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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Winter time is coming, all the sky is grey...

My autumn almanac: Cathedral Square on a late October afternoon

Fall in Lithuania is a beautiful time of the year, but the season is a fleeting one - snow is already in the forecast for next weekend. We had some beautifully clear days earlier in the week, but the weekend took a turn for the worse, with Saturday being rainy and Sunday cloudy and cold. Still, windows of opportunity don't remain open for very long, so on Sunday I dragged my daughter off of the sofa (and prying her away from her laptop) to go with me for a walk in the Lithuanian countryside. Earlier this month we traversed the easy Dūkštų Ąžuolynas Cognitive Trail; today we returned to the same parking lot but tackled the longer and hillier Dūkšta Upė Valley Cognitive Trail. It was a crisp 33°F (0.6°C) as we got out of the car; Amber checks out a sign tallying how many animals were killed along the road in 2016:

An interesting feature of the trail is the Bradeliškių hillfort, one of 800 such mounds in Lithuania. This hill was first settled more than two thousand years ago and was used in the fight against crusaders and the Livonian Order, before being abandoned after these wooden castles lost their importance following the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. The view from the top of the hillfort:

Strolling through the Eastern European countryside and taking in the fall foliage:

Looking out from the top of another hillfort:

Ruins of more recent origin:

The walk took about 2½ hours and covered around five kilometers. We'll be doing more of these, weather permitting.

On Saturday, with Amber over at a friend's apartment for the afternoon, my wife and I went out for lunch on a rare date, afternoon in Old Town, and to a Mediterranean restaurant called Saint Germain:

Lunch for me consisted of mushroom soup and zander, pike perch baked with olives, pine nuts, potatoes and tomatoes:

Due to a mix-up involving appetizers, we were given complimentary glasses of Lithuanian homemade ice wine:

The wall opposite the restaurant is lined with small artworks, part of the Literatų Street Project:

Did I mention it's autumn in Vilnius? These photos were taken earlier in the week on Tauro kalnas (aka "Bull Mountain"):

Coming up: spending our daughter's fall break from school in Prague. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Not being unorthodox this weekend

Fall is in the air

The waiting game continues. It won't be until the end of this month at the earliest when I'll learn where we'll be going next. What is clear, however, is that this is our last autumn in Lithuania. As you can see from the photo above and the pics below, the leaves have already changed color, but fall is only a brief period in the Baltics, and it won't be long before our last winter in Vilnius begins, bringing with it frigid temperatures, icy sidewalks and grey skies. I'm hoping my next post will be situated in a climate where I won't need to worry about slipping, falling and possibly breaking something in the process each time I step outside.

In the meantime, however, there's autumn to enjoy...only it would be more enjoyable if it wasn't raining a lot of the time. Fortunately, the sun chose to make an appearance this Sunday, so I dragged my daughter away from her computer and took her into Old Town to visit the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit (Stačiatikių Šv. Dvasios Cerkvė), Lithuania's main Russian Orthodox Church. No, I'm not trying to convert Amber to Orthodoxy; rather, I thought she might find the interior of the pink-domed, 17th-century church to be impressive, which she did (and it was). For me, I wanted to check out the preserved bodies of Sts. Anthony, Ivan and Eustachius, all of whom were hanged from an oak tree in Vilnius in the 14th century when they refused to renounce their faith. Their remains are housed in a glass case in the reliquary from which their feet can be seen, a sight my daughter found to be more than a little creepy. The saints are depicted in a painting over the doorway at the front of the church:

The above two shots are the extent of the photos I took of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, for Russian Orthodox churches often seem to have issues with people taking photographs inside their houses of worship. Which is why I've taken the liberty of cribbing the following pictures from the Wikipedia entry on the Church of the Holy Spirit. Thank you Internet:

 Credit: Alma Pater

 Credit: Lestat

 Credit: Krzysztof Mizera

 Credit: Fczarnowski

I take full credit, however, for this shot of Amber relaxing with a strawberry smoothie afterward, taken in the Vaga cafe and bookshop on Pilies gatvė:

Last Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday, meaning I had the day off, though my daughter didn't. It wasn't much of a holiday in the sense that I still had to wake up at 5:45 in the morning to take Amber to her swimming practice. I like to think that I'm progressive enough to support replacing Columbus Day with an Indigenous Peoples' or First Nations Day (like in Canada), but selfish enough that I'm fine with anything as long as I don't lose a paid day off from work.

In any event, I didn't do much on the holiday except take an early morning walk through Old Town and snap a few photos of Old Town covered in fog from the top of Gediminas Hill:

A black cat grooms itself by one of the walls of the Upper Castle atop the hill:

Shorter days mean being able to watch dawn break from our living room window while having breakfast:

A creepy angel figure lurking deep in the woods of the Verkiai Regional Park:

Did I mention fall has arrived in Vilnius?:

On Saturday afternoon I was walking past the VCUP shopping mall when I passed a man who could only be described as the Lithuanian Lemmy (cowboy hat, long hair, beard, leather jacket). A few minutes later, I noticed this van in the parking lot:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Doing it Prussian-style

Apparently gentlemen need to be on their guard while in Klaipeda

Klaipėda (population 161,000) is the third-largest city in Lithuania, after Vilnius and Kaunas. Known as Memel until 1925, the city was founded in 1252 by the Teutonic Order; it became part of Prussia following the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, and remained so until 1923. An "international territory" under the Treaty of Versailles, Lithuanian troops marched in, annexed it and changed the name to Klaipėda (probably to compensate for having lost Vilnius to the Poles after the First World War). It's now Lithuania's only sea port, but the cobblestoned Old Town still retains hints of its German past despite widescale destruction during World War II. It was across the Danė River in New Town, however, that we rolled into the city on a rainy Friday evening and quickly settled into our room at the Litinterp Guesthouse.

The weather proved to be more cooperative on Saturday morning as we set out for Klaipėda Castle. The original fortress dates from the 13th century before being completely razed in the late 19th century. Once surrounded by a moat, the earth ramparts are undergoing a large EU-funded reconstruction project, presumably with the aim of returning the castle to a semblance of its former glory. In the meantime, visitors can check out the two-part exposition. The first section details the history of the castle itself:

Back outside, between expositions:

The other section covers the story of Memel/Klaipėda:

Note the Lenin impersonator above in this 1967 photo of a parade celebrating fifty years since the October Revolution

One of the many sculptures studded around central Klaipėda:

In Old Town the girls pose for a photo in Teatro aikštė (Theater Square). Behind them is a fountain dedicated to Simon Dach, a German poet born in Klaipėda in 1605. The girl on the pedestal is Ānnchen von Tharau, the subject of a poem by Dach (the original statue was erected in 1912 by Berlin artist Alfred Kune, but was destroyed in the Second World War). The building in the background is the Klaipėda Drama Theater, built in 1857. None other than Adolf Hitler stood on the balcony to proclaim Memel's incorporation into Germany during World War II:

Following lunch at a Chinese restaurant called Jing Bin Lou, Amber and I tagged along while Shu-E did some shopping at the aptly-named Amber Queen. After much browsing she eventually settled on a reasonably-priced ring, deciding not to sacrifice our daughter's college fund on some of the more elaborate objects:

Old Town street scene:

One of the most attractive buildings in Old Town houses the History Museum of Lithuania Minor (Mažosios Lietuvos Istorijos Muziejus):

My wife decided to relax in the sculpture garden down the street while my daughter and I went inside. A quick look up at the sky noted some ominous signs:

The museum covers the history of the region once known as East Prussia, going back to Neolithic times. The story is told through the collections of clothes, coins, maps, models, photographs and postcards. Or, in this case, an old wooden well that was used for washing clothes:

The Teutonic Knights introducing Christianity to the pagans of the Baltic region in the way they knew best:

The first individual map of Lithuania, dating from 1595:

Amber and I emerged from the museum to find the street soaked with water, the result of a brief but heavy downpour while we were inside. Shu-E was prepared, however, and "weathered" the rainfall rather well:

Lonely Planet describes this red dragon as "disturbing":

Taking a break at Max Coffee:

Lithuania's largest granite sculpture, entitled Arka (Arch), celebrating Klaipėda joining Lithuania in 1923. The engraved quote by local poet Ieva Simonaitytė translates as "We are one nation, one land, one Lithuania":

A floating restaurant on the Danė called Meridianas:

Yet another sculpture:

Back in our room to drop off some of our things before going back out to have dinner:

A memorial to local sons killed during the Soviet-Afghan War:

Our first choice for dinner, the Momo Grill steakhouse, proved to be too busy, so instead we went Lithuanian by eating at Senoji Hansa, where I had the "Hansa Fish" (rainbow trout):

On Sunday we checked out of the Litinterp Guesthouse and took the car ferry for the short ride across the Curonian Lagoon to the Smiltynė district, home to the Lithuanian Sea Museum (Lietuvos Jūrų Muziejus):

Damn, just can't seem to get away from work:

The highlight for Amber was the dolphin and sea lion show. Having seen The Cove, I have my issues with such performances, but my daughter was happy, so I spared her the lecture:

While the girls relaxed indoors after the show, I went outside to check out the Ethnographic Sea Fishermen's Farmstead, highlighted by three Baltic Sea fishing trawlers built between 1949 and 1961:

The traditional 19th-century buildings were shut at the end of the tourist season, but visitors can still get a glimpse of traditional Curonian fishing life:


Cattle shed, with a live German shepherd to keep the tourists out (note the white sign on the gate)


Looking across the lagoon at Klaipėda's port:

The Baltic Sea on the opposite side of the Curonian Spit:

Back on the car ferry for the long drive back to Vilnius:

A car ferry heading in the opposite direction. A few seconds later it had to veer sharply starboard and come to a halt in order to let a large container ship pass in front of its bow: