. I was a volunteer reader for Recording for the Blind for twenty-seven years, and never met one person who’d gone blind from drinking Diet Coke.)

      I have myself been drinking Diet Coke for more than twenty years and so have many, many millions of other people. Do you know anyone—just one—who is known—medically proven, _known_– to have died from drinking Diet Coke? No? Me neither. Don’t think I’m gonna be the first.

      Q.E.D. [g]

      –Diana

      • Laughed my head off! You are absolutely hilarious and I agree with every word.

        Now what about Climate Change?

        Cheers
        Janet

      • I LOVE this!!!! I get this question a lot and I’m probably going to plagiarize this very concise, yet kind response. :D

  3. Thank you for sharing your saga!

    What I wonder is whether or not you get any writing done on a trip like this one. You don’t mention writing so I assume you take a brief holiday from doing it.

    PS We’re glad to have you back!

    • Dear Jerry–

      Actually, I got a _lot_ of writing done in Vilnius. I didn’t have my husband with me [g], and didn’t have to do events that ran late into the evening–and most days, I had a reasonable amount of down-time between or after events, so I divided that between walking around the city and writing.

      London (where I did have my husband with me)…not so much. [g]

      –Diana

  4. Can’t wait for Part II! I would’ve taken the Russell Stover Marshmallow Eggs myself but I just can’t imagine chocolate and wine together; gives me heartburn just thinking about it!

    • I’ve tried 2 kinds of chocolate wine (bit of a chocoholic). Both were quite kind to the palate. Godiva liqueur is much more tasty and considerably more expensive. Dark chocolates filled with kirschwasser or one of the other high octane dessert beverages are hard to beat for a sweet treat.

  5. Dear Diana,

    Did the anti Jet-Lat pills work? I often make those long haul flights and nothing works. Going EAST is worse than west. I’ve even tried sleeping pills as a last resort – when the homeopathic remedies didn’t seem to help…and still stay wide awake, until the plane lands and starts taxing to the gate.

    - Eileen

    • Dear Eileen–

      Yes, they do work for me, luckily. I do also carry melatonin–two of those will put me to sleep in roughly ten minutes–though I use those more often after landing, to adjust my sleep to the local hours. (I stay awake ’til whatever normal bedtime would be, locally, and am usually so exhausted that sleeping is no problem, but you know how jet-lag works; you keep waking up at 3 AM and being unable to go back to sleep. Melatonin makes me go back to sleep.)

      –Diana

  6. Now, I am very disappointed that you didn’t visit Stockholm when you were that close!

  7. Envious of your travel! I used to be a flight attendant and haven’t really traveled since having my children (10 and 13)…your books are my travel! Thanks!
    BTW-I totally get the diet coke and chocolate :)

  8. Yes!, Where would we be without the adventures of life! Living the Merry Go Round to it’s fullest is the best life for those of us with the good sense to hold on and enjoy the full tilt ride.

  9. Thanks for the reminder to go take some melatonin, as I am sitting here in the middle of the night reading your entertaining blog! Unfortunately my reason for being awake is far less glamourous than jet lag, it has more to do with night sweats and a brain that won’t shut off!
    I love the list of snack items that you included on your flight, and thoroughly enjoyed your explanation as to why you chose those snacks—it all sounds perfectly reasonable and logical—something sweet needs to be balanced by something less sweet, with caffeine and bubbles (I NEED the bubbles of a cola).
    Now, where is that melatonin…

  10. I did the same kind of travel you did few days after your flights. Only difference was that it took 4 flights to reach my destination and I had coach tickets. Every flight with Delta is … an adventure, let me put it that way. Scramy kids and sweating ladies … they did not make the flight more enjoyable. My first 2 flights were with Delta, so I was kinda depressed after them. But from JFK, I continued my flight with Finnair. And I must say – I had a coach ticket and it didn’t feel like it. Okay, the snoring finnish guy sitting next to me was too close, but … the service, the attitude, foods & snacks – everything was sooo good! And arriving to Finland, typical northern mannor, my last flight was in COLD plane… Brrhh… But after 26 hours, I managed to get home safely to sleep for 6 hours and get on a bus to see you.

    I was lucky that ALL my flights were in order and NO delays. I don’t know where that miracle came, but whoever is behind it, THANK YOU :) But I think, delays and mishaps with your flights kind of added the flavour for your trip and made it more interesting. I hope you are posting something about the next parts of your trip to Europe too :)

  11. I do believe you could write about going to the toilet and make that entertaining too. Oh wait, you already did that !

    Have you read Fifty Shades of Gray ? It’s attracting attention, but I couldn’t get through the first 3 chapters of the Amazon preview. Too much blushing and stammering for me. Or maybe it gets better?

  12. Know what I think, Diana Gabaldon? I think you could jot down your grocery list and it’d be fascinating!
    Do you ever get to Ontario?

  13. I am looking forward to taking MHOB along for an even longer flight in December to Cape Town. In addition to the 30 hours of travel I’ll have my 2 1/2 year old and husband, Both will hopefully sleep while I dive into your novel. You have made many trips to South Africa with me, can’t wait for the next!

    PS Will definitely bring along a nice Christmas equivalent to the Easter Egg.

  14. Diana-

    I can’t believe you are a Susan Elizabeth Phillips fan, too!! She is one of my favorite romance writers. My husband, my sixteen year old daughter, and I are all NFL fans and I was drawn to her because of her football stories. I have read romances since my early teens but I love ALL

  15. (sorry-hit “submit” by accident!!)

    I love ALL types of literature. You, Diana, are one of the best in any genre of literature. You bring any subject to life…from Jamie and Claire to your travels. You never fail to amuse and entertain your readers. Thank you for all the time you spend making us laugh and cry…and everything in between!! Happy and safe travels. May you always return home with a spare coconut easter egg left over (to savor when you sit back down at your computer to take up your stories again!).

  16. Regular strikes aside, Lufthansa is a wonderful airline! The Mr and I fly Lufthansa when we visit my family in California. We live in Europe, and have tried Contintental and BA, but Lufthansa is by far the best. We fly in the cattle-car portion, and even in Economy the food is good and the customer service is excellent. Best part: The long haulers have the bathrooms located in the belly of the aircraft so there are six or seven stalls, plus a drink station where you can refill with water or soda without tracking down and waiting on a flight attendant. I’ve only flown Business International a few times with United and…oh, air travel done right! Hopefully we’ll have enough points for a double upgrade next year. ::fingers crossed::

  17. Please, why did no-one eat the fruit salad? Absolutely LOVE your Outlander series, am saving my centimes ( I liove in France ) for some of your other books. Long may it all last and thank you.

    • Sorry, last comment should have been after part two (I do struggle with technology !)

    • Dear Jane–

      Well, it was a rather uninspired fruit salad…[g] No, it was because everyone was so gripped by the intensity of the conversation.

      –Diana

  18. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming
    having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% certain. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Dear…um…underwire–

      No, setting up a blog isn’t particularly expensive. Designing a whole website can be, but you can certainly start small, with just a blog. I’d google “WordPress,” “Livejournal,” or ‘starting a blog,” if I were you. Good luck!

      –Diana