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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Xmastime is coming...and 2017 is leaving

The Christmas tree in Cathedral Square

It's Christmas time again, only this time we opened our presents eight days early, the reason being we'll be in Japan on クリスマス this year. Why Japan? No reason, other than perhaps a break is needed from Old Towns and cobblestoned streets. In any event, we'll be going to Italy early next year, so it isn't as if we're looking down our noses on Europe. We'll be back on New Year's Day, so this'll be the last post of the year. Season's greetings and happy holidays, my opening salvo in the ongoing war against Christmas.

And as for what we've been up to the past few weeks...

The 15th International Christmas Charity Bazaar, organized by the International Women's Association in Vilnius, was held on the first Saturday of December at the old town hall. The Japanese delegation staged a kimono fashion show:



The square in front of the town hall building was filled with various food booths resembling glass igloos, where my daughter enjoyed some matcha cookies:



I took our embassy interns to Grūtas Park one Sunday. My family and I visited "Stalin World" last year, but our unpaid, hardworking future diplomats hadn't had the opportunity yet to see the black-humored collection of socialist realist statues of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and various Lithuanian traitors revolutionaries that were saved from the dustbin of history (where some might argue they should belong). It was a fun place to visit, but the ride back to Vilnius took a more sobering turn as we pulled off the road to check out another Soviet-era monstrosity:


As grotesque as the work of art may have been, it marked the entrance to one of the sadly countless number of  World War II-related tragic sites that stain the soil of this otherwise beautiful corner of Europe: On June 3, 1944 a group of German soldiers was attacked by Soviet partisans in a nearby forest. In retaliation, 119 people, including 49 children under the age of sixteen, were burned alive in the village of Pirčiupiai by the SS; there were only 13 survivors:




December 3 saw a full supermoon rise over Vilnius; my poor Sony just wasn't up to the task of recording of magnificence:



What Vilnius looks like at half-past seven on a cold December morning:


The Christmas tree in the town hall square...:


and the one in Cathedral Square. The lighting of the latter at the beginning of the month brought in huge crowds (at least by Lithuanian standards), with the result being that the streets and alleys of Old Town became one long scene of gridlock. It's a good thing we live within walking distance of Vilnius' historic center:


Gedimino Prospektas lit up in shades of white not nearly as stark as what passes for the First Lady's idea of Christmas cheer:


The realization that this will probably our last chance to experience a European Christmas market for the foreseeable future encouraged my wife to leave the cozy comfort of our apartment and braze the chilly air to see what crafts and snacks are on offer this year:




The temperatures at this time of year are hovering around freezing as usual, but there hasn't been much in the way of snow, at least when compared to this time last year. Last Sunday did see a dusting, however, as Amber and I headed into Old Town:


At my daughter's suggestion, we had lunch at No Forks, one of a handful of Mexican eateries in Vilnius:


On the way to No Forks, we stopped off at Šokolado namai ("Chocolate House") to pick up some chocolate spoons:


After lunch (and some dessert; see above pic), we walked over to the Contemporary Art Center (Šiuolaikinio Meno Centras, SMC), the largest such facility for contemporary art in the Baltics, with 2400 square meters (25,830 square feet) of space for photography, sound, video and other exhibits. I don't expect Amber to like or understood everything she sees at these places, only that she approaches the exhibits with an open mind, which to her credit she does:

The view toward the town hall square from the CAC. The building itself appears to date from the Soviet era, and thus clashes with the surrounding architecture, but at least it's been put to good use.



 But that light was bright in the center of a huge room

 Looking out at the sculpture garden

Amber was fascinated with this aural installation, marveling over the sounds that were being created by the various boxes on the floor by the windows.

One room featured photos related to Fluxus, whose participants included a certain Japanese artist by the name of Yoko Ono オノ・ヨーコ:


Checking directions on Ašmenos gatvė, a quiet hipster-friendly street of galleries and hair salons:


A smaller Christmas market was being held in front of the Presidential Palace:


Back again at Cathedral Square and enjoying a welcome cup of hot (white) chocolate:


Swing out, sister:


The town hall square on an evening when the temperature was a balmy -2°C (28°F):


The Šnipiškės quarter on the northern bank of the Neris:


Snow fell throughout this past Friday evening/early Saturday morning, leaving the ground covered in several centimeters of the white stuff. The plan for Saturday was to take my daughter for a walk through the now-snow-covered woods at a site around fifty kilometers from our apartment building. The trip along the A14 highway was uneventful; however, after leaving the main road we soon discovered that the route that would take us to where we were planning to hike was covered with a lot of snow - our car probably could've successfully navigated the road (it's equipped with snow tires), but I didn't want to take any chances, so we turned around and headed back in the direction of Vilnius. But not before pulling off to the side of the highway next to a small lake, first to have lunch, and then to get out and stretch our legs in the snow:

 Checking out some animal tracks. Dog or deer? Or both?




Of course, it didn't take long for things to degenerate into a lengthy snowball fight, with Amber losing on points to the increasingly deadly accuracy of her ambidextrous (in this case, anyway) father:


Making a rather large snow angel:


Back in Vilnius but not home yet, as to allow my wife more time to finish wrapping the presents, we drove to the Puckoriai observation deck, where we finally attained our goal of a snowy walk in the woods:


The gentlemen in the photo below were setting off fireworks, which explains the presence of smoke in the air above them:



Happy Hanukkah!:


And an early Merry Christmas and a general all-round Happy Holidays! And so this morning (Sunday) we opened our presents. In the afternoon my daughter and I went out for lunch at a Cantonese restaurant (Chinese food at Christmas - another family tradition), then walked over to Tauro kalnas (Bull Mountain). The snow disc was back at home? No problem - Amber happily slid down the hill on her shoes:



Afterward we walked down to New Town and the recently reopened Lukiškės Square. This cross commemorates the 1863 January Uprising:


Nothing brings out the holiday cheer more than posing on the site of the former Lenin Square (the flagpole occupies the spot where his statue once stood) with the former KGB headquarters in the background:


For our sort-of Christmas dinner, we eschewed the traditional favorites such as turkey, and opted instead for seafood at the Selfish Bistro in New Town. Shu-E and I started off with a couple of oysters, before I moved on to the black spaghetti with octopus and tuna, while the girls tucked into a pot of mussels each. My evening finished up a with a slice of banana cheesecake. Not a bad way to celebrate the holidays, even if they're not quite upon us just yet:




As I wrote above, this will probably be the last post of the year, but I hope to back soon after the New Year with lots of pics from Japan. Until then I bid you メリークリスマス and あけましておめでとうございます!