Luis Fernando Medina Salazar discovers it is easy to get underneath the skin of this beautiful Lithuanian city – when you meet the right people
The rivers Nemunas and Neris, flowing along each side of Kaunas like two bodyguards escorting a celebrity, make sure that the city remains peaceful and protected from its surroundings. As you raise your eyes the two rivers vanish in the immensity of the forest and grass fields of Lithuania to a hill that is reachable by crossing one of the many bridges in the city. Here you'll find the best panoramic views of the city below.
From the hill you will notice, among the iconic architectural symbols of Kaunas, a sign that enforces the identity of the whole nation, advertising an event which awakes the passion in every citizen. Basketball.
"If you want to see Lithuanians getting crazy,' said Tomasz, an art student, painting the view. "You must witness a BC Zalgiris Kaunas basketball game." Basketball is to Lithuanians what football is to Brazilians, he says with a naughty boy's smile, momentarily breaking from the task at hand.
The cold autumn days invade the city. The warmth of the pastel colours of its houses and historical buildings create a cosy atmosphere which helps to motivate the pedestrians to keep on going with the long stroll along the epic cobbled stone streets in old town. The chance to enjoy a city anywhere in Europe like Kaunas is fading like a teenage dream, but for the moment Kaunas feels like an imaginary world where the peacefulness and laid-back lifestyle showcase the best of Lithuanian culture and its traditions.
Travel is all about connections with people – listening to their stories of daily-life, understanding the “feel of the place”, getting underneath the destination’s skin to explore and understand its deepest secrets. For me that was a visit to a farm in the countryside close to Kaunas, meeting a ticket seller who fought a bear and survived being a prisoner in a Gulag in far-east Siberia. It led to an unforgettable trip and encounters with some of the most amazing people I have ever met in my travelling life.
“Did you know that in Lithuania the skies are low and we believe our trees have souls?” Birute is a person who knows the stories and local facts of Lithuania like no-one else. With long blond hair and lapis lazuli blue eyes, Birute is, in the words of those who know her better, the human representation of Lithuania itself. She is also a walking encyclopaedia of everything you need to know about her country and her beloved city, Kaunas.
She tells me that October is the time of the year when the clouds make this impression most, when a magical energy fills the pure air coming from the Baltic Sea – an energy that traps you with the same intensity of a teenage first love. Whatever the reason, the sky looked so close that I felt I could touch it, and by force, change the weather.
That is Kaunas. Where imagination flies with the clouds, revealing unpredictable adventures in the timeless landscapes of Lithuania.
Passenger Diaries is the blog of Mexican freelance photographer, writer, tour guide and explorer, Luis Fernando Medina Salazar. He uses it to describe the world and interpret its people, events and festivals, issues and personalities, reflecting all aspects of life throughout the planet Earth.