Summer bliss

Sometimes you need a good excuse to be a tourist in your own country. Magdalena‘s visit provided the perfect pretext to spend a week enjoying some of the most beautiful spots in and out of Lisbon. Finally came the moment to visit Palácio da Pena, the colourful-straight-out-of-Willy-Wonka royal house sitting on top of a lusciously green hill.

Note to self: next time stick to the palace’s exterior and choose only to visit its gardens, as the crowds are more sparse and you don’t need to queue all day to visit its not so remarkable interior.

Praia da Ursa, a stone’s throw from the westernmost point of continental Europe left me in utter awe. Its uneasy access and lack of infrastructures make it the perfect spot away from the hordes. It takes roughly 20 minutes to walk down and along the way

There was also time for some south-of-Lisbon adventure: Praia do Pinheirinho and Cais Palafítico da Carrasqueira. For the latter, make sure to get there before the sunset, you’ll definitely thank me later.

Danke! Viskas bus gerai!

Photography credits to Magdalena.

Laba diena!

People ask me why I come back to Lithuania…

It is quite easy to answer such question, as everything can be summed up in one word: people. Cliché… but clichés exist because they can be true.

After losing the bus that would take me from Rīga to Biržai, my backup plan was hopping in a mini-bus that left me on the outskirts of the Latvian capital and then sticking my thumb up, hoping that someone would be kind enough to give me a lift. Sooner than I expected, I got a ride from a Lithuanian guy that left me close to my destination. My confidence was quite high and in no time another car stopped and Biržai soon became a reality, one hour ahead of the bus I was supposed to take.

Rita was waiting for me outside her palace the museum where she is working as an EVS volunteer. I had never been in Biržai before, so Rita managed to be my local guide until the freezing cold weather forced us to find warmth in the apartment she shares with other savanoris. Tasty, intercultural food and drinks kept us chatting until I couldn’t keep my eyelids open. I got some sleep and early in the morning a bus awaited me. And this time I couldn’t afford to miss it.

As I was crossing the flatlands of Lithuania, I was getting more and more anxious. Plungė was soon becoming a reality. The town that I had made my home for 10 months was receiving me for a few days once again.

Kristina was the key to make it all happen. She did everything in her power to make me feel part of her family. She was waiting for me at the bus station. An emotional moment soon unravelled.

I small meeting was held at her home. Familiar faces that I had kept in my mind since the day I left. Familiar faces led to familiar moments. I felt incredibly welcomed.

However familiar, things had changed a bit as well: the children’s library no longer felt like the neglected son; cool new venues where to go for a meal or grab a cup of coffee had opened downtown; many buildings had received a fresh coat of paint; Kristina was now working at the children’s library; a new EVS volunteer, Ekaterina from Russia was now taking the place that Anastasia and I had left in September 2016.

I was happy. Those few days spent there were over in a blink of an eye.


In the Spotlight with… Rita Mendes!

In the Spotlight with… began as a little project in my previous blog (Take the Plunge), in which I invited friends from all around Europe, who were crazy enough to become EVS volunteers in Lithuania, to share a bit about themselves and the projects they were developing.
I have now decided to resurrect this idea and invited my dear friend Rita, who recently became a volunteer in Lithuania as well, to share her thoughts.
Live from Biržai (Lithuania)!

Who is Rita? Be brief.
1,70 cm, brown hair and eyes… Well, that is difficult. I think Rita is a strict person, concerning the things which really interest. I consider myself as tolerant in many different ways and subjects, but that doesn’t mean absence of criteria or limit. Actually, I have my ideas quiet well defined but I always try to understand the others around me. If I do not understand them, how will I expect that someone will understand me? I like to meet with different people, but I also cherish having my own space and time. I like to think about issues but also to enjoy a very good moment just by emotions. I care about people in general, but even more the ones I really like. I’m not a person of having many people around, unless it means to party! I could say a lot, but I think this is enough.

Santa Rita

What made you decide to become a volunteer? Both as an EVSer (European Voluntary Service volunteer) and in your previous experiences?
The need and willingness to help and know people more.
Regarding the need to help: please don’t see this on the romantic way of showing off and being kind just to say that to the world. For me that is not the real volunteering or kindness. I simply believe that all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s in our power to use the good we have in ourselves, share it (it can be simply a conversation with someone else) and with that we may change a life. We are not all born in the same places, we don’t naturally have the same access to good weather, food, money or even knowledge.
I believe I can help someone through different actions, by sharing my knowledge, helping to cross a street, having a good conversation, … I think the aim should be always one: make the people with whom I interact better in a certain way. This feeling fulfils me a lot.
About knowing more people the reason is short: I think we become more complete as human beings as much we know about other human beings. And we just achieve that the most when we contact with different ways of living, different realities. It shows us how small we are and give us much more sensibility and human tolerance and conscience.

It is normal for people to make stereotypes, especially when you are unfamiliar with the subject. Introduction aside, what were your thoughts on Lithuania before being there?
Actually, I did not have that much information about Lithuania. For me it was a country as any other of this unknown European region, where I had no idea about lifestyle or people. When I searched for EVS program it was one of the reasons that made me choose this country. Meanwhile, during research I learnt a bit more about it and also could talk with some people who already had gone there and it was essential to decide. Besides, having a friend (YOU) that made EVS in Lithuania helped me making the decision and knowing more about the strong and difficult weather, the food or some aspects of lifestyle.


What is a typical day for you in Biržai?
Well, I wake up at 7:30 every weekday, walk to my working place, the “Biržų krašto muziejus – Sėla”. I work there from 9:00 to 16:00 and have one lunch hour. Usually I go to have lunch at 12:00 with my tutor and my partner, also savanoris (volunteer), Natalia. We go to the public canteen, Valgykla, where we meet lots of locals: policemen, teachers, museum staff and others.
In the museum the tasks are many and we don’t usually do the same things everyday. We work on texts to prepare tours in English and other educational programs that museum offers, also attend to some workshops and prepare and give lessons, give ideas and discuss about what to improve in the museum.
After work, around 16:00, I usually go to the supermarket to buy groceries or for a coffee. Sometimes I go together with other volunteers to the gym or to attend a sports’ event. I am usually at home by 18:00, since it is very cold and gets dark very early. Occasionally we (all the volunteers) meet in someone’s flat to have some tea and enjoy the time together. The typical time to go to bed is 22h30 +/-.


Be honest, how is your Lithuanian going?
Well not that good, unfortunately. It is a very difficult language and I was not expecting that. Everything is different, from sounds to way of thinking and of course the words. So until now I just barely understand some words or usual expressions. But I am determined on learning it. I want to be able to communicate with everyone here and I feel that the language is in fact a barrier.

Have you already discovered something about yourself during the time you’ve been in Lithuania?
I don’t think so. At least not that clearly. I think it’s too soon for answering this question with a clear response. We are always changing ourselves and finding something more about us. Here is no exception. Maybe things are more intense in the way we live because everything is new, and maybe it will result in a bigger exposition of our personality. But until now I didn’t think on that too much.

Snowy Biržai

Now for the cliché one: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Well, still have no idea. That is the one million question! But doing something related to my course, physics and bio-engineering, making more volunteering actions or doing something related to my ‘’passion’’ arts. In fact I have some ideas, but still being developed inside.


If you had to give some advice to future EVS volunteers, what would you say?
To choose properly the project they want because it would be half of their daily time and a good project is half of the way. To try to know the most about their receiving organisation and have some previous feedback because it will influence the way some personal problems will be solved and the accommodation conditions, which also depend on the place of the project.
Being conscience about which are the rights and the duties of each involved part, since they will be our “laws’ during EVS program.
Besides, to try to enjoy the most and take the best part of what this experience is. We have a freedom to be ourselves and improve the skills we want, sharing it in a multicultural way that is extremely rich.
Each one make their own experience. Make it worth your while.

Obrigado Santa Rita!