Folk in Vilnius. And beyond.
Crossing the border to Lithuania I am struck, again, by the no-passports control, border facilities were dismantled nearly completely. European Union and Schengen make it possible, travel without borders is becoming a reality on the old continent. We reach Vilnius (wiki), and surprise an international folklore festival, Skamba skamba kankli, is up this whole weekend. Some is genially innovative, some purely traditional, a good introduction to customs and costumes of the region, but I am primarily busy not to lose my boys. This is the 28th of May, some 3 weeks since I embarked on the journey with them. They’re 3 years and 4 months old; they still show no respect for traffic, no sense of getting lost, not afraid to just run off alone! The ale here is amazingly nice, traditional and of grand variety (look at alaous namai), darks and blonds with unpronounceable names, for just 1 Euro and a half, so reasonable. The boys get water ice on a stick, half goes to the pigeons, to the Gods I would have said in Greece not long ago. I stick out till late with the twins running around in front of the stage.
I come back for two more afternoons and evenings but the boys get used quickly to what they known, desire ever more action, run greater circles, my great time from the first evening, a dark beer in hand, watch the music with an eye, the boys with the other, is not being repeated.
Was it Sunday? We have gotten to it! While telling off David for whatever he has done Daniel goes off, slowly disappears; just disperses in the crowd. After 15 minutes I ask the people on stage to ask the audience to help me find him. Daniel is being handed over immediately, while I still stand there, on stage his brother in hand, prepare to say what I want to say; now is the time to leave, as everybody knows us! Actually telling from his wet sweater I know that he has been far, at the fountain, and back.
Vilnius, when not on the festival is nice too, weather is really good, we however do just so much. So it is.
Monday morning we wake to thunder, as announced the rains have arrived. I still cannot find gumboots for the boys, some Chinese cheaply made but actually not so cheap boots for colder weather must do for now. I am certain we might need them. Then we leave, to Kaunas. On the way out I buy some fuses to get the radio working, an ad for a tic vaccination makes me think; so how safe is it to travel, walk the woods here? Somehow I know better to deal with malaria and Africa...
Kaunas (wiki) is nice, the St. Michael the Archangel's Church, late 19c, distinct style and huge, a long pedestrian street, Laisvės alėja, free wifi is advertise, the boys still don’t give hands freely, we find a playground, some bratty youngsters play with water. Eventually my boys get wet, they don’t want to leave, I need to chain one on my back then the other. So it is.
I make use of the free wifi, Christina writes, - but really - I like my status quo; I am free, open, independent and available; stealing a funny quote from somebody somewhere.
Our road goes west, follows a river, villages have many old wooden houses, storks fly and fascinate the boys and me. The next morning we are back at the coast, what is it called here, the Baltic Sea? East Sea to Germans! In Ventes there is a light house, a concrete pier and lots of small dead fish, the boys pick it up and throw it in the water, after the job done Daniel contently puts his fingers back in his mouth.
In the port town of Klaipėda the apartment blocks greet, Palanga a resort like village is more what we look for, a guy walks up offers camping, a shower, I pay him also to wash all our clothes. This is a shower after 12 days since leaving Warsaw; I am proud of how the boys cope, they’re after their father. We walk round town, the boys rent pedal go-cars, a half an hour is enough; they are completely wasted and me running after them helping and showing them how to steer. This is 1st of June, 55° north, sun sets at 22h and rises at 5h, also the mosquitoes started biting.
Latvia, the coasts, mosquitoes and Riga.
Enter Latvia we finally hit the most beautiful empty beach behind dunes, weather is a surprise, sunny despite rainy forecast, chilly northern winds. The boys find some bugs that crawl up and down their stick, later take their shoes off. A bed of hot pebbles invites to lie down and I wonder why I didn’t bring my book, the Greek Myths have been lying untouched for nearly a month; since Greece.
The same beach some 200km further north, at Ventspils, is vast and white, the sun still so high at 9 p.m. is coming down so slowly, sets 10:23 p.m., rises 4.43 a.m., we are 57° north, the spread has moved in by almost ¾ of an hour, we moved north by 2 degrees but also sunset moves back by 2 minutes a day, or so. This evening I bring my book but the boys run wild, the beach is vast indeed and the swings are great, later they test the waters till eventually one of them goes in. Time to go “home”, I wash them outside the van amidst chilly winds, a lot of cold water for a lot of sand! Then I cook dinner while they do their acrobatics; is hard to tell them that it’s time for bed when sun’s still out shining. So they will go to bed later every day? But they get up later too; gives me more time to write and read during a quiet coffee in the mornings; I bought some Lavazza for the espresso machine. Life is what you make of it.
We spend two days in Ventspils, it has this enormous public well designed playground for children, I bring my book, we spend a great many hours here and I manage to finish reading the Odyssey. Eventually we drive out to Cape Kolka, picturesque is the sea but to get there we cross the pined dunes and clouds of huge man eating mosquitoes make us run back to the van. The winds are still icy northern, we descend on Riga.
In Riga (wiki) we try the pizza again, is bad and it gives David an immediate diarrhoea, I too feel strange movements in my bowels. Riga is cold and windy, icy at nights, but nice, the old town UNESCO protected for its Jugendtstil architecture, a couple of bands play in the out-door cafes on the main square near the cathedral. Beer is nice, dark for 3 Euros, I scribbled the name of the beer down on some paper, Piebalga, I sit the boys on a bar stool, they get a Fanta, but really only a fool can think they will last a long time like this. It buys me a little time, for myself and to look round. Despite the cold here most girls run around half naked probably or especially true for the Friday and Saturday night sessions. Many wear pink hot pants, pink, the colour of denial, - and blond coloured hair, I have read of the blonds’ parade that took place a week ago and wonder how could I have missed that one?
Any relaxedness on my side is short lived; my boys have just taken to the great wide open again. They still run away. But the day will come they won’t anymore. To their credit I have to say I take them for an hour to the occupation museum which gives a brief about Latvia’s 50 Soviet years. And such activity trains my kids.
But where did the 200 photos go? Shit happens! But this one has never happened to me.
Estonia is nordic.
Two days Riga and out north into Estonia, the haze is back, the beaches are gone. On a few occasions we break through to the sea, away from the main road, is hard, sometimes on dirt roads and I don’t want to get stranded where nobody else goes. But the view on nature, a rough coastline is rewarding and we take many mosquito bites. We spend night in Virtsu. Next days is clearer, on the way to Tallinn we pass Haapsalu Castle (wiki), later Padise Abbey or Monastery (wiki), both ruins are witnesses of early Christianising struggles in the area. But where are my photos?
We get to Tallinn (wiki) on the Gulf of Finland on the 7th of June and I am now serious about getting a Russian visa but we won’t get it before the 10th. Tallinn is so nice and so spoilt at once. It is amazingly crowded, some festival is on; these narrow streets of this Middle Age old town are pretty jammed by old tourist folk.
Vivo Olu, still hard to pronounce, is the name of my dark beer, nice but it’s lost something, at 5 Euros it tastes almost synthetic, - I mean is much even on the town hall square. The boys have their Fanta; that is our agreement. The going for drinks gets better. Training is what it takes.
In Riga, that was also on the main square, dome square, my dark came for just 3 Euros. All the way back in Vilnius I was completely taken by the numerous dark ales, with brand names too hard to remember and all for just a Euro and a half on the Folk festival, it seemed the sun then came for free with them too, so delicious natural were those Lithuanian beers. Hmm what does that tell us? Prices go up while quality goes down. The further north I go the severer that would get, but so-far I anticipate nothing like that. I am in a way enough pissed off. And the beauty of old Tallinn is trampled over by the tourist masses and a strange festival and we have to wait 3 days.
So this is what they say, Lithuania is the most Polish and Russian, Latvia is more Russian and Estonia is the most Nordic of the Baltics. They all share a common history over periods of time, recent and before but they all are very different from each other in languages, customs and heritage (Businessweek). And when you ask me, beers and their prices tell the full story.
10th of June 2010 it is, we are still in Tallinn, 3.30 p.m. I wake the poor boys, after an exhausting morning, we bought jeans, finally found gumboots, undies and T-shirts; washing is not easy here; I cannot find water, then onto the beach; is hot, then I cooked, they ate, then slept; normally I would have them sleep as long as they want, but we need to get our Visas at 4. It is such a hot day today. Yes Tallinn is nice, kinda, I received two parking tickets, eating and drinking is expensive like Europe, well yes this is Europe, but it was Eastern Europe and the Eastern feel is gone. Also Tallinn is crowded, narrow, overrated, overpriced; am I repeating myself? This is a rant! Tallinn is provincial, the whole of the Baltics is obviously provincial, but some are cool, some aren’t. This stupid festival here has been going on all around Tallinn as long as we have been here, every square in town has a stage and some inferior children, masquerade, low quality performances try to lure, for free, the pensioners watch all day, it doesn’t even fascinate my children, but is most likely for children.
I did finally get some water this morning, just one bucket at a gas station, but the water was a yellowish piss, peaty? I don’t want to make my coffee with it or wash my teeth. Something is not right here. In Africa getting water would be easy, crossed my mind, here the woods are full of mosquitoes, a monster breed, and one can’t buy a mosquito net. In Africa you get it for nothing at every corner. I will run out of money and go back to Africa, this feels right. Such are my thoughts when alone with nobody to speak to, just like when the boys sleep.
We get the Visas and leave Tallinn, this ups the spirit, we drive into some adventure, out there, east, towards Russia and then North. Huuuh!