You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2009.

WordPress provides daily statistics on the number of views of my blog.  The stats are down at the bottom of the page when I log on and I don’t usually scroll down to look at them.  I have a fairly regular group of readers with daily views ranging from 15-30.  The post on the riots in Vilnius in January generated the most hits — a whopping 87.  I happened to scroll down today to take a look at the stats and was surprised to see two HUGE spikes in hits on my Lithuania page — 560 views on April 20 and 660 views on April 28!  I have no idea what could be generating this number of hits on my web site.  I assume that I am being spammed in some way.  While it would be a great ego boost, I am quite confident that 660 people did not read my blog on Tuesday.

WordPress also provides information on the searches that led people to my blog.  Some are just what one would expect: “amanda lithuania blog” and “vilnius riots.”  Others are rather interesting.  “Lithuania stream movie” appeared on the list — I don’t know if someone was looking for a film about streams in Lithuania or, like me, is trying to stream movies to a computer in Lithuania. Another interesting search — “toilet paper restricted in Lithuania.”  My favorite is “weather forecast seattle.”  I’m guessing that person didn’t expect to find a blog about living in Lithuania!  Lately the most common search has been for “medieval map of Europe.”

I don’t know specifically who views my blog unless someone lets me know they are reading it.  Thanks to all of you who have left comments or mentioned in emails that you are enjoying the blog!  Last Sunday I got to meet an American couple who found my blog and have posted several comments.  They are currently in Vilnius.  It was fun to meet my reading public — and an encouragement to keep posting.

While I mostly use trolleybuses to get around Vilnius, sometimes they aren’t the most convenient mode of transportation.  I don’t like to ride the trolleybus home alone if I am out late at night for an event.  Every once in a while, I’m running late and need to get somewhere quickly.  And there are places that I can’t get to by bus without a couple of transfers.  Fortunately, Vilnius is a taxi town.  There are two types of taxis in the city — route taxis and regular taxis.

Route taxis are private vans that run along routes in the same way that public transportation does.  The routes primarily run out to the suburbs.  To catch a route taxi, you just flag it down. Typically people get on and off at regular bus stops; however, they do seem to stop anywhere along their route.  In the past, route taxi fare was about twice the cost of a bus ticket.  Now that bus fare has gone up, the route taxis seem more affordable.  Bus tickets are 2 Ltl (~75 cents) and most route taxis are 3 Ltl (~$1.25).  I’ve taken a route taxi to the big mall on the outskirts of town (because there isn’t a direct bus route from my house) and to the bus station (when I missed the trolley and was running late).  I haven’t yet figured out how to get details about the routes and maybe even a time schedule for these vans.  It’s mostly just luck that one happens to come by when I want one.

Vilnius has a plethora of taxi companies and taxis can be an easy and inexpensive way to get around town.  They can also be a big rip-off, so you have to be careful.  The general rule — don’t use a taxi from a taxi stand.  These taxis typically cost twice as much as other companies.  Instead Vilnius residents call for taxis.  Everyone I know, including me, has the phone numbers of 3-4 less expensive taxi companies programmed into their cell phones.  I rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes for a taxi after I’ve called to order one.  I can usually get where I am going for 10 Ltl (~$4).  Some of the cheap taxis are a bit rickety, but they get me where I am going.  They also makes it easy to live in Vilnius without a car and still get where I need to go.

A couple of months ago, I wrote that I was developing two sets of vocabulary in Lithuanian — one for daily life and one for researching in the KGB archives.  However, sometimes those two sets overlap.  In recent weeks, I’ve been reading interrogation statements about the events in Kaunas on the day of Kalanta’s funeral.  In their descriptions, most people describe an “enormous” group of young people on the streets, shouting and chanting.  They almost all use the word triukšmas (tryuk-shmas) – clamor or racket.  I originally filed this into my “archives vocabulary,” but then I started encountering the same word in daily life.  First, the archivist whom I work with used the same word in a conversation about my apartment.  She asked if the triukšmas from the traffic bothered me since my apartment faces a large street.   I heard the word a few days later when I was at Vilnius University waiting for the Physics Dragon to arrive.  I went into the Visitors’ Services office and asked the woman whom I know there when the dragon would arrive.  She said “soon” and added “then there will be a great triukšmas!”

While my Lithuanian language continues to improve, I am constantly faced with the fact that I just don’t know the words that I need in order to say what I want to say.  When I think of the thousands of words I know in English and the few hundred words I know in Lithuanian, I sometimes get discouraged.  I am constantly looking up words, then forgetting them and looking them up again…and again.  It really takes a lot of repetition for words to stick in my brain.  But now, after encountering triukšmas over and over again in different contexts over the span of two weeks, I have a new word in my vocabulary.  One word down, thousands and thousands to go!

Today I was back at work in the archives after two weeks playing tourist with my mom.  Although the weather has warmed up outside, the reading room is still chilly and I had to bundle up.  I am working through the last set of files that I need to read in the KGB archives.  I was hoping to complete them this week.  However, Thursday is the last day of the month so the archives will be closed for its monthly “sanitary day” and Friday is a holiday.  Based on what I was able to get done today, I don’t think I can finish the last two files in two days, so I expect to spend one more week after this in the KGB archives.  I’ve found a lot of interesting materials there, but I am looking forward to moving on to the next source — newspapers at the National Library.

On Friday evening and Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of enthusiastic young people who participated in the Lithuanian Youth Leadership program in 2007 and 2008.  The program, run by Christina Brunig of Across Cultures, gives high school students the opportunity to learn leadership skills and participate in volunteerism here in Lithuania.  They also spend two weeks in Seattle in the fall visiting various companies, schools and the University of Washington, plus sightseeing.

I attended a dinner on Friday evening for past participants and local sponsors of the program.  In addition to hearing several of the young people share their experiences in the program, we had a very interesting discussion at our table about socially-responsible leadership.  On Saturday morning, I attended the first session of a workshop for students interested in applying for the 2009 program.  After hearing from more of the students about their experiences, we had a discussion about stereotypes and how they affect the way we relate to other people.  It was particularly interesting to hear what they listed as stereotypes about Americans!

Okay, I know that you really want to know…  “Americans are fat and only eat junk food.” “All Americans are business people and work in offices of big companies.”  “There is equality for men and woman in the workplace.” “Americans like to eat turkey on their holidays.” “Americans use a lot of slang.”  “America is always warm.”  (They said that the last stereotype is a result of most movies being filmed in California so they don’t get to see other parts of America.)  Makes you think, doesn’t it!

Here are a few quotes from the students about their experience visiting the United States and participating in the program.   It was very inspiring to hear their stories and to know that they are the future leaders of Lithuania!

Lithuanian Youth Leaders program changed my life — taught us how to be leaders, how to communicate with people .  It is very important for me.  I have to show a good example how they should behave to be leaders.  I think that is the way of making a difference in Lithuania.  We have to show other people that it is possible to behave differently.

I learned about US culture, about the power of words, about different businesses and how they are working and being managed.  How differences are good for the world and they should be appreciated.  That I should never give up.  I could mention a lot more things that I learned on this trip but the main thing is how to be a leader.

In this program I experienced new feelings to change a woman’s situation in society.  I realized the importance of building good community, to be creative in fundraising, to be only with positive minds, to be proud of our country, and to believe in my power and leadership.  I improved my English and personal skills a lot too.  Lithuanian Youth Leaders encouraged me to make a difference in Lithuania!

I didn’t take a lot of photos on this trip to Riga.  Partly because I took so many photos two years ago and partly because it was cold and I didn’t want to take my gloves off.  Here are a few scenes that caught my attention on our trip earlier this week.  If you’d like to see more of Riga, you can see photos from my 2007 trip.

Items stored in the cloister walk at St. Peter's Church.

Items stored in the cloister walk at St. Peter's Church.

Even the construction draping in Riga maintains the Art Nouveau theme

Even the construction draping in Riga maintains the Art Nouveau theme

The front door to the Architects' Association office.

The front door to the Architects' Association office.

Mom in Old Town

Mom in Old Town

My mom and I had a great four days in Riga, Latvia earlier this week.  We saw storks in a field and on a nest soon after crossing the border into Latvia.  It was the first time I’d seen storks in the wild.  Unfortunately the bus didn’t allow for photo stops.   It’s considered good luck if a stork pair nests by your home so I decided that seeing storks on our arrival was a sign of good luck for our trip.

I definitely broke the “Riga hotel curse” of my previous two trips.  In 1986, I spent 8 days without hot water in the foreigners’ hotel in Riga.  The Soviet system included the practice of turning off hot water in the summer in order to “clean the pipes.”  In 2007, I stayed at a mid-price hotel that ended up being in a bad part of town, where men tried to follow me to my room. Plus the room had an odd smell, the origin of which I could never determine.  Thanks to the economic crisis, I was able to get a double room with breakfast in a nice hotel located in Old Town for less than I paid for the horrible hotel two years ago.

The weather was chilly and windy but we had sunshine and blue skies everyday so we didn’t mind the cold.  Here are some of the highlights from our trip.

Art Nouveau Architecture: Almost 40% of the buildings in Riga were built in the Art Nouveau style and many have now been renovated.  We spent Monday morning just walking the streets and looking at the beautiful buildings.  If you want to see more, you can look at photos of Riga’s architecture from my 2007 trip.

An example of Art Nouveau architecture

An example of Art Nouveau architecture

Piragi/Pirogi: No trip to Riga would be complete without eating these traditional pastries — both the Latvian version and the Russian version.  We found two great bakeries — one Latvian and one Russian — and ate them for lunch on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday!  The Latvian piragi are typically stuffed with bacon, although we also had some stuffed with cabbage.  At the Russian bakery, we ate three types of pirogi — sausage, cheese and potato.  Yummy!

Decorative Arts Museum: This museum is one of my favorite museums to visit anywhere.  In 2007, there was an excellent temporary exhibit of contemporary Latvian textile art.  This time, we saw an exhibit of amazing works by Latvian wood sculptor Janis Polaks.  Upstairs, the permanent exhibit features pieces in glass, wood, leather, and textiles from the early 20th century to contemporary artists.

Personal Connection: My mother had a very close friend, Rode, whom she first met when they worked together in the late 1970s.  They remained close until Rode’s death three years ago.  Rode left Latvia after World War II, was in a displaced persons camp in Germany and eventually immigrated to the U.S.  Although we don’t know the name of the town that Rode came from, this trip was a chance for my mom to visit her dear friend’s home country.

Mom in front of the Freedom Monument in Riga

Mom in front of the Freedom Monument in Riga

We arrived in Vilnius from Riga on Wednesday evening about 6 pm.  At 9 pm, my neighbor and I took my mom to the Sky Bar on the 21st floor of the Hotel Lietuva.  Now, a hotel bar with pulsing dance music might not be the first place you’d think to take your mom, but the Sky Bar has great views of the city at night.  And she enjoyed going out for drinks with the girls.

Today was mom’s last day and, since she was lucky enough to have clear, sunny skies on her final day here, we went to the third place to see great views of the city (after the tv tower and the Sky Bar) — Gediminas Castle.  Located on a hill next to Old Town, the original castle was built in the 13th century.  Legend says that Grand Duke Gedminas, who also built the castle at Trakai, was hunting in the area and killed a stag on the hill.  He made camp close by and, during the night, dreamt of an iron wolf standing on the top of the hill and howling.  The next day, the pagan priest Lizdeika told him the dream meant that Gediminas would found a great city in this place.  The tower and a section of wall are all that remain of the castle today.

After walking up the cobblestone path to the top of the hill and climbing the 78 steps to the top of the tower, we were treated to great views of Vilnius and its environs.  We then headed back down and into Old Town, where we treated ourselves to gelato eaten outside in the sun.  Now all that is left of mom’s visit is the packing and the tearful goodbyes.

Walking up the cobblestone path

Walking up the cobblestone path

Gediminas Castle

Gediminas Castle

Looking towards my neighborhood -- I live about 1/2 mile past the red-domed church in the top right corner

Looking towards my neighborhood -- I live about 1/2 mile past the red-domed church, top right corner

Modern building across the river from Old Town -- the Hotel Lietuva is the white building on the far left (the big windows are the Sky Bar)

Modern buildings across the river from Old Town -- the Hotel Lietuva is the white building on the far left (the big windows are the Sky Bar)

Walking along the lake

Walking along the lake

Looking into the garden

Looking into the garden

Doorway to spring?

Doorway to spring?

trakai-courtyard

trakai-archway

trakai-tour