Dear readers,

the contents of this site have been moved to http://www.simplyieva.com, which from now on is my primary website. If you like my writing, I do hope to see you on www.simplyieva.com for more language, travel, cooking and simply life related posts.

Thank you!

 

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Classifying the signs that make you fall into a certain professional category is no new concept. And there have been plenty of lists of “You might be a teacher if…” out there. Some of them are really cheesy. But after talking with a few of my fellow teachers, I think I’ve narrowed it down to the top three most appealing. h

Swearing

There is nothing like a good f-bomb (whether out loud or even louder in your head) after working all day telling children “to make good choices”, and giving reminders about the most obvious things (“We do not flip empty water bottles around here! Please put it in the trash!”, or, “ Submit your homework to the teacher!”). The fact that a teacher has to act as an example all day makes swearing that much more special.  It reminds you that you’re just a human, and not some sort of Superman/Wonder Woman.

Very loud music… 

When I leave work, I drive elegantly through the town I work at. After all, I am a respectable member of the profession that educates future doctors, lawyers and presidents. But as soon as I take the exit onto the highway, though, radio volume goes up and all kinds of hip-hop/hard rock/EDM (depending on the mood) erupts from my car. “I’ma I’ma I’ma starboy ah”..  It is quite cathartic, I’d say, and it’s a pretty good method to drown out your own thoughts because the brain can no longer make any decisions. That can wait till tomorrow.

… or complete silence

On  the other hand, there are days when the chatter and meetings and announcements have done their job and you wish you were somewhere where there is not. a single. sound. You do not want to hear anything. Your kids’ day at school? Doesn’t matter. Their desires for a new activity, a million-dollar pair of basketball shoes, a play date with a friend, whose phone number you don’t have but have to figure out how to get it right now – f… that! The minute someone wants to turn the radio on, you pounce on them like a lioness protecting her cubs “Nooo….!” Yeah… we have days like that….

Adult beverages

I had to throw it in there. Because let’s face it, wine (or whatever your choice of poison) is a teacher’s best friend. No matter how much you love the bright-eyed inquisitive youth you get to work with,  at the end of the day you are happy to affirm that as an adult, you have a privilege to enjoy a drink (or three) (depending on whether it’s a weekend or not).

So there. My two cents on true signs that you might be a teacher.

Did I miss anything on my list? Let me know!

 

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The Soup That Will Make Them Fall in Love

Have you ever cooked something that made people oooh, and aaah over it and ask them for the recipe or when you were going to make that dish again? Of course you have, and it’s happened to me a few times. But the Sausage Soup, as we call it in our house, takes the cake for the number of affections a cook can receive. When I say, it’s what’s for dinner, the kids start listening to what I have to say and the husband becomes more attentive. We all know that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I have been confessed love to, literally, every time I’ve made it either for my family or as a treat for someone who comes over to our house. And since love has to be shared, here is the key to your happiness. You tell me how it worked, deal?

Sausage potato soup

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Ingredients

(This feeds a family of 5, most of whom (except me, of course) are boys and men)

2 pounds Italian sausage

1 onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

salt and pepper (although be careful with the salt, as usually both the broth and the sausages have salt in it already)

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1 bay leaf

4-5 potatoes, diced

5 cups of broth

½ pint of heavy cream

2-3 handfuls of spinach

Preparation

In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add sausage and cook it until it’s heated through, breaking it apart into smaller pieces as it cooks.

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Once the sausage is browned, add onion, garlic, oregano and basil and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent. Pour in the broth, add bay leaf and potatoes, cover and let it simmer on slow heat until the potatoes are cooked through.

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Finally, add the spinach leaves, let them wilt, and stir in the heavy cream. Simmer for a few seconds letting it heat through.

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You’re welcome:)

P.S. This soup is great spicy as well. You may substitute spicy Italian sausage and add red pepper flakes, some people even add Tabasco to the finished product.

P.P.S. If you want left overs, I highly recommend making more of the soup because everybody goes for seconds and I have to literally steal a couple of ladles of it into the tupperware for my lunch the next day.

 

 

Posted in Home, Ieva's kitchen | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Egle, the Queen of Grass Snakes

It is a dreary Saturday here. But wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket and sipping a nice cup of tea, makes it a perfect day to read. Today I’ll share a  traditional Lithuanian folk story with you. Just like any folk story, it is simple and seemingly straightforward, but the symbolism in it is truly powerful. And I only fully grasped it and began appreciating it when I moved to the United States.

Enjoy and tell me what you think!

Eglė, the Queen of Grass Snakes

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Once upon a time there lived a man and his wife. They had twelve sons and three daughters, the youngest of which was named Eglė. One summer evening, all three sisters decided to go swimming in the sea that was nearby. After splashing and having fun for some time, they got out and were about to get dressed, but the youngest girl, Eglė, suddenly noticed that there was a grass snake inside the sleeve of her shirt! She didn’t know what to do! Her oldest sister grabbed a branch from a tree that was lying nearby and was about to shoo him out of the sleeve but the garden snake spoke in a man’s voice:

“Eglė, promise me you wil marry me, and I will leave your shirt without any further prompting.”

Eglė started crying: how can she marry a grass snake?! She said angrily:

“Just give me my shirt and go back where you came from!”

But the serpent was persistent and continued pleading:

“Promise me you’ll marry me, Eglė, and I will get out of your shirt sleeve by myself!”

After a while Eglė had nothing left to do but to promise herself to the grass snake.

Three days passed, and Eglė’s family saw droves of serpents writhing towards their yard. The grass snake matchmakers slithered inside to talk with the parents and the bride. At first, the parents were reluctant to give away their youngest and prettiest daughter. But what could they do with the persistent snakes? They told them to wait and ran over to their old neighbor to ask for advice. The old lady said: “It’s easy: just give them a white goose and they will be all set”. That was a great idea and the parents acted on it.

But as the snakes were making their way back with the goose, they heard a coockoo bird singing:

“They lied, they lied and gave you a goose instead of the bride!”

The grass snakes got angry, threw the goose away and returned to Eglė’s family to demand for their share of the promise. The old neighbor advised the parents again, and this time they gave the snakes a white sheep. But just like last time, as they were making their way through the forest, they heard a coockoo bird sing:

“They lied, they lied, and gave you a sheep instead of the bride!”

Again, the snakes returned to the farmstead, this time even angrier. And again, the parents went to the old neighbor for advice, which this time meant that they would give the snakes a white cow. And just like the last two times, the coockoo bird sang her song telling them the truth.

Finally, the parents succumbed and saw that they would have to give their daughter away. When the grass snakes escorted Eglė to the sea, she saw a handsome young man waiting for her there. He introduced himself as that same serpent, who had hid in the sleeve of her shirt. His name was Žilvinas. They went to the nearby island, and from there – down to under the sea, where there stood a beautiful palace. There, they celebrated their wedding with a wonderful party.

The grass snake’s palace was beautiful and comfortable,  and Eglė was well taken care of and provided for. Soon her parents’ home started seeming like a distant memory to her.

Nine years passed. By now, Eglė had three sons: Ąžuolas (Oak), Uosis (Ash) and Beržas (Birch) and one daughter – Drebulė (Aspen), who was her youngest. One day, while playing, her oldest son asked: “Mommy, where do your parents live? Why don’t we go visit them some time?”

And then she remembered her parents, her brothers and sisters, her childhood home. She really wanted to know if they were healthy and happy. Or maybe they were no longer alive? She felt that she had missed so much them and wanted to visit them. But when she told her husband about it, Žilvinas did not want to hear of it.

Finally, he said. “Ok, you may go and visit them but first, spin this this bolt of silk thread”.

Eglė immediately started spinning. She did it during the day and during the night but soon she noticed that the bolt is not getting smaller and realized that it probably was cursed. So she went to an old lady and asked her what to do. The wise woman told her to throw it in the fire. Eglė did as she was told and when she threw the bolt into the fire. Lo and behold,  she saw that there was a toad continually making the thread on the bolt. After that the work went much faster and when she was done spinning, she went to her husband again and asked for permission to visit her family again.

But the man said: “Here are iron loafers. When you wear them down, you may go see your family”.

So Eglė started wearing the loafers day and night. But again, she realized that she might as well be wearing them all her life – she would never be able to wear them down. The wise woman came to her rescue once again by telling her to bring the loafers to the blacksmith so he can heat them up and soften them up and make it easier to wear them down.

In three days time, Eglė was ready to ask her husband again. This time Žilvinas says: “Ok, but you have to bring something when you go there, don’t you? Why don’t you bake a cake or something”.

Unbeknownst to Eglė, though, he hid all the pots and pans and utensils, and when Eglė wanted to bake, she had a hard time figuring out how to bring water from the well to start making the dough. Again, the wise old woman helped her out. “Take a sieve, cover the inside of it with leaven dough, and you will be able to bring water in it and make the dough”.

Seeing his wife’s persistence, Žilvinas had to finally let her go. She packed herself and the kids and he saw her off. But before she left, he said:

“When you are ready to come back, come to the sea alone with the kids and say the following words:

“Žilvinas, my lovely Žilvinas, if you are alive, come to me in a wave with white crest,

and if you’re not – in a wave with read crest.  If you see me coming as a white crested wave, you’ll know I’m okay, and if you see a red one, you’ll know I’m no longer alive. And children, you must not tell anyone how to call me!”

Having said that, he kissed them good bye and wished them a nice visit with the family.

When Eglė came home, her family was overjoyed. All relatives and neighbors came to see her and to talk to her. They all wanted to know about her life and her joys and sorrows. They fed her and pampered her and loved her. Eglė didn’t even feel how quickly nine days passed.

But in the meantime, her parents and siblings were trying to come up with a way for her to stay. And they decided that they need to get it out of her children, how she will call her husband when she wants him to come pick her up.

The first child they were going to ask was Eglė’s oldest son Ąžuolas. They took him to the woods, asked nicely, then threatened and then even hit him, but he was silent. The next day they did the same with Uosis, and the third day with Beržas, but had no luck. Finally, they took the girl, Drebulė, to the woods. At first, she said she didn’t know anything, but when she saw she might get hurt by her uncles, she immediately blurted out the password to them.

Eglė’s brothers took scythes and made their way to the sea. They called Žilvinas, and when he came, they killed him. Naturally, they did not tell Eglė anything.

When the nine days came to an end, Eglė started getting ready to leave. She had a great time, but she missed her husband and her home. As soon as she and the kids arrived at the sea, Eglė called:

“Žilvinas, my lovely Žilvinas, if you are alive, come to me in a wave with white crest, and if you’re not – in a wave with read crest!”

The sea hummed and moved and shook, and there came the wave with the red crest. And Eglė heard her husband’s voice saying: “Your twelve brothers killed me with their scythes. Our loveliest daughter Drebulė gave away the call I told you to use!”

A scream came out of Eglė’s chest, and tears started falling down her face… She turned to Drebule and said:

“May you turn to aspen tree,

shake day and night,

may the rain wash your mouth

and the wind brush your hair!”

and to her sons she said:

“My sons, may you become strong trees and I, Eglė, your mother, will become a fir tree”.

Immediately, all of them turned into trees. And even today, the oak tree, ash and birch are the strongest trees, and the aspen starts shaking even at the slightest wind, the same way she shook before her uncles when she betrayed her mother and father…

The image above is from the following source https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Palanga_-_Egle_the_Queen_of_Serpents.jpg 

By GraceKelly (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Lithuanian corner | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Lithuanian Language vs. Russian Language

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Lithuanian Language vs.Russian Language

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Because I work with people from all over the world who are trying to learn English, I often get asked by colleagues and just curious individuals how many languages I speak myself. The question is pretty straight forward, right? But when I say that I speak three languages – Lithuanian, English and Russian – the reactions I get lead to some very interesting revelations. First, no matter which order I list my languages in (believe me, I tried!), English gets either dismissed immediately (because, let’s face it, we are conversing in English!) or I get a compliment of how well I speak it, or a “yes yes, I was wondering where that accent is from” sort of comment. Lithuanian sometimes gets the attention it deserves, but most often, people take the Russian and run with it.

So is Lithuanian a Russian dialect?  

But your first language is Russian, right?

Lithuanian and Russian, are they related languages? Because I think they sound the same, sorta…

I suppose, we all tend to draw on what is familiar to learn something new. A lot more people know where Russia is than Lithuania. Some have never even heard of the “tiny country that is the size of a pure amber drop”.

But have no fear, Ieva’s here. Today my mission to highlight some facts about Lithuanian language and to reassure you, that it is an independent language spoken by over 3 million people worldwide  as well as give you some interesting facts.

Lithuanian is a Baltic language, not a Slavic one

The only two living languages in the Baltic branch are Lithuanian and Latvian. Old Prussian, which is a dead language, used to be part of this branch as well.

Due to historical circumstances, a lot of Lithuanians know or at least understand some Russian and in the Vilnius region, Polish as well. However, if you are a Russian or Polish (both Slavic langauges) or any other language speaker, you will not be able to understand Lithuanian if you hadn’t specifically studied it.

Lithuanian language peculiarities

Lithuanian is very old and is related to Sanskrit (which is a classical language of India), Latin and Greek. It has retained a lot of archaic elements:

  • There are no articles in Lithuanian. If you hear a Lithuanian speaking English and using either no articles or adding “the” or “a” to every possible noun, now you know the reason.
  • Therefore, relationships between words are ruled by changing the endings of nouns, adjectives and verbs.  For example, take the word “child”. In Lithuanian it is “vaikas”. Here are some examples of how Lithuanian word “vaikas” is inflected:

        English                                                                           Lithuanian

  • I am a child                                                                     Aš esu vaikas
  • This is my child’s book.                                                Ši knyga yra mano vaiko.
  • I am cooking for my child.                                           Ruošiu valgyt savo vaikui.
  • I see my child                                                                  Aš matau savo vaiką

and so on..

  • There are two genders in Lithuanian – feminine and masculine. They can be determined from the word endings. -as, -is, -us usually denote masculine gender (laivas (ship), smelis (sand), dangus (sky)) and -a, -ė denote the  feminine gender (knyga (book), saulė (sun)). No neutral gender, folks. Try to figure out what gender is the word “moon”.
  • Even though, inflections can be killer, it is relatively easy to read in Lithuanian (once you know some words) – no need to change the sounds, it is all phonetic – you read what you see.
  • Lithuanian has a Latin-based alphabet (yay, no need to learn a completely different alphabet!). Some letters have little “birdies” on top or under them to mark the length of the sound (in vowels) – ą,ę,ė,ū,ų – or a digraph (in consonants) – č, š,ž. These are completely different than a,e,u and c,s,z.

What’s up with Russian then?

Lithuania is a small country, which had to face many difficult decisions throughout history. It is an amazing thing that Lithuanian language has survived at all. Lithuania’s history is tightly connected with that of Poland and Russia, and the influences of these two languages are felt in Lithuanian. During the Soviet times, Russian was the official language of the Soviet Union, and although Lithuanians were able to keep education in Lithuanian, everything from street names to public announcements and media was very much influenced by the Russian language. That’s why many people in Lithuania still know it (although the younger generation no longer can boast of this).

Today Lithuanian is the only official language of Lithuania and one of the official languages of the European Union. Although old, just like any other language, it adapts to the needs of the modern society and grows with it.

Did you know?

  • You can tell a woman’s marital status from her last name. If a woman’s last name has an ending -iene, it means she is married. For example, Kazlauskiene, Butkuviene, etc. If a woman is unmarried, the ending of her last name depends on the ending of her father’s name. For example, if a girl’s father’s last name is Kazlauskas, the girl’s name would add an -aite and she would be Kazlauskaite. If the father’s last name is Butkus, the girl would be Butkute. And the last name of Jonaitis would yield Jonaityte.
  • In modern day Lithuania, though, some women have decided to have their last name neutral by dropping the ending and adding a simple -e to their last name. As a result, there are last names like Kazlauske, Butke and Jonaite. After all, it is nobody’s business if one is married or not, right?
  • When you think about it, there are no real heavy swear words in Lithuanian. Phrases like “may thunder strike you” or “may you smoke a thousand pipes” do not quite have the same effect as some of the infamous swear words in other languages. So how do we get mad, you ask? Well, this is where the good old Russian comes to help. And  boy does it take care of your emotions!
  • Lithuania has a monument erected to book smugglers. Why, you ask? There was a ban on Lithuanian press imposed by Russia during the second half of the 19th century and people risked their freedom and lives to smuggle the books from Prussia, Lithuania Minor, and the USA, where they were printed, to Lithuania. It is thanks to these people that Lithuanian language did not meet its end like the Prussian language and that we are still able to read and write in Lithuanian.
  • Last, but not least – Lithuanian language is very melodic and poetic. Singing is a huge part of Lithuanian culture (although I’d say dancing is right up there as well). People are proud of their heritage and have singing festivals, where Lithuanians from all over the world flock to the home country and share a good song and good company.

As you can see, language is tightly linked to one’s identity. It grounds us and forms our world view. And I think all of us want others to get an accurate glimpse of who we are as a people, especially when we are ambassadors of our own country.  

Your turn! Have you ever had to face any linguistic or cultural misconceptions?

 

Posted in Home, Lithuanian corner | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Is your child bilingual?

Raising a bilingual child is easy, really. Just speak the language you want the kid to learn and you will be all set. Or will you?

I have three children. We live in the United States, but my first language is Lithuanian. All of my children speak some Lithuanian. The oldest one has mastered the language the most, the middle one can understand a considerable amount of every day (household) conversations but his expressive ability is so-so and the youngest one, although quite adept at picking up what is being said (when he wants to), uses his favorite phrase: “Mom, can you speak normal?”, i.e. English.  When we are in the States, we all like to chit chat in bits of Lithuanian, the kids like to show off in public by asking me if they could have more candy, or saying they need to go to the bathroom, and it does sound cute. Very bilingual. But when we go to Lithuania, somehow everyone expects them to have long conversations about their hobbies and life in Lithuanian, and when they don’t and sheepishly look at me for help, I feel the disapproving looks and judging comments under breath as in how can she be such a terrible mother who has not done her job?! “Speak Lithuanian”, they say. Just like that. “Try harder”. Just like when a kid from another country starts school here because his parents decided to move to the States for whatever reason – a contract with a company, a chance at a new beginning – everybody says: “Speak English!”

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Somehow people do not understand that language is not a thing you can buy at Walmart and start using right away. Learning a language takes time and so many other factors that we do not take in consideration on a daily basis. Motivation, for example. Why is it that some of the people I grew up with, did not learn English, or at least not fluently enough to enjoy a comfortable conversation?   We took the same English classes, for as many days a week for the same number of years. If someone sees no meaning in learning another language, the task that is not easy to begin with, will become even more daunting. For example, I have to admit and my heart bleeds at the thought, but my youngest son does not see the real need to learn Lithuanian. Everybody speaks English, and if they do not yet, they really like to practice with someone from America. Plus all TV shows and websites and other info is available in English. So why learn Lithuanian?

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Another major factor (and I am going to use a scientific term here, because I can:) – is comprehensible input. It is so much harder to learn a language when the dominant language prevails all around. That is why some people who take English as Foreign Language classes in their home country, are not exposed to “live” situations and may be pros at grammar but would stall at a leisurely discussion of their weekend activities. And this comprehensible input beast is what makes me a bad mother. My friends’, whose spouses speak Lithuanian, children are much more proficient at the language. My husband and I speak English. The school is in English. Friends and neighbors speak English, all activities are American and naturally, everyone instructs in English. Now that is comprehensible input. And that is how my students, who come from other countries with varied ability, and quite often with no ability, to communicate in English, learn at least the social language, fairly quickly.

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So what does it take to be bilingual? And what is bilingual? I consider myself bilingual, as you can see, I am writing a blog in English… For the longest time I thought that if a person cannot read or write in another language, then they are not considered bilingual. Until I took a course in Sociolinguistics, which made a light bulb go off in my head. Language is a tool for communication. So if you are able to communicate in another language, then heck yes, you are bilingual. And, no matter how good or, shall we say, developing, my children’s Lithuanian is, they are able to communicate in it. Because when we go visit the family, the motivation skyrockets and the comprehensible input is there.

What are your experiences, if any, with being bilingual, or raising bilingual children? I would love to hear them!

 

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10 Places to visit and things to do when you visit Vilnius, Lithuania

I am not sure how many people think of Vilnius, Lithuania, when I say I went on vacation to Europe. But it’s a city well worth visiting. And writing about. And since I have an emotional attachment to it more so than an average person, who has never been there, as I sat down to write this blog, I faced two choices of how to present it.

The first one would be to write something poetic like this:

How do you write about a city that you love, yet a city you do not live in? I guess, you try to find words. And these are the words that come to my mind when I think about Vilnius.

Old yet modern. Big yet cozy.  Historical, mysterious yet playfully mischievous. If you just walk on the main tourist attraction routes, you see beauty and elegance but the full picture is revealed once you sidetrack into little courtyards, which seem to be living a life of their own…

Vilnius from above

My second choice – and the one I’m sticking with – was to tell you, my dear reader, what would definitely be worth your time when you visit this beautiful place. Because this advice, although less poetic,  is more practical. And you will come up with your own descriptive words once you go there.

 

Visit churches

Whether you are a religious person, or not, there are so many gorgeous churches from so many different time periods in Vilnius, that it truly is one of the things people do when they visit this lovely city. Here are a few to consider.

The Cathedral

Meet up with your friends at the bell tower in the Cathedral Square and start exploring. Visit the Cathedral, which is among the most beautiful in the world. Besides being an active church, it also offers exciting excursions to underground chambers.

Cathedral

Gedimino avenue

Cathedral

 

St.Anne’s church

While you are on a roll, why not visit another church. St. Anne’s church is a beautiful masterpiece of a Gothic period. It has survived wars and disasters for over 500 hundred years and stands still like a true symbol of Vilnius, even though legend has it that when Napoleon was moving through the city, he wanted to take this church back to Paris on a palm of his hand.

St.Anne's church and Bernardine

 

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The Bernardine church

The full name is the church of St.Francis of Assisi and it is another spectacular example of gothic architecture. Unlike St.Anne’s, it did suffer from fires more than once but the magnificence and the aura one feels once inside is undeniable.

Bernardinu

 

Go up high for the best views…

Gediminas Tower

The tower sits atop a hill right next to the Palace of Grand Dukes. You can either take an elevator or walk up via a stone path. You will end up at the last remaining tower of what used to be a castle. There is a museum inside and an observation area on top, which opens up incredible 360 degree views of the capital city of Lithuania.

 

Gediminas tower

Vilnius panorama

The Hill of Three Crosses

Right across the river Vilnele is the Hill of Three Crosses. Here is where another great panorama opens up. There is a legend that the crosses were placed there in 17th century by some monks as a memory to martyrs. The crosses were rebuilt in 1989 when Lithuania’s movement for independence from the Soviet Union gained ground.

 

Hill of Three Crosses

Three Crosses

The Bastion Hill

The Bastion was part of the Defence wall that surrounded Vilnius. It is a barbacan, which currently houses a military museum. When you are in the courtyard on the roof, you are treated to yet another angle of the beauty of the city. But when you descend the stairs into a centuries old fortification with gun ports in the wall, you may begin to wonder if this is the place where you might find the infamous Vilnius Basilisk…

Barbacan

Barbakanas

 

and come back down for more fun

The Palace of Grand Dukes

The Palace is adjacent to the Cathedral. It was just recently rebuilt and is now an active museum of Lithuanian history. It also boasts a gorgeous courtyard, where people can enjoy concerts during the summer months.

Palace of Grand Dukes

Bernardine Gardens

This park is right in the heart of the city, surrounded by the famous places I have already mentioned above. For the longest time it was, although popular, but just a simple park and only recently was it renovated. Beautiful fountains, ponds, walking paths, children’s playground – it truly is an oasis in a city that will revive your soul.

Berdnardinu sodas

Bernardine garden

Pilies street

Pilies (or Castle) street is the main artery of the Old Town of Vilnius. It is not a very long street but it is filled with life – from restaurants, to street musicians, to ware sellers and art galleries and souvenir shops… Winding narrow streets branch off of it and take you to courtyards and surprise you with wall art…

Pilies street

wall art

Vilnius University ensemble

Just take a right off Pilies street and you will end up in the compound of the oldest university in the Baltic States and one of the oldest in Northern Europe (est. 1579), which also happens to be my Alma Mater.  The campus features a variety of courtyards named after prominent Lithuanian figures and a fantastic church of St.Johns, which, by the way has an elevator to bring you up to the skies again …

Vilnius University

Vilnius University

arches VU

And there you have it. This list is just a scratch on the surface because there are so many more things to see and do not only in Vilnius, but also in the entire country. But I do hope this was enough to add Vilnius to your bucket list of places to visit.

P.S. Photo credits – my father, whose love of Vilnius I inherited, and who is a walking encyclopedia with a keen eye for great photos.

 

 

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A day in Flam, Norway

I’ve been traveling for more than a month and naively expected to be able to blog my experiences as I go. Somehow I learned that I was either too tired from all the adventures to even begin thinking about writing or had no laptop with me at the times when the inspiration came. But now, coffee cup next to me, my own laptop open and peace and quiet in my own house, I am finally able to put some thoughts together which I hope will paint a picture for you (along with the actual pictures, of course:)…

If you ask where Norway is, or how big it is, or what’s it like in general, the answers from people  may vary greatly. Most people know a country like this exists and that it has something to do with the Vikings. But I will go out on a limb and say that not many have an idea of what to expect when visiting it.

First and foremost, Norway is a country of astoundingly beautiful nature, multitude of tunnels winding through majestic mountains with cascading waterfalls, mysterious fjords that are dancing inside and alongside the clouds and towns and random mountain cabins with moss rooftops. It is a country that follows rules, and its people are friendly but rather reserved, which is somehow refreshing. It is also a country of expensive cars (Tesla is a popular car brand there) and seemingly very high standard of living although people did not appear to be overworked (major commuter traffic jams are between 2 and 4 p.m. and retail stores are not open on Sundays and only limited time on Saturdays).

If you ever decide to visit Norway, one of the places that is an absolute must to explore is Flam. We did and we certainly feel that we have seen Norway.

Flam, which is part of the world’s deepest and second-largest fjord Sognefjord,  is about four and a half hour gorgeous ride North West from Oslo with views like this

 

 

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Before we reached Flam, we decided to visit a thousand year old stave church in Borgund.

IMG_7445Stavkirke of Borgund dates back to the tenth century, and is one of the remaining few stave churches that were quite prevalent in Norway. It is is all built from wood and is held together by wood fasteners. According to our guide, they keep up with the renovations of the church, which is blasted by elements, but the interior is original.

When we finally reached Flam, the feeling was incredible because along the way it seemed that nature was preparing us for something wonderful. And it certainly did not disappoint!IMG_7543

Since we arrived in the second half of the day and our overnight stay was about an hour away, we decided to take advantage of the walking trails that are available for those who want to explore the Flam on foot.

The adventurous spirit overtook and red trail to Brekkefossen waterfall seemed like an appropriate exercise after an extended drive:) Unfortunately, the climb was so wet and muddy that only three people of our party of nine were able to climb up and enjoy it.

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Here it is – Brekkefossen waterfall

 

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Which brings me to give you a piece of advice: good clothing is everything when vacationing in Norway. Sporty, comfortable attire, a rain jacket and hiking boots at a minimum are a must. Because, let’s face it, it is no palm tree laden beach where just a bathing suit would suffice (which is how I felt when I was packing my suitcases on an extremely hot and humid day and thoug:)

The next day, we had a grand plan. We decided to absorb all the beauty the nature has to offer, and to take the Flam railway

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It offers unbelievable views of the mountains and waterfalls, along with a couple of stops to take pictures

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Words cannot describe the rugged beauty of the mountains and everything you get to experience riding the Flamsbana. It truly is one of the most spectacular journeys…

After exploring the Flam valley on foot and by bikes for a day, it was time for us to head back. And we left the best for last – the magnificent Sognefjord…

A trip up a winding narrow serpentine road with sharp curves is not for the faint of heart. But as they say, fortune comes to those who work hard and take risks. The jewel of Norway was within our sight

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The most amazing cloud formations were dancing in and between the mountains. Blink – and you will miss the view, blink again – here it is in all it’s glory…

It is difficult to use just the right words and the pictures, although beautiful, capture only a small fraction of what Flam truly is. If you ever get a chance, go there. Your soul will thank you.

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