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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Shrooms dude...

Here in Lithuania, fall is in the air, and mushrooms are on the ground. Mushroom picking is a serious activity among Lithuanians, and to celebrate the hardy fungi, a festival is held every September in the small town of Varėna (population:9200). The 24th was the date for the 2016 affair, which is how my daughter found herself standing next to this, um, thing on Saturday afternoon:


The forests lining the A4 highway connecting Varėna with Druskininkai are rich hunting grounds for 'shrooms - Lithuania is home to 1200 species, of which 380 are edible. The festival, however, is about more than mushrooms. It was also a celebration of Lithuanian folk culture, from clothing and crafts to traditional dishes:




Mushrooms, of course, were available for the hungry:



,,,but other goodies were also for sale. Sitting under a canopy of pine trees on a cool autumn afternoon, drinking beer, eating mushrooms, potato pancakes and sausages with sauerkraut, while listening to folk music, really brought home (to me, anyway) that we were well and truly in the Baltic region:






For Amber, however, the right atmosphere was far less important than going for a spin with her mother in a bumper car (bringing back memories of driving in Taiwan?)...:



...and getting in some serious snacking:


Shu-E, of course, couldn't pass up on the opportunity to bring home some mushrooms for later meals:


My daughter tried her hand at tossing the local version of a bean bag into the mouth of a gourd mounted on a pole. Success resulted in a free treat for dessert:



My wife worked the stalls before we left the festival, purchasing strawberries and dill (in addition to aforementioned mushrooms, of course):


We were back home in Vilnius by mid-afternoon, and went out for dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant. The ambiance of dining al fresco lent itself to some serious pondering of the meaning of it all:




After dinner, we walked down the road to Vingis Park, where there would be a fireworks show as part of an evening of music and other entertainment. Tickets to enter the amphitheater where the extravaganza was held cost 13.50 (15 from scalpers in parked cars outside the entrances), so we hung around on the fringes (along with hundreds of others) to catch a free glimpse above the treetops. I'm hopeless when it comes to taking photos of fireworks, but this shot inadvertently turned out kind of interesting:


My video skills aren't much better:


Nor are my attempts at capturing the night lights of Vilnius (not that the city is ablaze with light at night. Hakodate 函館 or Hong Kong it ain't):



Sunday, of course, is a day of rest, at least for Shu-E. For Amber, unfortunately, it means being pried away from her desktop and/or iPad and forced to accompany her father on a tromp through the woods around the Hill of Three Crosses:


Checking out a shrine of some sort. It wasn't obviously Christian, but at the same time it wasn't clearly neo-pagan, either:


With autumn officially here, the leaves are beginning to change color. It'll be interesting to see how Lithuania compares in the fall foliage department with Japan and northern Virginia:


Admiring the views from the Hill of Three Crosses:




Walking through the woods away from the three crosses, we passed this ruined structure. It wouldn't have merited a second look, except for the sign (in Lithuanian and English) describing it as an example of Soviet "barbarism":



We crossed Olandų gatve, walked past a large funeral home and came across the very cemetery referenced in the sign above. Today it's just a large grassy meadow, with only a few gravestones and and an explanatory signboard giving any evidence as to what once lay beneath our feet (or are the bones still there?):





But Amber never lets European history bring her down. All that matters when you're ten years old is that there are selfies to be taken and Pokémon to be caught:


Which is how it should be...





Sunday, September 18, 2016

Randomness, Vilnius-style

It's been a relatively low-key weekend here in Vilnius, and I'm feeling a little lethargic as Sunday winds down, so what follows are some photos taken yesterday and today. My daughter has started swimming lessons on Saturday mornings, and as there's a large park close to the gym, I go for walks while class is in session. Here a fisherman looks for a good spot along the banks of the Neris River:


The view of the other side:


Gediminas avenue in Vilnius was the site of another street festival this weekend, Nation's Fair 2016. It wasn't obvious how this celebration differed from the Vilnius City Fiesta held on the same street just a fortnight before, as many of the crafts and foods on sale were the same, but it was still fun to check out. Free baked apples were being handed out at one end of Gediminas, and Amber was pleased to score one (and in case you're wondering, no, she doesn't have a dandruff problem. Ashes from the charcoals used to bake the apples were being blown about by the wind):




My wife buys some fresh fruit. Unlike in Taiwanese markets, there wasn't any haggling going on here:


While Mom and Dad walked to Gediminas Prospektas, our daughter did the trip on two wheels:


Some of the crafts on sale during the festival:



Taking a break. Shu-E bought the hat just before sitting down in preparation for the upcoming cold, dark winter everyone warns us about. This weekend was chilly and mostly overcast, and barring a sudden heat wave, was probably the last time to wear shorts until next spring:




A potential customer checks out some of the seafood on offer:


A group entertains the crowd with some traditional folk music on a stage set up in Cathedral Square:


Amber has the street to herself as we head home on Saturday evening:


This afternoon (Sunday), while the girls were outside playing Pokémon Go, I went for a bike ride. Back in May, a mural painted on the wall of a Vilnius barbecue restaurant of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin locked in a passionate kiss went viral:


The mural was vandalized last month, but it's back up again, only this time showing Putin and Trump sharing a joint in a very intimate manner:


The view from the top of the street:


Andy Warhol would've agreed:


Near the main train station:


Bus fares from Vilnius to (from top to bottom) Riga; Tallinn; Warsaw; Berlin; Prague; Saint Petersburg; Bialystok (a city in northeastern Poland); Moscow; Stuttgart; Frankfurt; Hanover; Munich; Nuremberg; and Kyiv:


Speaking of buses, here's one that has found a second life as a hamburger stand:


Looking across the Neris River, with that squat, Soviet-style building in the background being Parliament House (Seimas). The government building sits at one end of Gedimino Prospektas, with Cathedral Square at the other end, 1.75 kilometers down the road:


I'm always on the lookout for examples of architecture built during the time when Lithuanian was an unwilling constituent republic in the Soviet Union. This is the Agricultural Information and Rural Business Center (Žemės ūkio informacijos ir kaimo verslo centras) government building:


Interesting cloud patterns in the sky this afternoon:


The view from a scenic vista point near the U.S. Embassy:



A Catholic shrine by the side of a small road:


"Christ the king bless Lithuania and the whole world":


Lots of faces lining the top of this building: