Trains, Tickets, Errands, and Markets

22/12/14

(Again, I am late posting again because it seems that the internet at the hostel where I posted the last post only worked for one day and then could not load anything after that. I will do my best posting regularly, but all I can say is I will post when the internet permits me to).

The following day was Monday, so more stands were open and more people were in the market. After eating breakfast (which at this hostel had been a terrible option of copious quantities of bread with choice slices of meat and cheese and some substance resembling cereal) we went back down to the market area with the intention of asking someone where a post office was so that I could mail back the extra Eurail pass that the company had annoyingly sent to me. (A Eurail pass is a pass you can buy to be valid for travel by various means within the European Union in valid countries that is only valid for a certain period after you activate them, but that overall makes the cost of travel less expensive if you plan to travel that much. Unfortunately for them, citizens of countries within the European Union are unable to purchase and use them. We found a post office stand where people were mailing postcards and I frantically scribbled a postcard to my family in the few seconds before it became our turn in line. I like to send postcards and letters and anyone who knows me well enough knows this, there just aren’t very many people who seem to enjoy writing or receiving such things like this as I do, so I end up sending them to my family usually. I am also not buying souvenirs on this trip because Europe is already expensive enough to travel in, so this is my chosen form of souvenirs for my family.

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(There were strange pieces of art all over the city. We found this particular one on the way back from the post office).

We asked our question and sent our postcards (Kenzy sent one too) and went on our way to find the real post-office. I was very annoyed to find out that in Europe you can’t simply write “Return to Sender” on the outside of an unopened envelope or package and have it returned without paying another shipping fee, like in the United States. Instead you have to put it in a new envelope, rewrite all of the addresses and pay the new shipping fee. I had not sent the Eurail pass back before the journey had started because I didn’t physically have it. Since Kenzy and I had been staying in Russia and new that the Russian mail system was not the most efficient or reliable, we had made the decision to send the Eurail passes all to Ali in Aberdeen, so she ended up with my extra one but did not have the time to send it back since she had to pack everything up because she would not be returning to Aberdeen for the next semester. When all was said and done, at least that was one less thing we had to worry about on our journey, even though I had to pay for it.

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(Also on the way back from the post office, just an idea of what some of the buildings looked like in this area).

After sending the Eurail pass back, we had business to attend to at the train station. We had to activate the Eurail passes to be able to use them; this apparently just took the stamp and a signature of a European Union transport official. Our train was the next day, so we wanted to ask all of the necessary questions and make reservations for some trains if they were needed. Apparently Italy has a very messy train system, so we had to reserve all of the trains relating to places we were going in Italy. For the rest of them (hoping there was room) we could just get on in the second class area and fill out the information on our Eurail passes to be stamped when needed. Some of the reservations were much more expensive then I would have liked, but I am told that overall the price for transport done this way was still cheaper than buying each of these train tickets individually.

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(on the way back from the train station, the sun sets early at this time of the year).

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(A church we walked by many times and finally visited).

It was not very late in the day and we had already been productive getting all of this done. (Actually now that I remember this more clearly after the retelling this story, we did all of these errands the same day I got my luggage back, so the day before, but since I already posted about that day and so that I will have something to write about this day other than walking around the markets, I will continue as if it happened this day).

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(The front of the church)

On the way back into the busier parts of the markets, Kenzy bought a desert we had seen at some of the stands before. She let me try a bite and, although it looked rather intriguing, it turned out not to taste like much of anything. It was a chocolate exterior with a flavored marshmallow filling (they had different options for the flavors and Kenzy bought the mocha one). Unfortunately the flavoring of the filling was too weak so in the end it didn’t taste like anything.

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(Stained glass window)

We also happened upon a smaller market area which was located inside what looked like a small village but was all shops. It was very quaint and Christmassy and enjoyable see, but not to walk through. The part that made it unenjoyable was the crowd we faced in every direction we turned. When we left this smaller area and returned to the larger and more open areas of the market, it was even more difficult to walk anywhere because more people kept arriving.

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(Entering the throngs of the market place)

Later we returned to the children’s area of the market because they sold a dessert over there that we wanted to try. I don’t really know how to describe it except to give you the unpleasant image of a mass of dough in a bowl with a watery-textured vanilla pudding substance around it and cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. It was a lot more attractive than what I just described, otherwise why would we buy it, and tastier too.

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(It became more crowded as it got darker)

I have traveled with people before who choose not to eat local food because they want to save money and I understand that, I want to save money too. However, I must say that every time I go someplace new I try to find local dishes to try because I feel like I haven’t traveled there and experienced as much as I can of the culture unless I try the food they eat. Also if I am traveling, I know perfectly well that I am spending and not saving money. I can try to spend less, but that does not mean I am saving any. There just needs to be a balance between spending money on food at a restaurant and buying groceries at a market. In addition, if I don’t have a kitchen available to me, then I have to spend money. This is why I am always buying and trying new dishes. Also, if you read any of my blog while I was in Lithaunia towards the end of this last summer and noticed that I went to an Indian restaurant, a Thai restaurant and so on, if I am staying in one location for that long I sometimes miss certain cuisine, but I also like to compare what other countries offer in the area of cuisine and their flavors to what I am used to in the United States.

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(Some examples of what was sold in the market)

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There were a few cathedrals we had passed the previous day in the markets, usually churches are free to visit, but occasionally (in touristy locations) they will charge you. These were free though so we did visit one. It was beautiful and spacious with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. However, it was obviously so spacious, done in an old gothic style, that there was no possible way the building could be heated. A few decorations had been set up around the church for Christmas, but no major decorations could be placed because the ceilings were too high to be useful for decorating.

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(The high ceilings of the church)

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(Inside the church)

One beautiful part of this particular church was what looked like a square filled with white sand, in the center of the square was a small nativity and around the edge of the square, people had placed small candles and drawn designs in the sand with their hands.

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At the end of the day, we really had spent time trying new food and enjoying the Christmas lights and the Christmas markets. Maybe this would not be interesting for some people, but the markets had such a variety of goods to buy and even a section where different stalls represented different countries (the United States was represented by Jack Daniel’s and other ridiculous paraphernalia), that it kept us entertained just looking at many of these stalls. Perhaps I will return to these markets in the future, when I am not already bogged down by a year abroad in Russia, and actually buy something representative of these markets or Christmas. It won’t be the Jack Daniel’s though.

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(More ornaments from the market)

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In Transit: From Vilnius to Petersburg

On September 4th, I started my long journey to St. Petersburg. The trip really should not have taken that long, but I like to have everything be complicated and take a long time. Not really, but my previous decision to get my visa in Berlin resulted in the trip being much longer than it could have been.

I got up earlier than usual Thursday morning to finish packing. I didn’t have much packing left to do because I had done most of it the day before, but I would rather have extra time to get to the bus station than not enough. I did end up having extra time. I sat around for at least an hour working on the previous blog post I wrote before I left the apartment. I didn’t finish it, in part because I didn’t have time, but I also figured I could finish it when I was sitting on the bus somewhere between 2:45 P.M. Lithuanian time, and 6:00 A.M. Berlin time. I was wrong.

My journey from Lithuania to Berlin started out with me carrying two 50 pound (23 Kilo) suitcases down a few flights of stairs in a floor length skirt with a backpack on my back and a bag on my right shoulder stuffed as full as it could be with a mix of objects that included books. I took the suitcases down the stairs one at a time for each flight of stairs because the stairway was too narrow. I think that when people see me with these two big red suitcases and my two carry-ons they must wonder how I manage. The only answer is practice. The suitcases are the same size and the same kind so I don’t have to deal with the awkwardness of dragging two different sizes of suitcases around. They also both have four wheels on the bottom so I can drag them in one hand across hard floors and hold something else in my other hand. (This, of course, doesn’t work well on carpet, and doesn’t work at all on some other surfaces, but usually airports usually have solid floors).

There are some ridiculous situations I have been in to get from one place to another with all of my luggage, and this was one of them because after I made it down the stairs, I had to drag the suitcases to a bus stop. Even carrying two suitcases, I would rather take the harder journey on public transportation with people giving me weird looks, than pay the ridiculous price for a taxi. I would be glad later that I didn’t waste money on a taxi this time around. One of the things that keeps me going in these uncomfortable situations is that usually when I do something slightly strange like this, I am not traveling where a lot of people know me. Even if I come back in a few years, or even a few months, these people will never recognize me. The other thing that helps me move forward is that I have a set goal in mind, and all I am doing is trying to get to a certain location. I do not concentrate on anything else until I have made it from point A to point B with all of my luggage. My brain is telling me to go, go, go, until I have made it where I know I need to be.

At the bus stop I had to wait a while for the next trolleybus that I needed to come by because I missed one right as I was walking up. There was another number I could have taken, but every time I saw it, it was packed with people. I left a little bit early just in case, so I didn’t mind waiting because I knew it wasn’t going to make me late.

When the bus finally did arrive, I struggled a little bit getting the suitcases on because apart from them being heavy, one of the top handles broke on one of them, and made it difficult to lift. A guy dragged one up for me, which I was thankful for because bus doors don’t wait for people. My host, Tautvydas, told me the night before that if the bus was crowded I should buy two tickets because people might get mad about the space the luggage takes up. I did this and time stamped both of the tickets because the bus was a bit crowded. Thankfully there was room for me to sit down so that I could have more solid control over my rolling luggage. The bus got more crowded during the half hour ride I was on it, and I had to strain to keep my suitcases from rolling into people as the bus quickly started and stopped. It sounds like a really uncomfortable situation, and it was, but I kept reminding myself that it was cheaper than a taxi ride.

I did finally make it to the bus station just in time to stand in line to check in and put my luggage under the bus. This long bus ride was more comfortable than the short one, but it was a lot longer, so minor irritations grew as time progressed. My seat was an aisle seat. I like window seats because people don’t feel like they can put their hand on the arm of your seat as they walk by, or the back of your chair where they end up pulling on your hair because your head is obviously right there, but I survived.

The first irritation was the man next to me. He kept doing that thing where he spread his legs, as many men do, and took up more than his own room. I don’t put up with this because first, it is not fair, I paid for my seat too, and second, I am taller than the average girl so I need my room on my seat. I think I was taller than he was. Eventually he told me (in Russian) that there was a way to move the seats apart to give each of us more space. He still took up a lot of room, but at least it was tolerable.

The second irritation was the guy sitting behind me. Every time the bus stopped, he got out to smoke. I couldn’t turn my head to the side to try to sleep because then I would smell it. I had to keep my head completely straight forward so that I would minimize the amount of time I breathed the scent in. It wasn’t just the smell of a typical smoker because that I can deal with, he reeked of the smell of smoke so strongly that I made sure to hold my breath when he walked by. He also put his hand on the back of my chair and pulled my hair every time he sat down.

The third thing that irritated me was the man sitting in front of me. The bus trip started at 2:45 in the afternoon. For the whole bus ride, he had his chair leaned all the way back, cutting off my leg room, and forcing me to lean my chair back towards the smoker behind me so that I would have room. It also made it so that I could not work on my blog, or anything else, at all. The seats in these busses lean back much further than the seats in a plane, so I don’t think I ever need to complain about people leaning back their seats in a plane again.

The last major irritation was that someone had broken the television and headphone jack for my seat. I don’t need to watch television or movies, but for a bus ride this long, it is nice to have the entertainment. I ended up listening to the story The Kite Runner because I had it on my iPod. I don’t have music on my iPod, so this was the best I could do. I haven’t finished the story yet, and I think I fell asleep during part of it, but what I heard of it definitely did not have me on the edge of my seat wanting to hear more. The beginning section was probably the most interesting part. It served to drown out the noise of the guys snoring around me though, so at least the next part of the story was useful for something.

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(This is as the sun is setting somewhere in Poland. The window of the bus obviously wasn’t very clean since there are fingerprints in the middle of the picture. I was not seated next to the window so this was a really awkward picture to take).

We arrived at the Shoenfeld Airport somewhere around 6:00 A.M. Berlin time. This was my stop so I got off with all of my luggage. From here it should have been a straight shot to St. Petersburg after getting to the airport, with a layover in Stockholm, but it was not. I spent half an hour trying to figure out what to do and where to go because the signs weren’t clear and my flight didn’t show up on the departures board. Eventually I felt that something was wrong, and I looked at my flight itinerary more closely to try to figure out what it was. I noticed the airport code did not look correct for this airport, so I decided it was time to ask the airport information counter. At first he told me where to go for international flights, but I asked him to look at the airport code and he said that I was at the wrong airport. He said there were taxis outside and that it would cost about 55 Euros to ride from the Shoenfeld to the Teger airport. I didn’t have another option, so I took his advice and used a taxi.

When we got to the Teger airport, the final price was a little over 57 Euros. I tried to hand the taxi driver my debit card, but he said he only took cash. I have never encountered a taxi from an airport that only takes cash. That is really outdated and ridiculous. The taxi driver basically walked me to an ATM machine inside the airport so that I could withdraw money to pay him. I don’t understand why you have to tip taxi drivers, they already charge too much. I withdrew 60 Euros from the ATM machine, and gave it to him after I got my luggage. Maybe the tip was smaller than it should have been, but I felt he didn’t deserve any tip.

Not only was the taxi outdated, but the two airports I have been to in Berlin were outdated. It took me a while to find the right terminal for my flight, and it turned out to be in a completely different building than the one I was dropped off at. It was a building near the one at which I was dropped off, so that walk wasn’t too far.

Whenever checking in to an international flight, the instructions always say to arrive at least two hours in advance. I do this just to be safe, but the few times I have flown internationally, I have never found it necessary. The flight does not go up on the departures board until about two hours before departure, but the check in doesn’t open until about one hour before the plane is schedule to take off. By the time I actually check in, pay for my extra bag and get through security, there is about a 20 minute wait in the actual terminal and I am already boarding the plane. When I fly domestically I always have a longer wait than 20 minutes because they always let me check in much earlier, so I have longer to wait around.

This time as I was checking in and explained that I had two bags, I encountered another shortcoming of this Berlin airport. At every airport where I have checked an extra bag, they tell me, “You have to pay for that,” as if I don’t know.  I know, I check, and recheck the luggage allotments for every airline I take to make sure I have the information right. Again, I tried to hand the lady my debit card, and again there was no card machine, they only took cash, in an international terminal. Can I just focus on this for a minute to emphasize how ridiculous this was? In Russian airports they give you a slip of paper and you go over to another counter to pay for your extra bag, but you can still use a card. In airports in the United States, you pay at whatever counter you are already at, they all have card machines. If by some chance one doesn’t have a card scanner, the next counter over will. Even in domestic terminals. It is especially important in international terminals to have card readers because, as someone traveling in a foreign country, I always carry around cash, but as I am getting ready to leave that country I try to make sure I don’t have any cash left because I know I will no longer need that currency. So why would I have cash at the airport, and who carries that much cash with them on a daily basis anyway? (Maybe in Europe they do, I really don’t know, but in the United States most people just use their credit or debit cards).

Again, the price was 60 Euros or a steep 85 dollars. It sounded wrong to me from what I had seen online, but what can I do. I had to walk back to the other building because they didn’t have an ATM in the building I was in.

I finally made it through the luggage check-in and through security (they made me take out my laptop at this airport like they do in American airports [this reminds me on a related note of airport security, I learned while I was getting ready to leave Kazan’ this summer that airport regulations in the United States now require people to have charged electronic devices when they go through security, it seems like a strange requirement to me]), and eventually the flight left. Nothing on this flight was too eventful, so I finally got the opportunity to rest, except that I was really hungry. I hadn’t eaten all day, and I am used to even the shortest flights offering a small bag of peanuts or pretzels, but this airline only offered free tea and coffee.

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(A picture from the plane on the way to Sweden).

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(Another airplane picture).

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(Coming closer for landing).

As the plane landed at the airport in Stockholm, I was thankful to see that the terminal I would be leaving from didn’t look to be too far from the terminal at which the plane arrived. I was right, but it was confusing to find the next gate. I was thankful I didn’t have to exit, and then reenter security like I had to in the Moscow airport when I was flying to Kazan’. I found that the passport control counters were located in the middle of the hallway separating one terminal in half for international and domestic flights. After going through the passport control part of the security process I assumed that I was done with security in Stockholm until my passport was checked before I boarded the plane to St. Petersburg. Instead, upon entering the terminal, I found that all of the seating areas for the departure gates were located behind walls of glass that rant the length of the terminal on both sides, only interrupted by columns separating gates and glass doors through which to enter. The glass doors for my gate were closed tightly when I arrived, and remained so for about twenty minutes while the passengers for the upcoming flight gathered awkwardly in the deserted hallway. I remember standing near a girl with curly blonde hair who was clearly speaking with an American-English accent to someone speaking with a Russian accent. I found out later that the blonde girl would be my program. When the door for my gate opened, airport security checked the Russian visas and passports at the glass door. In the end, the passengers of the flight, including myself, had the opportunity to sit down for about five minutes before it was time to board the plane. It made me wonder what the point of having a seating area in that terminal was at all.

At this point I think the lack of food was getting to me. When I got on the plane, a French lady was sitting in my seat because she thought it was her seat. That is understandable; I fly often so I understand the strange seating pictures that go above the seats, but I really don’t think they are difficult to figure out. I guess she didn’t, so I politely asked her to move. She willingly moved, but the whole plane ride she was elbowing me as she ate her sandwich or leaning into my personal space to see out the window. Most of the time I kept the window shade down because the sun was shining directly into my eyes. While I kept my window shade most of the way down, she was bobbing up and down next to me trying to see out of the window of the set of seats in front of us, or out of the small slit in my window that I chose to leave open. Every time I lifted it, her head would be right next to mine, craning to see anything. The windows were filthy so she should have realized there was nothing to see after her first opportunity to see out of them. I wonder if flights help bring out the worst in people because they have to sit so long in cramped seats, and not everyone gets a window seat. Either that, or after a summer in Kazan’, I am still not used to the lack of personal space that is common in Russia and some European countries

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(This picture is to illustrate how filthy the windows on this plane actual were, there really was not much I could see).

Over the period of these two flights I had two cups of coffee and a cup of tea because I wanted something; unfortunately caffeine can be very harsh on an empty stomach, so by the end of the day my hands were shaking slightly.

When I made it to passport control in Russia, all I found was a mass of people that took up the huge room, filling it from one side to the other, and I was at the back. I walked a little bit along the back of the crowd to see if there were any shorter lines, but they all looked about the same so I picked one. While I waited for 45 minutes to get my passport and visa scrutinized and stamped, I ended up temporarily befriending the people I was standing in line next to. I don’t remember how I started talking to them, but I figured out that they spoke English. They were three students from Ghana – two boys and a girl – who were studying medicine in St. Petersburg. They were a few years older than I was, and one of the guys said that he had been coming to Russia for about five years to study, and that this was his last year. It was good to have some people to talk to as I stood in line, otherwise I don’t know how I could have waited for 45 minutes as the clock ticked past the 5:00 P.M. deadline that I was supposed to be in Russia for my program to pick me up. In the end, we stood in two very short lines next to each other at passport control and joked about who would make it through first. I made it through first, and I, unfortunately, haven’t seen them since then.

I think the easiest part of my whole trip for me was getting my luggage after I made it to the luggage carrousel. Both 50 pound bags came out right after I found the correct carrousel, and I was through the green gate looking around for some sign that said CIEE. There was none. I walked around for about half an hour, tired and hungry and ready to give up because I didn’t want to deal with anymore transportation. Taxi drivers kept asking me if I wanted a ride, and I politely turned them down, but in my head I was yelling at them to leave me alone.

The CIEE program made a group on Facebook, and during the time I was walking around in the airport I found Wifi and was going to send an email to see if there was someone there to pick me up, although I didn’t know who to email. Someone else in the program posted that she was still in the luggage area with four other people in the program and they hopped someone from the program was still waiting, but one of the girls didn’t get her luggage. I saw this post and replied that I was there and looking around, but that I didn’t see anyone waiting. We had a whole conversation on Facebook before I found someone from CIEE. The representative told me she had been keeping up with the conversation, and I wondered why she didn’t say anything since I was obviously lost and looking for some representative, and the girls on the other side wanted a reply, but I guess I will never know.

In the end I made it to the hotel and ran up to my room to shower. I was confused when I first walked in because there were two beds, but the television only read a welcome with my name on it so I assumed I didn’t have a roommate. As a result of that misinformation, and me being in a hurry, I wasn’t very careful where I put my stuff. Over dinner with some other students in my program, I learned that they too thought they didn’t have a roommate but that their roommates had shown up in a later group of people.

When I returned to the room, I found another set of luggage confirming that I did, in fact, have a roommate. Her name was Helen. The two nights we were in the hotel, Helen and I became friends, and that friendship has become stronger as it lasts into the program.

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(The first night in the hotel there were fireworks outside of our window, I think in celebration of a wedding).

Last Days in Vilnius

02/09/14    

I started my day today by withdrawing more money because I was down to change, and I needed to buy souvenirs. I tend to put buying souvenirs off for a few reasons, one of them is because I don’t like the feeling of spending that much money, but Lithuania is important to me. The whole walk from the place where I am staying, I argued with myself about the amount of Litas I should withdraw because there was one thing that I wasn’t sure I was going to buy. The walk was around 40 minutes to the bank that I used, so I was concentrating on this for a long time. When I got to the bank, I figured out that I couldn’t withdraw Litas unless they were in sets of full hundreds (I wanted to withdraw some hundred and fifty Litas) so I withdrew less than both of the amounts I had been considering because I didn’t want to withdraw too much.

After I went to the bank, I went to a Chinese café to eat lunch (a very different place than the Chinese restaurant I went to before). The menu was all in Lithuanian, which is fine, but there were no English translations, which are very common for restaurants here. I asked the waitress the typical question of, “Do you speak English, или по русски (or in Russian)?” She spoke Russian, so I had the opportunity to practice my Russian a little bit. It was sort of like a game where I narrowed down what I ordered based on different sections that were on the menu (it was a very short menu because it was just for lunchtime). It started out with the soups, salads and hot meals all being separate categories. From there I chose the hot meals, so she told me something like vegetables, chicken, or fish. I chose chicken. The last question was about two different kinds of chicken, and I didn’t understand what the two words she said were. Instead of asking to try to figure it out, I picked one. I don’t know what I ordered even now, I guess I will never know, but it was good and it had a lot of vegetables.

One of the things I had been thinking about buying today was shoes for the fall because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I brought shoes for the summer and for the winter, but I guess I forgot that there was a season in between. Well, since I had been debating whether or not I would end up buying those shoes today since I had gone to a few stores and looked the day before, and I had time to look at more today, my mind was on shoes. I ended up going to more shoe stores today, and I did buy a pair of shoes even though I had withdrawn the amount of Litas I planned on taking out, were I not going to buy shoes. Because of the charges on bank accounts for withdrawing money at any ATM that doesn’t belong to that particular bank, I didn’t want to withdraw more money, so I thought I would try to make it on what I had. By this, I mean not withdrawing any more Litas for the few days that I have left here.

There were two towers I had been planning on going to today, and one must pay to climb them, but I decided I wasn’t going to change my plans about climbing them just because I had an unsure amount of Litas for my future. It doesn’t cost that much to climb the towers anyway and I enjoyed doing it.

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The first tower I climbed was the bell tower outside of the big white church on Cathedral Square (I will include a picture of the outside and some of the inside for clarification). When I first entered the tower to buy the ticket to climb up, I encountered some people who were speaking English. They were considering doing the tour of the crypts that I had done, and climbing the tower. I told them I had enjoyed the tour, because I had, and proceeded on my way up the narrow stone steps. I must also mention that I was wearing a floor length skirt, carrying a bag with a shoe box in it in one hand, and carrying my purse and a camera in the other hand. I said in a previous post that I don’t like to wear jeans because they are restrictive, so I ended up in this skirt. On the next level of the bell tower, I was taking my time taking pictures and looking around, but the two people I had seen below had decided to climb the tower too. There was a guy who looked to be around my own age, and his mother. I was curious so I asked where they were from, and they told me they were from Toronto, Canada. I never asked their names, but the guy apparently had Lithuanian heritage from his grandmother too. He said that he knew a little bit of Lithuanian, but that because he hadn’t lived with his grandmother, he wasn’t fluent. When he was younger he used to go to Lithuanian school, and of course because he was a young child, he didn’t realize the value of this experience. This was only their second day in Lithuania, so they had gotten a late start due to jetlag.

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As I continued up the tower, I kept talking to these two people, mostly the guy, and found that they were headed to Tallinn next because he also had Estonian heritage. Like I skipped over Poland to get to Lithuania, they were planning to take a bus through Latvia to get to Estonia.

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One of the things I was told on the bottom floor of the tower was to not ring the bells. I laughed, but of course the lady was serious. It was the same lady who had given me the tour of the crypts, and she has a very entertaining way of presenting what she is saying.

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My first host had mentioned that climbing the tower includes climbing up rickety wooden stairs while the wind is blowing through the windows and it is not very fun. That sounded fun to me, so I decided to climb anyway. At first I saw no wooden stairs. There were only narrow stone steps with closed walls, and no way for wind to get through. Later I found the wooden steps. The only difficult part of climbing them was my choice of clothing and everything I was carrying, but I actually didn’t have much trouble. The wooden steps came in sets. The first set was very long, and I didn’t realize how long and steep it was until I decided to climb back down. On the way down I realized it was more of a wooden latter than a set of steps because it was so steep. I enjoyed the climb nonetheless.

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(It had a good view)

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(More than one good view)

Immediately after I had climbed up and down the bell tower, I headed towards Castle Hill (I found out this is the name of the hill with the ruins on it that the tale of the Iron Wolf is about). I continually climbed the hill until I got to the top, and although it is not a very tall hill in comparison to mountains, some parts of it are very steep to climb. When I reached the top of the hill, I couldn’t figure out if the tower was open, but I saw an elderly couple walk out, so I figured that they just kept the door shut to keep the cold out.

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The first set of stairs I climbed in this tower lead to a large round room with a map of some parts of Vilnius on a table in the center telling about key areas. There were also pictures of buildings during various stages in history. I, unfortunately, didn’t take as long studying these pieces as I should have because I was very confused. I didn’t see another set of steps that lead to the top, so I wondered if this was it. I knew I had seen people on the top though, so I continued to be confused. Everyone has mistaken me for being able to speak Lithuanian here for as long as I have been here, so the old man who was sitting in a chair to keep an eye on the room told me in Lithuanian to go down the steps and that there was another set of steps to go to the top of the tower. I only understood because of the context and gestures.

The next set of steps was a tightly winding spiral staircase. It first leads to another circular room, but thankfully this room wasn’t confusing because the set of stairs that came after, was attached to the last. This room had old armor, swords and shields from Lithuania’s history. I did spend longer there, but it was a little odd being in the room because an elderly woman came out of a random room, looked at me, and went back in the room.

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When I climbed the rest of the way up to the top, there were a few people up there, but most of them left shortly after I got up there, so I had the top to myself for a short while. I realized at this point that I had no pictures of myself in Lithuania, so I decided to take a few selfies. A little while later a girl and her brother came up and were taking selfies together, then she asked in Lithuanian if I would take a picture of them, and they could take a picture of me. Somehow I understood, so I nodded my head. I got through the process without actually saying anything but “thank you,” in Lithuanian at the end, which Guoda had taught me a while before.

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Instead of taking a break after walking around and trying on shoes, then climbing two towers in a row, I immediately went to amber shops. Amber and linens are the biggest things in Lithuania that one should buy if they visit. I walked around a few amber shops, and bought earrings from two of them. In one of the souvenir shops I went to I found some beautiful scarves, and I saw the prices were 45 Litas. I remembered some other scarves I had seen up the street a ways, so I headed over there to compare prices. These scarves were sold at a street stand, so I knew the price would be either a lot more expensive, or a lot cheaper. 45 Litas is not very much in the first place, it is around 20 dollars, which is the typical price for scarves in the United States. I always thought scarves in the United States were overpriced, because they are really just solid pieces of fabric being sold for 20 dollars. These scarves were much prettier, so it would have been worth it to buy one for that price, but I decided I would check the other scarves I had seen just in case.

It was getting late in the day, and some of the stands were already packing up, but thankfully the one with the scarves was not. The seller at this stand was an old woman. She talked to me in Russian and was very kind. She asked me about where I studied Russian, and let me try on different scarves to see how they looked on me. She also gave me her opinion on which scarves she liked on me, and which ones weren’t as flattering. In addition to getting a scarf for myself, I was looking for one for one of my sisters. Her coloring is slightly different than mine, but I hope it is close enough to make a good decision. I spent long enough chatting with the woman and trying on her scarves that she gave me a small discount, so I think she liked me. I quite enjoyed spending time talking with her as well.

After I had finished buying a few souvenirs, I realized I had been continuously walking, climbing and standing for at least four hours, and I was tired. On the way back to the apartment, I knew of one more souvenir store that I had passed a few times that I wanted to look at because I still hadn’t bought a souvenir for my father. I didn’t spend very long in the store, but I noticed they had these ships made out of amber that were really interesting. The biggest one I saw cost 20,000 Litas because it was completely made out of amber, and amber can be expensive.

When Tautvydas and Guoda came home, and we were eating dinner, we got on the subject of words in English that are spelled differently, have different meanings, but are pronounced the same. Maybe this isn’t the most important memory to mention, but the whole conversation turned into a game over dinner where we tried to think of different words like this. It is little memories like this for me, that just add to my experience and that I want to remember because we had a really fun time doing it.

The Next Day

The next day I didn’t do much because I had to buy some snacks for the long bus ride that was in my future, and start getting my things together so I wouldn’t have much to do before I left for the bus. I returned to the shop with the amber ships, and spent longer there this time talking to the guy who worked there. I had the opportunity to ask some questions about amber, and I found out a little bit about the different colors of amber.

White colored amber is the rarest form of amber that is sold in shops. Pure white amber is actually a nice creamy off-white color that is more expensive than regular amber. It is solid colored, and not glassy like one usually imagines amber. Sometimes white amber is sold when it looks yellow and not white. It is still solid colored, but it is not as pure, and can’t be sold for as much.

The next rarest color of amber is green. It is glassy like regular amber, but when I have seen it, it always had a lot of bubbles in it, and the color of green is very dark, and not very pretty to me. After green amber is black amber. The black is solid like the white amber. So solid and shiny when it is cut correctly, that it looks like plastic. Again, I don’t like this as much.

The most common amber is the honey-colored amber that is the most widely found. There is the darker one, maybe like fall honey colored, and the lighter one that might be more like the honey that is from the spring. I don’t know if there are any differences in the rarity of these, or if they are just both considered honey-colored. Even though it is the most common, I think the honey-colored amber is my favorite because the color is beautiful, and it looks really good in a silver piece of jewelry.

The guy told me that the actual rarest color of amber is blue amber. I had heard of the term blue amber, but it never struck me that it was a real color for amber. Although, I really did not know much of anything about amber before I talked to this guy. I think I still could learn more if I want to look into buying more of it.

In the end, when I got around to asking about the ship that I was interested in buying, I found that it was 625 Litas. I have no bartering skills at this point because it is one of the shortcomings of the culture of the United States. I left shortly after so that I could get food for the bus ride, and pack.

Indian Food and a Prison

I don’t think I ever reread this post, so please excuse any awkward sentences, or areas that don’t quite flow.

I decided that this post needed to go up before it became irrelevant, so I am posting it now.  

29/08/14

I have to add a little bit more to what I said about the differences between service in restaurants in an earlier post. At times I really like the service in Lithuania. I was misguided by the service at chain restaurants. I went to the small Chinese restaurant, and I am currently at an Indian restaurant that is situated halfway underground. The service at places like this has been great. The waiters and waitresses don’t seem to come until you are really ready to order. This particular restaurant is not the most noticeable from the outside. It has some dishes posted outside the door on a poster that is lower than eye level because one must walk down steps to get to the door. I passed this restaurant many times and could never tell whether or not it was popular enough for me to try it. I was not disappointed. I think that this restaurant is vegetarian restaurant too because I don’t remember seeing any meat on the menu. It is a very nice place with the deep oranges purples and blues of Indian decorations and subtle background music that matches the theme. The waitresses are dressed in Indian saris, adding further to the atmosphere.

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Whenever I go to a restaurant in Lithuania, I have noticed that their translations into English are not great, but they are understandable. The dish I ordered was called something like “soy in tomato sauce.” The “soy” in this case means tofu, which many of the dishes had instead of meat. No, it was not just tofu in tomato sauce. Maybe the sauce had tomatoes in it, but it tasted like the nicely spiced sauces that go over many Indian dishes. Basmati rice and a side salad came with the main dish, which I was very happy about because I love basmati rice. I ordered some “spicy sauces” to go with my dish; it was really only one sauce. The sauce was a transparent, light amber color, sort of like the color of oil. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be spicy at all, but I was not disappointed. The sauce went nicely with the food, not smothering the flavor, but serving to enhance it.

The whole restaurant was very decently priced so I decided to order a drink to go with my meal. They had a selection of fresh juices, so I asked for carrot juice. I know that sounds strange to some people, but I love carrot juice. Carrots are naturally so sweet that carrot juice doesn’t need any added ingredients to make it delicious. I remember in Kazan’ during the first week I was there, many of the students in the program and I went to the mall to look for things like dictionaries and internet sticks. While we were waiting for some of the people to finish making their purchases, my friend Katie and I found a juice stand. We didn’t know all of the names of fruits and vegetables but I ended up ordering apple-carrot juice. They made the juice right in front of us and the combination turned out to be some of the best juice I have ever had.

Can I just say, I hate jeans. I know, “hate” is a strong word, but I’m serious, I really don’t like jeans. Especially jeans they make for girls today, how can anyone stand wearing them. To me jeans are not very useful, they are too hot in the summer and too cold when it is cold out, so when are people ever comfortable wearing them? They are also really constricting, like you can barely stretch your legs in them. I don’t like the feeling of being constricted, I like to be able to have free movement of my legs since I am an ex gymnast. I mean I can barely do a handstand in jeans, how awful is that? That’s probably why leggings are becoming so popular these days. I don’t really wear leggings because I have been perfectly comfortable in skirts and dresses and leggings look a little bit strange to me. This thought of jeans came about because today I am wearing jeans. I was thinking of climbing this bell tower they have outside the big white church on Cathedral Square. I don’t know for sure, but I heard that it’s a bunch of steps to get up to the top, and I love climbing stairs. I decided I would wait until another day when I am wearing clothes that are more comfortable to me.

I walked around for a bit and ended up going to a café instead. While I was walking around I noticed a few interesting things. First, I saw a group of guys wearing coffee colored pants. I don’t mean coffee colored like black coffee; I mean the lighter, almost caramel color that it turns when you add a tiny bit of milk or cream to it. I wondered why so many people wanted this color of pants, and now in front of me sits a guy wearing a jacket that is the same color. It hasn’t just been these few people though, because the more I took notice of this particular color, the more people I saw wearing it. The second thing I noticed was a girl with bright violet hair, and when I say “bright,” I am not exaggerating. It was like her hair had something shining on it to make it so vibrantly violet. I have never seen violet or purple hair die that works that well. This reminded me of when I was staying with my first host and we were walking through Cathedral Square and we saw a guy with blue hair. If you decide to dye your hair blue or green, please be careful. When the color fades, the dye job looks terrible. Instead of looking like you died your hair, you end up looking like you swam too much and the chlorine stained your hair. As I was walking back to the apartment today, I saw someone with exactly this effect occurring to her hair and it was not pretty. I don’t often see people with hair dyed strange colors here, so it is very memorable when I do.

Sitting in a coffee shop today I noticed that there always seems to be a group of people in a coffee shop that speak a little too loudly or laugh too crazily for the general coffee shop atmosphere, disturbing everyone else’s enjoyable coffee drinking experience. If you buy coffee from a coffee shop, you probably want to take the time to enjoy it because it’s more expensive than putting a pot on at home. Well sorry you can’t, there are people here to disturb you.

I remember the disturbing group when I was in a coffee shop here before writing. It could almost be told as the beginning of a joke. Once there was an American, an Irishman and a local… the American was really loud like Americans often are, but he was so audible over the rest of the chatter that I just wanted to tell him how rude he was being and to shut up.

On a brighter or darker note, depending on how you choose to look at it, I went to another museum yesterday. Yes, it was another holocaust museum. I liked this one better than the last, probably because my experience excluded the two boys practicing a tour. Although, there was one unfortunately memorable incident in this museum, with an old man who kept showing up in the same room as me, chewing his gum really loudy. It was awful, and the sound drove me crazy.

Again, I spent over an hour in this museum, and I really enjoyed it. Any Holocaust museum or history of the Holocaust taught in the United States doesn’t take into account small countries like Lithuania. The history is always about how terrible Auschwitz was, and Nazi Germany. I am not saying those weren’t terrible, they were, but after spending some of my time in Lithuania in these museums, I see how much history our educational facilities and museums leave out. The Lithuanian people suffered from the Holocaust plowing right into them, and the Soviet Union claiming the country as its own, all in the space of a few years. People from Lithuania ended up all over the place, and over 90% of the Lithuanian-Jewish population was wiped out during the course of the Holocaust. The only reason those other people were left behind were because they were skilled laborers and it was decided that they were needed. There were plans to wipe them all out in the end, but thankfully someone stepped in and said that these people were still useful. The “cleanse” of Jews from Lithuania was considered the most successful to the Nazi’s.

In the prison:

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(This is the first room one encounters as they descend into the prison. They had two of these rooms next to each other that were used to hold new prisoners for up to three hours while their paperwork was being processed. Originally the cells didn’t have seats so the people had to stand. The seats were added later). 

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(This is the strip room. It is pretty self descriptive, but it is where prisoners had to strip down to make sure they had nothing that wasn’t allowed on them. Originally prisoners were than only given one set of clothes that they wore both during waking and sleeping hours. Later this changed).

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(There are a few of these rooms open for viewers as they make their ways down the long hallway. This is what a prison cell with basic furnishings looked like. The furnishings only came later though. Originally the cells that they held prisoners in had no furniture, so the prisoners would sit on the floors of the very damp cells, crammed together with many other prisoners. This room has four beds, but I remember reading that before there was furniture, I think somewhere between 20 and 30 people would be held in one room).

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(While walking down the hall, there are comforting signs that lead the viewer into another hall to view the execution chamber).

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(This is descending even further down than the prison, I think, into the execution chamber. The execution chamber is interesting, but also unfortunately, very redone to be more of an exhibit than what it used to be. The whole floor is glass and it has little remains – maybe a comb, maybe a nail, etc. – of people who had been executed, placed under the glass).

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(This is a room that has bags of shredded paper. The shredded paper is some of the remains of thousands of documents that the KGB attempted to destroy before they were forced to stop operations in the country).

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(This is a picture of the hallway. It is underground so it is cold, and the colors obviously don’t make it very inviting).

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(This is a padded room with a straight jacket against the back wall. Sometimes prisoners would be held here after “active interrogations,” one of the terms they used to refer to torture, because the prisoners mental states were not always in tact).

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(This is the door to the padded room. I took it so that people could see how thick the padding is).

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(I think this is a room they used to hold people in before interrogations so that they could not communicate with other prisoners. I think that the placard said that sometimes they would be held here for up to ten days, just being fed bread and warm water. There is a toilet of sorts in another corner of the room). 

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(This is a chamber where they put people who wouldn’t cooperate during interrogations, to make them cooperate. The floor would be filled with water up to the white line, so thee prisoner could either stand directly in the water, or they could stand on the circular plate in the middle of the floor that was raised above the water, and every time they fell off, they would have to get back on).

I am not going to go on about the museum and the Holocaust in Lithuania because there was too much information to recount. I will just say that one of my favorite parts of the museum (the building was a center for KGB agents with a very active prison underneath it during the Soviet Union) was being able to go down to the prison, and basically explore. It wasn’t like a maze or anything, it was a straight hallway, but to me, being able to walk in a place like that without a tour guide, and read the signs and experiences of people down there for myself, and just take the time to image it without having my thoughts interrupted, is one of the most memorable ways to experience something.

It’s Never Easier

Last night it took what felt like forever to fall asleep. I spent a lot of time staring out the window and thinking. I knew that the next day was the day I was supposed to get my passport back with my new Russian Visa, so of course I was worrying. This morning I woke up too early, but I eventually got myself to fall back asleep for a small time. When 9:00 A.M. rolled around, I waited for a bit, but I quickly checked my email to see if the visa center had emailed me. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to just walk in and assume they had my passport already, or if they were supposed to contact me and let me know somehow. Why else was the lady at the desk so persistent about seeing if I had a working phone in Lithuania or not? It made no sense. Time passed and I still received no email. I ate breakfast and showered, worked on writing a little and waited. When 12:00 came and went I decided it was time for me to email the visa center to see what I was expected to do. I immediately got a response and was told I could just walk in and pick up my passport. Of course, things are never that simple. It took me about 45 minutes to walk to the center, but I enjoyed a new view of Vilnius since I decided to take a new route.

When I got to the center, at first I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to ask to get my passport back. When I did find someone, they asked me if I had the agreement that I apparently signed when I gave them my documents in the first place. My immediate thoughts were I signed what? What agreement is she talking about? I vaguely remembered signing something, but everything has been so stressful, how am I supposed to remember one piece of paper? Thankfully when they gave me the papers, I put them inside a book inside of my bag so that they would stay in decent condition, and they hadn’t moved since then so I had the agreement with me. It just took some shuffling through papers before I found it. The second hiccup in the process of getting my passport back was in part because the lady I dealt with today was different from the one I had been communicating and meeting with at every other point in the process. I had turned in my AIDS Certificate as I was supposed to about five days ago, honoring another agreement I signed that said I would turn it in before I received my passport back. Apparently the AIDS Certificate was not attached to the rest of the papers that accompanied my passport, so the lady helping me today at first thought I hadn’t turned it in. Thankfully she found the copy of the certificate, but I never go places like this unprepared. I had made an extra copy of the certificate just in case I needed it. One thing I have learned on this trip is just to have two or three copies of every important document, because you honestly don’t know if or when you will need it. It has been very helpful to me since I had to turn a copy of my passport (the identification page) in to the visa center with my other documents, and when I went to get my HIV test, I had to use my other copy of my passport as a form of identification. Now I am left with only one copy of the passport since the visa center took one, but one copy can be so useful.

I am happy to say I have my passport in hand with my new visa pasted inside. However, I will also say this, after so much time of not having my passport, or preparing for this time, I literally have my passport for about five days before I will give it to people running my program in St. Petersburg so they can start the process for the visa extension. Right now though, I am not going to worry about that. I am going to concentrate on having a grand time during my last few days in Vilnius, and then the process of my return trip to Russia (back through Poland and Germany).

When I got my passport back, it was around 2:00 P.M., so afterward I realized I was really hungry. I returned to a street for lunch that I had been to before, but I knew this street had a few souvenir shops, and I decided it was time for me to start my souvenir purchases. I like to go into shops and look around some days before I actually buy any souvenirs, if I have time, so I already knew where one particular shop was that I wanted to visit. I ate at a restaurant close to this shop, and one of the things I decided to order today was a glass of beer in celebration of my getting my passport and visa back. I found out much later (after the next series of events occurred) that September 1st is a holiday in Lithuania as well as the United States, but they are two very different holidays. Apparently in Lithuania on September 1st, it is a law that they will not sell alcohol. I think that this is just in stores though because I saw many people at the restaurant I went to, with a beer, so it must be okay at restaurants because they can moderate how much a person gets. The reason for them not selling alcohol is because September 1st marks the start of a new school year, and it is a huge celebration where (I am told) all of the students dress up and carry flowers or something, and they don’t want the students to get drunk. (These are not just elementary school students; they are secondary school students and university students as well). Guoda told me that of course this ban on selling alcohol doesn’t work, because the students will just buy it the day before since they know they won’t be able to get it the next day. I had no idea about this holiday when I was out today, so the next series of events ensued.

As I was looking around in the shop again, and collecting a few things I wanted to buy, some loud noises coming from the open street started penetrating the peace of the shop. I stepped outside to see what was going on, and viewed what appeared to be some sort of parade. In the beginning it was typical, just a group of girls in the front in a uniform, and a marching band following them. I didn’t see any uniforms after them, so I was confused because there were still a lot of people walking in the same direction as the band. As I continued to watch I started to see people with the German flag draped around their shoulders, or painted on their faces. The Ukrainian flag, French flag, Latvian flag, Italian flag, and so many more were all there, including some that I did not recognize. After a short time, I decided it would be safer if I went back in the shop and continued my browsing of souvenirs for the duration of the parade because some of the people had started walking on the sidewalk, and one guy decided it would be funny if he shoved his flag in my face. It was not funny, and I thought later that I should have just taken it out of his hand because it was a very rude action on his part.

The parade continued past the people cloaked in flags from various countries onto what I later figured out were groups of people in different specializations because the parade was of university students from Vilnius University. Maybe the flags represented some sort of international studies specialization, I don’t know. I only recognized a few of the specializations because the words sounded similar either to those in English, or in Russian, or because their costumes gave it away. A few of the specializations I recognized included psychology, chemistry, and what I could only assume was premed. As the groups passed, they were all chanting. Of course I have no idea what they were saying, except that it was about their specializations, because it was all in Lithuanian. It was an interesting event to witness nonetheless, even though I watched the majority of it from the inside of a souvenir shop.

Now, returning back to the topic of my visa, I think I can say this safely since I have my passport and visa back. I am happy to say that it can be done; a U.S. citizen can successfully apply for a Russian visa outside of the United States. However, if I never have to go through this process again, I will be very happy. If I do have to go through this process again, I got through it successfully this time, so I know I can not only physically getting the paperwork together and carry it with me for months before I actually have to submit it, but I can mentally endure the strain and stress that the whole process can put on someone.

Yesterday

Yesterday was Sunday. I didn’t really make plans for Sunday, partly because I assumed that most things would be closed, which was for the most part true (since I had been considering looking for shoes, but I thought another day would be better for shoe-shopping because more stores would probably be open on a day that wasn’t a Sunday), and partly because I only have a few days left that are not planned. Pretty soon my schedule will be as full as it ever was, with classes and excursions that I must attend. I did, however, decide to go to a restaurant that had some good reviews on Trip Advisor. When I read reviews on Trip Advisor, I usually look for information concerning whether or not the food is good and decently priced. I don’t look passed that because I want the general atmosphere of the restaurant to be a surprise, and I don’t want to have preconceived expectations based off of what other people have written, to ruin my experience.

The restaurant I went to yesterday, reportedly had a combination of foods from various countries, including Thai food, and I felt like eating Thai food, so that’s what I went for. The restaurant was called “Briusly,” in Lithuanian, and I didn’t realize until later what that meant. Guoda had taught me how to read in Lithuanian, but it was just such an odd name for a restaurant that I didn’t initially make the connection. Another problem was that for the name if this restaurant, the name used had been combined into one word, when it is usually two. In English, the name I am referring to, and that the name of the restaurant translates to, is Bruce Lee.

My whole experience with the place was rather strange, and not very pleasant. When I entered, the inside of the restaurant smelled like stale cigarette smoke, but I could barely concentrate on the smell because the music was so loud. For the most part, people came in groups, as people often do when they go to restaurants, but I don’t know how they managed to hear each others voices over the sound of the music. The music wasn’t necessarily bad, it was interesting, it was just too loud for what I would expect to be played in a restaurant because it didn’t encourage communication and conversation.

In Lithuania, from my experience, people always seat themselves, and a waiter or a waitress will bring them a menu once a new person’s presence is realized and acknowledged. So, once I sat down, I started to look around. The first thing I noticed was that the tables already had menus on them, thus eliminating one of the steps I have become accustomed to in Lithuanian restaurants. The second thing I noticed was that the walls were adorned with pictures of Bruce Lee. I don’t know why anyone would open a restaurant and decide that the decorations should all be pictures of Bruce Lee, but I guess that someone must really like him. I wonder if the photographs were chosen because of the name of the restaurant, or if the name of the restaurant was chosen because of the interesting decorations. I won’t wonder for too much longer about it though, because I think it is just another case of the chicken and the egg. If you don’t know what I am talking about, ask yourself; what came first, the chicken or the egg?

When I first arrived, there weren’t many people in the restaurant, but as I ordered and waited for my food, the restaurant filled. I noticed that most of the people who chose to eat there were around my age, maybe they were university students or people who had recently graduated. I guess with the music, the smell and the decorations, the restaurant seemed to be geared towards a certain age group. There was one family with very young children that I saw come in to eat there, but that was it. Another piece that contributed to the restaurant’s atmosphere, that I didn’t like, was that the waiters kept walking around so quickly, and not close enough to my table, that I couldn’t stop one to ask for a check for about ten minutes. I just sat there drowning in the commotion, and I know they saw me there waiting, they could have come over and asked if I wanted anything else. I mean, maybe if I had yelled “CHECK,” they would have heard me, but I was trying not to be rude. I made a note to myself never to return to this restaurant again if I ever had the opportunity to go on another trip to Lithuania. I still feel the same about my experience at this restaurant today. I slept on the story for a night to let my thoughts cool down a little bit, but I think the only difference is that I am not mad today, I am just disappointed. But, what would life be if we didn’t have disappointing experiences to compare our good experiences to?

I am sure that I had other experiences, in addition to this one, yesterday. I am just currently not recalling what those might have been. As my time in Lithuania draws to a close, the days have started speeding by, and I think my memories are blurring together. That is part of the reason I started this blog though, to keep my memories sorted out because I don’t want to forget this year.

On the Train to Kaunas

30/08/14

The word “Kaunas” reminds me of the word “Shaurma,” only because both words have this “a” and then the “u” sound that is so strange to the American tongue. If a person were to Americanize either if these words, the “a” and the “u” would end up being a combined sound. However, the meanings of the words are very different. Kaunas is a city in Lithuania, and a Shaurma is a Middle-Eastern burrito-like food. Why am I thinking of these two things? Right now I am on a train to Kaunas for the day, and it made me think of them. Being on a train reminds me of being a child. Whenever we would sit at the tracks waiting for a train to pass after violin lessons, we would count how many cars there were. Sometimes there were over 100 train cars, but other times we only saw around 40. These were always freight trains though, in the United States one rarely sees passenger trains, much less has the opportunity to ride one. In Europe I have heard that trains are a very common form of transportation, and in following with this information the train tickets are very reasonably priced as well. It only cost 22 Litas for the train ticket to Kaunas, and usually they are only 18 Litas. This means that usually the ticket is around 7 U.S. dollars.

I rode with Guoda on the way to Kaunas so I told her about my impression of the train I rode in Lithuania compared to the trains I rode to and from Moscow when I was studying in Kazan’. On the way to Moscow, for an overnight trip that took 12 hours, my friends and I rode in what I believe was the last car of the train. The car was filled only with seats, and many of my friends said later that they had had difficulty sleeping in an upright position. It used to bother me too, but then I started flying more often. In the train on the way back, we had a better car, it had beds. In my opinion the beds were basically shelves because they were not very wide, and they were not very long. Each space had one bed over another, and the only part that indicated that they were beds was the bedding that accompanied them.

The train in Lithuania looked very modern in comparison. I don’t know how many cars were on this particular train, but from what I could tell it was a very short train for the purpose of going quickly, and each train car had a top floor and a bottom floor filled with seats so that as many people could fit as possible. Guoda told me that the train we were on was modern, and that when the universities start up again it becomes very hard to get a seat on the train so some people stand the whole hour in-between the cities. She says whenever she looks at the train schedules, there are trains that take an hour and a half to go between the two cities, but this one only takes an hour. Guoda tries to only go on the trains that take an hour, because why go on a slower train if there is a faster option?

Guoda told me to get from Vilnius to Klaipeda (another city in Lithuania) takes five hours on a train because there is no railway that goes through Kaunas, instead the train goes all the way around the city to get to the next. She said if someone was going to go to Klaipeda it would be smarter to take a bus because even if they are slightly less comfortable, a bus will take four hours instead of five.

As the train was making its way to Kaunas, I strained my neck in every direction to see out the different windows around me. As I was looking out the window behind me, I noticed a cow lying down next to the tracks, and a white speckled horse trotting about, around the cow. That reminded me that the few times I have been in a bookstore in Vilnius and I’ve found a small section with books in English, one of the few books they have is titled “Horses of Lithuania,” or something. I only opened it once, but it gave me the impression that Lithuania has a long history of breeding and training horses.

Guoda is from Kaunas and is returning for a small time over the weekend to visit her parents, so I will return to Vilnius alone tonight. Tauvydas on the other hand is on a camping trip with his father. I don’t know when they are supposed to return, but maybe he will already be back when I return. (Tauvydas was not back when I returned last night, and when I left to go find lunch today neither of them had returned. Last night copious quantities of rain fell from the sky for an extended period of time so I don’t know how Tautvydas and his father stayed out camping in such conditions. Perhaps I have just lost a bit of my taste for camping since it has been so long since I have gone).

As the train kept going, we passed through a forest which inspired Guoda to tell me about the Lithuanian people’s love of forests. She told me that this weekend she had wanted to go to the forest to pick mushrooms since it had rained a bit this last week, which I guess affects the mushroom supply. I’m told Lithuanians love going to the forest to pick mushrooms. She said she called all of her friends to see if they could go because she wanted to go in a car so they could go further into the forest, but all of her friends already had plans, some of them to pick mushrooms with their parents. Guoda said she might pick them when she got to her house because when she was younger, that’s where she used to pick them.

Guoda told me that many people who live close to the border of Lithuania will go work in one of the Scandinavian countries because there, their wages will be around three times higher than if they worked in Lithuania, so after some time working they can come back and do nothing for half a year. She says that when the Lithuanias go to the forest in these countries, there are so many berries and mushrooms to pick. The Lithuanians always ask the locals why they do not go to the forest because there is such a plentiful supply of good things to pick there, and the locals tell them that they don’t go because they can buy it in the store. Guoda says she thinks that the people from these countries probably wouldn’t recognize what is good to pick, and what is not. The more I hear about “these countries,” the more they sound like the United States. I told Guoda that Americans know how to pick mushrooms and fruit, but only from the grocery store. I think Americans for the most part would be pretty clueless picking berries and mushrooms in the forest, especially mushrooms.

I did go with my host mom in Russia once to pick berries in the forest, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, the berries were cleared out before we arrived. I did spot a few leftover berries, but there weren’t enough there to pick for the purpose we wanted them. If we had found enough berries, they would have been used to make jam, but since there weren’t any there to find, we spent the time enjoying tea in the rain instead. My host mom told me that every time she goes to visit her parents there is always bad weather, but that the weather where they live isn’t normally bad in the summer. It rained just for her.

When I first arrived in Kaunas, Guoda sort of told me where to go, but I still wasn’t sure. I felt like I walked forever before I found the foot street I was looking for, but I think that it was just a combination of being hungry and walking through areas that made me a little bit uncomfortable that gave the walk to this street the feeling of being longer than it actually was. When I walked back to the train station later, I realized the walk really was not very long. It was lucky that I found the street when I did. I felt like I had been walking too long, so I pulled out my phone because I had some pictures of maps with places I wanted to go marked on them, and since I was hungry I decided to look for one of the restaurants I found online. I stopped to look at this map on a street corner, and it turned out that where I was, was marked on the map. After I realized this, I walked a few paces around the corner and ended up on the foot street I had been looking for.

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The night before I spent some time looking up various attractions in Kaunas that might be worth visiting, but I ended up abandoning those plans to experience Kaunas more as Guoda described it to me with the foot street, the old town and the rivers. The first part of the foot road is completely straight with two rows of trees down the middle that give it an illusion of being endless. At the beginning of this part of the road is an old white cathedral. I did not go to the cathedral until I was getting ready to leave Kaunas because it was on my way back to the train station, and by then it was closed. I stopped to take a few pictures of the outside, but the trees that ran down the center of the street were in the way.

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I think I have said this before, but even if I have, I will say it again. I think that Americans tend to drink more water or juice or just anything than people in these countries (by “these countries,” I think I mean European countries and Russia, but I haven’t traveled extensively enough to be sure of this). I remember when I first arrived in Kazan’ at my host mom’s house I was really thirsty, but I couldn’t communicate this properly because in Russian, to express thirst, they say “I want to drink.” They have a word for “thirsty,” but I am told it is generally only used when talking about actions such as watering plants. For instance, “The plants are thirsty.”

I feel like I am always thirsty here, but I can’t just go to a store and buy a bottle of water to drink because, first of all, that would get expensive (in the United States I would just find a drinking fountain or ask for a water at a Starbucks) and, secondly, they are lacking public bathrooms here. In the United States I drink water, coffee and tea all day long because I know I can always find a bathroom and it’s healthy to stay hydrated. Here I know I am definitely not drinking enough. I drink maybe four glasses of liquids a day, and that includes coffee, water and tea (I don’t really drink anything else). I was very thirsty all day in Kaunas, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I disregarded my thirst and appreciated my time there anyway.

At the end of the long, straight stretch of road for people to walk on, the road turns to the left and the texture of the street changes. When the road turns like this, it is the old town of Kaunas. I say that “the texture of the street changes” because stones were used to make up the street and they felt uneven and strange underneath my feet. If someone shuffled their feet as they walked (which unfortunately some people do), they would surely trip. Since I am not used to streets like this because most of America seems to lack that “old town” feeling, it actually takes some concentration to walk on these streets. This is not a statement coming from a generally clumsy person either, but I think that part of my difficulty comes from my tendency to walk quickly.

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The old town is very beautiful and I had a good time looking at the buildings and decorations that are so different from what are found in modern towns. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do in the old town if you aren’t planning to go out to eat or shop. I wasn’t planning to do either of these activities, so I continued through the town until I found a river. Guoda told me that if I walked far enough, there is a place in Kaunas where the two largest rivers in Lithuania combine into one. I didn’t initially find the place where one river met the other river because, at first, I only found one river. I wondered if perhaps I had ended up somewhere completely different than the area Guoda had described to me. I decided I didn’t want to worry about it, and that I would enjoy myself anyway, so I sat on the grass and watched as quite a few sets brides and grooms walked around with photographers, as well as a couple getting professional pictures taken with their toddler. I remember being very tired as I sat near the river watching the day go by (I really didn’t sit there that long, but if felt like a long time).

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Eventually I dragged myself and kept walking. It was only about ten minutes later, as I continued down the same path I had been walking down before, that I found the place where the two rivers meet. There were many couples walking around here, and I realized it was sort of symbolic. In a place where two rivers meet to become one, couples are spending their time enjoying each other’s company, and in a sense becoming one as well.

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If I had a friend with me who knew about Kaunas I would be able to write more about the city, but alas, what I saw and heard is all I have to offer. It was a nice change for me to go to another city for a day. I have been getting too comfortable in Vilnius, since I am not in school right now, slowly wandering the streets and enjoying the culture and cuisine. Since I have spent so much time walking around the streets in Vilnius, I know the area around where I am staying very well, but I know there is always more to see that is either where I haven’t thought to go yet, or out of walking distance. After going to Kaunas for one day, I think it would be easier to learn the streets there than it is in Vilnius, but Kaunas is also a smaller city than Vilnius.

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(A picture of a random couple walking away from the area where the rivers meet).

Chinese and Stress

Today I am so tired and I haven’t done much of anything. I think it is because I was so stressed out yesterday. August 26th is the birthday of two of my immediate family members – my father and my youngest sister. My father has been very busy, but I was going to try to Skype them both if I could. On top of trying to deal with the time difference, the fact that neither of these to family members really uses social media or replies to their email often (which are the only ways I can contact people right now) makes it so I have to coordinate everything through my mother who is also busy and I had to calculate another time difference to attend my online orientation for my upcoming study abroad program. I forgot a few pieces. As I was still attending my online orientation Guoda and Tautvydas came home and I felt very rude because I could not fully concentrate on what they were saying when they were talking to me because I had to listen to a person I could not even see on my computer. They also were preparing dinner (another delicious pumpkin) because they were inviting a friend over to eat with them. There I was, still on my online orientation and trying to figure out when I could talk to my family while all of this other stuff was a swirling mass of business around me, or maybe just in my head. I think all of these things together stressed me out too much. I have probably been stressed too much this whole trip (since I left the United States) trying to get everything to run smoothly so I would be able to go to Kazan’ and St. Petersburg, and now as soon as I get a little bit stressed I wear myself out by over stressing.

In the end I didn’t get to talk to either my father or my sister for their birthdays. I had to give up and ask my mother to say happy birthday for me. At the time I felt so defeated by having to ask someone else to say happy birthday to my own family members for me! I felt like it was such a pathetic thing to do, and I felt terrible for having done it. In reality, it was not my fault. I did try to be able to talk to them.

All of this stress from last night traveled over into the morning. This morning I did not want to get up, I did not want to eat breakfast, I did not want to work on my blog, and I did not want to start my day. I did not post anything yesterday and I told myself that because I had time in Lithuania, I have to try to post something every day to try to catch up from not posting anything while I was in Kazan’. I am working on a few posts that concern my time in Kazan’, but they aren’t finished so, I missed a day.

I did eventually drag myself up to take a shower and work on my blog. I didn’t get out of the apartment until lunch time because I was writing, but I told myself I had to go somewhere to eat lunch so I would get on my feet and start walking.

There is a small Chinese restaurant in the area that I am staying. When I was walking with Tautvydas and Guoda they told me that they had not been there because it seemed suspicious to them. It is in an old, blue wooden building that looks like a house. The paint is peeling and faded in some areas, and you can barely tell from the outside that it’s a restaurant. The only indicating factors are the smells that waft through the window every time I pass by and two Chinese lanterns hanging from the corners of the patio cover. It is probably semi-new because it does not show up on a map if you try to look it up.

When I left the apartment for lunch today I decided I wanted Chinese food so I went to look inside of this restaurant and told myself that I would find another place if this hole in the wall Chinese restaurant didn’t look appetizing enough to me. I shouldn’t have even questioned whether or not the restaurant was good. I haven’t been to other Chinese restaurants in Vilnius, but the places that are hard to spot are usually the best. Upon walking inside I discovered the restaurant was almost full. It wasn’t a very big restaurant, but it says something about a restaurant, especially when it is not easily noticeable, when it is full. I took the last table, a two person table that was situated right in front of the door, leaving about five feet for people to enter and stand in between the table and the door. During the time I sat at this table waiting for my order and eating my food, I observed many groups of people coming to the restaurant for lunch hoping there was an empty table.

I ordered fried rice and sweet and sour chicken, which are two of one of my sister’s favorite dishes when we go out to eat Chinese food. I knew they weren’t going to taste the same, but I wanted something vaguely familiar so that I could compare the different flavors with those that I remember from places at home.

Although the inside of the restaurant was decorated with Chinese decorations, a blonde and obviously Lithuanian, waitress took care of my order. As I started to look around and listen, I noticed the restaurant was playing old American rock music instead of something that would create an atmosphere more representative of China. I seem to experience strange music with restaurants that serve international food often though. Not only abroad, but also in the United States. It is sort of like the people running the restaurant aren’t quite sure what music would make an appropriate match with the food and the decorations to create a full picture.

I think (I am not sure though) that this restaurant was the first place I have been that hasn’t been packed with tourists. I believe I was the only one in there who was speaking English (although I immediately switched to Russian when the waitress didn’t at first understand me). Tourists from other countries normally speak English here because, as Guoda said, it is a common language between small countries. Again, when I spoke in Russian to the waitress, I realized that even though English is widely used, it is better to know another language, too so that one can have more opportunities to communicate with the rest of the world.

Sometimes I Just Think

I have written little bits here and there from the last few days, but none of them were really interesting enough to post by themselves. I still don’t know if they will capture your attention, but perhaps they will provide further insight into who I am and how I think of people and the world.

24/08/14

I wonder if you know, today is Ukraine’s Independence Day. In Vilnius’ Cathedral Square last night they had a bonfire to show support. I mentioned in another post that yesterday the Baltic countries also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the human chain.

It is really rainy today in Lithuania, but I wanted to get out of the house since I feel like I have been there every time Guoda and Tautvydas are there and perhaps they are getting tired of me. Unfortunately, because of the rain, I could not go very far so I ended up at a mall that is about a ten to fifteen minute walk from where I am staying. I am now sitting at a café and observing some teenagers below me. They are sitting on a mesh contraption shaped like a couch. There are two girls and one boy. The girls appear to be friends, and the boy is one of the girls’ boyfriends. The boy is sitting with his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder doing nothing but occasionally looking around and even less frequently interacting with his girlfriend’s friend. Both of the girls are texting (I assume), or doing something else on their phones. The typical head bent over and slouching back of a teenager caught up in social media, has taken over their posture; I know because I was a young teenager with a new cell phone once too. The girlfriend is paying even less attention to her boyfriend then the friend is, and I can tell the boy is starting to get bored. This situation is sad to me. I have observed the children and their mothers in a park, and how free they seemed, but now I am seeing much to my disappointment that in this situation these teenagers are no different than the wired in teenagers of America.

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(Yes, if you are wondering, I do realize I am sitting here typing on my computer working on my own form of social media while I complain about what I am seeing below me, but I am also not here with anyone but myself).

25/08/14

It is now the next day from when I was sitting in a café at the mall and writing. Yesterday was very rainy. When I left earlier to go to the mall, there was only a cold drizzle that fell from the sky. As I sat at the mall looking out the window, I watched as the drizzle turned into a downpour and I wondered when I would be able to return to the apartment.

They have a restaurant at this mall called La Crepe that I decided to try since I was temporarily stuck there. La Crepe is a chain restaurant and I have seen them allover Vilnius, but chain restaurants are part of a country’s culture (unless it is McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, or any other American fast-food chain that has managed to make its way into another country). I have noticed that many restaurants here serve crepes or pizza, and of course potato dishes. Pizzerias serve crepes, and La Crepe serves pizza. It is a very strange combination, but if that is what people like, I cannot argue. I enjoy both of them myself if they are good, I just never pictured them having a place on the same menu.

An ambulance just drove by, and it reminded me that in Kazan’ my host mom had asked me why ambulances sometimes have the word “ambulance” written backwards across the front of the car. I had no idea that this happened, but we looked it up and found that it was so cars driving in front of it could read what it was in their mirror and get out of the way.

 

Today I encountered a man from Malta. When I ran into him, I did not really have a direction that I intended on going. I had plans for later in the day but right then I was just enjoying walking down the street by myself and enjoying the city.

I was about to keep walking on my way but he started talking to me. In the beginning I knew little about Malta, only that it was an island. In all honesty there are so many countries out in the world that I can’t possibly know about every single one of them, and Malta was one that I did not know. I study Russian and in accordance with this, I study mainly the history, culture and literature of countries that speak the Russian language or that were part of the former Soviet Union because they have intertwined histories.

The man and I went to a café to chat a little before he had to take off to fulfill his prior commitments. He was only in Lithuania for a few days gaining a visa to Belarus. He is leaving for Minsk tonight. The Baltic States are not only beautiful hidden pockets of culture and history, but they also serve as very useful gateways to apply for visas for surrounding countries.

We talked about a few different topics including Russian and Russia of course. These topics seem to always come up in conversations when I meet someone. Through this conversation I learned that people in Malta are bilingual speaking both Maltese and English. Later, when I looked up a bit of information about the country I found that these are both official languages of Malta. In addition to these two languages he mentioned that he learned Russian and Arabic. Perhaps another language as well, but these four are what I remember.

I don’t know the story behind his interest in Arabic, but we talked about how and why he ended up learning Russian. In Malta he used to own a restaurant and he would get a lot of Russian clientele.  A Russian woman ended up working for him and suggested that he translate the menu for his restaurant into Russian. I wasn’t very clear on this point, but I think that this was before he knew Russian so this woman probably helped him. He also spent a few months in St. Petersburg and said that while being there, hearing and seeing Russian everyday it was hard not to learn the language. At his restaurant after he learned Russian, his Russian customers would always wonder why and how he knew Russian.

From this, we moved on, to a discussion of differences in restaurant etiquette in Malta, Lithuania and America. I have discussed a few differences in education, fitness and the grammar of languages; I never thought I would end up in a conversation about the differences in customer service at restaurants. He said that in Malta if the restaurant was a good restaurant, not necessarily expensive, but good, you will always find the real owner at the restaurant. Since he has been in Lithuania he has not seen the real owner of a restaurant here, although most of the restaurants I have seen here are chains. From my experience in Lithuania when you sit down at a restaurant they give you about two minutes to look at the menu before asking if you are ready to order. Sometimes these menus are around twenty pages long (with the back section usually being beverages or dessert) so I have had a waiter or waitress come back sometimes three or four times before I am actually ready to order, or else they hover nearby ready to pounce as soon as I look up from my menu. I know that in the United States  the staff at restaurants will annoyingly return before you are obviously ready to order as well, but not in the same short intervals that they do here. In the United States sometimes people take a long time to decide what to order and this is normal. We like to slowly examine each dish, and chat about something interesting while we are doing it, so it makes going through the menu much slower. People that I know usually go to restaurants to spend time with people, catch up with old friends, or meet for the purpose of business. The point is to talk over a meal. I have never been to a restaurant in the United States just to eat. I think the only other noticeable way that restaurants in Lithuania differ from restaurants in America is that like many European restaurants, they will not give you your check unless you ask for it. In the United States, as soon as they see that people have set their forks down they walk over with the check as if they want you to leave. This man I met made a comment that we are both from more relaxed countries than Lithuania based on how quickly we choose what to order from the menu. I tend to disagree, having spent about a week in Lithuania now, and I think that the country is rather more relaxed than the high speed culture of America (I of course cannot speak for Malta), but like the exercise and education differ between countries, so do the expectations in a restaurant.

This expectancy of high speed decision making extends to cafes as well. In the United States I will stand at a Starbucks (or another coffee shop) for ten minutes deciding what drink I want to order. I of course will not stand in line while I am trying to make up my mind; I stand off to the side and let others go before me if they are ready. In Lithuania, even if I stand off to the side to examine the list of drinks, the barista stares at me, waiting. Maybe here people make quick decisions concerning their food and drink. I like to know my options and enjoy knowing that I am making the right decision for myself when it comes to what kind of food I put in my body.

I can’t say too much more about this man, most of what I know about him is information I filled in myself. He gave me only little bits of insight into who he was because he kept choosing to interrupt the conversation or stop talking. It was very frustrating for me, but some people choose to be like this and I cannot change that.

26/08/14

Over these last few days, although the sun still peaks through the mass of gray clouds on occasion, the bite of fall is in the air. Fall is my favorite time of year, but adjusting from summer clothing to those required in autumn is always difficult. As it is I seem to have forgotten to pack a pair of shoes for the time in between summer and winter, and at the moment I am left wearing my summer sandals through the rainy and windy days.

I think wearing my summer sandals in the rain and cool air yesterday took my body heat, for when I went to bed I could not easily fall asleep because I was so cold. Instead I stared out the window across the room from my bed and noticed a pale green light that slowly faded in and out, in and out. Since I had nothing better to do while I waited for sleep to take me, I started to create a story stemming from the green light. I started thinking of aliens because of the color, and thus the story began.

In an apartment across the way lives a seemingly normal family. They have two children, as is common with families today. The young boy names Lynas and the older girl called Leanna attend school as anyone their ages should, and the parents go to work. On a normal day, when they all come home in the evening, the mother makes dinner while the father helps his children with their homework. Life went on normally for them, but for one difference. In the depths of night when they thought the city was sleeping, a green pale light throbbed from their windows admitting an eerie glow on the buildings and streets around it.

What did this light mean? No one knew. Everyone who saw it covinced themselves that their eyes were playing tricks on them and the light wasn’t real. They thought they must have just been too tired to think clearly and never mentioned the incident to anyone.

However, one day a girl in Lynas’ year was walking home with her mother. Her mother had had an evening shift working at a hotel, and her daughter had come to visit her. By the end of the evening shift, the mother was very tired, so when the green light started throbbing in front of her eyes, she didn’t think much of it until her daughter pointed it out.

 

I didn’t get very far in the story, or else I don’t remember the rest. That’s what I came up with last night though, Perhaps I will write more if I ever have interest in doing so.

Today I went back to the first restaurant I went to in Lithuania when I was staying with my first host in the hopes of trying a new traditional dish. However, when the translation on the menu reads something like “boiled,” “fried” or “stuffed pig’s ear”, it just does not sound appetizing to me, so I did not get it. After lunch I started to head in the direction of the museum I wanted to go to yesterday, but the weather was cleared up enough that I decided it was time to try another interesting flavor of ice cream. This time I tried Marzipan with fruit or something.

After I ate the ice cream I still had time to go to the museum, so I headed on my way. Unfortunately I don’t know all of the streets in Vilnius well, so I got a bit lost, but I eventually made it there. The museum was more of a story, you go from room to room reading about how different parts of the holocaust affected the Lithuanian Jewish population. There are pieces of the story told from the point of view of the those who administered the harm, and many diary entries from those who suffered. I think I was already slightly worn out when I got there because I had been walking around all day, but I planned to take my time going through the museum anyway. Unfortunately, as I started to make my way through the first room, two younger German guys started to practice as if they were giving a tour to people who spoke English, and I could not concentrate on what I was reading. They carried on like this the whole time I was in the museum (which was over an hour) and I was so frustrated by the end of it because I knew I could have gotten so much more out of the museum.

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I had to return to the apartment before 6:00 P.M. because my next program was holding its online orientation then. I sat on my bed for an hour listening to someone talk at me about St. Petersburg and the program that was about to start. Some of the information was helpful because I did not know it before, but the lady talking kept saying that if we had any further questions about this information, we would explore them in more depth later at the orientation when we got there. So, why did we talk about them during the online orientation at all? It seems like a waste of time. I was still listening to the orientation as first Guoda and then Tautvydas came home, and I felt rude having to sit on my computer, but it was mandatory for me to “attend.”

From Nature to the Baltic Chain

23/08/14

Tautvydas had asked me last night if I would like to go with them to a market, because he wanted to buy a watermelon to eat (he loves watermelon, but how can anyone not?). I was interested in going of course because I love to see new places, especially if I can’t simply walk to them from where I am staying. I also have this problem where I gave my passport to the visa agency of course, so I can’t do much traveling outside of Vilnius, such as a day trip to Kaunas. I mean maybe I could, but it would be more difficult without a passport because longer bus trips usually require you to show some sort of identification before getting on the bus and when you are  abroad, that “some sort of identification” is always your passport. Anyway, moving on from the temporary lack of passport, this market was a real rinok (рынок). The stalls were out in the open with canopies covering them. Just rows of fresh fruits and vegetables were lain out before me and I could smell the sweetness of them in the slightly warm summer air. I miss eating fruits and vegetables because I did not have many in Russia (although that’s partially my own fault since I went to the rinok almost every day there and I never bought any). I bought some bananas and some other fruits, and maybe it’s only because I have not had bananas in a while, but these are some of the sweetest bananas I have ever had.

After we finished our shopping at the rinok we drove to an area where a cliff allows looked over a small river that runs through a green valley. Tautvydas said that when he had been there before a few years ago it was less touristy, and there was less of a structure to help people climb the small hill. (By structure, I mean a set of steps and a ramp for the disabled that went up hill and ended in some balconies where people could observe the view). The view from the cliff was very nice, but there were no benches to sit on and enjoy the watermelon while looking over the valley, so we walked on a little bit and found a place to eat watermelon on a trail that followed the structure. Again, in another area of beautiful nature, I forgot to bring any form of camera, so I am sorry there are no pictures of this place. At the same time I am not sorry because I was able to enjoy our walk through the nature to an old mill at the bottom of the cliff. The area at the bottom of the cliff has also turned into a touristy area though because there is a nice restaurant, and a venue to hold parties. One of the walkways is lined with old stone wheels for grinding grains, and it was interesting to see how some were very worn while others are rather new looking. Part of the river split around a bridge. Under the bridge a short waterfall flowed, perhaps it was created to generate more power for the mill. On the other side, Tautvydas pointed out the steps that had been created for fish to be able to swim upstream.

As we walked, Guoda and Tautvydas talked a little about their secondary school experiences (the equivalent of an American high school). When I talked to Artūras about the differences between high schools in the United States and high schools in Lithuania, he told me that in Lithuania you have to pick in tenth grade what area of study you will go into, and the next year you start taking classes that relate specifically to that area of study. Gouda told me later that at the end of high school they have to take four exams (I think that relate to their area of study), and the marks for those exams probably affect their prospects for school the way our ACT or SAT scores do. We complain in the United States that we are forced to pick before we are old enough to know what field of work we want to go into, and they are forced to choose in tenth grade. Tautvydas and Guoda did not concentrate on this aspect of their secondary school education. The topic of secondary school came up because the area where we were walking was where Tautvydas’ school had held its 100 days before graduation party. Apparently in Lithuania (maybe in other countries too) they have a tradition of having a party 100 days before the class graduates. I don’t really understand why it is this early or what the point of celebrating 100 days before your graduate, rather than after, is, but you can’t argue with tradition. Perhaps it is like senior ditch day and senior prank in the United States. Who knows why we do them, we just do. I remember my senior ditch day; we all got into trouble for ditching even though it is a tradition at every high school. I guess not every school can have the same traditions though because Guoda told me that at her school they were not allowed to have parties so they did not celebrate 100 days before graduation.

Next to the trail there was a sign telling about the trail and the area, but it was only in Lithuanian. Guoda told me that it is interesting that small towns in Lithuania have information only in Lithuanian in comparison to Latvia where small towns apparently have information about each town in many different languages making it more tourist-friendly. The area we walked through was mostly wilderness, but since it is not easy to describe the beauty of wilderness without being able to experience the sounds, smells and feelings that go with it, I have concentrated more on the man-made aspects of what I saw. Just for a minute, imagine a place that is all green – green trees, green grass, green smells – where you can feel a cool breeze crawl over your skin and give you the shivers. You smell mostly fresh air and the crisp smell of evergreens mixed with the rare scent of a cigarette smoke out in the wilderness (because many people smoke here). Before you is a valley with some patches of very green grass and tall trees. As your eyes glide over the perfect landscape with a small river winding it’s way through it, you notice a discrepancy. There is a house in this valley, but it is not worn and old like the others, and it is not much of a house, it is more of a cube. A grey glass cube built around an old brick structure stands in the middle of this valley disrupting the landscape. Guoda told me that this house was built by an architect who has his own style and in her words, “many people think that this style does not fit in the context of where it is located.” I quite agree, it does not belong. Guoda also told me that the architect went to court for the placement of this house because enough people did not like it that it became a problem. Now on the signs that describe the trail, the house is depicted almost like a tourist attraction with a sign that Guoda translated for me that says something about the court allowing the house to stay where it is.

Glass Cube House

I found this picture on the internet, but this is the house probably at a different time of year that is not so green.

After the trail and the watermelon we returned to the apartment, which I was thankful of because I was worried about my precious fruit sitting in the back of the car. I need not have worried though because it has not been too hot in Lithuania this week, although yesterday was warmer than many of the other days, and the fruit was fine. We had a very late lunch (a little after 3:00 P.M.), at least it was late to me because I am used to having lunch between 12:00 P.M. and 2:00 P.M. I didn’t mind though, since we had eaten watermelon earlier. One dish we had for lunch was a salad. When I say salad, you probably think of a pile of green leaves, maybe with some tomatoes and carrots added and a very fatty Ranch or Thousand Island dressing sloppily poured on top only dripping onto a few bitter, half-wilted leaves. I don’t eat salads like this, they feign being healthy, and to me they don’t taste like they are worth eating. Tautvydas made a sauce to put on this salad from scratch. I didn’t catch everything that was in it, but I understand that he put two tomatoes, some garlic and some sunflower seeds in a blender with some other ingredients. I didn’t watch him make it, so I don’t know any other steps that were involved in this process, but the end result was delicious. The greens were completely tossed in this sauce, and I could have eaten that salad every day. Not only was it healthy, but it tasted really good. Guoda made a smoothie for dessert which was a mixture of peanuts and bananas (and maybe some other ingredients, again, I did not see). She filled cups only halfway full with this mixture, and then filled the second half of the cup with blueberries. Tautvydas and Guoda should really run some sort of vegan culinary school because the food they cook is amazing.

In the evening, a little after 7:00 P.M. we walked out to Cathedral Square for a concert the city was holding for the 25th anniversary of the human chain. Earlier in the evening we had been eating young (or raw) hazelnuts. They were still green and in the shell, and you have to crack the shell to get the soft white part out. At first Tautvydas was the only one cracking them because Guoda and I could not figure out how to do it. You have to take two and place them on top of each other in-between your palms and squeeze. Usually only one will crack when you do it this way, and to get them lined up correctly makes for very slow progress. Another way to crack them is by placing the nut on a hard surface and applying pressure until it cracks. Guoda could not crack them so Tautvydas was joking around about her needing to eat meat so she could gain the strength to crack them. He told her he would buy her a big sausage when we got to the festival (in case you don’t remember, they are vegan) but they weren’t even selling sausage there. (Sorry Tautvydas, your plan was foiled). The origin of this joke came from a video that Guoda showed us at lunch. There is a show called Everything is Illuminated and this particular scene features a vegetarian at a restaurant in Ukraine. If you would like some insight into how difficult and uncommon being a vegetarian in this part of the world is, or if you just want to laugh, it is definitely worth watching this clip.

On the way down to the festival Guoda and Tautvydas were joking about me buying different sweets such as cotton candy or muffins that they might sell. Tautvydas especially likes to joke around, and he kept asking me if I would buy various things. When it came to asking me about muffins (or cupcakes, I am still not sure which one he meant) they described it as a mushroom cake, because it is shaped like a mushroom. At first I did not understand because I don’t think of them as shaped like a mushroom, but I guess they are. It is interesting if you don’t know the name of something in another language what words you will use to describe them. I know I struggled with this in Russia at times.

When we got to the square, Guoda told me they invited contemporary bands from the three nations to come up and play a song, so there were songs in Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian. The common language that most people speak in these three nations is English, so if a band was from one of the other Baltic States, they would address the audience in English.

When we were riding to the market earlier, Guoda told me that her friend designed a collector’s coin for this anniversary. Her friend apparently didn’t even get to buy the coin that she designed because they sold out so fast. They look really interesting so I will include a picture.

50litas

When we first arrived at the festival I saw an old lady in a traditional Lithuanian outfit, and it reminded me of the outfit that my father bought years ago that he gave to my oldest sister and then each next sister as the last grew out of it. I also was interested that at first I saw more Ukrainian flags then I could spot of flags from any of the other countries that the festival was actually honoring, and I wondered why this was. Guoda told me that these flags were to show support for Ukraine against the pro-Russian fighters in the current conflict. They had a fire pit that would be lit at midnight for support of Ukraine as well, and this is how I found out that the 24th of August is Ukraine’s Independence Day.

Ukrainian Flag Man

(I saw quite a few people with the Ukrainian Flag draped over their shoulders like a cape).

Picture

(In this picture you can see that along with the flags from all of the Baltic Countries, the person also has the Ukrainian flag).

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(This picture depicts myself when I was young, wearing the Lithuanian outfit).

The hill with the red brick tower and ruins on top that is talked about in the tale of the Iron Wolf was covered from top to bottom with three big flags of the Baltic nations. This night there was also a women’s 5k run called “We Run the Night,” but I am not really sure what it was supporting. It must have been a big deal because there were a lot of spectators.

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Tautvydas and Guoda ran into their friend Adomas at the festival. Guoda told me later that he was actually the person who had introduced the two of them. When we went back to the apartment for dinner, he was invited. He seemed to have an in-your-face type of personality and wanted to be everywhere at once. He asked me about why I was learning Russian, why I was in Vilnius and every other question I get when I meet someone here, but it seemed strange for me to answer because I guess I was half expecting him not to pay me any attention since he was there to spend time with his friends. I remember he told me he used to not like the word “awesome.” He said he had a bad beginning with it because it was always exaggerated, like “AWESOME!” but sorry Adomas, it is an exclamation, that is how it’s supposed to be used. His English was not as good as Tauvydas and Guoda’s so sometimes I would not understand what he was trying to say, or he would not understand what I said. In the end we would always figure it out. I am not much of an animal person, but he did have a rather cute dog (I think it was a puppy) that ran around the apartment and wanted to eat everything. Tautvydas was getting a carrot ready to use for some soup they were making and the next thing we knew, half of the carrot was gone in the puppy’s mouth.

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Lithuanian Flag People

(These are some pictures of the concert and the stage).

Guoda told me that Adomas is in a band, and that some of their other friends who are in a band we had just seen play on stage for the anniversary celebration. As we were walking and talking a guy rode by us very quickly on a unicycle, which prompted a discussion about people we know who ride unicycles, specifically Adomas. Apparently Adomas can ride a unicycle and play the accordion at the same time and he entered into a talent contest in Peru with this talent. He was picked to go on to the next round but he had to return to Lithuania instead. I am told there is a video on YouTube of this event that you can find if you type in “Adomas Peru.” Adomas and Tauvydas are very goofy together, they are apparently best friends and they went to school for economics together, although neither of them look like economics students. When they took Adomas and his puppy home I decided I was too tired to come because there was talk of going back to the festival to see the bonfire lit. In the end, no one went back to the festival and we all just went to bed.

A little more information about Adomas. He traveled to Peru as you now know from the comment about his entrance into the competition. He lived there for a year or two and now speaks Spanish rather well. He was influenced by the South-American music and now his Lithuanian band plays music that resembles this. From my point of view he has a sort of South-American look about him. I am not trying to stereotype, but the way he chooses to style his mustache and hair is definitely not typical of how I usually see Europeans choose to wear their hair.