Lithuania: Land of My Ancestors

Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 - 0 Comments
That's Where the Barn Was
My Dad Pointing to Where the Old Barn Was

I know, I know. I promised a post about how to choose the frequent flyer program that is right for you. Well, I wrote that post, but I’m going to Lithuania tomorrow, so I will post part 3 of The Beginner’s Guide to Travel next monday. Until then, I hope you enjoy this post about my next travel trip.

Tomorrow, I fly with my girlfriend to Vilnius, Lithuania. I know, you’re thinking why not Paris, or the Carribbean or at least Hawaii!? Well, if you haven’t noticed I am Lithuanian-American. Born and raised in Los Angeles. First generation. Both of my parents were Lithuanian.

Anyhow, I visited Lithuania once with my Father back in ’87, before the fall of the Soviet Union. Before Lithuanian independence. As you can imagine, I’m very excited to experience Lithuania as an independent country for the first time in my life.

My previous trip was a whirlwind tour with my Father. We met his cousins and they took us everywhere. In addition to important cultural landmarks (Gedemino Pilis, Kryziu Kalnas, Traku Pilis), we visited places that were landmarks in my Father’s youth. His uncle’s old farm, where he spent summers riding horses and learning how to walk barefoot outside so the country kids wouldn’t tease him about having soft, city feet. His parents’ and his home on the main street in Siauliai, where they had a thriving textiles shop. Of course, they lost everything fleeing Lithuania to escape the invading Russian and German forces, as did many others.

Lithuania, Traku Pilis
Inside Traku Pilis

Last week, I briefly described the sense of “otherness” I feel when I’m traveling in Japan. Upon further reflection, I’ve realized that growing up a first-generation Lithuanian-American in Los Angeles with an unusual name and the knowledge my parents fled their home in order to escape the Russian and German forces that were using it as a battlefield, didn’t really make me feel like I fit in with my closest American friends either. Having to spell and carefully pronounce your name every time you meet someone, and listening to it being mispronounced every time someone is reading it, doesn’t engender feeling “normal” or a sense of belonging. So, I am intimately familiar with a sense of “otherness”. I can relate to one of my favorite travel writers, Pico Iyer, who is of Indian descent, born in England and then raised in California.

Perhaps this has influenced my wandering spirit. My wanderlust. I never really, truly felt at home in the first place. From the very beginning. So if home isn’t really “home” where does that leave you?

Regardless, I can’t wait to have my name pronounced (and spelled) correctly wherever I go in Lithuania. Algis Tamosaitis is not the most English friendly name.

Backyard of My Dad's Old House
Backyard of My Dad’s Old House in Siauliai

I can’t wait to have my choice of Lithuanian restaurants to visit. Los Angeles, sadly, has no Lithuanian restaurants. Sorry Cafe Montana, being owned by Lithuanians and having 1 or 2 Lithuanian dishes on the menu does not qualify as a Lithuanian restaurant. I’m planning on going a bit crazy getting my fill of my soul food. Kugelis (potato kugel), bulviniai blynai (potato pancakes), saltibarsciai (cold borscht), kaldunai (dumplings), raguolis (cake with horns), kopustai (sauerkraut) and many more culinary delights await. Plenty of photos will be taken.

I can’t wait to speak Lithuanian and read signs, maps and menus in Lithuanian. Yes, I am fluent. My parents made sure of that. Lithuanian was my first language and all that was spoken in our house for many years. English was learned at school. Also, my Saturdays were not spent playing sports with the neighborhood kids. No, Saturdays were for Lithuanian school. You can tell I loved that. Despite speaking two languages fluently, I rarely get to speak Lithuanian these days. My Lithuanian friends are scattered all over LA and the world and there just aren’t many opportunities.

I can’t wait to visit with Lithuanian friends from Los Angeles, who moved to Lithuania once it regained its freedom. It will be delightful to recollect the past and have tour guides to show the interesting local spots to eat and drink.  Stay tuned.  Updates to follow.

Friendly Deer
Lithuania Has Some Friendly Deer

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Hi, I’m Algis


I have an insatiable wanderlust which takes me to some crazy places where I try strange foods, pretend I'm a local and talk with elephants. Keep reading...

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