Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Missing folk dancing in Vilnius

One goal I had for this visit to Lithuania was to try to reconnect with an important and dear part of my younger life back in the UK, my involvement in the Lithuanian folk dance group in London. It was through the dance group I really met my lovely wife, Lesley, and we had several happy years rehearsing and performing with them at some quite big festivals. When my daughter, Laima, visited Lithuania, with her boyfriend, Elden, recently, they managed to find some folk dancing to get involved with, so surely, so could I.

Our biggest performance was in Sweden
Professor Google doesn't seem to be quite so good at finding this sort of thing, though, and it's been frustrating trying to find anything. I haven't really timed this as well as I could have, with the benefit of hindsight. In a couple of weeks time the annual Lithuanian Song and Dance Festival is due to take place, where something like 35,000 singers and dancers participate but unfortunately, I'll be in Finland by then, heading for the UK. But surely, the dancers involved in that festival would be rehearsing for it, right?

I asked the receptionist here and she kindly put me onto the Lithuanian National Cultural Center who know about all of these things. So, after breakfast I set off in search of the building which is very central, not far from Gedimino Piles, right by the lovely little river Vilnia, in Bernardine Park.

When I arrived, the lady there was very curious about my background.

"The dance group you were in, what was it called?"

"Lietuva", I replied.

She didn't look impressed. It was as if she thought I'd misunderstood her question. It's fair enough, I suppose. I mean can you imagine a Morris dance group called "England"? I always did feel a bit uncomfortable about the name of our group.

Anyway, she seemed to understand that I wanted to see a dance group rehearse and told me to come back in an hour or so. The details of why, I must admit, I didn't quite understand, but it felt like a positive step so I went for a walk and came back about an hour later.

Don't mess with Gediminas

Three Crosses on a Hill

The lovely Vilnia

Lithuanian National Cultural Center

St Anne's Church

This was just time enough to have a couple of cepeliniai and see the start of Portugal v Morocco and Ronaldo's powerful header to put them 1-0 up.

When in Lithuania ... eat Zeppelins

When I returned, though, the culture lady didn't have anything for me. The person (or people) she was expecting to come, couldn't make it, so that was that. I did, at least, get to look at their costume room which gave a feel to how big operation was.

The Five Ethnographic Regions of Lithuania

Customes galore here
After that, it was back to the pub to watch Portugal grimly hang on for a win over a nice bowl of soup.

Next on the agenda was to get my rail ticket for my next destination, Kaliningrad. I walked a different route to the station without the use of Google maps, just using my sense of direction. When I got to the ticket desk, I deliberately chose someone younger on the principle that he/she would have better English in case we needed to discuss any details.

Streets of Vilnius

Song and Dance Festival - advertised everywhere

When I asked her for a ticket to Kaliningrad on Friday morning, she showed she did have very good English. After looking at her screen, she said...

"No trains to Kaliningrad on Friday"

That wasn't good.

"But the lady I spoke to here yesterday said there was a train" I blubbed.

She then got up and left her little room and went along to find a more senior member of staff who came back with her. After a few moments of instruction, which I didn't understand, everything was suddenly ok.

"There is one train, at 7:40 am"


I handed over my passport and she filled in details on the screen and that was that.

Kaliningrad ticket bought

Model railway in the shape of Lithuania
At 6 pm I had a bit of a dilemma. Uruguay were playing Saudi Arabia at the same time that Vilniaus Žalgiris were playing Palanga at home in a Lithuanian League match. I wanted to see both so I decided to watch the first half back at the LFF stadium, just five minutes from the train station, and the second half of Uruguay in a bar somewhere.

It was quite an experience watching my first ever football match in Lithuania. First of all, how to get in? The turnstiles were all automated so I clearly needed to buy a ticket from somewhere. Having asked around, bizarrely, it turned out I had to buy my ticket from a fat woman sat in the back of a small car parked next to the stadium. This I did.

Ticket office - back seat of the car

I always find it bizarre how the "hard-core" group of fans, the ones that never stop trying to sing, no matter how grating it is on the ear, often decide to stand or sit in the oddest parts of the ground.

If you're a proper fan, surely you'd want the best view of the game, right? For me, ideally, that's on the half way line. If I have to be behind one of the goals then the best position to see as much as possible, surely, is literally behind the goal, ideally high up so you can see above the cross bar for most of the pitch.

The Žalgiris fans stand right in the far right corner of the end of the ground. So, if the ball is coming in from the other side they're going to get a pretty poor view of it.

Hard-core fans, literally on the extreme right
Great goal...

1-0 to Zalgiris

You have to feel sorry for these people

No socks on the manager

Once inside the ground I walked across to the the main stand that was in the shade as the cheesy Žalgiris song bellowed out from the loudspeakers. I took my seat on the half way line as the Lithuanian National anthem was sung with pride by many.

Then the game started. There wasn't a big crowd, maybe 600 or so, but there was still an odd little bunch of about 40 or 50 who were determined to go through their repertoire of chants and out-of-tune songs with a drummer helping to keep them in rhythm. My Lithuanian isn't good enough to understand many of the words but I am sure their chants are just the same as those in the Glory Shed or the A Block at Forest.

The quality of football, I must say, was better than I expected and I have no doubt that either of the teams would beat Perth Azzurri and maybe even Perth Glory, but not Forest. After 21 minutes Thomas Simkovic scored a superb goal to put the home team 1-0 up. That was worth the 5 Euro entrance fee alone. Later, Palanga had the chance to equalise from the penalty spot but fluffed it.

At half time, I sheepishly sneaked away feeling a bit guilty but I did want to see Uruguay hang on to their 1-0 lead which they did in their usual gritty, determined but dour way.

On the way from there I came the closest I'd get to any Lithuanian dance when I asked a street performer if he could do me a rendition of "Suk Suk ratele"

Back from Chicago, apparently

Walking back from LFF

Uruguay grind out another 1-0 win
Nice bar

It started get a bit nippy so I went back to the hotel and got changed and dropped off my passport and ticket, before going out one last time to watch Spain v Iran.

Although this was yet another 1-0 (the 9th out of 20 games, now) it was actually a nail biter. The goal was lucky too. The defender, clearing the ball, hit it straight onto Costa's leg after which it rebounded straight into the net.

Spain looked very sharp and could have scored more, but so were Iran. They had a goal disallowed and you always felt they might equalise. Hard luck to them. I don't think Portugal will be looking forward to meeting them.

So, that's Group A and B's second round complete. The tables are looking like this right now...

Russia and Uruguay are definitely through, Egypt and Saudi Arabia definitely out. 

Morocco are gone too but a lot to play for for the other three. I must say, I fancy Iran to shock Portugal and go through with Spain.

So, three more 1-0 wins. The goals per game is drifting down to close to just 2 per game.

20 out of 64 games complete 

Goals per game trending downwards

Most common score - 1-0

So ends, day 23. Still not quite half way.

I had a day off the beer and went to bed early feeling a bit flat. Labanaktis, Vilnius.

Can you spot Venus over Vilnius?

Missing Lesley and everyone today.


  1. very comprehensive. How do you find the time for all this? Do you sleep at all?

  2. Lovely blog! Missing you too xxxx