Let’s go, GB, let’s go…

So Great Britain are back in the World Group, hurrah!

If you’re not a tennis fan, that probably means nothing to you whatsoever, but take it from me, it’s a good thing. This weekend Team GB beat Croatia in their Davis Cup tie and got promoted to the top group, which includes the likes of Spain, Serbia and Argentina, for the first time in five years. There was a time when that looked very unlikely to ever happen, largely because Andy Murray decided not to play, and left the other British players, who at the time weren’t very highly ranked, to struggle on without him.

But these days Andy’s not the only decent player we’ve got. There’s Dan Evans, who reached the third round of the US Open this year, taking out Kei Nishikori and Bernard Tomic on the way. Colin Fleming, who’s our highest ranked doubles player at number 17 in the world. Jonny Marray, 2012 Wimbledon champion in men’s doubles. And the team also has a different captain, Leon Smith, who seems to be able to inspire them to win – which is always helpful in a captain.

In April the team pulled off a shock victory against Russia (just as shocking for the British supporters as it was for the Russians, by the way; we expected to lose) to set up this weekend’s tie with Croatia.

As a family of tennis fans, we’ve been to several ties over the years, all but one in the UK. We’ve been to Glasgow, Bolton, Coventry and Eastbourne to cheer on the team, with varying degrees of success. But we’ve only been to one away tie, which was sadly not in the glorious sunshine of Croatia, but the cold, snowy city of Vilnius, in Lithuania.

Vilnius from the air

Vilnius in the snow

This was back in 2010; my mum and I decided to give it a go because we figured Lithuania probably wasn’t somewhere we’d have reason to visit otherwise, so we might as well combine a trip to a new city with a trip to the tennis.

The first thing we discovered when we arrived: Lithuania in March is cold. It was still pretty snowy, but miraculously, when it snowed they just cleared the roads and kept going – unlike Britain, where everything just stops. However I do also remember at one point nearly being killed by a sheet of ice that happened to fall from a shop roof as I was passing, which was mildly terrifying.

The Gate of Dawn, Aušros Vartai
The Gate of Dawn, Aušros Vartai, an important religious and historical monument

Second: some of the other British fans were kind of annoying. One in particular, who sat behind us on the first day, insisted on chanting his way through both matches – you might think that’s a good thing for a supporter, but imagine listening to this, in a monotone, for three hours straight: ‘Dan, Dan, you’re our man; if anyone can do it, yooou can.’ Over and over. And over. (It was also slightly ironic because it turned out that Dan, in fact, couldn’t.)

Third: Lithuania doesn’t really do health and safety. The seating had been thrown up in what appeared to be a small sports centre, and basically consisted of a wobbly frame with rows of free-standing chairs. Every now and again, someone would shift their chair and the back legs would fall down the gap at the back of the row. This was usually accompanied by a shriek and flailing arms, followed by embarrassed laughter.

Fourth: when you lose a Davis Cup tie away from home, it’s horrible. This particular tie went to a decider, featuring ‘Dan, Dan, you’re our man’, and ended with a five-set defeat. As the Lithuanians went crazy, jumping up and down, singing, we Brits put our heads down and scurried out the door. And then, to add insult to injury, the next day we found ourselves on the same flight as the team, who looked thoroughly depressed and carefully avoided everyone’s eye.

But despite getting beaten at tennis (which, let’s be honest, is something we’ve had to get used to over the years), we had fun exploring a new city that was unlike anywhere we’d been before. We even managed, mostly through a combination of sign language, writing, and the handful of Lithuanian words I’d learnt before we left (yes, hello, thank you) to haggle a little bit at the market.

Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral

One day we visited the national museum, which looks quite scary – and, in fact, is. First you’re forced to hand over your coat at the cloakroom; there’s no choice involved. Then, each room is guarded by a fierce-looking lady who stands in the corner and watches your every move. It also turned out everything was in Lithuanian, but because we were being watched, we felt obliged to look interested, even though we had literally no idea what we were looking at. In one room, the lady rushed to put on a video for us that was in English, so we thanked her and took a seat. Unfortunately it turned out the film was about half an hour long, and not exactly exciting, but in true polite British style, we felt it would be rude to leave. So I’m now an expert on Lithuanian crosses, in case anyone ever needs one.

Lithuania's National Museum
Lithuania’s National Museum. Looks like a prison. Feels a bit like one, too.

We also had some really good food; there was even one restaurant we went back to a second time because we liked it so much. They also made their own wine there, which was pretty good on the last night when we needed to drown our sorrows. The only weird thing was that the only music (both times) was the greatest hits of Rod Stewart…?

Naturally I came back to work to find a copy of the newspaper article about our Davis Cup defeat taped to my computer (cheers, guys). But I’d still definitely put Lithuania up there as one of my more memorable holidays. I don’t know if I’d rush to go back, but it was definitely worth visiting once – if only to see a country that actually knows how to deal with snow.


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