Speaking of Thorn Tree, I'm reminded of another poster, an Australian woman, who wrote long ago to say how happy she was to be going to that "undiscovered gem" known as Taiwan. "Rachel" (I seem to recall that being her name, but even if memory fails me, that's her name from now on) didn't appreciate it when I responded by pointing out Taiwan has a very robust domestic tourism industry, reinforced with thousands of annual visitors from neighboring Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore etc. (and, of course, China). She, in turn, replied by writing that even if all the places she intended to visit were packed with tour buses and tourists, she wouldn't mind as long as she would be the only Westerner there. In her mind, Taiwan hadn't yet been sullied by Western influences, and I only wish I could've been there to have seen her reaction when she came to face-to-face with all the 7-Elevens and McDonald's upon setting foot for the first time on Formosa.
Back on the subject of Japan, a friend from college days currently visiting the country posted on Facebook that while the U.S. is suffering from yet another school shooting spree, in Japan bicycles are left unlocked. I understand (and completely agree with) the point he was trying to make, but I couldn't help but remember the weekday morning I went out into my neighborhood in Komae 狛江 to do some shopping, only to return a short while later to find my (now ex-)wife's bike had been stolen from in front of our apartment. Bicycle theft is not uncommon in Japan, and drawing conclusions by looking at unlocked bikes in Kyoto is like Michael Moore checking Canadian front doors to see if they had been secured (see Bowling for Columbine). Senseless, violent blood baths do occur from time to time even in a place like Japan (I recalled these three - here, here and here - right away, and let's not forget the sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto 松本 and Tokyo), but (thankfully) they happen far less frequently than (sadly) in the United States, and as a result of sensible gun laws, rarely involve firearms. But I'm always bemused when people get annoyed at having their rose-tinted illusions about Japan (or Taiwan - see Rachel above) punctured by my real-life examples. I could go on by mentioning the Canadian colleague of mine in Taichung 台中 who was upset after my having encouraged him to read Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons, but enough about Asia...
...this post is about Lithuania and what was possibly the last weekend getaway of our two-year stay here. According to Lonely Planet, Aukštaitija National Park is a:
"...natural paradise of deep, whispering forests and blue lakes (that) bewitched this once-pagan country."
And LP's hyperbole isn't far off the mark. We rolled into Ignalina mid-afternoon on Saturday and checked into Žuvėdra, a small hotel on the shores of Lake Paplovinis (see photo above). While my wife relaxed in the room, my daughter and I drove around four kilometers to Lake Lūšiai, one of the 126 lakes that dot the national park:
Once there, we embarked on a nature-themed walking trail:
Amber took this critter pic:
This particular wooden viewing area was in danger of sinking into the water:
Back at the hotel. According to Wikipedia, the city of Ignalina's name is derived from two lovers named Ignas and Lina:
Dinner time. The Žuvėdra's restaurant is popular with locals and visitors alike - I had the house pizza, washed down with an Utenos beer:
"Žuvėdra" means "gull" in Lithuanian - my daughter caught this visitor to the restaurant's sun deck:
After dinner, we took a walk. The girls crossed the small bridge to the other side of Lake Paplovinis and then turned back, but I continued around the water on my way back to our room :
A graceful swan rests on the surface:
A couple of fishing boats in the early evening hours:
As breakfast service didn't begin until 0900 on Sunday, I took another walk around the lake in the morning soon after waking up:
With a population of only 5300, it wasn't surprising the center of Ignalina was empty at around 8:30 on a Sunday morning:
Breakfast time, finally:
After checking out, we returned to Lake Lūšiai so Shu-E could have a look...:
...then stopped in Palūšė to have a gander at Lithuania's oldest wooden church, built in 1750 without any nails:
A service was being held at the time we arrived, but ended soon after, allowing us to have a look inside:
This massive abandoned building was once the Palūšė tourist center:
The drive going in and out of Aukštaitija National Park passes through some beautiful forest, meadow and lakeside scenery, but attempts at taking photos from the car weren't very successful at conveying that beauty:
Stopping off at a picnic area:
The highlight on Sunday was the short walk up Ladakalnis Hill, once a pagan site for sacrifices to the Goddess Lada, the Grand Mother who gave birth to the world (whether those sacrifices involved human victims, the signboard didn't say). A total of six lakes can be seen from its lofty summit 176 meters (577 feet) above sea level:
My wife thought the flowers were worth letting family and friends back in Taiwan know about:
A middle-aged biker couple pause under the stately tree on the top of the hill:
On the way back to Vilnius we came across a stork tending to its nest:
And so endeth what was in all likelihood our last weekend getaway here. Lithuania is a beautiful country and I'm glad we could see as much of it as we have in the relatively short time we've been here. Do yourself a favor and pay a visit to the Balkans. Just do me a favor and don't blather on about getting out of Vilnius and seeing the "real" Lithuania.