Monday, August 15, 2005

Gvidas and the Ride of the Valkyries

To this point in the trip it has been somewhat rainy, never really a down-pour just something little more than a drizzle. While it has been on and off – it has just been enough to frustrate Lisa who enjoys it sunny and hot – for me, this has been perfect. When we go out – the rain seems to stop – when we are in for the night, it seems to pick-up and the steady drum of the raindrops serves as a nice background noise to fall asleep with. As I write this post for last Tuesday, it is Monday August 15th and the sun is beginning to peek out from quickly retreating clouds. The forecast is sunny and mid-seventies for the remainder of our stay – Lisa is excited!

Back to Tuesday, August 9th with Gvidas and the Ride of the Valkyries.

Gvidas is the son of Aunt Stella, brother to Milda and Vile (check back to the first or second post). Thin with deep blue eyes, his graying crew cut reminds one of the old gym teacher you might see on one of the old television shows that run on Nick at Night or TV Land. Full of life he is eager to help his American cousin and show us the town. Gvidas is retired at this point in his life – “What else do I have to do?” he loudly proclaims. “Anywhere you want to go – anytime, just ask!”

My one request for the trip is to head downtown and have “Viva! Kolduni”, my favorite restaurant from last time. Gvidas “pshaws!” me with a wave of his hand and points out that he knows of a better place not too far out side of town – but he will take us downtown to walk “Laisves Alejus (Freedom Avenue)” – their version of Michigan Ave.

Gvidas is a fearless driver – his passengers however are another story! We make the downtown area in record time – weaving in and out of traffic and around pot holes, the windows of the small red Honda steaming up faster than the little defroster can keep up. Lisa’s father wipes the window down in front of Gvidas as he cracks his side window just enough to allow the rain into the back-seat. This, however, is not a bad thing as it drives Lisa over to my side of the backseat!!

We eventually park in a back alley behind an Office Supply store that Gvidas’s son, Egidijus (E Gee D Us) is an outside sales representative for. He proudly gives us a tour of the small store (which is part of a large national chain) as we pass through. We then go to a bar that Egidijus used to own called “Mr. Max’s” – a small basement place located below a series of retail shops. He notes that the new owners have kept the same successful format or theme of the bar as his son. It is a nice little place with a nautical theme – wooden ships adorn the sills, there is a large iron anchor against the far wall and the place is peppered with wooden picnic like tables – but more solid. Techno music is blaring even at this early, pre-lunch hour. They do love their techno-music here I’ve noted. I am even beginning to enjoy their techno remake of “Axle Foley’s Theme” from the original “Beverly Hills Cop” movie – I’ve heard it at least a dozen times since arriving!

From “Mr. Max’s” we head over Freedom Ave to begin our walk – nothing special, just to meander and check out the shops. It is still summer vacation – so there are a lot of young people wandering around even in the rain. They are all dressed to the nines – especially the girls. There are no shortages of bare mid-drifts and short, short skirts with the high, nosebleed, heeled boots thrown in for good measure. Everyone is very colorful as well. Coming from the Gap dulling colors of the United States – the color parade of neon greens, oranges, reds and purples is something to see. Women out number men her – so they work very hard to attract attention. They are doing a good job!

At the end of Freedom Ave is a church that unfortunately is closed – it is steeped in history that we did not get into, so we make a promise to get back here before the end of our trip. We walk back to down the other side of Freedom Ave – it is a nice leisurely pace that takes up a good amount of time. We note that it is well past our lunch time and that later we have dinner plans with Modestas – so perhaps this is a good time to head to lunch. Gvidas steers us back to the car and as we get in – he notes that there is another church in town that we should see, a Russian church that is just finishing remodeling. We quickly head over there.

The name of the church escapes me, so please forgive my lack of detail on that – but it is one of the largest churches I have seen is some time. Pristine white inside and out – the church almost seems to radiate white light. A large multi-story bell tower runs up the face of the church. Inside everything is bright white and beautiful. Gold trim runs throughout the intricate trim. We light a couple of candles after donating $1 lts each and say a short prayer. Above us there is a terrace on the roof that overlooks Kaunas – it costs us $5 lts each to ride the elevator the three floors to the terrace. Once up there the view over the city is wonderful. The terrace itself is marble with benches situated at each end. Small potted shrubs decorate the ends of each bench adding just enough green to the pristine whiteness of the church. We have our umbrellas up to protect us from the steady drizzle but the temperature itself is very nice. From our high standing we can see the center of the city – our apartments where we are living and lush green scattered throughout. It is a very nice moment to reflect on the beauty of the city and the country. As we shoot several pictures, a very nice Russian family on vacation asks us to snap a photo of them. We do this with pleasure and go on to discuss their background and vacation plans. They are on the tail end of the vacation and have had a very nice time in Lithuania. Soon they will board a train for the 8 hour ride back to Russia. After a short while and some very pleasant conversations, we say our good-byes and head back down to the car.

At this point we are running far behind schedule for lunch (don’t forget, we have dinner plans with Modestas and his future bride) as it is already 3:00 PM. Gvidas hustles us to the car and quickly pulls out – he really wants us to taste those Kolduni and will not take no for an answer. Just as he pulls into the street – the tiny Honda engine winding up into gear as he slams the shift forward, the clouds open up and the rain really begins to fall.

It is now raining cats & dogs as we pull onto the highway – wait – I meant as we hydroplane onto the highway headed towards Vilnius and Gvidas’s restaurant. The little Honda is now a steam bath as we cannot have the windows open for fear of drowning. Lisa’s Dad is wiping the window every few minutes and Gvidas is whipping here and there – around cars, around pot-holes and through some deep puddles that are forming with the sudden down-pour. As we slide through each he lets out a victory cry and raises his hands in triumph! Unable to keep up with the steaming windows – Gvidas opens the driver side window and Lisa is immediately rained on, now wet and wind shorn, she slides over to my side and begins to hang on. With rain flowing into the car, the tiny Honda engine whining in protest to the 120 KM/Hr speed in the rain – I look out the window to see a green faced witch on a broom cackling and screaming: “And your little dog Toto too!” Somewhere off in the distant I can hear the Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in the distance.

Suddenly, Gvidas realizes that in the blindness of the storm, steam and wind-shear, he missed his exit and we are now half way to Vilnius. The only problem now – unlike American highways – exit exchanges are few and far in-between. You have to find an area to make a U-Turn into other cars that are barreling at you at 120 KM/Hr, in the rain – with cars that are equally steamed up. Now I realize there are witches every where – the cows are flying in circles and Dorothy is screaming for her dear life! We actually find an exchange that allows us to get back on the highway without making a U-Turn (thank God for small favors) and now we are finally heading back to Kaunas.

So once again we are headed down the rabbit-hole, hydroplaning right and left, and steam seemingly erupting from Gvidas’s ears as he valiantly fights the rain, wind, highway and time itself to get us to Kolduni! The restaurant he wants passes us on the right and Gvidas swears something in Lithuanian. Luckily, for him not for us, there is a U-Turn area shortly up the road. We make the U-turn, rain and wind flowing into the little Honda. Now bear in mind – the restaurant is on the right side of the highway – we are on the left…that witch just does not want to let go just yet! Finally, bowels and bladder still intact, we arrive at the restaurant just as the storm passes.

The restaurant itself is a nice little place – maybe twenty or so tables in a room decorated to look like a lodge. Tucked away from the road amongst the trees, it seems like a great place to have a small dinner and then be ready to eat again in an hour! We sit – pull out the menu and find them – the treats that we risked life and sanity to get – KOLDUNI!

Like a gentleman Gvidas takes our orders (you must order yourself at the bar) and minutes later he returns to tell us they are out and we must go elsewhere!

Back into the little Honda we retreat just as the storm kicks up again. Trust me I am not taking artistic license here. God was having a grand old time on our behalf today!

So, we are now facing Vilnius and we need to get back to Kaunas. Yup, another wind and rain soaked U-Turn later and we are headed in the right direction. We stop at another roadside restaurant called Three Brothers – it is a chain in the same vein of Applebee’s or Chili’s. The atmosphere is very nice, the restaurant itself, once again, is made up to mimic a lodge. Out back there are more tables, an outdoor stage, a play lot, and a petting zoo with a gift shop for all of the frightened tourists who are being led along by their Lithuanian Speed Racer cousins! The lunch (4:00 PM at this point) is wonderful and we all have a great laugh over the fortunes of the day. After all, we are in one piece; the food is good and the company even better!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


You happen to mention that everyone has these wonderful blue it common for Lithuanians to have blue eyes?