...and Happiness is just a Flaming Moe's away

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April 24th 2008
Published: April 24th 2008
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Those were some interesting days, I tell you. First of all, I was exploring Vilnius a bit further, especially its cafes, since it was raining for the next two or three days. Apart from that, I visited the Museum of Genocide Victims, also known as the KGB museum. It deals mostly with the KGB in Lithuania, but also pays tribute to the armed resistance against Soviet occupation from 1945-1953. The highlight of the museum was the former KGB prison in the cellar (where else?). A truly chilling place, all the cells were perfectly preserved, including the welcome cell, which was so small that prisoners could only stand inside, and which was used to break the will of the newly arrived, the water cell, where inmates had to stand for hours in freezingly cold water, and the padded cell, for the ones who went mad. They also exhibited the courtyard, where prisoners were allowed to walk for up to 15 minutes a day, in a minuscule section within walls, with their hands behind their back, and with downcast heads. The execution chamber was also preserved, and under the plexiglass below your feet were shown some of the belongings of the murdered. A pretty sobering experience.

My host Lina, a fellow translator of English and Russian, was quite busy with work, which meant she stayed up late to brutalize the keyboard of her computer. I'm not saying this lightly, I've never seen somebody hack away like that on the poor keys, you could think that she was chopping wood. Besides, she had some rather strange attitudes, partly conservative, the other part just downright weird. Plus, she's a single mom, and her son Audrius, already aged 8, took some time to lose his shy towards me. Then he was trying to get attention from everybody all the time by behaving like...an 8-year-old. After we went for a walk to a nearby nature reserve, I was forced to participate in playing a Lithuanian version of monopoly, which was slightly different to the original, and way more locust-capitalist. I didn't understand it, but won, just by buying everything I could.

Overall, Vilnius was a great experience, after the hardships of other former Soviet countries. Oh, but I got fines again on a bus. This time I had a ticket, but I didn't stamp it, since the bus was too crowded, and I couldn't reach the ticket canceller. And of course, two stops before the railway station (I was on my way to take the train to Kaunas), some nice blokes got on to control the tickets, and got me off the bus for not understanding Lithuanian. I was able to talk them down to 10 Litas, about 3 Euros, but still, I was pissed off.

Having arrived in Kaunas, I waited for my new host Agne in vain. After half an hour, I hitched a mobile phone to call her, and she said she was at the train station, where I thought I was as well. As it turned out, the main train station was being renovated, and I was at a different one. So after an hour or so, she finally came to fetch me. And of course, she lived in an appartment block. At least on the inside it was quite appealing. She also had cat, who was a mixture of shy and territorial, and her growling began to strain my nerves soon afterwards.

After resting a bit, we went to town to have a look around. I couldn't see anything special, and the inner city was frighteningly empty. As it turned out, a new shopping centre outside of the inner city had opened only recently, and all the people were drawn to it like flies to shit.
I was very grateful to go to a nice faux-Italian restaurant, seeing that they served a tremendously good pasta, and good salads as well. Italian places are so widespread in Lithuania, it's almost like Pizza is their national dish. It's always a good bet to go to one of those places for me, and rather hard to find something vegetarian in the traditional Lithuanian cuisine.

Agne had organized a meeting for people who like to stay at places for free when traveling, and that's where we went after dinner. It was in a pleasantly grubby pub in the old town, almost reminding me of certain establishments back in Germany. So after half an hour or so, about 20 people had gathered, mostly Lithuanians, but also four Italians (who reputedly go to Lithuania to pick up chicks) and a German girl, the last of which being so unpleasant, it wasn't funny anymore. As expected, the meeting turned out to be all about asking and answering the same sickening questions all over again. You know, what, where, when, etc. The only thing which caused a bit of excitement, albeit a negative one, was a drunk guy who was obviously a Nazi, trying to join our group, but just sitting there, randomly touching some of the girls, to which they surprisingly didn't react by punching him in the face, just by telling him off. After a while I was able to convince my host to get the hell out of there.

We met up with one of the more likable girls the next day to visit the Ninth Fort, which was used as a prison and execution site during WWII and beyond. It turned out to be quite good, had some very interesting exhibitions, but somehow it didn't really get to me, maybe I've become kind of indifferent after visiting all those other sites of Genocide and mass murder. Or maybe I'm just old, who knows.

The most interesting part of my Lithuanian trip was to start the following day, when I took a bus to Klaipeda, a ferry to Smiltyne, and another bus to Nida, where the beauty of the Curonian Spit was unveiling itself for me. As I hadn't found a host there, I had to stay in a guesthouse for two nights, but it was damn sure worth it! Finally a bit of nature, after weeks of grey, polluted cities, finally some fresh air, and finally a bit of exercise, i.e. renting a bike on the second day to ride 60km around the Spit. The mixture of pine forests, dunes and beaches, and the sea of course, was simply perfect. Those were the first days that felt more like a holiday, and less like traveling, which was good. In Nida, there was a Thomas Mann-museum in his former summer home, a beautifully architectured wooden house in bright blue and red. It was kind of hard to imagine that all that used to be German not that long ago. But I reckon we fucked up pretty badly. Correction, I know we did.

Yesterday I got a ride from the guesthouse owner back to Klaipeda, the former Memel, and had a couple of hours to stroll around and see what's left of its German past. Answer: not a lot, but enough to keep it interesting. You could see Prussian architecture in some places, houses, and churches, and it was fun discovering all that.

The bus ride to Liepaja was not too exciting, but the town is definitely. My host Ance took me to a part of town, which used to be a Soviet military area, a vast territory with some appartment blocks, an Orthodox church as stylistic inconsistency amidst all the concrete, and the Baltic sea just behind it! We were driving around, having some fun conversations like "Do you see that old bus there?" "Yeah..." "That's a sauna.", and went to the beach afterwards, trying to find a lucky stone with a hole in it.
Back at home, I got to taste the famous Riga black balsam, which is a vile herbal liquor, but tastes not entirely unpleasant with blackcurrant juice. Another traditional cultural element of Latvia is birch juice, which is quite refreshing. Apparently you have to drink 5-10 litres every spring to detox your body. I wonder if they export it...

Another part of my Latvian adventure is the fact that I will fly to Riga tonight. My host asked me how I wanna go to Riga, and I said by bus, to which she replied, why not fly, it might be cheaper, and it's faster. So indeed, I got a flight for about 15 Euros to Riga, it will take me 30 minutes instead of three hours, and everything will be bliss and laughter. I'm really looking forward to going to Riga, it's supposed to be a really beautiful city, with lots to do, speak of culture and cafes (hurray!). Once again, a whole new country, just waiting to be explored.

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