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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

5 January 2013

Lithuania an Unexpected Journey

Taking two weeks off in such a critical time can be considered a great risk. However the experience recieved on this trip is invaluable in terms of personal development. The photographs I made will be used in pre-production, and the interviews I took and the artists I chatted to are a fantastic help in developing my ideas and generally changing my outlook on life. Immersing myself in the way of life helped me understand fully the culture.

I spent a very long time analyzing and evaluating what I've seen and heard while there and can say with confidence that my outlook on life changed drastically. But that is something deeply personal I do not wish to share at this point of time.

So less talking and more showing!

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit... he had a kickass Russian hat, a military bag and generally looked like a hobo in his oversized winter coat.

The adventure begins in the city of Edinburgh, where we spent a long time walking along the narrow streets and trying to find the city center. The walk from Haymarket wasn't very tiring, it was windy, long and extremely interesting. Not knowing the city we relied on our natural sense of direction. Sometimes my companion chose the direction to go in, sometimes I did; and let myself get immersed into my surroundings. The Edwardian and the gothic architecture, the sounds and the smells of a big city. By a complete accident we came across this cathedral. It came into view - shining in the setting sun - as we turned a corner.

We even went inside - it was beautiful. Unfortunately it was too dark for my old phone to take a decent photograph. The ceiling was so hight it was getting lost in the gloom above. Atmosphere was sombre and quiet. Our footsteps echoed and we did not speak, so to avoid breaking the stillness. We felt small. Suddenly, among this gloom and silence the organ started to play. The sounds bounced around us, making the air thick with vibration. We were standing in complete awe, dwarfed by the grand scale of everything around us; finally realising why and how the powerful the Church was/is to be able to build something like that and why so many people flock there to seek comfort.

Leaving these contemplations behind we finally entered the Princess street. It was busy with people, cars, lights and smells. It was close to Christmas, thus the air was filled with the smell of mulled wine. Before the twilight set fully in, I managed to snap one more shot.

This Celtic cross has no history, and nothing is written on it. I spent a while staring at the intricate designs and the detail thinking about nothing at all and smoking a cigarette. It felt strange, standing there amongst the rushing masses, simply smoking and not worrying about anything. We eventually met with the rest of the group and spent nice few hours in a pub, before heading up at the airport.

Airports are fantastic places. There is so much going on in them. So many people from all corners of the world pass by, money is being exchanged. So many stories. The departures screens always intrigued me. Budabest, London, New York, Marakesh the list of destinations is seemingly endless.

There is a lot of time killing going to happen in the next 48 hours. Our flight was not until 7am the next morning, so we spent this time wisely. Fooling around. I got to play with my friend's DSLR camera, and after more than 30 unsuccessful takes I finally managed to make this shot.

I am quite proud of this one.

Yup. That was me for good 3 or 4 hours. Photographing chewed apples, tables, chairs, floor, walls, etc, etc. I'll save you the agony and skip straight to our next stop.

At 10am of the next day we were in Charleroi airport, in Belgium. The travel to Brussels was too expensive so we chose to instead have a small walk around Charleroi. What I saw there shocked me. Ruined buildings, dug trenches, half filed with rain water and people. People were the most shocking thing of all. They looked both wistful and desperate. A strong feeling of decline and depression blanketed the city and reflected in people's faces. Everything was grey, and the rare splash of colour on the buildings felt washed out and dull. Once a busy center of the coal and industry the city is surrounded with derelict factories and whole areas are deserted.

It looked to us like the town is still recovering from the last World War. Our worries were confirmed in this Telegraph article, where people voted Charleroi the most depressing city in Europe. At the time we of course knew nothing of its reputation, we walked around experiencing a mix of awe and distress. We left the town, a little overwhelmed with the heavy feeling of that depressing the place. What followed was a night in Charleroi airport, filled with boredom infused shenanigans.

Finally we were in Lithuania. My friend's family lived in a large house outside of town, so we had a taste of that life. For two weeks, in between partying and exploring the surrounding area we cleared snow, moved firewood, fixed insulation and even managed to set up a small home gym in the basement. The basement gym was full of character. A rusty construction in the middle of a smoky, dirty basement filled with firewood, animal cages and all sorts of rubbish.

Fixing insulation. The thermal whool got everywhere, and itrched like hell.

Basement gym. Doesn't get more manly than that.

Shovelling snow
In breaks in between those important activieties I had a chance to sample the local night life. It was an eye opening experience. The problem in Scotland is that pubs close at midnight, and clubs are only open until 2.30AM. There is a social pressure on people to get as drunk as possible in the shortest time available. The night is almost over, let's buy 12 shots of vodka! I felt this before, and I'm sure I'm not the only one in Dundee to have done this. In Lithuania it's different. The bars are open until 4am and the clubs close at 6am. This creates a completely different drinking culture to ours. There is no rush. You come in, you sit down, you order something to eat, you drink and talk and the atmosphere is extremely relaxed. Thus everyone involved has a nice, relaxing time. Sometimes going out feels like a chore in Scotland. In Lithuania it's different. No one starts fights. If people get too drunk they quietly sit with their heads on their arms and wait for friends to take them away. Everyone knows that security have batons and are not bound by any laws against driving their knee into your solar plexis. Everyone knows that if they start coming up to random people eventually they will either be left with no money or wake up in the hospital. Hence everything is held together by mutual respect and clear understanding of one's boundaries. I now realise what an easy life I have working in the Union. Here students are young and uniform generally makes an impression. Over there people go to university after they're back from the army. They are hard and if a fight breaks out security don't even get involved until it's over.

After numerous adventures, which are a little too personal to share on the internet, it was time for me to get ready for a long travel home. I spent 24 hours in Riga, wandering around aimlessly, spending the last of the currency on small souvenirs and presents. The old town is a beautiful, medieval collection of buildings closely huddled together, creating a maze of streets, squares, alleys and secret passages. More than once I was surprised to find myself at a location, when I truly thought I was going away from it.

There I met a street artist named Alexander. I bought an original and we spent a while sitting, drinking coffee. In the interview we talked about authenticity of his paintings, how he as a painter takles a subject and how he achieves this feeling of "place". He talked about this and told various folk stories about ancient heroes and folklore characters. He told me that Riga is a city of cats. It used to be that cockrows were put on all high points in the city centre, but now more and more cats can be seen dotted around. Little details like that is what really adds to the atmosphere, symbolism in everything, he said.

I asked him whether he thinks it is acceptable to take old material and re-invent and re-design it to make it more relevant or more interesting to modern audiences. He said, absolutely. He always tells stories of technologically advanced Red Riding Hood and such, this what makes his stories so interesting to the kids. Something they can recognise is automatically endearing and relatable.

During my stay in the airport I absolutely devoured Metro 2033. The book was finished in less than 8 hours, and that's an achievement for me! The book has some very nice ideas about destiny and your path in life, but this discussion is for another time. The short version is that once you make the initial decision and commit yourself to a certain path everything after that, all the events in your life, are going to fall into a certain order. Like in a novel, and according to rules of the narrative. Reading that book put me in a philosophical mood and I spent the rest of the journey home mulling over the events of the previous two weeks. I thought about how people live there compared to how people live here. I thought about how big the world really is; that every person living in that world, all 7 billion people, has a story to tell, has his own worries, goals and dreams. I felt infinitely small and yet hopeful that my fate is going along a right course and leading me to something great.

It is a good feeling.