Monday, May 20, 2013

Fascination of plants Day

After having a short holiday to explore other countries nearby Lithuania I came back to Ignalina to unpack..and then pack again for going to Kaunas for the Fascination of plants Day. The event was organised and took place in the Botanical garden and Manuel, the spanish volunteer there, with the cooperation of Deineta, managed his own project - he invited us and the other volunteers to represent our parks and the interesting and useful plants you can find there.

So on Thursday, 16th of May, Manuel, Silvia from Kurtuvėnai Regional Park, Marion and Olesya from Gražutė Regional Park and Giovanni from Dzūkija National Park, Daniele and I met each other in stifling Kaunas. We had a short coffee break with Leonas, discussing our lives in the parks, and then Manuel took us for a short tour around the Botanical Garden and showed us the Green House, which is a home of around 130 beautiful exotic plants. As I am very fond of palms and cactuses this walk was as exciting for me as "Disney land" is for small children. Manuel told us interesting facts about the plants and I can tell that some of them were quite fascinating. Who could tell that the banana plant is actually a kind of grass? And did you know that the fruit of the carob tree have the same size and weight and because of that they are used as a measurement in jewellery and one pea is one carat.

After experiencing different climates in the Green House we went to our accommodation to find a nice surprise from Manuel, who is always so thoughtful, and after unpacking we started preparing for our presentation. We designed a big poster with the map of Lithuania, showing the location of our parks, and decorated it with our national flags and pictures of our everyday life and activities. Once we finished we had to blow up 300 balloons for the birthday of the caterpillar. That was not an easy task as they were exploding in our faces but it was also very funny. And the caterpillar is not a real animal - it is a row of trees ranged in the shape of a larva and the employees of the park decorated the first tree as a smiling head.

On the next day Margot from Žemaitija National Park arrived to join us. We arranged the materials we brought and decorated our tent with balloons and the poster. The programme included a concert for children and eating a birthday cake at the end. A lot of people visited our tent asking about EVS, our parks and took brochures describing the rare plants. We also walked around and took part in different workshops.

But the best part was visitting the terrarium where we were so happy to meet the very social iguanas who enjoy fondling so much that they acted more like cats than like lizards. Even though I am against keeping wild animals captured I can tell that these iguanas looked quite happy and really like human company.

When the Fascination of plants Day finished we all went in the old town of Kaunas to enjoy the night life. Even eating the worst pizza in our lives could not spoil the mood. But our gustatory sensations were flattered on the next day when we had a homemade pasta prepared by Giovanni and Daniele. Lodging in with italians is great for the belly-worship but definitely not good for the body shape, but I can live with it.. :)

We would like to thank to Manuel and the other volunteers for the splendid time we spent together!

After that Daniele and I went to Vilnius to see the street music festival - there were some really good bands and DJ's but unfortunately we arrived too late so we could not listen to many of them. Anyway we had fun meeting a guy from the Netherlands, who came to Lithuania to participate in a walking event - he has to walk 100 km in 24 hours, and having dinner with him and with Marion and Olesya who were also there. One hint - when you order beer in the restaurant instead of "little" say "small", otherwise you can end up with a liter of beer just like Marion did! There was also a fire show and an exhibition of old Russian cars and trams.

Once we were back from our trip we went to Meironys for a spring celebration. We took part in a march through the village presenting each house with a branch of a birch to keep the families safe from evil spirits and to bring them health and luck. There were some local folk singers and dancers who performed a small concert in the forest. The festival continued with a feast with dishes, brought by local people, and omelette, prepared right before that from 200 eggs. All people enjoyed some dances before the summer storm started and put the holiday to an end.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Outdoor activities!

Last week I spent most of the time outdoors! After the weekend in Vaišnoriškės with kayaking on Sunday (greetings to my kayak partner Vytas!), we had some rest in the office on Monday. On Tuesday we went again to Ginučiai Watermill to help for the opening, but this time I went by bike to start checking out routes in the park!
On my way to the Ginučiai I took a longer route on an asphalt road, through Trainiškis, where I could visit its old oak. On the way, I saw a fox passing the way quite close, and I passed by a pond so full of frogs that I had to stop for a while to listen to their concert!
This road was very comfortable and pleasant, passing relaxing landscapes and not being very busy with cars. After helping planting some flowers in the watermill I went back by a different route, this time going by Ladakalnis Hill. Right before it I checked out the near Ginučiai fort hill, which is nice, but just not as beautiful as Ladakalnis, from which top you can see six lakes. Further, I made my way through a forest road through Salos II ethnographic village.

An Italian lady come to visit our Visitor Centre. She surely was surprised to find an Italian guy working here! She wanted to visit the park by bike, could I ask anything better for my first "guided tour"? So on Wednesday we cycled on the same route. This time I didn't miss the spring on the way between Vaišnūniai and Trainiškis and its pristine water! The weather was perfect, maybe even too warm, as I got sunburnt!
Next day Linas suggested her to workout her arms, after her legs, so we went kayaking, and I was her guide again! This time I didn't really know the routes, but I could figure out using the map. We reached lake Dringis and stopped on its eastern bank for lunch. Later we went walking to find Gaveikėnai Watermill, which wasn't far. This time the sun was even warmer, and I got sunburnt even worst, so it was time to rest in the office again on Friday!
But on Saturday I jumped on a kayak again, this time for a river cleaning action!
Together with Linas and his family, we met the owner of a kayak rental at their farmstead near Kiškiai, a beautiful place in the countryside. I really liked that place expecially for their animals: they have a dog, a horse, a cow, a nest on a pole with a couple of storks and even a couple of peacocks around, which I saw for the first time so close... The male even unfolded its tail for me when I got closer! Together with him, her daughter and three guys working there we went by car carrying the kayaks to the starting point, and had a trip along river's stream, while collecting from its banks all garbage thrown away by stupid people.

It was a bit tiring, expecially because of the not so nice weather, but I hadn't had enough yet: next day, on Sunday, it was time for me to have my first free roam around the park by bike!
This time I had no specific destinations and no time restraints, so I could reach almost every place of interest in the park I was still missing. I checked out Šuminai and Strazdai ethnographic villages, passing through Vaišnoriškės again, then to Minčia with its watermill, Mokas stone, Taurapilis Fort Hill and then back south passing by Stripeikiai and its Beekeeping Museum on the way to Puziniškis Fort Hill and village.

On the way back I had another detour to check an old pine tree, which was on a track definitely not meant for bikes. In fact, aside from almost falling many times, I lost the pathway on the way back and had to go through some forest and its high vegetation carrying my bike to find the main road again. After a beautiful warm day it was getting cloudy and about to rain, so I rushed home through Meironys and its path of wooden sculptures, another bad idea due to the too much mud still to cross it by bike, but again I managed somehow, and got home before it started pouring. My cyclometer counted 90 km in total but I wasn't that much tired... Probably because I'm still used to all the slopes I have back in Amalfi Coast, so I can cycle much longer on Lithuanian's flat surface, notwithstanding all forest and gravel roads!

Monday, May 6, 2013


Daniele and I spent last weekend in Vaišnoriškės, an old etnographic village in Aukštaitija National Park. We were invited by the Director of the Botanical garden in Kaunas through Manuel from Spain, who is a volunteer there, to join them in an expedition, organised for the visitting of Birutė Galdikas - a famous conservationist, whose studies are in the field of orangutan preservation. 

On Saturday we went in the deep forest and walked into a strictly preserved area which you can not enter without employees of the park - we were lead by our colleague Tautgirdas, who showed us very old trees and then took us to a swamp for birdwatching. This swamp was erased from the face of the earth during Soviet times and was turned into grazing ground for cattle. Luckily, nowadays it is slowly recovering and birds are coming back nesting there.

After that we went to a restaurant in Ignalina which is famous for preparing a traditional cake, šakotis, and everybody took part in its preparation. Once it was ready everybody enjoyed it and I can tell it was very very tasty.

After having dinner we went back to the village and made a campfire and spent the whole evening around it listening to the interesting stories of all fascinating people that we met there.

On the next day everybody went canoeing in Būka river and Baluošas lake. I was partner with Manuel and we were so good that we almost did not miss a single tree on our way. We even opened the swimming season by overturning our canoe in the river. It was quite refreshing... 

The bad thing about having а great time is that it comes to an end very quickly. We want to thank to Manuel, his director, Vida, and his mentor, Giedrė, for the wonderful weekend they gave us and the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. Labai ačiū!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Great first month

One month has passed since I landed in snowy Lithuania and fortunately it is Spring already.  It was not an easy month especially as this is my first time going abroad for such a long time and being away from my family and friends.

Sometimes I felt kind of lonely but thanks to my Lithuanian teacher, Astra, whose family I live with, I felt like home since the very beginning  – she welcomed me with a delicious Easter lunch and hot tea and takes care of me when I am sick or sth (just like my mother).  Ačiū, Astra!

So, soon after I arrived Daniele and I went to Kulautuva for our on-arrival training, where  I had great time, meeting and becoming friends with the other volunteers and of course, I learnt a lot of important and valuable things about the project.

After coming back I finally went to the park and met its radiant employees. Everybody was so nice even though not many of them spoke English. But this is where our mentor, Linas, comes – he always helps with anything we need – from translation to repairing a former volunteer’s bike so I can use it. Labai ačiū, Linas!   
The first two weeks it was snowing every single day and I thought this winter would never come to an end – with my luck I came to Lithuania when it experiences one of its longest winters... And there was not much to do those days because it was quite cold and I am really much more a summer type of a person. But soon spring decided it was enough “suffering” and started pushing its way through the snow. Daniele and I went out for a couple of walks and enjoyed the warmer temperatures. We "found" (there are like hundreds of lakes around here) a lake with ducks and swans nearby home and we used to spent quite a long time there feeding the birds.

One sunny day we had a great surprise at work – Edouard, the first year volunteer from France, came to visit us. He is really amazing – he has been in Australia and has also spent two years in New Zealand  and many many other interesting things. Anyway, the important thing is that thanks to him we went to the sauna that night, so labai labai ačiū, Edouard! It was great – sauna, hot tube under the stars, drinking brandy, eating agurkas and svogunas, and listening to the wind in the trees. We were even treated with this very special thing called vanta – while being in the sauna somebody “beats” you (in a very gentle way, of course) with a bunch of twigs and herbs and sprinkles hot and then cold water on your skin. I really enjoyed it but I cannot say the same for Daniele according to the screams I heard from inside while he was getting his treatment

But enough with the sauna!.. As the weather continued being warm and nice Daniele and I decided to visit our friends Marion from France and Olesia from Russia who are volunteers in Gražutės Regional Park. They live in a small village called Salakas which being read backwards means felcon in Lithuanian and this species of bird is the symbol of their park. Quite interesting, ha? We had a lot of fun taking part in their spring celebration with multicultural songs and dances, designing our own slippers and visiting the local baras. 

But this first month was not only fun - I had to get used to a different culture, speaking all the time in a foreign language and start learning Lithuanian. Speaking of the Lithuanian language I would like to tell you guys how incredibly difficult it is – there are cases, conjugations and stuff, but we have the best teacher so I have no doubt that we will learn it (one day). And after seeing Edouard speaking with Astra and the employees of the park so well, my motivation definitely raised – my stay will not be of full value if I don’t learn how to communicate with these great people. 

We did some work as well - we helped at the Beekeeping museum and the Watermill in Ginučiai, preparing them for their opening soon, and we started refreshing the marks on the trees on the Botanical trail (in my opinion they looked much better before our intervention). 

And the last weekend Daniele and I went to Vilnius and Neries Regional Park to take part in a bicycle tour. It was a real challenge for me because we rode for 23 km in the forest on a muddy road and the weather was nasty – the sky was all grey, it was quite cold and about to start raining at every moment . But on the other hand the forest was so peaceful and I really enjoyed it though I can barely walk now... Before that I helped the other volunteers in the park, Lenka from Slovakia and Adrian from Spain, plant oaks. We had to make a wish to the new trees but as I couldn’t think of anything I wrote the text of a very beautiful Bulgarian song, dedicated to the forest. 

So this is more or less my experience so far. As spring is already here I am facing a lot of new things that lie ahead – many new places to visit and people to meet, different celebrations to take part in and, of course, a lot of learning and work. I can’t wait!