Baltic adventures

Lake next to the festival area

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.

Fire sculpture before burning

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.

 

Luckily, my feet are small, too

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.

My favourite element

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.

A lovely view at 8am

My home is my castle

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.

Highway to hell.

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.

Teirumniku ezers

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.

Bar Špunka in Vilnius

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.

Disneyland can wait

(This true story is based on the original text from October 2014, that I had written in German language. With the translation I also added some details that got lost in the first version.)

disneyland

One of the countless displays within the hotel

I met quite some people in my life who would be delighted to go to Disneyland, but be assured I have never been one of them. Theme parks, amusement parks, all that sounds like a nightmare to me. I would probably get drunk, beat up Mickey and end up peeing into some fountain. But as we know, the universe loves irony.

In October 2014 I spent some time in Portugal (again) and on my way home, I had to catch my connecting flight to Leipzig in Paris. My flight in Lisboa left in the morning already and I arrived in Paris before noon, but it made no sense to leave the airport, so I waited bravely for a few hours for my connection. When the flight was finally ready for boarding, the responsible airline decided out of the blue rather not to fly. Without any informations, the flight was cancelled. For hours the airline company chased the passengers from one counter to another, it was spoken about alternative flights to leave Paris, but in the end it turned out that none of the passengers would fly anywhere that night. The fight about the morning flights started amongst the passengers, the first airplane flying out did not have enough seats to take all. I managed to get promised a seat, because I told the woman behind the desk, that my cats were home alone. Which was true, my cat sitter had left my place in the morning and had no time to return.

It was after midnight already, close to 1am, when finally someone gave every passenger a hotel voucher. We were told that whole Paris was booked already, and a bus took us on a quite long ride, spiting us out in front of a huge Disney Resort Hotel. The reception was closed already, bar and restaurant as well. Two people were called to check us in. I asked for something to drink and some food, I got a small papercup with water and some candy instead. And a keycard to a room that I wasn’t able to find for quite some time because the place was huge.

It was so late at night and the bus for the morning flight was going to leave at 5am, so I decided not to go to bed at all. Instead I took a long shower, to find out that my only clean t-shirt was a bandshirt of NON/Boyd Rice. How naive I was, when I bought it and thought that DISNEYLAND CAN WAIT (1). After the shower, I went exploring.

The whole place seemed to be made out of plastic. Completely air-conditioned, the windows would not even open. Huge glass displays filled with Disney figurines everywhere. I started to feel trapped and went outside, passing by a vending machine with water and more candy. I had no small cash and starred longingly at the overpriced small Vittel bottles. I did not dare to drink water from my bathroom, not in plasticland. Who knows, maybe I showered with recycled urine of other hotel guests. With candy flavour. In a place like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out. The reception was closed again, of course, no one to change some money.

I had a few crumbs of tobacco left, which I forced into some paper, to pretend to be a cigarette. Smoking, wandering around, I was quickly caught by two security guards. One huge black guy and a tall skinny white fellow, both in uniforms.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? – What does it look like, I am obviously smoking! The guards seemed to have problems to process this information. It seems no one ever smokes at night in Disneyland. Next they asked me, almost with an impending voice, do you have a problem!? – Well yes, actually I do have a problem. I need food, a strong drink and now also obviously tobacco. Both of them looked at me with regret and shook their heads. I raised my eyebrow and replied: Well then, Disneyland clearly sucks!

*squeal* WHAT???? NO!!!! You are going to see Disneyland tomorrow, how can you say that? (The big black fellow suddenly spoke in a very high voice) – I HOPE NOT, with some luck I am out of here before dawn. – BUT, but, you’re a girl! Every girl loves Disney!!! *squeal*

Did those guys look at me? I came from the forests & mountains of Portugal, and although I had showered, my fresh shirt did not really smell fresh after mingling with my dirty clothes a long hot day in Paris. I wore army boots, an army jacket and I roll my cigarettes myself. All in all, that doesn’t sound very girlie to me. Also, I am not 12 years old. A few minutes earlier they seemed to want to arrest me, to  squeal like happy cartoon pigs a minute later, every time they say Disney. The big black one with the more badly-fitted uniform even jumped into the air a bit when squealing DISNEY! DISNEY! DISNEY! *jump-jump-jump* I was not really sure if I wanted to listen to the song “People”(2) or “All Pigs Must Die”(3) first.

I wish the story would stop at this point. But it didn’t. I booked Etihad, I paid the price. Lesson learned. In the morning, the bus brought me back to the airport. The airplane did fly. Just not to Leipzig. I landed in Berlin instead and the airline company did not really feel responsible to get me to Leipzig, my booked destination. Most passengers gave up and took the train or bus on their own cost. But I was not willing to pay for that transfer. No one fukks around with me when I am that hungry and tired. To make a long story short, I ended up traveling in a bus with an Indian travel group, who did fly in from Paris as well, and needed transfer to Leipzig. I functioned as their translater and with a group that big behind me, no one ignored me at the airport anymore. The old German bus driver was very happy about my presence, because he spoke no English and all the continiously babbling Indian students seemed to scare the shit out of him. He has never been to a Disney Resort Hotel I guess.

All in all, I arrived home almost 20 hours after my planned arrival. The cats were fine, but very very hungry. Disneyland waited in vain.

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(1)

(2) Boyd Rice: People (album: Music, Martinis & Misanthropy)
(3) Death In June: All Pigs Must Die (album: All Pigs Must Die)