Golden Autumn in Kaunas

This probably doesn’t need a discription. It just looks stunning! It has been around 20 degrees the last few days so cycling around while spotting these lovely autumn colours was just a delight.

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Dutch, Deutsch, Danish?

Nienke: ‘Hey, I’m here to report a damage. One of the light bulbs broke down.’

Receptionist: ‘Where?’

Nienke: ‘In the hall of my apartment’

Receptionist: ‘Ok.. Can I note down your name please?’

Nienke: ‘Bos’

Receptionist: *surprised face* ‘Ahaa, the big boss!’

Nienke: ‘Oh well, it actually just means forest so it’s not that impressive’

Receptionist: ‘In which language?’

Nienke: ‘Dutch’

Receptionist *questionmark in his eyes*

Nienke: ‘So, not Deutsch, but Dutch‘

Receptionist: ´Aaah, you’re from Denmark!´

Nienke: *great..* ‘No, no, The Netherlands’

Receptionist: *questionmark in his eyes*

Second receptionist: *couldn’t stand it anymore* ‘HOLLAND!’

Receptionist: ‘Ahaaaa! Nice!’

Is this the honeymoon phase talking? (don’t worry mom, it’s not about marriage)

I like Lithuania! Here. I said it. This actually came as a slight surprise to me. The idea to complete my study career in Lithuania was already present in my mind for a long time. During my stay in Estonia and Latvia I’ve been talking a lot about it, with locals as well as foreigners. It hardly ever happened that someone reacted with a ‘wow, that’s a great idea, nice!’. I usually got surprised faces in return. ‘Why on earth would you want to study in Lithuania?’. In my eyes it would be a nice follow up after Estonia and Latvia, but still, the reactions of others made me hesitate about my plans. ‘Enjoy civilization before you move to Lithuania!’. Would it really be that bad?
Up till now I must admit I just love this country. Of course it’s not perfect and I often refer back to matters which are arranged in a better or let’s say different way in the Netherlands, but hey, they’re on the right track. It’s a pleasant country to live in and moreover the people are just awesome. In comparison with Estonians and Latvians the Lithuanians seem so much more open, helpful, curious, warm hearted, welcoming and friendly. They smile, make jokes, talk to you without even knowing you (in the supermarket, on the street, really!). I love this. Of course I’m generalizing now, but still, I absolutely didn’t expect this.
After a short bike ride in the sun on my USSR produced green speed devil I started to think over my happiness. Is this real? This is a piece from one of my blog posts from December 2010 after I’ve lived in Latvia for some months:
“When moving to another country you go through different phases. It starts with the honeymoon phase, when the new culture is experienced full of joy and excitement. However, soon the negotiation phase starts to play a bigger role. The differences between the home and host country become more and more visible, often with a slight negative undertone. Loneliness and homesickness play a big role during this phase. Even though there are quite some cultural differences between the Netherlands and Latvia, I almost never really disliked to be part of this new culture. With some healthy optimism and an attitude of not taking everything too serious a lot of negative feelings towards the host country can be avoided. Since I live in Latvia for quite a while now it might be easy to say this, even though I also had my start-up problems in the very beginning. I think I can say that I definitely reached the adjustment phase right now. I’m used to Latvia’s culture and I’m not annoyed anymore by typical Latvian things like grumpy faces or the enormous inefficiency in this country….”
  
In which stage am I now? I cherish so many positive feelings towards Lithuania that I almost suspect it to be a part of the honeymoon phase. Time will tell if I, after having lived in the Baltics for such a long time, started from scratch in the honeymoon phase again or if I’ve maybe reached a higher stage. I’ll come back to this topic as soon as I’ve found out 🙂 
(This was blog post number 200!)

Randomness; weddings, basketball, kitsch choir and sushi. Oh, and Lego!

And another week in Kaunas has passed by. I have to get used making a full time occupation of something which was never so much my hobby: reading. Huge academic texts about all kind of vague topics. I feel like the down to earth Northern Dutchman with the topics all floating somewhere up in the sky, far above me, out of reach. Let’s see how to get through all this. Some things just need some time in order to get used to them. 
After spending a whole day in the library during my free Friday I went out for dinner with Astrid and Sophie. So delicious. So cheap. I like it here. During the evening all kind of activities were planned around the city. We joined some other foreign students for some live music performed by a Lithuanian band. There it went wrong. The guy who sat one meter away from us suddenly turned around facing us, his body all cramped and his eyeballs rolling like crazy. An epileptic attack. He smacked on the floor and luckily some security guys kept him from hurting himself. With a fork they opened up his mouth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue. What a scary sight. The ambulance arrived in just a few minutes and we all decided to leave. The unfortunate guy seemed to be pretty much ok in the end…
Saturday I discovered some touristless side streets of Kaunas together with Astrid, Anete and Melissa. I absolutely love these discovery tours. Hidden wooden houses with sweet gardens, wild looking cats everywhere, abandoned sheds full with garbage and old glory from around 1900. Everything is to be found here, as long as you’re brave enough to leave the common path. 
Astrid and I felt the sudden urge to play with Lego so we hopped in the first toy shop we came across and bought ourselves some Danish pleasure. We have a house, three cars and a petrol station. Hours of fun guaranteed! 
In the city center we found a lot of random activities going on. There were at least 3 weddings, however, you could also play basketball, listen to a child choir in kitsch clothes singing not much more than ‘heeeeej, heeeeej’ (ear worm) or participate in a workshop making sushi. 
Saturday evening it was pancake night! Danes, Georgians,  a Czech, Belgian and Dutch one; that’s what the group consisted of. It was a great success! We ended the evening at the Pop Star bar where it happened to be 80s/90s night (otherwise Nienke the absolute not-party animal would never ever have joined). There were a lot of curious Lithuanians asking about our roots. It kind of got a bit annoying that every time I told I’m from the Netherlands the first response was ‘Whaaaaat! Cool! You can smoke weed legally!’. Eventually I just pretended to be from Sweden. That worked.

Two jackets and a backpack with snacks

A little photo report about the weekend trip to Curonian Spit and Palanga. We planned to go to the Hill of Crosses as well, but… Just read on and see what happened.

We left Kaunas heading to Curonian Spit. This is a strange but fascinating piece of land devided between Russia (Kaliningrad) and Lithuania. At a certain moment we were even able to actually see Russia!

We made a nice tour over the Hill of Witches, an adventurous path trough the forest guiding us alongside wooden sculptures depicting Lithuanian myths.

You probably didn’t expect Lithuania to look this breathtaking, right? Me neither.

Time for a group picture! In total around 100 foreign students joined so this is just a small part of them.

Whoops! Here it went wrong. The bus started to shake around and didn’t sound too healthy anymore. With high speed we tried to get one of the last ferries back to the mainland but with such a tire it seemed impossible. I managed to get into the second bus which was all fine. We made it to Klaipeda and from there we drove on to Palanga. Afterwards I heard the other bus was on the right way as well, which means it had been driving with the tire as shown on the picture. Madness!

My roommate Astrid fits perfectly within the interior of our funky hotel room. We watched some weird Russian MTV and had a tasty Lithuanian beer while discussing all the bus-crazyness of that day.

Palanga, what a nice happy place. A sunny breakfast in the park, a visit to the seaside and a soup for lunch which didn’t cost me more than 0,85 eurocent. I stay Dutch and money saving after all.

Off to the Hill of Crosses! ‘Dream on’, said the replaced tire. Only 20 minutes after our departure from Palanga the tire gave up already. There we were, in the middle of nowhere in Lithuania. The tire was removed and eventually the busdriver drove with full speed towards the next village in order to get the bus fixed again. So, yes, it was driving away while missing one tire. The trip to the Hill of Crosses was canceled and finally, half a day later, we arrived in Kaunas. All students sighed with relief when stepping out of the bus. ‘We survived!’.

Moral of the story supported by the forest girls: always be prepared. Take a backpack with you, fill it with food and drinks and eventually some study stuff so you don’t have to do that at home anymore. Ohja, and an extra jacket is also always useful.

Latest novelties from the land of Vytautas

Till now Vytautas Magnus University exceeds all my expectations. This is a wonderful, liberal university with fantastic lecturers! I have to get used to the academic texts which all seem to have no end though.
A Turkish guest lecturer who would come over to give courses for some other students here didn’t manage to get to Lithuania. The Turkish airline he would fly with suddenly got bankrupt. Oops.
During the opening of the academic year a girl from Latvia hesitantly came towards me. ‘I know you’ , she said. She had been watching the video’s I made for Riga In Your Pocket. Nice!
 In Vilnius the vending machines have legs, They can talk too!
The yellow public transport busses still drive around with slightly visible Dutch Milner cheese commercials.
The second hand shop close to my university sells a huge range of Swedish and Dutch children books.
My roommate and I discovered we have the same last name. ‘Bos’ means forest in Dutch and ‘Skov’ means forest in Danish.
Dane: “In Denmark we call this a Swedish haircut”. Swede: “Naah, let’s rather call it a Lithuanian haircut”. Indeed, maybe better, seems like it’s quite a trend here! Anyways, cool shirt hm?

Green traffic light? Three double check and then sprint to the opposite of the street. Lithuanians are crazy drivers.
I’m still amazed by the fact that you can buy one decent pizza and a coke for only 2 euro’s. 
It’s quite common to spend an hour walking around through Maxima, a big supermarket. It’s huge, I never know where to find what and I always come across hordes of exchange students desperately hunting for their next meal (pasta).
 To end with, Lithuania is a nice country but they do have some stupid toys here.

Introduction week Kaunas

The first week in Kaunas is over. Luckily everything went upwards after the internet, bed sheet and warm water drama of the first day. All international students joined a well organized orientation week during which we got to know more about Kaunas and each other. It’s good to be surrounded with so much happiness. All foreign students simply rock and the employees of Vytautas Magnus University are the most friendly, welcoming and helpful persons I’ve ever met in the Baltics. 
 He’s always cycling around with his cat!
The last week was packed with activities. During the weekend we went to see Lithuania’s capital Vilnius and we also made a stop at the impressive Trakai castle. Together with Astrid and Sophie I made an ‘adventurous’ tour through Kaunas’ central market. You might want to take a look at the pictures I made there. A link can be found below. Since I’m not a party animal I decided to skip the opening party in a night club outside the city center of Kaunas. When all other students were still struggling with their after party coma I made a great tour through the old town of sunny Kaunas, of course ending up in quiet streets with abandoned old glory buildings. The orientation game organized by ESN was one not to forget easily. We had to jump around like ducks and frogs and even three days after many students were still complaining about their extreme muscle pain. 
 A true Vytautas Magnus University student now!
This afternoon I’ll attend my first lecture. I’m a bit nervous for the whole workload which will come!
For the case you’re interested to see some snapshots from Kaunas you’re more than welcome to have a look at my picture gallery.