When Lights Abound

When you live in a place for all or most of your life, you take it for granted. You go where you need to, but don’t make special excursions to explore it or places nearby. The first time I realized this was when I moved away from home to attend college in Rochester, NY. In the United States we have so much land to explore that it’s easy to tell yourself you’ll get to all the places eventually.

Being here in Klaipeda amplifies the feelings of too much to do and not enough time. In this small city in eastern Europe, the reality is that I can’t just take a road trip and come back whenever I have vacation time. I have four months here, and then I may never be back. But I hope I will be! Having a time limit here means I want to do everything I can.

This past weekend was the perfect opportunity to see Klaipeda in a way that not many do. We celebrated the fifth annual Festival of Lights in Klaipeda’s Old Town. It drew thousands of citizens and tourists who came out to see the gorgeous light installations all over the city. This year installations ranged from an interactive video game projected on the side of a building to a hike through the dark woods of Witches’ Hill in Neringa. 

The weekend was doubly special for me because I celebrated my 21st birthday and my best friend since third grade, who is studying in London this semester, flew into Lithuania to spend it with me. While I showed her my favorite places, I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunities around us. I want to see everything and do everything that I can while here in Lithuania with access to the rest of Europe.

After an afternoon on the beach and a fancy dinner on Friday, we spent Saturday adventuring. We weren’t content to stay on the beaten path. Instead, we followed directions to reach the Glowing Hill of Legends, a special project for the Festival but not located in Old Town. We took the Old Ferry to reach Smiltyne and a bus to reach Juodkrante Neringa where we found Witches’ Hill. The walking paths were lit by neon lights alongside wooden sculptures, some of which have rested there for 41 years. Though we couldn’t listen to the legends and traditional origin stories told in Lithuanian, we were warmly welcomed with tea and waffles. The atmosphere was a strange mix of warmth, with families wandering, as well as a sense of timelessness and magic as we stared into the dark forest.

We retraced our steps and reached the mainland with plenty of time left to explore Old Town. We ate hot, fresh spurgytes (small fried dough balls) and basked in the wonder of the lights. We saw people everywhere, families and couples and friends, having a night filled with marvels. I know that even when I return to the U.S., I won’t leave behind the passion for exploration and adventure that I have found here. 

-Sylvia Leary

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