Archive for June, 2012


Everyone should have this book in a prominent place on their bookshelf and read it regularly to themselves and their kids if they have any.
Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr Suess

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You’ll be on y our way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike,
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never foget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

*** The above text was copyrighted in 1990 .

Vilnius Museum of Occupation

So… Vilnius. Capital of Lithuania. I ended up spending a week here as I was heading to Minsk on June 9 and didn’t have time/couldn’t be bothered going down to Poland. I had intended to use Vilnius as a base of operations and doing short day trips around, but the weather was so crappy for most of the trip that I couldn’t be bothered. Plus, thanks to an anonymous generous benefactor (AGB), I had a free place to stay and someone to hang out with on occasion.

Anyway, my first night in Vilnius, the weather was decidedly shitty and cold, but I spent it drinking a bottle of wine and eating olives with aforementioned travel buddy from the previous post. I enjoyed the evening, though I think that may be because I was fairly insulting and rude, which I hadn’t had the pleasure of being for a while (sorry Eric, really bad habit, though you did deserve some of it :P).

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t clear up the next day, which was a real shame, because AGB was going to surprise me/try to kill me by taking me skydiving! I think he just wanted to see me scream for my life and wet myself. Anyway, we went to the skydiving centre and they said sorry, we aren’t going up today because the weather isn’t cooperating and as they only do weekends I never got the opportunity. AGB was busy the next day and couldn’t do the following Saturday before I left for Belarus. Oh well, next time.

The rest of the week was spent in rather blissful relaxation. Though I think I should have gotten a mani/pedi with the money I saved on not paying for accommodation for the week. I actually ended up spending the week randomly sightseeing (aka wandering aimlessly) and drinking in pubs, café’s and chocolate bars while people watching. Not a bad week overall. I did go to the occupation museum, which was actually quite different from the other occupation museums that I had been to. While the other occupation museums covered the Nazi occupation as well as Soviet occupation (Nazi occupation only lasted a couple of years, compared to the decades of Soviet occupation), this museum really didn’t say anything about Nazi occupation and gave very vague directions on how to get to a Jewish museum which explained more about Nazi occupation. After further research and visiting these museums I have come to the conclusion that Lithuania is either very embarrassed about its role in Nazi eradication of Jews or is still anti-Semitic (or would be there were enough Jews left to be anti-Semitic).

While Estonians and Latvians for the most part tried to have very little to do with Jewish massacres (obviously there were anti-Semites who took part, but it wasn’t a majority), Lithuanians were fairly more anti-Semitic and played a much more willing (and successful) role in eradicating the Jews in the area. Unfortunately, I never was able to find that Jewish Holocaust/Nazi occupation museum, because I think it would have been extremely interesting (and sobering) to see it.

Anyway, back to the Vilnius Occupation Museum. I ended up spending a good two hours in this museum. It was rather large and had a very detailed and excellent exhibit. The exhibits (as far as I could tell) were in Lithuanian, Russian and English. They had detailed exhibits on the occupation, they had an entire floor of the building (previously used as Cheka, Nazi and KGB headquarters) as an exhibit of the prison in the basement (not sure they had to refurbish most of it, I think a lot of it was original) and access to the exercise yard and execution room.

I’m going to do a comparison here. Might be a bit unfair, but it’s my blog, so if you don’t like it, comment. I visited the KGB museum in Tartu, Estonia, which was in the basement of the building used as KGB headquarters during Soviet occupation. The bottom floor in Tartu was used as a prison and was an extremely sobering experience. It was disturbing to see where these prisoners slept, were kept in isolation, were punished, etc. Frankly, it was nothing compared to the prison I saw in Vilnius. As I said, this may be unfair as Vilnius is at least 4 times larger than Tartu and presumably has always been larger. I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the one in Vilnius unfortunately, so I can’t show you what I’m talking about. It was sobering. It was shocking. I found my mind wandering to thinking about other things to try to block out what I was seeing. You can’t block it out though.

It was about 20 degrees Celsius outside but this basement was freezing. I was cold wearing a jacket and scarf. There were interrogation rooms, which weren’t much different from the rooms prisoners slept in except there was a table and stools. I imagine when it was a working prison there were probably also items used for torture in there. The solitary confinement rooms were small, though decidedly larger than the ones in Tartu. There was at least room for a person to lie down (assuming they could stomach the cold as they were stripped down to their underclothes) and a place for them to relieve themselves but it could not have been enjoyable, being stuck in a small, cold room with no opportunity for exercise whatsoever. At least the regular prisoners were allowed 15 minutes or so a day to walk outside and see the sun.

There were also rooms where prisoners who misbehaved were punished. Not punished via whipping or solitary confinement (though I suppose they were alone so maybe that counts?) but they were forced to stand on a small metal stand about as big around as a bar stool. This metal stand was raised about a foot off the ground, but it was in a dip in the floor that apparently during the summer was filled with cold water and during the winter was ice. If the person lost balance or fell asleep they fell into the water or onto the ice. It’s a type of torture I’d never actually heard before. The display didn’t say how long prisoners were stuck there for, but I imagine it was long enough to be sufficiently painful.

You can also go into a separate basement room which was used to execute people. An American/Lithuanian charity helped to pay to have it excavated and refurbished so that people could see it. I should probably get the name of the group. Anyway, the entire (seemingly soundproofed) area made up of a couple of rooms was redesigned so that you walked on plexiglass and saw sand underneath with stuff found in mass graves and in the room. I was grateful for this. I had a hard enough time coping in the room as it was, I don’t know how well I would have coped knowing I was walking on the same floor that had seen hundreds of people murdered, knowing those people had been thrown in the back of a truck and then tossed into a mass grave a few kilometres away. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there long.

I’m not really sure how to wind up this blog, or even if I should really post what I’m thinking before I leave Belarus (welcome to the Iron Curtain). I’ve learned about the Holocaust in school, not so much about Soviet occupation, but I learned plenty about that here in the Baltics where they were most affected by it in Europe. You look at the number of deaths by both regimes, the type of control they asserted, the atrocities they committed and you can’t help but wonder, “which was the lesser of the two evils?” I suppose it depends on your economic position, whether or not you were Jewish, whether or not you agreed with the basic ideologies of either of the regimes (for instance, a Latvian man disagreed with killing Jews but otherwise agreed with Nazi ideas), and how secure you were in the knowledge that you were going to die of natural causes.

I wasn’t brought up to hate people. The church I grew up in didn’t say I was better than anyone else, didn’t preach against gays, I was never taught to be racist or disagree with bi-racial marriages or told that socio-economic problems are the fault of the Native Americans or Mexicans or African Americans who may be in the majority of lower socio-economic areas for whatever reason. I may not really like people that much but I could never imagine persecuting, torturing or killing anyone because they disagree with me, or because they have more money than myself or because they are from a certain background.

I was asked by someone, who shall remain unnamed,  in discussing my opinion that people are to be treated equally “if some known neo-Nazi’s walked into a restaurant that you owned, would you let them eat there?” Yes I would. I disagree with their beliefs, I think their beliefs are vile and repulsive, but if they haven’t committed any crimes, if they are out and about walking free and have the same rights as everyone else and they are going to pay their bill then I have no right to deny them at my restaurant just because of their beliefs. What kind of person would that make me? No better than them, that’s for sure.

Basically, I just can’t imagine how people could have committed the atrocities that they did. Throw someone in jail for murder or robbery or assault. But for disagreeing with communist ideas, or the government or for not hating someone? I just can’t understand it. I understand WHY, but I don’t understand HOW governments could have instituted these policies or how people could have sat by and watched or actively participated in murder and torture. I don’t understand how they STILL can, because let’s face it, it obviously happens.

I think it’s important that people learn that these things happened, that these things STILL happen. It’s important that we educate ourselves on these topics because it’s through education that we learn what really matters and what needs to be changed.

Klaipeda

Klaipeda was my first stop in Lithuania. It’s a seaside town most notable for the spit just across from the main port. The Curonian Spit was actually my sole reason for going to Klaipeda. That and the fact that I wanted to spend as much time near the ocean as I could before heading inland for2 months. Pending on your budget and how picky you are I would recommend staying at Klaipeda hostel. It is the only hostel in Klaipeda and it’s a good 10 minute walk from the old town (really not that far when you think on it). However, it is conveniently located right next door to the bus station and across the street from the train station. It says on directions of how to get there ’20 m from bus station’ and they were not joking. It was so close I actually passed by it the first time not expecting it!

Anyway, there really isn’t a lot to the Old Town. Personally, I wouldn’t go for the Old Town at all. There were a couple museums I would have really liked to check out, but I was there Monday and Tuesday and decided to do the town Monday (silly me) when all the museums are closed. Didn’t plan that one very well. Still it was nice to wander around and sit around and eat and drink tea and smoothies and maybe the odd glass of wine all day.

Anyway, Tuesday I rented a bike to ride down along the Curonian Spit. If you stay at Klaipeda hostel you can rent a bike from them, or you can rent from the bike shop that is just near the old ferry terminal and it costs exactly the same amount. Despite the fact that I hate riding bikes and haven’t been on one since I was 16 I had heard that the best way to see the island is by bike. I most wholeheartedly agree with this statement and despite my sore arse about halfway through, decided it was worth every penny and moment of soreness.

There is a most excellent bike path that one can ride up or down the spit (depending on where you start). I started in the ferry terminal “town” called Smiltynė and decided I would only go as far as Juodkrantė which is about halfway between Smiltynė and the popular summer resort town of Nida, as it was not really summer (definitely didn’t feel like it anyway) and there didn’t seem to be a lot to do in Nida. Pretty sure the ride there and back (didn’t want to pay for a bus back to the ferry) was a sufficient workout for the day. Riding there I decided to take the road and not the bike path (no idea why, it just worked out that way) but it was still a beautiful ride, if slightly more difficult because of the hills.

There are actually quite a few things to see in Juodkrantė. The first thing I did was stop for lunch and a drink. I feel like with all that exercise I need to cancel it out with something unhealthy. Had a delicious lunch and delicious melted chocolate with nuts for dessert. Yum Yum. After recharging my batteries I decided to ride about a kilometre south of the town to go see the nesting spot for the herons and cormorants, bird lover that I am. I rode down via a cycling path along the beach which allegedly held a sculpture park with over 100 sculptures, but most of them just looked like rocks on sticks. I was rewarded by the beautiful view (you could see over to the mainland) and the ridiculous number of swans hanging about in the lagoon. One was right up next to the embankment so I decided to use the opportunity for a photo op until it noticed me there and started to threaten me. Needless to say, after growing up with my dear friend Amy who had ducks and geese and being attacked by them I did not have any desire to repeat that experience.

Killer Swan!

So I continued on my merry way to find the herons and cormorants and you could actually smell them before you could hear them. Birds, as most of you probably are not aware, are very dirty creatures. They poo anywhere and many a car is evidence of this. If you own a bird and you don’t clean out it’s cage regularly, you smell it. So I was riding along and could smell the unmistakable stench of stale bird poo and noticed a lot of it on the ground. At this point I was slightly concerned about getting poo’d on, but managed to make it through unscathed. Eventually I heard the cacophony of hundreds of hatchlings and found the lookout point that I had been searching for! I’ve noticed in this part of the world that things are not well signposted so I’ve been having trouble finding places I want to see or things I want to do. It was pretty cool because during the spring hundreds of herons and cormorants come to this particular spot to nest. Herons on one side and cormorants on the other of course. Segregation is alive and well in the avian community. I happened to arrive at the right time of year (late spring/early summer) when the chicks have hatched and do not shut up. If I lived there it would drive me nuts, but as I don’t I stayed a little while and enjoyed the atmosphere. I highly recommend stopping by if you make it to the Spit.

On my way back I decided to go to the infamous Raganų Kalnas, also known as Witches’ Hill. It’s a nice little walking trail through forest with loads of wooden ‘witch’ sculptures. I wouldn’t say all of them are of witches, but they all definitely look like they could be creatures from a fairy tale. It was definitely worth a wander if for nothing other than the really cool sculptures littering the trail. The last thing on my list for Juodkrantė was to pick up some smoked eel at one of the wooden houses lining the main road. The town is famous for its smoked eel and it’s practically a requirement to try some when you visit the town. Unfortunately, when I went they were out of žuvis (smoked eel) but had other smoked creatures. I was annoyed by this, but didn’t feel like getting other smoked creatures so I didn’t bother. Guess I will have to go back to Lithuania. Oh darn.

Other than some rain on the bike trail back (which I nearly got lost on, don’t ask how because I don’t know) the ride back to Smiltynė was rather uneventful. I did scare the living daylights out of 3 moose, but they ran away before I could get my camera out. I was annoyed, but there’s not much you can do about wild animals. Maybe I shouldn’t have been singing out loud…

Anyway, really the only reason for heading to Klaipeda is to go to the Curonian Spit, and I highly recommend it. You can drive it, take a bus, etc, but I recommend doing the bike trail if you are up for it and just catching a bus back if you don’t want to ride all the way back to Smiltynė.

Šiauliai

So in Klaipeda I found myself a travel buddy who happened to be travelling in the same direction, who very conveniently spoke allegedly poor Lithuanian (still better than my Lithuanian) so we headed off to Šiauliai together. Šiauliai is Lithuania’s fourth largest city and only slightly larger than my hometown at 126,000-ish people. My sole reason for visiting Šiauliai (there’s a lot of sole reasons in Lithuania it seems) was to visit the Hill of Crosses. Talk about moving and memorable. This “hill” is sort of creepy but very touching at the same time. There must be hundreds of thousands of crosses on this hill. They range from excessively large to small little rosaries. They are meant to represent each Lithuanian, however, there are also crosses there from different countries. People who may be Lithuanian but dwell elsewhere, or the religious who were in Lithuania for whatever reason and added a cross. There were a lot of crosses with flags from different countries there and the crosses were extremely diverse in their design. There were crosses with evil eyes painted on them, mosaic crosses, ornate and simple wooden crosses, knitted crosses, etc.

The hill was bulldozed numerous times by the Soviets when it was under their occupation. However, people would still sneak to the hill at night to put crosses up again. That’s dedication, considering under Soviet rule, had they been caught they probably would have been sent to a Siberian gulag. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be so devoted and have so much faith in your religion that you would risk your life for it. There are quite a few things I would risk my life for, but they tend to be more tangible, or at least visible issues. I did take a lot of photos, but none of them can really do this haunting hill justice.

Hill of CrossesKaunas

My last stop in ‘rural’ Lithuania was Kaunas. This is actually the second largest city as far as I’m aware and isn’t really considered rural, but I consider the size of each city in Lithuania to be small enough to consider it rural as opposed to urban. My reason for going to Kaunas was to visit the Museum of Devils. There are over 2000 devil statues in this museum from different cultures, religions and mythologies, including satanic figures of Hitler and Stalin over Lithuania. I did not end up going to the museum because I had a ridiculously scary nightmare the night before (the first I’d had in about 3 weeks, a record for me) and couldn’t stomach going. One more reason to go back to Lithuania I suppose.

The night we arrived (my travel buddy and I) we decided to go get some dinner at a bar that looked alright. It was a surprisingly long walk, but had atmosphere and the beer was cold and delicious so we stayed and had some pizza. I was in the middle of watching a Chelsea match when these kids came in with an entire Guitar Hero band set. No joke, 2 guitars, a microphone and a drum set were in hand. I was frankly rather annoyed when they plugged it in and I could no longer watch Chelsea on the flat screen but as it turns out, Thursday night at BO is Guitar Hero night. Somehow or other we got roped in to playing with them. Needless to say, since my ex-flatmate Alex moved out 8 months ago I hadn’t played Rock Band/Guitar Hero at all so I was a bit rusty. I quickly got back into the swing of things though and kicked some ass and took some names. It was great fun.

Other than the Museum of Devils and Thursday night Guitar Hero I really don’t think there is much reason to go to Kaunas. Regardless of not going to Museum of Devils though, I did have a good time.

What I’m reading now: What happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What I’m listening to now: The Hunger Games: Book 1 Audiobook by Suzanne Collins

See pictures from “Rural” Lithuania here