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Sunday, August 6, 2017

A tour guide without any tourists

Cathedral Square: (from left to right) Cathedral Belfry (no, it doesn't lean like a certain Italian tower - it's a camera-created distortion), Vilnius Cathedral, Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Gediminas Castle (poking out from behind the palace) and, on the hill in the distance, the Three Crosses

It got busy last week at work, especially as the workweek was coming to a close. That's what happens sometimes when the end of the workday in Lithuania unfortunately roughly corresponds to the beginning of the day in Washington, D.C. Anyone who works at an overseas branch of a multi-national corporation could probably sympathize. On the other, on weekends I still have more time on my hands than I know what to do with, and will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks before my daughter and wife come back from visiting family in Taiwan. It can be a challenge trying to give myself something creative to do, but this past Saturday I think I managed to use the time well. My Lonely Planet guidebook to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has a suggested walking route through Old Town it describes as "The Best of Vilnius". I've seen most of the sights already, but I thought it would be interesting to combine the course with a bicycle ride, something I haven't done since before our trip in late June to the United Kingdom. The weather on Saturday turned out to be ideal for just such an excursion, so in the late morning I rode down to Cathedral Square, the starting point for the city walk bike ride:

Gediminas Castle & Museum. There are serious concerns as to the stability of the hill and work is going on to shore up the mound.

Next I entered onto Pilies gatvė, before turning left onto Bernardinų gatvė and zigzagging along Volano gatvė, Literatu gatvė, Rusu gatvė and Latako gatvė to Bokšto gatvė. On this latter street is the M.K. Čiurlionis House, the former home of Lithuania's greatest artist and composer. I haven't yet had the chance to go inside, as the building is inexplicably open only on weekdays.

The former town hall, which Amber and I have ventured inside once, on the occasion of a Christmas bazaar.

The Basilian Gates. Notice the couple in the corridor having their wedding photos taken. There wasn't much to see in the courtyard as the Church of the Holy Trinity (Uniates) is undergoing renovation work.

Also being renovated is the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit. I've previously photographed the exterior, but I haven't gone inside yet as Orthodox churches aren't always so camera-friendly.

St. Teresa's Church, where a wedding was taking place on Saturday afternoon. A beautiful day for it.

The Contemporary Art Center, another as yet-unvisited museum, but an oversight that will be rectified before we leave next spring.

Taking a lunch break and plotting my next move at an outdoor restaurant on Vokiečių gatvė. Chili soup (pictured above) and a pulled-pork sandwich. And beer, of course. Don't drink and ride?

Diners, shoppers and/or tourists at the intersection of Stiklių gatvė and Gaono gatvė

The Library Courtyard outside the visitors' entrance to Vilnius University

I retraced my route back through Cathedral Square, then rode on Gedimino Prospektas to the chilling Museum of Genocide Victims. The names of some of the victims executed inside by the KGB are inscribed on the exterior walls.

The Lithuanian National Opera & Ballet Theater. I've been critical of this Soviet-era building, both for its design and for the way it clashes with nearby Gedimino Prospektas and Old Town. I was astonished, however, to learn that my Lithuanian language teacher thought it was attractive.

The walk/bike ride ends on the opposite side of the Neris, at the Radisson Blu Hotel Lietuva, where Lonely Planet recommends the traveler sit back with a drink and enjoy the panoramas from the 22nd floor Sky Bar. Shu-E and I plan on doing just that the next time our daughter is away on a sleepover.

According to the guidebook, I rode almost 5 kilometers, which doesn't sound like much, except that a good portion of the route is on cobblestoned streets, which played havoc with my knees. In any event, I'm now prepared to play tour guide in the event someone pays a visit to Vilnius.

On Saturday night, with nothing better to do, I did most of the course for a second time, this time on foot, covering almost the entire route except for the last part across the Neris. It was a beautifully lit evening, though my camera wasn't able to capture the full moon in all its lunar glory:

 The white streaks at the top of the photo are insects in flight around a lamp

 Aušros Vartų gatvė art gallery/souvenir shop

And this is how I discovered that Vilnius has a very active nightlife, with restaurants and bars packed and spilling out onto the streets well after midnight. Lithuania's capital looks like it could be a fun place in which to spend your twenties!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Killing Time

Abandoned Soviet-era bunker, now home to the local bat colony

I'm at roughly the halfway point of my enforced bachelorhood in Vilnius. The girls are currently back in Taiwan, leaving me to revert to the wild, crazy days back when I was single - namely bad dietary habits, laziness and ennui. It isn't much fun without my wife and daughter around, and I'm not embarrassed to say that I much prefer the married, family lifestyle. The job keeps me focused during the workweek, but on weekends it's a challenge finding something interesting to do. Mostly I go for a lot of walks, during which only occasionally do I tread new ground or come across things I hadn't noticed before. The following are a few photos of the past few weeks holding down the fort until my better halves return to the fold from the mystical, far-off lands of the Orient...or at least Taiwan, anyway...

The sometimes rainy weather produced this spectacular rainbow. You may notice the outlines of a second arc in one of the photos, a phenomenon I comment on in the video at the end of this post:

On one Saturday afternoon I drove to Lithuania's second largest city, Kaunas. Unfortunately, the tower of the St.  Francis Xavier Church & Monastery (pictured below) turned out to not be open on weekends (and so went the opportunity to take in the best view of Kaunas' Old Town, at least according to Lonely Planet), while the Sugihara House, home of the Japanese diplomat who saved 6000 Jewish lives by issuing transit visas to those escaping the advancing Nazi terror (and against his government's orders) was closed due to renovation work. A three-hour round trip for nothing:

There have been some interesting or amusing scenes on my evening walks around Vilnius:

I revisited Vilnius University one afternoon, after having gone there with Amber back on a cold afternoon in late January. Unfortunately, the campus bookstore I was hoping to check out turned out to not be open on weekends (I'm sensing a pattern here), despite my guidebook's claim to the contrary. At least I did get to see the Seasons frescoes on the upper walls and arches of the Lithuanian Philology Center:

The 19th-century Arcade Courtyard:

The late 16th-century Library Courtyard, with its astronomical instrument frescoes on the fourth floor of the old observatory building and the bronze doors of the university library:

I took a walk along the Eroziniai Kalvynai Cognitive Trail, which, if Google Translate is to be believed, means "erotic mountains". I alas did not have any sensual encounters, but I did learn two very important things:

1. There are a lot of mosquitoes in the woods of Lithuania
2. There's a good reason why the roadside isn't included as part of the marked trails, unless you're the kind who enjoys brushing up against passing cars on shoulderless bends in the road

Still, it was good to be out in nature, even if the trails were only a few minutes' drive from the center of Vilnius:

The aforementioned former bunkers. Despite several of them being unlocked or ungated, I didn't go inside. Mosquitoes are one thing, but I've had enough of having to deal with bats while living in Taichung County 台中縣:

Another time I walked the length and breadth of Gedimino Prospektas, the capital's most fashionable street (but surprisingly devoid of crowds the afternoon I was there). A failed attempt at a selfie reflection in one of the windows of the Parliament House:

Looking toward the TV Tower on the left and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Saint Virgin's Apparition:

Žemaitė was a 19th-century Lithuanian writer:

Washington Square plays host every year on July 23 to a ceremony commemorating the Welles Declaration, in which the U.S. government refused to recognize the forced annexation of the three Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) into the Soviet Union. This never fails to annoy the Russian media (heh heh):

The interior and exterior of the 15th-century Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, one of Old Town's most atmospheric houses of worship:

A gathering of cats in a courtyard. A fourth cat was crossing the lawn in the background as I was taking the photo. I looked down afterward to check out the pic and saw a fifth cat at my feet, looking up at me:

Vilna Gaon, "the saintly genius from Vilnius", standing on the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, destroyed surprisingly by the Soviets and not by the Nazis:

It's still another two-and-a-half weeks until the family comes back to Vilnius. I can always bide the time by marveling at the wonders of nature