Last year I travelled to the Baltics twice, namely to Lithuania and Latvia. The initial idea was to visit the Mėnuo Juodaragis Festival (MJR) in Lithuania. A dear friend who had been there before invited me to tag along and gave me a ticket as a present. We quickly decided to travel around a bit as well after the festival.
This is not supposed to be a detailed festival review, therfor I will not list countless band, this is more a general observation of our days in the Baltics. Nevertheless I will give you some basic infomations about the festival as well.
Mėnuo Juodaragis does translate to black-horned moon and is an anual event, celebrating Baltic culture with local and international musical guests. It is the oldest and biggest festival in Lithuania. It was almost a bit too big for my taste, so I hope the rumors that future festivals will have a more strict limitation for the amount of tickets are true, in case I am going to visit again some day.
I did fly out to Riga via Berlin Schönefeld and paid the absurd price of around 15 Euros for one way, using the service of Ryanair. The only catch was, that I had to leave home in the night to get to the airport on time in the morning. Flying with hand luggage only was quite racy considered that I was going to camp, even without having to bring a tent myself, my friend took care of that. Nevertheless it is possible to camp with hand luggage, if you can deal with a bit less comfort. Wearing XS size clothes helps as well with this endeavour.
My friend, who had been flying in from Munich earlier than me, picked me up at the airport. He had been warned about the weather by the locals, it had rained for many days already. Usually rain does not bother me much, I come from a very rainy metropole in the North of Germany, but lets say that it limits the fun of camping quite a bit. As none of us had brought rubber boots, we decided to buy some before heading out to the festival. The cheapest that I could find were also the most hilarious ones, made for children, white with black cow dots and a cat face on every boot. But I did not want to spend more money than necessary, as it was clear that I could not take them back home with me due to the limited capacity of my luggage. I hope one latvian child is happy with them and has dry feet.
The first night the festival area was still quite empty and we did set up our tent in a spot with only few tents around. Sadly I missed the opening ceremony, because after the tent was set up, all I could do was drop into my sleeping bag. After all, I got up at 3am in the morning to get to this place.
In the second night, after spending the whole day outside, I was going to return to the tent earlier than my friend. At least that was the plan. But a whole tent city had been growing around our tent in our absence and no matter which orientation points I tried to remember, I could not find the tent anymore. I decided to go back to the stage area to find my friend, who was watching the abominable band Death In Rome. Afraid that my ears might start bleeding, I waited in a safe distance for the show to end and we found the tent together without problems.
Actually, we had no idea who was going to play at the festival when we booked our journey. A bit later it came out that Wardruna was going to be the headliner. I have seen Wardruna play before, but never under an open sky with fires burning around the place. A very special experience!
After the festival we travelled around for a few more days, spending every night in a different location. While the first day was still cloudy, we got lucky with the weather.
At Daugava River we met a cat, who eagerly showed us his castle, only to take a nap in it a minute later. Every lake has picknick places, you usually find them equipped with bench and table. I have no idea how many people frequent this places during main season, but we found them all empty, which made them even more appealing for me.
Our only fixed points were our sleeping locations, apart from that, we went here and there, if a road looked interesting, we took it. One road looked more adventurous than interesting though, we had been warned to take it, but both being unstoppable aries we went for it anyway. More than half of it was missing at some point and it was a strange feeling to drive over the remaining part. Speaking about roads, do not expect an “Autobahn” in those countries. Most roads are rather archaic, which works well because there are simply not so many people using them like in central Europe.
The area that appealed to me most, is around Teirumniku ezers in Latvia. When I return to the Baltics some time, I want to sit in this spot once more, overlooking the beautiful vast lake while drinking one of the fabulous local beers in the company of many dragonflies. Drinking beer is a very recommendable pastime in the Baltics by the way, from supermarket offers to craft beer breweries, you can find a really tasty selection as a beer friend.
Images: Teirumniku ezers, Latvia.
I returned to the Baltics alone for a second time a few weeks later for another week, staying some time in Vilnius and in some forest in the middle of nowhere in the South of Lithuania, close to Varėna. It rained all the week, again. In the forest I had one hour without rain though, I used it to run around and quickly shot some images.
I recommend the bar Špunka in the old town of Vilnius (Užupio g. 9-1) for a few drinks and trying the dried meat from the local market. The local market is also great for buying fresh berries and other fruits. The bar offers a selection of craft beers called Dundulis that I liked a lot. Another drink (without alcohol) that I find quite appealing is Kvass, the liquid bread of the Baltics. People either seem to love it or hate it, I definetely belong to the first group. I am still looking for a source to buy this in Germany, but maybe I should just learn to brew it myself. Learning beer brewing is on my list of things to do anyway, so why not add Kvass as well.
Images: Wilderness close to old Varėna, rainy good-bye in Vilnius
All in all, I can say the Baltics are very beautiful and wild. The primordial landscapes left a lasting impression on me, you rarely see such in other European countries anymore, unless you go to the mountains. And although I did not return to the festival this year, I will surely visit the Baltics again some time in the future. I do not recommend the Baltics to anyone who is seeking action, but rather to those who – like me – find their cathedral in nature.
I wonder why so many locals aspire to leave, of course I know that work and money are their main reason, the life on the countryside seems poor to them and work is rare. But dear Baltic people, let me tell you one thing. What you have there, is much more worth preserving than running after the money. You will only find out that you work hard to buy vegetables that taste like nothing compared to those you grow in your own gardens. Life may seem hard sometimes living the way many of you do. But it is honest, wild and absolutely worth to be lived.