Category Archives: Travel and culture

Travels and more

Sakura festival in Kaunas

This year the Sakura festival, organized by Sugihara Foundation in Kaunas and supported by the Japanese embassy, was not blessed with great weather as last year. Still, Kyrie Oda′s dance looked all the more touching. She and her colleague went along with their idea to perform barefoot, despite cold weather.

Dance performance

Dance performance

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Open day at Kaunas mosque

The community of Kaunas mosque provided an opportunity for anyone interested to go inside the unique Tatar mosque of Kaunas, to see a Muslim prayer, look around and enjoy food from various countries and cultures. The mosque has become an important contact point for old and new Muslim communities, the latter consisting of foreign students, workers, spouses of Lithuanians, expats and local converts. The 3000-strong Tatar community has been around for centuries and is can help their sisters and brothers in faith with accessing Lithuanian institutions, networking and, most importantly, feeling at home in this relatively homogeneous European society. Other functioning mosques are in distant small towns. Vilnius doesn′t have a mosque, and the current mayor, Remigijus Šimašius (liberal) made it clear that he will not do anything in his power to help establish one, even though, when Syrian and Iraqi refugees are resettled according to the EU scheme next year, the Muslim community in Vilnius will grow. There is not a single Shia mosque (most Shia Muslims are apparently from Azerbaijan), but Shia believers can attend Sunni services.

The weather is ugly in Lithuania, so I'm using a photo I made in spring

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Open day at the Bank of Lithuania in Kaunas

The Bank of Lithuania has recently celebrated the 93rd anniversary since its establishment. It is the first year that the central bank is not implementing Lithuania′s monetary policy, so people are curious about how its functions have changed since joining the eurozone. Today′s open day had people of all age groups lining up to see the original building of the central bank in Kaunas and to learn more about its history.

The Bank of Lithuania was originally established in Kaunas, as it was the capital of Lithuania at the time. Until then, Lithuania depended on the German Darlehenkasse Ost (Eastern Loan Fund) for its currency. The government and the central bank of newly independent Lithuania worked hard to earn trust from international finance markets for its new currency, litas. The circulation of litas was halted in 1941 during the first Soviet occupation. Obviously, after independence was reestablished, the central bank moved to Vilnius. But it still owns the impressive building in Kaunas. Continue reading

Hamburg ice cream and crowds

Like many people I know in Hamburg, I join all remotely interesting Facebook events if they pop up somewhere. Aside from being an idea for what to do with my free time, an ice cream market in Hamburg sounded like a great new experience, particularly because Germany is a great place to enjoy vegan and lactose-free versions of popular ice cream sorts. To the joy of organizers and visitors, the weather was perfect for an event like this. The event itself was… less than perfect. Continue reading

Hanami in Kaunas

Feeling very nostalgic about my proper hanami in Tokyo in 2009, I attended a Japanese Embassy / Sugihara Museum event in Kaunas, where a Japanese performance artist Kirie Oda cooperated with Lithuanian violinist and singer to create a performance around Sugihara House, which used to be the Japanese consulate before WWII and now hosts a Sugihara museum, foundation, and VMU Centre for Asian Studies. The artist wanted to use this space, with its sakura trees planted by Yukiko Sugihara herself, and a larger green space behind the building.

Japanese-Lithuanian artistic cooperation

Japanese-Lithuanian artistic cooperation – click on the images to enlarge them

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Cyprus reflections: tea and coffee

One observation that we made in Cyprus was that almost every household has their own way of preparing tea. For coffee, while Turkish (hush hush, OK, Cyprus coffee) is ubiquitous in cafes and restaurants, instant coffee still rules people′s homes, and it′s actually served in cafes as well. Coffee and tea drinking rituals vary not only among cultures, but also among individuals. While many in Lithuania are used to blank machine-made or pour-over coffee, there are outstanding cafes cropping up in Kaunas and Vilnius (such as Green Cafe). Tea in Lithuania has much more developed traditions. Most restaurants and cafes offer a choice between a teabag and loose tea, and there is a variety of herbal teas (only three languages derive their word for ′tea′ from ′herbs′). In Hungary, they actually bring a powdered creamer with espresso. In Azerbaijan, Azercay is famous, but coffee culture is something they did not bother to import from neighboring Turkey. In Malaga, Spain, they have an elaborate distinction between a ′half,′ a ′shade,′ and a ′cloud.′ Searching for good coffee can be hopeless in England and many American cities, but English tea is always a good choice (an Italian, living in Cambridge for over 25 years, said that in the beginning it was a cultural shock to see a spoon so clearly visible through the coffee over there). Italy is famous for its coffee, but I found their espressos too tiny to enjoy. In Luxembourg I was surprised to find coffee just the way I like it. In Istanbul both coffee and tea were good. So, what to expect in Cyprus?

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Dali & Magritte visit a small town near Kaunas

On Sunday I used the last opportunity to visit an exhibition of various minor works by Dali and Magritte at Raudondvaris manor, not far from Kaunas. Thanks to my friend R., who was willing to drive there in this suddenly freezing weather, we reached the recently redeveloped suburban area, which used to be a famous noble clan’s estate (you can read more about the history of Raudondvaris manor here).

Museums in Lithuania can hardly ever afford bringing really famous works, but this was a rare opportunity to see Salvador Dali’s ‘applied’ art. His career spanned for decades, so he was asked to design and produce various decorative objects, such as medals for Olympic games or the 25th anniversary of Israel (I hadn’t known that before), tapestries and ceramic plates. There were also some quite known watercolors, such as illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. The fallen angel with drawers is one of my favorites. I also searched for the image of his ceramic plate from the Seasons set, the one portraying fall, which is a human figure with a cube instead of its head, and trees growing from it. But I couldn’t find it on google. Continue reading

A bit about my 20s

I rarely post personal photos and stories online these days, but it’s fun to think about the end of my 20s, which were an era in itself, and to look back at all the different memories. As someone said, the best thing about being in your 30s now is that all your craziest experiences happened in the pre-Facebook era. So many parties, adventures and funny faces will, fortunately, never be documented and tagged.

10 years ago I was a young enthusiastic student in Vilnius, dreaming to be a diplomat in Japan by the time I reach, well, the point I’m at now. My 20th birthday was before the era of digital photography. At the time I had only visited Latvia and Estonia. But soon after there was a whirlwind of adventures on three continents. This is not meant as a birthday humblebrag – rather, it’s my reflection on how I decided to leave my comfort zone. Continue reading