Labas from Lithuania
Trip Start Sep 15, 2010
29Trip End Jul 23, 2011
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For those of you who don't know why I chose Lithuania as my first stop, it is because my great grandparent's both immigrated to America from here in the early 1900's. As a little girl I have always wanted to know more about these roots and watched the news fascinated by the pivotal role Lithuania played during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Upon arriving, an old friend picked me up from the airport
I took her advice to heart until I met my overnight host, Dan. He is posted at the U.S. embassy and assured me that the crime rate is very low and I should be fine. He graciously allowed me to stay in his apartment for the first two nights while I got situated in the Capital of Vilnius. I was thankful for his advice and ready to dive in.
On Saturday I met Egle and her roommate Kamile at the 1,000 year bell tower in the center of the city. Egle's great uncle was good friends with my Lithuanian great grandmother. First we walked around their favorite part of town called Uzpupis Republic. This unique area is a cross between an artist colony and an upscale neighborhood like Georgetown. I shared with them my plans to walk over to the other side of the city and try to find some of my family members. They were very skeptical at first, but out of pity or compassion, they taught me some Lithuanian phrases and agreed to join the adventure.
After a 25 minute walk we arrived at an old apartment complex with teenagers playing basketball and drinking beer outside. Hopeful that my relatives would be home, we rang the doorbell. Sure enough, my great uncle Algirdas answered the telecom. Egle explained who we were and without hesitation he buzzed us in. As we trodded up the stairs my great aunt Jugana asked who was there. Uncle Algirdas just told her, "America." We entered into their small, but very clean apartment and I showed them my passport and family pictures
Three hours and five baked apples later, it was time to go. During that time aunt Aldona also joined us. She sent me off with fresh Lithuanian black bread and invited me to join her family for dinner the following evening. The next night, I met her mother, Ona, her husband, Vytas, her 26-year-old daughter, Ruta and Ruta's boyfriend Algirdas. We spent the evening sharing about our lives and discussing life during the occupation, Lithuanian art, food and politics.
Aside from these highlights I am slowly starting to get my travel groove. The squeaky hostel beds and monotonous clothes are getting old, but manageable. Some days I feel really lonely, so I try to make friends while examining mysterious supermarket food.
Up next is the town called Taurage. This is where the other side of my father's family originated. Apparently Waitekus is a common name in Lithuania. I've been told by many people that it will be very hard to determine the correct relatives. Wish me luck ... I'll probably need it.