I step out of the bus station after 1 hour of sleep and a flight at daybreak from Bremen ... and Lithuania, looks like ... Eastern Europe in the movies.
Despite growing up in New York winters, I'm wimping out now and stop at two second-hand shops seeking long johns. Why oh why did i look at them last night and throw them on the bed?
I'm eating a hard pastry that is shaped and frosted like a forest mushroom, sort of like gingerbread, and there's a lot of haphazard graffiti and I think the apartment blocks to my left are typcial Eastern bloc.
It is so different and also so familiar at the same time.
Traveing in so many places - from the jungle to cities to Africa to Eastern Europe - I am realizing that no place YOU think is exotic or strange or utterly foreign — is.
There's a big giant egg outside my door, looking like all the decorative ones from my great aunt's curio cabinet. Renata, the hostel host, tells me it's from Uzupis, the artist colony. There's an angel statue there; hatched from this egg.
There's exposed walls from an old stone church compound in this hostel courtyard. I can walk anywhere in Old Town, which is a UN World Heritage Site, in 25 minutes. I will.
There's also some of the same stores I see in Germany, chain coffee places, a McDonald's and a cosmo feel. It's new but as I walk, it feels like any other street.
Part of the wonder of traveling so much is that nothing is exotic once you get to know it.
Walking down the street, I see a sign that says "Cats live here." Oh. Really? Inside there's a cafe with gelato, and nine cats who rule the roost. They are sleeping everywhere on the white chairs and on the habitrail. I order a red tea despite not being thirsty and have a seat for a moment or two of zen, watching a cute tortie play with a dangled stick.
I'm. coming. here. every. day.
This afternoon taught me quickly a few things:
1. Vilnius, the capitol, is hip. The mayor, after all, is an art fan and Uzupis is its own district, formed by artists. The streets of cobblestone are lined with bars and pubs and cozy restaurants. People pass by speaking in Lithuanian and sometmies English.
The hair style of choice for young and hip is shaved on the sides.
People don't so much consider personal space in some situations. Not in the Latin, let’s crowd together on this chicken bus and that menas I harbor no ill will that your sweaty arse is reasting on my shoulder, as the guy next to me is OK with my arm sliding off his own sweaty appendage, because this is how it has to be. The woman off the plane nearly ran me over to get in front. I stepped out and stood my ground. I got jostled a few times in the street. I let those go.
I went to the national ballet, in the opera house. It was nice to go, and it was interesting but there as a lot of walking around on that stage. I had a hard time staying awake in the first half. Of course, I don't love ballet, but man was I tired.
I liked being in the 1974-built Soviet opera house, with the big chandeliers and red carpets. I then walked back, wondering how any of us withi all this black ice coating every surface.
Tomorrow I interview the artists in Uzupis and will learn to shoot machine guns at a range. I don't really like guns that much; I'm most excited to do this typical Eastern European thing and to have the experience of a guy from the military teach me in bare English the basics to make sure it's all ok. I want to see our communcation unfold (usually miming).
I'm sad that it is confirmed, the tank is out for repair. I was looking forward to learning how to drive it.
I'm in Lithuania, which sounds so strange and mysterious... and I'm again elated with the world, that it ... isn't. At least not so much. I already feel at home, but the new kid figuring out how to make friends.