Labas from Lithuania

Trip Start Sep 15, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2011

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's hard to believe I've only been here six days ... it feels more like six weeks.  Currently I am in the quaint harbor town of Nida, Lithuania.  During peak travel season a room in a guest house here would cost an arm and a leg, but I landed a great deal thanks to the cold weather and rain.  That said, I checked into my room tonight only to discover there is no heat.  It turns out they don't turn it on for the entire town until October.  Looks like I'll be sleeping in jeans tonight ...

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 met her almost five years ago when I gave her a tour of the U.S. Capitol building.  She was enthusiastic and welcoming, but warned me that it really wasn't safe to travel alone as a woman and an American.

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. I explained in my very best Lithuanian that we are related and I wanted to say hello.  They welcomed us with open arms and immediately pulled out pictures of my family from back in the U.S.  As we looked through photos, talked and laughed, I was moved to tears to see how closely our lives were interconnected yet never had touched.  This was the moment I had been waiting for.
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.
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Cathy on

Crystal! I'm so glad to read you made it okay! Your entry is SO interesting! Like a novel! Love, Cathy

Marguerite on

Just returned from watering the plants next door where you spent the last year living with your Mom and Dad,
This familiar home of yours seems so far away from where you are now, but it is here and a part of you that you can carry with you.

So enjoyed your account of meeting with relatives. Keep the emails coming and feel the connection here. Love, M.

Lisa A on

What an incredible start!

Rehab on

WOW, I am glad you made it there safe and was able to get together with your relatives and family members. I did wonder why Lithuania was your first stop, but now I know your reasons why you went there. Good luck on your travel and stay safe.

Kevin Gilbert on

That is amazing stuff! It's great you are out there exploring your roots! Considering how almost all Americans have connections like that somewhere and so few really go learn anything about them sure makes that a special few days!

Looking forward to your next extremely detailed adventure post!

Judi on

I *Love* those juicy details you give us, Crystal, and I love your spirit. This travelogue really has the makings of a best-seller. I can see the movie already! And the merchandise, the theme park! Thanks for letting us play "I Spy" and accompany you on your journey. Sending you body heat and happy vibes, Judi

John Panneton on

What a great opportunity ; I know that you will take full advantage .
Good luck; eat well.

Lisa Schultz on

I loved reading your first entry. Makes me miss my time in Europe and all the fun I had traveling. I remember the lonely times too :) Take care friend. Enjoy every minute.

Egle on

Hey Crystal, finally the first blog post! it is very interesting, keep up the good work! I am so sorry you are cold in Nida.. you haven't bought an extra jacket, have you? hope you can still enjoy the beauty of the Curonian Spit.

Joseph Waitekus on

Crystal, this is so cool. Glad you have some photos. Can't wait to see them. If you get a chance, try to get a recipe for Kugeli. Have you ever had it?The recipe handed down in our family is to grate potatoes, add eggs, milk, onions and salt pork and flour, mix all and bake in a large pan. After baked to a somewhat dense cake like substance, it's refrigerated. When ready to eat, it's sliced in 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices and fried in oil on a pan. Wicked good! Just curious if they have another way of preparing. It's a holiday tradition in our family. Love you. Be safe. Uncle Joe

Whit Pharr on

Crystal, sounds like a very interesting trip! Be safe and have fun!!!

Fernando on

Hey Crystal,
I am very happy for you. I can feel your excitement in your first entry. It is like traveling with you! Learn as much as you can and enjoy to the limit. I am sure that it will be a great experience!

Raymond on

Great photos! Svieks
Uncle Ray

Caitlin on

Just reading this brought tears to my own eyes. It's amazing you've already found some of your relatives!

Third Big Day on

Crystal, congrats on finding your relatives. I'm sure you are really happy right now. Anyway, good luck on finding more relatives. Miss and love yeah.

Rose H. on

I'm so excited for you and the adventures you are having, past, present and future. It is wonderful to be able to read your blogs and share these with you on your journey, so thanks for sharing. Love always to you, Rose

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