Monday, December 9, 2013

My EVS wrap up

After my travels in September, there were still more than 2 months to go before the end of my stay. However, not much was left to do at work, aside from a few small tasks now and then. While that could have been somehow a letdown for many, I used the chance to slowly start thinking about my future plans, to get back to my studies again and, most of all, to enjoy autumn, my favorite season.
I kept myself busy during weekends and didn't stop travelling yet. I went some more times to Vilnius for IT conferences and other events, then to Salakas, for Olesya's birthday, once again to Kaunas, to meet one last time with the Coordinating Organization and the other volunteers, for final evaluations and goodbyes.
On Halloween holidays, I went visiting Warsaw. I was supposed to go with Giovanni, but he had to postpone it for some problem so I ended up going alone.

I really enjoyed walking around the old town while listening to Chopin's compositions in my earphones. He is one of my favorite classic music composers, and listening to his music while discovering his hometown was a great experience. I visited his museum, the church where his heart is buried and a beautiful park dedicated to him, full of wild squirrels, peacocks, ducks, swans and little birds which I could handfeed.

In November, I went visiting Tilda and the children house near Biržai again. I was missing them and I wanted to say goodbye, so I spent a couple of days there and they were very happy to see me!

My EVS ended in the best way possible: a road trip with my Italian friends, who came to visit me on the last week to then go back together. I went picking them up in Vilnius, where we rented a car, and we used Coachsurfing, a hosting network, to find accomodations around the Baltics.
On the first day, I showed them the Lithuanian capital and, since it was a Saturday, we hanged out with Marius, our host, till late in the night. We delighted him with Italian food (one of my friends is a professional chef) and some Italian folklore. Especially with one particular tradition of ours to cook, when we went back home in the night, some "aglio e olio" (garlic and oil) spaghetti at 4 'o clock in the night!

Next morning, we went back to my home in Ignalina, but only after detouring for a visit to Trakai. Weather was terrible, but we still enjoyed the view and the local food.

On the next day, we left early for Riga. The weather got better, so we enjoyed the trip, with some stops along the way.

We had another Couchsurfing host waiting for us there, who showed us the city, and whom we cooked for again, of course!

Then, the day after, it was time to head for Tallinn, in Estonia. We left late in the morning and had some stops to look at the coastline on the way, so we arrived there quite late, and only had time to have dinner out with our next host, and we left the visiting for next day.

In the morning, we went to the TV tower nearby. We went to the top to see the view, but unfortunately it was very foggy and not much could be seen.

Then we went to the old town and had lunch there. I have to say, among the Baltic capitals, this one was my favorite. The Christmas mood helped for sure, as the central square filled with market stalls, decorations and lights was very cozy.

We spent the whole afternoon around, then took some foolish decision: to go back right away to Ignalina without other stops. It was around 20 in the evening when we left, and almost 600 km ahead. We figured out it was a bad idea when we stumbled across black iced roads, fog, a snow blizzard and engine faults, which slowed us down a lot.

At 7 in the morning, after 11 hours straight on the road and my friends fallen asleep, I barely managed to drive back home. One would go straight to bed after such adventure you would say, but.. we're Italians, remember? So we just decided it was time for spaghetti aglio e olio before going to sleep! We spent the rest of the day at home, sleeping, cooking and eating, to recover our energies.
Next day was our last one, as we would have then left early in the morning. We went visiting the park, and I stopped to say goodbye to everyone. Luckily there was some event in the Visitor Centre, so almost all my collegues were there that day. I hate farewells but, after all, it was just a goodbye, as I'm sure I'll go back to Lithuania for a visit someday.

While running to the airport to catch the flight, very late on our schedule (did I mention we're Italians?), and having to pick up my bike first, which I had already boxed and sent to Vilnius some weeks earlier, and to refuel and deliver back the car, I had different feelings in me. On one side, it was nice to go back home to my old life and get some rest from travelling and adventures. Also I felt like it was just the right time to go, as I didn't have reasons to stay there any longer. Yet, the future was still unclear, with some hopes and ideas around but no clear paths to follow. Also, I knew it would have been ok to stay at home for a while, but within a few months I would have needed to move forward again and to do something new. Also, I knew that I would have missed Lithuania, and I started thinking back to the EVS months I just spent here.

Since Blagovesta left in late October, I was on my own again and, with temperatures dropping, it was like I was going back to the beginning and a circle was closing, but so much was different now. I was now somehow feeling at home in Ignalina, I had made many new friends, and hopes and expectations were now replaced by good memories.

While going for long walks in the forests around, enjoying the enchanting brownish landscapes and fresh air, those memories of the months spent there were passing through my mind.

I remembered about the first month, when I was feeling so lonely and out of place, then slowly getting used to the new life. Then meeting my new roommate and fellow volunteer Blagovesta, who arrived a month later, showing her around and starting working and spending free time together. Our long wait for a kitchen, which was being fixed in the first months, finally being able to cook in our flat, and going from a sandwitch maker noob to the best pizza chef in Lithuania! I had never cooked anything before the EVS and I would have never guessed there would have been people asking me for recipes in a few months… I guess it's in the Italian blood!

I remembered nature surprising me in ways I hadn't experienced before. To begin with the snowy landscapes, frozen lakes and the enchanting snowfalls I enjoyed from my house, sit by the window with relaxing music in my headphones and radiators warming up the room.

Last spring was the first one I could really enjoy. Being alergic to some plant very common around my hometown, its flowering period, for me, equals to constant running nose and sneezes. Looks like that plant is not present at this latitudes, as I didn't experience any hay fever this year!
When flowers started blossoming, I got another surprise: my favorite flower, the forget-me-not, is very common in Lithuania and growing everywhere. It's not present in my place so it was the first time I could see it. Same with the beautiful storks, who started appearing around. Later in spring, wild strawberries began popping out, filling the woods with their delicious scent, and then faded out, while tasty blueberries kicked in.
In summer I discovered the "neverending days". It was so weird for me to still have a bright sky at midnight, and almost no night at all! I also found out that it's not too cold to swim in lakes and rivers, and somewhere the water was much warmer than I expected, like near Ginučiai Watermill.
By the end of the season, berries disappeared to leave space to delicious mushrooms. There weren't too many in our region this year, but I still managed to find a few, and got some from Astra's family from time to time.
Autumn arrived with its falling leaves, variegated colors, and chilly weather. Too bad I couldn't stay long enough for seeing the lakes froze again, but luckily enough I got the chance to see the first snowfalls.
And now, while winter was kicking in, I was running away to a warmer place. We barely managed to get to the airport on time, and got scolded by the hostesses for being so late.
While gaining altitude, I said my last goodbye to those beautiful green and white lands. Once in Italy, my russian style hat, which saved me from freezing in Lithuania, was now almost melting my head, as I suddenly jumped to almost estival temperatures. I realized that my EVS was over, but it had not disappeared, as it was now part of me in form of memories and life experience.
I'm already looking forward to go back in Lithuania someday. And for my next adventure. But now, I'm leaving this space for next year's volunteers, wishing them luck and to have at least as much fun as I had, and enjoy Lithuania as much as possible.
Thanks for following my tales, and I hope you'll look forward to read the next volunteers' ones as much as I do! Iki!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Travelling around

One of the main reasons to decide to participate in the EVS programme was the opportunity to meet new interesting people and to travel around and so I did. Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to see all parks in Lithuania, but I visited some of the places of interest. But it was great that I had the chance to visit some of the countries nearby as well. As a child of the South it was really interesting for me to visit Scandinavia and the other Baltic lands. 

I started with a short visit to Estonia and Finland. I had a friend in Tallinn who was doing her EVS there and we decided to make the visit during Bulgarian Easter so we could keep the traditions together but due to the bad weather we postponed it with one week. Well, we still had some traditional egg fight. I spent 4 days in Tallinn and my friend showed me all best sights of the city - the old town, the President Palace, the park, the beach. Oh, God, the water was so cold, I could barely stand for1 minute for a picture but there was a couple of swans that didn't mind the low temperatures. Vyara (my friend) and I enjoyed a lot of delicious meals in Soviet-styled small restaurants and despite it was not summer yet, we drank some ciders :)

The weekend we spent in Helsinki, where there wasn't much to see but we spent some time sunbathing on the stairs of the Helsinki Cathedral and eating the best ice-cream I have ever tasted! Before leaving we went to a small peninsula which represented traditional wooden houses and other buildings from the past. There we met a very friendly squirrel and a duck which we fed with peanuts. After that we drank coffee and ate traditional apple pie in a Soviet-styled cafe on the shore.

Soon after coming back from this trip summer came, and we were busier in the park as there were a lot of tourists coming and many events taking place, so I couldn't travel a lot or if I did so - it was around Lithuania. But at the end of the season we made another journey to Riga with Marion, Olesya and Giovanni. At the beginning we wanted to rent a car and travel along the coast and visit more places but finally we went only to Riga by train. We had great weather so we enjoyed long walks around the city. It was overcrowded with tourists so it was quite difficult to go around, especially when we tried to make a video for a presentation which Marion wanted to use to apply for a job. But finally we managed and we even had an audience which applauded us in the end of our dance. In the evening we went to the beach which was 13 km away from the city, but there was a celebration with bonfire, music and poem reading to send the last day of the summer. It was really nice, pagan and very magic especially with the rain which started in the middle of the festival. 




After visitting all three capitals of the Baltic countries, even though everybody says that Tallinn is the best one, I like Vilnius the most. Maybe because it has the biggest old town, or maybe because it is not that crowded with tourists, or maybe just because I have a weird taste as my fellow volunteers say :)

I really wanted to visit all Scandinavian countries, but unfortunaltely I couldn't. But I did go to Norway, which I can say was the best place I have ever been to. Even though I am more into more exotic nature, warm temperatures, beaches, sea, Mediterranean cuisine, etc., I can frankly say that I just LOVE Norway! It is an amazing place - the nature is so beautiful, so pure, so spectacular! The fjords, the mountains, the waterfalls, the colors, the houses, the cities and the villages, everything is so beautiful. The people are very nice and calm and relaxed. I am definitely going back - there are just so many places to visit and to see - all those strange rocks, all these fjords, all the islands with all interesting animals...and not to forget the Northern lights! Norway is really an amazing land! At least I went to Preikestolen! The view from there is breath-taking, especially after all the hiking, when you get on top and you see how the fjord cuts through the mountain, you feel like you have no worries, you feel so light and all you want to do is to keep this moment and make it last forever - just to stay there and contemplate, merge into one with the view. One tip - bring a beer into your backpack because you would like to celebrate once you are on top :) I will leave you with the pictures. Unfortunately, as it was the end of October, the weather was getting bad so it was a bit foggy, but still we were lucky and we could see the fjord!

And so I saw my 25 birthday in Bergen, Norway, with two very special friends - what a good start, ha! :) My birthday wish is to travel around as much as possible, share the emotions with good friends and make great memories, which will warm my soul when I feel down or when I get old. I am definitely going back to Norway because there are just so many interesting and beautiful places to see there, I also have to visit Sweden as it is the only one I didn't manage to go to and maybe some more travelling around Finland as I visited only Helsinki.

Here I would like to thank to Vyara - my friend, who was so nice to show me Tallinn and to spend her time with me, to the guy who hosted us in Latvia on our way to Riga, to our CS hosts and our "driver" in Norway - Anette, Asmund, Ernestas and Georgi, without whom our stay there would be impossible and for all the great moments they gave us. I also want to thank to Olesya, Marion and Giovanni, Silvia and Malte, for being so patient with me during our travels(I know I could be a pain in the ass sometimes) and for all the fun we had together! Wish you all the best, guys, and hope to meet you anywhere in the world :)