This week our correspondent dips behind the old Iron Curtain, and reports on the world of print in Lithuania.
Maybe not one for the first time print tourist, but rest assured a warm welcome awaits you.
Unfortunately, the most common route to Lithuania means setting off from the somewhat comically monikered ‘London Luton’ airport. Despite only having squeaked a grade C Geography ‘O’ Level, even my rudimentary map reading skills tell me that Luton is more Milton Keynes than Mayfair. Perhaps it should be retitled Luton Airport, gateway to the south Midlands.
Once you have entered the glorified cattle shed that passes for a terminal you are greeted by the distressing sight of rows of outlets trying to either sell faux London merchandise, or food emporia staffed only by five star ‘Employees of the month’. These are proffering super-sized super buckets of super sweetened, or super fatty, fried reconstituted beef, pork or chicken all washed down with a milkshake.
The early flight leaves around 6.40am so, as it seems, does every other flight . This means you then have the joys of a twenty-minute queue at Pret to get your flat white and croissant, for which you needed to take out a second mortgage to pay for. You can only enjoy this once you have claimed your 2 feet of available floor space as, naturally, all seats in the waiting areas will be taken.
Once the flight has been called you are moved in to the herding pens ready to board the bus that will whisk you off to the plane. The seemingly never ending bus ride does make you feel that all the usual runways are full and that your chosen carrier, either Wizzair or Ryanair, is in fact planning to take off from the neighbouring Tesco car park but not until Mrs Smith has finished loading her twenty year old Vauxhall Astra with the weeks comestibles. Three and a half hours later your flight lands in Vilnius.
Upon arrival you will no doubt cope with the usual feelings of guilt for no reason, as you pass through passport control and the detailed scrutiny of a stony faced customs officer, despite any attempts at a jovial ‘Good Morning’, and move into the modern and much quieter Vilnius airport.
With most print companies situated on the outskirts of Vilnius, you will normally be greeted at the airport by your contact from the print site for the short drive to the plant.
It should be stated at this point that, as flights often need to be booked a week or two ahead of the press pass, as like our German friends the Lithuanian printers seem to be very adept at sticking to the schedule that has been given well in advance. This is pretty good going, considering certain UK printers appear to be able to move a press pass back 8 hours during a 2 hour drive up the A1 (and a further 3 hours while in the customer lounge)!!
Once on press the English language isn’t so common amongst the minders, but with your contact there to translate their attentive enthusiasm for showing how well they print is plain to see. As a rule, colour is set as quickly as you would wish. It might be advisable not to take a customer along who prints health and safety manuals, as they may have a heart attack due to the fact that steel toe caps make way for socks and sandals. Not a good look at the best of times, but during the warmer months in Lithuania apparently standard print minder issue.
Press pass completed, you head for your hotel in the centre of Vilnius. This capital city as you would expect has a very colourful history and, if time allows, is worth exploring in more depth. There is a wide choice of hotels, but in search of something a little ‘quirkier’ our Callimedia explorer tends to stay at the appropriately named ‘Comfort Hotel’. Rooms are decorated in a variety of themes, bearing absolutely no relation to the culture of the city, but as suggested are comfortable enough.
It has to be said that the food in the hotel restaurant is of a very high standard. There may be a slightly unusual choice on the menu but it is cooked perfectly and equally well presented. This does beg the question however of where do the chefs go overnight? If you do decide you would like some breakfast in the morning you are presented with the oddest buffet selection known to man. If you play safe and just take the items you vaguely recognise you end up with a plate containing a few mini hot dog style sausages and a spoon of scrambled egg with a slice of ham on the side!
When leaving the hotel for the airport it suddenly becomes apparent why there are currently no Eastern European Formula 1 drivers, they are all still driving taxis in Vilnius. The last opportunity to look at the sights of the city are lost as you close your eyes and hang on during the much shorter (or so it seems) drive back to the airport.
As with each job that we manage we need to be confident that our suppliers, wherever they may be, can deliver to the standards that we demand. Obviously the press equipment needs to be of a certain quality but equally we need to work with willing and enthusiastic partners and to that end our Lithuanian friends deliver in heaps. As long as schedules allow for a slightly extended delivery you can feel confident that you will be in good hands.