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Sunday, August 28, 2016

High above the tanks

Saturday was my wife's birthday. Concerns for my personal safety prevent me from stating which birthday it is, but suffice it to say she's younger than I am and will always remain that way. My daughter and I had planned on taking her to the local Burberry outlet, but Shu-E doesn't like spending money, even on herself, and considered the smartphone she'd purchased a couple of weeks ago an early birthday gift. Instead, my wife took a look out the living room window at the clear blue sky and suggested that this day would be a good day to visit the TV Tower (Televizijos Bokštas), which stands 326 meters (1070 feet) high in the western suburbs of Vilnius. The tower isn't merely a television signal transmission source; it's also a poignant symbol of Lithuania's struggle to free itself from the yoke of Soviet oppression. On the night of January 13, 1991 14 people were killed resisting the Soviet army's attempts to take control of the TV tower; a dozen were shot and two were crushed by tanks, with Lithuanian TV continuing to broadcast until soldiers finally burst through the door of the structure. As we approached the TV Tower after parking our car (our apartment building being only a ten minute-drive away), we passed a collection of crosses serving as reminders of that terrible event of 25 years ago:

After buying our admission tickets, we rode the elevator to the observation deck, sited 165 meters (541 feet) above the ground, and began taking in the views:

The observation deck also includes a revolving restaurant called Milky Way (Paukščių Takas); we found an empty table, ordered lunch and sat back to enjoy the view (a full rotation takes around 50 minutes). TV monitors showed the history of the tower, including it's role in the January Events of 1991:

Naturally, the occasion called for a drink:

Continuing to take in the views while we lunched:

Dessert was a Belgian waffle covered in caramel sauce. My excuse? It was Shu-E's birthday, remember?:

An attempt to zoom in on Old Town, struggling to focus on Gediminas Castle and the Three Crosses:

We spent around 2½ hours in the revolving restaurant and observation deck. The food wasn't bad, and the views are such that we might want to return on a clear night for dinner:

Back on the ground floor, where there's a memorial to the victims killed by Soviet troops:

While my sun-averse wife took shelter in the shade, Amber and I took a walk around the TV Tower, checking out a collection of old antennas and a small playground:

In the evening we walked into Old Town to have dinner at a restaurant called Trinity. Sitting outdoors on a warm summer evening, with an 18th-century baroque and rococo church towering over us is the kind of experience I never enjoyed in Taiwan (or anywhere else in Asia or the U.S., for that matter):

The food at Trinity is sort of an Asian-Lithuanian fusion, whatever that actually means (sounds hip, though):

While we were dining, hot air balloons from the local ballooning center floated overhead, close enough for us to see the flames, but too high to get any decent photos:

My daughter took this picture of St. Catherine's Church as the sun was getting ready to make its exit. The twin spires are visible from our living room window:

Amber plays Pokémon Go while walking through the streets of Old Town on the way home from dinner:

Sunday wasn't as bright and clear as the day before, but it was warm and Shu-E agreed that another cycling trip through Old Town was in order. Gediminas Prospektas was roped off again for another cycling event, though this one was a lot more competitive than last week's family-friendly fest. The packs of cyclists whooshing along the street following (and being followed by) pace cars served as a backdrop while we had lunch at Soya, a local Asian cuisine chain where I enjoyed a tori bento:

A nearby signboard promotes an upcoming Japanese culture festival,  something that might be worth checking out:

Our ride following lunch took us up to the Hill of Three Crosses. Well, not quite - the steepness of the road proved too much for our out-of-shape stamina reserves so we ended up walking the bikes up to the top. The first wooden crosses on this hill were erected in 1615, but were removed by Russian authorities after a revolt in 1863. A concrete monument was put up in 1916, only to be destroyed later by the Soviet administration. These three crosses, designed to commemorate 14 Franciscan missionaries who were massacred by pagans on this site (or so the legend has it), have stood on the hill since 1989:

The vista looking out over Old Town is pretty fab, of course. Gazing toward the TV Tower in the distance, I noted to my daughter that exactly 24 hours previously we were enjoying the opposite view. Amber wasn't particularly impressed with her father's keen insight:

From the Three Crosses we cycled over to the neighborhood known as the Užupis Repubic (Užupio Respublika), a breakaway "state" declared in 1986 by the area's artists and squatters. Visitors come to see the Užupis Angel, a statue of a trumpeting angel erected in 2002, and the 41-point Užupis Republic Constitution, engraved on a wall in a number of different languages (including Mandarin, much to my wife's joy). My photo of the angel turned out blurry for some odd reason (I'll be back; our dentist is in the same neighborhood), but I did get some decent shots of the constitution. It guarantees among its points the right to be free, to be happy (or unhappy), to be unique and to love, of course. It also states that "a cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need" (point #13):

We took a break at Užupio kavinė, a cafe with a prime spot along the Vilnia River:

The shot of the cafe above (you can barely make out the heads of Shu-E and Amber under the edge of the furthest-to-the-right umbrella) was taken from the main bridge leading into Užupis. Under the bridge dangles a wooden swing, just above the Vilnia. My daughter wanted to wade over to it to have a seat, but I was concerned about the canoeists coming around a bend in the river. My parental instincts proved correct as several boats collided with the swing while we were sitting on the cafe's decking:

A shop specializing in Tibetan crafts, unfortunately closed on weekends, is indicative of the kinds of businesses found in Užupis and why the neighborhood merits further exploration in the future:

On the way home we stopped at Senamiesčio Krautuvė, an old-style Lithuanian grocery store which Shu-E and I had previously visited, where Amber picked up a couple of snack treats for school, which starts tomorrow:

The return to school (in the fifth grade already?!) signifies that summer will soon come to an end. I can't think of many places more pleasant to spend a summer in than Vilnius. I've also been told that fall in Lithuania is also nice. Winter, on the other hand...Better to enjoy the present and worry about the future later, which is what I'm doing now at 6:40 p.m. on a Sunday evening, looking up from my laptop to enjoy the sunlight reflecting off the spires of the above-mentioned St. Catherine's Church.





  1. Jim, once your tour with the US government is over, you should stay and work with the local Ministry of Tourism. this blog post sold me on visiting Vilnius.

    1. LOL! Vilnius is a really nice city, and what we've seen so far of Lithuania has been pretty good, too. Although I have a feeling that when retirement comes, we might be moving back to Taiwan. Take care and keep posting on Taiwan Live! - I really like your reports!