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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Veterans Day

From the bluffs overlooking the Neris River

It's been three days since the election, and there's nothing to be done but accept the fact that on Jan. 20 Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America, and just move on with life. No more will be said on the subject, save for a couple of interesting articles (the second one by Garrison Keillor), the links to which are here and here. Oh, and a reminder that the night of Nov. 9-10 was the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht - here's hoping our Muslim citizens and legal permanent residents will not be facing something similar in the next few years to come.

Friday was Veterans Day in the U.S., and a federal holiday for those of us in the employ of the American government overseas. It was also the start of a three-day weekend for me, but my daughter still had to go to school. In any event, due to work reasons, I'm currently not permitted to stray too far from Vilnius, so there were no grand plans to take advantage of the holiday. But I'm not complaining, for we'll be going to the Netherlands during the week of Thanksgiving, and Vilnius isn't a bad place to be stuck on a day when the temperatures hovered around -3°C (27°C), and ice and snow cover much of the sidewalk space. Our apartment is comfortably warm, and barren trees have improved the views from our living room balcony (the church with the crown is St. Casimir's):


With Amber at school, my wife and I went out for lunch:


Pietausim is a Lithuanian restaurant dishing out food like a Soviet-era canteen, but with a cooler-looking interior, a young hipster staff and much, much better cuisine. I doubt diners in the Soviet Socialist Republic enjoyed butter chicken on rice when eating out:



We split up after lunch, with Shu-E going to do some food shopping on Gediminas Prospektas, while I went to check out Vilnius' only synagogue to have survived intact from the Second World War (because the Nazis used it to store medicine). On the way there, I passed the abandoned Lietuva movie theater, which is No. 29 on a website posting photographs of "Incredible Before & After Street Art Transformations That'll Make You Say Wow". Unfortunately, the mural in real life doesn't quite look as nice, thanks to the graffiti that has sadly marred it:


It was also sad to find the Choral Synagogue (Choralinė Sinagoga), built in 1903, seemingly closed, despite the fact that lights were on inside the building. The doors to the outside gate were padlocked, and a walk around to the rear of the building (where the distinctive dome roof could be seen) failed to turn up an entrance:



Well, as the Lithuanians would say (I'm only guessing they would, actually, and relying on Google Translate): Tai gyvenimas. So I spent the rest of the afternoon in Old Town, doing some early Christmas shopping and taking a break at Holy Donut, before getting home in time to greet my daughter getting off the school bus:

This area was once part of the Jewish Ghetto. Ironically, the Austrian Embassy is located here.

(Note the presence of St. Casimir's Church in the background)

On Saturday, following my daughter's morning swimming class and then lunch at home, the three of us went for a walk in the snow. We drove to the Belmontas resort, located in the Paviliniai Regional Park, where we did the same circuit that I did on my own back on Labor Day, only in the opposite direction. Except that this time the ground was white (and icy in places) and the atmosphere all the more starkly beautiful because of it. You can't do this in Taiwan:









It isn't easy to see, but Amber made a "snow turtle" (on her left)

A hot-air balloon making a surprise appearance


I wasn't keeping track of time, but I think we spent about 2½ hours trudging through the snow. Afterward, we drove up to the high bluffs overlooking the Neris to take in the scenic vista:


On Sunday Shu-E, not knowing (or caring) much about Lithuanian history, decided to stay home and rest. My daughter didn't have that option, so she joined her father on a visit to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, located behind Vilnius Cathedral and on a site that has been settled since at least the 4th century. The original palace was constructed in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and served as the administrative, cultural and political center of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth:



The original building was demolished by the Russians in 1801 and what you see today is a reconstruction completed in 2009. It's nevertheless one of the best museums in Lithuania. The first floor exhibitions show visitors the strata of the palace's foundations:



An image of a griffin dating from the late 13th-early 14th centuries

At one point in its history Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, colored in yellow in the map above. Amber was fascinated by how small the duchy became as the centuries progressed, as shown on successive displays

A late 15th-century glazed clay stone tile, with a scene depicting a decapitation

 Looking at an old checkers set


The exhibits on the second floor describe in further detail the building of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it's eventual confederation with the Kingdom of Poland and the inevitable fall:

The beginning of the end


My daughter was surprised by how small people were back then



The third floor contains reconstructed ceremonial halls and exhibits focusing on the material culture of the Grand Duchy:


A portion of a tapestry showing a dragon eating eggs

Tuning a harpsichord in preparation for a later concert



Looking at Gediminas Castle from a third-story window

A recreation of the duchy's crown jewels 

Amber checks out some early coins

The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is one of the must-see sites of a visit to Vilnius. Leaving the choice of where to have lunch afterward up to my daughter, I wasn't at all surprised to found ourselves at Boom Burger:


The afternoon ended up with the two of us buying a pair of winter shoes each at a store on Gediminas Prospektas. But prior to that came the pleasantly welcoming surprise of finding a tea stand called Formosa in the Gedimino 9 shopping center. The 奶茶 was actually pretty good, meaning I'm sure to be back often, much to my taste buds' joy and my waistline's regret:























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