Monday, July 29, 2013

Mid-term evaluation

Even though most of us visit each other or meet in Vilnius, all volunteers were looking forward to getting together again at the mid-term evaluation. This time it was not in the middle of the forest, but in a luxurious hotel with...AQUA PARK and SPA!!! Which I can say motivated us to work hard during the different sessions because we knew that at the end we will land in the jacuzzi!

After we arrived in Trakai and found our hotel we had enough time to unpack and have lunch. After that we started with presenting ourselves as we had a new girl from Sweden who works in a social project in a private orphanage. Then we had time to present the taste of our EVS - everybody brought food and drinks and we had a great time tasting different cherry wines from Žagarė regional park. We also enjoyed Lenka's home produces vegetables, a Russian salad prepared by Spanish people and two cakes bought from Adrian and the other volunteers from the shop in Trakai. We also played a lot of logic games and I can say that we are not the brightest young people but we are so much fun! :)

The second day was very intense as we had a lot of things to talk about. Until lunch we had to discuss the dilemmas and questions from the project but this was not a very useful task as all solutions sent us back to the problems. Anyway after that we had some activities outside which cheered us up!

After that we had a treatment for body and soul - we went all together at the aqua park and enjoyed the jacuzzi, the swimming pool with its slides (there were some accidents of course, but don't worry - we have AXA!) and all kinds of sauna!

The third day of our training we spent in Vilnius. Until lunch we were geocaching around the capital - this is an outdoor recreational activity, in which the participants use a GPS and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world. We divided into teams and started. During the implementation of this task we got to see the President of Lithuania! I really enjoyed this activity because it gave me the opportunity to visit places in Vilnius I have never seen and I can say the game is quite catchy - when you are so close to your cache and you can't see it it just drives you crazy and you can spend hours until you find it. And Vilnius is just lovely - definitely much better than Tallinn! We found 4 caches out of 4! Daniele's team found 7 or 8 chaches but they continued even after lunch while we went to a very nice french cafe and enjoyed some drinks and chess games!

On Saturday morning we started with some brainstorming and we came up with a lot of great ideas to carry out until the end of our projects. For example Daniele and I and the swedish girl who works in an orphanage decided to organize a visit in our park for the children in her project - to show them around the park and create some games and workshops for them!

After lunch we made a conference and discussed different topics regarding the Lithuanian culture as Marriage, Suicide, Timing and Food. From all four only the first one was positive, but we also discussed the reasons for the others. In the evening we were quite tired but some went for a walk to Trakai Castle while others (me) enjoyed a beer and a cat cuddle in the garden of the hotel!

The last day we talked about the reintegration to our home countries as well as different opportunities and what to do after EVS. We were very pleasantly surprised when our trainers suggested us to write letters to our future selves and told us that they will make sure that we will receive these letters when we get back home! We also wrote some words to each other and put in the envelopes as a surprise.

Before going back to our projects we went to the aqua park to enjoy the jacuzzi and the sauna for the last time, and here I would like to express our gratitude to the National Agency of Lithuania for the great accommodation they provided for us during the training!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer update

It's been a while since my last post... With the good weather lots of activities came in, I just left Blagovesta write about things we've done together, and she surely did a better job that I could do, but I guess i should talk about my experience too from time to time!
After my very intense "holiday" back in Italy (with a short stop in Germany for a concert of The Legend of Zelda!), with training, studying and exams (for an EUCIP Core IT Certification and I kyu Aikido, which I both passed), I came back to my project quite tired, but relieved as I could finally drop off the books and have more free time... Free time which would have been clogged by activities by the way!

Once I was back I had just a couple of days to make some presentation about Italian craft for the children at the summer camp which we attended to in the next week, and we went to Trakai's Medieval Festival too in the weekend between.
During next week we had to go to Pakretuonė campsite to meet a group of young people attending a summer camp about geography, and we had to answer to their questions about volunteering and EVS. We enjoyed the evening and had dinner together, but we couldn't spend the night there because we were waiting for guests on the next day. So we left in the evening by bikes, and had to go home through some unknown road. Blagovesta managed to get lost somehow, but luckily after a while she found her way back, so we could go on. But in the meanwhile it got late and dark, and most of the way was through the forest on a quite bad ground. Good thing I had good lights and a GPS to help us out, so we managed to get back somehow, and once in Ignalina we were rewarded with a close encounter with a very cute hedgehog, which Blagovesta blinded with her camera's flash!

So next day it was our turn to host volunteers, for our first time. We had Silvia from Spain and Laura from Germany, both working in Kurtuvenai Regional Park, and Adrian also from Spain, volunteering in Neris Regional Park. Very unfortunately we had bad weather and couldn't bring them around the park, so we just showed them Ignalina while it was not raining yet, and enjoyed dinner together.

For two days we had visitor monitorings, which were very busy for Blagovesta and very relaxing for me, and on the other days I was very busy trying out the routes in the park to organize some bike tour around it.

After a lot of riding, now I finally got to know the park much better, I found almost all of its points of interest and I'm almost ready to present routes for some tours for beginner and expert riders. It came at a cost, though, as I had few troubles to find out places by myself. Riding in Lithuania is a real pleasure, you really feel immersed in nature, breathe pure air, smell wild strawberries scent, gaze at beautiful landscapes while enjoying some breeze which refreshes the warm air (yes, despite the latitude, it gets quite hot here too!) but, on the downsides, it's sometimes easy to get lost and find yourself in high vegetation or unknown forest roads while you're looking for something a bit out of hand. Also, grounds can be very tricky; especially after some dry weather, you can find some spots full of sand all of a sudden, quite dangerous if you're riding fast. Of course I discovered this on my skin, getting lost many times and falling twice, and now I still have some injury on my leg and some accessories of my bike to fix... Shit happens, I guess!

Last week we started marking borders of Ažvinčiai strict reserve area with no entry signs. This reserve is an old growth forest which can only be accessed with a park's guide when it's not mating season, and any kind of human activity it's forbidden. Doing this job with this hot weather is not the best, but it's a task that needs to be done as soon as possible to prevent unaware people from going inside that area while picking berries and mushrooms. Aside from the heat, bug's activity is at its top, so while working in such place they really annoy, and can get dangerous too if you're not careful! In fact, while I was painting one sign, I stepped on a log which I guess was some important place for an ant colony, and in a few seconds, while I was distracted, they started climbing on me and I had my leg fully covered of them running upwards! I had to shake them off with the hands but they were so many that some managed to get under my clothes and started biting... Quite a painful experience!

On the 5th of July it was my birthday, and we started celebrations early in the morning with a pleasant surprise cake from Blagovesta, and an "unlimited wishes" candle! Then we gathered with the park's staff in the conference room, and they had another cake for me, which we enjoyed together with a lemon sweet and Limoncello (a lemon liquor) typical from my town which I brought from Italy and was keeping for the occasion. I also got a beautiful picture book of Ignalina District as a present!
In the afternoon we reached Lenka and Giovanni in Vilnius for the Cultural Night being held on that day. Since I was complaining about the heat (it was over 35°C!) all day long, Lithuania decided to refresh us with a sudden storm, which made me soaking wet and ruined the first part of the event as it kept raining till 22. At least, when it stopped, I managed to reach a place where a Japanese Night was being held.

I got there in the middle of a martial arts exhibition, and although I missed Judo and Karate already, I was lucky enough to catch the Aikido, Iaido and Kendo ones, which I really enjoyed.

Later I met with Olesia, Marion and other short term volunteers from Gražutė Regional Park and we stayed around till late in the night before finding out that the only bus on the next day to Kernavė was at 7 in the morning... There was gonna be an Archaeologic Festival there, but Giovanni and Blagovesta decided to skip it, and Lenka and I went, after just 2 hours of sleeping, together with her mentor Carolina and her boyfriend.

Kernavė is a beautiful town in the countryside 40 km from Vilnius, and I was enchanted by the landscapes of its fort hills.

The festival was quite similar to the one in Trakai, but broader and more diverse, and I enjoyed it much more. There were stands with ancient instruments and crafts, medieval tortures and fights staging, archery competitions, horseriding and much more.

I was really tired after almost not sleeping but it was really worth it! Too bad I was just too sleepy by the end of the day and I skipped the national celebration concerts both in Vilnius and in Ignalina, heading just straight home to get some rest.

With replenished energy, on Sunday morning I decided to put an end to this week by experimenting with my first pizza! A margherita with french fries and another one with cherry tomatoes, rucola and parmesan... It was a success for a first try as Blagovesta and I, after the initial hesitation, gave it a taste and it turned out to be quite delicious... Looks like I had to come to Lithuania to learn some Italian cooking!