Home Away From Home

My feelings about Lithuania, my country of birth, are very much mixed. My mother immigrated to England when I was seven, and I was looked after by my father and grandparents until I joined her a year later. Based in England for more than half of my life, I feel in many ways more English than Lithuanian or Russian (my parents are both Russian). I’m certainly much more fluent in the English language than I am in Lithuanian or Russian, I apologise when someone bumps into me, and my passport says I’m ‘British’. Nevertheless, visiting Lithuania always feels like a homecoming. Every year, it surprises me how connected I feel to this small nation. The streets feel familiar, and it shocks me how well I can navigate my way around my home city, even though I’m sure I haven’t been to many of the places since my early childhood.

I’m enormously grateful for all the experiences and opportunities life in England has allowed me, but I do miss some aspects of life in Lithuania. I find the lack of snow and ‘proper’ cold in English winters unsatisfying, compared to Lithuania’s white winters (although these lose their appeal, when white becomes brown). Lithuania also tends to be sunnier and warmer than England in the summer, and I spend much of my summer visits here either lounging around on a beach or wishing my father’s flat had air-con. Other than the climate, I always look forward to filling up on stodgy potato-based food and, most of all, to seeing my family.

Photo: Pine Trees

Photo: Mushroom

Photo: Pine Trees

The mixed feelings come in when I see how different the quality of life is for the average person in Lithuania, when compared to the average person in England. From what I’ve seen, people have to work a lot harder just to get by, and I find this aspect of my visits fairly saddening. When I was younger, I used to say that if I won the lottery or became very rich, then I would spend my money on rebuilding the drab, grey Soviet apartment blocks. Now, I understand that this is the least of the problems, and there’s a lot to be done in terms of healthcare, education, corruption etc. before the aesthetics become a priority.

My family connections in Lithuania mean that I will always have a strong attachment to the country and an incentive to visit, but, even without the family connections, being in Lithuania brings back too many fond memories to stop visiting. However, at least for now, I can’t imagine my visits becoming any more than just that. After three weeks in Lithuania, I feel more English than ever, and ready to come home.

Here’s a restrained selection of some of my favourite sights in Lithuania…

Photo: BeachPhoto: BeachPhoto: Nida

Photo: Nida


The V&A (& Me)

Living in South Kensington, I’m lucky to be a mere ten-minute walk away from the Natural History, Science, and Victoria & Albert Museums. The irony is that I visited them more when I lived an hour’s drive from London, than in my last two years living in SK. In fact, until a couple of weeks ago, the only time I had been to any of these museums since I moved to London was almost a year ago, on a lunch date at the V&A. The date wasn’t a success, but I did fall in love with the V&A café.

Photo: V&A Chandeliers

The designers have cleverly juxtaposed these huge contemporary mesh chandeliers with the opulent surroundings. The combination works surprisingly well, and makes for a really sumptuous, but not pretentious, setting for lunch or afternoon tea.

Photo: V&A Chandelier

The variety and quality of food is also impressive for a museum, with a good choice of hot and cold dishes, sandwiches and wraps, and, my favourite, lots and lots of cakes and desserts (including enormous meringues the size of a teapot, which I wouldn’t know how to eat without making a huge mess).

I finally made some time to make another visit to the V&A and, more importantly, to its café, after my exams finished at the end of June. This time, instead of heading straight for the food, I wandered around the vast space for a couple of hours. It always surprises me how much bigger these places feel on the inside compared to how they look on the outside. On the day I was there, a large section of the museum was closed due to a workers’ strike so, fortunately, I didn’t feel obliged to take in the entire museum in one day. Even so, there was a LOT to see, and I think I probably only took in about 20% of what I saw.

Photo: Giles Deacon DressDress from SS09 Giles by Giles Deacon collection. Given to the V&A by Giles Deacon. The dress behind it is by Alexander McQueen, for SS10, his final full collection before his death in 2010.

One of my favourite things was this dress from the Spring/Summer 09 Giles by Giles Deacon collection. The slightly stiff, classic, elegant silhouette is totally Kate Middleton, and also a shape that I always drift towards (cinched in at the waist and flared A-line skirt to hide my out-of-shape thighs). The Swarovski embellishment is genius (though probably not very Kate Middleton). Sparkly Pacman, ribcage and chunky chain all together – really, could you ask for any more? Not sure exactly where one would wear it…perhaps its sole purpose is to be admired on a mannequin? If so, I think it has succeeded.

Photo: Giles Deacon Dress

Another favourite was this Moschino bag (below) from 1996. I was five in 1996, so forgive me for being slightly slow on the uptake of 90s fashion trends. Similar to the Giles Deacon dress, I like the witty twist on something that is often quite serious. It’s refreshing when designers don’t take themselves too seriously although, of course, there’s a time and place for everything. This bag is apparently meant to represent a scoop of ice cream topped with chocolate, and is intended to be a play on the idea that the fashion world is obsessed with size. The other interpretation was that both fashion and chocolate are guilty pleasures…though I would argue that fashion isn’t really a guilty pleasure.

Photo: Moschino BagHandbag By Moschino, 1996…isn’t the smooth, sleek leather fabulous?

It may sound somewhat trivial to talk about ‘mere clothing’ (or accessories), when there is so much ‘real art’ on display but, for me, there’s something accessible and covetable about an item of clothing because we all wear it: it’s a common denominator of sorts. Having said that, I do also admire and appreciate painting and sculpture, and the sheer talent of many artists.

Photo: V&A GardenI had lunch (a houmous and falafel wrap) sitting outside by this water feature. Quiet and tranquil, you wouldn’t guess that you were in central London. And that’s one of London’s many wonders – there are so many sanctuaries and hide-aways from busy city life, where you can go to recharge and emerge feeling relaxed and de-stressed. In a day of doctors’ appointments, this little escape from reality worked wonders for my sanity. As contrived as that sounds, I think there’s a lot to be said for treating yourself to an over-priced lunch, and enjoying some time on your own with just your thoughts and imagination for company.

Maybe when I’m back in London in October, I’ll be able to conquer the Science and Natural History museums too. What’s your favourite London museum or gallery? Did anyone get a chance to see the Yohji Yamamoto exhibition at the V&A? I got a glimpse of the impressive exhibition space on my visit but, unfortunately, didn’t have time to get a proper look before I left London for the Summer 😦 Must plan better next time…