Saturday, August 20, 2005

Vilnius Awaits

We are nearing the close of our first week at this point – it is August 11th, Lisa’s father’s birthday and we are preparing to spend two nights at Rasa’s in Vilnius and then head to the country for an overnight stay with more relatives.

By the way – last night, at Vile’s, we celebrated three birthdays with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” in Lithuanian. One round for Albertai (Albert Tay) (Lisa’s father, August 11th), one round for me (August 12th) and one round for Vaidas (August 17th).

So, as I said, we are now packing for an extended stay away from our apartment – not only do we have to pack a bag for ourselves, but we must also pack the gifts that we are going to give away to everyone in the country – a long list and a lot of stuff. To imagine the actual quantity – picture a large piece of luggage, the type that you check rather than carry on – filled to capacity at about 70 pounds – that is the amount of cloths we are bringing to the country and therefore must bring with us to Rasa’s. You see, the plan is to leave for the country from Rasa’s on Saturday with another relative Jurate (Your Rot A) who is going to the country for the week-end as well.

Here is the problem. Rasa and Vaidas drive a small BMW. Just a note – BMW, Volvos, Audis and Toyotas here are like Fords and Chryslers to us. They are about a third of the cost here as they are in the US. Amazing! In either case, their car is small and they have their luggage from the vacation at The Baltic Sea they have just returned from. We concoct a plan – Rasa and Lisa will distract Albertai while Vaidas and I puzzle the luggage and cloths into the car. The night before, Lisa, her father and I transfer all of the cloths into easy to squish, plastic shopping bags to help conserve on space. Our distract and deploy plan is successful as Vaidas and I are able to pack all of the luggage into the small trunk with the bags of cloths packed tightly into every nook and cranny. We end up having to have only a bag or two on our laps for the short hour or so ride to Vilnius and their apartment.

By Lithuanian standards Rasa and Vaidas have a huge apartment! Located on the first floor (thank God once again for small favors) it is bright, inviting and spacious. Walking into the front door immediately to your right is the master bedroom; about the size of our current living room it is tastefully decorated and warm. To the left is the toilet (WC – Water Closet) and next to that is the bathroom – one that actually has room to move around in. No stand up shower though, not at all uncommon as I am finding. Moving forward into the apartment, in front of the mater bedroom – is an extra room that is currently Vaidas’s room. Vaidas never had his own room growing up – so his only request when they bought an apartment was that he gets a room to himself. Inside it is a mixture of motorcycle parts, BMW posters, computer parts, books, magazines, a typical guy’s room! Moving once again forward through the apartment, in front of Vaidas’s room is the very large kitchen. Once actually a small kitchen with another room next to it, the former owners removed the wall and made it into the spacious eat in kitchen it is today. Marbled, blue and white ceramic tile covers the floor. A large, modern stainless steel refrigerator sits next to, of all things, a dishwasher (something that is not common at all and is considered a luxury item). Little touches of the newlyweds (they’ve been married just shy of five years now) are all over the place. Pictures in heart shaped magnets; sayings of love a dedication and the sort adorn the fridge and shelves. Across from the kitchen is a large living room/spare bedroom with two pull out couches and two over stuffed chairs. In the center of the far wall is a large TV with a VCR and PS2 (Play Station 2) attached. A lovely home that is very comfortable.

We arrange our bags – sit down a moment to breath and then begin to plan our tour of Vilnius. Vaidas must prepare for their vacation to Switzerland by taking the motorcycle in for repairs. Their plan is to drive in both the motorcycle and the car to a friend’s apartment in Switzerland and from there use the motorcycle to tour the country. So basically we are on our own with Rasa as our tour guide.

We drive to downtown Vilnius and park on a side street to begin our walking tour. When all is said and done we will have walked over 5 KMs!

I could never do the beauty of this city justice. Steeped in rich history, Vilnius was founded in the early 13th century. Castles, monasteries, churches, and cultural buildings all stand in harmony with modern buildings lined by cobble stone streets. We tour a large Cathedral – there are many in Vilnius – Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox alike. Most are closed by the time we get there which is not a big deal as we plan to return tomorrow for a more detailed view without the benefit of Rasa or Vaidas (they both have plans to prepare for vacation tomorrow). From there we tour the University – older than any we have in America. The University square is closed for the summer but we are able to reach nearly all of the grounds. The buildings are a cornucopia of ancient art and stone carvings. Worn by the rigors of time they stand proudly as a testament of those that built them. We walk to the President’s Residence (President Adamkus – a former Hinsdale, Illinois resident) – in the square the Lithuanian Army Marching band is gathering to practice. From there we check out several Russian churches, one in particular that was so liked by Napoleon that he wanted to move it brick by brick back to France. Thankfully for us he was unsuccessful! We proceed to an Artist Colony by the river that is buzzing with young people who are milling about, laughing, talking and sharing their art. It looks like a street fair. The Colony itself claims to be independent from Lithuania – even so far as having their own currency. A few more churches and a castle later we are now along the towns’ main drag to take a rest, have a beer and some garlic toasted bread sticks (YUM!) and people watch. This is the area that you go to if you are looking to pick up a date or meet friends. From there we walk back to the car – stopping at a Gelato stand to get some ice cream along the way. By this time four hours or so have passed and we are beginning to get hungry. We suggest a restaurant and Rasa informs us that Vaidas will be home soon and she will make us dinner. Bear in mind that it is nearing 10:00 PM at this point, so we are now looking at an 11:00 PM or 12:00 AM dinner!

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