My Favorite Barcelona


Here are some of the highpoints of my trip to Barcelona

Montserrat: Yesterday I took the train to Montserrat, which is about an hour from Barcelona. It was a sunny clear day, with visibility all the way to Andorra and the snow-covered mountains. I have begun to realize that for me, being in nature is always preferable to the cement cities. The monastery of Montserrat is interesting and the basilica is beautiful, but hiking in the cathedral pinnacles of the mountains in the sun was the highpoint of the trip.

Fuente Mágica de Montjuic: The magic fountain near the Plaça d’Espanya. I have always loved waterfalls and fountains. This one has a light show and dancing water accompanied by contemporary rock music. It was crowded, but I got a good seat to watch the water.


Fundación Joan Miró: This is a major museum. The art of Miró is diverse and colorful. I haven’t painted for a long time, but this was inspirational, and I would like to begin again, and have more art in my life. The colorful playfulness makes him one of my favorite artists.

Food!: Teresa Carles vegetarian/vegan restaurant was excellent. Barcelona is a food city, with a lot of vegan options, great vegetables, and lots of olives, artichokes and olive oil.

Vegan raspberry cheesecake at Teresa Carles


I also visited the Fundación Antoni Tàpies. There were not that many works of Tapies, but rather some works of Maria Lassnig, a German introspective painter. Interesting art overall, but this was not the top of my list. Everyone comes here to see the architecture of Antoni Gaudí and I like that too, but again, given all the tourists, even in late March, I was impressed with the work, but not moved.

The city is full of scooters, like the Vespa I have in San Francisco. I love riding around the city and I was longing to ride here and zip around the historical sites.


My next post will be Easter in Lithuania. Stay tuned: I have some really interesting travel plans in April.






Impact of Environmental Changes on Infectious Diseases

The IECID meeting just ended. The conference in Sitges, near Barcelona, had about 180 attendees, with 3 full days of talks and posters. It was an impressive group of scientists, all interested in understanding how climate change and other rapid global changes are affecting the transmission of diseases such as malaria, Dengue fever, schistosomiasis, West Nile virus, and Ebola. There were a lot of talks about how to model and predict what the future will hold for infectious diseases. I was impressed with some of the statistics: malaria is still killing nearly a million people each year. Influenza kills nearly the same number. People travel more than 5 trillion miles every year on airplanes (18 times to the sun and back), and now mobile phones can track huge populations of people throughout the world and help better model how diseases are spreading. There were fewer presentations on wildlife diseases, but people appreciated the work I do; studying deforestation and climate change and avian pathogens.

I got to experience a little of the Catalan culture here in Sitges. The Cau Ferrat museum had paintings of the local artist Santiago Rusiñol, who is revered in Sitges. His house, now a museum, is a mansion on the sea. But even more fun was the Catalan cuisine. My favorite was the Calçots amb Romesco – Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco Sauce. You put a bib on, and take the grilled onions, peel them and dip them in the tomato/pepper/nut/garlic sauce. It is messy but delicious. I was always envious of the people who eat lobster with their bibs: this is a way for vegans to have a comparable experience. Vegan paella is always great too.

Eating Calçots amb Romesco

This is a beach town, but I haven’t seen the sun at all. I must come back in the summer sometime.

Barcelona is Cool!

I arrived in Barcelona to a cool, breezy, rainy evening. The meeting – Impact of Environmental Changes on Infectious Diseases – begins tonight in Sitges. I will give a presentation about the manifold habitat effects on the prevalence and diversity of avian malaria.

But in the meantime, I get to explore Barcelona and Sitges, both super cool cities. It was rather peculiar for me to be in a big metropolitan city after Vilnius. First of all, I like that Lithuania now uses Euros. I didn’t have to change any money, and I brought a lot of Lithuanian Euro coins with me, to expose the Spanish to the coins of the newest Eurozone member. But on the other hand, it makes it very apparent how expensive things are in Western Europe compared to Lithuania. I had a connection in Brussels, and a bowl of tomato soup with some pommes frites cost 12 Euros. I have never had any meal that was that expensive in Vilnius. So now the disparity between the countries is much more obvious.

Barcelona is full of tourists, which is something that Vilnius and Stockholm lack, especially in mid-March. La Rambla is overrun by people from all over the world, and I didn’t bother to wait in the extremely long line to enter La Segrada Familia cathedral. The Picasso museum was full at opening hour. But the Museum of Contemporary Art was not: perhaps because there are not many paintings, but rather conceptual works based on the written word. It was interesting but very cerebral.  The architecture of the city is stunning, and in my mind, with the sea and city, it is one of the more beautiful cities I have visited.

There are lots of fruits and vegetables in Barcelona and I had my favorite kiwi juice at the market La Boqueria. Continuing with my vegan restaurant reviews: I had lunch at Veggie Garden, a small place run by some Nepalese near the modern art museum. All very tasty.

Vegan Seitan Lunch at Veggie Garden


Sitges is a very easy 40 minutes by train from Barcelona. This is a seaside resort, full of restaurants and with famous beaches. Again, there were lots of tourists on the streets, and this is low season. Unfortunately it is too cold to lie on the beach. There are a lot of surfers out and it reminds me of a Mediterranean Santa Cruz.  My whirlwind sabbatical continues here; science with international flair.

Surfers at sunset in Sitges




DSCF4610March 11th was the 25th anniversary of independence for Lithuania. It was a big celebration of national pride. At 12:30, the parade began down the main street in Vilnius, Gedimino Prospektas. Actually, I was rather surprised how small it was. It was a bunch of people carrying flags of the European Union, and then a couple army bands. Then everyone watching the parade just joined in and marched to the Cathedral Square. There was a 200-meter long Lithuanian flag, and it was very participatory, with the public able to hold the flag as it was marched down the street. There were no police barricades or floats, and not much spectacle.

DSCF4582 DSCF4580

It was the national Independence Day, so I took the day off and was able to join a friend on a visit to the Trakai region. We found an ancient hill that was formerly a castle (a piliakalnis). There was a nice old Russian church nearby. There is plenty of archeological work still to do in this country. The nature of the region is lovely lakes, swamps, and forests. We heard some wild boars.

In the evening I watched the uberpatriotic concert/celebration. It was a chilly night, but there were hundreds of people listening to the famous singers of Lithuania. I noticed that it was mostly male singers, with deep bass voices. There were relatively few women singers; I don’t know why. There were many choruses of people encouraged to participate and shout Lie-Tu-Va, Lithuania. I especially liked the 3 heavy metal guys who were whipping their long hair around while singing a very patriotic Lithuanian song. There were appearances by Olympic gold medalists, TV personalities, and one of the leaders of the independence movement, Vytautas Landsbergis. Boys and Girls were on stage singing in chorus and waving their 3-colored flags. The flag is a huge deal here, as it is the main symbol of independence and freedom.

Stage with the performers.

This is a short video I took with the song ‘Lietuvos Valstybė‘, the Lithuanian nation!  Sorry about the bad sound quality.

At the end, the fireworks display was set up right behind the stage, for maximum effect. I have never been that close to fireworks before, and it was nearly deafening, and the sparks were flying. It seems that lawsuits are not part of the culture.


It will probably be another 25 years before this country is truly a wealthy nation like it’s Nordic cousins, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, but the change has been rapid, and since I first visited in 1989, the year before independence, Lithuania has definitely become a proud modern European nation.

Kaziuko Mugė in Vilnius



Here is a photo of the full moon over Gediminas castle in Vilnius. This is the beginning of my sixth month of sabbatical.

Ravinder at the entrance of the Nature Research Centre, where I work in Vilnius


It is now the beginning of spring in Lithuania. On Thursday there was a snowstorm, with freezing temperatures, and today, Sunday, it is warm and sunny.

The streets of the old town at night are picturesque and probably hide a lot of ghosts of the city’s long history.

The days are longer and people are emerging from the hibernation. This is best seen by watching the masses of people at the annual Kaziuko Mugė, which is a huge street fair. People are selling their handicrafts from all over the country. The items that I have seen many times are delicious breads, honey, ceramics, verbos made of dried flowers, wooden bowls and spoons, baskets, handmade soaps, sausages, dried fish, knitted items, and the food stalls selling traditional Lithuanian cuisine. There are few factory made items, and little from outside of the country (with a noticeable exception of Latvian cheeses). The streets of the old town of Vilnius are absolutely jam-packed with walking halted to a stand still. I live on Didžioji, one of the main streets, and it has been hard to exit onto the street these last three days. People have come to participate from the whole country, from the villages and the other cities. It is a mass of Lithuanian humanity and culture with exhibitions of folk music and dances, plus street musicians and performers, all celebrating St. Casimir, and basically the near end of winter. Here are a bunch of photos from the weekend’s event.

I am completely impressed by the lack of alcohol, and the happy family atmosphere. I have been to many street-fairs in San Francisco, and I am sorry to say that there the events end up with trash everywhere dominated by beer and drinking, that leads to the inevitable violence. Despite the reputation of Lithuania being a heavy drinking nation, I haven’t seen any signs of drunkenness or violence. It is remarkably organized and wholesome. I am enjoying the refreshing artistic spirit, with no signs of hi-tech or hipsters. I of course have bought some things, a nice sweater, my favorite black bread, a wooden cutting board, and a very nice ceramic mug.

I found a new vegan store in Vilnius, Veggo. They sell imported vegan cheeses and fake meats. I hope that eventually they will make their own stuff. But basically, it is clear that there are some alternative types living here who value animal-free foods. However, the vast majority of Lithuanians love their sausages, bacons and smoked fishes.


I feel a little uncomfortable taking photos of the Lithuanian fashions, but it is certainly different than Stockholm or San Francisco. Here women still have somewhat different haircuts and hair colors, and it is rare to see a hipster beard on a man. It is only a one hour flight to Vilnius from Stockholm or Copenhagen, but still far more Swedes have been to Thailand or the USA than Lithuania. I know for a fact that any tourist would enjoy the show of people here during the Kaziuko mugė.

View of Vilnius
View of the new skyscrapers across the Neris River in Vilnius


The Friday Sauna, viewed from the freezing pond where I jump through the ice.
The Friday Academic Men’s Sauna, viewed from the freezing pond where I jump through the ice after being heated to 80 degrees Celsius.

Lithuania, the third most miserable country?

I recently read an article that named Lithuania the 3rd most miserable country, after number 1- Syria, and number 2- Chad. Both Syria and Chad are war-torn, and there are plenty of other war-torn countries that are certainly more miserable than Lithuania. Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Somalia and South Sudan certainly come to mind. Anyway, based on my experience, Lithuania is certainly not a miserable country. There are definitely hardships, and the weather is pretty chilly and grey, but overall there is a hugely active cultural scene, with many artists. People are in restaurants and bars, and long-standing traditions are always visible. Everyone is so proud of the Lithuanian language and there is optimism about the new currency, the Euro. People are certainly concerned about the developments in Russia. But it is hard to find a person that really believes that Vilnius will be invaded any time soon. After all, Lithuania is part of NATO. Russia won’t invade.

Miserable Lithuanian boys on their scooters.


But there are hardships. The pension is a maximum of 300 Euros/month. This is barely enough to pay the rent plus the heat. Older people have to grow their own food, or rely on their relatives in order to survive. The big supermarkets and shopping centers have everything that is available in Western Europe, but the average working people don’t have the money to buy these things. The infrastructure could be improved. After many years of quick renovations and developments, it looks like things have slowed down somewhat. Many of the roads and buildings need work. The bureaucracy is complex, and things move slowly.

Also, I notice that “customer service” is not an established tradition in Lithuania.  In the Soviet times, the stores didn’t have much, and people behind the counters sat idly.  I wonder if that has carried over into modern times.  As an example, I went to Nordea bank to deposit some money, and although no other customers were there, I had to wait 10 minutes before someone would help me.  The people working there were just looking at their computers.  Then I asked if I could change my 100 Euro bill to smaller bills, but I found that it was not possible in this bank and they couldn’t help me.

I tried to vote today, but I was not properly registered, so although I am a Lithuanian and eligible, because of the bureaucracy and complex internet forms, I did not help choose the next mayor of Vilnius. I did see the process. It seems easier to vote in Sweden, but more complex in the USA, especially California with all the propositions.

There are many concerts, performances and museum exhibitions. Today I saw an exhibition of the artist Jonas Rimša. He was born here, but lived many years in South America and Tahiti. Here are some of his works.

The spring has come early, and there is no more chance of snow or skiing. I am back into the routine of working at the Nature Research Centre, and seeing friends, with the Academic sauna every Friday.