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Monday, April 23, 2018

Vilnius visitations

Trakai

You may have noticed a lack of activity recently on this blog. A long spell of gastrointestinal difficulties forced me to miss significant chunks of work time, and prevented me from venturing too far from home on the weekends. Fortunately, I'm over the worst of it, and just in time, too, as we played host this past weekend to two good friends who were visiting from Belgium. It was great to see Barbara and Jeff again, and next weekend I'll return the favor by visiting them in their new home in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. That will be the subject of a later blog post; for this one, enjoy a few pics of our friends' first venture into the Balkans...

Taking care of business. Soon after their arrival in Vilnius on Friday afternoon, I took them to see the most important sight in the city (and arguably the entire country) - the Frank Zappa Memorial:


Three reasons why I ended up staying out until one in the morning on Saturday, something this old geezer hasn't done in a long while (at the BeerHouse & Craft Kitchen)...:


...and thus necessitating both an espresso and a cappuccino later on Saturday morning at Taste Map Coffee Roasters:


Checking out some insects stuck in eternity at the Amber Museum-Gallery:


In front of Vilnius Cathedral. Jeff thought I was joking when I told him he could throw a rock anywhere in Old Town and have a high probability of hitting the side of a church. A walk through the streets soon convinced him I was serious:



Recreating the original Putin-Trump mural (not the current spliff version) on the exterior of the Keulė Rūkė barbecue restaurant:


On Sunday we drove to Trakai to visit the castle there:



When in Lithuania, do as the tourists, which in Trakai means eating Karaite pastries at Senoji Kibininė:

One is mutton, the other venison. I can't recall which was which

Kibininės beer

Back in Vilnius, we joined the crowds to see the cherry blossoms at the Chiune Sugihara Sakura Park (Č. Sugiharos sakurų parkas):







 サクラ



My daughter checks out the memorial to 杉原千畝, the Japanese diplomat  whose actions saved the lives of an estimated 6000 Jews desperate to escape the Nazis in 1940:


Following dinner, Amber and Shu-E returned home, while Barbara, Jeff and I retired to the Sky Bar, on the 22nd floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel Lietuva, for a nightcap and to take in the views of Vilnius after dark:







The spicy Baltic Spritz, combining "caraway flavours from Estonian Kritallkümmel liqueur, blackcurrant flavours from Latvian Riga Black Balzams Currant liqueur and raspberry flavours from Lithuanian Gintaras Sinas fruit wine", and topped up with soda water:



Monday morning and early afternoon was the chance for our visitors to do some Lithuanian linen shopping and enjoy having lunch outdoors in the sunshine at Alinė Leičiai before their late afternoon flight back to Brussels:


Last weekend Vilnius, next weekend Ljubljana. Stay tuned...



Monday, April 2, 2018

Let's Easter!

High on a bluff overlooking the Neris River

It's Easter weekend. And that's about it. When I was a kid, I was happy to hunt for Easter eggs and decapitate chocolate bunnies, but now there is little significance to the occasion, other than it was on Easter Sunday last year when my mother died. My daughter is off this week for her spring break, but we're not going anywhere, as my wife has sensibly (if annoyingly) pointed out that we've spent too many euros on travel in the short time we've been in Lithuania. So now we've gotten to see what Easter is like in this Catholic country.

Although we're staying in Vilnius, earlier in the week I ventured to Lithuania's fifth-largest city, Panevėžys, on a work-related trip. I was given a tour of the city hospital, served as a judge for an English-language spelling bee at a local high school and visited a school for hearing-impaired children that was partially constructed and furnished with assistance from the U.S. government. Lots of photos were taken of me, but the only pictures I took were of lunch (at Restoranas Čičinskas, named after a semi-notorious Polish-Lithuanian noble) ...:


...and this hand-stitched chart of Japanese Sign Language:


The weather has been very unpredictable in recent days. For every two steps forward (warmer temperatures, sunny skies), one step gets taken back, as when I awoke on Friday morning to find the ground outside covered in snow. Saturday was another glorious day (two steps forward again), so I took Amber out to the grounds of the Verkiai Palace (Verkių rūmai), located on a hilltop high above the Neris River (see the photo that kicks off this post) in the expansive Verkių Regional Park. Easter ornaments adorned a tree:


Patches of ice remained on the ground:


The "palace" was originally a Classical mansion built in the late 18th century as a summer retreat for the Bishop of Vilnius. The manor was erected on a site that had been granted by Grand Duke Jogaila to the new diocese of Vilnius, after his conversion to Christianity in the late 14th century. The palace, however, was damaged by the French army in 1812, and only two wings of the original structure survive to the present day. It's now occupied by the Institute of Botany and is closed on weekends (history lesson courtesy of the Eyewitness Travel Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania guidebook):




The park is home to giant mutant frogs...:


...and well-fed stray cats:


Great views of the surroundings from the top:



A staircase led down to the road below. On the way we passed this man-made storks nest:


The Neris at ground-level:


A signboard shows how the area looked in 1847:


One of the buildings depicted in the picture is Vandens Malūnas, a former watermill that's now a restaurant, and home to another contented feline:



Back up the stairs to the hilltop (and a reminder of just how out of shape I've let myself become). Opposite the palace stands another Classical building that also belongs to the botanists:


The snow cracking and crunching under my considerable bulk. At least there was solid ground beneath:


Instead of a rooster, a horse serves as a weather vane:


Later in the afternoon, my daughter and I stopped by Taste Map Coffee Roasters, where I prepped for our trip to Taiwan in summer while trying out an Ethiopian espresso:


Looking down on the city from Taurus Hill:


Easter Sunday was a big step back, as it rained throughout the day and the temperature when Amber and I ventured outside anyway was a chilly 3°C (37°F). The change in the weather didn't prevent my daughter from being pleased with her chocolate bunnies:


Sunday was a trifecta of special occasions. In addition to Easter, it was also April Fool's Day. And, most importantly, this April 1st was the 20th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Unpunished Republic of Užupis. On this day (according to Lonely Planet), "border guards" would stamp passports at the main bridge, the president of Užupis would speak in front of the Angel of Užupis and a series of activities would take place in Vilnius' bohemian neighborhood.

Or so we were told. While my wife sensibly stayed indoors (and she wasn't alone; Old Town was largely bereft of people on Sunday afternoon), my daughter and I ventured into Užupis to find...not a whole lot going on:


Small groups of people were milling around and a stage had been set up in the square where the angel stands, but there were no comically-outfitted guards to stamp the (expired) passports we had brought with us, and no activities of any kind going on that we could see. Blame it on the weather, I suppose:





The white-and-red flag on the right is that of the Belarusian People's Republic. The state may have had only a short life, but its Rada (council) is the world's oldest functioning government-in-exile. In the background is the Vilnius St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church, which holds Belarusian-language services:




Monday was a holiday in this Catholic country. The weather wasn't any better than the previous day (rainy; temperature 0°C/32°F, though the predicted snowfall never materialized), but we did go out to have a taste of Georgia for lunch at the aptly-named Tbilisi Restaurant:


Sipping a Georgian beer while studying a map of the country. I know, I know, Georgia is well-known for its wines, but I'm a philistine, after all:


Shu-E ordered some meat skewers while Amber had the New Zealand (!) lamb chops. I tucked into an Adjarian khachpuri, a traditional cheese-filled bread dish, in this case topped with a couple of eggs. It was very tasty, but so much for trying to lose some of this winter weight that has accumulated:


And that was pretty much our entire Easter three-day weekend. Time now to get my tax return completed...

Happy Easter!

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