Again birds… We really love them all!

The time of the year is early Spring. As I already mentioned in some earlier posts, one of the things this season brings back is birds. Many species migrate back from Africa or Southern Europe to reach Northern Europe, where our lovely Lithuania is located. Many activities have been organised for this event, you already had a taste of them in other posts. This time we went to a primary school in Naujoji Akmenė.

Naujoji Akmenė is a town near the park, capital of the municipality where our visitor centre and most of the territory of its park are located. In the town live around 8,000 people, and therefore is much more active and full of people (and children) than Venta. What a wonderful opportunity to go and talk about our activities and what we are doing here!

First of all, the word to Nerijus. Our ecologist is, in fact, the best person to explain, together with migratory processes, issues related to pollution and its effect and consequences on the environment: he managed to do it in a simple, friendly and informal way with a nice PowerPoint presentation full of interesting photos.

Then, my turn came, and I prepared some games to play with children. I chose three birds that are like a “symbol” of our avifauna, very important and endangered species for our ecosystem. Starting with giving some information about them, I then developed some fun games for the last half an hour of our meeting with children, including playing with the characteristics of each bird, with their songs and with their shape.

I was astonished at how well children aged between 6 and 10 speak English, it was another amazing discovery about a country projected towards the future like Lithuania. It made me also think about the long process we have still to go through in Italy in the field of foreign languages. Also, they showed an unbelievable sense of curiosity and asked many questions, some of them in Lithuanian (the help of Nerijus was fundamental) and others in English.

At the end, some children wanted to take a picture with me. It doesn’t happen so often to meet a foreigner living here in this rural region of Lithuania, in the heart of Samogitia, so their curiosity was great. With Nerijus we left a bit tired but happy to have at the same time entertained and communicated some important values about nature conservation to our new generations.

Activities with youngsters

Education is one of the key areas where the institution I am volunteering in, Venta Regional Park, is active. In fact, it is interesting to note how a park does not have the only goal of preserving nature. Of course, this is the main reason for the existence of a park, but it also affects and changes the life of a broader community, the people living in its territory and not only.

Spring came, and it has already brought its warmth. Surely, here in Lithuania everything is relative and, for a person like me coming from Southern Europe, these days could be considered still like full Winter, but here it is different. Snow is gradually disappearing and rain is taking its place, going outside is now a pleasant experience and trees and plants will be soon in blossom.

It’s also time to welcome birds that are migrating back to Lithuania from lower latitudes for their breeding season. And what would it be a better way to do it than involving children? Of course we couldn’t come up with something better, so… we decided to go to the school in Papilė for a super cool event: putting artificial nests on trees.

It is important that children learn the value of nature and the role that birds have for ecosystem, but it’s also important that they learn it in a fun way 🙂

With the help of the ecologist, Nerijus, the responsible for recreational activities, Ramūnas, and mine, we accompanied children and their teachers to some natural areas just outside the town, by the Venta river: here we put on some trees the nests that children had already prepared during the previous days. Birds can be happy, as when they arrive in Lithuania they will find their home already having been prepared. Needless to say, children were very happy about spending a day outside and learning from our ecologist how and why there are animal migrations.

Later during the week, on Saturday, the visitor centre of Venta Regional Park had also the pleasure of hosting a delegation from a youth association: most people were coming from this region, but, in general, there were schoolchildren and youth leaders from all over Lithuania. It’s interesting therefore to note how our institution is at disposal also for other themes not strictly related with nature, like support to youngsters: during their meeting they talked about different topics and problems that affect young generations. Although the dialogue was in Lithuanian and I could only understand vaguely what they were talking about, I had the opportunity to give my personal presentation about international volunteering and more specifically about IVY, the project thanks to which I am here now, showing what I am concretely doing during my staying. The questions I received at the end witness the interest of people and some of the guys even showed the possible intention to go volunteering abroad in the near future, definitely a great satisfaction for a volunteer like me! 🙂

Visit Venta – Interreg Latvija-Lietuva

Venta Regional Park is a crucial institution for the conservation of the nature of such an important area like the ecosystems of Venta River and its valley. What is even more important to highlight is that a river constitutes a unique ecosystem, independently of the administrative territories it crosses. That’s why it’s very important to have a management of the territory as equal and homogeneous as possible.

How is it possible to achieve these goals if a river not only flows between different municipalities but also between two nations? Here it is where European Union comes to make the difference! The EU regional policy, in fact, comes out to be useful in this sense: in fact, it is an investment policy which supports job creation, competitiveness, economic growth, improved quality of life and sustainable development.

In border areas between different States of European Union, Interreg projects are funded: they help to strengthen relationships between nations and to work on shared goals. In this sense,  LatLit projects are designed to help cooperation between Latvia and Lithuania, two countries that have already a lot in common in terms of culture, history and nature.

Our project’s name is Visit Venta (VIVA), and it aims at promoting tourism, especially ecotourism, in the territory of the valley of the Venta River. This is why Venta Regional Park, the institution where I am currently volunteering, cannot be the only institutional body involved, as only a part of the section of the river is protected by the park. In any case, Venta Regional Park is the leading partner of the project, while the other partners are: in Lithuania, Mažeikiai and Naujoji Akmenė municipalities; in Latvia, Skrunda, Saldus and Kuldīga municipalities and Kurzeme Tourism Association.

Tourism in the Baltic countries has significantly increased during the last recent years, but rural and border areas were not greatly affected by this phenomenon. Many activities will be done, together, to achieve the goal of promoting tourism in our area: for instance, preparing new information panels for attractions, putting stopping places for canoes along the river or creating infrastructures for recreation. Moreover, tours that cover both the Lithuanian and the Latvian side will be organised.

Here I am, now and for the next 6 months, to assist Venta Regional Park in better developing our “Visit Venta” project. Of course, I will remain at disposal for all the other ordinary activities that we have, from guiding excursions, both outside and in our visitor centre, to speaking with children in schools and kindergartens, from doing natural monitorings to doing ordinary maintainance and cutting grass activities, and much more.

I will try to use this blog, again, to keep a record of the main activities going on here in Venta Regional Park. As they say in Lithuanian, “Iki greito pasimatymo!”, see you soon! 🙂

Putting merganser nests by the river

It’s December, the hot days we had this Summer are just a memory that is already vanishing. It’s now late Autumn, almost Winter, and the environment has changed significantly. Leaves have started becoming yellow, red and brown, originating incredible landscapes a couple of months ago, but finally all the trees are now leafless. Temperatures have dropped significantly, being mainly below zero in the last week. The first snow has arrived to make the environment white, but it quickly melted. Nature is quiet, and is getting ready to go to sleep for the Winter break.

However, no time to sleep here at Venta Regional Park! Many activities are still going on. Events with schoolchildren are being organised, some courageous visitors still come to see the exposition in our centre or, the most adventurous, to hike in the territory of the Park.

Some opportunities to work outside are represented by a variety of activities we have to do. For example, it was high time we started working on removing all the benches and the information panel in Papilė outcrop. We shot there our “Engaging People for Nature” video, but unfortunately the structure is unstable and is bound to be demolished next year. As a consequence, we needed to remove all the minor structures that could be of obstacle for the company when it would come to do the main work next Spring.

Another kind of activity we had it was when we put merganser nests by the river. Mergansers, in particular the species Mergus merganser, are ducks widespread in all the northern hemisphere. They come to Lithuania during the breeding season, in Summer, before leaving for lower latitudes for the coldest part of the year. They like to breed along the Venta river, in the territory of our regional park. To enhance their nesting rate, we prepared artificial nests to put by the river, so that they can already find a suitable site to breed their offspring at their arrival next Spring. Moreover, actually some specimens don’t migrate at all and stay in Lithuania all year round. In this way, they can already find a place where to live in.

These nests will be monitored on a regular basis to assess the presence of birds inside, and to evaluate the effectiveness of this technique. What we can hope is that the needed effort (the nests were really heavy to transport through the wood up to the river) will be rewarded by some nice hatchlings next year! 🙂

25 km hike in Venta Regional Park organised by us volunteers

A natural park has an essential importance for the conservation of natural environment. However, to achieve this primary goal many other activities are to be carried out. Among them, education is, without any shadow of a doubt, a crucial one to raise the awareness of the importance of the preservation of our ecosystem in future generations.

Venta Regional Park, and I with it, have been working a lot in this sense. I have already had the possibility to talk quite a lot about lessons, games and other stuff carried out in schools and kindergardens in this blog. In this post we are going to discuss a little about another important issue: educational activities for adults, which, of course, must be different from the ones we perform with children.

Some days ago Antonio and I organised a hike in the territory of our park to go and discover some of the most beautiful natural scenarios. Together with them, we had the opportunity to get to know some of the cultural, historical and paleontological heritage preserved in our area.

The weather conditions we found were excellent for a hike: a sunny and chilly day, with moderate wind. We managed, in this way, to avoid both the unbearably hot conditions we had this Summer (together with a huge amount of mosquitos, horseflies and other insects) and, at the same time, the harsh conditions we will probably have in around one month or two.

The excursion started with a visit to our well organised exposition, capable of giving to the visitor, since the very beginning, a clear idea of the richness preserved in the park. After crossing the old wooden Purviai bridge on Venta River, we went through some cultivated fields and reached “Avižlio atragis”, an important spur between the rivers Venta and Avižlys, originated from glaciers around 70,000-50,000 years ago. Here research is carried out to understand what the flora and fauna composition was before the arrival of man in Lithuania.

From there we headed towards the forest and reached the graves of some partisans killed in Purviai during the Lithuanian Resistance. The Lithuanian Partisan Movement was active between 1944 and 1953, reaching its peak in 1948-1949, where most of the partisan groups were brutally wiped off. This kind of movements was the reaction of the proud people of Lithuania to the Soviet occupation, but it never led the nation to a second independence: we had to wait until 1991 to reach this objective, in a different way.

From the burial site we abandoned the road and crossed through the forest to reach Ramoniškė, the place where Juozas Miltinis (1907-1994) spent his youth. This man was extremely important for Lithuania, as he was an actor and theater director. He had his education both in his country and in other important European cities, Paris included. He managed to become the director of Panevėžys theatre, but then he was removed from his position by the Soviet government and sent to Moscow. However, his artistic production was so great and people in Lithuania used to love him so much that they decided to give him back his original job in Panevėžys theatre, where he remained director until his retirement, in 1980.

After Ramoniškė we had again our way through the wood, to reach an interesting natural but also cultural site: the Sister Pines. Usually plants, when growing, tend to get farther with their crowns, so that they can better exploit the amount of light available. The Sister Pines in Venta Regional Park are an exception to this rule: for this reason, they are considered as holy pines by the local population, and some chapels and crosses have been put there.

After having paid a visit to the Sister Pines, we reached the Cemetery of the Vows, a very peculiar and interested place: tourists were very intrigued by its history. In particular, this cemetery was built in 1815 for all the people that were not Catholic or that couldn’t afford paying for their burial. A box for offers was placed by a tree. This box used to have three locks, and three honest people living in the area had each one key, so that, in order to collect the offers, all of them should gather at the same time. This tradition went on until the 1960s, when the Soviet damaged the box, which is actually still there, even though not used anymore

At this point we started the conclusive part of our hike. To come back to the starting point, our visitor centre, we passed through Užpelkiai, a 3 inhabitant village and unlucky theatre of multiple events of partisans massacre. Having such small villages is nowadays common, as many people, at the time of the Lithuanian SSR, were made to move to bigger cities, and their house was destroyed, so as to be sure that they couldn’t come back.

The final attraction along our road was “Velnio pėda”, literally “The Devil’s Foot”. It is a stone located in a little cemetery: impressed on it there is something that resembles a footprint. According to the popular tradition, that would be the devil’s footprint.

We concluded our excursion again back in our visitor centre: time for the final greetings and to go home, a little bit tired but happy, after having shown to our visitors some of the most representative sites of our park along a 25 km path!

Italian and Portuguese languages during the World Language Day

Communication and social relationships with other individuals is what keeps human beings thriving. Nowadays we interact by means of languages, a wonderful tool to express our feelings or whatever we want other people to know.

Different kinds of languages have been a barrier since always between populations that couldn’t communicate each other; at the same time, they have also been an important cohesive element that significantly contributed to building the idea of nation itself.

On Wednesday the 26th of September 2018 we celebrated the World Language Day, an opportunity for everybody to get to know other cultures and to (re)discover the beauty of already known or unknown linguistic heritage.

Venta Regional Park was second to none in this sense: Antonio and I took part in an event in Venta gymnasium. We were asked to talk to some of the children present there about our languages, Italian and Portuguese. For this reason, we prepared a short lesson by means of a PowerPoint presentation: in the first part we highlighted some of the dynamics thanks to which modern Indo-European languages originated, with particular reference to Latin and Neo-Latin ones; in the second part we showed some significant elements of the cultures of our two nations, Italy and Portugal, while at the end of the lesson we spoke a little bit in our languages, highlighting some of the grammar structures and comparing them with English, Latin and Lithuanian.

After our short but hopefully enjoyable explanation we played a game with schoolchildren: Antonio and I had to read the lyrics of a Lithuanian song and the children had to guess what song it was. It happened also the opposite, with Lithuanians reading the lyrics of a Portuguese and an Italian song, which we had to guess too. Needless to say, all of us succeeded in our task. After all, only the best! 🙂

Both teachers, students and we volunteers enjoyed this event very much: a nice opportunity to strengthen the relationships between Italy, Portugal and Lithuania and, more simply, to organise other events in Venta school.

Eventually, we were given, as a present, some chocolate and a local handmade horseshoe with a bell tied to it. We were told that usually Lithuanians put it at the door of their house, so that good luck is attracted to the house itself. Will it work? Read my future posts, for sure you’ll have an idea! 🙂

Let’s try to conquer Latvia!

Hello guys! Some days ago I tried to conquer Latvia! What? Don’t you believe me?? Well, I said: “I tried”, I didn’t say that I managed to! 🙂 As you can imagine, the major problems were at the border, but let’s proceed with order.

I decided to have a trip in my park and some near areas. More precisely, this near area is called Latvia. Since I was “only” 40 km distant from the border between Mažeikiai and Ezere, why not trying? My mental insanity of course suggested doing it by bike. I know that hitch-hiking there would have been much more comfortable and easier, but sometimes the effort of a journey is worth more than the final destination.

This trip helped me also to appreciate more the territory around me and the same natural environment which I was already used to looked amazing under another perspective.

Starting from Venta I suddenly met the Purviai bridge: it is made of wood and I had had the opportunity to go through it in Spring, when its conditions were much worse and some wooden axes were missing, making quite scaring crossing it. This time, fortunately, I found the bridge fully repaired, though it maintains the appeal of an old structure.

After the bridge a dirt road led me through cultivated fields: that day temperature was perfect for a bike ride, and in the chilly air of the morning different colours made the landscape spectacular. After visiting some abandoned buildings I reached Gyvoliai, a small rural village. Here part of the street is paved and beside the village you can find the Gyvoliai mound. God knows what was there during the Middle Age: some people say nothing, other think there might have been some houses, the most courageous (and imaginative) claim that once a huge castle rose up there. Independently of what the true is, the area nowadays looks amazingly well-finished: after all, I have been cutting grass there for months!! 🙂

I reached then Palnosai, after a 6% slope that literally destroys your legs (well, at least the legs of people like me), another little rural town. Time for a stop, drinking some water and taking a look at the information panel in the main square. We volunteers at Venta RP are used to changing old and ruined panels, but this seems OK. It was time to go to Viekšniai then, and it was time to do it from the old dirt road! No choiche could have been worse in the end, as the road was in very bad and muddy conditions, and I had to struggle for more than 5 km at a ridiculous speed!

Viekšniai is one of the two most important towns in Venta RP, and it is very old. Some important Lithuanian people used to live there, and for some of them it is possible to visit their museum. For instance, did you know that the first aviator of history was from Viekšniai? Well, actually he never managed to fly, but, during the XIX century, he managed to obtain funding for its researches on the flight principles, and some of the models he developed went quite close to flying. Moreover, the principles he applied were the same applied by the Wright brothers some years later. In Viekšniai there is a museum entirely dedicated to him. Also, it is possible to visit the house of the Biržiška family, which gave its contribution to the development of the nation. In particular, one of the members, Mykolas, was one of the signatories of the Act of Independence of Lithuania in 1918.

Other interesting attractions wait for the visitors in Viekšniai, but I had no time and needed to head towards Mažeikiai, the biggest town in Lithuania not to be the capital of a county. For this part of the trip, finally I reached the main road, where I could maintain a decent speed with a relatively low effort. I just needed to pay more attention to cars. After some other kilometres I eventually reach the town of Mažeikiai. The city is new and it welcomed me with a downpour. Luckily enough, it was the perfect time for rain, as I managed to find shelter below a roof. The main road was almost empty, as, after finishing lunch, I was getting ready to leave again for my final destination: Ezere (Ežerė in Lithuanian). The northern part of Mažeikiai has a big supermarket and many nice houses with well-finished cycling paths: it must be the area where rich people live!

Unfortunately I can’t also say good things about the road that connects Mažeikiai with Ezere: there are three distinct sections with road works and columns of cars waiting to pass, but hopefully in some time it’ll be OK again! At this point, my legs became heavier and it seemed to me to be in a constant rise, but actually Samogitia is completely flat…

And finally, as a mirage, a little house on the left. On it only some signs advertising the company that is carrying out some renovation works. After that building, a small bridge on a river and a blue sign on the opposite side. That little house must have been the previous border police station, as the sign on the other side of the road shows the word “Latvia” surrounded by twelve stars. Nowadays both Lithuania and Latvia are part of the Schengen area, and so there are (usually) no controls at the border between the two States. Just at the border the town of Ezere starts. There is nothing special to see, apart from a typical house/museum that I couldn’t define better, being the explanations in Latvian and being it closed to visitors, and the impressive manor of the town. What is even more impressive than the manor is the huge park located around it, which welcomed me in a fresh and almost Autumn atmosphere.

After a long break, it was time to head back to Venta. What the journey back was about I am not going to write here, it’s just sufficient to say that I arrived at home in terrible conditions, without even energy to walk anymore.

What I learnt from this experience is that, with my actual level of training, I still can’t “conquer” Latvia, but just arrive to the border…. and maybe next time I will hitch-hike! 🙂