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Monday, December 12, 2016

A different kind of white house

The Lithuanian State Flag (left) and the Flag of the President of the Republic of Lithuania (right)

Thanks to the organizing activities of my daughter's school, my family and I were able to join an English-language guided tour of the Presidential Palace today (Sunday), which should explain the above photograph. The palace building is a ten minute-walk from our apartment building:

The history of the Presidential Palace goes all the way back to the late 14th century, when the site was donated to the Vilnius Diocese by Grand Duke Jogaila and a palace for bishops was constructed. Napoleon used the palace in 1812 during his invasion of Russia, and was in turn used by Mikhail Kutuzov, the Russian general chasing him back to Paris. The present building is an 1824-1834 reconstruction in the Russian Empire style, apt since Lithuania had lost in its independence by that point. During the Soviet occupation, the building was used first as a Military Officers' Center and then as an Artists' Center, playing host to dances and cultural events. Following the restoration of the country's independence in 1990-1, the palace became of the official seat of the President of Lithuania in 1997. The current occupant is Dalia Grybauskaitė, who was first elected to the office in 2009, and then won a second term in 2014, becoming the first president to win back-to-back elections. Unlike the White House, the Presidential Palace does not serve as a residence, due to security reasons; the building sits in central Old Town, adjacent to Vilnius University.

And unlike the White House, it's very accessible to the public. Our tour guide took us to see several rooms, including the president's office, but only in the large reception hall were photos permitted. So I took advantage of the limited window of opportunity:

 The view from one of the windows

 The president's Christmas tree is somewhat larger than ours (see below)

At the conclusion of the tour, we went outside and had our picture taken with two soldiers in medieval uniforms who keep a one-hour guard following the Flag Replacement Ceremony, which takes place every Sunday at noon in Daukanto Square in front of the palace. I haven't had a chance to witness the ceremony yet, but there's still time:

The sight of the presidential flag flying from the roof of the palace indicates that the president is somewhere in Vilnius:

One hour up, and time for the guards to leave. Which they did, marching to a small van parked at the end of the palace and then driving away:

The tour of the Presidential Palace was the highlight of the weekend, at least for me, but it wasn't the only thing we've done during the past few days. Last Sunday we purchased a real, albeit small, Christmas tree and set it up in the living room a couple of nights later. The lights later stopped working, however, and as I can't be bothered to work out why this happened or to restring the tree with new lights, the atmosphere is going to be a little darker this year compared with the past:

My daughter poses with a politically-dubious figure standing outside the Brazilian restaurant where we lunched on Saturday:

The large Christmas tree in the atrium of the Panorama leisure and shopping center, where the above-mentioned Brazilian buffet is located:

A strange light shines from one of the spires of the supposedly-disused St. Catherine's Church on Saturday night, as viewed through the snowfall from one of our living-room windows:

Amber enjoyed Sunday's tour of the Presidential Palace, but she had even more fun trying to catch snowflakes with her tongue as we walked the streets of Old Town afterward:

L. Stuokos-Gucevičiaus square:

Lunching on Sunday at The Old Green House:

My wife purchases a seasonally-themed candle holder at the Christmas village being held in Cathedral Square:

Walking through a winter wonderland on the way home Sunday afternoon:


  1. Those guards are so cool! It looks like an Everquest zone ;)

    1. The initial impulse is to yell "Nerds!"...until you realize that these guys are professional soldiers.