I know this is a repeat-observation, but travel between the Baltic countries by bus is hard to beat. About half of the space inside these interstate behemoths is allocated for what public aviation pawns off as “business class”. At $5.00 a ticket-upgrade over regular seat-fares, it is not exactly a bank-breaker. Once again, I rode in style.
For most of the ride, I stared outside to scrape whatever first impressions I could from this new country reeling by the bus window. Initially, Latvia’s southern blandness melted unnoticeably into Lithuania’s northern one. It’s like that question, “So, tell me, since it’s your birthday and you’re no longer in your 30s… how does it feel to be 40?”
I recalled a conversation I had with an acquaintance prior to taking this trip. She told me about how – at least among the Lithuanians with whom she spoke – they don’t necessarily have anything particular against living in cities there. However, given the choice between living in a small-town and in a much smaller village setting, they prefer the latter. The oddity of that observation remained dormant right up until I crossed into Lithuania, because I had no practical use for and connection to it up until then. The imminent border-crossing re-centered the comment into the forefront of my thoughts. And wouldn’t you just know it, the “March of the Hamlets” started right up on cue. With the notable exceptions of two larger towns, the flat terrain, the tall pines, the straight roads and tiny clusters of homes dotted the landscape like pips on dice practically the entire way to Vilnius.
The Vilnius outskirts greeted our bus with all the post-Soviet dreariness one might expect in this part of the world. The overcast day and the quiet aboard the mostly-empty bus assuredly played a major contributing part in my pensive mood.
As was the case with Armenia a while back, I reminded myself once again to stay unassuming, objective and open to whatever this place had to offer. About ten years ago in a certain, exceptionally challenging, school, I somehow acquired the ability to strip past the presentation-style of a given lesson, in order to comprehend its point. Lessons would be intentionally presented under a variety of circumstances. My favorite saying at the time was “I’m a blank slate, waiting to be written on.” Repeating that helped me get beyond what I thought I knew, and directly into the heart of what was around me. I managed to nudge myself back over to this line of thinking, collected my bag from the underneath storage, and set about learning what I could of my new surroundings.