I have never been so ‘grounded’ for 12 years or so – although travel options briefly reopened in summer, going to see my family and friends in Lithuania became overly complicated, and going on a holiday abroad felt irresponsible. So since March the furthest I’ve been from this rock is a smaller nearby rock that is Gozo. This left me jealously watching my friends’ Instagram feeds, full of mushrooms, trees, camping, greenery, trees, hiking, and did I mention trees? I am exploring a fuller palette of feelings, by extension. Longing is not something I normally feel, but the intense longing to see trees enjoying themselves in a natural environment, with birds, bees and maybe even small mammals, resulted in a personal essay published in this lovely book. For the first time, I’m a published writer.
Yet it is other people’s writing rather than my own that kept me company throughout these dull and challenging months. And I am still trying to make a point to read literature from countries I couldn’t visit. Unexpectedly, I found myself looking for Lithuanian literature to replace a missing visit to familiar cities.
Between two listicles in The Guardian recommending Ohrid in North Macedonia as a top holiday destination (2016 and 2017), the price of the newspaper’s recommended hotel seems to have doubled. This tiny detail reveals that the country is basking in attention, and having it on one’s list of places visited is no longer a badge of off-the-beaten-track travel. Thanks to direct flights, many people visited the country and continue singing praises to this day. And why wouldn’t they, given that N. Macedonia has mountains, greenery, water and city life to enjoy?
A NYT article about libraries and civil society was one of the warmest and most hopeful texts from the other side of the Atlantic in the recent years. It made several key points: libraries are open, inclusive and fun spaces to interact – or to be by oneself. The growing emphasis on libraries can hopefully replace the recent obsession with cafes in many discussion circles.
On my three most recent visits to Vilnius, I couldn’t help but admire how cool the national library has become. People go there to record their podcasts, schedule meetings, work on their stuff, concentrate on reading or talking, or attend events. The building is bright and inviting. I could only dream of this when I made a few attempts to get work done at the national library in Valletta. The gloomy building was cold and dark, and although I enjoyed the selection of newspapers to read and the set-up, it was clearly built for reading something from the library’s archives. To continue discussions on public space, ignited by last year’s Capital of Culture events, Valletta should revitalise its libraries rather than move community events and discussions to cafes. Libraries should be our focus as we, as communities and democracies, seek to create the ultimate anti-Facebook.
Anti-consumerist travel achievement: fully ditching make-up. This happened way before 2018, but I never blogged about it much. I had never used much of that stuff, but every little item means more space in the luggage and more toxic chemicals down the drain. Using nail polish requires a nail polish remover. Using mascara calls for special fluid suitable for the eye area. Everything is packed in unrecyclable single-use plastics. It’s so much easier without any of these things! When I was younger, I allowed myself to get convinced that especially formal occasions demand following social conventions. I understand that many women also use make-up as a form of creative expression, and that these things help people, especially with less standard looks, feel more confident. Going around without make-up and not using facial cosmetics means exposing one’s skin to a world that is often cruel and merciless for women. Just think of the language in advertising: ‘impurities’, ‘imperfections’… Let’s cut this crap – we don’t owe the world perfection. Leave the cyborg looks to those people who are paid to look like this.
In anticipation of the opening of the Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018 programme, the city of Valletta prepared a full list of activities for residents and visitors – local and foreign bands, an acrobat flown around by a giant balloon, interesting characters walking in the crowd, colourful projections and, finally, fireworks. As ugly as Mediterranean winters can be, the day was exceptionally nice, with almost no wind. Predictably, many people chose the main square of Valletta to meet the new year – it is estimated that there were around 85,000 attendees, which is around 13 times the population of Valletta!
It’s typical that the best cafes and bars are hidden in courtyards between several apartment blocks, a friend explained as we went for drinks to a trendy bar, complete with trees and a touch of South American fusion in its menu. With many outdoor cafes and bars outside of the tourist area thus hidden, Bucharest’s eclectic facades look somewhat grim. But who stays with the facades anyway? Bucharest invites the viewer to move on and search deeper.
Come to Lithuania in June, they said. Chill and swim in a lake, they said. So I expected to have very chill vacations, looking scruffy and eating garden-grown veggies. But then my friend and comrade Sandra put me in a designer dress for a photoshoot for her magazine, Verslo pietūs. Focusing on success stories, her magazine has become home for my latest travel articles before I embarked on my new Mediterranean adventure.
This team is fantastic, and I always learn a lot just by hanging out with them. At the same time it was a learning experience to see what areas of Vilnius are suitable for taking photos when the sky is cloudy. Our photographer chose the area near the White Bridge, which offers green spaces as well as urban landscapes.
Ah, work-related travel… Anything is better than those single-day trips to Brussels I was made to take at some point, but I′m sure that everyone who travels for work is struggling to strike a balance between being fresh and alert in the morning and seeing as much of an unknown city as possible during the limited leisure hours. I stayed in Rome for four days and three nights, with a very busy schedule, but not only the organizers made sure that we see something, but also I was blessed to have a companion who has lived in Rome, as well as a colleague who grew up there and generously shared tips before I went.
I was prepared that if I do not manage to see the famous landmarks, at least I will enjoy charming urban landscapes.
Yet I managed to see everything I wanted – Rome is really easy to navigate, walkable, and has efficient public transportation, given its size and Mediterranean culture.
“…And if you′re planning a stag party, have a nice stag party,” a flight attendant said on my Amsterdam-Prague flight. To me, putting the words ′nice′ and ′stag night′ in one sentence is a sign of out-of-the-box thinking taken to the extremes, but I smiled to myself. This sounds very Dutch. After all, Amsterdam ran an information campaign for purchasers of substandard drugs to seek medical help immediately. What else could the service industry wish typical tourists in Prague, I wondered, remembering my first trip there in 2011. “May the content of your stomach be easy to clean?”
I went to Prague to attend a conference, and decided to stay the weekend after with friends. I was highly motivated to bust the myths I created for myself last time and to enjoy a completely different experience.
I like my cities walkable, so as much as I like the Mediterranean island of Malta, sidewalks are something I still cannot get used to. Not only because they are often sloping – this is not different from Vilnius old town. In British English they call them pavements, so there is not even a promise of walk as in ‘sidewalk’.
My experience on the island reminded me of my first day in Cairo, when my friend G. instructed me to walk on the side of the road at all times. “You are much safer on the street than on the sidewalk,” he said, contrary to my habits and intuition. Sidewalks there were a colonial imposition – just like traffic lights. They were not used the way I′m used to. I had to accept it – this is simply a different culture, and this is how they do it. I must adjust my mind this way here as well.