Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Men Don't Ask for Directions

Last Friday Jane and I boarded a train bound for Lithuania’s third-largest city, the Baltic seaport of Klaipeda.  Klaipeda is a little less Russian and Polish, and a bit more German/East Prussian, than the rest of Lithuania.  Some people say that Klaipeda is more cosmopolitan than other Lithuanian cities, perhaps because of its roots in the Hanseatic League and in long-distance commerce involving textiles and amber. 

It was a gray day when we boarded the train in Šiauliai, and a miserably wet one when we alighted at Klaipeda’s railway station.  I had booked us a nice place to stay, one with a little character and easy access by foot to the city’s old town, or senasmiesto.  See photo #1, above.   

Klaipeda’s somewhat curious status vis-a-vis Lithuania is best illustrated by two historical factoids.  One is that the city and surrounding area was, with French encouragement, annexed by a newly independent Lithuania in 1923, when German strength and resolve was at its nadir.  The second is that Hitler spoke here, and a statue of him was erected in the theater square in 1939, when German resolve had recovered (putting it mildly) enough to allow for the re-annexation of Klaipeda.  See photo #2, above, which shows the statue that currently sits in the square, replacing Hitler, in front of the theater, which currently is undergoing restoration. 

So, when we got off the train, we pointed our suitcases and umbrellas in the direction of what is, according to Tripadvisor, one of Klaipeda’s better guest houses.  It’s called Pirklių Namai, which means something akin to Merchant’s House, and it's adjacent to, but not actually in, the old town (see photo #3, below).  It was pouring.  Under the circumstances, any normal person in this situation would hail a cab and say, “Take me to Pirklių Namai.” And that’s how the fact that I am not a normal person becomes relevant to this story. 

I loath spending money on taxicabs, and I will go to almost any length to avoid it.  Getting from place to place by putting one foot in front of the other is a matter of pride with me.  In a pinch, I don’t mind taking subways, trams, trolleys, or buses.  The wonderful thing about these forms of mass transit is that the fares and the routes are fixed, published, and non-negotiable.  Ask a cabbie, “How much will it cost me to get to the senasmiesto?” and the response you are likely to get is some variation on the theme of “How much you got?” 

So anyway, at the train station I looked for a Tourist Information Office to secure a more detailed street map than the one in my guidebook.  No luck.  I thought we’d have a 10-minute walk to our guesthouse.  After 15 minutes of slogging through a steady downpour, I could tell that Jane was fast running out of patience.  Finally, we reached Naujoji Sodo gatvė, one of the city’s main drags and home to Pirklių Namai at #12.  It can’t be that far, I thought to myself.  But where, exactly?  We could see the city's docks ahead of us, and there was nothing between us and the docks that looked anything like a guest house.

At #1 Naujoji Sodo gatvė, we saw one of Klaipeda’s iconic hotels and conference centers.  So, despite my allergy to asking for directions, I crossed the street to inquire at the front desk as to the whereabouts of Pirklių Namai.  Two young women huddled to compare notes, and concluded that we should be heading south, not west.  “It's in the old town.  As soon as you cross the bridge, you can’t miss it,” one of them said. 

It didn't seem possible, since we were already on the right street, but given our level of desperation, we did what we were told, crossed the drawbridge over the Danė River, and sure enough, even though you “can’t miss it,” we saw no sign of Pirklių Namai.  This is why men don’t ask for directions.  Half the time, the person providing you with an answer that sounds authoritative is just guessing.   

We stopped in a coffee shop on the far side of the bridge. (Later, under sunnier skies, I took a picture of Jane on that bridge, with a tall ship called the Meridian in the background.  See photo #4, above)  “You need to go back to Naujoji Sodo gatvė,” said the barista, pointing us toward the place from which we had just come.  We retraced our sloshy steps and, pressing some 50 yards farther west than where we had given up the search the first time, there it was, Pirklių Namai, sitting sideways on Naujoji Sodo gatvė and with its façade on an adjacent alley.  

If the young women at the front desk of the iconic hotel at #1 Naujoji Sodo gatvė had known or wanted to, they could have walked us out the front door and pointed to the Pirklių Namai across the street at #12.  But they seemed never to have heard of it, nor even of Naujoji Sodo gatvė, the street on which their own hotel sits, ruling the roost.  

Next time, I’ll still try to find my way without asking for directions, but I might consider hailing a cab.




  1. Jane looks remarkably happy under the circumstances. Glad you had such a fun adventure! Nancy K

  2. Hi, Nancy! Thanks for chiming in. Yes, Jane seems too happy for someone sharing close quarters with a grump. She is awesome.

  3. There is a sense of triumph in her smile that actually made me guffaw! Good for you, Jane! (David A.)