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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Darbo diena savaitgaliais...


...which is "Labor Day Weekend" in Lithuanian, at least according to Google Translate. Circumstances at work have required me to remain in the Vilnius area the past few weekends - this situation, plus the rainy weather, has kept us close to home over the three-day Labor Day holiday. But that doesn't mean there isn't anything to do in Lithuania's biggest city. The annual Vilnius City Fiesta began on Friday and ran until yesterday (Sunday). Running along Gedimino Avenue from Lukiškių Square down to Vilnius Cathedral were artists exhibiting their crafts, book stalls, food and drink stands and performance stages. Despite the cooler temperature and on-and-off precipitation, there was a good turnout as we joined the throng on Saturday afternoon:

The statue at the top of the building above is a Pokémon Go "pokestop". My daughter is an avid player; listening to her explain the various aspects of play is like to listening to someone speak to me in Lithuanian - I recognize a few words, but understand very few of the details.

Need your beard trimmed? Shades of China or Taiwan...

Taking a break during a brief let-up in the rain

A sobering realization while walking along Gedimino Street: on the walls outside the former KGB headquarters building (site of the excellent Museum of Genocide Victims) are etched the names of some of those who were executed as the Soviets reestablished their authoritarian rule at the end of the Second World War:

Taking a chai latte break before heading home:

On Sunday we returned to take in more of the Vilnius City Fiesta:

This stand operated by these Lithuanian soldiers was very popular. They appeared to be handing out free bowls of what looked like a barley soup.

Our hopes of sampling some of the street food were thwarted by the steady rain and the lack of dry seating spaces. So we instead retreated to Sue's Indian Raja, described as Vilnius' best Indian restaurant. I won't dispute that interpretation after having tried the butter chicken:

Doughnuts for dessert

In the evening Amber and I attended our first World Cup qualifier - Lithuania vs. Slovenia, two nations better known for their prowess on the basketball court than on the soccer pitch. The game was played at LFF Stadium in Vilnius, and the rain was constant throughout the match. But we were close to the action, of which there was a lot. Although the Slovenes controlled the ball for most of the first half, Lithuania scored two quick goals in the 32nd and 34th minutes to go up 2-0 going into halftime, and exciting the crowd in the process. Slovenia came back in the second half, however; despite several great saves by the Lithuanian goalkeeper, the Slovenes scored in the 77th minute. The equalizer came in the third minute of injury time, in the final seconds of the game, disappointing the home fans (match report here). Group F also includes England, Scotland and Slovakia (plus Malta), meaning the path to Russia in 2018 is going to be an extremely difficult one for our host nation:

On Labor Day Monday an old friend paid a surprise visit - the sun. And with no rain in the forecast for the rest of the afternoon, after lunch I drove to Belmontas, where Amber and I had taken a short walk in the forest about a month ago. Feeling greedy, I wanted more than just a taste of what the hills around Vilnius have to offer, so today I finished the walk my daughter and I'd started previously (Amber had school today):

The trail initially started climbing, but eventually it wound its way down to where it paralleled the gentle currents of the Vilnia River:

Only a handful of people were out on the trails, understandable since today was a normal Monday for most Lithuanians. Critters also made their presences known:

Soon after passing this affluent-looking home, I took a detour, crossing the river and walking uphill toward a high bluff:

Along the way I came across this subterranean structure. According to a signboard nearby, there are others in the vicinity. The sign was all in Lithuanian, but it appears to have been military in origin. Surprisingly, the entrance hasn't been sealed off - it was only the muddy steps, lack of a flashlight and the creepy darkness that stopped me from going down to see what was underground:

The bluffs themselves are more than 165 meters (541 feet) high, and offer good views of the river below and the hills and trees beyond. In Vilnius this is as high as it naturally gets:

Down from the bluffs and back on the main trail, passing some atmospheric ruins:

Down by the river and looking up at the bluffs:

On this surprisingly warm day (surprising in that Saturday and Sunday were chilly at times), the Vilnia looked inviting (it was also not as cold as I expected). The river flows through Old Town and into the Neris:

A collection of classic cars at the Belmontas resort, where they are presumably used for wedding parties and photographs:

This map shows the loop trail I followed this afternoon, starting and finishing at the food and toilet symbols in the bottom left corner of the map; the bluffs are in yellow in the upper-left corner. The walk took about 2½ hours in total:

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