Cycling frustrations in Lithuania

People looked at me with question marks in their eyes. A girl, on a bike, with this weather? Interestingly enough during my whole morning cycling trip I haven’t seen any other brave cyclist defying the cold and the small amount of snow still laying on the streets. Once again it’s shown that cycling is just an integrated part of my Dutch functioning system. I see no harm in a nice ride on a chilly but sunny Sunday morning. It was lovely in fact! For the ones wanting to try it out as well, especially in Kaunas, I have to warn you: don’t head to the city center taking the path next to the Nemunas river. Dozens of dirty teeth having, smoking and like alcohol smelling (and looking) fishermen were standing in a long line trying to catch their prey. 
The green speed devil made in the USSR and a pair of warm Swedish farmer gloves which I definetely needed today
Before I continue let me explain how my bike rides normally look like. I really enjoy cycling to and from University during weekdays. I usually cycle along ‘Freedom Avenue’ where a special path is created for cyclists only. However, even though there is enough space to walk, people always seem to have the urge to walk exactly on that little piece of soil which is actually meant to be used by cyclists. ALWAYS. Half of the population walks around with mobile phones and is not aware of anything happening around them. Frustrating. They always cross the cycling path without looking if the way is actually free. Exactly the same counts for the other half of the population walking around with headphones. People don’t see anything, people don’t hear anything and worst of all, people don’t undertake any action when they seldom do spot a cyclist. It’s just not in the system of a Lithuanian to move aside or to be aware of the dangers of the actual speed of a bike, especially driven by a Dutchman. I hardly ever arrive at University without having spoken out loudly being annoyed by the ones crossing my way. I need at least 10 extra pairs of eyes in order to feel a little safe on my bike. Unfortunately I have to accuse at least 3 (sometimes even a lot more) people, often car drivers, of being an asshole when they once again hit the pedals too fanatically, completely missing out the poor cyclist having priority. 
The place where Neris and Nemunas come together
Enough about my frustration now. Let’s get back to this morning, the fishermen and the fact you should not ride your bike nearby them. Besides the above mentioned characteristics these men might also be a bit deaf. My bike is close from falling apart and therefore it makes a lot of sound. However, the men didn’t connect this sound with the idea someone was actually approaching them. Seriously, one third of them decided to swing their fishing rod in the water again the moment I nearly passed by. Just when I hoped to make a nice little tour without any silently outspoken accusations to anyone I was attacked by all these men and their fishing hooks. So dangerous! I expected to be lifted into the water by a hook in my nose or jacket any time. Brrr. But, I survived, just a few sighs, ‘oh come oooon’ and frowned eyebrows later. It was a nice trip after all. Even though it’s not always easy here, cycling just adds a little happiness to my day. A bit incomprehensible after the struggles mentioned in this blog post maybe…

The Other Dream Team

In theatres from September 28th: The Other Dream Team. I’m not too hooked on going to the cinema but after having seen the trailer of this documentary film I proclaimed this as a must-see. Together with my roommate Astrid and some tissues – just in case the tears would come – we went to Forum Cinemas right around the corner. The trailer of the movie is in English but at the pay desk we discovered that the complete  movie would be half English, half Lithuanian. A moment of hesitation. ‘Shall we do it or not?’. When deciding to go for it the cinema employee said, ‘Ok, maybe a little less than half is actually in English’. Well, we wanted to try it anyways. As a little gift we got two bags of crisps for free (happy Dutchman!) so we would enjoy our time no matter what.

Shortly before Lithuania regained independence
Indeed, a lot of Lithuanian language, but still, the emotions in the eyes of the basketball players were understandable for anyone speaking any language. A lot of small interview parts are shown from Lithuanian as well as American sportsmen and trainers which handle sport and history from both country’s perspectives. The film shows Lithuania’s history through the eyes of basketball. Images of the road to independence are seamlessly connected with pictures from Lithuanian basketball players having to play for the USSR. Fantastic footage is also shown about the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, where Lithuania could finally perform for its own nation and its own fellow countrymen. This subject always manages to hit me straight in the heart. 
 I especially considered number 7, Sarunas Marciulionis and number 10, Rimas Kurtinaitis very charismatic men.
It´s amazing to realize once again how Lithuanian athletes were suppressed during Communist rule. The KGB was always around and players even feared for their lives. Still, together standing strong, they managed to always keep on fighting for the liberation of their home country. Fighting without violence, but fighting through sports. 
During the Olympics of 1992 Lithuania could finally come out for its own homeland. They won the hearts of people all around the globe, especially because of their remarkable outfits. Dressed up in the most colorful tie-died shirts they spread happiness all over the Olympic village and beyond. The Lithuanian basketball team was financially supported by the American band ‘Grateful Death’, existing of fanatic basketball fans. This explains the skull on their colored t-shits by the way.
 Awesome outfits!
The movie ends with thrilling footage of what probably still is Lithuania’s most valuable bronze medal ever. In the match on the third place Lithuania met what has been its suppressor for over the last four decades: Russia. Political tension through the eyes of basketball, a very interesting phenomenon. Guess what? Lithuania won! Lithuania won the bronze medal and with that strengthened its cultural identity once again after regaining independence. Wonderful. I’d definitely recommend this film for anyone interested in the still fresh history of the Baltic States, even though the Lithuanian spoken parts might be abracadabra for most non-Lithuanians.
For the case you’re interested you can watch the trailer of ‘The Other Dream Team’ right here. This is also the website where the pictures were provided which I used in this blogpost.

Lithuanian basketball, Latvian ice hockey and some random observations

Finally I managed to get to know a little bit more about Lithuania and its fascination for basketball. Earlier this month I visited my first basketball match together with some other curious foreign students. Kaunas’ team Zalgiris played against Cedevita Zagreb from Croatia in the Euro league. The spectacle took place in the Zalgiris area a few blocks away from where I live. This building has been in use since 2011 but hosted already the playoffs and finals of the 37th European Basketball Championship which was held in Lithuania. I was actually there last year during one of the first concerts ever given at that place. Jean Michel Jarre, the master of synthesizer live in Kaunas! Well, I couldn’t miss out on that one of course. 
Even in a non-ballooning post I can’t resist this small reference to my biggest hobby. Isn’t this a cool toy?! I’m not so sure about the text written on it though. Lazy Bos ;-)?
The arena was filled with fanatic supporters wearing green-white supportive shirts and scarves. Since we arrived way too early we managed to watch the warming up of the Zalgiris players right in the middle of the basketball field. My goodness, these men are tall. Maybe a strange little thought, but I finally figured out where all the colored fellow men living in the Baltics have been hanging out. They’re just all basketball players! Coming from one of the most multicultural colored nations of Europe I’m sometimes still astonished how less colored people can be found here actually. That will probably change now the Baltics slowly found their way towards wealth and prosperity, thanks to a lot of supportive money from the European Union of course. Good, let them handle with minorities! I notice more and more often how tolerant Dutchmen actually are against homosexuals, refugees, etc. I hope Lithuania can learn something from that. One day. Maybe. Hopefully.
Ok, I’m starting to drift off now so let’s get back to the basketball play. In order to follow the game quite some concentration was needed. It went all pretty fast and it’s quite easy to miss out on spectacular shots. The atmosphere was great; fanatic but calm and comfortable. I’ve been visiting a lot of ice hockey matches of Dinamo Riga playing against other, mainly Russian, teams in the Kontinental Hockey League. There the atmosphere is way more embittered, and to be honest I really enjoy that. Especially during matches against teams from Moscow you just feel the underlying historical and political tension throughout the game. Furthermore, I could sing along all yells supporting Riga, in Latvian, yes. 
  
For 4.40 euro you can’t expect the best seats, but hey, the view was actually pretty good from here!
There were a lot of little breaks in between the match in which happy mascots were dancing around. I still don’t really understand why the mascot of Zalgiris looks like a Viking but that might be another example of the Baltics wanting show their connection with Scandinavia, even though in my eyes that’s a one-sided process. 
I was a bit shocked by the young cheerleaders actually. They performed some small dances and showed at least ten different outfits during the whole game. Their dancing was good, really good, wish I could move like that. However, they were dressed so extremely sexistic and also their moves were often not really age-appropriate. Many men probably enjoyed it, but still, it emphasized a little too much on the objectification of women. Till so far the feminist talking. 
So, all in all I enjoyed the basketball match but still I’d prefer going to an ice hockey play. Future will tell if it stays like that. Maybe I just have to learn some Lithuanian supportive yells in order to feel more at home during the basketball games. Riga stole my heart so I’ll always have warm feelings for the city, its hockey club and of course Latvia itself. I don’t feel this strong bond with Kaunas. Yet. That will probably come in half a year or so. We’ll see.  
Appropriate flags during the basketball match. I remember I once visited a Dinamo Riga ice hockey game where suddenly a flag popped up twice the size of these ones, depticing a huge Lenin. Oeeeww!
Besides this first introduction to Lithuania’s basketball mania I also visited the cinema in order to watch a documentary on Lithuania, basketball during Soviet occupation and the road to independence. The movie is called ‘The other dream team’ and since this blogpost has become a little longer than on first hand expected I’ll elaborate on my cinema visit in another post.
Keep on reading folks! Statistics show that every month the amount of visitors increases. Lately especially the number of Americans and Russians visiting my website expanded enormously. Nice! That motivates me to keep on writing. You know, whenever you have a comment or an idea, please let me know by sending an e-mail to nienke[at]airdreams.nl  Thanks!

Pepernoten en Pasen (maar eigenlijk gaat het over drop)

This one is for the Dutchies.
Tijdens de filosofie les van vanmiddag bekroop het me ineens. Een gevoel zo intens, zo knagend. ‘Ik moet nu een dropje’. Waar het opeens vandaan kwam weet ik niet. Ik woon nu al zo lang in de Baltics dat ik onderhand wel geaccepteerd heb dat er gewoon geen fatsoenlijke (zoute!) dropjes te koop zijn. Om me heen verneem ik dat de heimwee begint toe te nemen. Hoewel het merendeel van de buitenlandse studenten de eerste weken van hun uitwisseling hebben doorgebracht met drinken, feesten en het hebben van een kater – ik niet hoor – zie ik op Facebook zo af en toe wat heimwee-achtige statusupdates voorbij komen. Misschien dat mijn dropverlangen mijn heimwee wel een beetje uit. Nu we het onderwerp Facebook toch al hebben aangesneden even het volgende… Half september stond mijn virtuele muur opeens vol met het jaarlijks terugkerende ongeloof over de pepernotenverkoop. ‘Nu al?’. Ja, nu al. En ondertussen snoept heel Nederland in September alweer van de pepernoten (en truffelpepernoten, yoghurtpepernoten, chocoladepepernoten, je kunt het zo gek niet bedenken). Ik ga dit ongeloof nu overtreffen. Weet je wat ik namelijk ontdekte toen ik net een Litouws snoepwinkeltje binnen liep, hopend mijn zin in drop te stillen? Paaseitjes, paaslolly’s en vrolijke chocolade paashaas figuren. NU AL!? Na deze schrikbarende ontdekking stond ik voor de heilige schepsnoep muur met in het midden een paar vakjes gevuld met zwart spul. Dat konden de dropjes wel eens zijn. Ik kon mijn geluk niet op toen ik een paar enorme driehoeken zag liggen met een slecht geprintte ‘Z’ erop. Zoute driehoeken, lekker! Ik als zuinige Drent nam er een stuk of tien mee. Eerst even testen natuurlijk. Ook gooide ik er nog een paar drop-achtig uitziende tumtummetjes bij en wat dropjes in de vorm van een fiets. Eenmaal thuisgekomen nam ik een kopje thee, wikkelde ik me in een warme deken en opende ik mijn bont gekleurde snoepzakje met minder bont gekleurde inhoud. Zoete drop. Neeeeee! Als het goed is heb ik achterin mijn kledingkast nog een klein doosje hagelslag liggen in geval van nood. Misschien moet ik daar maar eens aan beginnen om mijn ‘Dutchness’ weer een beetje op peil te krijgen. 

Groetjes aan Nederland vanuit Litouwen!

Aerostats at Kaunas IX Fort

Recently I visited Kaunas IX Fort which was used as a prison during Soviet and Nazi occupation. It hosts a museum with a lot of interesting facts about Lithuania’s struggle towards independence. I came accross these three pictures which I’d like to share with you. The discriptions are the ones stated under the pictures in the museum. Unfortunately there was not more detailed information available (in English).

‘Russian aerostat takes off’

‘Camera mounted on the aerostat’s basket’

‘German aerostat used for observation and spotting targets for artillery’

Book recommendation: The Ice Balloon

Slowly but steady the days become shorter, the trees lose their leaves and you start to wonder where you left your gloves. The perfect time to snuggle into bed with a blanket, a cup of tea and a good book. You might want to consider taking an extra blanket while reading the book I want to tell you about. It’s called ‘The Ice Balloon’ and pretty much all adventures in this book take place above the arctic circle. The book is written by American journalist Alec Wilkinson and was published in 2012. 

 The Dutch version of ‘The Ice Balloon’
The main subject of the book is the Arctic Balloon Expedition led by Salomon August Andrée, a Swedish adventurer born in candy and balloon heaven Gränna. As supposed to what I expected to the book is not only about the attempt to reach the north pole by balloon. To sketch a clarifying whole of the time in which Andrée lived also other North Pole expeditions from for example Fridtjof Nansen are described in a detailed way. It might not be the most ‘cozy’ book I’ve ever read, but it for sure created a lively image of what adventurers had to go through during months of freezing cold temperatures with hardly any food and strong thoughts to just surrender to a lonely death. Very intriguing. The readers are introduced to Andrée’s remarkable personality, the preparation for the flight of his life and the eventual adventure that followed.
One of the pictures made by Strindberg
I couldn’t have picked a better place to read the last chapters of this book; warmed by the Swedish summer sun in Gränna, just a few houses away from the place where Andrée was born. Perfect. Unfortunately that cannot be said about the end of Andrée’s expedition. Together with his companions Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel he was found back 33 years after their departure in 1897. Many of the pictures taken by Strindberg were still intact. Whenever you’re near Gränna I highly recommend you to visit the Grenna Museum which offers a lot of information, artifacts and pictures of the Arctic Balloon Expedition. Here a little sneak peek of what you can expect there:

So, whenever you’re interested in adventurous expeditions and ballooning I definetely recommend you to read this book. I’m not the most fanatic reader myself, but these subjects always manage to catch my attention.