Monday, April 29, 2013

Back on the road!

A week already passed after my first short bike trip to Salakas, so it was time for me to hit the road again! We found out about a bike tour organized for the weekend in a new bicycle path in Neris Regional Park, where Lenka and Adrian, other two volunteers from Slovakia and Spain, work. It was the best opportunity for us to go visit them and Vilnius, where they live.
So we left on Saturday and met them. I also caught the chance to bring my bike to a repair shop, as it still needed some tuning up and check up after the flight. I went to the bike shop who co-organized the bike tour event together with the park, where a very competent mechanic works: he fixed my gear in no time, which now works even smoother than before leaving! A German guy who moved to Lithuania 16 years ago also worked there; he told me about a small group of people who were going to cycle all the way from Vilnius to the starting point of the tour, which was on Sunday afternoon, passing through forests and other beautiful sights. I just couldn't miss something like that!
After leaving the repair shop, I went around Vilnius with Blagovesta and Lenka. I tried to climb the fort hill near the Cathedral square, but by the top the slope was just too much and I had to get off the bike and carry it by hand... but that was worth it: there is some very nice sight from up there!

In the evening we enjoyed another walk around, a delicious dinner at an Indian vegetarian restaurant and some rest at Cafè Inn, but we didn't stay around till late because we had to wake up early next day.
So, in the morning, Blagovesta, Lenka and Adrian left to the park by car, while I joined the cycling group. According to the weather and forecasts, I thought I wouldn't have find anybody at the meeting point, but luckily there were some other crazy people like me ready for the trip: three guys and two girls.
The trip was really intense for me, after a whole winter without cycling, my legs weren't ready for something like that yet, but somehow I managed to keep up with their pace: they were all quite strong experienced bikers!

The trip was just around 50 km, but, after like 20 of them on an easy asphalt road, we went deep through the forest and faced gravel, mud, dirt, stones and quite a number of very intense uphills. Sometimes we just had to carry our bikes by foot because of too many obstacles on the slopes and then steps, puddles, and a barely standing bridge we had to pass one by one!

We took four hours and arrived just on time and quite tired to the campsite where bike tour would start. Unfortunately we didn't pass by Dūkštos, where is the Regional Park Tourist Center which was having a First Flowers Blossoming Festival in the morning, with oak planting and other activities, so I missed that, but it was worth it anyway. Blagovesta, Lenka and Adrian were there and then reached and joined us, together with many other people ready for the tour.

Luckily, aside from a short shower in the morning, it didn't rain anymore, and it wasn't too much cold. We had a fast lunch, and we were ready to go again. After the previous trip, the bicycle path was a piece of cake for me. It was relaxing just taking it easy and going along the other people, but maybe a bit boring, until when, by the end, I and some other guys from the first trip started pushing very hard in order to catch a train to Vilnius on time. In the last 10 km we completely depleted our energy but, even if I wasn't feeling my legs anymore, we managed to get to the train station just on time, after a last uphill that gave us the final blow! Once in Vilnius I had enough time before catching the train to Ignalina to go to a car wash and get my bike clean. Boy if it was dirty, I couldn't have bring it home like that!
It was very nice to see Lenka and Adrian again, and to meet other fellow bikers like me, hopefully we will organize some other trip together!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bike trip and weekend in Salakas

Finally some nice weather! We went from cold and snow to warm and sunny in very few days, and it feels like late spring now... After some other few days of wait for the ice on the roads to melt, I could finally start to go out by bike.
Gražutės Regional Park hosts other two volunteers from our project, Olesya from Russia and Marion from France, and it's very near Aukštaitija, at only 30 km, so it was the best opportunity for my first trip! I and Blagovesta joined them for a weekend, and attended to a celebration of spring and a workshop about making slippers at their place, in Salakas.
The first half of the trip was on a large asphalt road... Very comfy, I could ride quite fast, but then I had to turn to a gravel road and got lost in Lithuanian countryside! Dirt, mud, stones, all in a series of small uphills and downhills, my beloved XC bike is not afraid of them! I was pleased by some very neat sights and peaceful landscapes. I passed by some tiny isolated villages and sometimes I felt like beeing in the middle of nowhere, immersed in total silence. That was amazing and relaxing! I took it easy and stopped few times, but two hours were still enough...

Once in Salakas I met our friends and they had a surprise: Marta, a Spanish girl volunteer in Anykščių Regional Park, was there too! Blagovesta arrived a little later by bus and train, and we visited the park's tourist centre with its very nice exhibition and museum.
Later we went to the spring celebration in the cultural center. We enjoyed typical dances and songs, as well as shows of different cultures.

I and Marta were even taken on stage for a Chinese scene! Marion and Olesya took part to some modern dances and it was very nice to see them so involved with the local people. Olesya told she made lots of mistakes, but we didn't notice them! :) Then we went by the quiet lake nearby, passing by the beautiful church too.

In the evening we hanged out in a local bar where we enjoyed playing pool and some club music. It was very cozy, and we met some local guys (and beated them at pool!).
Next morning we attended to the slippers making workshop. It was very interesting... we didn't know it took so much time and effort, but now we have new wool slippers! Blagovesta made very pretty ones, but mine were so so... I'm not that good at crafting.
I was a bit tired in the afternoon, but the return trip was waiting for me... This time it took less, just 1'40"... probably because of the dog who chased me!

A surprise visit!

Last week we had a very special visitor in our office. It was Edouard, former volunteer in Aukštaitija National Park in 2011! Nobody knew he was coming, so we were all very surprised... It was very nice for us to meet our predecessor, and we could ask him so many questions! Especially me, since he traveled for 6 months by bike, and I wish to travel like that as well, so I caught the opportunity to ask him to give me suggestions and impressions about his trip. He also told us about his 2 years in New Zealand, and how that changed his life. And he impressed us by talking Lithuanian with the staff, giving us a motivation boost!
While in the office, he expressed the wish to go back to the sauna; Linas heard that and, in no time, it was all set for the evening to go... What an organization! I'm not really a fan of saunas and hot air, so I can't really say I liked it, Blagovesta will write better things about it... But one thing I surely enjoyed was the warm bath outside, under a starlit sky!
Next day we went with him through the botanical trail. We enjoyed the walk while also recording a GPX track for visitors, and he told us about what to expect in summer: berries everywhere! I can't wait to see that...

Unfortunately he had to go back to Vilnius already, and we even forgot to take a picture together... unforgivable! We hope to meet him again sometime!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Back from the on-arrival training

Daniele and I are just back from our on-arrival training and we are already missing it. Three days spent in a beautiful small village settled on the bank of the biggest river in Lithuania were enough to make new friends and create memories that will make us smile for a long time. Though all complains against the eternal snowfall we really enjoyed it by making a snowman while being snow-bombed by some of the other volunteers.

Of course the sun showed up a couple of times and we used these opportunities to walk around the village with our wonderful trainers who told us many fascinating facts about Lithuanian history and culture. Fantadrago even met his new fan – the Black Cat.

Even though all volunteers are very interested in nature and prefer being outdoors we had a lot of fun inside by playing different not so safe table games! (don’t worry – our AXA health insurance covers injuries of such type) and preparing our own traditional Lithuanian dinner. Well, it was not easy to get together 18 people in a small kitchen but we did our best and in the end everybody enjoyed the results from our common work. 

We both think that combining the useful with the pleasant is the best way to learn new things and so we did. The training helped us not only to find great friends but also we learnt quite much about other volunteers’ countries and cultures, about their projects in the different parks, about what to expect more or less during our own stay. 

We want to thank everybody who we met for the unforgettable time we spent together. Ačiū!

Monday, April 8, 2013

My first month in Lithuania

Hi everybody, I'm Daniele from Italy, and I can proudly inaugurate this year's posts on the Aukštaitija National Park volunteer's blog by telling about my first month in Lithuania!

It has been quite a tough beginning, but since my arrival things have kept getting better and better. The main problem was the bad weather: seems like I had the luck to come here right in a year when winter just doesn't want to come to an end, and snow and cold make it hard to find tasks or activities to do outdoors. I haven't had much work to do yet, beside some translations, and there was no way to go out by bike, with all that ice and snow on the roads! On the bright side, this gave me more free time to get used to the new place, culture, people and way of living! It was a huge cultural clash finding myself living in the same house with a Lithuanian family, even having to share bathroom and kitchen with them for a while, and being in a new work place where very few people can speak some English. Luckily, those were all very nice people, which helped a lot, despite some lack of communication. Astra's (my language teacher with whom I live with) family has been very friendly and helped me a lot with anything, and Linas (my mentor) as well!

Despite preventing me from most of outdoors activities, I enjoyed snow for a while, since it was my first time dealing with it! In my hometown it never snows, and I had barely seen some snow while traveling, but never really been on it, so I had a lot of new esperiences to try! I saw frozen lakes for my first time and walked on it (and I almost fell into a not-so-frozen pond!), I walked into deep snow, I got stuck with the car with the park's staff, I built a snowman, I peed my name on the snow... but I still miss a snowfight, a snow angel and some skiing!

I didn't have the chance to see much of the park yet, except for a few tours around with the staff, but while translating the website and the leaflets from English to Italian I had the chance to learn a lot about it and it really seems to be a wonderful place which I just can't wait to visit by bike and enjoy in summer. Finally spring seems to be shyly coming, and looks like the long wait is almost over, as the real beginning is coming soon!