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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!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Grateful Live

Another Thanksgiving weekend comes to an end for millions of Americans (I had three of four days off, having had to work on Friday), a time (in theory, anyway) to take stock of one's life and feel grateful for what you have. And I do have a lot to be grateful for - family, friends, lifestyle etc. Overall it's been a good year so far, though 2017 has been marred by two unfortunate occurrences. The lesser of the two was my not being promoted this time around, despite being the recipient of three performance-related awards at work and filling in very capably (or so I was told) while my supervisor was away from the section for several lengthy periods of time.

The other and more significant of the two was the death of my mother at Easter. Her passing wasn't unexpected and is part of the natural order of things, but still cast a dark shadow over subsequent activities. But life goes on no matter what, so I should appreciate what I have now in case it all vanishes tomorrow.

So here's wishing that all my American family, friends and acquaintances had a Happy Thanksgiving (and a belated seasonal greeting to my Canadian friends), and hoping this post finds everyone I know (regardless of nationality) doing well. 

And now a few photographs from the past week...

A Monday evening view of the Žaliasis Bridge and the northern bank of the Neris River:

Celebrating victory in the Tuesday night trivia contest at Būsi Trečias. My most important contribution to the team effort was filling in the blank with the correct answer to the musical question "Is This the Way to (blank)"*:

On Thursday my daughter and I had lunch at the British Cafe, which was British only in the sense of interior decoration. The food was more, um, local. At least I got to catch up on the news from last February:

Amber beams after doing some Christmas shopping at Lino Namai:

Giving ourselves a post-shopping treat at Holy Donut:

Our Thanksgiving turkey. This was the first time in several years that we had dinner at home on Thanksgiving Day. Considering all the leftovers afterward, it'll probably be several more years before we do so again (and a special thanks to my wife for both the bird and the homemade cranberry sauce):

Old Town sheathed in fog on Saturday morning:

In the afternoon I took my daughter past Trakai to the Strėva green trail. A wedding party either on their way to the ceremony or coming back from it stopped in the parking lot for a smoke break:

It was a fog-shrouded walk along the shores of Lake Stanka:

For dinner on Saturday evening, Amber,  Shu-E and I took a break from leftover turkey to enjoy the seafood on offer at Žuvinė, located in the rear of the Town Hall building. In my case that meant scallops, Atlantic cod and mussels:

St. Casimir's Church on a Saturday evening:

The former town hall:

Sunday was a quiet day. Shopping with the family was followed by a solo walk around New Town and Šnipiškės. Felix, a name you can trust when it comes to chicken:

Lukiškės Square was known as Lenin Square during the Soviet occupation period, during which time it was "graced" with a statue of you-know-who (now found in Grūtas Park, minus its right thumb). Five designs are now being considered for the refurbished square, which passersby can check out for themselves:

A Thanksgiving classic:

* Amarillo