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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Until the next time, America...


Lithuania, here we come. We're leaving Falls Church this afternoon for Vilnius, flying there via Frankfurt. Assuming we land on time, it'll be early in the afternoon on Friday when we arrive at Vilnius International Airport. This should give us the weekend to rest from the long flight (seven hours and fifty-five minutes from Dulles Airport in Washington to Frankfurt, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour layover and then the two-hour flight to Lithuania), and begin to get acclimatized to the new surroundings. On Monday, my daughter and I will start school and work, respectively, while my wife will begin to find out how it feels to be an Asian person in an Eastern European country. I can't speak for Amber and Pamela, but I'm looking forward to getting back to work and learning what it'll be like to work in a small embassy as opposed to a large consulate (like Shanghai). One thing I'm certain of is that the pace of both life and work will be slower than compared to our previous post - Shanghai's population of 24 million dwarfs that of Vilnius' 540,000 (or of Lithuania as a whole, at 2.9 million), while the number of visas adjudicated in the last fiscal year by the consular section in Vilnius was roughly equal the number of applicants Shanghai would see in a day-and-a-half during peak season there. 

Everything I've heard about the city and the country has been nothing but positive (with the exception of when the subject turns to winter weather!), and I've been getting good impressions of my soon-to-be colleagues at post. In the two years that we're scheduled to be in Lithuania, I'd like to learn as much as I can about the culture, see as much as I can of the country and pick up as much as I can of the Lithuanian language (especially after having been trained in only Russian for work purposes). And, of course, the three of us would like to take advantage of our being in Europe to do a lot of traveling to other places on the continent (but not Russia, with the possible exception of Saint Petersburg, preferring to look west instead of east). One thing in particular that I'd like to do is to show my daughter her English and Scottish ancestral homelands (and Irish, as well, if time permits).

Once we get to Vilnius, it may take a few days to get reconnected to the Internet. But when we do, I hope this blog will soon have some interesting photographs and stories to share with you. Until then...






Sunday, May 1, 2016

By the Orioles' Early Light

The action at Camden Yards as photographed by my daughter. She was very pleased with herself for having caught the ball in flight on its way to home plate.

Four days to go until we depart for our next post. Naturally, things have been very busy, with many loose ends needing to be tied up before we go. Tomorrow I'll officially check out, the day after tomorrow we'll sell the car that has served us so well (and taken across a continent) since we returned to the U.S. from Shanghai, and  Wednesday the movers will come and take everything away that we won't be bringing with us on the plane on Thursday. Still, we managed to find the time for one last family outing before we leave the Washington, D.C. area for at least the next two years. Despite the fact that Baltimore is only an hour's drive or so from Falls Church, we hadn't visited one of the most important port cities in the entire country. It wasn't because of any biases held against "Charm City" (other nicknames include "Harm City" and "Bodymore", due to the high murder rate), but rather the fact that Baltimore is easy to overlook with all the attractions to be found in Washington. Citizens of Baltimore will be pleased to learn that this oversight on our part was partially rectified yesterday.
 
Like most tourists, we began our Baltimore sojourn at the Inner Harbor, the very epitome of a "waterfront renewal project", highlighted by our first destination of the day, the National Aquarium



Lonely Planet crowns it "the best aquarium in America", and many would seem to agree, as the seven-story high structure that serves as home to 16,500 specimens of 660 species, was packed with visitors all day yesterday. Amber enjoyed the rooftop rain forest, multistory shark tank and 4-D Immersion Theater (Sea Monsters 4-D: A Prehistoric Adventure), while I admired the glass pyramid that caps the main hall of the aquarium:



Another area of the aquarium reproduces the Umbrawarra Gorge in Australia's Northern Territory...:




...while a special exhibit focuses on jellyfish:



My LP guide describes the Inner Harbor district as being "Disney-fied", and there's a lot of truth to that observation. However, the restaurants and shops are a major source of revenue for the city, and might be worth a future visit to the area (especially for the seafood, a favorite of my wife's): 


From the Inner Harbor, we made the short drive to the Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine. Despite being an American citizen, Pamela preferred to take a nap in the car; my daughter, however, was more than eager to learn the story behind The Star-Spangled Banner. The visitors center has a film and exhibits on the successful defense of Fort McHenry in the face of a night of intense shelling by a British fleet during the War of 1812. It was the sight of the tattered flag still flying the morning after that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that opens every professional baseball game (more on that later):


Outside, a National Park Service ranger was having visitors unfurl and furl a replica of the huge flag that flew over the fort during the Battle of Baltimore:  


The two of us then explored what remains of the fort itself:




Amber couldn't get enough of the crab she'd purchased as a souvenir at the gift shop back at the National Aquarium, giving "Crusty" a tour of Fort McHenry:



She was also happy to have participated in the furling up for the night of another flag, which was ceremonially lowered at the end of the day. Sharp-eyed observers will note the presence of fifteen stripes on the flag. The ensign that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 was the only one with the extra stripes - Congress later mandated that, while the number of stars would reflect the number of states admitted into the Union, the number of stripes would be fixed at thirteen:



From Fort McHenry, we drove to another shrine, albeit one a little more modern in age, though not in design: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the home ground of the Baltimore Orioles. Camden Yards was the first of the "retro" ballparks of the 1990's and beyond, and I'd always wanted to see a game there. We arrived around 90 minutes before the start of the night game, and parked our car in a reasonably-priced garage (only $10) only a few blocks from the stadium. As we walked toward the ballpark, we passed Babe Ruth's birthplace, now a museum (and closed by the time we got there; I'll save it for another visit):



Oriole greats are celebrated inside and outside the stadium; here, Amber poses in front of the statue of Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson (and his literally gold glove):


The team hasn't won a pennant in 33 years, but in recent seasons the team has been competitive. Going into Saturday's game, the Orioles were in first place in the American League East, with the second-best record in the league (their opponent last night, the Chicago White Sox, currently have the best mark):


M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL Baltimore Ravens, is visible from the upper levels of Camden Yards:


As we made our way toward our seats in the upper-deck, a woman asked my daughter is this was her first time to attend an Orioles game. When Amber answered yes, the woman gave her some commemorative gifts, including a signed certificate. The Orioles are a class organization:


The view from our seats. Despite this being my first visit, it was a familiar sight from numerous photographs, and from watching Orioles games on MASN:


#20 is Frank Robinson, #5 Brooks Robinson, #4 Earl Weaver, #22 Jim Palmer, #33 Eddie Murray and #8 is Cal Ripken, Jr. All members of the Hall of Fame, their numbers have been retired by the organization. #42, of course, belongs to Jackie Robinson, whose number has been retired by all 30 Major League teams:


The groundbreaking B&O Warehouse beyond right field, but incorporated into the design of Camden Yards (note the placement of the light fixtures):


As you can tell from my wife's appearance, it was a chilly evening. There was also a constant drizzle throughout the game, though we were fortunate in that our seats had a roof above us, while the rows in front of us didn't. Which meant the fans in those seats got wet, while we stayed relatively dry. The rain was never heavy enough to delay the game, and the attendance last night was close to 30,000:


The action gets underway. Amber was very animated throughout the contest, asking lots of questions and enjoying the between-inning activities, especially the condiment race on the scoreboard (ketchup trounced mustard and relish last night):


The game itself was a sloppy (both teams had two errors each) but exciting, back-and-forth affair, with the White Sox emerging victorious in the end by a score of 8-7. There were four home runs, two reviews upheld (had one been overturned, it would've resulted in a triple play by the White Sox) and a manager getting tossed (Chicago's Robin Ventura). The three-hours and forty two-minutes of play meant it was after midnight by the time we got home this morning, but for me, at least, it was worth it (wrap of the game here, box score here): 


Last year it was Wrigley Field, this year Camden Yards. The Star-Spangled Banner and baseball - two icons of Americana as we prepare to leave for the Old World...